Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lenovo ThinkPad T420s

A new year, a new laptop. Well three years that is. After six years of using ThinkPad X-series ultraportable, yesterday I bought my first ever T-series ThinkPad, the T420s. The deal was just too good to pass up on. For £650, I got an almost-new T420s that would normally cost £1202 from Lenovo direct. It was originally sold for £1614 in this configuration. And as expected, it comes with standard three-year transferable warranty (got to love business-class warranties!).

The T420s retains the same beloved ThinkPad design that has graced all its predecessor. Much like a Porsche 911, the design is tweaked subtly with each new model, but always retain the same design language that makes it instantly recognisable: that is the rectangular boxy black bento-inspired shapre that every ThinkPad fan likes about it. It is understated, classy and does not shout 'look at me'. The T420s is all about function, before form and yet the classic design means that it will never age. My only complaint about the T420s, design wise, is it isn't quite as beautiful to look at as the X220-series.

It isn't all just looks though. Hiding underneath all that black is a series of rollcage made of hybrid carbon fibre reinforced plastic, designed to reduce flex on both the internal motherboard as well as the LCD display. This design keeps the weight down (my T420s weighs a feather light 1.7kg) while also retains the robustness that has always been known in a T-series ThinkPad.While I am not one to test the durability of a new laptop, my previous experience with other ThinkPad notebooks gives me confidence that the T420s is similarly well built and is able to withstand a couple of rough knocks. The lid is covered in matte rubber - none of that glossy nonsense that came with the Edge-series.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Note unboxing

Here it is, the next step in excessive smartphone display size: The Samsung Galaxy Note. After getting used to the 4.7" display on the HTC Sensation XL, Samsung threw up out of my comfort zone by sending me this unit. Is it a small tablet or a giant smartphone? Can I ever enjoy using one on a daily basis? Well, do return and find out in a few weeks once I have put it through its paces. In the mean time enjoy the unboxing here:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

HTC Sensation XL review

Display sizes in smartphones has been growing out of control lately. What were once too large just two years ago are now normal. There comes a point when someone must say enough is enough. Samsung proved with the Galaxy S II, people wanted phones with 4.3" displays, and they were right. But was HTC right to further increase this with the Sensation XL? The 4.7" display here is massive, and that is before considering the Samsung Galaxy Note's rather outrageous 5.3" display.

Still I expect devices like the Sensation XL to find a nice niche among people who requires a display this size. After all having used the Galaxy S II for six months myself, it took some getting used to with the XL. But first let's have a look at what's underneath this beast.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Eleven tech gifts to get this Crimbo

Are you the sort of person who has ever wondered what sort of tech products to get as gifts this Christmas for those demanding something a bit different, a bit luxurious in fact? Well I've got you sorted. Check out my guide to premium tech-related gifts to get this holiday season, only at Luxury Logistics.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nokia Lumia 800 'Batphone' Dark Knight Rises unboxing and gallery

The Nokia Lumia 800 is one of the most beautiful phone ever made. There really is nothing quite like it on the market. Well, except for the Nokia N9, but nevermind about that for now. Is there anything more beautiful than the Lumia 800? There is.

It's a Lumia 800 that has a Batman emblem laser etched to the back.
And it is a beauty.

In addition to the rather awesome Bat emblem, the Batphone has also configured to receive updates on the latest news on the Dark Knight Rises film. Here's a quick unboxing of Bruce Wayne's Batphone I did at Nokia's office in Soho, London:

And of course some more pictures of the Dark Knight Rises Lumia 800 for your viewing pleasure:

Lumia 800 Batphone box
Not for sale, ever
The Batman emblem
Lumia 800 Dark Knight Rises laser-etched Batman emblem
Lumia 800 Batphone vs none-Batphone
Nokia Lumia 800 Batphone

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises: Prologue and Nokia Lumia 800 Batphone

Today I attended the press screening of the first six minutes of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises at BFI IMAX in Waterloo, London. The theater is full with what appears to be proper film reviewers, as they (and I qualified this past Jay Montano, who was sitting next to me) look better than us.

After a brief scene where we see Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) speaking during the funeral of Harvey Dent, we were immediately thrusted into an airplane actions sequence somewhere over Europe. The next minutes scene involves hostages being interrogated by a bunch of military looking goons, followed by a bat-shit insane action sequence.

Here we were introduced to the new villain, (within the Nolan's Batman film franchise anyway) Bane (played by Tom Hardy) where he and his bands of mercenaries hijack the airplane in a daring airplane to airplane action sequence of what I can only describe as Inception-like. The sequence was played out to great effects, and thanks to the vertically larger IMAX format, offers viewers a more vertigo experience of the entire hijacking.

My only issue is with Bane's voice. I, and my fellow audiences, did not understand a squat of whatever he was spouting, no thanks to his breathing mask. I can only hope that the final film will fix this flaw in dialogue. Despite this, it did nothing to hamper my enthusiasm for the film.

The final minute of the film was a teaser trailer where we see Anne Hathaway brief appearance as Catwoman, what appears to be an exploding Batmobile flipping over etc.

Nokia and Warner Bros has produced 40 limited edition The Dark Knight Rises Lumia 800 phones to tie in with the film. These phones are strictly promo only and will never go on sale, so any moanings about Nokia making yet another edition of the same phone to sell are already invalid. I collected the Batphone at the Nokia Lumia Experience House in Soho, a neat pop up office that any mobile tech journalist in London should attempt to visit once.

Still, the laser etching of the Batman emblem on the back of the phone is tastefully done. While it won't make the phone better, seriously, who gives a shit when you have Batman laser etched to your fickin phone?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

o2's iPhone 4S lease rip-off

Can't afford an iPhone 4S? Well o2 has you covered with a new lease an iPhone 4S scheme. Or so they hope you think they do. The UK carrier now offer the 16GB iPhone 4S on a 12-month lease for £55 per month - that is £660 a year. And after a year? Well you return the iPhone and have nothing to show for.

Considering you can *own* a brand new sim-free Apple iPhone 4S 16GB for £500, it sounds like o2 is taking bollocks to a dizzying new height.

For the purpose of this comparison, I estimate that you can sell a used in good condition (the condition o2 wants the phone back after the lease is over) 4S 16GB for £300, conservatively. After all used iPhone 16GB regularly sells for around £400 today, only £100 less than they were a year ago!

Okay, so the lease also includes 750 minutes per month (an offer, the normal tariff is 600 minutes per month), unlimited texts and 500MB of data. Even then it doesn't sound like it is of any value. And here's why.

First let's look at some of o2's competitors, starting with the fabulous Three UK network. With their £15 a month PAYG ACYE booster, you get less minutes (300), and less texts (3000 - which is more than enough for many) and *unlimited data*. That's about £180 a year. Add the price of a new unlocked 4S, the total cost would be £680 - just £20 more - and you get to keep the phone! So in effect you are saving £280 by buying a sim-free iPhone 4S and Three UK PAYG sim plan separately compared to leasing it via O2. How about that O2? Your leasing option doesn't sound like a bargain now, does it?

This, my good people, is the cheapest way of owning an unlocked iPhone 4S with a tariff that allows you to phone people. You could even go cheaper if you select Three's SIM Only PAY+12 (12GB of data valid for a year) for a bargain £70.49, assuming you are willing to forgo the backward technologies that are GSM voice and SMS texts. Services like WhatsApp, Skype, Tango, iMessage and FaceTime will have you covered. But this isn't a fair comparison so I will let it slide.

Moving on to Vodafone. Well the network offers a sim-only 12 month rolling contract, and for £26 a month, you get 900 minutes, 3000 texts and 500MB data a month. Total damage: £312 + £500 = £812. Deducting the cost of the phone should you sell it (£300), that's like £148 in savings in comparison to o2's lease tariff. You could get an iPhone 4S 32GB version and still save money to spend on bucket loads of apps, and then some.

Now we look at o2 themselves. Being fair, I will select one of their stupidly priced sim-only plan, this time from their 12- month Simplicity tariff. For £27 a month, you get 900 minutes, 500MB data and unlimited texts. That totals to a mind-boggling £324, slightly higher than what you will pay on Vodafone, Three UK and even GiffGaff, a network o2 owns. Add the cost of a new 4S you have to pay £824. Ah, but don't forget you actually own the phone itself and even if you sell the 4S for £200 less the price you paid, you are saving £136. £136 less than what o2 charges for this retarded leasing service, and you get more minutes!

Last but not least, let's have a good look at GiffGaff, a virtual network owned by o2 themselves. For £20 a month, you get 800 minutes (more than o2's lease), truly unlimited texts and truly *unlimited data* (also more than o2), as well as unlimited calls, texts and video calls to other GiffGaff customers. Wow. You would be a mug to have gone for o2's own Simplicity tariff after reading that. Sell your iPhone after year and you are looking at a saving of £220 - on a tariff that is actually better than o2's offering.

Ah, but I hear you say that the o2 lease also includes insurance. I am sorry but dedicated mobile phone insurance are for fools. Your home content insurance will cover this for less! And don't forget the insurance insures the iPhone for theft/loss, on o2's behalf. Damage the phone and o2 will still bill you for it! The costs are detailed below on this site.

It is worth noting that o2's lease does include unlimited WiFi use. The competiting tariffs here does not include any sort of WiFi use, bar Vodafone (750MB limit on BT OpenZone). But remember that the Three UK's ACYE add-on and GiffGaff offers truly *unlimited data*. Who needs WiFi? In any case, remember that most cafes and restaurants are now opening up their WiFi networks for free.

Remember the best thing about owning your own sim-free phone is you can sell it if you want. Especially when you realised half way through your contract that the 4S doesn't rock your boat and you wished you went for something else instead. As for o2, researching for this blog post only proved I made the right decision when I decided to leave this miserable network three years ago.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango review - the good, the bad and the ugly

It has been more than a month since I switched to using the Lumia 800 as my main smartphone. Coming from using Android exclusively for six months, there are obvious drawbacks with Windows Phone 7.5, but these are few and does not stop me from enjoying the OS. Unlike pre-Mango WP7, WP7.5 does not make me want to hurl the phone with frustration for one, and after getting over the initial teething period - I now love it.

Windows Phone 7 was designed with consumers, not geeks, in mind hence the lack of certain features we geeks take for granted. Nothing wrong with that, but if Microsoft wants to win the smartphone OS war, they need to also pander to the geeks. After all geeks rule the earth, or so that is the common saying here. Part of the problem with Windows Phone 7 is still the lack of apps, but that is changing. Everyday I keep seeing new quality apps get added. It even hosts the best Foursquare mobile client on *any* platform.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Motorola DEFY+ abused and reviewed

The original Motorola DEFY was one of the most exciting phones from last year, not because of the specs (it was slow), but because it was the first competent rugged smartphone that doesn't look like a rugged phone. With the Motorola DEFY+ (Plus), Motorola has beefed up the specs slightly, whilst retaining the same rugged IP67-certified design that we've all come to love. It now ships with Android Gingerbread, a single core 1GHz TI OMAP processor and 512MB of RAM. The specs may not excite you, but the water resistant level certainly will. The DEFY+ is rated to be able to survive up to 30 minutes underwater at a depth of up to 1 meter.

Check out my review of the DEFY+ on FoneArena, but not before watching the video above of me quite literally abusing the heck out of the phone. Enjoy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Official Nokia SP-NOK01 screen protector for Lumia 800 review

As you can probably tell, I love the new Nokia Lumia 800. So much, that I have been using it as my main phone for exactly a month now. Confident that it can serve as my daily driver for the next few months, I have even decided to invest in accessories for it. The Lumia 800 may be a great phone, but Nokia has not released the usual quality accessories that we should expect to accompany a great phone. Read on to find out why.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My top 10 apps for Windows Phone 7

It's been over a year since I introduced Windows Phone 7 to you fine readers. Back then I lamented on what a refreshing Metro UI Windows Phone 7 offers, but the lack of features meant that it isn't quite ready for prime time yet. Since then the platform has slowly matured to something that not only looks pretty, but actually useful. Gone are the days where you can't copy and paste or multitask. Still while Mango tastes delicious, it still some way to go before it matches both iOS and Android in terms of functionality.

But never mind that, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango is about explode thanks to Nokia with the new Lumia 800. HTC and Samsung has also refreshed their lineup with the HTC Titan and Radar, and Samsung Focus Flash and Focus S. There will be many new users to the refreshing platform, some who probably has never owned a smartphone before, though I suspect many would be Symbian refugees jumping their sinking ship.

A good place to start discovering apps would be the Marketplace, but even with 30,000 apps and counting, the Marketplace's poor search has proven difficult to obtain that rare good app. One of my favourite app discovery, urm, app is AppFlow, where apps are curated by Windows Phone fans. These includes apps that has been optimised for Mango (Live Tiles, fast app switching) and hidden gems.

Well, here are my top 10 apps for Windows Phone 7 anyway:

A sophisticated ad-ware supported ebook reader with support for the standard ePub format. Download and read free books on Project Gutenberg, or upload your own ebooks via Dropbox. It is simple, and yet deep inside the menus you will find a huge amount of advance settings to make your reading experience a bit more personalised.

TuneIn Radio
With a database of over 50,000 radio stations from around the world, TuneIn Radio is one of the best legal ways to obtain free music on the go, assuming you have a data plan (and you should). Stations can be sorted by genre and locations, and also be pinned to the start screen.

LDN Travel
The Lite version offers basic but still useful status updates of the London Tube. More importantly however, the app also allows you to check your Oyster card balance - how cool is that? The paid-for version includes a licensed tube map, journey planner, bus times and departure countdown, just so you can eke that extra one minute in bed.

Bingle Maps
Bing Maps is actually rather good, in Britain at least, but at times you may want an alternative perspective. Well Bingle Maps uses Google Maps as its source and even includes satellite view, as well as search feature.

The best thing about Windows Phone 7 are the live tiles, and StickyTiles takes that concept further allowing you to apply virtual sticky notes onto the home screen. Need a quick reminder to buy that pint of milk? Just stick it on your home screen.

My ContacTile
This nifty app allows you to quickly share your contact info with other users, by way of generating a QR code. This QR code can then be pinned to the home screen, ready to be scanned by anybody with a smartphone. Moo cards are great, but how many of you really pay attention to them? I have collected so many of them over meetups but never have the time to type it all in my phone book. This ensures that your contact gets copied immediately.

new group*
A rather simple app that enables you to create a tile heading, so you can better manage the home screen, allowing you to divide your live tiles into 'sections'. Okay, it isn't the best solution to an ever populated start screen, but until Microsoft allows sub-folder tiles, this is the second best solution.

There are plenty of weather apps available on the Windows Phone marketplace, but WeatherDuck is free (ad-ware) and supports ten day weather forecasts and background updates. And yes, WeatherDuck also supports two-face Live Tiles for multiple cities.

Disappointed that the default Phone app does not support smart dialing? Look no further. TrueDialer's dialpad will search your contacts as you type. It doesn't do much else, but it doesn't need to.

4th & Mayor
The official Foursquare client may look nice, but the menu isn't particularly intuitive and is slow. 4th & Mayor boots up to show immediately where your friends are, which is what Foursquare is all about. Checking in is a tap away while exploring the area is a swipe away.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7.5 build 7740

Report on the internet today suggests that Microsoft is pushing the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango build 7740 update on a small portfolio of phone. Nokia is also said to preparing to push 7740 update to the new Lumia 800 soon.

Yesterday Nokia reflashed my Lumia 800 from a prototype software to one that is running Windows Phone 7.5 build 7740. No official changelog was provided to me, but the 7740 is said to improve stability with Microsoft Exchange 2003 and voicemail notification. This isn't a Nokia-specific fix as these fixes will also be delivered to other Windows Phone handsets made by other manufacturers.

OS Built: 7.10.7740.16
FW: 1600.2479.7740.11451

The update has also fixed the power management issue that plagued all the review units running on prototype software. I have also noticed that the Lumia 800 feels snappier than before it was flashed, but perhaps that was because it was running on a prototype firmware. The speed difference between retail ROM and the 7740 update is likely to be negligible. Internet Sharing has not been included yet, as is an update to fix the camera performance and image quality. Nokia has confirmed that such fixes will come at later date.

Nokia has also included several third party apps within the 7740 update. These includes eBay, British Airways, Sky News, Ministry of Sound and TripAdvisor. Fortunately, all of these apps can be uninstalled.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nokia Music with offline Mix Radio

Nokia Music, the radio mix player for Windows Phone 7 has finally been updated to support offline mode. The mode, which was demonstrated to us at Nokia World, allows for users to download mixes for offline listening. Similar to Spotify, except it is free. On the downside, each mixes are curated, so you won't be getting the freedom as you get with Spotify.

It is worth noting that while the app integrates itself with the Zune player, Nokia Music is still a separate app. So expect to see the splash screen each time you launch it. Still as it a Windows Phone 7.5 Mango-compatible app, you can easily switch to it quickly via fast application switching method.

Once inside Nokia Music you can easily listen to your music files, buy mp3 files or check for gigs nearest to you. Tapping on a gig listing will bring up details of the gig itself, as well as direct shortcuts to purchase tickets. Gigs can be pinned as a live tile, as well as viewed on the Bing Map.

However more importantly with the new Nokia Music brings the aforementioned offline mode. To download a mix for offline listening, simply tap on a genre and look for a mix you want. Once a mix has been chosen, tap it to play or hold down to make it available offline.

As there are 100+ mixes to choose over ten genres, with each mixes holding roughly 20-30 tracks, there's plenty of music to be discovered here. Mixes are also regularly updated, which can be refreshed from the offline menu. All mixes, downloaded or otherwise, can be pinned as a live tile. Sadly only four mixes can be downloaded for offline listening at any one time.

You can also create custom mixes. By searching for a favourite artist, Nokia Music will create a custom playlist of music that matches the one of your favourite artists. This is similar to the similar artists radio mode, and works just as well. Unfortunately custom mixes can not be made available offline.

There are however a couple of downsides. The most obvious is you can only skip up to six tracks per hour. This is a limitation that, I presume, has been imposed by the record labels. While Nokia Music doesn't provide the user with the same freedom as Spotify does, but it is hard to argue when you do not have a monthly subscription to pay to listen on your mobile. I also wish that it would support custom search for gigs, for example in a different city or date rather than just the one closest to you. I would also like to see integrated not only with Nokia Music, but the Zune player so I can scrobble my plays.

After just a day with the new Nokia Music, I am finding it indispensable for music discovery on the go. Offline mode is a highly useful feature as not everyone has access to fast 3G Internet all the time, especially here in London where network congestion are frequent. Is it worth buying a Lumia just for Nokia Music? Perhaps not. But if you are going to get one anyway, Nokia Music is one of the few invaluable apps you can find bundled in any smartphone right now.

Nokia Music with offline Mix Radio should be available as a Marketplace update for the new Nokia Lumia 800 now.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

HTC Sensation XL first impressions

I have been using the HTC Sensation XL as my main smartphone for the past 24 hours, and boy is this phone big. The 4.7" Super LCD screen with 480x800 resolution is 0.4" bigger than the one found on my Samsung Galaxy S2. 0.4" does not sound massive, but the difference is huge. It makes all the other phones I have tested in the past felt like they were made for children. It is available now in the UK on the Three network.
Whether or not you think a 4.7" screen is ideal, there is little sign that this trend will stop, in fact Samsung has announced a smartphone with a gigantic 5.3" screen. Fortunately there are companies out there who has decided to buck the trend of making unweidly devices, like the Lumia 800 with its more mainstream 3.8" screen. Still, there will always be people who believe larger equals better, and in some who doesn't, and that's where choices are.
HTC is marketing the Sensation XL as an audiophile portable music player, thanks to their agreement with Monster. Yes, a pair of Monster urBeats IEM is bundled with the phone. Me being a sceptic of all things Monster brand will definitely be testing HTC's claim that the 'With Beats Audio' really isn't just another snake oil sold by Monster. So do keep an eye out for my review, to be published right here.

In the mean time, read my hands-on preview right here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nokia Lumia 800 review

Nokia announced the Lumia 800 at last week's Nokia World 2011 in London, barely eight months after Stephen Elop announced in the now infamous Mobile World Congress press conference, that Symbian was dead, and that they were going Windows Phone 7. A few days after Nokia World ended, Nokia started handing out Lumia 800 review units to the UK press.

This is an impressive turnaround from the old days when Nokia would announce a phone, only to ship them months later. In fact the Nokia Lumia 800 will actually go on sale on 16 November in Britain. I have even seen working demo units in mobile phone retailers like Phones 4U and the Carphone Warehouse. And people were writing Nokia off as late as October, claiming Nokia were unable to ship their first ever Windows Phone 7 smartphone until Q1 2012.

The Lumia 800, as Nokia's first mass market smarthone with an OS that isn't built in-house, delivers with aplomb. Well partly anyway, but the design of the Lumia 800 is so unique, so refined and so well thought out, it is easy to overlook its shortcomings. This is Nokia's sexiest smartphone to date, and is their most desirable smartphone in many many years.

Windows Phone 7 might not be for everyone, but it is sleek, fast and Metro UI offers a user experience second to none. This is the first genuine alternative for those seeking an alternative to the duopoly that is Apple iOS and Google Android. For those willing to break away from the me-too crowd, the Lumia 800 is a genuine article worth considering. Read my review on FoneArena to find out why.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nokia Lumia 800 preview

I have had the Nokia Lumia 800 for two days now. It's a lovely device and one I am enjoying using as my current main smartphone. While I continue testing and work on my review of the Lumia 800, do check out a couple of videos of the device in operation I have made for FoneArena. You can read the original hands-on review of Nokia Music and Nokia Drive here.

Nokia Lumia 800 UI tour:

Nokia Drive:

Nokia Music:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nokia Lumia 800 unboxing

Well here is it folks, the Nokia Lumia 800. Barely a week since it was announced at Nokia World 2011, Nokia has begun handing them out to the press, and boy am I in love. Nokia's first ever Windows Phone 7 smartphone is a product of love, and you can see why. The neat small blue box is well thought out with all the bundled accessories easily accessible. Hell, I even got excited about the bundled case.

The Lumia 800 is made of a single polycarbonate piece, and you can see why the hardware design has been so well received. It isn't any old slouch either. The 1.4 GHz single core Qualcomm processor is speedy enough, and combined with Windows Phone 7 Mango, the Lumia 800 flies. 512MB of RAM, a none-expendable 16GB storage , WiFi, Bluetooth and 8MP AF camera with Carl Zeiss optics completes the specs tour. Unfortunately I have found the camera to be rather poor in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S II. I was told that the Lumia 800 I have is a prototype, so here's hoping a firmware update will improve the performance of the camera.

I have always been a keen admirer of Windows Phone 7, and in fact wished Nokia took the step earlier in embracing this OS. In my mind there is no doubt that this is the correct decision, but whether or not consumers will accept it is an entirely different matter altogether. Regardless the Lumia 800 is a fine piece of kit and I am determined to put it through its paces. Watch this space.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Nokia Kinetic concept phone with flexible display

It's been a busy two days at Nokia World 2011. The next few days will be equally as busy as I will attempt to gather what I have seen in these two days into a nice meaty blog post. Asuming I survive Halloween and my birthday first that is.

But before that here is quick video hands-on on what really blew me away: the Nokia Kinetic concept device with flexible screen. Yes it is working concept phone, courtesy of the mad geniuses at Nokia Research Center. While this technology would not be available for mass production in many years, it is just a small sneak peak into what Nokia has in store for us in the future.

Seriously, I can't wait for this flexible bendable future.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Motorola RAZR preview

Motorola today announced the world version of their newest and greatest - the RAZR. This is the LTE-less version for LTE-less countries like Britain. Like the old RAZR2, the new RAZR runs on Linux but don't be fooled. This baby runs on Android Gingerbread 2.3.5 with a upgrade path to Ice Cream Sandwich six weeks after release. At 7.1mm thickness, it is also the thinnest smartphone, ever.

Read my first extensive hands-on preview on FoneArena.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Android Honeycomb still disappoints

I have been using the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for two weeks now, and while I love the hardware and design of the tablet, I can't say the same about the software. For those who have read my review of the Motorola Xoom, you will know exactly what I mean.

Both Motorola and Samsung has gave their respective tablets the necessary power, in this case a 1 GHz dual core nVidia Tegra 2 SoC and 1GB of RAM. Unfortunately both runs on Android Honeycomb, the Windows Me meets Vista of Android operating systems. The UI is confusing, intimidating and not consistent. Like, why can't I clear all my notifications with a single button? And why are the search button all the way on the top left, the app drawer icon on the top right, the notification bar on the bottom right and the navigation keys on the bottom left? Does Google actually think I like moving my fingers to all four corners? I am not some NBA basketball player with long fingers.

Every single Honeycomb tablet I have tried, from the Motorola Xoom to Asus Transformer Sony Tablet S to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 - all of these has the same performance issues. In fact the lag is so bad that it makes the HP TouchPad looks like a well engineered marvel. It's a real issue that even despite having a tablet in front of me most of the time, I prefer to tweet, check my emails, and even surf the web on my Galaxy S2 phone!

There is also a real lack of tablet optimised apps for Honeycomb. This is Google's issue and they must fix it. We know that they have effectively abandoned Honeycomb. I implore Google to look into fixing these issues, by either optimising Honeycomb or making sure Ice Cream Sandwich works darn well on these first generation tablets with Tegra 2 SoC. Don't go pissing on your early adopters Google or the first thing they do after they ditch you is pick up a Windows 8 tablet.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sony Ericsson XPERIA Ray review

Oh, what's this here, a smartphone that doesn't have a large 4.3" display? Well it is the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Ray. Don't be fooled by the demunitive and petite size. This phone is so smart it eats other larger smartphones for breakfast. In fact, despite having only a single camera module, this phone can take stereoscopic 3D images.

Packing inside that slim 9.4mm plastic and metallic body, the XPERIA Ray has a 1 GHz Snapdragon S-o-C, Adreno 205 GPU, 512MB RAM, Quad band GSM, Tri band 3G, GPS receiver, HDMI out and 8.1 Megapixel backlit sensor AF camera with a fast f/2.4 lens. The 3.3" display has a resolution of 480 x 854 - giving this is pixel density of 297 ppi, only three pixels per inch shy of Apple's definition of a "retina display". All this for £270 unlocked - what a bargain.

Read on my review of the XPERIA Ray on FoneArena and find out what I love about this little fella.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Samsung Story Station 2TB review - a cautionary tale

Last week I asked on twitter about the best harddrive available. I have been out of the whole computer hardware loop for a while I thought I would ask. Normally I would buy Seagate, but was told that their drives reliability has dropped since they bought Maxtor (ugh). I was advised that Samsung harddrives were the way to go by a friend who works in networking. Surely they can't be wrong? So I ordered the 2TB Samsung Story. It was priced only £10 more than the equivalent Seagate, and it looked downright sexy.

Yesterday evening I finally got my hands on the Story. It certainly looks like a great external drive, but who cares about the looks when what's important is the reliability and performance. I plugged it in and started moving my films, music and maps from my laptop onto the drive. I didn't measure the speed, but it wasn't slow. So for the next three hours, I started moving more crap onto the drive. 100GB later, I felt confident that I could start trusting it by moving some pictures too.

All hell broke lose.

I was watching a film on my telly. Despite the loud TV volume, I started hearing a loud clicking sound. Immediately I looked at my PS3 expecting to see a YLOD or something, but after listening carefully I found that it was coming from the new Samsung drive. I immediately turned it off and tried connecting again. No loud clicks this time, but my PC would not see it. I rebooted by PC just in case and still nothing happened. Eventually a drive letter came up and Windows urged me to format the drive. Distressed I connected the drive to my partner's Macbook Air, and even Apple's finest would not see it.

The Samsung drive was dead.

It lasted from 7.15 pm 6 October 2011 to 12.15 am 7 October 2011.

So that's it. That's my review of the Samsung Story 2TB. It's a piece of crap that does not work. In fact looking back at it now, I am glad it crapped out so early. Imagined if I used it for a week, moving more of my precious irreplaceable stuff on it, only for it to die on me. I think I would probably launch a lawsuit or something. I am now faced with the dilemma of returning this dreadful drive to Amazon, along with whatever personal data on it, and trust that they or Samsung dispose of it properly, or keep the broken drive and write off the £80 I paid for it.

Rather than sleeping, I am actually in the process of recovering my files from my laptop. Thanks a lot Samsung. You make great TVs, smartphones, world tallest buildings and even memory cards, but I would never trust my data on one of your sorry harddrives ever again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Samsung Essential microSDHC card review

Not long ago I received an email proposing that I test a new line of 'indestructible' micro SD memory cards. To be honest I have never come across a micro SD card that has yet to be destroyed and I have been using them for years. SD cards on the other hand are easily killed. Curious I requested they send me one, and two days ago I received it.

The card turned out to be a Samsung branded 8GB class six micro SD card. It looks bog standard and nothing on the packaging claims that it was indestructible, but a quick search later reveals that Samsung does indeed claim that the cards are water proof, shock proof and magnetic proof. The micro SD card does look as classy as Samsung claims, though I do not see how these will affect its usage.

In any case I decided to see if I could kill it. Nobody would ever use their memory card in water - after all, even if the memory card itself was water proof, most devices aren't. There are exceptions of course, but there aren't many. Still I am sure there are times when even I accidentally left them in the washing machine. So that was exactly what I did - leaving it inside a pocket (but making sure it is zipped so as I don't lose it!), I left our Bosch washing machine to do its worst - a one hour 30C cycle and a couple of spins at 1200 rpm.

Needless to say the blessed card survived the arduous cycle of being trapped in a washing machine. Not giving up, I attempted to kill it by placing it between two fridge magnet but to no avail. Finally I gave it a few stamping but it wasn't enough to kill it. At the end of the day I decided that the little blighter had put up a good fight and spare it further physical abuses. It was time to check out how it performs.

The Samsung 8GB micro SDHC card here is graded as a class six card, which means it has to be able to offer a minimum of 6MB/s write speed. I ran it through a benchmarking application, and delightfully found that the write speed was averaged at 10.5MB/s. That's equivalent to a class ten card. On the other hand I found the read speed to be disappointing, only capable of around 17.8MB/s, in comparison to a Sandisk card I have which offers a speed of 49MB/s. Still at 17.8MB/s, the read speed is sufficient enough to stream full HD films comfortably from.

All in all, there is plenty to like about this card. It is available from Memory Card Zoo for a not too bad but could do better £10.79. It is a little on the pricey side (for a 8GB card), but can you really put a price on data reliability? Other brands may offer more value for money, but at least with this you can be assured that your data is in safe hands, uhm, I mean card.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Captain Power!

Does anyone remember this series of light gun toys made by Mattel for the TV series Captain Power? Well here I was sitting minding my own business during lunch when for no reason at all, I started remembering what toys I had when I was a kid. I wanted to tweet about it, but thought that perhaps a blog post is more fitting for such a great toy. You kids don't know what you are missing.

I remember me and my younger brother getting this from a toy store in the big city when we were seven or eight. The game is played on a TV and your controller is the PowerJet XT-7 - yes, the motherfucking jets from the TV series. These light gun games were the early pioneers to more sophisticated light guns controllers like the Nintendo Zapper and eventually, boring video game controllers like the Wii, Kinect, Move and whatever.

The PowerJet toys comes with several VHS that you play on a TV. Each tape contains two scenes of live action sequences (hmm, Jessica Steen) spliced with animated missions (it was like Wing Commander - which came after it, but even more awesome). You play by holding each controller jet and firing at pink targets on the TV. Occasionally enemies will fire back in the form of epileptic bright yellow flashes, in which case you retract your ship to avoid being 'shot at'.

Some people cheat by covering the sensors, but we did not (or weren't clever enough to exploit the loop hole, I can't remember). The controller jets actually keep the score of targets you shoot down. Get shot too many times and the cockpit ejects! How awesome was that?

But what actually made Captain Power so much more awesome than your average light gun game was how interactive it was, if you had more than one controller jet. Your entire surrounding immediately becomes part of your game. Both me and my brother had the PowerJet XT-7 (white jet) and the enemy Phantom Striker (black jet), which we tend to blast around running around the house and shooting each other. It was pretty intense. We also had the Interlocker which was also interactive, and the none-interactive Trans-Field Communication Station.

Those were the good times of interactive gaming. I am a video games person, but if there is anything I would do, I would do it to have another go at these classic toys. I hope my parents haven't threw them away or else it is time for me to hit eBay for some vintage Captain Power goodness.

Captain Power ad via

Three MiFi Huawei E586 review

I am a huge fan of Three UK's MiFi, a product I rarely leave home without. In fact, it was my gadget of 2010, a huge testament to a simple and affordable gadget. So when Three UK announced the new MiFi Huawei E586, my eyes lit up with wonder and immediately request to review one. While Three refers to the new MiFi as the 'High-Speed MiFi', for the sake of this review, I will simply refer to the Huawei E586 as the MiFi v3.

Before I continue, a short explanation of what a MiFi is and how it works. Basically, a MiFi is a portable wireless router that you can use to connect multiple devices to the internet via a single data connection. This makes it an effective and economical way of accessing the internet wherever you are with whatever gadgets you have. Up to five gadgets can be connected to the MiFi at the same time.

The MiFi v3 is an evolution of the Huawei E585. Even the model number reflects this. Still, Huawei and Three has introduced a number of improvements that makes upgrading from the old version a tempting proposition. Firstly, the MiFi v3 now includes a HSPA+ radio, boosting download speed up to 21.1 Mbps HSDPA and upload speed at 5.76 Mbps HSUPA. However as Three UK are only currently rolling out their HSPA+ upgrade, not everyone will be able to enjoy this upgrade in speed. Download speeds in my area regularly top out at 4 Mbps with the new MiFi, no doubt because HSPA+ has yet to arrive here. Unfortunately there is no way to tell which of Three's cell towers has been upgraded.

The next improvement comes in the form of a new button. In my review of the MiFi v2, I noted how simple the design was with just one useful button - but with this, a new button is introduced that when I look back, makes sense and I can not understand why this wasn't introduced sooner. The 'key' button when pressed displays the SSID of the MiFi as well as the passkey. So no longer do you need to remove the battery cover to check for the passkey. Another good improvement in usability comes in the form of the MiFi displaying the total amount of data use, not just in a particular session (like in the MiFi v2). This allows the user to keep in check the amount of data allowance left to use.

Like the MiFi v2, a microSDHC card slot can be found on the left side. This will allow you to turn the MiFi into a USB storage. It will also feature a OLED screen, where useful information such as signal strength, number of connected devices and data consumption will be displayed. In fact apart from some changes in materials used it would be difficult to differentiate the two. The rubberised battery cover from the MiFi v3 can even be used on the old MiFi. It is however slightly thicker than the MiFi v2.

The small OLED screen is bright and shows a wealth of information, including the aforementioned SSID and passkey. By default, the screen will display the signal strength, the amount of devices connected to the MiFi, battery level, indicator for text messages, amount of data consumed and up time. Each MiFi also has an online dashboard where it is possible to manage the account related to the MiFi. Once accessed, the dashboard allows one to change the SSID and passkey as well as view the current MiFi's signal strength and view the text messages. You can also change the security settings. For example the SSID can be hidden and devices can be blocked via MAC filtering.

While Three did not advertise this, I found that the new MiFi is able to last longer than the older MiFi. In fact, despite using the exact same battery as the old MiFi, the new MiFi was able to last about 2-3 hours longer. On most days I was able to eke roughly 5 hours on the old MiFi, but with the new MiFi getting 7-8 hours on a single charge was normal. The improvement is staggering especially when I find that the new MiFi was able to reconnect quicker than the old MiFi, as well as having a better reception overall. Both of the MiFi boots up in the exact same time.

Three has also kindly supplied a new cradle charger with the new MiFi. It's a simple black unit that allows you to dock and charge the MiFi when in home. This also cements my belief that the new MiFi is marketed at people who may want to use it as a complete home broadband replacement. Unfortunately as Three has not extended their AYCE price plan with the new MiFi, the MiFi would not make a good home broadband replacement, though the £18.99 for 15GB a month plan may still be feasible for some people.

The best deal for people willing to commit on a contract is the MiFi 5GB plan with rolling one month contract. For £15.99 a month, this gives you 5GB data allowance per month, with the MiFi costing a one-off £50. If you are in it for the long haul, the 5GB on an 18 month contract will cost more at £18.99, but you won't have to pay for the MiFi. There is also a cheaper 1GB on a 18 month contract that costs £10.87, but after using 500MB in less than a week mainly via my smartphone, I am hesitant to recommend this plan.

As a fan of PAYG system, I would recommend most people to take the 12GB on 12 month pre-paid deal. For £129.99 you get 12GB to spend over a twelve month period, whichever ends sooner, and the MiFi device itself. This is great for people who do not regularly need their MiFi at times, but is also flexible enough to allow them to use as much data if needed.

Despite the improvements, there are no real reasons to upgrade from the previous version to the new Huawei E586, well, at least until the HSPA+ rollout is complete. But if you are in the market for a new MiFi, then I can't suggest anything better than this. Now we only need to convince Three UK that offering a MiFi with a AYCE price plan is the only way forward.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Emmy the Great at Cecil Sharp House

At last week's gig at the Cecil Sharp House in Camden, Emma Lee-Moss of Emmy the Great jokingly announced that they are not a folk music band. Which was ironic as the venue they were playing was the headquarters to the English Folk Dance and Song Society. A rather fitting venue to Emmy the Great, whose music has been described as anti-folk or indie folk.

Back on the release of Emmy the Great's second album Virtue, Emma pointed out how the album was shaped by the decision of her then fiancée for breaking the engagement in order to chase god. She now dates Tim from the Britrock band Ash, but that is besides the point. The set piece consists mainly of music from the new album who she shared much of its production with people on Pledge Music, often (and I agree) said to be more mainstream than her folksy debut album First Love.

The venue lent an atmosphere of intimacy and audiences were as close to Emma as they can ever be. Sadly the sound system left much to be desired and was not able to cope with Emma's powerful and beautiful voice - often ringing. It was also too loud, an unfortunate downside of being a music fan in 2011 when there is no end in sight to the pointless and musicality atrocious loudness war.

For more pictures of Emmy the Great's gig at Cecil Sharp House please visit my Flickr page.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nokia World 2011 preview

I have been looking forward to Nokia World 2011 ever since the end of Nokia World 2010, particularly more so after the huge bombshell in February. You know, the one where Nokia ditched Symbian and go all Redmond. Well, it pleases me to say that I have finally received an email last week confirming my registration to this year's event at London ExCel on 26 and 27 October. :D

As we have been told many times, this year is a transition period for Nokia. They have announced (and practically killed off) a single Meego device, spinned off their development of Symbian to Accenture, placed more emphasis on Series 40 as a long-term replacement to Symbian and committed to Windows Phone 7 ecosystem as their primary smartphone strategy.
Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft's unique take on mobile OS with a new grid-less based GUI. When I the OS last year I cautioned against the lack of features expected from a modern smartphone. I was however very impressed by the UI and UX and noted that given time, Microsoft can turn Windows Phone 7 into a compelling OS for both power and mainstream users. And with the upcoming Mango update, it seems Microsoft has succeeded. The only question is convincing smartphone users to ditch their Androids and iPhones for one.

Nokia World this year doesn't look to be as massive in scale as last year's, but it is still early days to know what to expect. What is probably true is that the event will definitely be a very Windows Phone 7 focused event. We can expect Nokia to announce their first ever Windows Phone 7 smartphone, the already leaked Nokia codenamed Sea Ray device, and probably a couple more other devices, including none-Windows Phone phones with enhanced Microsoft applications.

Follow me on @jonchoo and the #NokiaWorld hashtag for updates.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Discovery Channel "Alone in the Wild"

Yesterday I attended the press launch of a new Discovery Channel series Alone in the Wild at the swish One Marylebone London, a venue that serves great canapes I should add. The six-part series will follow eight celebrities surviving in the wild. Sounds familiar? Well it should - this is the sort of reality TV isn't new.
Except it sort of is.

With Alone in the Wild, each participants are left completely alone. And when Discovery Channel meant alone, they don't mean fake alone like the Bear Grylls's Man vs Wild series where he often misleads viewers into thinking he is alone stranded on an island when in fact he has a whole camera crew with him and retires to a 'basecamp' every so often. No, in Alone in the Wild, Discovery Channel stresses that each of the personalities were left completely alone with their own camera equipments to film themselves.

Six episodes will be shown from 5 October:

Episode 1: Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff, the former captain to England's Cricket team, who was left alone in Botswana. Here he encountered a herd of elephants and received a nocurnal visit that terrified him.

Episode 2: Jason Gardiner, judge of Dancing on Ice and Strictly Dance Fever, was also left to fend on for himself on Belize for six nights. No luck catching fishes, he almost gave up after three days but a rainbow soon changed his mind.

Episode 3: Comedian Joe Pasquale, who is no stranger to the wild. He was winner of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here after all. In this series, Joe was sent to a wet Guyana where he lost three toenails and vowed not to kill anything with a face.

Episode 4: Amy Williams, the first British Winter Olympics individual gold medalist in 30 years, was paired up with Tanya Streeter, a world record holder in free diving (at a depth of 160 metres), were also sent to Botswana where they spent three days in separate camps.

Episode 5: Two tough guys were paired up at Guyana. Donal Macintyre, an investigagive journalists, and Chris Ryan, a retired SAS who once walked nearly 200 miles to escape Iraq in 1991. One had a lucky escape from a tree.

Episode 6: Aron Ralston, a mountain climber and the subject of Danny Boyle's well received 127 Hours film. In 2003 Aron was forced to amputate his right arm with a dull knife in order to free himself from a boulder. He was left marooned on Belize, a deserted island, for... you guessed it - 127 hours. Homesick, he starts to dwell on the 127 hours he spent trapped in Utah and even began to talk to coconuts.

I don't know about you, but I am really looking forward to watching Aron Ralston doing his best Tom Hank's impression.

Finally, here is a sneak preview to the series.

Many thanks to David for the invite.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sony Ericsson XPERIA Party

On Wednesday I was invited to Sony Ericsson's XPERIA Party at the swanky and glamorous Aqua Nueva roof terrace in Soho London. This was the same venue where I stalked Pamela Anderson for her autograph almost a year ago.

The purpose of the event was to showcase two new Sony Ericsson products - the recently launched XPERIA ray, a slim but powerful Android smartphone for those who has no interest on the current supersized smartphones; and the recently announced XPERIA arc S - which itself is a refresh of the rather excellent XPERIA Arc.

We were also shown a demo of the latest Android 2.3.4 update by Sony Ericsson, which introduces 3D sweep panorama ability - a feature that intrigued me because Sony Ericsson has no smartphones with two camera modules. Curious to see what I thought about it? Read my thoughts on how well it works here.

For the evening, Sony Ericsson commissioned two artists to entertain us. The first I can't remember who it was (apologies, I probably should but I am not a fan of R&B) and the second was Dynamo the Magician, who I have to admit I have never heard of him. Well apparently he is quite a popular magician who recently 'walked' the Thames in London.

I was chastised by Nick (of the Average Gamer)'s cool mum for being so ignorant. I have an excuse, my interest with magician sort of ebbed away ever since I saw David Copperfield when I was twelve - and to me nothing can ever top David Copperfield, hence my disinterest with modern magicians like Derren Brown and David Blaine. Still Dynamo was rather good and I was impressed by his card tricks.

I had a good night with many fellow mobile tech bloggers/journalists. Thanks to Sony Ericsson UK and Brando World for the invite.

Fellowes GoRiser portable laptop riser review

The Fellowes GoRiser is a portable laptop riser and part of Fellowes range of ergonomically designed products aimed at providing mobile warriors with the means of using their laptops in a more comfortable manner. It is capable of holding lalptops up to 17". What is different with the GoRiser and other laptop risers I have used in the past, including the Belkin Cushtop, is it is foldable and thus portable. Fold it up and carry it on your laptop bag for easy transportation. This product is part of Fellowes's Smart At Work campaign of increasing awareness on work ergonomics.

Osun's magic MushRoom Green ZERO charger review

Are you concerned by green house gases and the wastage of electricity? Do you know that mobile phone charger continues to suck up power even when your phone has been fully charged? Well it does. If you want to do something about it, maybe it is now the time to have a look at Osun's smashingly good looking MushRoom Green Zero AC USB charger.

On the surface it looks like a bog standard, albeit stylish, USB wall charger but beneath the shiny white and green exterior lies some magic. It switches off by itself when it detects your phone has been fully charged, drawing zero power and hence saving you money in the long run. Brilliant isn't it?

Want to know more? Read on my full review here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Exogear Exomount universal car mount review

Own a smartphone? Drive a car? In need of a new car mount for your smartphone? Well do read my review on FoneArena of Exogear's Exomount, a universal car mount (good for devices with displays up to 5" in size) that Exogear claims to offer a suction cup with a material that enables it to be mounted anywhere - even on your drywall!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Note announced

Samsung has just recently announced the Galaxy Note, an Android smartphone tablet hybrid. With a large 5.3" Super AMOLED screen with 800x1280 resolution, the display on the Note is even more spacious than my Galaxy S II. Seriously it looks tiny in comparison.
The Galaxy Note will ship with a built in stylus for, you can guess it, note taking. With should be handy as the large screen is crying out to be scribbled and prodded along via optimised apps such as S Planner and S Memo. Samsung will also be making the API available to third party application developers so future apps will take advantage of the pen. Clearly Samsung is betting on the S Pen to succeed at taking Moleskine users like me to the 21st century.
Proving that Samsung will be marketing this device as a phone, the Note will run on Android Gingerbread and not the tablet orientated Honeycomb. Powering it is the same Samsung Exynos system on chip that runs on the Galaxy S II but with a higher 1.4GHz clock speed. It will be available in either 16 or 32GB flavours.
The Galaxy Note will ship with a generous 2500 mah battery. Despite that and the large screen the Note weighs in at only 178 grams and has a thickness of less than 10mm.
Keep an eye out on this site as hopefully I will be able to obtain one for review.
Source: Samsung