Sunday, February 27, 2011

Apple MacBook Air (late 2010) review

This blog post will be about the MBA. Not the clever MBA, no, this is about the MacBook Air, specifically the 13" version. So if you are looking to do the business degree, you will have to look elsewhere! This blog doesn't do any sort of overtly geeky things like business degrees. :)

Apple, apple, apple, the forbidden fruit in the Adam and Eve 'tale', the sweet fruit that can be in the colour of green or red. But we are not talking about fruit here, we are talking about Apple Inc. that Steve Jobs co-founded in 1976.

If you are looking for a 'I love Apple forever' post and about how amazing and god awesome they are, unfortunately this would not be it. There are tons of fan sites out there that will suit you better.

Am I a Mac or a PC?

My purchase of the MacBook Air began when my previous notebook gave up recently. It's the second Apple product I've ever owned (the first was a fourth generation iPod Touch). It was a toss up between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

There was a rumour that MacBook Pro was due to be upgraded at that time whilst the current MacBook Air was recently updated in late 2010. I didn't want to wait for a couple of weeks for Apple to release the new Pro, hence I decided to opt for the Air. The next dilemma was whether to get the 13 or 11inch. I decided to go for the 13" because the portability of the 11" version wasn't a priority. I also need a decent size screen to work with Autocad etc, and after a couple of upgrades are taken into account, I found the 13" Air to be more value for money than the 11" version.

The first thing that impressed me was Apple Store's efficiency. I placed the order on a Sunday and they called to confirm my details the very next day. There's this one freaky thing - they called my office despite the fact that I've never given them the number! Not too sure whether I should feel impressed or worried in regard of this...

Even more impressive however was the fact that the Air was delivered the following morning. I was greeted with a brown box on my office desk. From ordering it on Sunday evening and getting it on Tuesday morning - that's what I called efficiency!

After carefully unboxing, I settled to get to know my new love. Unfortunately, my happiness didn't last long... As a twitter addict, looking at the keyboard, my first thought was: "Where the hell is the hashtag symbol???"

And yes, thanks to twitter, I got the answer. It was 'Alt+3'!

But this irks me, why isn't there a hashtag symbol on the keyboard, whereas there is € sign on the number 2, despite also having to use 'Alt+2'. It also seems to be missing a 'delete' button. Another downside is that there is no backlight on the keyboard like the old MacBook Air. Even a light similar to Jon's ThinkPad would be enough.

Okay, perhaps I am rather fussy, but the most painful thing I encountered was transferring my music from my iPod Touch to the Air. In fact, there are no straight forward way to transfer my music to the Mac! iTunes would not allow me to do it. The only way is to install a third party app for this purpose.

Right, enough of the cons, the MacBook Air has plenty of pros as well. I must admit that I primarily chose the MacBook Air because of the design. It is sleek, light, has a brilliant display and is well built! Mac OS X boots quickly and despite the now outdated Core 2 Duo architecture, the thing is far quicker and thus more productive than cheaper netbook alternatives. I also found the VAIO-like chiclet keyboard to be very comfortable to use.

I was also told that Mac laptops tend to hold their values better than PC laptops, but perhaps it's because of Apple's tendency to update their line ups far less than PC manufacturers. It is a sleek, light, gorgeous designed laptop but you shouldn't expect it to be a powerful workstation like a high end MacBook Pro or other powerful ultra portable notebooks. All in all, I do like it and despite my issues with Mac OS X, it is a keeper.

This review of Apple's MacBook Air 13" (late 2010) is by guest reviewer Jennifer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play, Arc, Neo, Pro impressions

Yesterday evening I had a hands-on with Sony Ericsson's latest Xperia phones, the Play, Neo, Arc and Pro at the London #XperiaMWC event. I have already covered my impressions of the Xperia Play here.

The four (including the Xperia Play) Xperia are a triple assault by Sony Ericsson on the Android market. Each has its own distinguish features. The Xperia Arc represents Sony Ericsson new Xperia flagship, an ultra slim smartphone with a large 4.2" screen. Sony Ericsson has also catered for users wishing for a hardware QWERTY keyboard - in this case, the Xperia Pro. Finally the Xperia Neo is a mid-range phone that shares many of the features found on its more expensive sibling, the Arc.

Apart from the Xperia Play, the three Xperia shares identical DNA - a Sony Bravia reality engine, HDMI port, 512MB RAM, 320MB internal storage, 1 GHz Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon SoC and a slim 8MP Exmor R backlit sensor. All four runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and are fitted with Sony Ericsson's own User Experience Platform UX.

Of the four devices, I spent the most time with the Xperia Play, hence why I thought it deserves its own post. There were only one or two Xperia Pro in the event, so I only got to play with it for a couple of minutes. The slide out QWERTY keyboard feels good and the keys had good travel. I also like that the keys are well spaced. However I can't comment on how well the keys are in real life usage. Hopefully I will be able to acquire a review unit.

The Xperia Arc and Neo are basically the same device with a different size screen and design. The Neo looks and feels like Sony Ericsson's last Symbian device, the Vivaz, and features a human curvature back design (as indeed the Pro) and a smaller screen like the Pro. It feels more comfortable in my palm compared to the wider Xperia Arc.

Both the Arc and Neo has similar performances. There were slowdowns but the Sony Ericsson rep has told us that this was because the units were running on preproduction firmware. They all run on Sony Ericsson's Timescape UI which works well. The homescreen can be zoomed out, but unlike other Android launchers, you get an overview of all the widgets currently active. Press any of the widget and you will be brought to the correct homescreen tile.

Sony Ericsson has not confirmed pricing for any of the devices. The Xperia Arc, Neo and Play are said to be launching in March 2011, with the Xperia Pro arriving in April.

Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play first impression

Yesterday evening I had a hands-on with Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play (the "PlayStation" phone) at the London #XperiaMWC event.

The Xperia Play is the only new Xperia not to share the same DNA as the Pro, Arc and Neo. It doesn't have a Bravia reality engine, nor does it have the cracking 8MP Exmor R backlit sensor that graces the back of the other Xperia phones.

As a gaming device, the Xperia Play houses a slider that contains the gamepad, not too dissimilar to Sony's PSP Go. Here you will find the four directional pad, dual touchpad (to simulate dual-analog on PS1 games), four action buttons (with classic none-coloured PlayStation shapes), start/select buttons and a another button that I assume emulates the analog button of the original PlayStation Dual Analog controller.

I found the buttons to be small. In fact smaller even than those you find on the original DS Lite. Tactile feedback isn't particularly good, particularly the shoulder trigger buttons. It isn't the most comfortable portable console out there, though I do have to stress that it is the only modern (and small) smartphone with a built-in gamepad.

The body was mainly made of plastic (in fact all the Xperias were mainly made of plastic). This was likely a design decision to not only keep costs down, but also to keep the weight down. Fortunately while it felt cheap, the built quality was great. The slider was solid and did not wobble or creak. How long will it last is another matter.

The Xperia Play contains an ageing Adreno 205 GPU and 1Ghz Scorpion processor. While no slouch by itself, the effect of using such an outdated architecture was immediately felt when gaming. Games like Asphalt 6 was slow to boot and suffered from frame drop outs. Not only that but I took issue with how Gameloft did not optimise the interface to be used with the gamepad. At times I am required to use the d-pad to navigate and sometimes I am forced to use the touchscreen.

On the upside it was obvious how much the gamepad (however bad it is) improves upon mobile gaming. Touchscreen gaming gaining traction lately, but the lack of controls has always hindered gameplay. Even a simple Gameloft game (and people know how much I hate Gameloft games), was much more enjoyable because I do not have to resort to on-screen buttons to do tasks, or use the dreadful accelerometer to move. I see more of the screen as well as it isn't blocked by the large thumbs.

No doubt by the time the Xperia Play launches, games optimised for the Xperia Play's architecture and unique gamepad will appear. Only time will tell if gamers will be tempted to ditch their PSP and DS, or away from the 3DS and pending PSP2/NGP for the Xperia Play, but for everyone else - the lure of the PlayStation brand could sell them this device, or at least that is what Sony Ericsson are hoping.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Canon S90 vs Nokia N8 follow-up

So that Canon S90 vs Nokia N8 thing was a huge hit. Nice to see plenty of misinformed Nokia fans trolling the post when they have NO clue. Just like a lot of them have no clue about Windows Phone, but I will leave that to Nokia blogs to take the brunt of the misinformed assault on the partnership.

Now, let me clear up some stuff. The N8 has a good camera, for a phone. But comparing it to a high-end compact? Don't make me laugh. I say this as a person who actually bought (and still use) the N8 for his birthday back in October 2010, purely because it was supposed to have this so-called fantastic camera module that apparently has even entry level DSLR beaten. I was wrong.

Another thing, a camera doesn't make great images. The person behind the camera does. Give someone like Ken Rockwell a disposable camera, and he can make much greater pictures than I can with a Leica M9, Nikon D3 or whatever. A good camera is supposed to only make it easier for the photographer. The N8 does not make things easier.

In fact the camera application is a frickin' disaster. A photographer's main job is to capture picture, not battle with a UI that crashes and generally throws a hissy fit. I was at an event this evening with my friend who writes for She also happens to own a N8. Like me she bought it for the supposed brilliant camera. She had so many problems with her N8, that by the time she got her N8 restarted, I have already finished taking 50 images.

The point of the post wasn't about making good images, it was all about image quality, and to debunk the stupid myth that the Nokia N8 is a digital camera killer. It is laughable to read that people think it is comparable to a good compact camera with fast lens and large sensor, much less a DSLR! The idea is so stupid it isn't even worth entertaining a rebuttal.

There were some complains that I didn't post comparison pictures. Well I did, the one - but even then some of you didn't actually notice. Should have gone to SpecSavers eh?. Well I went to the liberty of making some additional comparison pictures, which I shouldn't even bother. But I did.

All set to auto, with no flash, handheld shot:

And you know what? I will keep updating this post with even more comparison shots. Just wait.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Canon S90 vs Nokia N8

Here it is, the Canon S90, arguably one of the best digital compact ever released. Forget what Nokia told you about how phones (like their flagship imaging phone N8) has surpassed digital compacts. The S90 not only spanks the N8 but does so in such a manner than one should laugh at anyone who ever treated the N8 as more than it is - yet another camera phone.

Where to begin. Well the S90 is easier to use. The N8 is a touchscreen smartphone with an awful camera application, that does not even bother to remember the settings you last used. There are no manual controls on the N8, where as the S90 has full manual controls and features that makes even some entry level DSLR blush with envy. More importantly, the S90 has buttons, and buttons always beat touchscreen. Always.

The S90 has two rings of control.The control ring allows you to easily control whichever function you want. Simply spin it and that's it. I've set the S90 onto Aperture Priority mode, and use the ring to select the aperture, and the back ring to exposure. The Canon is such a genius this almost always works. It is easier to use than my Nikon D90!

I hate writing about specs, but the S90 has the specs where it matters most. It has a very fast lens - in fact faster than Canon's flagship G12 prosumer digital compact. The lens on the S90 allows twice as much light as the G12, Nokia N8 and even my £500 Nikkor 20-35mm f/2.8 lens.

The Canon has the same sensor as the S95, G11 and G12 - a 10MP 1/1.7" CCD sensor, far bigger than those found on most none-EVIL compacts. The N8 on the other hand contains a smaller1/1.83" and packs more megapixels. Because of the S90's superior lens and sensor, the S90 can capture more detail on its 10MP sensor than the N8 could, and to do so with very little noise.

So what's missing. Well the S90 does not do HD videos, which will be a bummer to YouTubers - but a blessing to me. I like it that my D90 is shit at doing HD videos, and the same applies with the S90. I am glad that it doesn't, because digital cameras should shoot images and video cameras should shoot videos. Convergences means having to apply trade-offs. What next? MP3 playback in cameras?

The S90 isn't equipped with a hot shoe. This irked me at first, but then I thought why bother with a hot shoe on such a small compact. Besides the S90 is so brilliant at low light photography that I don't even bother with its xenon flash most of the time.

So what is this 'review' really about? Well, it is about busting the myth that smartphones are close to even succeeding good compact cameras. Yes, a N8 is convenient in that it allows me to only carry one device. But if you value memories, then you wouldn't mind carrying an extra photographic device. Sure the S90 isn't cheap, but you can easily augment the purchase by getting a cheaper phone.

All in all, if you are in the market for a pocket camera you can do a lot worse than the S90. While the S90 has since been surpassed by the S95 - it is still pretty much 99% the same camera, one that has retained plenty of value and sought after by photographers.

The Canon S90 vs Nokia N8 macro sample below is a real eye opener. The differences between the two cameras are astounding:

Auto, no flash, f/2

Auto, no flash, f/2.8
More Canon S90 samples:

AV mode, f/5.6, ISO500, 1/500sec

auto, flash, f/2, ISO800, 1/30sec

Manual, no flash, f/2, ISO400, 1/30sec

Manual, tripod, f/2, ISO400, 1sec

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nokia embrace Windows Phone

Nokia today announced that they will be adopting Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform as their primary smartphone strategy. In an open letter by Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Nokia and Microsoft announced plans for a strategic partnership to build a new global mobile ecosystem.

This, is a good thing.

See, I am a fan of Symbian, due to the flexibility and features it brings to power users. I also happen to like Windows Phone 7 a lot. I've always maintained that Windows Phone has a bright future, not in its current state, but after a couple of updates.

Not only that, Nokia will have a degree of control over Windows Phone platform. Microsoft currently have a strict requirement on hardware and software. A LG, Samsung and HTC Windows Phone 7 looks a like and has almost nothing to differentiate between all of them. Not with Nokia. With Windows Phone, Nokia will be able to change almost anything with Windows Phone, including the UI - though the won't as this will likely break app compatibility.

I also admire Stephen Elop's attitude. It takes a lot of guts to create so much disruption when Nokia is still top of the industry. He, I believe, is the right person to lead Nokia out of the deep hole their former regime (OPK and Anssi) dug themselves into.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Among good friends

So the Sky Lanterns event didn't happen. It was rather unlucky of us, but this is Britain and the weather gods decided to give this island a good hammering. Teach me a lesson for trying to organise an event on the third day of Chinese New Year, a day when superstitious asian people believes that no one should socialise. Not that I believe in all that crap.

Still we ended at The Queen pub on Primrose Hill Road, but not before bumping into Laurence at the Apple Store in Covent Garden - Google Latitude and Foursquare proves once again what useful social applications they are. Just in case you were wondering what I was doing at the Apple Store - my phone battery died due to a poorly programmed power hungry app (Whatsapp), and I needed to email, check the forecast, charge my Nokia phone using electricity stolen from Steve Jobs etc.

Anyway, Jenni and I decided to scout out The Queen decided it was good place to hold an impromptu meetup for people who didn't get the message that the event was cancelled. It is a pretty decent pub, clean (albeit a bit posh) and was right next to Primrose Hill. They also happen to serve good food.

As I suspected that my message may not have reached everyone, I started walking up and down the hill since 6.30pm to intercept anybody who were carrying large flat squarish things. First to arrive were our fellow St Albanian's Gaz and Carl, who decided to attempt to launch the lanterns but failed. Next was my good friend and social animal Julian with a couple of his couch sharing friends. They knew it was cancelled but decided to show up anyway to hang out.

Then my good friend Nicola, who I haven't seen in seven months and wouldn't see again for another year, called (thank goodness I charged my phone). After walking up and down the hill, I spotted her and her best friend Emma walking down by the road, alongside another participator. It was good seeing her again, and I will be honest it would be a great disappointment if we didn't meetup before she jets off again.

We enjoyed the breathtaking London skyline from the summit of Primrose Hill before heading off to the pub where Heather and the super awesomeness that is Motoko Liu (who travelled all the way from Basingstoke to be there - despite knowing it was cancelled) has just arrived.

It was a good evening. There were Angry Birds toys, chatters about how awesome Battlestar Galactica is (in fact, it was here we hatched an idea of BSG season one marathon session - watch this space) and other stuff. I was among good friends, and for that I am happy enough.

In any case, thanks to Jenni's heroics she has managed to quickly reschedule the event to Tuesday 8 February with Rob at the Civil Aviation Authority. That's tomorrow! We got out lanterns at Cotswold Outdoor shops - three lanterns for £9 and they are eco friendly ones. So that's at 7.30pm - meet us on the summit.

Phew, it's tough writing personal posts, but I enjoyed it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Win an Angry Bird!

Hei it's Chinese New Year! Quick competition. Correctly guess how many Angry Birds are there in this bag on the right and you will win a bird. Only one guess per person. If more than one correctly guessed the same, the first person to do so wins. Simples. Good luck.

Ends mid day tomorrow (4 February 2011, 12pm GMT).

PS: Leave a twitter handle or something so I know who you are. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stella Artois announces Cidre

AB InBev, the world largest brewer, today announced that they will be entering the premium cider market under the Stella Artois brand. The Stella Artois Cidre is a new Belgian cider made from apples fermented in Belgium, and will be available in the UK from April, with a 4.5% abv.

Speaking at the launch, Stuary MacFarlane, President of AB InBev UK was particular enthusiastic and confident that the Cidre is able to corner the premium cider market and cited market research and blind testing against the two leading premium cider brands. 13% of UK adults are said to drink cider at least once a month, so there clearly is market for them.

I was there at the launch, and had my first taste of the new drink. I'm no cider expert, but I liked what I drank. And so did many others. Journos don't lie you see - well not when it came to alcohol at least. It is crisp and fresh and isn't overwhelming. As far as I am concerned, I would pick the Cidre over a Bullmers, Strongbow and Magners.

What do you think? Are you a cider drinker? Would you drink a Stella Artois Cidre?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January Tweetstats

Hei it's February! How was your January? Personally I thought January was a bit slow, but February is so going to kick ass.

Anyway, was looking at my Tweetstats for January, and it isn't a pretty sight. Have a look at this graph:

I am going to need a lot more sleep in February than I had in January. Problem is, will I?