Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The vilification of Ye Shiwen by the British media

I don't normally write about sports, but this has been irritating me since yesterday that I just had to put it down in writing. It's about the shocking treatment laid against 16 year old Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen by the British media. Ye broke her personal best record at 400m medley event, winning gold as a result. She did it in such a way that American and British media started to raise an eyebrow or two - not quite the same reaction they gave to Michael Phelps when he first caught the eyes of mainstream sports journos, age 15.

Instead of congratulating her and recognising her talents, without thinking, insinuations started to appear in the media (both on air and in print) which appears to infer that Ye was doping, starting with BBC's Clare Balding and then sour grape of the year John Leonard, as if that was the only explanation to her incredible performance. Questions were asked and fingers were pointed at China's past doping offenses. Never mind that some British and American athletes has an illustrious history of getting caught doping as well, or that the rule of innocent before proven guilty should be adhered.

She's a female and she's Chinese, so she definitely must be guilty of something. How dare she swim faster than an American male! Not that she did, she just happened to be faster on the last leg than one man - of which four other men were quicker than her - something the British media failed to point out in their desire to cherry pick evidence against her. UK papers can't wait to queue up articles about how China 'manufacturer' their athletes. The whole thing reeks of rancid and the British media's treatment towards Ye is tantamount to bullying, almost on a xenophobic level.

This morning the chief of British Olympic Association has come out to defend Ye Shiwen, confirming that she has been tested and that she is clean. And yet nearly an hour after the news broke, the BBC has a massive picture of Ye Shiwen next to another equally massive headline "We will catch Games cheat", implying that sooner or later Ye would be caught cheating - this after confirmation that tests has cleared Ye!

As a BBC TV license payer, I expected their journalistic level to be slightly above tabloid-grade but alas during events like the Olympics, it is near impossible to get unbiased coverage. Nationalistic feelings always rise during world events like this and it is almost the single reason why my (already average) enthusiasm for the Olympics drops as the games progress. Now, instead of celebrating what a great athlete she is, the media is still attempting to undermine her win with more jingoism nonsense.

Ruta Meilutyte, age 15, who Clare Balding describes as her favourite none-British story of the games, improved her personal best by 4% in the past year and nobody called her a cheat - and rightly so. Rebecca Adlington herself swam the final 50m of a freestyle race clocking in 28.91 seconds, faster than Ryan Lochte did at this Olympics, and again nobody called her a cheat, again rightly so.

Michael Phelps and Michael Johnson broke records and were considered super humans. Not once did we doubt them and there were no reason to as long as they pass their drug tests. Ye passed hers, countless of times. We recognise athletes like Phelps and Johnson for their brilliance and talent, and we should do the same for Ye Shiwen.

Ye sounds like an incredible talented swimmer and I wish her all the best. If there is a single Olympic event I would like to attend it would be the 200m medley event where I can cheer her on amongst the droning British media (sadly this won't happen as the chances of getting a ticket is fuck-all - thanks for nothing Seb Coe). I hope she breaks more records and wins more gold medals at this and future Olympics.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Shoulda Got a Snapdragon

Just seen old Snapdragon ad today, and it's pretty awesome. In fact the song will likely get stuck in my head throughout the afternoon today. Perhaps I should point at everyone's phone and bust out a poor rap imitation of this song at them.

Qualcomm's Krait based Snapdragon S4 has been well received by the tech community. Core for core, the S4 has been proven to be a beast often besting its Cortex A9 rivals by a huge margin. In fact its performance advantage is so huge, it makes sense that most flagship smartphones would run on it.

Alas we haven't seen many devices released over here running on the Snapdragon. Manufacturers likes numbers and so quad core processors made by rival chipmakers has become the de facto choice even when they are running on outdated ARM architecture. The only device that has it I can think off the top of my head that has seen mainstream release is the HTC One S.

On the other hand, almost every other smartphone in North America has a dual core Snapdragon S4 + LTE SoC, so all is not lost. I blame OFCOM for the lack of Snapdragon + LTE beasts in this country. Still with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 on the horizon and a quad core Snapdragon on the way, we can only hope that one day we too will see some of that Snapdragon action on our flagship phones.

Perhaps then we too can mock our iPhone toting friends, Parker and the Numberman style.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sony Mobile Xperia P review

Released just two months ago, the Xperia P is Sony's third 'NXT' Xperia smartphones to be released since Sony Ericsson folded as an entity. It is positioned as a mid-range device aimed at smartphone newcomers and upgraders alike. Despite having it for almost a month now, I have held back my review because I wanted to wait for Sony to release an ICS update. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened and it is doubtful that it will happen in the very near future.

STE U8500 NovaThor SoC with dual core 1GHz processor
Mali-400MP GPU
16GB Flash Storage
4 inch LCD 'Reality Display' with 540x960 resolution
8MP camera with autofocus, 1080p30 video recording
Quad band GSM
Dual band/Tri band 3G (depending on model) HSDPA 14.4Mbps
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, NFC, USB On-the-Go
Android 2.3 Gingerbread with Sony TimeScape UI

Sharing a common design language to the flagship Xperia S and entry level Xperia U, the Xperia P sits awkwardly in the middle. With a specification far closer to the Xperia U but in a far more premium body, the Xperia P reminds me of the HTC Legend - where style and form wins over pure specifications. The Xperia P is by far the best iteration of the NXT design language thanks to the use of metallic unibody cover, one that even the more expensive Xperia S can't claim to have.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sony Xperia P camera review

As a major player in the top end digital imaging industry for many years, Sony has always done well with adapting their technology downwards. Remember when Exmor back-illuminated sensors were exclusive to their high end Cybershot prosumer cameras? Now almost every smartphone on the planet has a Sony Exmor-R sensor, from the Galaxy S III to the iPhone 4S, and, of course, Sony's own Xperia S and P smartphones.

The phone I have in my hands currently is the Xperia P, which I will be reviewing here shortly (update: it's up!). Sony has been coy about the exact nature of the camera used by the Xperia P. All we know is that the sensor used here is a Exmor-R CMOS back-illuminated variety, which helps with low light photography. But we know nothing of its equivalent focal length or lens speed. It supports autofocus, 1080p30 video recording, face and smile detection, macro (close-up) photography and sweep panorama.

In addition to sweep panorama, the camera is also capable of capturing images in 3D format, including panorama 3D. Unfortunately I do not own a 3D TV or display so I have no way of testing this feature. The two-step camera shutter button is a little small and fiddly, but it does fire up the camera app from sleep in a couple of seconds. There is really no discernible difference to the autofocus performance between using the hardware button to the on-screen on. Speaking of autofocus, I found it to be rather temperamental, often having issues focusing on close ups.

The camera performs particularly well in areas with plenty of natural light, though it does struggle with dynamic range and colour. Despite looking great on the Xperia P's display, images generally sport the typical Xperia-look, with dull colours and average contrast dominating giving images a 'wash-out' look. While the camera was able to capture a good amount of detail, noise are evident even in shots taken in daylight. The lack of built-in HDR mode is disappointing, as it would solve the issue concerning dynamic range and contrast. Overall I thought the images produced by the Xperia P was slightly worse than the Xperia Arc and HTC One X, but still good enough for an everyday camera.

On the plus side, unlike Sony's (and Sony Ericsson's) previous Xperia smartphones, the Xperia P's camera is positioned away from the edge, so there is less chance to ruin your shot by accidentally blocking the camera lens. In any case, enjoy these image samples, thankfully, with no fingers in the way.

Monday, July 9, 2012

SoundWave SW50 Bluetooth speaker review

Here's an interesting product that the good folks at Mobilefun has sent to me to test out. The SoundWave SW50 Bluetooth speaker might not sound terribly exciting, but after two days with it, all I can say is I was surprised by how good it was. More so whenever it moonlights as a hands free speaker phone.

The SoundWave won't win any awards when it comes to design. Built quality seems solid, but I am not too quite sure about the exposed mono speaker on the top and the thin plastic grill that protects it. The white glossy finish shows off dirt easily, but it doesn't seem to attract much fingerprints. Three rubber feet sits on the bottom to prevent it from sliding, but a gel mat is also included for those slippery surfaces.

With a single on/off dial and a dial button, pairing the speaker to my Lumia 800 and Xperia P couldn't be simpler. Once the speaker was paired with my phone, it is ready to accept any form of music streaming. The sound quality is more than acceptable for such a small speaker and I found it better and louder than most speakers you would find on a mobile phone and laptop. Despite increasing the volume, the speaker was able to handle the increased loudness without any crackle. Colour me impressed.
As a speaker phone, the SW50 surpassed my expectatons. When a phone call comes through simply press the dial button on the front of the speaker and it would connect automatically. I had my doubts about the SoundWave due to how close the microphone is to the speaker phone, but any doubts were put to rest once I made my first call. Because it supports the standard Bluetooth A2DP protocol, voice dialing is also possible, provided your phone supports this feature. You could theoretically use it as a vehicle hands free speaker phone, but you would need a flat grippy dashboard or place it in a cup holder.

Powering the speaker is a built in 400mAh battery. A mini USB port and cable will allow you to charge the speaker from a PC (unfortunately you can't playback via USB from a PC). The advertised talk time for the speaker is 12 hours, which I can't confirm (I hardly ever make 12 hours of phone call on my mobile phone a year!) - but it was able to play music for a good couple of hours a day for two days before it gave up.

With a price tag of £20, it is easy to dismiss the SW50 as a poor person's Jawbone Jambox, but don't let the cheap price fool you. It's still a rather impressive product. Sure the sound quality won't wow anybody, but it is more than adequate for the price and perfect for voice calls.