Sunday, September 30, 2012

Look for Longer: How many London Underground stations can you find?

Last week I received an email from an unnamed agency who offered to send me a sneak peek over an upcoming project called Look for Longer (#lookforlonger). I have been promised that it would be a mind boggling cryptic challenge aimed at testing Londoner's knowledge of the city. When you combine by love for London and fun, it's difficult to say no.

The package arrived a couple of days ago and it was nothing like I expected. It was a beautifully drawn medium sized poster, which I will be framing, and the biggest magnifying glass I've ever held. The poster contains puns in references to London Underground, Docklands Light Railway and Overground stations such as Angel, Elephant & Castle, Bond Street, Knightsbridge, King's Cross, Swiss Cottage, Marble Arch, Seven Sisters and many more. How many tube stations are referenced in this poster I do not know (update: 75), but I bet there are plenty more to be found. If you love London and are into a bit of fun, you will enjoy poking through this poster with said magnifying glass.

As to what this campaign is aimed at, I am totally in the dark myself. Stay tuned on 3 October when the campaign is officially unveiled.

Update: The campaign has been launched and it is a both a game and competition courtesy of CBS Outdoor. Brilliant stuff. Do check it out!

As of last week, I've found all 75/75 stations, plus a red herring. ;)

Update: I don't actually condone checking out all the solutions posted by various commentators below, but if you are really stuck, do ask!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

HTC announces new 8S and 8X Windows Phone 8 smartphones

HTC today announced their range of upcoming Windows Phone 8 powered smartphones, the HTC 8S and 8X. Of the two, the 8X is the more exciting one. Both phones will be available in a range of colours.

The HTC 8X appears to have all the right boxes ticked. It has a 4.3" Super LCD 2 display with 720x1280 resolution. If the display is based on the same technology used on the One X, then it will surely be one of the best out there. Powering the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chipset with a pair of 1.5 GHz Krait CPU and Adreno 225 GPU, plus 1GB RAM, which is a fair upgrade over their last Windows Phone flagship, the HTC Titan 2.

HTC has equipped the 8X with what appears to be the same camera module as the One X - a 8MP backside illuminated sensor along with a 28mm wide angle lens with f/2.0 aperture (35mm equivalent) and a proprietary HTC ImageChip for quicker shooting. Again, if this is anything like the One X, the camera here will be a joy to use. The front facing camera is said to contain a 2.1MP camera with a wide angle lens, and will make use of the ImageChip. Both cameras can record videos in 1080p resolution.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Of Apple and fanboys from all sides

Apple has announced the new iPhone 5. Cue fanboy bitching. Lord knows I have been guilty of it in the past, but it's getting old and tired. My twitter timeline is filled with fanboys from all sides at each other's throats. These are so called mobile tech enthusiasts who were acting anything but. Even a certain rival mobile tech company has attempted to hijack the announcement of the iPhone 5 on twitter. It's tired and frankly, insulting.

I am pretty sure you readers know I am a fan of Windows Phone but I would never recommend everyone one. The needs of each people are different. There's a phone out there for just about everyone so why does it matter if someone prefers something different from what you are used to? This year alone I have used three different mobile operating system as my daily driver, and you know what, each one has their own laundry lists of faults.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mercury Prize 2012 shortlist

The shortlist nominations for this year's Mercury Prize has been announced and I have to admit I've not heard a single album on this list.

The Maccabees - Given To The Wild
Jessie Ware - Devotion
Roller Trio - Roller Trio
Django Django - Django Django
Field Music - Plumb
Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
Sam Lee - Ground of its Own
Richard Hawley - Standing at the Sky's Edge
Ben Howard - Every Kingdom
Alt-J - An Awesome Wave
Plan B - ill Manors
Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

EE 4G LTE Hands-on

Everything Everywhere today announced a new company brand, EE, at a press event at the Science Museum in London. The UK telecommunications company, which was created after the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, has also detailed the plans on the impending 4G LTE rollout, the first in this country.

While the T-Mobile and Orange brand will co-exist alongside the new brand, EE will primarily be focused on providing fiber optic broadband and 4G LTE service. EE's new 4G network will be based on LTE (using band 800Mhz and 2600Mhz if I remember correctly). Four initial cities - London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol, are currently on trial.
In addition to those cities, EE aims to launch LTE in Edinburgh, Belfast, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Newcastle, Southampton, Hull, Nottingham and Derby by the end of the year. If you live in those cities, you are in luck. This will provide coverage for up to 20 million people or a third the population of Britain. No tariffs has been announced yet.

Phones already confirmed to be launching on the network includes the Samsung Galaxy S III LTE, HTC One XL, Huawei Ascend P1 LTE, Nokia Lumia 820 and Nokia Lumia 920, which will be an EE exclusive.. Also heavily hinted upon is the next generation Apple iPhone (5), rumoured to include LTE connectivity, due to be announced tomorrow.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A little advice for Nokia

You might have read about it in today's news. If not, here's a recap. Yesterday Nokia released a promotional video demonstrating the imaging capability of the new Lumia 920 when in actual fact, the samples shown in the video were in fact not actually taken with the Lumia 920. In short, Nokia was caught with their pants down.

Nokia's excuse was they wanted to convey/simulate what the product is theoretically capable of achieving (in this case, optical image stabilisation with ridiculously awesome image quality when taken in low light). This, my dear readers, is a classic textbook example of how to botch the launch of what appears to be a good product.

Being the cynical person I am, I have never bought Nokia's (and any other firms like Apple and Samsung) hyperbole claims about their imaging expertise and prefer to do my own test to find out, so I was already cautious over their claims. The N8 was pretty disappointing after all the hype and so was the Lumia 800's camera, despite claims to the contrary. But this is particularly disappointing because I've actually expected better from them.

The advertising industry isn't immune to deception, and you would be gullible to believe otherwise. I still remember the video games scandal of 2005 when Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) announced Killzone 2 at E3, and attempted to pass on a pre-rendered proof of concept target render simulated video as an in-game footage being rendered in real time. As with everything in life, things don't stay secret for long.

Sony learned then (and since then, again and again) that there's no such thing as secrets. That was in 2005 and consumers has since wised up. This is the age of the internet, and any companies trying to one-over the consumers will be exposed and lynched. I am pretty sure the incident cost SCE, Guerrilla Games (the developer) and its parent company, Sony, a sizeable amount of trust.

I have no doubt that the Lumia 920, as a whole, an exciting product. I am already a fan of the design language inherited from the Lumia 800 and Windows Phone 8, and will most likely switch to it as my next everyday device (Instagram arriving on WP8 permitting). Initial impressions by those lucky enough to go hands-on with the smartphone has been mainly positive. Many has actually commented on how the camera is actually better than the iPhone 4S (which is pretty damn good) and Galaxy S3.

So it appears that the camera is actually pretty good (for a phone). So the billion dollar question is if the camera on the Lumia 920 was competent, why did Nokia or their advertising agency go the extra length to provide fake 'samples' that were so extraordinarily awesome in quality, even my Nikon D7000 with a super sharp £500 lens would struggle to match?

The risk of getting caught were just too great. Nokia has also since posted real images taken with the Lumia 920 and while the quality looks good for a smartphone, the new samples lacks the detail and quality of the images shown in the original video. Not. Even. Close.

At the end of the day, Nokia and its agencies has just learned the hard way. The mainstream press today weren't reporting about Nokia's latest and greatest smartphones - they were going on about how deceitful Nokia were. The media just loves their whipping boys, and Nokia has more or less become theirs.

We live in the age of the internet, where truth reigns and trusts has to be earned. For Nokia's sake, I hope they learn from this sorry episode.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nokia announces new Lumia 820 and 920 Windows Phone 8 smartphones

Nokia today announced its latest flagship, the Windows Phone 8 powered Lumia 920 and mid-range Lumia 820 at an event in New York City.

The Lumia 920 retains the same gorgeous design language as the Lumia 800 and Lumia 900 but will come with a larger 4.5" display. The 768x1280 resolution LCD IPS display will feature Nokia's proprietary ClearBlack filter (which they dub as PureMotionHD+ - whatever) said to be able to improve outdoor legibility. Like the Lumia 800, the Lumia 920's screen will sit below a curved glass. If it is anything like the IPS display seen on the HTC One X or iPhone 4S, then you won't miss AMOLED one bit.

Powering the Lumia 920 will be Qualcomm's successful Snapdragon S4 SoC featuring a pair of 1.5GHz Krait CPUs and Adreno 225 GPU, a clear boost over the Snapdragon S2 SoC that powered the Lumia 800 and 900. 1GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage are included. Disappointingly Nokia has decided not to engineer a memory expansion slot onto the Lumia 920 despite Windows Phone 8 supporting such expansion. Oddly enough, it's lower end cousin the Lumia 820 (see below), also announced today, will feature a microSD expansion slot.

Its 8.7 megapixel PureView branded camera may disappoint pixel peepers with no photography skills, but in reality is likely to be more than enough. Nokia has made bold claims about how amazing this camera will be but they have made similar hyperbolic claims with the Lumia 800 as well, and we all know how that turned out. Still, it does look like we will see some improvements, including the introduction of a new kind of image optical stabilisation with the camera technology used here as well as the software algorithm needed to capture steady images in low light.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Motorola RAZR MAXX first impressions

I have been using the Motorola RAZR MAXX for a day now and let me open up this post by telling you this: the battery life is phenomenal. A pretty old smartphone by today's standard (it was released in the US early this year as the Droid RAZR MAXX), the RAZR MAXX features a 3300mAh battery (12.54 Whr equivalent) - almost double in capacity of the battery included in the HTC One X and original Droid RAZR.

The qHD AMOLED display uses a pentile sub-matrix configuration meaning that blurs are visible particularly when reading texts. I am no fan of such pixel configuration and will be glad to see the back of this technology. On the other hand the display is bright enough to use even outdoors. The backlit does appear to be uneven, but it isn't very apparent unless the brightness is at its dimmest point. A 1.2GHz dual core ARM Cortex A9 CPU and PowerVR SGX540 courtesy of the OMAP4430 SoC keeps things moving. This is the same SoC family that also powers the Blackberry Playbook and Galaxy Nexus, albeit at a lower clock speed.

As the RAZR MAXX inherited the exact same internal performance as last year's RAZR, the specs are mid-ranging. But despite running on a Frankenstein combination of Android 2.3 Gingerbread and MotoBlur, the performance was actually springy. I was disappointed that it was not equipped with Android 4.0 ICS - after all I waited until the ICS roll out to begin before I requested this review unit but at least the unit performed well. A 8MP camera module sits on the backside and is capable of 1080p video recording. Wrapping stuff up, the RAZR MAXX has a microSDHC card slot for expansion - a rare find these days.