Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Auto Trader for Windows Phone 8

I admit I know nothing about cars, apart from it gets you from A to B. And despite not being a keen driver (I haven't drove in ten years), I am rather fond of the Auto Trader people. While the print industry is being embattled, they have chosen to embrace the digital age by creating a slew of neat apps and digital magazines. I have also met several of them, and they are always enthusiast about the industry.

While it appears that their primary development platform is iOS, this is slowly changing. Still there is a bit of good news last week when an Auto Trader app appeared on the Marketplace. In fact last I heard, the parent company of Auto Trader, Trader Media Group, was planning a possible move to the Windows Phone platform. This evaluation has perhaps resulted in a more receptive opinion of Redmond's gorgeous mobile OS.
The Auto Trader app is rather basic, but it touches on the core of what makes Auto Trader such an institution in Britain - their extensive listing of vehicle adverts available from their website. The Windows Phone app isn't a straight up iOS port as the UI here follows the fundamental Metro modern design language. So not only is it pretty, intuitive and fast, it is also nice to see an app developer who respected why owners of Windows Phone went with the platform.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rewired Reality

Rewired Reality is a new crowdsourcing platform designed to seek and help brands from the industry on coders need. There isn't a lot of information regarding Rewired Reality at the moment and how it works, but they have launched a website that explains a great deal more.

The concept behind the initiative is to highlight the growing need for developers in the country. According to the brains behind the initiative (who are also behind another initiative aimed at creating a network for young developers), there are plenty of unfulfilled software technology jobs in Britain, as coding isn't taught as a skill in this country any longer. This has created a long term problem in this country. Many small business enterprise has no means or resources to employ their own developer as the country has basically ran out of developers, many who has seek pasture abroad.

The idea here is to allow these businesses to seek the brains needed to innovate by creating bounties, which are then passed on to prospective software developers worldwide keen on designing prototypes for them. This is not too dissimilar to crowdsourcing marketplace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, but one more grounded with the needs for coders and small businesses in the UK.

Sony Xperia Z launch party

Sony officially launched the Android-powered Xperia Z on Tuesday at a launch event in Victoria House, London. The event was designed to showcase the Xperia Z's unique feature, and included a ball pit where guests could jump into. Guests can then use the Xperia Z to test out its burst mode ability, which can capture up to 999 9MP image in just over a minute. Impressive? I thought so. If you have an active kid, or an active lifestyle, this may just be the phone for you.

In addition to the Xperia Z, guests were also shown the new Xperia SP, L and Tablet Z, which I had a brief hands-on with. The highlight of the evening were the combination of an art/tech installation and music performance by French DJ Madeon (who at 18 years old, is probably just about legal enough to attend himself!). As if to highlight their Skynet ambition, Sony had two robotic arms installed and made to pour paint over an installation. Combined with a brilliant lighting and laser effects, I thought it was a rather electrifying and vivid display of (loud) music, visual art and technology coming together.

Sony Xperia SP brief hands-on

Sony announced the Xperia SP and L a couple of days ago. While the devices slipped under my radar during the initial announcement (hei, my life doesn't revolve around phones), it was the chance encounter with the new devices at the Xperia Z launch party in London on Tuesday that finally made me notice.

Of the two devices available for hands-on, the SP was the most impressive due to its great value of money when it finally gets launched in the next couple of weeks. Featuring a Snapdragon SoC with dual core 1.7GHz Krait processor and Adreno 320 GPU, the SP is a cutting edge device for those not willing to fork £500 for a phone. It has a 8 megapixel camera with backside-illuminated sensor, all the usual wireless stuff associated a 2013 phone should have including NFC (which will work with Sony Bravia NFC remote controls) and LTE (model-dependent). It will be available in three colours.

The 4.6" 720p display is a clear step up from the Xperia S, and while the pixel density (319ppi) won't blow your mind, it will still challenge your eyes. Unfortunately, the viewing angles is limited again, much like on the Xperia Z. At 155 grams, the SP is rather hefty, but isn't too uncomfortable to hold. The design is a clear evolution over last year's NXT line, conservative and yet has enough design cues to stand out from the sea of Android me-toos. My biggest gripe with the Xperia S was its rather annoying touch-(in)sensitive buttons, which has been fixed here as the buttons are now part of the display.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Attendant coffee shop review

The Attendant in Fitzrovia, London, was recently brought to my attention by the budding London coffee snob community. This lovely new coffee shop's rise to fame is its venue - a refurbished Victorian public toilet, built in the 1890s and closed since the 1960s. For all we know, George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell, who both lived in Fitzrovia once, probably frequented this establishment - so there's a lot history in this place.

Now, the idea of turning an old Victorian loo into usable modern space isn't exactly new. Cellar Door, a cocktail bar in Aldwych is one such example. But The Attendant takes it further by retaining many of the original features. Things reserved  includes the cistern towering above two Hector BTC lamps, porcelain urinals since repurposed into bar tables, where you can have your coffee at; and even the original attendant's office, which now houses a kitchen.
Have a flat white on an old Victorian porcelain urinal
You might be tempted to think this is all just a gimmick, and I won't blame you. Too often have we been conned by new cafes and bars who would rather trade on the the niche of their venues, rather than the value of their food or drink. However, you will be glad to know however that the same care that was put into transforming the venue has been put into their food and coffee as well.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

HTC 8X wins red dot award in product design

Amid all the bad news HTC has been receiving lately (the brilliant HTC One has been delayed due to manufacturing set backs), here's some good news for them. The HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S has won the prestigious red dot award in product design for 2013.

Having been using the 8X as my main daily driver for close to two months now, I believe that the 8X thoroughly deserves the award (I never reviewed the 8S, but it does look neat). The HTC Windows Phone 8X features a fresh take on smartphone design - it not only looks great, but also feels great. In fact, the soft 'rubbery' texture used on the 8X feels a lot better than the fingerprint-magnet gloss and slippery matte finish preferred by other manufacturers. Well done to the engineers and design team behind the product!

It isn't perfect (nothing is), and if there is one problem with the 8X from a design's perspective, it is the awkwardly located power button. But let's not take away from the fact that the 8X is still a beautifully crafted product, which design complements the Metro design language well. Now, that's not to say that the Nokia Lumia 920 isn't beautiful, but for a design that debuted in 2010, it has somewhat lost some of its freshness. On the bright side, this will hopefully spur designers from both companies to further compete together and with the wider industry, as well as taking the leadership in product designs.

Incidentally, Windows Phone 8 has also been nominated for another design award, this time by London-based Design Museum. Good PR like these aren't dished out all the time, so if only HTC would leverage these and gave their Windows Phone products a bit more push, that would be swell. The 8X deserves a bit more than the indifference given by its own creators and their PR team.

via WPCentral

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

HTC One review

Last year's HTC One X was one of the best efforts put into by HTC. Announced alongside two other HTC One phones at MWC, HTC promised to reined in their portfolio, putting more emphasis into quality rather than quantity. Sadly that was proven not to be the case, as the One series was overshadowed by the release of a dozen of so phones throughout the year, diluting their portfolio and as a result, focus.

For 2013, HTC appeared to have learned their lessons regarding the desire to over saturate the market with identikit phones. Announced just last week before MWC, the HTC One is a flagship deserving of its own spotlight and launch. Sporting a new design, the former HTC M7 looks the part of how a flagship should - it is luxurious, beautiful and premium, and it doesn't skim on the specifications. Not to say that the One X wasn't beautiful (it was), but it is nice to see HTC discarding their typical old habits of recycling old ideas.

Special thanks to Three UK for loaning the device. You can pre-order the One from them now.

Before we head into the review, let's get the specs out of the way, shall we?
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 with quad core 1.7 Ghz Krait 300 and Adreno 320 GPU
  • 2 GB RAM and 32/64 GB built-in flash storage (no expansion slot)
  • 25 GB Dropbox storage for two years
  • 4.7" Super LCD3 capacitive touchscreen with 1080 x 1920 resolution (468 pixels per inch density)
  • Quad band GSM and 3G, 4G where available
  • 42 Mbps DC-HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA, LTE where available
  • 4 Megapixel UltraPixel camera with LED flash and 1080p30 HDR video recording, OIS
  • 2.1 Megapixel front facing camera with 1080p30 HDR video recording
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11a/ac/b/g/n
  • GPS receiver with A-GPS, GLONASS
  • NFC and micro USB with MHL (HDMI out)
  • 2300mAh battery (none user replaceable)
  • Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean with HTC Sense 5.0
  • 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm, 143 g
  • Available in silver or black colour
The biggest upgrade over the HTC One X and One X+ is the screen. The 1080p Super LCD3 display has a resolution of 1080 x 1920, offering a retina-busting pixel density of 468 pixels per inch (ppi), or mind boggling 1404 sub-pixels per inch. To be fair, the jump from 720p to 1080p isn't nearly as apparent as say from 480p to 720p, but there is a very slight difference.
468 pixels per inch: eat your heart out Retina
Still, from a technology point of view, this is incredible. It took many years before PDAs with 240x320 and 320x480 displays were displaced by 480p screens, but it took only a year for 720p to flourish before going fashionably out of date. Suffice to say, you will need very good eyes to notice the difference, and 720p is still more than enough for the majority of people. Even then, from a technology's perspective, 1080p over a panel measuring a mere 4.7" diagonally is amazing.


Microsoft Photosynth is an app created by Microsoft and University of Washington, designed to create panorama 3D-dimensional models based on multiple images. Using the free software available from their website, users can stitch and synth their images and then share them on the Photosynth website. 20GB of storage is available for users.

Two type of images can be created - a panorama, which is created using an Image Composite Editor and the Photosynth app, or synth - a collection of high resolution images, which is more detailed, but lacks the seam-less transition of a panorama image. Here is an example of a synth I made using stills I took last December at Sushisamba in Heron Tower, captured on a Canon S90 and synth'ed and uploaded using the Photosynth desktop client:

And here is the panorama version of the same images when ran through the ICE application first before uploading to Photosynth:

The recently released Windows Phone 8 app also means that Windows Phone 8 owners can finally join their fellow iPhone and iPad users in capturing and creating Photosynth panorama easily and directly from their smartphones. Owners of the Nokia Lumia 920 and iPhone 4/4S/5 owners will get better results, as these phones contains the necessary gyroscope hardware, which combined with the accelerometer, will provide a more precise information over the devices' 6-axis movement in space.

More HTC One camera samples

It was a glorious day in London today. The SEGA blue skies and sun were out in force. Perhaps it is a sign that we may finally get the summer we deserve this year. Or maybe not. 

Still, never one to let an opportunity like this pass, I had my HTC One with me. Like a tourist, I was shooting anything of interest to me (you can always find something interesting in London). I've also taken a few more night shots. You can view these unedited samples below.

These image samples are a mixture of HDR, auto mode, night mode and sweep panorama (which is ridiculously good). The full res version resides on Dropbox, thanks to a quirk on Blogger not allowing anything wider than 1280 pixels. I have also been using the HTC Zoe feature more. You can find a sample of South Bank's finest skateboarders in action on the Zoe Share site

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Crate Brewery review

I have found the holy grail of pizza. And it's in Hackney Wick.

Crate Brewery resides in an old disused building called the White Building. It is, you can guess, white in colour so you won't miss it. Despite it's rather pretentious and grandeur name, the White Building is just an average sized building that happens to house a pizzeria and brewery, it also houses a creative lab with studio spaces for hipster East London artists. The building can be found right by the western side of Hertford Union canal, happily on the other side of Stratford. You can also just about see that ugly towering monument known as the Orbit sticking out somewhere from the Olympic Park.

As evident from their name, Crate Brewery also brew their own goddamned beers. Now I don't pretend to be a beer expert, but I do know that craft beer is supposed to be all the rage these days, as if it confirms your cred - so I guess that is rather impressive (they taste good actually). Oh and they also make pizzas. Bleeding good pizzas actually.

Monday, March 4, 2013

HTC One UltraPixel camera review

The new HTC One, has a lot going for it - a fantastic design, an ultra crisp 1080p display and crazy fast specs. But when HTC announced their new flagship in London two weeks ago, they also surprised the tech world by announcing that the One would feature a 4 megapixel camera sensor. Now, 4 megapixel might not sound a lot, but I have always been an advocate of scaling back megapixel for raw quality for smartphones and digital compacts where it is just physically impossible to cram a large sensor. (Many thanks to the good people at Three UK for loaning the HTC One)

In an age where the megapixel myth is more popular than ever, it took a lot of guts for HTC's designers and management to have actually decided on this, and I admire them for it. From a marketing perspective, this new strategy could easily backfire. But in a post PC smartphone world, where the majority of images are shared and viewed on smartphones via social sharing networks like Instagram, Flickr and Facebook, this renewed emphasis on less resolution in exchange of higher quality images makes total sense.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a HTC One running on a pre-release firmware (version 1.26.401.6). I have been told that the firmware that is due to be released with the retail HTC One will feature a few camera tweaks. I will update this review accordingly when the new firmware is released.
The sensor, which HTC calls the UltraPixel, is a backside illuminated (BSI) sensor measuring 1/3" in size - the same size as most typical sensors found in slim smartphones. But that is where its similarities ends. Because the sensor only packs 4 megapixels of data, HTC was able to increase the pixel size to 4 µm2, roughly less than half found on a SLR's sensor but almost double the normal pixel size found on other smartphones and some leading digital compacts like the Canon S110 and Fujifilm X10. This is a fair upgrade, as HTC's own previous One X has a camera sensor with a pixel size of 2 µm2. The same goes for the Lumia 920. HTC's strategy in having a physically larger pixel is in contrast to Nokia's preference to using multiple sensor pixels to create a single final pixel, in their PureView product.

From a physical point of view, it was the only way to get a reasonable quality imaging module into a slim phone, such is HTC's obsession with thinness. Unflattering reports of Sony Xperia Z's low light performance may also have vindicated HTC somewhat. Whether or not the public would buy into this remains to be seen, and it will take massive amount of effort and marketing to educate a public who has already been conditioned to believe in big numbers.
HTC has also fitted a standard five elements 4mm (28mm in 35mm equivalent) f/2.0 lens with optical image stablisation (OIS) to boot. Combined with the new sensor, on paper the HTC One should be capable of delivering some neat low-light photography. A single but powerful LED flash sits on the side.

Friday, March 1, 2013

HTC One preview hands-on and first impressions

You may have read a thing or two about the new HTC One. The new HTC flagship certainly has garnered a lot of attention lately, being HTC's third Android smartphone with a 1080p display - and the first to be announced for a worldwide release.

The One, formerly known as the HTC M7, features a new design that is a significant departure of their previous flagship, the beautiful One X. And it is beautiful. The new hardware design which looks sort of a blend between an iPhone 5 and Blackberry Z10, but do not let that statement fool you - the design has enough of its own identity to stand out from the crowd. Thanks to the good people at Three UK for kindly loaning me a HTC One for review.
Gone is the unibody polycarbonate design that graced the One X. In place are scores of aluminium, once darling of the tech world before giving way to plastic, but appears to be making a comeback. When it comes to design, the attention to detail by HTC engineers is unparalled, and it isn't surprising to find the same with the HTC One. The blend of anodized aluminium and polycarbonate gives the One a premium feel unlike most flagships I have held in the past couple of months - and that includes the Xperia Z. With a weight of 143g, the One isn't terribly light or heavy. It feels very solid.

Real Racing 3: A Commentary

"Hei, I got this new game. It's Real Racing 3 and it's awesome. Best of all, it is free!"

"You mean the franchise racing game that plays the game for you? But because it looks nice, everyone raves about how mobile phone gaming is close to dispatching console and PC gaming, even when it isn't?"

"That's the one!"

"So how does it play?"

"You tilt the phone to turn, and tap the screen to slow down. Most of the time the game brakes for you."

"You can't even accelerate yourself? Pfft, modern gaming eh? And this is supposed to be hardcore?!"

"Well, look, it is just as pretty as Gran Turismo 5."

"Here, let me try... Ooh, that Porsche is sweet. Reminds me of the last good Need For Speed game EA ever made. You know, Porsche Unleashed. No? You are probably too young to remember... Holy crap Batman, that's a lot of jaggies!"

"It looks better in motion. You saying PS3 games doesn't have jaggies?" *rolleyes*

"Whatever. Argh, why the hell are these opponents trying to ram me out GTA style?!"

"The A.I. is a bit poor, that can sometimes happen. But who cares? Look at the graphics, dude!"

"Yeah yeah. The physics is a bit bouncy too."

"Stop being an old man and appreciate an obviously pretty game."

"Yay, I won this race. Okay, so I have incurred some damages. Wait, why is it asking for real money to have my car fixed quicker?"

"Yep, that is EA's fantastic new business model where you pay to get trivia stuff done faster. I should have mentioned that earlier."

"So, what you are saying is Real Racing 3 is a racing simulator of what it is like to race with psychopathic mechanics who are out to damage your car, just so you will have to pay them to fix it later?"

"Pretty much."

"Worst. Game. Ever."

"You complain a lot."

"Fuck this shit." *whips out Outrun*


Tested on iPhone 4S