Friday, March 30, 2012

So, how about some reading on your phone/tablet/PC?

Wait, what's that? Am I nuts? Who reads these days? Reading is for losers, right?

Re-think your knee-jerk reactions, re-inhale your gasps of horror, and listen to me: all of you are avid readers. Even those of you who haven't picked up a book in many years. Yes, I accuse and find you all guilty of reading.

What are you doing right now? What do you do on Facebook? How about your favorite websites (the ones you are willing to admit)? Do they not contain large portions of text with pictures and videos interspersed in between to elaborate a point mentioned in the text? Reading, as a skill and as a hobby, is at an all-time high. So are books. We can see newspapers and journals falling victim to Twitter, online news sites and blogs, but books, including fiction and non-fiction, have not been replaced. In fact, through expansion into the electronic medium, books and magazines have never been more popular.

So what can you read on your PC and how? Here are my recommendations.

MAGAZINES: Zinio Reader. It's perhaps the best thing that ever happened to magazines. Zinio is an online service where you can buy or subscribe to electronic copies of a wide variety of magazines.

That's not the end, though. Zinio has got applications for Windows, Macs, iOS and Android. Your library is maintained in the cloud. That presents the following benefits:
1) Your magazine arrives right on time, never late. No tracking the courier service, no missed issues.
2) By reading in this way, you are doing a world of good for the forests of this world
3) You can read/download the magazine on any device which has Zinio - so whether it's your laptop, tablet or phone, your entire library is available on it.
4) You don't have to worry about archiving - all your data is forever there for you to download from Zinio
5) Last, and MOST IMPORTANT - how does an issue of Car and Driver for 0.99 USD sound? Yes, you read that right. Those are the kind of prices you can get when you go electronic. Beware though that not all magazines are this cheap.

Zinio itself is free, and you subscribe through your credit card. Give it a try - there are a lot of free issues to try out, so you can re-introduce yourself to magazines without spending a penny.

BOOKS: How's this for a paradox: Electronic edition of one set of bound pages, lavishly coloured, 100s of pages, with contributions from various writers, costs peanuts. Another set, with black and white type, costs the same price for both paper and ebook version. Whereas books are concerned, the picture is not so encouraging. You basically pay the same amount for paper or paperless version (give or take a dollar). What's more, the ebook ecosystem is very fragmented: you have to have a specific device (such as Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook) or a specific ebook software (Amazon Kindle or Nook again) on your device, and you will only be able to purchase your ebooks through their connected ebook stores. Inter-device compatibility is also hit and miss. All in all, while it is attractive to have your reading library on your PC or phone, don't expect any savings by foregoing printed paper in favor of bits and bytes.

And, if you live in Pakistan, don't expect to be easily able to buy ebooks! Most ebook stores do not offer their services in Pakistan. Which brings us to the next paragraph.

However, there are standalone ebook readers (Aldiko, above and my personal favorite, and Kobo) which I use to read ebooks download sources. My ethical position on this is simple: I only download those books which I already own. I see no reason in having bought a book on paper and then buying it again electronically.

That said, the fact that virtually any book you might want to read is now there on the internet, potentially free, is bound to overwhelm your self-delusional ethical stance on such things at some point. Think along the lines of mp3s and 'locally available' software and movies and you will know what I mean. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

BlueStacks runs Android Apps on your PC

"Cloud" is a word I HATE in a computing context. I know, that places my mind firmly in the post-baby boomer generation - and that'd be right, I am that old!

However, 'cloud' has some benefits. Email. DropBox. Collaboration on documents. Today, I present an entirely new implementation of the Cloud. It's called the BlueStacks app player and it is used to run Android apps on your PC.

Now, what possible use is that? I am trying to think of some myself! The first and foremost use to my mind is suddenly acquiring a library of around 450,000 apps (including ANGRY BIRDS!!). Suddenly you have a plethora of games and applications that are often easier to use than their desktop counterparts. You don't need to worry about your computer's specs.

The service is unique in the sense that it will connect to your Google Play Store (formerly Android Market) account and sync the apps across platforms. That sounds pretty cool to me.

Check it out

Monday, March 26, 2012


I know it has become fashionable to pretend to hate Angry Birds. At the same time, anyone with an iPhone or an Android phone has, at some point, played it.

Here is a review of Angry Birds Space, the newest title in the series. It introduces completely new environments and gameplay mechanics.  Free on Android (YEAH), there is absolutely NO reason not to try it out. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New iPad heating issues

Dear dear. It seems the New iPad (third gen) is having some serious heating issues. The tablet runs as much as 10 degrees Celsius hotter the 'old' iPad.

Yes, it has got that glorious screen. And....... nothing worth frying your hands, thighs or other regions, surely? Based on Apple's response on the iPhone 4 signal issues, here is my prediction of what will happen:

1) Apple will issue an official statement denying any such issues
2) A few weeks later, Apple will say that the heating issue 'might effect some devices', and the new batches will be free from this issue. They will offer to send refurbished new iPads in return for the defective units.
3) A couple of burn injuries later, Apple will say, 'Look, we know this issue doesn't exist, but since we are Father Christmas, please buy this cover/fan/cooling unit for 50 USD to address it'.
4) People will line up outside Apple stores to get the unit
5) The 'New New iPad' launched in April 2013 will have a dedicated thermal cooling mechanism

Good luck.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Which phone to buy right now? (March 2012)

These days, the tech world is inundated with announcements, rumors, and confusion. It's a good problem to have, because it translates into consumers having a lot of choice. However, for anyone who is not a tech junkie (ahem) it has become virtually impossible to just go out, buy a phone and not regret it later. I have decided to start this monthly guide where, based on my experience and knowledge, I will suggest ideal solutions for different pockets. Let's get to work!

[NOTE: This is not a Samsung advertisement. It's just that they are making the best sets in every price range right now!]


Easy, this one. My vote goes to Nokia X2-02. Granted, there are cheaper phones out there and the price is not rock-bottom (Rs6k). But consider what you will be getting: bright, 2.2 inch QVGA screen, Nokia S40 OS which handles java if not multitasking, best speaker sound in the business, wireless FM, FM Transmitter (enabling you to play your music file over any sound system through its FM radio without the need for wires), bluetooth, EDGE internet, micro SD card slot, USB slot, dual SIM capability..... Yes, I don't believe it either. In use, like almost all Nokia phones in recent memory, the phone has been somewhat buggy and prone to restarts. But at this price, who cares!


Samsung Galaxy Y(Rs13.5k) and Samsung Galaxy Y Pro (Rs14k). Android 2.3, large(ish) QVGA screen, 800 MHz processor with 512 MB RAM, wifi, GPS, and all the flexibility and power of Android. At this price, these phones cannot be beaten and completely render the purchase of any non-smartphone (such as Nokia Asha and Samsung Corby) over Rs9k grossly unjustified.


Android 2.3 (confirmed update to 4.0 in the works), 3.7 inch screen with 800x480 resolution, 1 GHz processor, card slot, wifi, GPS, HDMI Out (with cable in the box), EXCELLENT5 MP camera with HD video. If you have a budget of around Rs20-25k, you cannot go wrong with this phone. As such, there is absolutely no need to go for any smartphone between the price of Rs25k - Rs40k since this set will beat their specs in every way.


Apologies for not recommending Samsung Galaxy S2. Nexus has Android 4.0 and a buttonless interface, and this combination cannot be beaten right now. The phone is fast and is ideal for consuming media thanks to its 4.7 inch 1280x720 HD display. Being a Samsung, the build quality is beyond question. The only drawback is lack of a card slot, but it does have 16GB built-in memory. The set supports HDMI Out (via MHL) and has every connectivity option imaginable including USB On the Go (the ability to connect various USB drives, mouse, or keyboard and other devices via the microUSB slot).

Yes, I know, the camera is a (seemingly) mediocre 5 MP job. Tell me: do you honestly don't know that you can get a perfectly good 15 megapixel camera separately for about Rs10k? Phones are not about cameras, alone, and cameras are not about megapixels alone. Also, Galaxy Nexus offers one thing that NO OTHER phone has: the ability to capture photos without any lag or delay. That alone, I believe, compensates for any lack of quality or resolution.

At Rs49k this package is hard to beat, even though Galaxy S2 is smaller, lighter, better looking and a tiny bit  faster, it looses out due to the very low comparative screen resolution and user interface.


The hottest phone in local market at the moment. Note is the SAME as Galaxy S2, with three differences: 5-inch screen with an HD resolution (same as Galaxy Nexus), larger battery and stylus capability. The only negative points I can think of are debatable pocketability, Samsung's horrible TouchWiz UI over Android 2.3 (though an Android 4.0 update is due in a month or so) and difficulty in reaching the corners of the screen due to large size. If you can live with these shortcomings, get ready to be blown away by the games and movies on this device as nothing else comes close to in those respects (except to some extent, the Galaxy Nexus). This beast (in all senses of the word) will set you back Rs55,000 and even at that price it's a steal. If you can live with the size, there's nothing else like it!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nokia X2-02: the best phone in the world right now?

Imagine a phone with a clearly visible display in the sunlight.
Imagine a phone with the best sound in the business bar none.
Imagine a phone with wireless FM radio and an FM transmitter.
Imagine a phone with dual-sim support and crystal-clear calls.

Now stop imagining and behold the Nokia X2-02!

Nokia X2-02
Yes, Nokia X2-02 which sits one rung above the very bottom in the Nokia lineup. It costs Rs5,500. It has 2.0 megapixel camera, GPRS/EDGE internet, java, and lost of apps.

Sometimes we all lose sight of what we want in a phone. Yes, most of us do wish for a PC in our pockets that is pocketable, yet has a huge screen and can become a full fledged PC when we tell it to. To that end, we go for fancy iPhones and Android phones.

I urge you to read this review and tell me if X2-02 is NOT 80% of the phone you will ever need. Yes, it has a 2.2 QVGA screen, and no wi-fi. It cannot multitask. Its pictures are passable. But - it is a better music phone than all other phones. It's sound is unbelievable. It can call and text just fine, albeit with a doze of errors and restarts. What more can you ask for ?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Connecting a Smartphone to TV - Part 2: Why

Please refer to my previous post where I covered the hardware aspects of HDMI Out connections in Android phones.

Now the question is: why? A picture is worth a thousand words:

Imagine: Angry Birds on a 40 inch screen! Not only that, here are just a few uses I can think:
1) The while family can browse the web and YouTube videos. Ideal for catching up on missed TV shows
2) Skype calls via big screen
3) You can check your email too
4) Viewing photos and videos on your phone AND on network-connected hard drives
5) Using the TV's sound system to hear locally stored or online streamed music
6) Showing presentations to an assembled room of executives without a laptop

In other words, your TV can become a fully capable, internet-connected device able to do anything your computer can do. No need to buy a smart TV or a media player like those by Roku or ASUS or Logitech. Your smartphone just converts your TV into a smart one!


Now that you have got the cables, here is how to go about it:
1) For Motorola and Sony devices, just plug the mini HDMI into the phone's slot, and plug the HDMI plug into  your TV's HDMI input. Make sure the phone's display is on and switch the TV's display to HDMI (if that sounds complicated, you don't deserve to own a phone or a LCD TV).
2) For HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy series, first plug the MHL dongle into your phone's micro USB slot. Plug in the charger and insert its micro USB plug into the dongle's micro USB slot. Finally, plug both ends of the HDMI cable into the dongle and TV's HDMI slots. If that sounds complicated, join the club.

So there you have it - something you probably didn't know about your phone. Feedback welcome!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Connecting a Smartphone to TV - Part 1: How



When you connect your phone to your TV, you can view videos, photos, play games and music, even browse the web, taking advantage of the larger display. Imagine this scenario: You can play Monopoly Mobile on your phone alone where all the players have to huddle around the tiny screen to see what's happening. Connect it to your TV, and viola; it becomes a full fledged party game without the mess or the hard work of counting money and keeping track of who owns what.

Similarly, you can store your family vacation photos on your phone and display them wherever you go.

Most high-end (read: stupidly expensive) Android smartphones today come with a HDMI connection. This is a successor to the TV-Out feature that used to be present in older Nokia phones. In fact, Nokia was the first manufacturer to bring this feature to mid-range devices. TV-Out was geared towards Standard Definition (CRT) TVs, while HDMI is meant for flat screen TVs with HD resolutions (LCDs, LEDs, Plasmas).


Technology is a mess, and HDMI Out is no exception. There are currently two methods implemented in phones:

1) Dedicated Micro HDMI slot provided connects via micro HDMI-HDMI cable to TVs.Used by Motorola and Sony (previously Sony-Ericsson) mobiles.

2) Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), where a special dongle is connected to the phone's Micro USB slot (there is no separate micro HDMI slot), a SEPARATE slot in the dongle accepts the phone's charging cable, while the microHDMI slot in the dongle connects to the TV via the cable mentioned in (1). Used by Samsung and HTC.

MHL is, for me, the worst thing to happen to mobiles in recorded history. Three cables to connect to the TV? the logic behind this stupid standard is that the phone keeps on charge during the connection, thereby safeguarding against the battery drain resulting from the phone having to run two displays. Breaking news, Samsung and HTC: any HDTV has to be connected to a power outlet to run. That power can easily be transferred via HDMI slot back to the phone.


Funnily enough it's not that easy to tell. For Sony and Motorola sets, just check out the phone: they should have a micro HDMI slot. If it is missing, you don't have it (kind of obvious :-)).

The situation becomes complex with Samsung. First of all, they have about 500 Android phones and about 36 variants of each phone. Sites like and others list only those features that have been provided to them by the manufacturer through their spec sheets. If they miss out, the world doesn't know. Case in point: My Samsung Galaxy Nexus has the MHL capability but it's mentioned nowhere on the box or in the manual. I found only through YouTube, then broke this news on for fellow owners.

Right now, the only safe bets in the Samsung portfolio is Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note and Galaxy S2. Please consult Google or Youtube to find out about your set.

For HTC, their entire Sensation range has MHL connection. Easy.


For Motorola and Sony sets, all you need is a microHDMI to HDMI cable, easily purchased from Mobile Markets or good mobile shops for about Rs300.

For MHL (Samsung and HTC), you need to have the MHL Dongle AND the microHDMI to HDMI cable. Official OEM dongles are astronomically expensive; just pick one up from Karachi or Lahore mobile market  for about Rs1,500. Please beware that very few people know what MHL is: you should ask for 'HDMI cable for Samsung' or similar.

This is end of part 1. Part 2 will cover the proper way to make the connection and what you can do with it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

HTC Sense for Android 4.0

There was a time when I was obsessed with the HTC Sense skin for Android. Then came Samsung and its TouchWiz, and while it is butt-ugly (not to mention Apple copycat) compared to Sense, it is light, unintrusive, and gets the job done. HTC Sense is heavy and gets in the way a lot. And you CAN get tired of its styling.

Nevertheless here is a preview of what HTC Sense 3.6 will look like; please remember that this version of Sense will be released for those devices older than the HTC Sensation series which are receiving Android 4.0 update.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Type in Urdu on any keyboard, in any program

Google has this amazing program called Google Transliteration IME (catchy, I know) that enables any user to type PHONETICALLY (i.e. matching sounds of native language alphabet with Roman alphabets), and includes smart prediction too.

For example, when I write 'shuroo' in English, it will appear شروع in Urdu. All you have to do is click on one button in the language bar. It is fully integrated with Windows and works on any text field - be it email, chat or even MS Office. It does NOT require a working net connection.

As usual with Google, they are shortly shutting this excellent service down.

Grab the file while you still can

Sony Xperia S Review

It seems Sony have a cracker on their hands. According to this review the display is the best in business - 720p at 4.3 inches translates to an amazingly high density.

There are drawbacks. Sony have the audacity to launch this thing with Gingerbread (Android 2.3) rather than Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). They HAVE promised though that an ICS upgrade is on the way. The point is, all the other companies are now launching phones with ICS. What's the point in waiting?

Another big beef I have with this set is presence of hardware buttons. That means that even when ICS makes it to this set, it won't offer the same streamlined, seamless experience of virtual buttons for home, open apps and back, that Samsung Galaxy Nexus offers.

That, coupled with a dual-core processor now that quad-core phones are coming, and an astronomically high price (Rs62k the last time I looked), means that anyone genuinely interested in this should wait for about a month before considering this set.

1) Sony style
2) Good user interface
3) Should be fast for games
4) Amazing screen
5) 4.3 inches screen size means it will be easily pocketable

1) Gingerbread
2) Buttons
3) Battery is small considering the specs
4) High price - at this price the competing products are Galaxy S 2, Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Note, all of which are superior in every way


1) Don't buy right now. If you absolutely need a top-end Android phone, go for Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S 2 or Galaxy Note. Xperia S has a superior screen to all of them, but in all other respects (including software, processor etc) they beat Xperia S. Additionally, Android 4.0 (ICS) update for the Galaxy sets I mentioned is almost certain to land in March 2012.

2) Wait for HTC One X; it will have a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, and a screen that is almost as good. Most probably it will cost just a few thousand Rupees more.

3) If you are hell-bent upon buying it, wait for 4-6 weeks when the prices will fall (as they do with Sony sets) and the quad-core sets from HTC and LG (and possibly Samsung Galaxy S3) will arrive. Don't pay more than you need to.

A little less Apple

Hello and a warm welcome.

You know what, I am sick and tired of the Internet tech blogs. They are all obsessed with Apple. They are obsessed to the point where they don't/can't see the faults within Apple products. Also, they fail to disclose the alternatives to iPhone, iPad, MacBooks etc. It seems no one wants to risk appearing 'uncool' by speaking the truth. Trust me on one thing: contrary to what you will read on the Web, many Apple products are NOT the best thing ever.

There is another side to my apprehension about Apple products. Usually, Apple makes the most expensive products in their category. That means that most Apple products are out of reach for 80% of the people I know (including myself). Is there no life for the rest of us?

Thirdly, most bugs/problems with Apple products don't get highlighted. No offense, but most Apple users are too rich and too unaware of the world outside of Apple to care or even detect a problem. Unconditional reverence and acceptance of faults as 'quirks' and 'features' are the norm for Apple customers. Apple feels free to steal ideas from others and claim them their own invention. They thrive on the famous 'reality distortion field'. The trouble is, for whatever reason, very few are willing to break out of the trance induced by glitz and deception, and therefore fail to report objectively.

This is where I come in. Make no mistake: I love Apple products, I just don't think they are the best thing ever. On this blog, you will get reports, reviews and updates which are not Apple-centric. Simple.