Friday, September 28, 2012

Which Smart TV to buy - or NOT!

Hello all

Today I touch on a topic that's near my heart: sharing experience across various devices. These days the electronics firms are having a field trip, selling hyper-expensive 'Smart TVs' to an unsuspecting public.

A Smart TV is one which has some 'smarts' built in - i.e., it has an operating system running various apps. Samsung is advertising its latest line with fancy features such as gesture control, video calling, and browsing. While the TV part of the deal is admittedly excellent - the LED panel is sharp and gives outstanding image quality - it all gets iffy when they try to charge a 100% premium for the supposedly smart features.

Why? The answer lies in 2005. Yes, that golden era when Nokia ruled the world of phones. What has that got to do with anything? Well, all the best Nokia smartphones had a feature called 'TV Out'. What it did was display the screen of your phone on your telly, via a cable that went into the audio jack of your phone and split into three for the DVD input on your TV. With this setup, you could browse the web, stream media, play photos and vidoes, and games, on ANY TV. In 2005.

Fast forward to 2012. TVs have given way to HDTVs. DVD inputs have given way to HDMI slots. And the excellent TV-Out feature has given way to 'HDMI Out' in best-case scenario and MHL in the worst-case. See, most flagship Android phones (even some mid range ones) either have an HDMI out slot or support MHL (multimedia high-definition link) technology through their micro USB ports. They connect to an HDTV's HDMI slot via a cable. And they display the contents of your phone, in FULL HD, on your TV.

Think about it. With a device you already have and spending maybe 10 USD on the cables, you can browse the web, make video calls, watch/stream HD movies, play games, on your TV. Your screen becomes a computer powered by a hefty processor and GBs of RAM with top of the range internet connectivity.

So there. Smart TVs are a scam - at least if you plan to buy them due to their 'smart' features. Buy a smartPHONE instead! Or wait for the day when such throwaway functionality comes built in with every HDTV instead of being on a pointless premium

Friday, September 14, 2012

iPhone 5: what it is and how it affects the world at large

Ah, so the cat is out of the bag. iPhone 5 is upon us; it will be available in stores worldwide over the next couple of months. Let's go briefly over how things went at Apple's event to announce the 5.

Most people say it lacked pomp and chutzpah. I also came away thinking the same, but after sleeping over it, I came to a new realization. The event was dull because it lacked Apple's reality distortion field. It conveyed features for what they were, not making hyperbolic statements or promises.

Secondly, and most importantly, Apple did not have anything even superficially jaw-dropping to announce. In fact, some of the 'features' came straight out of a comedian's portfolio. So what do you do with a 4-inch screen? You'd think it would be better for web browsing etc. But no, Apple says you CAN ADD A FIFTH ROW OF ICONS to its desktop!

The 'new' additions to Siri, meanwhile, are an exact copy of what Google announced with Jelly Bean's Google Now feature. Two months ago.

The camera remains largely the same. Yeah, there's a panorama mode. As if its the first. The rest? Aluminum construction. Yay. Thin. Double-yay. And hey, now you can get location updates within apps. So useful for the three people who like to text while navigating in their cars.  There's 4G/LTE too, though about a thousand phones on the market have it right now.

Having been through the revolutionary changes, let's see what stays the same:
1) Design of the hardware
2) Design of the user interface
3) Camera resolution
4) Pixel density of the display

So that was that, a summary of Apple's most boring event in years. Oh, that is, for the Apple fans. For everyone else (THE THINKING MAJORITY) it was a study in a company undoing itself right before the world stage. Having reached some sort of commercial apex, Apple seems content to rest on its laurels. It is just adding minor variations to the OS while retaining the same aesthetics for the hardware and software design. In other words, Apple is behaving EXACTLY like Nokia, 4 years ago.

There are naysayers. Some say it is wrong to expect something groundbreaking from Apple. Hello? Since when? How did that materialize, since Apple itself claims every new feature as a revolution? This is the most despicable example of the pathetic sold-out mentality prevailing within the tech journalism circles. Hype up a new Apple device to high heaven, then try to justify it when it doesn't deliver.

How is that innovation?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

World's First iPhone 5 Review

Hey y'all.

Today I have the scoop of the century, if not millennium. Tired by my continuous jabs at their products, Apple staff abducted me yesterday and took me to their flying-saucer-shaped headquarters. There, I was seated in a blank room. A ghostly apparition, perhaps a 3D projection of Steve Jobs, sat before me and look very angry; there were red flashes in his eyes. He placed an object before me and intoned: "This is the iPhone 5. Bow before it, kiss my feet, and then review it. Failing that, you will be abducted again and never heard from."

Trembling, I took the phone in my hands; I stared at it reverently, knowing fully well that only Steve's ghost and I had touched the finished product in the entire world. Here's my review.


The iPhone 5 looks nothing like any other phone on the planet. It is made of a sturdy polycarbonate, is very flat and therefore will survive falls easily, even from thousands of feet, since it will then float harmlessly to the ground. Strike one for Apple there: the first phone in history to achieve this feat: the world's first truly drop-proof phone.

The phone's front fascia is dominated by a grid of numbered plastic squares. iPhone has been touch-only in the past, but users have been crying out for more tactile interaction with the phone. Therefore, Apple, as always attentive to its customers' needs, invented a neat solution: little plastic squares are mounted onto springs; they have contact points which, when connected to the circuit board below, send appropriate signal to the CPU and it displays a number or an alphabet on the screen. Apple has named this technology 'iType' and of course, being a world first, it is patented. There are already rumours in the market that many computer and phone manufacturers are scrambling to discard an imitation of this solution, which they called 'keyboard' or 'keypad', and come up with an alternative. Judge Lucy Koh has cancelled her vacations in anticipation.

On top of the iType surface is a little white screen with 18:9 aspect ratio for ideal multimedia playback. The screen diagonal is 3.5 inches and features an advanced technology called 'LCD'.

On top left there is a huge speaker slot. Apple thinks that today's mobile phones suffer from poor voice quality and have therefore increased the size of the speaker to 2 square centimeters to enable users to better listen to calls. This speaker grill size and design has also been patented under the name 'iHear' patent violation notices have been sent to every electronics manufacturer on Earth and beyond. There is also a solar panel to complement the existing battery ("iCharge") and that will ensure a battery life of a week under heavy usage.

There are little design flourishes all over. The Apple logo, for example, is there in the very shape of the phone, saving precious space and weight of previous solutions where embossing was required. The iPhone 5 will be available in all colours corresponding to the rainbow from day one, all the better for its target demographic. The phone is only 3.5 mm in thickness, therefore taking the title of thinnest phone ever made. The Apple shape makes the experiencing of holding and using a phone a joy.

The rest about the innards of the phone is a mystery. I did learn that thanks to the smaller display, the processor chosen is a single-core 337 MHz job. I am confident that the iPhone 5 will perform even faster than its predecessor.


As expected, the phone dialing experience on iType is second to none. The squares click and there is a hitherto unseen tactility and clarity to the whole experience. There is no T9 or alphabetical dialing since that solution has been in use for many years and has caused countless mis-dialing incidents. To protect user's privacy, Apple has opted not to build an address book in the phone and instead, every iPhone will come with the elegant binder (pictured) called 'iNote' which will clip neatly to the phone itself. The binder will be used to store contacts and other information by users. Providing endless flexibility, iNote is a pioneering technology allowing its users to write or draw virtually anything, maintain a calendar, jot down engineering plans, song lyrics, friends' birthdays, recipes, etc, while keeping the content perfectly secure and within easy reach.

The back camera has a special mode called 'iNote mode' where it will photograph content on the iNote pad and act accordingly. For example, if it's a telephone number, it will dial that number, requiring precisely one key push from users. If it's a drawing, it will scan it and keep it on display for 30 minutes, so that you can share it with others; naturally, all other functions will be disabled for the duration to save users from complications.

This kind of out-of-the-box thinking is what sets Apple apart from competitors. Hands down, this is the most secure way of storing information.

The purpose of some keys marked as +,-,X,/ and MR, M-, M+ was not immediately apparent. According to Apple representative, these represent another pioneering technology. The sign keys are for quick calculations, while MR, M- etc are for storing any picture taken by the camera, deleting it or recalling a previous one.

To further bolster the security and provide users with bulletproof peace of mind, incoming calls as well as SMS service, have been disabled. It is possible to send a message via iNote though. Apple says that 90% of iPhone 5 customers will still have iPhone 4 or 4S, and they will continue to function even after introduction of iPhone 5. By disabling incoming calls or messages, iPhone 5 will remain a bulletproof platform while previous phones will find themselves useful as well. It's a win-win situation.


Apple introduces a new internet portal called To browse the net, you will simply have to recite the entire URL into the phone's mic and the website will appear on the screen. This will prevent mis-typed addresses and provide users with a truly hands-off experience. Needless to say, web browsing is fully integrated with iNote.

Apple's Safari version for iPhone 5 reaches new levels of security and reliability. This browser rids itself of unnecessary clutter like Flash, HTML, and images. Instead, it presents web pages in a supremely attractive text-only form, truly outstanding on the white LCD. Pages load instantly, and since iPhone 5 foregoes wifi owing to its fickle and insecure nature, the uncluttered web can travel even faster on the provided GPRS connection.

Continuing with tradition, there is no dedicated memory slot. There is a proprietary 47-pin port though, which will accept a wireless transmitter (sold separately), to stream content from a nearby PC or phone. Thus, weight has again been saved by foregoing internal memory.

The camera is carried over from iPhone 4S, which means it is the best on the market. Any pictures you take will appear instantly on the LCD, and to enhance smoothness during editing, they are 8-bit monochrome only. You can always upload the pics taken by camera, in full colour, to any website via the built in GPRS connection.

The iPhone 5 also excels when it comes to music and movies. In a survey, users found the black bars interrupting the movie frame as the biggest irritant. Therefore, iPhone 5's screen has an aspect ratio of 18:9, and needless to say, Movies play perfectly. 8-bit monochrome LCD ensures that, unenamored with the burden of colour or detail, they retain a record-breaking 60 frames per second.


I had the previlege of only a brief time with the iPhone 5. However, even so, I was able to conclude that iPhone 5 is the most advanced and user-friendly gadget ever to be released. It has unprecedented security and user friendliness. It beats anything by Samsung or Sony or Nokia. It is a revolution ten times as big as the original iPhone was in 2007. Apple has once again delivered a stunning device that is second to none on the market.

The release price has been revised slightly upward to $1000. This was kept to take the confusion out of making the purchase: most Apple users, according to studies conducted by Apple, only recognize banknote designations 500 or higher. Not having to count the money at an Apple store is a great incentive to buy an iProduct, and once again it proves that Apple places user experience as its top prority.  I believe it is a small price to pay for what is essentially a world-changing device. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Deadly Sins of Gadget Buyers: The Mistakes We Make

Whew. My last post about Apple's litigations and their real motive attracted a lot of attention. I am grateful to my readers and hope they will keep coming back for more.

Today let me invite your attention to a few crucial mistakes we all buy while buying gadgets, which allow manufacturers to rip us off and make fools out of us. While I may be overwhelmingly in favour of Android phones, I nevertheless know that every manufacturer is out to make money, and preferably, more money than deserved. Here I list down some key mistakes gadget buyers (including myself) make.

1) Going for 'specs' rather than 'experience'

Granted, in most cases the two are tied. For example, a web browsing experience on a 720p 4.7 inch screen will be superior to that on a 4 inch 480p screen, owing to both size and resolution. Also, you absolutely WANT 1 GB of RAM if you hope to keep your Android set chugging along.

But from here on it gets crazy. Quad core processors? Who needs them with Jelly Bean? Samsung Nexus S, an almost antiquated set, runs just fine on JB. Same goes for Galaxy Nexus, which is beating those newfangled Galaxy S3s at the speed game. You need latest SOFTWARE, not hardware.

2) Camera

Trust me, even a cellphone costing 500 USD cannot better the photo quality offered by a cheap point and shoot camera costing 1/5th the price. Even if the megapixel count goes up to 12 or 16, they are still there on that tiny sensor which cannot make sense of most things in the world. Same goes for video: most smartphone cameras these days will happily make an HD video but they cannot match the smoothness and light range of a dedicated camera.

So bear in mind: you just need to pay for a PASSABLE camera on a cellphone, even if it is 3.2 megapixels. Anything over that is overkill.

3) Ignoring perfectly good products for one missing feature

We do this a lot. We have a feature in mind, and for that feature we are willing to pay more. We ignore perfectly good gadgets for trivial factors. So an HDTV has only one HDMI slot. So what? You can switch cables around can't you? Is it worth paying 20% more for the one with 3 slots but same picture?

Similarly some digital cameras cannot output to an HDTV. Again, there is no sense in paying more for this feature since most HDTVs these have USB slots and you can play any content on them.

Which brings me to the biggie: Smart TVs. I will cover this in a separate feature, but suffice it to say that it is one of the greatest ploy to grab more money from consumers.

So THINK. If you NEED to have a TV out connection on your phone, you must be using it very often. If you aren't likely to use it for months, no sense. The age of good Nokia phones where several features and technology was thrown in to see what lasted and what didn't, is long gone. These days you can't just say 'Yeah, but it's nice to have just in case' because you are paying for it dearly.

4) Gadget envy

Many people buy gadgets because their friends or bosses have them. Again, I would say, THINK. You want an HD monitor, right? Do you really need one with 27 inches diagonal? Won't a 22-incher suffice? Similarly, everyone at a mall having the iPhone does NOT mean it's a good phone. Democracy's underlying assumption that majority is always right, does not stand up to testimony and never was this truer.

5) Not waiting

In many third world markets, gadgets are often priced at what a buyer is willing to pay. When a particularly hot or popular gadget launches, the dealers make a lot of money, capitalizing on the buyer frenzy.

My advice is simple: WAIT. You don't absolutely need to have that new phone, TV, laptop etc, on day one. Wait for it to OFFICIALLY launched by authorized dealers. If it is not likely to, wait at least 6-8 weeks. Invariably, prices of new gadgets come down with time, and in case of cellphones, they plummet to 60 or 70% of the launch pricing. Remember: it's nothing if you flaunt the PRICE of your gadget - the only thing you can safely show off if you get good value out of it

Waiting has another advantage: you will be able to read thorough reviews of the gadget and know all about its flaws (there are many, believe it or not). Many features simply don't work, or refuse to work in specific situations. Mostly, internet FORUMS rather than reviews are a good source of this crucial information. Much of it might be misleading or very specific, but it is nevertheless useful.

These were a few mistakes that buyers make while buying gadgets. I will be back with more as I make them!