Friday, October 29, 2010

Angry Birds plush toy review

Rovio Mobile's Angry Birds has been taking the mobile gaming world by storm. The recently released Android version saw over 2 million downloads in its first weekend. As of October 2010, over 10 million Apple iOS version were sold. The game is also available on the Symbian^3, Maemo and WebOS platforms. There are also plans to release it to the PlayStation Portable/PS3 platform as a PSP Mini game. It is quite literally one of the best selling games of 2010.

In Angry Birds, players attempts to retrieve eggs that have been stolen by evil pigs, using a slingshot to launch birds at structures that are imprisoning the eggs. There are a variety of birds available in the game. Each has their own abilities, for example the blue birds can separate into three smaller birds while white birds can drop bombs.

Rovio Mobile, the Finnish developer behind Angry Birds, has today revealed that five Angry Birds plush toys will be made available this Christmas. These are based on the red, blue, yellow, white and black varieties. Each of the bird will cost US$14.99 not including international shipment. Already some of them has sold out, so better be quick if you want one of these cute 8" plush toys for Christmas.

But... these are not the birds I am reviewing today! The version I have is significantly smaller, and in my opinion looks better. I only got it because my good friend Julien Fourgeaud managed to snag a couple from Nokia and Rovio whilst he was in Finland earlier this month for #LeStudio52 members. I've had it for two weeks, but decided it was time to finally remove it from its plastic prison.

All I can say for now are that these are freaking awesome. Each of the birds have a built-in slingshot/catapult. They also make noise when flung around. They are in essence, real life versions of their video game counterpart. As far as I know, these are not on sale yet. But keep an eye peeled because when they do, they will sell like hotcakes.

Spooky Swarm birthday!

I'll be celebrating my 30th birthday tomorrow at Camino bar on Pentoville Road near King's Cross, London. Jennifer has been planning this for the past couple of weeks. Today Foursquare announced the availability of a limited edtion Spooky Swarm badge, only available during the Halloween weekend - that is from today until 31 October 2010.

Jennifer contacted Chris, the organiser of the #SuperSwarmLDN event early this month and looked at how we can tage advantage of the gathering of a handful of Foursquare savvy people into an event that can unlock the Spooky Swarm badge.

If you are planning on coming, please sign up on Plancast page and check in at Camino from 7pm! Cheers!

Samsung Omnia 7 HD 720p video recording sample

I have to admit I am not a fan of recording videos, preferring to capture images instead - but videos are all the rage these days. It would be silly not to test the feature on the Samsung Omnia 7.

I took the chance yesterday evening at a Stella Artois World Draught Masters event (more on this later) to test the Omnia 7's 720p video recording. The video capabilities is pretty standard. Options includes 720p or VGA resolution (it defaults to VGA - much to my annoyance), contrast, saturation, sharpness, exposure compensation and white balance. As far as I know, the UI and settings are part of Windows Phone 7 standard.

Videos are recorded in MP4 format. I am not certain what bitrate is used, but I suspect it is variable. A three and a half minute 720p video footage like the one below came up at 158MB. Audio is encoded in AAC.

The video quality looks decent enough for one that is recorded via a mobile phone (though I've seen better), and seems to be better than those captured via my old Canon SX200. Samsung claims that it records in 25fps, but unfortunately it doesn't look like it. Auto focus is continuous as evident from the video below.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Samsung Omnia 7 impressions

Yesterday I wrote about how my first impressions of Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7. It is early days, and I like what I am seeing. Unfortunately I came away disappointed by what's (not) underneath the pretty Metro UI - namely the lack of copy and paste, file manager, tethering, video calling, hot swappable card storage and USB mass storage support - all common features found in competing smartphone OS like Symbian and Android.

The device I've been spending time with is the Samsung i8700 Omnia 7 courtesy of the awesome people from Three UK. This is one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices on the market and is available to buy now. It is sleek, powerful and conforms to Microsoft's strict Windows Phone 7 'chassis one' design - minimum of 1Ghz processor (Snapdragon), graphic processor, 480x800 resolution display, 5MP camera and 8GB storage.

So basically a typical smartphone spec for 2010. The Omnia 7 ticks all of this but doesn't go beyond them. It has the same gorgeous 4" Super AMOLED screen from the Galaxy S, 1Ghz Snapdragon QSD8250 processor, 5MP camera with autofocus and LED flash with 720p with 25fps video recording, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, Accelerometer, GPS receiver with digital compass, 1500mAh battery and 7.2 Mbps HSDPA support. The Omnia 7 is available in both 8GB and 16GB flavors.

The front of the Omnia 7 is dominated by by a Super AMOLED screen. Apart for the plastic Windows start key and earpiece, front is covered in glass from edge to edge. The back and search keys are touch sensitive capacitive. I've accidentally toggled Bing unintentionally a couple of times, so that is one area I hope Samsung can improve on with the next version of the Omnia 7. On the top by the earpiece are the ambient light sensor and proximity sensor.

The volume rocker keys are on the left side and can be used to bring up the music control app when in used. Sitting on the right side of the Omnia 7 are the power button and camera shutter. The 3.5mm headphone slot and micro USB port (with a lid) sits on the top. The bottom is bare bar from the microphone.

On the backside you will find the 5MP camera lens and LED flash, a loud speaker and battery door. The SIM card slot is behind the door and the battery has to be removed to access it. In an age of powerful smartphones it is nice to see a large 1500mAh battery there, something HTC has continuously failed to realise is needed (just have a look at the Desire HD's battery spec). What you won't find is an external card slot. A bit of a bummer, but hardly a fault of Samsung.

With the brushed aluminium back and clean looks of the front, the Samsung Omnia 7 looks and feels reassuringly premium. It feels solid and heavy (in a good way) and looks well made. The design is clean, has a professional look to it - conservative and yet stylish. It is quite a departure from curvy Samsung of past. Personally, I like the Omnia 7 design much more than the Galaxy S and Wave. In fact remove the Samsung logo and you could easily mistaken this for a HTC HD 7. Despite its width, it is comfortable to hold and its slimness meant that it could fit inside a jeans pocket.

The 4 inches Super AMOLED screen is lovely. Colours are saturated. In fact, perhaps too over saturated. Pictures looks awesome on it, but are not accurate. On the other hand the use of PenTile subpixel matrix technology meant that small texts looks blurry. For a screen that supposedly have 480x800 resolution, it is rather unusual that I can actually see dots on it. Unfortunately I can't comment on the display's legibility under sunlight - the weather hasn't been great lately.

I will be using the Samsung Omnia 7 for two weeks before the big review. If you have any questions about the Omnia 7 or Windows Phone 7, just ask away in the comments section or on twitter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Windows Phone 7 first impressions

I've been spending a couple of hours today with the Samsung i8700 Omnia 7 courtesy of Three UK. The Omnia 7 is one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices, based on the new operating system written by scratch by Microsoft. As a once long time Pocket PC and then Windows Mobile user, I can say for certainty that Windows Phone 7 is nothing like its predecessors. The only thing it shares is the Windows brand name.
Windows Phone 7 features completely different UI, not only from Windows Mobile but also from the majority of mobile OSes like iOS, Android and Symbian S60. The launcher is divided into two parts - the front 'home screen' which has live tiles (or widgets) that can be customised by the user, and the program launcher which lists a list of applications installed in alphabetical order. This makes up for the basis of what Microsoft dubs the Metro UI.

The Metro UI is slick, quick, uncluttered, easy to use and designed to operate with fingers. It is inspired by public transport signage and International Swiss typography movement. It is sleek, it is new and it is stylish.

Most of the built-in apps is engineered using a design called hubs. Hubs are basically large panoramic apps. Here you can swipe left and right or tap to go through the different pages within the hub.

The social integration is brilliant. Once I managed to get my contacts on it (I will get back to this), the OS integrates my contacts with those of my Facebook contacts providing easy visual updates on my friends. Now if they only provide integration with Twitter - that would be insane. The Marketplace is good too, with plenty of nice free apps like the Huffington Post (which isn't merely a glorified RSS reader/bookmark like BBC News app). It is dead easy to use too. I downloaded 20 apps in 10 minutes. Why can't Nokia do something like this for the Ovi Store?

Most of the paid games I've seen include trial versions, so there is little harm in downloading and trying out before deciding. The Xbox integration includes Gamerscore and Achievements.

Getting contacts on it was a pain, but do-able. Windows Phone 7 does not sync with Outlook, at least not directly. This is a major fail to me, and I do not understand how and why Microsoft would not support syncing with their own product. Still I managed to get them on, but not without first downloading Outlook Connector, syncing my contacts to a Hotmail account and then finally syncing from there to the phone. If you are an Exchange user, then good for you. Outlook will sync fine without these steps. So dear Microsoft, not everyone wants to use the 'Cloud', especially when there's a perfectly good USB cable in front of me.

Input is via a virtual QWERTY keyboard. There is no haptic feedback, though feedback is provided through audible feedback. Each key presses is different from the last as Windows Phone 7 has eight variations of key press samples played in a loop. It isn't a massive different, but subtle. I find the audible feedback irritating, but have no choice but to leave it on because the keyboard does not support haptic feedback. Auto correction and suggestions can be turned off if needed.

Internet Explorer is a massive improvement over the older versions found on Windows Mobile. Rendering is rather slow, though is accurate. Panning and scrolling is supported, as is pinch zooming and multiple tabs. In addition to saving a site as favourite, it can also be pin to the home screen. Flash and Silverlight is not supported, and there is no text reflow.

Bing Maps is fast and easy to use. Maps can be toggled between vector mapping and aerial (satellite) view. Zooming is via pinching. Step by step directions is supported, though there is no voice guided navigation. It is a good effort, but still lacking behind Google's effort with Maps on Android and Nokia's all you can eat navigation Ovi Maps.

Now for some really bad stuff. No multi-tasking. This is to me, inexcusable. Yes, there is some form of multi-tasking, but really, no more than what you would find in any typical feature phone from the past couple of years. You can listen to music while messaging - nothing new with that - even dumb Sony Ericsson and Nokia S40 phones can do that. But what about tweeting and using at the same time? Nope can't do that. Casual users migrating from feature phones may be able to put up with that, but I can't imagine plenty of power users will like the idea of a dumbed down experience.

Another is copy and paste. I know some would say that copy and paste is due next year, it's been promised bla bla bla. Well until it does, Windows Phone 7 does not have copy and paste. There is no excuse here not to have copy and paste, absolutely none especially for a 2010 OS. There are also plenty of other dislikes with Microsoft's new mobile OS - the lack of tethering, no Bluetooth file exchange, no video call, no file manager, no USB mass storage, no support for own ringtones etc.

If in 1-2 years time Microsoft can implement those missing features, this can be a killer OS. Right now it isn't ready just yet, at least not for those accustomed to traditional OSes like Windows Mobile, Android or Symbian. The Metro UI and design language is simply stunning, but it would be ashamed if Microsoft doesn't improve on what's underneath it. It deserves better.

I will be keeping the Samsung Omnia 7 for two weeks. If you have any questions about Windows Phone 7, just ask away in the comments section or on twitter.

The Commuter

Yesterday I was invited to the premiere of The Commuter at Aqua Nueve in Soho, London. The short film stars Dev Patel, Pamela Anderson, Ed Westwick and Charles Dance, and is directed by the McHenry Brothers. The premiere was attended by Charles Dance, Pamela Anderson, Peta's Dan Matthews and Jermaine Jackson.
What sets this seven and a half minute film is that it is shot entirely using Nokia N8 smartphones. The film looks incredible. Unfortunately I was supposed to interview the McHenry Brothers, but due to the crowd was unable to do so! Well, anyway the film has now gone live. Check it out:

Update: I just found out that parts of the film was shot in St. Albans where I live. Indeed the first scenes are filmed in a street where I walked by almost daily.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mobile Choice Consumer Awards

On Thursday me and Abul were invited to the tenth Mobile Choice Consumer Awards 2010 by our friends at Three UK Latest (thanks Johanna Whitaker!). The event was held at the swanky new The Northumberland at Trafalgar Square venue in central London.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was they made a mistake by having the reception in the lower ground floor thus robbing us of essential mobile signal. Not only that, they did not provide free Wireless access. A mobile-related event, without the ability to tweet? Hmm. Still the champagne was flowing - to the point that even Abul was already getting slightly drunk! We needed our access to twitter! And food!

At around 7.40pm we were finally ushered upstairs to the Ballroom (where thankfully there was signal), but not before being shooed up first. We were seated right up the front on table 3 with the people from Three Mobile and 3 Monkeys (table 3, geddit?) and a couple of journalists. Me and Abul were the only two to be invited as bloggers. Food was soon served and to be very honest I was not disappointed.

image by @adonisdemon

The seared fillet of snapper with saffron risotto was an excellent starter. Lamb was the main course in the form of braised neck fillet and sausage roll - a rather weird combination in my opinion, but I'm not going to complain. Finally I had one of the best desserts ever, their chocolate pudding served with salted caramel ice cream. Nom.

Well enough about food. The Mobile Choice Consumer Awards is all about the mobile tech. This year's edition is particularly important as it is their tenth edition. It was presented by comedian/presenter Mark Dolan of Channel 4's Balls of Steel - if you haven't heard of Mark or watched Balls of Steel before, I do suggest you do. Before the awards were presented, we had a little wager on the table on who could predict the most results. It was between me, Abul, Rob Kerr, Chris Hall and Ben Sillis. Here were the nominations including my picks:

To cut a long story short, me and Rob were tied with seven correct predictions each until the final category, which if my memory serve me correctly, was the Manufacturer of the Decade award. I decided to go for Nokia (Rob picked Apple). The reason being that while Nokia has been taking a battering the past couple of years, they have been leaders of the mobile phone industry (even if it isn't the smartphone industry) for the majority of the past ten years. Apple has been in the market for the past three years, and while they own the high-end market they have zero presence in the low to mid-end market. Fortunately for me, I was correct. I WON! :D

Full results:

Phone of the Year: HTC Desire
Best Camera Phone: Nokia N8
Best Media Phone: Samsung Galaxy S
App of the Year: Comics
Most Stylish Phone: HTC Legend
Best Bluetooth Headset: Jawbone Icon
Best Social Networking Handset: Samsung Wave
Best Value Phone: HTC Wildfire
Best Mobile Sat Nav: Nokia N8
Mobile Choice Green Award: Sony Ericsson Elm
Readers' Dream Phone: Apple iPhone 4
Best Network: O2
Best Customer Service: Orange
Best HIgh Street Retailer: Orange
Best Online Retailer:
Manufacturer of the Year: HTC
Manufactutrer of the Decade: Nokia

Some of the results I found to be genuinely bizarre. HTC Legend beating the Apple iPhone 4 as the most stylish device is one of them. I like the Legend (I had one for almost a month to review) and while it is very stylish, it is nothing to the iPhone 4. Still style is a pretty subjective matter, and someone on twitter joked about the iPhone 4 needing a bumber case to work which ruins its look. I do have a beef with O2 winning best network over Three Mobile, and the £210 HTC Wildfire getting the best value nod over the £70 QWERTY-toting INQ Chat 3G. And how did the Motorola Flipout get nominated for most stylish?

So anyway it is a democracy and the voters have made their decision, so I'm in no position to complain (much). :) So what did I win for getting eight out of 16 categories correct? Well the brilliant people at 3 Monkeys actually sent someone over and hand delivered a Piper-Heidsieck champagne on Friday evening (thanks Alexis!)... And Three? Well whatever it is, it is currently somewhere in a Royal Mail sorting office along with a Windows Phone 7 powered Samsung Omnia 7 review unit. I can't wait.

With the awards over, it was time to hit the party area. We were lead back downstairs to the Old Billiard Room where the organisers have set up a golf simulator and a PlayStation 3 hooked up to the PS Move.

Oh and a bar. With more champagne! :)

Thanks to the lovely people from Three UK for inviting us - shame they didn't win best network. Also thanks to the organisers of the event - I had a lovely evening.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Win! Win! Win!

Hello dear readers! Thanks to the lovely people at Stella Artois, I have one pair of tickets to give away to an exclusive event being hosted by Stella Artois at Old Billingsgate in London on the evening of October 28 2010. Not only that, the winner will also receive a dinner for two and accomodation for a night at a top London hotel. Interested? Read on.

The event - the World Draught Masters Global Final – is the culmination of rigorous regional and national finals, where skillful bartenders from across the world gather to showcase their bartending prowess in the hopes of becoming the Stella Artois World Draught Master 2010.

The event will be a night of theatre set to a theme of 60s French chic, with the main stage reflecting old-fashioned cinema houses. There are also promises of pop up and flying mechanics and fabulous bar spaces for people to enjoy the evening. Compére on the night will be comedy stand up & TV presenter, Mark Dolan, accompanied by legendary DJ and BBC Radio 6 presenter, Eddie Piller, who will be entertaining guests into the night.

Contestants will be challenged to pour the perfect glass of Stella Artois in a number of difficult settings throughout the evening. The finalists will be judged by a panel of experts on their ability to execute the Stella Artois 9-step pouring ritual. You may remember reading about this pouring ritual some weeks ago.

To be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to the event, dinner for two and a night in a top London hotel, all you need to do is answer the following question in the comments section, by 12am BST 21 October 2010:

Where will the Stella Artois World Draught Master Global Finals be held this year?

  • Liverpool
  • London
  • Leeds

Some rules:

Entrats must be 18 or over, and must be a resident of the UK.
Please leave a name as well as your URL of your website/twitter handle, just so I can contact you.
Only one entry per person.
The winning entry will be chosen at random.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Social Network review

I have to admit that when I first heard of The Social Network, aka "the Facebook film", I was a bit skeptical. It had director David Fincher attached to it and Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, and yet I thought - why would anyone would be interested in the story of how Facebook was founded. And despite all the hype and the flood of positive reviews, I remained unconvinced.

Then last week I was invited to a private screening of The Social Network at Sony Pictures in London on Monday. And I was glad I said yes, because the film is as good as the critics have been saying.

While The Social Network revolves around the early days of Facebook - it isn't totally about Facebook. The centerpiece of the drama is build around the relationship between the two Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and how that early friendship is driven apart by legal disputes over money and intellectual property. Here's the official synopsis by Columbia Pictures:
On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history… but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.
The script is impeccably well writen by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Man), with great dialogue. I wouldn't be surprised if Sorkin gets nominated and wins an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is intelligent, and is well structured, though unsurprisingly filled with Hollywood cliches (creative license). The film uses a great framing device - using two seperate lawsuit depositions. The story of how Facebook was born was instead told through multiple flashbacks.

Jesse Eisenberg was good as the easy to dislike, deadpan, geeky and social misfit Zuckerberg, while Andrew Garfield (soon to be Peter Parker in the Spider-Man reboot) was excellent as Zuckerberg's best friend Saverin. Saverin as CFO, provided the money needed to launch and maintain Facebook in its early days. While competent, he was undone by his lack of experience and vulnerability. Justin Timberlake gave a terrific performance as the unlikeable sleaze Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, proving that at least he is a better actor than he is a singer.

The decision to use the Winklevoss twins's litigation against Zuckerberg may come off as light comic relief but does help with the pacing of the film. Speaking of the Winklevoss twins, Armie Hammer played both characters (well sort of - amazing how far digital effects have come). This I found amazing, as I really thought there were two different actors playing two completely different characters (albeit physically similar). It wasn't until after the film when I checked the credits that realisation hit me.

The cinematography is brilliant. I am not one of those guys who are keen on the use of shallow depth of field in film, but fortunately the filmmakers used such techniques sparingly in the film. For example the use of tilt and shift lens to film the Henley Royal Regatta rowing race was a masterstroke. People have been using tilt and shift lens to create miniature effects in photography but the use of such lens in motion films has been rare.

All in all, The Social Network is great film with great actors and a screenplay, a wonderful soundtrack (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and plenty of admire about. If there ever was a film released this year worthy of plenty of Oscar accolades, this is it.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Super Swarming London

Yay, we did it! We unlocked the highly elusive Super Swarm badge at Jewel bar in Soho, London yesterday. Many thanks to Chris Pearson who originally came up with the movement to get 250 Foursquare users checking in at a location in London. The Swarm badge was unlocked around 6pm and the Super Swarm badge just after 7pm. By the end of the evening, over 320 geo-location savvy people have checked in!

A couple of us (the 'original' Foursquare crew ^_^) later went to have dinner at Rosa's London, the venue of the first Foursquare meetup a couple of months ago where we attempted (but failed) to unlock the Swarm badge (we did get Player Please!). But before that we decided to attempt at unlocking another badge - the A-list. Want it? Follow TV Logo on Foursquare and check in at two gay bars. Simples.

Cheers to Chris (@cpchannel) and the team at @superswarm: Sam (@saml24), Bernie (@berniejmicthell), Rhea (@rheaj), Rebecca (@unicornRW), Steve (@gxconnect) etc. for organing the event and Jewel bar (@piccadillyjewel) for being great hosts.

We really wanted that A-list badge...

Special shout out to Richard (@richgregory), Sarah (@pumpkininho), Abul (@adonisdemon), Jennifer (@hardij), Amir (@benjezzy), Andy (@4andy1982), Rhea (@rheaj), Kate (@katemerle), Sacha (@sachab), Lee (@lstacey), Nicole (@nkuderer), David (@davidjlowe), Chris (@mahadewa), Yanick (@ycholet) and Sonia (@eastendlass - read her account on yesterday's event this great blog post) for being great companions.

Finally, check out the great photographs from last night's event as captured by Paul Clarke (@paul_clarke)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lomography Fotoclips

Who doesn't like showing off pictures? Well, we do and while showing them on our 32" HD telly is nice, what we thought would be brilliant was putting it up on a wall. And thus the fridge wall of awesomeness was born. As well as brightening up our daily life, it was also a great conversational starter.

Unfortunately we've since ran out of space. We had to either start replacing pictures (which I didn't want) or start blutacking them all over the kitchen area (which I didn't want either). Fortunately for us I recently came across a solution in the form of Lomography's Fotoclips.

Fotoclips are tiny transparent mounts designed to fasten two or more photographs together. For £7, you get 100 transparent '2D clips', along with 10 pieces of orange '3D clips'. Lomography advertises these for lomo pictures, but obviously you can use these for various prints. It is cheaper than getting twenty picture frames, tidier and infinitely more fun.

We've used them to create a (pretty unimaginative I've to admit) picture wall on an unoccupied side of the wall in our living room, but if you allow your imagination to run wild you can create all sort of things, including a lampshade. We will of course be creating a picture wall on the other side solely consisting of lomo pictures in due course.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Foursquare Super Swarm London meetup

A couple of weeks ago a movement to create the first Foursquare Super Swarm gathering outside the US was founded by Chris Pearson on twitter.

After a bit of research I found out that this can't be done as there are already Super Swarm badges unlocked outside the US - for example one in Indonesia. In fact they may have already been a Super Swarm badge in Europe - we just do not know due to recent changes in Foursquare privacy settings. As a Superswarm badge is still a rather rare and highly sought after badge to obtain (even Nokia World did not produce a Swarm, much less a Super Swarm...), all these does not matter. What matters most is we get a Super Swarm badge.

Well Chris and a couple of other Foursquare enthusiasts got together to work out the details of the meet. A date was first set, 7 October 2010, and it was decreed that London should host it. With a population of 7 million in London and almost 14 million people within Metropolitan London, it makes sense so don't bring up the London bias argument. Next was choosing a venue. A public place like Trafalgar Square would have been cool as it would mean we could have also relied on tourists check-ins, but they decided that a venue would have been better. And it makes sense, because we want to be able to chat with people and socialise. The venue selected for this honour is the Jewel Bar in Soho.

So Londoners, if you are after that Super Swarm badge - drop by the Jewel Bar and check-in between 6pm and 9pm on Thursday 7 October.