Monday, January 31, 2011

Energy saving light bulbs do make a difference

Today I went downstairs and took the meter readings to submit to our electricity company. Out of curiosity, I also took down our neighbour's. Then I did some number crunching.

Last year we consumed an average of 282 units a month and that was with electric heating. Our neighbour (same size) uses 439 units! That's an average of 9.2 units per day for us, and 14.4 units per day for them! They were using 56% more electricity than us!

Our social life is about the same. He is a banker and regularly goes out to parties. I am a social wannabe and regularly goes out to parties. Granted they have a bigger telly (42" vs 32"), and also the same PS3 slim we have. But we do use ours more - at least based on our conversations (I have about twenty PS3 games, they have two). We have two laptops (sometimes three), they have one. Being social media freaks, we are always online - they are the opposite, preferring instead to be disconnected and private.

So where did we do right? Well all our flats are fitted with the same halogen lamp in the living area, but and here's the main difference - we don't bother turning ours on. Instead we use floor lamps with CFLs.

So there you have it. Energy saving bulbs do help. A lot. So next time you read a Daily Mail article hating on CFLs, remember this: they are wrong.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Nokia BH-905i first impressions

Today I received a Nokia BH-905i headphone review unit. Thanks to WOMWorld/Nokia for the loan. This is part of my #NokiaLondonLoop kit, which I will be tweeting about next week from the famous Sarm Studios in Notting Hill.

Back to the BH-905i (who names these things?) first. The headphone is a wireless Bluetooth supra-aural headphone that doubles as a headset, and also features Active Noise Cancellation for noise isolation. Now any sensible headphone enthusiasts will know that ANC pretty much introduce sound artefacts, and it is no different here. Over the next couple of days I will pit the BH-905i against Britain's ageing and noisy railway trains and see how well ANC really works, and whether it is worth enabling it at the expense of sound quality.

The built quality of the BH-905i is excellent. The supra-aural pads are comfortable, though they, unsurprisingly, provide very little passive isolation compared to closed back headphones with circumaural design. The headband is also padded. Inside each BH-905i contains a none user-removable 600mAh battery. Nokia quotes a battery life of 24 hours for music playback via Bluetooth without ANC, and 16 hours with ANC enabled. Fortunately you can use it as a wired headphone.

The right earpad houses the majority of the controls, including a volume rocker, play/pause button, previous and next track and a multifunctional key that controls the call answer/end, voice calling/redial and power on/off features. The left earpad contains a solitary switch to turn on ANC. Aesthetically, they don't look that great but who cares - all that matters is the sound quality.

Sound wise, it is warm sounding, with limited sound staging. Mids are forward. Lows are tight and clean, but lack any sort of impact. Clarity is excellent. With an impedance of 32 ohms, the BH-905i is easily powered by most modern DAP and mobile phones.

Look out for a full proper review in the next week or two.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sony PSP2 NGP unveiled

Sony today announced the PSP2 codenamed, Next Generation Portable (NPG). So far the following specs has been confirmed:

Quad core ARM Cortex A9 processor (clock speed not revealed)
5" OLED display with 960x544 resolution (16:9 aspect ratio)
Dual analogue sticks
Front multi-touch touchscreen
Rear multi-touch touchpad
3G and WiFi 802.11b/g/n
Six-axis gyroscope and accelerometer
Three-axis electronic compass for geolocation games and services
Front and back camera for Augmented/Alternative Reality Games (ARG)

The PSP2 NGP will not accept PSP UMDs. Instead Sony has unveiled a new form of flash memory card designed for the PSP2 NGP. Save files will be stored onto these cards, not unlike the methods employed by Nintendo for their portable consoles. The PSP2 NGP is said to be capable of crunching visuals almost on par to that of the PS3.

So far games from the Uncharted, Killzone, Hot Shots Golf, LittleBigPlanet, WipEout, Resistance, Call of Duty franchise has been announced for the PSP2 NGP.

No price has been given, but I think it won't be cheap. It is due out Q4 2011.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Motorola DEFY review

For over a month, I have put Motorola's semi rugged DEFY smartphone through its paces. I've grown fond of it, because it is unlike any smartphones on the market. Yes, it is slow. And yes, it has Motorola's love it or hate it MOTOBLUR homescreen. But I can't deny its obvious charm.

Where others chases MIPS, the DEFY succeeds in a small niche unexplored yet by many smartphone makers - that is a full semi-rugged smartphone with very little drawbacks associated with making such phones. It is small, cute, has a OS that is in vogue and a large battery capacity.

The DEFY is a rugged smartphone. It is marketed as a complete smartphone solution for social savvy people with the added bonus of being dustproof, scratch-resistant and splash-resistant. Motorola calls it the lifeproof phone. I don’t disagree. The DEFY is a rare breed in smartphones. Not only is it a smartphone, it is also capable of withstanding the daily abuse that life throws at it - and it does so stylishly.

When I first heard of the Defy, I expected to be greeted with a smartphone equivalent of a Panasonic Toughbook laptop, but no – the Defy looks like any normal smartphone. It is even smaller than my Nokia N8! It won’t take any design awards home as far as physical aesthetics is concerned, but it isn’t something you would be embarrassed to own. In fact it looks rather cute!

The Motorola DEFY comes in an eye catching compact box. Inside you will find the DEFY, a large 1540mAh battery, microUSB cable, 2GB microSDHC card, headphones and USB wall charger. As a rugged smartphone, the DEFY is surprisingly small and light. It looks nothing like most rugged phones I have ever laid my eyes on. Hat tip to Motorola engineers for creating a rugged smartphone that not only looks normal but in fact stylish even.

The capacitive touchscreen is incredibly sharp. The DEFY packs a 3.7" LCD with a resolution of 480x854, and is covered by a Gorilla Glass ensuring that it is as scratch-resistant. Multi touch is supported. Colour rendition is accurate and not oversaturated as you would normally find on an OLED screen. Contrast could be better. Just below the display are four capacitive touch-sensitive soft buttons. Personally I've never been too keen on touch-sensitive buttons as they are too sensitive, and thus prone to accidental presses.

On the top of the phone you will find the small power button and 3.5mm audio jack. The volume rocker resides on the right side of the phone, while on the left the microUSB port. A reassuringly large 1540mAh battery can be found behind the battery cover. The microSDHC and SIM card slots can be found below the battery. A 5 megapixel camera with VGA 30fps video recording and LED flash resides close to the top of the back.

Looking around the Defy it is evident how Motorola managed to make it water-resistant. Not only is the battery door sealed well, the microUSB port and headphone audio jack are covered by protective flaps. But what truly surprises me was how small and light the DEFY is.

With a thickness of 13.4mm, it is barely thicker than my Nokia N8 but also significantly lighter (118g vs 135g). The lightness can be attributed to Motorola's decision to use plastic. Some may see this as a bad thing, but I’ve seen no evidence that the built-quality is compromised by the use of plastic material. Overall the DEFY is smaller than the N8, but has the added advantage of having a bigger and more importantly, removable battery.

The DEFY is powered by Android 2.1 (Eclair) and Motorola's own custom homescreen MOTOBLUR. The homescreen actually looks and feels like a normal Android homescreen. The MOTOBLUR integration comes in the form of widgets. There are plenty of widgets to choose from, including Social and Status (for Twitter and Facebook), Weather, Contacts, RSS, Music Player etc. While the widgets are resizable, they are rectangular in shape, which makes them rather unattractive to look at.

The technical specs of the DEFY are modest. It runs on a 800Mhz TI OMAP3610 ARM Cortex A8 processor. The relatively slow processor (both in clock speed and out-dated architecture) coupled with Android 2.1 is evident when using the DEFY. I’ve shown a couple of HTC Desire owners the DEFY, and they’ve all commented on how laggy the DEFY felt.

512MB of RAM is available so you wouldn’t have any issues multi-tasking. There’s also 2GB of on-board storage for installing applications. A 2GB microSD card is also bundled with the phone. In addition to that, the DEFY packs quad band EDGE, dual band HSDPA, WiFi, Bluetooth with A2DP, built-in GPS receiver, accelerometer – basically almost everything you would expect in a 2010 phone.

Like many modern smartphones, the DEFY has two microphones, one which is used to cancel out noise. Motorola dubs this the CrystalTalk technology. In-call quality is good and clear while I never encountered any issues with reception. Smart dialing feature is missing, though I didn't find that I miss it at all.

The phonebook is brilliantly social savvy. You can link each contacts with their own Twitter and Facebook accounts, thus giving you an easy way to view any of your contact's latest social updates. Linking the contacts is easy and painless, though isn’t as straight forward as Microsoft’s approach with Windows Phone 7. Messaging is easy with the DEFY. Threaded messaging is here, and the built-in Swype support makes composing texts and emails a relatively painless process. Gmail is unsurprisingly supported and works in a way that you would expect it to, including option for push e-mail, labels and archives.

Web browsing is a breeze thanks to the high resolution screen. Despite running on Android 2.1, Flash is included. Zooming can be done via either double tapping or pinch to zoom. While multiple tabs are supported, text reflow isn't.

Most modern smartphones are very well capable of replacing dedicated DAP (MP3 players), and the same can be said of the Defy. The music player, while basic, is intuitive. The audio quality is very good with overall good frequency response. It isn’t as good as the iPod Touch or N8, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference unless they invest in $200 headphones.

As the DEFY comes with built-in GPS receiver, you can use Google Maps as a SatNav device. Google Maps is preloaded, though if you want the latest and greatest you can always grab the latest Google Maps 5 via the Android Market.

The DEFY comes with a standard (in 2010 terms) 5 megapixel camera with LED flash. Video recording is limited to VGA resolution, which is disappointing but hardly surprising - Motorola never set out to make the DEFY a cameraphone. Still for a social phone you would expect better. Unfortunately because the DEFY does not have a physical camera shutter button, it was impossible to take pictures underwater. I tried, but because the DEFY uses a capacitive screen, water makes it difficult to operate the screen. So forget about using the DEFY for cool underwater shots.

You can also forget about low light photography as the DEFY is poor at that. With good amount of lighting available, the DEFY managed to capture some decent pictures with good amount of detail. The camera UI is simple to use, with a handful of options available to the user (nothing manual).

So is it worth your time? Geeks will unlikely taken by it – the DEFY is slow compared to its other Android cousins and the lack of Froyo/Gingerbread will no doubt put some people off. But it isn't without its charm. The DEFY is a competent smartphone competing in a category that has no competitors. There are no other rugged or semi-rugged consumer smartphones that looks as stylish as the DEFY on the market. If you are in the market for a clever social phone with the ability to keep up with your hectic lifestyle, then the DEFY is for you.

This review was originally published at Fone Arena

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sky lanterns gathering

Hi all,

Two months ago I witnessed sky lanterns floating across the sky in St Albans. They were launched not simultaneously, but within 10-20 seconds of each other. It was a pretty sight, but it wasn't anything special. It didn't feel epic.

Then it hit me. Why not organise a gathering of people and launch hundreds of these together? You know, do it properly like what these people do in Asia every year. I pulled out my phone, opened up the notepad and keyed in three words "Sky lantern flashmob".

As with many ideas, I soon forgot about it. Weeks passed, and we did another flashmob. You may remember reading about it, or even attending it. It was Angry Birds Day, officially sanctioned by Rovio Mobile. We learnt a lot from organising it.

On a recent founders meetup at our little studio hideout in Shoreditch, we were bouncing around ideas when I remembered that I had what I thought was a cool idea from a couple of months ago. I picked up my phone and navigated to my notes apps, and there it was "Sky lantern flashmob".

To cut a short story shorter, we decided that the 'flashmob' (I use the term flashmob loosely) would be on Saturday 5 February to coincide with the beginning of Chinese New Year.

If you've seen the new HSBC advert with the hundreds of sky lanterns floating to the heavens - that is exactly the general idea on what we are attempting to achieve, but in London.

We've been thinking hard about where we could hold such a gathering. My first thought was the Millennium Bridge. It is an iconic bridge in London, and would be a magnificent backdrop to the event. But the proximity of buildings around does concern me. We do not want to be responsible for causing the third Great Fire of London!

We've identified Primrose Hill as being suitable for launching sky lanterns, but if you have any suggestions on alternative locations please let us know below.

Due to the nature of sky lanterns, we can only launch them when there is no to little wind and definitely not when it is raining. If the weather does not suit us, we will have to postpone it to another date.

What you will need to do:

- RSVP here or on Facebook
- Get a couple of (if possible wire-free) sky lanterns. You can get this at most places now. I've seen them on sale at Cotswolds, Tesco, Hawkin's Bazaar, Amazon,, etc.
- Bring matches, fire lighters etc.
- Have fun


Friday, January 21, 2011

Case-mate Barely There for Nokia N8 review

The frustrating thing of owning a Nokia smartphone, any Nokia phone in fact, is there aren't many choices out there for third party cases for them. Even Nokia is ignoring the market by only making available a handful of unattractive cases.

When I bought the Nokia N8, it took me a couple of days and countless shop visits before I settled for Case-mate's Barely There case. I got it from the Carphone Warehouse but you can also buy it online from Amazon UK.

The impact resistant plastic case barely adds any bulk to my phone, and is suitably flexible to aid removing and installing, as well as durable enough to withstand the shocks of everyday life. I've been using it for almost three months and so far I've not witnessed any signs of wear. It actually improves on the N8's usability as I found the N8 to be too slippery by itself.

The back and side are well protected. There are cut outs for the volume keys, camera module, speaker, camera shutter button, microUSB port, microSD and sim card slots so you won't have to ever remove the case once installed. The bottom, top and front are exposed. A glossy screen protector is included within the sales package.

All in all, Case-mate's Barely There case is a stylish, inexpensive accessory that is well recommended to any Nokia N8 owner seeking to protect their expensive investment.

+ Slim profile
+ Stylish
- Does not offer all around protection

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gravity for Symbian review

Gravity is a rarity among Symbian applications. It has a UI that not only looks good, but also works great. It is fast and comes with massive loads of features. What started out as a simply Twitter client, the sole developer at has implemented support for Google Reader, Foursquare, Facebook and the open source StatusNet, with varying degree of success.

Considering how backwards Symbian is supposed to be (according to American blogs anyway), and how there are virtually zero competition on the platform, the number of features on Gravity is quite a feat. The sheer number of features, it's stableness and speed, easily makes Gravity one of the best mobile social network clients on any platform. And I say that with a straight face.

At a time when Nokia is urging developers to code in 'code once, deploy everywhere' Qt, Gravity is still reassuringly native. I've nothing against Qt, but so far none of the Qt based applications I've seen has convinced me it is better than native. Gravity is compatible with S60v3 and all modern Symbian touchscreen devices from Samsung's abandoned at birth Omnia HD to Sony Ericsson's cute Vivaz and Nokia's 'flagship' N8.

Let's begin with Twitter, as this is what Gravity was designed for. Gravity has almost all the features that I could ever want from a mobile Twitter client. It supports both native and old-style retweets, geolocation tagging of tweets, follow/unfollow, direct message (with threaded UI), the creation and management of lists, uploading images to popular image sharing sites (TwitPic, Flickr etc.), alert, multiple accounts, draft and schedule posts, homescreen widget, notification (in both screensaver on Symbian^3 devices, as well as audible/vibration) and much more.

There are a couple of features I would like to see added. For example an alert when someone follows, filters and the ability to open URLs to Opera Mobile rather than Symbian's native Web browser. Speaking of URLs, you can also set Gravity to save URLs to Instapaper and other services to read it later, a useful alternative to using the favourites function to bookmark posts to read later.

The Foursquare client is as basic as it goes. It only allows check-ins and shouts (to Twitter and/or Facebook - provided you have your Foursquare account is linked to them). There are no supports for leaving and viewing tips, nor is the ability to delete previous check-ins from the history present.

The most curious absence is the lack of Specials, a Foursquare feature that allows participants to reward check-ins to users, so don't go deleting that amateurish official Foursquare Symbian client just yet. Having said that if all you want to do is check-in or shout, Gravity is perfect.

If you are a Facebook user, you will be pleased to know that Gravity supports pretty much most of the important features of Mark Zuckerberg's Friendster rip-off, including Messages (in threaded conversation view), notifications (no friend requests here), News Feed and Status Updates, including replies. It isn't a Facebook mobile client replacement, offering even less than Facebook's touchscreen mobile website. But it is indispensable if all you want is a quick glance on what your Facebook friends are up to, post a status update or reply.

A built-in RSS reader in the form of Google Reader is the next major feature of Gravity worth writing about. This is pretty basic, but at least it has all the essential functions one would normally need form a newsreader software. Like the Twitter bit of Gravity, URLs can be posted to Delicious or added to Instapaper or Read-it-Later. There is an option to easily tweet the post as well.

In an age of 99p mobile apps, Gravity isn't cheap (£8 via the Ovi Store), and that's before taking into account the amount of good freeware social network clients you can get on competing platforms like Android and iOS. But if you have a Symbian phone, and you need a powerful Twitter application then Gravity is your answer. You could do a lot worse with £8 anyway.

I also have a relatively modern Android phone (with around ten Twitter clients installed!), and my girlfriend has an iPod Touch 4G which she tethers wirelessly to her ageing Nokia none-touch smartphone, and both of us always fall back to Gravity simply because we both think it is the most effective mobile Twitter application available on any mobile platforms.

Monday, January 10, 2011

T-Mobile fail

Are you a T-Mobile customer? Did you buy one of those multimedia smartphone from them recently? Want to use it to the fullest? Well tough luck. From next month, T-Mobile will be limiting their fair use policies on mobile internet to 500MB, down from 1GB (or 3GB if you are an Android user).

And they have this patronising advice for their customers:

"If you want to download, stream and watch video clips, save that stuff for your home broadband." (source)

The downgrading of the fair use policy to 500MB is already grounds for any customers who entered a contract with T-Mobile UK to terminate it, but the sarcastic comment to their own paying customers really hits the nail. T-Mobile has no clue.

In the meantime, check out Three UK's The One Plan tariff with unlimited genuine all you can eat internet.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nokia Big Screen with Nokia N8 and Wii Remote

Nokia Beta Labs today announced the availability of Nokia Big Screen for Symbian^3 devices with HDMI-out (currently only the Nokia N8 supports this, with the E7 not due out for a couple of weeks).

Symbian^3 with HDMI-out ports already allow users to watch videos, pictures and play music on their HD telly, but the mobile orientated UI is far from suitable for media consumption. With Nokia Big Screen, the application presents the user with a UI that is designed from the ground up to take advantage of a large HD screen (up to 720p). The phone's screen will double as a remote, with a layout similar to a TV remote. But even then that isn't ideal.

In comes the Wii remote (and other Bluetooth enabled devices like keyboard). In the case of Nintendo's waggle device, just activate the Wiimote's Bluetooth pairing mode by pressing the red button at the back (or press the 1+2 buttons which I forgot...). The buttons works as they should: A for select, B for back and the Home key takes you right back to the front.

It isn't perfect though, but then this is merely a proof of concept app by their Beta Labs department. I would like to see bigger fonts, as well as support for folder/sorting support (what's with Nokia and their refusal to support folders with picture viewing apps?) and proper 720p support (images are still displayed at what I believe is VGA resolution).

Day 5: 365 days

Day 4: 365 days

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Day 1: 365 days

It's the new year, and with that I've decided to start a new project. Inspired by my twitter friend Louise, I will be posting a new picture a day for the next 365 days. I've decided to host the project here as well.

Don't worry, the usual stuff like tech, music, video games reviews and general rants will still be posted here, in addition to this.