Monday, September 26, 2011

Captain Power!

Does anyone remember this series of light gun toys made by Mattel for the TV series Captain Power? Well here I was sitting minding my own business during lunch when for no reason at all, I started remembering what toys I had when I was a kid. I wanted to tweet about it, but thought that perhaps a blog post is more fitting for such a great toy. You kids don't know what you are missing.

I remember me and my younger brother getting this from a toy store in the big city when we were seven or eight. The game is played on a TV and your controller is the PowerJet XT-7 - yes, the motherfucking jets from the TV series. These light gun games were the early pioneers to more sophisticated light guns controllers like the Nintendo Zapper and eventually, boring video game controllers like the Wii, Kinect, Move and whatever.

The PowerJet toys comes with several VHS that you play on a TV. Each tape contains two scenes of live action sequences (hmm, Jessica Steen) spliced with animated missions (it was like Wing Commander - which came after it, but even more awesome). You play by holding each controller jet and firing at pink targets on the TV. Occasionally enemies will fire back in the form of epileptic bright yellow flashes, in which case you retract your ship to avoid being 'shot at'.

Some people cheat by covering the sensors, but we did not (or weren't clever enough to exploit the loop hole, I can't remember). The controller jets actually keep the score of targets you shoot down. Get shot too many times and the cockpit ejects! How awesome was that?

But what actually made Captain Power so much more awesome than your average light gun game was how interactive it was, if you had more than one controller jet. Your entire surrounding immediately becomes part of your game. Both me and my brother had the PowerJet XT-7 (white jet) and the enemy Phantom Striker (black jet), which we tend to blast around running around the house and shooting each other. It was pretty intense. We also had the Interlocker which was also interactive, and the none-interactive Trans-Field Communication Station.

Those were the good times of interactive gaming. I am a video games person, but if there is anything I would do, I would do it to have another go at these classic toys. I hope my parents haven't threw them away or else it is time for me to hit eBay for some vintage Captain Power goodness.

Captain Power ad via

Three MiFi Huawei E586 review

I am a huge fan of Three UK's MiFi, a product I rarely leave home without. In fact, it was my gadget of 2010, a huge testament to a simple and affordable gadget. So when Three UK announced the new MiFi Huawei E586, my eyes lit up with wonder and immediately request to review one. While Three refers to the new MiFi as the 'High-Speed MiFi', for the sake of this review, I will simply refer to the Huawei E586 as the MiFi v3.

Before I continue, a short explanation of what a MiFi is and how it works. Basically, a MiFi is a portable wireless router that you can use to connect multiple devices to the internet via a single data connection. This makes it an effective and economical way of accessing the internet wherever you are with whatever gadgets you have. Up to five gadgets can be connected to the MiFi at the same time.

The MiFi v3 is an evolution of the Huawei E585. Even the model number reflects this. Still, Huawei and Three has introduced a number of improvements that makes upgrading from the old version a tempting proposition. Firstly, the MiFi v3 now includes a HSPA+ radio, boosting download speed up to 21.1 Mbps HSDPA and upload speed at 5.76 Mbps HSUPA. However as Three UK are only currently rolling out their HSPA+ upgrade, not everyone will be able to enjoy this upgrade in speed. Download speeds in my area regularly top out at 4 Mbps with the new MiFi, no doubt because HSPA+ has yet to arrive here. Unfortunately there is no way to tell which of Three's cell towers has been upgraded.

The next improvement comes in the form of a new button. In my review of the MiFi v2, I noted how simple the design was with just one useful button - but with this, a new button is introduced that when I look back, makes sense and I can not understand why this wasn't introduced sooner. The 'key' button when pressed displays the SSID of the MiFi as well as the passkey. So no longer do you need to remove the battery cover to check for the passkey. Another good improvement in usability comes in the form of the MiFi displaying the total amount of data use, not just in a particular session (like in the MiFi v2). This allows the user to keep in check the amount of data allowance left to use.

Like the MiFi v2, a microSDHC card slot can be found on the left side. This will allow you to turn the MiFi into a USB storage. It will also feature a OLED screen, where useful information such as signal strength, number of connected devices and data consumption will be displayed. In fact apart from some changes in materials used it would be difficult to differentiate the two. The rubberised battery cover from the MiFi v3 can even be used on the old MiFi. It is however slightly thicker than the MiFi v2.

The small OLED screen is bright and shows a wealth of information, including the aforementioned SSID and passkey. By default, the screen will display the signal strength, the amount of devices connected to the MiFi, battery level, indicator for text messages, amount of data consumed and up time. Each MiFi also has an online dashboard where it is possible to manage the account related to the MiFi. Once accessed, the dashboard allows one to change the SSID and passkey as well as view the current MiFi's signal strength and view the text messages. You can also change the security settings. For example the SSID can be hidden and devices can be blocked via MAC filtering.

While Three did not advertise this, I found that the new MiFi is able to last longer than the older MiFi. In fact, despite using the exact same battery as the old MiFi, the new MiFi was able to last about 2-3 hours longer. On most days I was able to eke roughly 5 hours on the old MiFi, but with the new MiFi getting 7-8 hours on a single charge was normal. The improvement is staggering especially when I find that the new MiFi was able to reconnect quicker than the old MiFi, as well as having a better reception overall. Both of the MiFi boots up in the exact same time.

Three has also kindly supplied a new cradle charger with the new MiFi. It's a simple black unit that allows you to dock and charge the MiFi when in home. This also cements my belief that the new MiFi is marketed at people who may want to use it as a complete home broadband replacement. Unfortunately as Three has not extended their AYCE price plan with the new MiFi, the MiFi would not make a good home broadband replacement, though the £18.99 for 15GB a month plan may still be feasible for some people.

The best deal for people willing to commit on a contract is the MiFi 5GB plan with rolling one month contract. For £15.99 a month, this gives you 5GB data allowance per month, with the MiFi costing a one-off £50. If you are in it for the long haul, the 5GB on an 18 month contract will cost more at £18.99, but you won't have to pay for the MiFi. There is also a cheaper 1GB on a 18 month contract that costs £10.87, but after using 500MB in less than a week mainly via my smartphone, I am hesitant to recommend this plan.

As a fan of PAYG system, I would recommend most people to take the 12GB on 12 month pre-paid deal. For £129.99 you get 12GB to spend over a twelve month period, whichever ends sooner, and the MiFi device itself. This is great for people who do not regularly need their MiFi at times, but is also flexible enough to allow them to use as much data if needed.

Despite the improvements, there are no real reasons to upgrade from the previous version to the new Huawei E586, well, at least until the HSPA+ rollout is complete. But if you are in the market for a new MiFi, then I can't suggest anything better than this. Now we only need to convince Three UK that offering a MiFi with a AYCE price plan is the only way forward.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Emmy the Great at Cecil Sharp House

At last week's gig at the Cecil Sharp House in Camden, Emma Lee-Moss of Emmy the Great jokingly announced that they are not a folk music band. Which was ironic as the venue they were playing was the headquarters to the English Folk Dance and Song Society. A rather fitting venue to Emmy the Great, whose music has been described as anti-folk or indie folk.

Back on the release of Emmy the Great's second album Virtue, Emma pointed out how the album was shaped by the decision of her then fiancée for breaking the engagement in order to chase god. She now dates Tim from the Britrock band Ash, but that is besides the point. The set piece consists mainly of music from the new album who she shared much of its production with people on Pledge Music, often (and I agree) said to be more mainstream than her folksy debut album First Love.

The venue lent an atmosphere of intimacy and audiences were as close to Emma as they can ever be. Sadly the sound system left much to be desired and was not able to cope with Emma's powerful and beautiful voice - often ringing. It was also too loud, an unfortunate downside of being a music fan in 2011 when there is no end in sight to the pointless and musicality atrocious loudness war.

For more pictures of Emmy the Great's gig at Cecil Sharp House please visit my Flickr page.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nokia World 2011 preview

I have been looking forward to Nokia World 2011 ever since the end of Nokia World 2010, particularly more so after the huge bombshell in February. You know, the one where Nokia ditched Symbian and go all Redmond. Well, it pleases me to say that I have finally received an email last week confirming my registration to this year's event at London ExCel on 26 and 27 October. :D

As we have been told many times, this year is a transition period for Nokia. They have announced (and practically killed off) a single Meego device, spinned off their development of Symbian to Accenture, placed more emphasis on Series 40 as a long-term replacement to Symbian and committed to Windows Phone 7 ecosystem as their primary smartphone strategy.
Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft's unique take on mobile OS with a new grid-less based GUI. When I the OS last year I cautioned against the lack of features expected from a modern smartphone. I was however very impressed by the UI and UX and noted that given time, Microsoft can turn Windows Phone 7 into a compelling OS for both power and mainstream users. And with the upcoming Mango update, it seems Microsoft has succeeded. The only question is convincing smartphone users to ditch their Androids and iPhones for one.

Nokia World this year doesn't look to be as massive in scale as last year's, but it is still early days to know what to expect. What is probably true is that the event will definitely be a very Windows Phone 7 focused event. We can expect Nokia to announce their first ever Windows Phone 7 smartphone, the already leaked Nokia codenamed Sea Ray device, and probably a couple more other devices, including none-Windows Phone phones with enhanced Microsoft applications.

Follow me on @jonchoo and the #NokiaWorld hashtag for updates.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Discovery Channel "Alone in the Wild"

Yesterday I attended the press launch of a new Discovery Channel series Alone in the Wild at the swish One Marylebone London, a venue that serves great canapes I should add. The six-part series will follow eight celebrities surviving in the wild. Sounds familiar? Well it should - this is the sort of reality TV isn't new.
Except it sort of is.

With Alone in the Wild, each participants are left completely alone. And when Discovery Channel meant alone, they don't mean fake alone like the Bear Grylls's Man vs Wild series where he often misleads viewers into thinking he is alone stranded on an island when in fact he has a whole camera crew with him and retires to a 'basecamp' every so often. No, in Alone in the Wild, Discovery Channel stresses that each of the personalities were left completely alone with their own camera equipments to film themselves.

Six episodes will be shown from 5 October:

Episode 1: Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff, the former captain to England's Cricket team, who was left alone in Botswana. Here he encountered a herd of elephants and received a nocurnal visit that terrified him.

Episode 2: Jason Gardiner, judge of Dancing on Ice and Strictly Dance Fever, was also left to fend on for himself on Belize for six nights. No luck catching fishes, he almost gave up after three days but a rainbow soon changed his mind.

Episode 3: Comedian Joe Pasquale, who is no stranger to the wild. He was winner of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here after all. In this series, Joe was sent to a wet Guyana where he lost three toenails and vowed not to kill anything with a face.

Episode 4: Amy Williams, the first British Winter Olympics individual gold medalist in 30 years, was paired up with Tanya Streeter, a world record holder in free diving (at a depth of 160 metres), were also sent to Botswana where they spent three days in separate camps.

Episode 5: Two tough guys were paired up at Guyana. Donal Macintyre, an investigagive journalists, and Chris Ryan, a retired SAS who once walked nearly 200 miles to escape Iraq in 1991. One had a lucky escape from a tree.

Episode 6: Aron Ralston, a mountain climber and the subject of Danny Boyle's well received 127 Hours film. In 2003 Aron was forced to amputate his right arm with a dull knife in order to free himself from a boulder. He was left marooned on Belize, a deserted island, for... you guessed it - 127 hours. Homesick, he starts to dwell on the 127 hours he spent trapped in Utah and even began to talk to coconuts.

I don't know about you, but I am really looking forward to watching Aron Ralston doing his best Tom Hank's impression.

Finally, here is a sneak preview to the series.

Many thanks to David for the invite.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sony Ericsson XPERIA Party

On Wednesday I was invited to Sony Ericsson's XPERIA Party at the swanky and glamorous Aqua Nueva roof terrace in Soho London. This was the same venue where I stalked Pamela Anderson for her autograph almost a year ago.

The purpose of the event was to showcase two new Sony Ericsson products - the recently launched XPERIA ray, a slim but powerful Android smartphone for those who has no interest on the current supersized smartphones; and the recently announced XPERIA arc S - which itself is a refresh of the rather excellent XPERIA Arc.

We were also shown a demo of the latest Android 2.3.4 update by Sony Ericsson, which introduces 3D sweep panorama ability - a feature that intrigued me because Sony Ericsson has no smartphones with two camera modules. Curious to see what I thought about it? Read my thoughts on how well it works here.

For the evening, Sony Ericsson commissioned two artists to entertain us. The first I can't remember who it was (apologies, I probably should but I am not a fan of R&B) and the second was Dynamo the Magician, who I have to admit I have never heard of him. Well apparently he is quite a popular magician who recently 'walked' the Thames in London.

I was chastised by Nick (of the Average Gamer)'s cool mum for being so ignorant. I have an excuse, my interest with magician sort of ebbed away ever since I saw David Copperfield when I was twelve - and to me nothing can ever top David Copperfield, hence my disinterest with modern magicians like Derren Brown and David Blaine. Still Dynamo was rather good and I was impressed by his card tricks.

I had a good night with many fellow mobile tech bloggers/journalists. Thanks to Sony Ericsson UK and Brando World for the invite.

Fellowes GoRiser portable laptop riser review

The Fellowes GoRiser is a portable laptop riser and part of Fellowes range of ergonomically designed products aimed at providing mobile warriors with the means of using their laptops in a more comfortable manner. It is capable of holding lalptops up to 17". What is different with the GoRiser and other laptop risers I have used in the past, including the Belkin Cushtop, is it is foldable and thus portable. Fold it up and carry it on your laptop bag for easy transportation. This product is part of Fellowes's Smart At Work campaign of increasing awareness on work ergonomics.

Osun's magic MushRoom Green ZERO charger review

Are you concerned by green house gases and the wastage of electricity? Do you know that mobile phone charger continues to suck up power even when your phone has been fully charged? Well it does. If you want to do something about it, maybe it is now the time to have a look at Osun's smashingly good looking MushRoom Green Zero AC USB charger.

On the surface it looks like a bog standard, albeit stylish, USB wall charger but beneath the shiny white and green exterior lies some magic. It switches off by itself when it detects your phone has been fully charged, drawing zero power and hence saving you money in the long run. Brilliant isn't it?

Want to know more? Read on my full review here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Exogear Exomount universal car mount review

Own a smartphone? Drive a car? In need of a new car mount for your smartphone? Well do read my review on FoneArena of Exogear's Exomount, a universal car mount (good for devices with displays up to 5" in size) that Exogear claims to offer a suction cup with a material that enables it to be mounted anywhere - even on your drywall!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Note announced

Samsung has just recently announced the Galaxy Note, an Android smartphone tablet hybrid. With a large 5.3" Super AMOLED screen with 800x1280 resolution, the display on the Note is even more spacious than my Galaxy S II. Seriously it looks tiny in comparison.
The Galaxy Note will ship with a built in stylus for, you can guess it, note taking. With should be handy as the large screen is crying out to be scribbled and prodded along via optimised apps such as S Planner and S Memo. Samsung will also be making the API available to third party application developers so future apps will take advantage of the pen. Clearly Samsung is betting on the S Pen to succeed at taking Moleskine users like me to the 21st century.
Proving that Samsung will be marketing this device as a phone, the Note will run on Android Gingerbread and not the tablet orientated Honeycomb. Powering it is the same Samsung Exynos system on chip that runs on the Galaxy S II but with a higher 1.4GHz clock speed. It will be available in either 16 or 32GB flavours.
The Galaxy Note will ship with a generous 2500 mah battery. Despite that and the large screen the Note weighs in at only 178 grams and has a thickness of less than 10mm.
Keep an eye out on this site as hopefully I will be able to obtain one for review.
Source: Samsung