Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gemalto Q&A

Gemalto is hosting their famous Mobile World Congress (MWC) Q&A session on their blog. A few weeks I inquired about the future of NFC, mobile payments and banking, and wondered if these technologies would be better targeted at emerging markets where smartphone penetration is higher than PC.

The reason I asked is because I spent half my life in Malaysia and have families there, so I am aware on how high smartphone penetration is there when compared to traditional computers. Even then, mobile banking has yet to take off. Heck, they have yet to embrace chip & pin solutions as we have here (my dad still insists on using signatures!).

In a country that has yet to have a single payment technology establishing itself on the market like chip & pin has done here, I figured it would more sense to target them. After all, it appears that people in emerging developing countries are addicted to smartphones, and with NFC becoming more prevalent, it seems ripe for the technology to take off.

Gemalto's answer to my question can be found on their blog. Go and have a gander.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Defeat Windows Phone 8 'Other' Storage with Shrink Storage app

Windows Phone 8 has a strange storage 'bug' that keeps eating away at your storage space if you are not too careful. Now this happens all the time (it happens on my Android and iPhone as well), but on my HTC Windows Phone 8X, with its limited 16 GB of storage (12 GB after formatting and system allocations) and no ability to expand storage via microSD slot, this can lead to tons of frustration.

A Windows Phone developer once told me that all Windows Phone apps are run sandboxed, meaning if you delete them, everything associated with the app goes. This also means there is no reason for a file explorer or registry so you can go an manually delete any orphan and temporary files. Unfortunately this isn't always exactly true.

It appears that Windows Phone 8 uses a susbtantial amount of storage space which is labelled as 'Other'. And like the misunderstood villains of the first few series of Lost (before the series turned into an orgy for writers to make stuff up as they go along), the 'Other' can turn your Windows Phone 8 stay into a rather unpleasant one.
From what we know, the 'Other' is where temporary storage like web browsing cache, e-mails, text messages, attachments, possibly Facebook galleries/cache, app cache and data, and map data are stored. But this doesn't account for how fast the 'Other' can rapidly expand. On my 8X, 4.02 GB of storage was taken by the 'Other'. This despite only having a handful of sub 20 MB games and only having downloaded the map data of England (around 240 MB).

I have read a couple tales of woes by users who has their 'Other' taking up 10 GB of storage space! There are speculations that SkyDrive cloud storage is also causing 'Other' to bloat. This issue also appears to plague Windows Phone 7 as well, as I remember vividly having to battle to regain storage on my old Lumia 800, where it would occasionally run out of storage but a sync through Zune would then bizarrely free up some storage.

Fortunately an enterprising developer has created an app that forces the 'Other' to flush some of these redundant data and free some storage up for users to claw back. Called Shrink Storage, the app will attempt to free up storage by tricking the phone into believing it is running out of storage - by actually filling up the internal storage with useless data. This forces the OS to release some additional storage allocation from the 'Other', resulting in some gained storage. After using the app for the first time, my 'Other' shrank to 2.87 GB, freeing an additional 1.15 GB for me to use, so yay, it works!
Now, it's fair to say that Microsoft has engineered Windows Phone 8 to use those other empty storage space to speed up operations by caching stuff. After all what is the point of ignoring a perfectly good empty storage? It's a valid point, but I disagree. Some users (like me) allocate some storage for later use, so we don't appreciate when an app or OS would reserve them. I can remember several occasions where I was recording HD videos of live shows, only for the phone to rudely interrupt the recording because the storage filled up quickly. Because of the 'Other'.

All this would be moot if Microsoft would mandate a minimum amount of storage that OEMs must ship their phones at. Surely in 2013, 32 GB should be bare minimum for a phone that comes equipped with a camera capable of recording 1080p video files. Expansion slots should also be encouraged. After all, what is the point of crafting a multimedia phone when I can't even use it? It is in Microsoft's best interest to ensure a good user experience. At the very least give us a way to control how much space is reserved for 'Other'.

Until then, if you are a Windows Phone 8 user needing free up some storage and defeat the bastardly and evil 'Other', Shrink Storage will do you good.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective at Tate Modern

Tate Modern is hosting an exhibition based on the great American artist, Roy Lichtenstein. Alongside Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein was an influential part of the Pop Art visual movement. The exhibition at the former Bankside power station will bring together and celebrate 125 of his best paintings and sculptures for the first time in twenty years. These includes such classics as Whaam!, Drowning Girl and Oh, Jeff... I Love You, Too... But...

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective opens this week and will go on until 27 May 2013. Tickets are available for £14. So, fans of Pop Art, go get your comic art fix. An app accompanying the exhibition is also available for iOS devices (only - boo!).

Incidentally, BrewDog, everyone's favourite rebel brewer, has crafted a special edition Lichtenstein beer called the Torpedo beer, featuring the artist's Torpedo... Los! artwork. Awesomeness.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Love London competition

London baby! (taken from Sushisamba @ Heron Tower)
Yo Londoners. CBS Outdoor, the media agency behind the popular Look for Longer competition that is holding another competition. This is a photo competition aimed at promoting your love to London (yeah, I know, we were kinda hoping for Look for Longerer, but this will do, for now...). A Samsung Galaxy Camera (its basically a funny looking camera'ised version of the Galaxy S III) is up for grabs. Winning pictures will also be exhibited to London Underground commuters on their advertising tellies.

Up for the creative challenge? Well, if you think you are, grab a camera (any camera!), explore and shoot this great city. After all, we love London don't we?

Source: I ♥ London

Windows Phone 8 and what needs fixing

I have been using Windows Phone 8 for a solid two months now, first with the Nokia Lumia 920 and then the HTC Windows Phone 8X. And just like it was a year ago with Windows Phone 7.5, and the year before that with the original Windows Phone 7, I am in love with this OS. The beautiful Swiss-style Metro UI is just perfect for my mobile needs. It's so intuitive even a bloody cat can operate it. I can't go back to using an Android or iOS device without muttering, bloody Xerox grids. Go back to the 1980s where you belong.

But as before, Windows Phone's great UI and UX aren't enough. There is so much to Windows Phone 8 that doesn't deserve Microsoft's inaction. I understand they had to get Windows 8 launch out of the way, but their strategy with Windows Phone is now making less sense than ever. They stumbled upon such a beautiful UI that they even made their core OS and Office products out of it, so the first product line to ever use it (Zune doesn't count) should deserve more than being just existing as a beautiful empty vessel.

The thing that Windows Phone does best (apart from featuring a modern design), is integration. Facebook is already so well integrated with Windows Phone 7/8, I hardly if ever, use the official Facebook app or their mobile site - in fact I call Windows Phone the real Facebook phone (sorry HTC ChaCha). I would like to see Microsoft take this integration to social network further - first by introducing more Twitter features into the People Hub and second by integrating other social networks such as Foursquare. If it weren't for the lack of Direct Messages and Reply-to-All feature on the People Hub, I wouldn't be using a third party Twitter client.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sony Xperia Z hands-on

The Xperia Z is one of the most awaited smartphone coming out this year. Sony's flagship ticks most of the boxes when it comes to what people want from a 2013 phone - a full HD 1080p 5" display, quad core Snapdragon S4 SoC, 2GB RAM, decent camera and expansion slot.

In case you miss that, yes, this is the first smartphone with a 1080p (that's a resolution larger than my laptop!) display to be marketed here. The pixel density of this 5" display is at a ridiculous Retina-destroying 441 pixels per inch, or 1323 sub pixels per inch! Truth be told, I am already spoiled by the 4.3" 720p display on the HTC 8X, but this is on a whole new level - and if I am being honest, I can't really tell the difference when it comes to sharpness. But higher is better, right?
The Xperia Z is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, with quad core 1.7 GHz Krait processors and the latest in GPU technology, the Adreno 320; 2GB RAM, 16GB of NAND storage, NFC, 13 MP camera with Exmor-R sensor and a microSDXC card slot. The phone is also water resistant (rated up to 1m deep for 30 mins) as well as dust resistant. Like the Motorola Defy, the Xperia Z features flaps over its ports to protect the innards from such electronic murdering thing such as moisture and dusts. However, unlike the Defy, the Xperia Z actually looks like a stylish flagship premium phone it is.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Design Museum: Designs of the Year 2013 nominations

London-based Design Museum has announced the nominations for this year's The Designs of the Year awards. The award will showcase innovative designs spanning across seven categories: graphics, transport, product, fashion, digital, furniture and architecture.

Among those nominated., these includes the A Room for London, a pop up hotel currently sitting on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall building at the Southbank Centre; The Shard, Europe's newest tallest building build in the London Bridge district and Kapow!, the book set about in the Arab Spring.

From a digital/mobile technology perspective (only because I blog a lot about phones), Windows Phone 8, the Swiss style inspired mobile OS reboot by Microsoft - which I recently reviewed with the HTC Windows Phone 8X and Nokia Lumia 920, was also nominated.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bone Daddies Ramen Bar review

Ramen is making a come back splash in London. After Tonkotsu, we sample out the latest in Soho ramen scene, Bone Daddies. Opened last year, each of our visit to Ross Shonhan's newest noodle bar continues to stun our palette. Alongside Tonkotsu at nearby Dean Street and Shoryu on lower Regent Street, Bone Daddies is the ramen joint to visit in London.

With all the rage of tonkotsu-style ramen, perhaps the biggest surprise with Bone Daddies is the T22 chicken ramen. The soy-based ramen, which is made up of a bowl of delicious chicken bone broth, slices of chicken and out of this world cock scratchings. Now, there is something about these cock scratchings that get to me each time I visit. It destroys everything else on their menu. Utterly delicious and brilliant. And the soft boiled Clarence Court eggs? Mind blowing. This deadly combination? A snip at £9.
Chicken ramen for the enlightened soul
Still, if you are here for some tonkotsu ramen, then you won't find yourself disappointed. Tonkotsu is created after boiling bone marrow for 20 hours, resulting in a deliciously cloudy and heart attack inducing (everything in moderation) pork broth that is one of the best I've tasted in London yet. No cock scratchings with the tonkotsu, but you can have them as extra.

The starters, with the exception of the soft shell crab, are a little uninspired so if you are a little hungry, ask for extra ramen noodles instead. With the exception of the poor beer selections, the drink menu on the other hand is rather extensive - including oodles of sake, Japanese whiskey and sake-based cocktails. The Maiken-Me, a combination of shochu sake, ume shu and watermelon laced with salt is one such fine example of what you can do with sake.
If there is a disappointment with Bone Daddies, it is how popular it is with Soho hipster crowd. Expect queues from the moment they open up for business. One hour queues are not unusual during peak weekend hours (it doesn't help that you can't book). The small premise is also hardly the most comfortable, with tall stools dominating the venue. Fortunately turnover is quite quick, particularly during lunch.

London's affordable noodle scene is evolving rapidly - and not only with Japanese ramen, but Vietnamese Pho and Chinese la-mian. We haven't had it this good. Here's to a more mature London noodle scene in 2013.


Bone Daddies Ramen Bar
31 Peter Street
Soho W1F 0AR
Tube: Piccadilly Circus

Saturday, February 9, 2013

HTC Windows Phone 8X vs Nokia Lumia 920

The HTC Windows Phone 8X and Nokia Lumia 920 are two of the best Windows Phone 8 smartphones currently on the market, so it makes sense to put these two head to head. Consider this a rematch of my HTC Radar vs Nokia Lumia 710 post.

Both the 8X and Lumia 920 are first generation Windows Phone 8 smartphones and comes powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 SoC with a pair of Krait CPU and Adreno 225 GPU. Both these devices are clocked at a modest 1.5GHz speed and are augmented by 1GB RAM. While the SoC here is regarded as mid-range, the processor is more than capable of everything thrown at it. Windows Phone 8 appears to be efficient.

The Lumia 920's 4.5" display is a tinge larger than the one on the HTC Windows Phone 8X. With a smaller display, the HTC 8X's 4.3" screen features a slightly higher pixel density and hence sharper, on paper. In real life, there is little to distinguish between the two when it comes to sharpness, though the Lumia 920's has an advantage when it comes to outdoor readability and display sensitivity, and its high contrast ratio thanks to Nokia's proprietary ClearBlack Display filter. Regardless, whichever device you go for, you won't be disappointed by the display. Despite the almost similar size in screen and thickness, the 8X is significantly slimmer due its narrower aspect ratio. Keep in mind that some apps, such as Netflix, has not been updated to support the new 16:9 aspect ratio, as used by the 8X.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chinese New Year 2013 celebrations in London

Ahoy Londoners, the Lunar/Chinese New Year festival is once again upon us. On Sunday, 10 February, Trafalgar Square will once again be transformed for this year's Chinese New year festival in London. A parade of floats and traditional drum music will begin at 10am from Trafalgar Square and ending in Rupert Street in Chinatown, ending at 11am, presumably when everyone would rush to their favourite Dim Sum restaurant.

A host of live performance will greet party goers in Trafalgar Square from noon. This includes one of my favourite London-based indie folk musician, the lovely Emmy the Great (see the videos below of her and Tim Wheeler rocking our Christmas of 2011). Other performances include the Chen Brothers Flying Lion Dance (I've got to see this!) and other performers from China.

The celebration will be followed by a display of fireworks at 5.55pm, ushering the year of the snake.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Snes8x Super Nintendo emulator for Windows Phone review

Windows Phone platform has a surprising number of working emulators. The first released was vNES, an emulator for the Nintendo Entertainment System also known as the Famicom in Japan, a relatively old console and hence easy to emulate. There are also emulators for the Sega MasterSystem, Sega GameGear and Nintendo Game Boy Color. For a walled garden platform, Microsoft has been surprisingly lenient when it comes to allowing such apps on their Marketplace. Perhaps this is Microsoft's way of compensating and apologising for the severe lack of Windows Phone Xbox Live games...
Chrono Trigger, still one of the best Japanese RPGs
One of the newer and perhaps more impressive emulator on the platform is Snes8x, an emulator for old time gamers who wishes to relive their favourite childhood SNES games, many of which rivals even modern gaming. What is a SNES? Well any self respecting gamer will know about the SNES, Nintendo's second home console. The Super Nintendo is known to have created a whole new generation of gamers - in fact its influence can be felt up to now. Many of today's famous franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy and Street Fighter flourished on it. It isn't a surprise that the SNES became the dominant 16-bit home console to own in the early to mid 1990s.
RPGs like Final Fantasy VI plays well on a touchscreen display
Snes8x code is based on Snes9x, a popular free SNES emulator that works on a variety of platforms including Android and Windows. For a freeware app, Snes8x features a high list of features including options of import and export both game and save states via SkyDrive and portrait/landscape mode. The app also supports full screen mode, but this stretches the game to fill the display, ruining the aspect ratio. ROMs have to be uploaded to a SkyDrive account, of which every Windows Phone users will have one anyway, before being downloaded via the Snes8x import utility app. Update: with the latest version, Snes8x now allows you to import ROM files via e-mail attachments or direct download from a webpage - awesome! It's a painless process. Individual games can even be pinned onto the start screen.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sony Xperia Z with 1080p display goes on pre-order

Sony's newest flagship the Xperia Z has just gone on pre-order with Three UK. This is the first smartphone with a 1080p (that's a resolution larger than my laptop!) display to be marketed here. Read that again, that's 1080p - full HD resolution - that's more than double the pixels my sorry of an excuse television has (yeah, I am due for an upgrade)! In fact, the pixel density of this 5" display is at a ridiculous Retina-murdering 441 pixels per inch, or 1323 sub pixels per inch! If that doesn't get your geek heart fluttering, nothing will.

Not only that, the Xperia Z is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, with quad core 1.7 GHz Krait processors and the latest in GPU technology, the Adreno 320. Coupled with 2GB RAM, 16GB of NAND storage and expandable storage, this will surely impress your other phone geek mates. So if you are the sort of person who wants the top dog in Android smartphones, then be sure to get this.

According to Three, the Xperia Z will be available from £34 a month for an upfront fee of £69 over a two year contract. As if to further re-enforce the Sony's acoustic credentials, the first 1000 customers to pre-order this bad boy will also be receiving a pair of Sony MDR-1R headphones. That's a neat proper closed cup headphone that costs around £200 on Amazon, so you never have to worry about unpacking that poncy free headphones.

The water resistance device will also be available for £449 on a pay as you go plan, a snip over the original £529 price you have to pay sim-free. In fact here's a link so you can go pre-order now. I will of course be trying my best to get a copy to review, so keep an eye peeled.

G-DRIVE mini USB 3.0 Hitachi 1TB 7200rpm review

G-Drive mini is a high performance stylish  portable drive by G-Technology. Available in variants up to 1TB in storage size and equipped with a 7200rpm harddrive, the G-Drive mini is a fast portable drive for those requiring that extra bit of space.

Formatted originally for Mac OS X's HFS+, a small instruction is printed inside the packaging instructing users of other operating systems to visit their website for solutions to how to format the drive for their respective systems.

Fortunately formatting it for Windows NTFS is simple enough, for me, but I can't see how average computer users like my dad would know. It would be helpful if a more helpful step by step instruction is included in the packaging, or better yet, just format it for Windows. After all, Windows still run on the majority of PCs. If you are a Windows user and have issues mounting the drive, right click on 'Computer' and click on 'Manage', then head to 'Disk Management', where you can format the drive and assign a drive letter. Voila.
Minor usability gripes aside, the G-Drive mini is a fantastic looking piece of hardware. It is also solidly built. The metal protective shell doubles as one giant heat sink for passive ventilation which ensures that heat is dissipated quickly. Through the grills, you can almost peer inside the enclosure for a neat view of the drive itself. The drive itself is a standard 2.5" SATA 1TB drive made by Hitachi running at 7200rpm. A status LED sits just behind the front metal grills. Despite the liberal use of metal, the G-Drive mini is surprisingly lightweight.