Monday, April 26, 2010

Smartphones for 2010 : part 2 : Android

The Linux-based Android mobile platform was developed by Google and is now supported by a consortium of companies called the Open Handset Alliance. Android is an open source platform meaning that developers are free to access the code and develop their own proprietary apps without submitting them to any controlling agency. The companies supporting Android include Motorola, HTC, Dell, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba.

And there is an Android App marketplace, with 20,00 apps and growing. Of course, this pales in comparison to the 100,000 + apps that will run on the Apple ecosystem comprising iPhone, iPad and iTouch.

Last year,  Andrew Nusca blogged on ZDNet about a Gartner Research report, predicting that Android will take a 14% share of the smartphone market by 2012, overtaking Blackberry RIM, iPhone and Windows Mobile.

Huge excitement preceded the launch of the Google Nexus One, launched by Google but manufactured by the Taiwanese HTC Corp. The Nexus One packs a powerful 1 Ghz Snapdragon processor, 5 MP camera and best of all, seamless integration with Google Voice, so you can use it to make outbound calls and text messages. Read the review summary of different sites in this PC World article which will give you the good, the bad and the ugly. The bad news - the touch interface needs improvement and the call reception and 3G are patchy. I recall that iPhone too had such teething problems initially. But the device looks plain gorgeous (see the images below from engadget). The device retails unlocked at USD 530 and unfortuntely Google has no time frame to launch it in India.





But HTC is providing other Android based options in India. The HTC Incredible/Droid is expected to hit India by end April according to numerous blogs and Indian tech sites. The India price is not yet reported, but most likely it will be in the Rs.30000+ range. This phone is a step-up on the Nexus One with an 8 MP camera and dual LED flash, 8 GB + 32 GB (Micro SD slot) storage and the latest version of Android with a 'new and improved' touch interface. And yeah, it apparently multi-tasks easily. Read the Engadget review here. Clearly this is way better than the Nexus One, the HTC Legend (priced at Rs. 24500 in India) and the HTC Desire which is expected to be in the 30k range.

The phone also looks really cool - check these images from Engadget;


Sony Ericsson has already announced the launch of the Android based Xperia 10 in India according to Techtree. The pricing is reported at Rs. 35000 (ouch).

Finally take a look at the leaked images of Dell Android smartphones on Engadget. they are expected to come out by year end

Dell Smoke
And Dell Flash (Both these gorgeous phones will be mid-priced)


What's the call on Android? Till now, the reports about it are mixed and the platform is clearly work in progress.Each new phone launch seems to be a huge improvement on the previous ones, as manufacturers play with different hardware and software configurations to squeeze the most out of the powerful Android OS. It seems worthwhile to take a wait and see stance on Android as of now.

Smartphones for 2010 : part 1 : Windows Phone 7

2010 will open up a new choice of smartphones running on different platforms. As an end-user, you now get to choose not only the brand and model, but also the platform OS. And you will have a choice of Android, Windows Phone 7 and the good old Symbian, in addition to iPhone.


Across tech sites, I have been following a slew of releases, leaks and press releases about what's new, so I thought I would do a round up.

Windows Phone 7 : A late entrant to the party, expected to be launched by end of the year, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform will compete with Android and the IPhone OS. Familiarity of MS users with the OS is a key advantage, and so is compatibility with all the software that you would run on your laptop or desktop including MS Office. The OS has been demo-ed and Engadget reports  that it is an entirely fresh interface, based on a new approach to navigate a phone. Development of this OS and the apps to run on it is still in progress and it should be launched by year end. Take a look at the clean, tiled interface shots from Engadget (I really like the way the interface looks)




You can also take your pick of brands offering Windows 7 including LG, HTC, Dell, Sony Ericsson and even Motorola. And across the models, you can choose a keyboard-style or a touch interface depending on your comfort level. The bummer is that the Windows 7 OS will most possibly not run on earlier hardware/ earlier phones. You'll have to upgrade.

 Microsoft will not manufacture the phone themselves, but have placed stringent hardware requirements on manufacturers including capacitive touch screen (with or without an additional keyboard), a high performance-low power Qualcomm Snapdragon Processor, Wi-fi and hi-res camera.

The latest leaks of an upcoming Windows 7 Smartphone on the Net are of the Dell Lightning on Engadget. Check out the pix of the phone from the site;


 (You can browse more pictures of the phone in the Engadget picture galleries)
  The Dell Lightning is a slider phone with touch screen + QWERTY keyboard, 5MP camera, 1GB Flash memory + 8 GB card and a 1 Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. This is one phone I would like to pick up!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does the iPad make sense in India?

Despite heavy prices (post import duty, octroi etc.) and lack of iTunes store in India, many Indians are hardcore Apple enthusiasts. I count several of them among my friends and colleagues.

Given the worldwide hype over iPad and its phenomenal launch sales figure, it seems hard on us that this beautiful device makes so little sense to buy today.

Apple has wisely decided not to launch the iPad in India right now, but you can order one through international shipping - or of course, you could pick up one on your travels abroad. But does it make sense? Here are some serious cons that you should consider:

1. Without any USB or other interface, the only way to get your content onto the iPad is off the Internet. It offers a choice of Wi-fi and 3G connectivity. Now I had mentioned tentative 3G launch date in India in a previous post- it's in October 2010. So basically, you are dependant on Wi-Fi. With so few wi-fi hotspots even in a city like Mumbai, you will probably end up using it in home or office. It also will not work with EVDO technology (Tata Photon or Reliance Net Connect). And since the iPad is basically a device to browse and access online content, it makes little sense to use it unless you enjoy constant connectivity.

2. For 3G connectivity, the iPad uses a Micro Sim. I don't know too much about them, except that they are NOT the standard SIM cards that we use in cellphones in India. And unless the telcom operator supports microsims, you cannot use 3G on your iPad. Incidentally, all earlier versions of iPhone do not have a microsim. Hypothetically this means that the moment 3G services start in India, you can access it through your iPhone, but possibly not your iPad. Not unless the telcos introduce microsims and given how far we lag behind the West, I wonder if that would really be a priority.
3. Pluggd.in reports that the iPad price in India (inclusive taxes and international shipping) will range from Rs. 32000 (16 GB) to Rs.44000 (64 GB). That puts the price squarely in the range of performance notebooks rather than netbooks. And it's a stiff price, even for a gadget lover.


For an excellent, balanced assessment of the iPad, I recommend reading Charlie Sorrel's post on Wired.com

Given all this, I am curious to know how many Indians would still want to buy an iPad?

Monday, April 19, 2010

My dream IEMs are Customs....

Since the past 10 years, I have been a convert to IEMs (In-ear monitors) which are inserted into the ear canal. They provide great passive noise cancellation, do not fall out of the ears like earbuds do and they typically can be played at lower volume levels, thereby helping to protect the ears.

There are several great IEMS across different price ranges and the best place to start understanding them is the IEM and earphone forum on Head-Fi. I spent hours on this forum where amateurs and experts share their listening experiences. And it has helped me to shortlist and buy my own Triple-Fi 10 IEMs.

But what I really aspire to own one day, is a pair of custom IEMs, which are custom manufactured to fit your ears. Initially intended for audio engineers or stage performers, companies like Ultimate Ears also make them available for audiophiles who have to shell out anything from USD 400 to USD 1350 to own a pair.


Ultimate Ears offers the widest range of Customs and also has a good reputation in the audiophile community.

Customs are made using a silicone impression of your ear canal, so that they are an exact fit for your ears. The cost of ear impressions made from an audiologist is extra and averages USD 50.

It's hard to imagine what beautiful looking IEMs are gonna get produced from these strange shaped objects...



 ..but they end up looking like this. (This is a picture of the latest flagship customs from Ultimate Ears, the UE-18 Pro)


If you're feeling extravagant, you can blow up another USD 100 on customised artwork.  The following pictures are some of the options offered in The UE Ear Art Gallery, but you can also send in your own artwork and they will execute it for you.


But personally, I love the clear ones the best, because they let you see the beautiful stuff inside :)


Here are some of the fascinating facts that I have gleaned about Customs from the Head-Fi forums and other places
1. The audiologist impressions are critical to getting a perfect fit, and there are schools of thought as to whether the impression should be taken with an open, partially open or closed mouth for best results.
2. The bulk of the cost of customs is the advanced technology used to position the drivers (speakers) exactly in each earpiece to deliver the exact sound signature that is promised. If you are of a technical bent of mind, this article about how customs are manufactured by Joe Shambro on About.com would be an interesting read.

3. It's simply amazing that within the tiny space of a single earpiece, UE has been able to fit 4, and now 6 drivers. That's like 12 dedicated speakers inside a pair of IEMs!
4. Customs have zero re-sale value, as no one else can wear them. Incidentally, that also means that you can never try them before buying; that's tough if you're gonna put down $1000 + for a pair. But the dedicated audiophiles on Head-Fi generously share their experience and offer comparisons that help you to understand the sound signature that you are buying. You can read the thread for the UE-11 Pro to get an idea.

Did I mention that I REALLY want to own one of these?? I need a little extra cash though. The nearest UE recommended audiologist is in Singapore. And if I go to Singapore I will end up shopping for more headphones at Jaben. $1350 is still OK, but I think $3000 may be just a little bit too extravagant. Even for an audiophile.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Time to start tweeting, India?

Seems that the social networking site Twitter is generating quite a bit of buzz not just in the tech world, but also in the political sphere.

Ars Technica reports  that The Library of Congress (LoC) (research library and cultural arm of the US Congress) has announced an ambitious plan to archive every single public Tweet made since Twitter started in 2006. Apparently, this will serve as a cultural history of our times based on our new habit of tweeting whatever is on our mind.

Would that excite you or not? :) Inquisitive minds want to know.

Incidentally, the same article notes that the LoC has archived a limited section of data of The Web since 2000 and already has 167 TB of web data.

Webmasterworld also has an interesting discussion around a BBC Interview with Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter. Noting that The White House Press Secretary is also a twitterer, he says that "Twitter will be a fundamental part of how people interact with their government".

Closer to India, that ought to make Shashi Tharoor feel justified! Incidentally, I quite like the guys tweets, which make him a much more real and sympathetic person than your average cardborad cut out, politically correct politician. For a hilarious view on tweeting in India, read this article by Sameer Halarnkar in Hindustan Times

According to PCMag, Twitter is also planning new features including the ability to add specific locations to Tweets.  With Twitter acquiring the Tweetie app for IPhone, and the new Blackberry Twitter App, do you (or I) really have an excuse to not be on Twitter any more?


Last year PluGGd.in featured this survey of Twitter Users in India on their website showing that even among a more evolved user base, people are still figuring out what to do with the service.

Among the same evolved TG, it would be safe to say that other networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are more clearly positioned in their minds and serve more specific purposes.That's exactly my position - what do I have to say that is different from what I say on my blog or on Facebook and what's more, I don't even think most of my friends are on Twitter. No followers, no reason to tweet.

Maybe you (and I!) need to start thinking what we want to twitter/tweet about. Especially if it's all being archived for the future generations. Turning History into Ourstory, anyone?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

DRM-free Music in India?

According to BGR, Nokia launched its Comes With Music subscription service in China but with a twist. It will be a DRM-free service, meaning the tracks will not be copyright protected using Windows Media DRM. Effectively, even after the subscription period expires, users will be able to save and copy tracks.

Indiatimes reports that Nokia will bring the service to India soon, but is yet to give a launch date. A post on Fonearena reports that the Nokia 5325 Comes with Music Handset is already listed on the Nokia India website.

Incidentally, Vodafone launched a music download service for its customers in Mumbai a few days ago.

I would welcome the launch of more such services in India. There is no access at all to paid high quality content in India - even the iTunes store does not offer it. And we have certainly been ready for it, for a long time. I would rather buy individual songs than expensive CDs, and I would certainly rather buy digital music than go to the pain and trouble of ripping CDs.

This Outlook India article mentions that Indians are the largest illegal downloaders of content in Asia. The number may not reduce without action against offenders but do we have any options at all for legal content download?

It could be argued that DRM-free downloads cannot stop us from copying or sharing our music, but this is at least one step better than outright piracy. Of late, strict action has been taken against physical piracy, but the scene of action has already shifted to Torrent-based downloads and online peer-to-peer based sharing, and we have to formulate new laws and a new approach to tackle this.

It's a different matter that until 3G is launched, downloading through the painfully slow GPRS connection on your mobile is going to sap the joy of getting new songs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The future of mobile computing

I don't normally use this space to speculate about the future. In the rapidly changing world of technology, speculation is rife, and usually the opposite happens. But this thought provoking post by Steven Levy on Wired has totally sparked my imagination.

I'm going to quote a portion of what Steven wrote:
The fact is, the way we use computers is outmoded. The graphical user interface that’s still part of our daily existence was forged in the 1960s and ’70s, even before IBM got into the PC business. Most of the software we use today has its origins in the pre-Internet era, when storage was at a premium, machines ran thousands of times slower, and applications were sold in shrink-wrapped boxes for hundreds of dollars. With the iPad, Apple is making its play to become the center of a post-PC era. But to succeed, it will have to beat out the other familiar powerhouses that are working to define and dominate the future.


True enough. I remember the first computer my dad brought home, made by Sharp, Japan (1985). (Sharp Super MZ with 8 bit CPU and 128kb Ram. it was also one of the earliest machines with a floppy drive. It ran on DOS/ BASIC. And it cost around Rs. 20,000 - we had a monochrome monitor as color was too expensive then).

Here is an image of it from sharpmz, where someone has taken the trouble to put together historical information on the Sharp Computer range;



 OK. End of nostalgia trip. This post was supposed to be about the future and not the past!

But to get back to The Wired article, the future looks like this and it runs on Apps :)

Or it looks like Google's Chrome OS and cloud computing - get or run all the apps you want, directly off the web, using Google Docs rather than a bulky Office Suite. And in that case, what would happen to Microsoft with Windows 7, Office etc.? All you would need on your device is actually a browser!

So here are my 2 bits about the future and what to expect:
1) Multiple portable access points for Internet (Phone, tablet, netbook, notebook) means the death of the desktop. I have always owned a desktop because my work involves creation of reports and presentations and I appreciate the comfort of a 19 inch monitor and full sized keyboard. But I find I use it less and less. Desktops will remain a niche segment (office use, gamers etc.) but their appeal will surely diminish. That goes across Macs and PCs alike.
2) More platforms : A few years ago people were cribbing about Microsoft's monopoly. I think those days are over, for good. Between the Apple ecosystem built for mobile devices, Google's Chrome OS and Android and Linux, and of course Windows 7, we are going to have choices. And these are real choices, because they will be affordable choices. And we will be forced to understand and evaluate the differences.
3) Migration from fixed price software to pay and use model : Judging by the way apps are setting the pace, pretty soon, you will need to only pay for what you want to use; monthly, daily or time-based.
4) Rule of content : Ultimately whether its the iPad or some other device, the hardware is viewed by marketers as a platform for content. What they would want, is of course, for you to pay for content, making a sustainable model for them. Apple may sell a million iPads but they don't just want to make money off hardware, they want you to get your content off  iTunes and iBooks and click on iAds which translate into more money for them. Ditto for others. Expect the devices you buy to point you towards specific sources of content whether you want those or not. Hell, the Internet has been free for years and now it's time for people to cash in.






Friday, April 9, 2010

Y'all, get some colorware!

Engadget did a post on the IPad with ColorWare treatment yesterday. According to the site, for $410 dollars extra, you could get an IPad which looks like this;


 (image from engadget website)

 The colorware IPad page lets you check out infinite color combinations, customising the body, logo and button, and offers a choice of gloss or softouch finish.

There are options to add a lick of paint to other gadgets too.



(Blackberry Bold 9000) : Image from the Colorware website

There are more girly options as well




But you can go pyschedelic if you wish....


And I can't really blame the Engadget guys for being  a tad upset over what Colorware can do to the Nintendo DSi;


But the Nook posted on Engadget looks pretty cool...



Engadget regularly reviews colorware products, some a little too bright, others which work kinda well.

On its website, Colorware describes itself as 'an industry leader in altering the color of existing products', thereby 'creating a statement in fashion and individuality that fills a high-demand niche market.'

I do see the point, though I personally could not afford to shell out extra dollars for the colors. The tech inside a product has always excited me more than the looks, and I get nervous when there are too many color options because I can never make up my mind. But I'm sure these things will find their fans. I'm leaving you with a few more images from the Colorware website. You decide if you love this or not.





Thursday, April 8, 2010

3G services in India

I have been waiting like most Indians, for the launch of 3G services in India. The 3G spectrum auction has been delayed by almost a year but as per this  Economic Times article, it appears that tomorrow is D-Day. 9 of India's major cell phone operators are in the bidding fray. The 3G auction will be followed by an auction of WBA (Wireless Broadband) spectrum.

MTNL already provides 3G 'Jadoo' services in Delhi and Mumbai .While the basic service is cheap, the data rates are prohibitive (1 GB p/m at Rs. 450, and 2 GB p/m at Rs. 750 on MTNL Mumbai) Slight concessions and some free talktime is however offered for Video Calls. You can see the Mumbai MTNL 3G tariffs here.

BSNL has been rapidly expanding 3G service across the country, down to district headquarter towns (within the corporation limits)

What can we expect from 3G services in India?


1. Late 2010 launch : Although the 3G auction will take place tomorrow, according to DOT regulations, commercial launch of 3G can be started only post September 1st, 2010. According to this NDTV Profit article, Airtel has announced that they will launch 3G services in India by October 2010, in time for Diwali. We should see similar release dates from other operators
2. Cheap Handset availability : The good news - If you recently purchased any high-end phone, you are already 3G enabled. Otherwise, low-cost 3G phones like the Nokia 2730 Classic are available under Rs. 6000, and more will surely be launched. Effectively, if 3G takes off, the mobile phone could become the internet access device for 545 million + people in India.
3.  How much speed? : 3G allows download speeds of upto 384 kB/s and upload speed of 64 kB/s. Whereas HSDPA (3.5 G) offers speeds upto 3 Mbps. While you could purchase a phone which supports HSDPA in addition to 3G, we do not know if HSDPA coverage will be offered across India. We will have to wait and see what is finally delivered to the customer.
(You can read about the difference between 3G and HSDPA from this thread on the Tech Arena Forums and on Wisegeek.)

If we do not get HSDPA then the choice for high speed data access, will remain the CDMA-based EVDO technology (Reliance Net Connect Plus or Tata Photon in India). DNA reports that the CDMA lobby has been demanding auction of EVDO spectrum along with 3G.

So, in short, there is nothing to make a fuss about just yet. The auction is a long awaited and much-postponed step, but we have a long time to go still before you can use that HTC Smart phone or IPhone 3GS to its full potential in India.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A non IPad post :)

There's just so much out there on the IPad launch  today :) and I am not a fangirl (at least not of the Ipad). Thank you, Engadget and Nilay Patel, for acknowledging my sentiments. I am borrowing your sign for today.



 Since that is out of the way, let me post about a couple of articles which interested me:

First, this news posted on Crave about the shift that netbook manufacturers like Dell and HP are making, away from standard 10 inch netbooks. I have posted about my discomfort with Netbooks earlier, and Crave rightly points out how they feature low-end specs and are completely undifferentiated in most cases. It makes complete sense that manufacturers would look at higher-powered and more profitable models.

And here is one machine that is certainly tempting me right now. The Alienware M11x reviewed on Engadget is one helluva machine going by portability, specs and price.  The Alienware microsite touts it as the most powerful 11 inch gaming laptop in the universe. The fact that it has a Core 2 Duo processor + 4 GB Ram + a 1 GB NVIDIA GT335M GPU certainly makes it stick out from the standard ultraportable laptops. And the fact that it retails at under $1000 ($799 upward) does not hurt either. And if you are not gaming you get a battery life of 4 hours plus from the ULV (ultra low voltage processor).

Here are some pictures of the laptop from Digital Trends...

and from the Engadget review

Geek Gear : Laptop bags - unisex and for women

Ok, so I confess I'm a sucker for rucksacks and new laptop bags. I have had my share of lemons but I still crave to own great bags.

BGR featured the H.A.L Mission 6 Timbuk2 bag which has really caught my fancy

What interests me most about this bag is the swing around access  described on the website, which apparently means that you can take the laptop out without taking the bag off. Anyone who has struggled to extract their laptop in a crowded queue near the XRay machine in the airport, will know exactly how convenient that feature is.

Another feature I loved on the Timbuk2 site is the build your own bag option, which lets you select the bag style and then customise the colors from a wide palate. This is a nice idea which addresses a gap in the market today, because most laptop bags come in uninspiring shades of black or grey.

Timbuk2 bags are justifiably popular inspite of their price, but I have not yet managed to find an online (or offline) retailer in India. If  you know anyone, drop me a mail and I will provide the link. Meanwhile, here are some more great laptop bags that I love to drool over;

1. The Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack which I found listed on the Digital Trends website.



Apparently, this bag features a lower compartment with 'drainage ports' for wet or soiled items. Travelling geeks, take note, I think you may love this one as much as I do.




2. Check out this link to Kate's fantastic review of funky laptop bags for women. My personal favorite is the Maddie Powers Cutebug Laptop Messenger Bag which Kate has reviewed at length. This is seriously cool stuff!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's official - USB Pen Drive Survived the washing machine

Yesterday, I found my new 4 GB Kingston Pen Drive in the washing machine. Probably it was in a pocket of my jeans and it fell out into the tub. It had gone through the entire wash/rinse cycle for nearly an hour without the protective cap. I had no hope that it would still work, but it does.

This was not a shock resistant or waterproof or bullet proof pen drive like the IronKey Personal featured in PCMag just an ordinary thumb drive costing Rs. 400.

While I am happy that my flash drive is indestructible, the incident has raised new doubts in my mind. Should I kid myself that my washing machine is really working? I was mildly surprised to see that Kasperky Internet Security detected a virus on the pendrive - are you telling me that the turbo cleaning could not even get rid of that???

Geek chic - gear I would love to have

I have drooled over the gear at thinkgeek for a very long time now. Never mind that the shipping cost to India is ridiculously prohibitive and often costs more than the product itself. 

Here are some of my personal favorites from their Tshirt section (all images are from thinkgeek.com)

And some more of my personal favorites on the site:

The survival kit in a sardine can which includes 25 survival items including chewing gum, tea bag and safety pin. I like :)

2) Atomic food containers as office conversation starters about what you've got for lunch;
3) File folders with attitude
And I love the attitude :)