Saturday, May 29, 2010

cellphone news roundup

For the past few weeks,I have been seeing some interesting press news about new cellphone models and services launched in India so I thought I would do a roundup -

1. Nokia has launched Ovi Music Unlimited in India. I had blogged earlier about the potential launch of a DRM-free service in India, on the lines of Nokia Comes with Music, which was launched in China in early April.

As of now, subscribers to the service will enjoy 12 months of unlimited free download from a music catalog comprising over 4 million tracks, the majority of which are regional. Nokia touts this as the biggest online catalog available to Indian consumers. Users can manage their account from multiple PCs and also share tracks with other Ovi Unlimited subscribers. That's pretty sweet!

As of now, it appears that the free 12 month subcription is offered only to new buyers of an Ovi Music Unlimited device (X6, X2, 5800XpressMusic, 5530, 5235 or 5130).Trawling through Nokia user forums, it appears that the launch is positively received, with quite a few people wanting to know if they can get a paid subscription to the service if it is not available on their model. Inevitably, there are the initial bugs (servers not accessible, people not able to log in) but hopefully Nokia should sort them out speedily.

I am not sure if the tracks are DRM protected or not, if anyone finds out the answer, give me a shout!

2. The Motorola Milestone has been launched in India, and will be India's first phone running Android 2.1. Some of the cool features available with this OS include multi-tasking, multi-touch (pinch and zoom) and the prized ability to be 'rooted' (hacked) so that you can pretty much make it do what you want. Read this Tech2
post for the detailed specs - the ones which excite me the most are lifetime free GPS navigation and full support for Google Apps. Plus the thin form factor for a QWERTY/touchscreen slider and the solid build quality. The Milestone is a cousin of the much-raved about Motorola Droid. The device will retail for approximately Rs. 33,000 in India.

Here are some pictures from GSMArena:

3) Results of 3G auctions in India
After a 34 day auction involving 9 teclco bidders, no single operator has secured a pan India 3G footprint. By default, BSNL will have the widest 3G coverage in India.

Here is a list of winners for the key circles courtesy telecomtalk
  • Delhi & NCR: Vodafone, Bharti, Reliance Communications
  • Mumbai: Reliance, Vodafone, Bharti Airtel
  • Maharashtra & Goa: Tata Telecommunication, Idea Cellular, Vodafone
  • Gujarat: Tata Telecommunication, Vodafone, Idea
  • Andhra Pradesh: Bharti Airtel, Idea, Aircel
  • Karnataka: Tata Telecommunication, Aircel, Bharti
  • Tamil Nadu: Bharti, Vodafone, Aircel
Airtel, Aircel and Reliance bagged 13 circles each, Idea took 11 circles while Vodafone Essar got 9 circles. Aircel and Idea both opted out of bidding for the major metros in favor of larger coverage at competitive bidding prices.

Now all we are waiting for is for the launch of the 3G services in India by October!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Groovy colored small cars

I have been noticing some really nice shades in small cars available in India today. The purpose of this post is to celebrate and showcase the colors that I think are awesome. Leaving aside debate on specs for the present!

1) Chevy Beat.
The shades of the Beat have to be some of the sexiest that I have seen. Coupled with the racy build, this is one of the best looking cars in the B segment. Here are my two fave colors from the Chevy Beat website (Cocktail Green and Moroccan Blue)

2) Fiat Grande Punto

Italian styling sticks out a mile above the crowd, and according to me, the Punto looks best dressed in the classic shades - Exotica Red and Bossa Nova White. Interesting, because I would generally say that these are common colors. But they work brilliantly for the Punto, especially in the rear view of the car (which is not available on their website).

3) Ford Figo
The Squeeze is the best shade on the Figo. Here is the image courtesy GeekRide
(Yes, it looks very much like the Cocktail Green Chevy Beat!)


4) Maruti Ritz

I may have a bit of a bias here as a ritz owner, but there are 2 shades of the Ritz that I really like. they are unusual and have a two-tone/ light-shade effect that really complements this rather strange looking car. Check out Baker's Chocolate and Racing Green as featured on the Maruti Ritz Blog

5) Tata Nano

This indigeneous budget car offers some very sunny cheerful shades that make its compact mouse-shaped body look extremely cute. The following images are from the Nano Website. My color picks here are Sunshine Yellow and Racing Red

Write in if you have any favorite colors that I have missed!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The future of data storage looks good :)

Hard disk drives are clearly and eventually on their way out. The future of data storage is blindingly fast transfer speeds in a slim form factor and some such devices have already started to make their way into the market. They are the opposite of cheap :) but it's early days yet and prices should drop.

Here are two mouthwatering devices featured on Engadget

1) The OCZ Enyo USB 3.0 portable SSD

A solid state drive housed in aluminium casing and running on SuperSpeed USB 3.0, this one is a beauty cruising at top-speed. Imagine being able to take a 256 GB backup in 12 minutes, or transfer 16 GB in 53 seconds (transfer times claimed on the site).

It comes in 64/128/256 GB sizes priced at USD 300, 400 and 800 respectively

2) The Supertalent SuperCrypt USB 3.0 USB drive

Reviewed favorably and in detail on PC Perspective last month, this small USB key apparently delivered average read and write speeds of 185MB / sec and 50MB / sec respectively as reported on engadget. It also costs more than a SSD (Solid state drive) coming in at $119 for 16 GB and upwards.

Incidentally, both these devices run on USB 3.0,(SuperSpeed USB) which is the next major revision of the USB interface. The revision promises enhanced read/write (data transfer) speeds upto 4.8 Gbps (wow!) on high speed Gigabit ports of new devices.

If you are interested in knowing more about USB 3.0, read this extensive FAQ on EverythingUSB. To summarise just some of the points in this FAQ:

1. USB 3.0 will not replace USB 2.0 (the current interface) for a long time to come and will be fully backward compatible with USB 2.0 ports
2. Microsoft has announced that Windows 7 will support USB 3.0, through future updates, and possibly Vista will as well. Linux will also definitely support it.
3. The technology will be applied for external hard drives (including RAID), flash drives and Solid State Drives, storage docks, Blu-ray optical drives, high-end notebooks, and PCI Express/ExpressCard. Video applications will also take advantage of high speed USB.
4. Currently there are still a few wrinkles to iron out (and I am quoting from the everythingusb post):

To paint an accurate picture, not everything in USB 3.0 is a clear improvement. Cable length, for one, is expected to have a significant limitation when used in applications demanding the highest possible throughput. Although maximum cable length is not specified in the USB 3.0 specification, the electrical properties of the cable and signal quality limitations may limit the practical length to around 3 metres when multi-gigabit transfer rates are desired. This length, of course, can be extended through the use of hubs or signal extenders. Additionally, some SuperSpeed USB hardware, such as hubs, may always be more expensive than their USB 2.0 counterparts. This is because by definition, a SuperSpeed hub contains 2 hubs: one that enumerates as a SuperSpeed hub, and a second one that enumerates as a regular high-speed hub. Until the USB hub silicon becomes an integrated SuperSpeed USB + Hi-Speed USB part, there may always be a significant price difference.

Despite the prohibitive pricing today, I am pretty gung-ho about this new technology and the implications it has for data storage in the future.

ICEing my Ritz ;)

Recently I bought a new Maruti Ritz and I have been checking out for some time for a good music system.

For the HU (Head Unit) I wanted a player with connectivity through SD Card, USB stick and Aux (Cable In) and I did not mind if it did not have a CD player! Since most of my music is in a digital format today, the CD player is fairly irrelevant.

Surprisingly I found that there are very few models in the market offering SD Card + USB connectivity and they are made by Pioneer.

I have installed the Pioneer DEH - 4290 SD

I bought this from Poona Motors (Pune Cantt. East Street) after inquiring in vain at several Mumbai shops for such a device and finding that they had not heard  of them. Poona Motors stocks a good range of audio gear and I was pretty impressed.

If you are looking for a similar unit, bargain to get it in the range of Rs. 8000 or lower. It is worthwhile to spend a little extra for the alternate connectivity options. I predict that soon we will not be listening to CDs any more. It is certainly ages since I burned any music onto CDs though  I carry some lossless files in my MP3 player.

Anyway, coming back to ICE (In Car Entertainment), options for speakers were limited for me as I used up most of my budget on the Head Unit.

I opted for Pioneer speakers. The Ritz has all 4 door mounted speakers and I chose to use this option rather than mount a parcel tray in the rear that would take up boot space. I know, it is not audiophile nirvana, but at a budget of Rs. 13000, I have my limits :)

I installed 4 -way speakers in the front and 2-way in the rear. As I am always the driver (and usually the sole occupant) of my car, rear speakers are not relevant. Maybe later, I will look at an amp or even a sub.

But for now,  I am happy with this option which is giving me great sound in the front of the car :) And including installation it all came in at Rs. 14000.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Haryana has the fastest average broadband speed in India :)

Comes as a bit of a surprise?

According to Watblog, Akamai's State of the Internet Report (Q4, 2009), ranks Haryana as having the fastest average connection speed among Indian states (1103 kbps) followed by Kerala with average speed of 1015 kbps. I wonder why. Possibly, most broadband connnections in both states are BSNL, therefore average speeds are high. In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, unlimited 'high-speed' plans (averaging 256 kbps or even less) offered by private operators might push down the average speeds. And of course where there is more competition, all operators try to offer lower speed unlimited plans.

Incidentally, average broadband speed in India is 768 Kbps. Hopefully next year, we at least cross 1 mbps.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Buying a Netbook - 2010

As Dan Ackerman points out in this post on Crave, nothing very earth-shattering is happening on the Netbook scene. You will notice in the shops in India, a significant drop in prices of most Netbooks. Quite a few are available in the Rs. 16-18,000 range.

If you are in the market for a Netbook today, there are just a few updates you need to factor for
1. Processor : There is no choice of AMD processors for netbooks, only Intel's Atom Processors are available. The Atom range is characterised by low power consumption (and optimisation of battery life). The older N270 has been replaced by the new N450 (1.6 GHz) which is recommended as it will increase your battery life, though not significantly improving performance. This is an old single core CPU and it will basically be fine for basic tasks like surfing and email. I find it to be sluggish even for MS Office tasks like editing presentations.
2. High-res/ HD display is a worthwhile upgrade especially if you plan to watch movies on your netbook.
3. You will still find old netbooks in retail stores running Win XP or Vista try to avoid these and get Windows 7 starter edition
4. Hard Drive is now available in 250 GB and is an option if you are a data hoarder. If your netbook is an add-on to a primary system, 160 GB should be just fine.
4. Given the small keyboard, do test for comfort of the keys and mouse pad, which is very subjective. I personally like the keypads on Dell Mini 10 and HP netbooks
5. Additionally, there will be price variations that are attributable to brand and cannot really be explained by features (I find Sony netbooks to be considerably more premium priced and HP too).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cellphone Global market shares 2009

Engadget posted the latest global marketshare of leading cellphone manufacturers and it looks like this

Once again, the findings are a salutary reminder that what the tech world drools about in no way reflects the cold reality of market shares. The huge gulf between the 2 global leaders (Nokia, Samsung) and the rest of the market, tells its own tale. The big news of course is Motorola's slump in sales. Motorola is now trying to rebuild its handset business around Google's Android platform.

A smaller and equally salutary surprise is that the much-hyped HTC does not figure in the top 10 either.

As an aside, when Nokia announced last year that it was cutting its smartphone offerings, there was consternation among a lot of geeks. After all, this is the company doing great stuff like N900 and Maemo Linux, which apparently is a way better OS than Symbian.But Engadget reported that the company will launch only one tablet/ Maemo device in 2010.

Nokia's strength has always been the cheaper/ value for money smart phones which drive their cellphone share. And it remains to be seen how they choose to compete in the year ahead with RIM and Apple.

And I'm curious how this chart will look by end 2010. Any guesses anyone?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dell Studio 15 with Colorware

I have blogged earlier about Colorware, the site which does a cool paint job on your gadgets. They have the new Dell Studio 15 in the house.

The Studio 15 is a powerful laptop, with iCore processor options, 500 GB HDD and 4 GB+ RAM and a 1 GB GPU. It's a pretty cool machine for anyone who works in Photoshop, AI or even video editing software.

Dell already offers a pile of aesthetic designer options to make your Studio 15 look cool. To name just a couple;

There is the Mike Ming design series (which is my personal favorite)

And there is this nail polish inspired look in collaboration with OPI which I suppose is meant to appeal to women (I am still getting used to it though)

But now that Colorware has got their claws into the Studio, I am quite smitten.

I created the two color combinations above, using the Colorware palate. I am just having some fun, but I think this color option for gadgets is dangerous. I mean, it can get addictive. Even if it costs just USD  400 to have this kind of makeover :) Just.

Alienware M11X gaming laptop range in India

Dell has launched the new Alienware range of gaming laptops in India. They will be available through resellers and not through the website. I have not been able to get any information on pricing in India (in the US it is in the $799-1799 range). But it is safe to assume that in India the range will retail between Rs. 60000 and Rs. 100000, judging by past pricing strategy for Alienware.

Anyway, I am making this post to drool again over this gorgeous range and especially the Alienware M11x. Just to drool you understand, no other motive.

Yeah. It's beautiful and the specs are not bad either.

The 11 inch laptop comes with a SU7300 (1.73 Gig) processor, 500 GB HDD and 1 GB NVidia GPU for gaming. Apart from a slightly underpowered processor, this rig will give you a decent gaming performance balanced against light weight and optimised battery life.

The 15 inch (M15x) is another beast altogether, with ICore processor options, 1 GB Nvidia GPU and upto 8 GB of memory. This one is a heavy and powerful number. Unless you're a REALLY serious gamer, the 11 inch might well serve the purpose for you, while giving you a better battery life.

The 17 inch will probably retail at Rs. 1 lakh plus. It offers the option of  ICore or quad processor, starting HDD capacity of 640 GB and it weighs more than 5 KG! That basically makes it a mobile desktop and not a laptop.

Anyone getting a fix on prices, do drop me a line. Meanwhile, I will just drool some more.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Android No. 2 in Smartphone market in US

BGR has featured the 2010 1st quarter mobile phone track conducted by the NPD research group. According to the research, Google's Android OS(28% market share) has overtaken Apple (21%) to occupy second position in the US smartphone market. The first position is still occupied by Blackberry's RIM OS with 36% market share.

The popularity of Android has already been predicted by tech research firm Gartner. Backing of Android by Google Inc. is one of the primary reasons cited for the success of the Android OS.

Is this a foreshadowing of what is to come and will Android garner similar market share in India? We will have to wait and see...

Airtel App Store

Launched in Feb 2010, Airtel's App Store has apparently been doing brisk business among the 120 million Airtel customers across the country

Airtel has reported some interesting facts about the download pattern from the app store in this press release

• Most people who download from the app store have basic phones (priced less than Rs. 5000) and not    smartphones
• Smaller metros, like Surat, Pune, Udaipur are ahead of big cities in downloading apps
• Social Networking and Utility Apps are most popular

I tried the app store myself and found it pretty fast and easy to use. The Airtel App Store can only be accessed from your GPRS enabled handset and not from the Web. Upto 25% of the 1500+ apps on the site are free to download.

Airtel plans to open up the App store to the developer community, allowing them to create and market more apps.

If you have  tried App Store and have any favorite apps, do let me know and I will be happy to feature them in this space!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nokia Messaging service - free in India

Ads in the newspapers over the weekend have announced that Nokia's Push Email (messaging) service will be free of charge on E-Series phones (E 71, E 72 and E 63) for the entire lifetime of the phone. It is not clear whether this service will be free of charge on other Nokia handsets or only the Enterprise phones.

Nokia Messaging service was launched last year and offered a viable option to RIM Blackberry's push mail services. The service has been free of cost till launch but it was generally expected that Nokia would charge for it by early 2010.

Blackberry users in India subscribe to data plans ranging from Rs. 300 to Rs 900  to utilise the push mail client and internet on the go. Last month, I had blogged about Airtels 2 GB GPRS plan for Rs. 99, which I have activated on my Nokia E63. Effectively, I get email on the go for Rs. 100 a month.

Having used the Nokia Messaging service for nearly 6 months now, I can testify that it is reliable and trouble-free. I am of course happy that Nokia has decided to make it free. With the cost of E63 now dropping below  Rs. 10,000, push email will now be accessible to the masses and not just the corporate/ enterprise user.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Browser Wars

Ars Technica reports the world market shares of browsers in 2010.

According to the site, despite being the market default, Internet Explorer's share of market continues to decline, Chrome is the fastest growing while Firefox is also showing steady growth.

As a personal observation, my days of loyalty to a single browser are over. I use Firefox a lot of the time, and Chrome increasingly with Google sites including YouTube and Gmail, because it just loads so much quicker. I notice that with flash-heavy content, Firefox hogs a huge amount of system memory. This is not the case with either IE or Chrome.

The only loser in this is Opera. I remember the early days Opera came out (the days of Dial-up internet) how good I thought it was. It's a pity its not been able to keep up share and keep up a user base. But let's see how it does now, with the mobile platform also being available for browsers.

The myth of 'private social networking'

Facebook continues to collect flak in the tech world. This Gizmodo article by Dan Yoder offers some compelling reasons why we should get off Facebook while as raising some disturbing questions about the confidentiality of our data.

For instance, he points out that FB offers access to your private data to all applications and their developers both big and small. You might trust FB but can you trust the application developers to keep your data securely?? Or the fact that it is very hard to delete a FB account and they try to hang on to your information.

I had posted last month about Facebook and privacy. My stand on the issue has not changed. I believe social networking sites are important and powerful tools to re-connect and network, both professionally and personally. I need to use them, and that's a practical decision. But undoubtedly we all need to become smarter and shrewder in using them.

One practical thing that I take out from Dan's article is to keep your FB profile trim, to avoid using apps (hey, I know they are the most fun part of FB but are they really necessary?), and of course, to not post your phone number and email in your profile.

And Facebook is not the only culprit. Have you read  the terms of use on YouTube? I quote the paragraph

10. Rights you licence

10.1 When you upload or post a User Submission to YouTube, you grant:
  1. to YouTube, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable licence (with right to sub-licence) to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform that User Submission in connection with the provision of the Services and otherwise in connection with the provision of the Website and YouTube's business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels;
  2. to each user of the Website, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, licence to access your User Submissions through the Website, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions to the extent permitted by the functionality of the Website and under these Terms.
(YouTube does clarify that once you delete your account, they no longer have rights over your material)

Also, I want to cut a break for free sites that offer us so much functionality and make such a difference in our lives. Server bandwith costs money. FB went into the black only last year. Wikipedia reports that in March 2008, YouTube's bandwith cost was estimated at USD 1 million a day. How do these guys make money?
I could take a stance that it's none of my business. But when I enjoy the benefits of using the site for free, I don't want to shrug my shoulders. If they want to make some money off my presence on the site, that's fine with me. I can still control how much they know about me.