Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tablet manufacturers woo customers with discounts, bundled offers

India has been getting a spotlight on the mobile tablet front. Both Notion Ink's Adam tablet and the Olive Pad are Indian offerings in the poised-to-explode tablet market.

Now it appears that the manufacturers are keen to lure customers to purchase, through discounts and bundled offers.

Olive Telecom is offering the OlivePad at an special online price of Rs.22,990. Available only through the Olive Telecom site, the package includes free shipping with insurance and bundled leather case, 16 GB Memory Card, lifetime subscription to MapMyIndia for GPS and 6 months free subscription to Live TV through Zenga.

Samsung is opting for tie-ups with operators according to Connect India, offering bundled data plans in partnership with Aircel, Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Mobile and Tata Docomo. The company is also offering free leather case, stereo bluetooth headset, a copy of the movie '3 Idiots' and pre-loaded GPS software from MapMyIndia.

If you want to enjoy 3G connectivity on your tablet though, the news is not so good. The Hindu Business Line reported recently that Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are in talks for collaboration to offer a pan-India 3G network to consumers, given that no single company has a pan India license. However, going by the data packages unveiled by Tata Docomo, the pricing looks to be steep, translating roughly to Re.1 per MB. Other operators are likely to keep prices high - they have to recover what  they paid for the spectrum in the 3G auctions! Unlimited plans are also not on the anvil, given the limited spectrum bandwith allocated to each operator.

So even if you buy that tablet, roaming high-speed data remains an expensive proposition. It still makes better sense to tout around a netbook or notebook with a datacard!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

OS domination in smartphones - thoughts for 2011

The Q3 2010 smartphone market share figures released by Gartner recently reflect the exciting and dynamic picture of the mobile phone market today.

(Image from BGR)

It raises some interesting questions for the future in terms of operating system dominance, and when I look at it from an Indian perspective, the questions reveal that the battle could still swing any way.

1. Nokia, what's next?
Despite the hype surrounding Android, Nokia remains the market leader with 44% share, although that share is eroding. In India, Nokia still has over 50% market share in India even after losing ground to Samsung and Indian manufacturers. Nokia foreshadowed the slide in the smartphone race when they announced in Dec. 2009 that they would halve their smarphone portfolio in 2010 and put their effort behind fewer models. The delay in launching Symbian 3 and the less than enthusiastic response to it, also hurt the company. But India and the emerging low-medium cost market remains critical to Nokia. And here, the company stands in more danger of losing share to affordable handsets from Micromax, Samsung, LG etc - many of which will soon be running Android. I believe that Nokia still has a great opportunity to trump these rivals if they are able to roll out Symbian 3 on affordable handsets. Symbian has huge advantages - the stability and sophistication of the platform and the tools, the large and experienced developer base, and the high level of optimisation to mobile phones (even the N8 offered excellent battery life).

2. Android, what about fragmentation?

Like any open-source platform, Android is prone to customization, iterative improvement and the presence of multiple versions in the market simultaneously. It is not as if Google is not aware of this, and they have taken steps to reduce fragmentation.

However, as Michael Gartenberg pointed out in this article on Engadget, fragmentation is a cause of concern and poses a  serious challenge to the ultimate success of Android. Two issues lead to fragmentation of Android platform

1) Hardware fragmentation :
Newer versions of Android have been running on more powerful hardware - processor and RAM. This leads to lack of support for newer apps and widgets on the older hardware. The current case that is making news is Angry Birds, Roxio's wildly popular iPhone game which has recently been made available for Android devices. Older versions of Android phones are not able to play the game properly - and unfortunately we are talking of phones like Sony XPeria 10 mini and HTC Wildfire, which are still available in the market, and are popular. In contrast, many iPhone users have been quick to point out that Angry Birds does just fine on older iPhones which probably have lower end hardware than some recent Android handsets. Google specifies basic specs for hardware like Bluetooth, touchscreen and GPS, but does not otherwise control hardware. With Indian manufacturers like Spice poised to introduce Android on sub-Rs.10000 phones, I wonder what hardware limitations they might feature.

2) Platform fragmentation

This is a lesser worry as Google has taken basic steps to control the delivery channel viz. the Android Market Place and what is available there to run on the phone. Older versions of the Android OS will see only compatible apps. 

This wikipedia article gives an estimated breakup as of Oct 2010 based on devices accessing the Android marketplace over a 14 day period

Do note that this may not be an accurate assessment of the actual share of different versions, as not every handset would have accessed the Android marketplace in the 14 days during which the survey data was collected.

In India, a variety of Android phones are still sold with older versions of the OS - the Samsung Galaxy i899 on RIM runs Android 1.6, SE is yet to upgrade the SE Xperia 10 mini from 1.6 and the recently launched Dell XCD28 runs Android 2.1.
An older version of the operating system on your phone would not pose a problem if an easy upgrade was possible, either at the user or manufacturer end. Unfortunately, only if you own a Google Nexus One, you can receive direct OTA (Over the Air) updates of Android, as soon as Google makes them available. Otherwise, the update has to be routed through your manufacturer (or carrier in contract-driven markets) and experience has shown that most manufacturers including Dell, HTC, Sony and Samsung, have taken a lot of time to deploy updates. Typically this is because they have tweaked the OS with their own custom interface, adding one more dimension to the fragmentation.

The fragmentation should settle down as updates to Android stabilise and thankfully, that seems to be happening. It appears now that 2.3 (Gingerbread) will become the base for smartphones, with support extending back to 2.2 (FroYo) and maybe 2.1 (Eclair) for lower-end smartphones. The upcoming Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) seems to be optimised for tablets and possible for super phones like gaming phones. It is upto Google to clearly delineate a sensible segmentation across the final versions if they believe there is a future in lower-end Android smartphones.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Push sync or customised sync : which do you use?

I am using Exchange ActiveSync on my Samsung Wave, running BADA OS. I set up my hotmail and gmail accounts without any problem, but over months of usage, I am noticing some differences in the way the two work.

To start with, here are my settings for sync. I get several options in sync schedule, allowing me to tweak the sync settings for peak and off-peak periods.

Enter into the peak schedule menu and I get an option to set the frequency of sync - either push (instant) or with varying degrees of infrequency (5 minutes or less frequently)

I like having these options. As per my understanding, push sync is instant ie. the mail server pushes the mail to my phone as soon as it arrives. When I set a 'sync' option,  my phone checks the server and retrieves my mail, at pre-defined intervals that I can customise. Do note that in both cases, I can sync all settings like contacts, calendar, email etc. It is only the frequency of sync that we are discussing here.

Both options have their merits and de-merits. Push sync means instant delivery, and that is critical when I receive work-related mails, and when I am travelling. However, since I get a huge volume of mails, I have also observed that this can drain the battery life faster. And sometimes, it can distract me from work that I need to concentrate on. You know, the syndrome of constantly checking mail :)

Customised sync intervals give me more flexibility. If I set a sync schedule of 5 minutes, it should mean that delivery is almost as instant as push mail. And if I set a greater interval, mail delivery is less frequent. So for example, at night, I can set an off-peak schedule of 12 hours to sync my mail less frequently, as in any case I won't be checking mail till I get up. I  would do the same when I want to save battery life.

So initially I set up varying sync schedules for both my mail accounts.

But I soon ran into problems. Since the last 3 weeks, I have been travelling a lot. On flights, I obviously have to switch off my phone. And in at least 3 instances I found after switching on the phone again, that gmail would not sync, despite repeated attempts. I had to give up and put it back onto push sync (where it works perfectly). Hotmail on the other hand, syncs perfectly with any settings. Of course, I am able to sync my hotmail only because Microsoft has implemented this feature since August 2010.

So at this stage, I have fixed my problem, but I am unable to identify the reason why I have problems with my gmail account alone. I thought it would be interesting to ask other users of ActiveSync what settings they are using for gmail and for other accounts.

Cellphone radiation : A compilation of facts from the Internet

Recently I started using a bluetooth headset and out of curiosity I began to google the literature available on radiation emission from both cellphones and bluetooth headsets. There is not a lot of conclusive evidence out there. In fact, it is harder to find information on this topic than it is to find the latest specs of any cellphone! I thought of compiling it all in one place in case anyone has the same queries as me:

1. Cellphones emit 'non-ionising' RF (Radio Frequency) electromagnetic radiation. This type of radiation is also emitted by microwaves and is largely considered to be safe compared to the ionising radiation emitted by Gamma Rays or XRays. However, RF radiation can still heat up the tissues over prolonged exposure. Did you know (I didn't) that your eyes are the most likely to get damaged by RF radiation because the blood flow to the eyes is less and the body controls blood flow to dissipate heat from tissues. Luckily, we do not hold our cellphones to our eyes!

2. Given that we use our cellphones often, for long durations, and through our entire life, a lot of concern has been expressed as to whether this will cause damage or put us at higher risk for diseases like cancer. Research so far has been inconclusive on the matter.

The US FDA states in its website that "available scientific evidence—including World Health Organization (WHO) findings4 released May 17, 2010—shows no increased health risk due to radiofrequency (RF) energy, a form of electromagnetic radiation that is emitted by cell phones"

3. Precautions are still advised to avoid excessive exposure to radiation. The best method seems to be to use the speakerphone and always keep the handset far away from the body. RF Radiation can affect any part of your body that the phone touches. Basically, the further the phone is from your body, the less the radiation.

4. Using handsfree or Bluetooth still exposes you to radiation. In the case of bluetooth however, according to the  Office of Information technology , California University, the RF radiation drops dramatically, to near zero levels.

In the case of wired handsfree, radiation can apparently still travel through the cable and metal connectors. An old CNN Health article suggested that a ferrite bead  should be clipped to the cable, dropping the radiation to almost zero. I have never seen that one before, so here's an image from a vendor site,

In any case, it is recommended not to keep a handsfree or bluetooth device on for prolonged periods. Use it only when you need to talk.

5. The level of absorption of cellphone radiation by the body is measured using SAR (Specific Absorption Rate). SAR is expressed as Watts per Kilogram, and the lower the value, the lower the radiation. This CNet article states that according to FCC Regulations in the US, the maximum SAR emitted by a phone should be 1.6 W/Kg. In Europe, the norm is 2 W/Kg. Surprise, we have no regulation for SAR in India as yet. According to Cellpassion, the DoT is contemplating a regulation along the lines of European norms of 2W/Kg. Fortunately, repuable companies publish SAR ratings routinely as part of specs, both online and in product literature.

CNet puts out an updated list of the 20 cellphones in US with highest SAR. While they are at pains to point out that this is not an indication that some phones are more harmful than others, the list is still an eye opener.

I think everyone should check out what their phone's SAR rating is. This is info we ought to know, as much as we know any other phone spec.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Honeycomb and BB Playbook - tablets for 2011

The more I dig, the more reasons I come up with for not rushing into buying a tablet right away. If Notion Ink's soon to be released Adam tablet does not convince you to wait, check out the news that Samsung has downsized their production of the Galaxy Tab based on poor sales - looks like the company will not be hitting the 1 million sales mark that they had forecast when they released the tablet.

Android 2.2 is optimised for mobile screens, not for the larger 10 inch screens of tablets. Mashable reports that the next release of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) will possibly not address this issue either. Of course, the manufacturer can tweak the operating system as Samsung has done.

Android 3 (Honeycomb) is tipped to be the full fledged tablet-ready version of Android. According to GigaOm, both LG and Lenovo have delayed their Android tablet launch to 2011 to wait for Honeycomb.And this post on Phandroid  suggests that Honeycomb may be out as early as February 2011.

And all the buzz is not just around Android tablets. Check out the BlackBerry PlayBook, dues for release in Q1 2011. This dark horse from RIM might actually be the real iPad killer. The specs include 1 GB RAM, 1 GHz dual core processor, 7 inch screen and a brand new QNX OS which is apparently light years ahead of the BB OS 6. It will offer the BB advantage of sync with BB Enterprise Server for your corporate mail. And Blackberry has announced that at least one model (probably a base level 8 GB) will be available under $500, which is a very competitive price. Frankly, for me, this is one tablet that truly offers a competitive advantage over the iPad (Android is not a competitive advantage, it is merely a choice!)

(image from Gizmodo)
And don't forget that Apple will debut it's next gen iPad next year - probably in July - and will definitely look to create a better product in order to retain their 95% market share in the category. Probably they will include the front facing cam for videoconferencing, a USB port and of course, a processor/ RAM upgrade. It is likely that dual core processor and higher RAM will become a default in tablets next year.

What I am keen to see in tablets however, is stronger functionality. Whether it  is gaming, hybrid e-book reader, or an artists' canvas, the tablet needs to define itself as something more than just a bigger touchscreen.  The more strong functionalities are added, the faster the category will grow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adam from Notion Ink : India's foray into cutting-edge tablets

I had blogged in an earlier post that Indian companies are at the forefront of the tablet revolution. Indian based Olive Telecom released the Olive Pad earlier this year, providing us with our first 'affordable' tablet at Rs. 25,990 - this would fall in the same range as a high end smartphone.

Another company that has been making waves in the tablet world is Bangalore based Notion Ink. Over the past year, company founder Rohan Shravan has been sharing updates on his blog about the progress on the Adam tablet which the company hopes to put on pre-order by end of 2010/ early 2011.

(Images from Slashgear and the Notion Ink blog)
So far, the look has been kept under wraps (which adds to the excitement) but the specs have been released and some of them look very exciting.

Firstly, an NVidia Tegra 2 dual core mobile processor powers the Adam.This new-gen processor will feature in upcoming smartphones from Motorola and LG and is designed for larger screens, better graphics and fast multi-tasking.

Secondly, the 10.1 inch screen offers 2 flavors - TFT LCD and an optional Pixel Qi display. Pixel Qi is a 'thinking' LCD technology that can switch to three different modes by controlling the backlight. In regular (transmissive) mode, it functions like a conventional LCD. The transflective mode is enabled by turning down the backlight and allows high visibility even in direct sunlight unlike conventional LCD screens which go black or dark. Turn off the backlight completely and it becomes a reflective greyscale epaper display similar to the EInk displays on ebook readers like the Kindle. The combination of modes allows the screen to save substantial power and battery life (the company claims that in reflective mode, the display saves upto 80% compared to conventional LCD). What this means, is that the Adam can double up as an ebook reader and a tablet. Also, it should offer a way better outdoor usage experience than current products including the iPad.

Other specs on the device include expandable storage, a 3.2 MP auto-focus swivel camera, 2 USB and an HDMI port and a trackpad. It will run FroYo (Android 2.2) on release, with a promised upgrade to 2.3 (Gingerbread). More interesting is Notion Ink's intention to develop a full-fledged UI and custom apps for the device including a custom keyboard that is adapted to the requirements of a tablet.

Adam offers connectivity through 3G+Wi-fi and Wi-fi only options.

Information has leaked out in tantalising installments over the past year (Ok, I'll admit that we are impatient!). But Notion Ink has promised earlier this year that the price of the tablet (in the US) will be $498. Other options (minus PixelQi, minus 3G) will take the price down to $399. as reported by Engadget earlier this year. If Notion Ink offers similar pricing in India, we will have a cutting edge tablet in a Rs.18,000-25,000 range. I know, taxes will add on to that, but it's still pretty exciting.


I prefer QWERTY to touchscreen, what about you?

I waited nearly a month after acquiring a touchscreen phone, to make this post, but now I'm ready to say that for me, a QWERTY is a must and a pure touch phone does not cut it.

I use the Samsung Wave, and some people have told me, iPhone has a better touch screen, a larger display makes a difference, SWYPE on Android is superb etc.

But I find the touchscreen to be responsive and easy to use, so that is not the issue. In fact, I find it way more convenient for some activities like quickly accessing widgets from the homescreen, browsing the net etc. The touchscreen in these cases acts like a mouse, taking me to the portion of the screen that I want to focus my attention on.

The touchscreen irks me when I want to type. When it's an SMS or a mail, I find myself making way more mistakes than I make with a keypad. And it gets worse when I am entering passwords. Maybe I get more butter-fingered because I am concentrating, but what is a simple process with a keyboard, becomes an ordeal on a touch phone. And any typing is rendered more difficult when in a moving vehicle.

The larger sized keyboard, on a landscape orientation solves the problem but only partially. In fact by default, I only use this keyboard as the portrait QWERTY is way too small.

I also miss the tactile feedback of keys. No amount of virtual feedback, either a clicking sound or a vibration, can really compensate for that.

I had blogged earlier about QWERTY phones. Looks like they will be back on my shopping list.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tablets in India

It seems that all the advice I've been giving lately is to wait, but in this case it's justified. The wait is still on for a tablet that can give competition to Apple's iPad. At the rate things are going, Apple will provide its own competition when it upgrades the iPad next year. But only two contendors -  Samsung and Olive have launched devices and as a pleasant change, both have been officially released in India. And with Bangalore based Notion Ink annoucing an upcoming tablet with killer specs, it appears that India is in the thick of the tablet revolution. Only Apple is yet to officially launch the iPad though it sells unofficially through Ebay India for approximately Rs. 40,000 and upwards depending on configuration.

1) The Olive Pad

At  Rs. 25,990, India based Olive Telecom's Olive Pad  was the first to launch and is also the most accessibly priced in India. It's an appealing toy for the price (if you can't source an iPad from abroad) with an ARM 11 600 Mhz chipset, 512 MB RAM expandable storage through MMC and a 7 inch capacitive touch TFT screen. It has a front facing VGA camera for calls and a 3 MP camera on the back. And it accepts a SIM card so it can function as a phone, or offer 3 G connectivity. The website announces that it now runs Froyo (Android 2.2) so it is completely up to date. Currently it is only available direct from the Olive Telecom site - I have not seen it on sale in retail stores. Would be nice if anyone could confirm that. One India reports that it will be hitting Europe soon.

2) Samsung Galaxy Tab

(image from
The Samsung Galaxy Tab, at Rs. 38,000 has been aggressively marketed by Samsung and is priced competitively with Apple's iPad in terms of grey market rates. Of course, you could get both devices cheaper if you sourced them directly from abroad.

The Tab has similar RAM and screen size as the Olive, but it runs Samsung's speedy Cortex A8 1 Ghz Hummingbird processor, which is comparable with the iPad, unlike Olive's slower processor. It does not feature Samsung's SAMOLED screen, which is a disappointment; instead it has a TFT LCD. With both front and back facing camera and built in 3G like the Olive, the Tab provides a few features that the iPad does not. It runs Froyo and yes, it supports multi-tasking. Android Central provides the head-on comparison of specs with the iPad.

Samsung has faced a lot of comparison with the iPad and the reviews can be best described as mixed. PC World has done a round-up of reviews across sites and it appears that the Tab has its share of hiccups (notably that the touted flash capability is patchy, slow browsing experience and less display space than the iPad making usage less enjoyable). However, I did note that users were by and large happy with the product for what it was - a tablet offering the Android experience on a bigger screen, and in a more portable form factor than the iPad. In the US, this also means that non AT&T users get to sample a tablet.

Personally, it is the pricing of the Tab that is an issue for me. Maybe head-on comparisons with the iPad were inevitable, but Samsung also asked for them by pricing head-on with Apple. I would have loved to see flavors of the Tab with different configurations (for example, only Wi-FI) and at a starting price point at least 100 dollars lower than what it currently is. Then, the party would have really taken off. I am sure that Samsung would be able to build the product at a lower price, as they did with the Wave. And if they chose to ship only a limited number of Tabs, a sold-out announcement would not have hurt their image either!

As far as tablet phones go, the 5-inch QWERTY+touch screen Dell Streak is officially available in India since October 2010 though not sold directly by Dell. It retails at approximately Rs.35,000. The soon-to-come upgrade to Android 2.2 (Froyo) sweetens that price a bit, but not a lot.

Next post, I will be blogging about upcoming tablets. There's a lot to write about and it deserves a separate post. As for the two tablets featured here, I will be frank and say that at this point, all tablets seem like expensive toys. Given the form factor, they really cannot substitute a phone. And they need to do a lot more in my book to substitute, say an ultraportable laptop, or even a netbook carried as a backup option to work on. I am not comfortable with full touch screen substituting a keyboard for work. As in, real work. As an add-on gadget, I think they are a great joy to have and play with,  if you can afford that sort of thing. But I cannot see myself purchasing one of these unless the price drops to a range of Rs.15-20,000. And it will STILL be only a toy to me then.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The world of tweets : India is nowhere in the picture

The geek in me loves A world of tweets which I discovered through this techcrunch blog post.

Created by a company called Frog Design, the project visualises tweets, real time on a world map.

Or, in their own words;
"A World of Tweets is all about playing with geography and bits of information. Simply put, A World of Tweets shows you where people are tweeting at from the past hour. The more tweets there are from a specific region, the "hotter" or redder it becomes.

This continuous collection of Twitter statuses also allows for the presentation of other interesting visuals as well as statistical and historical data about the tweeting world we live in. Through the activity of Twitter users it is possible to tailor a new map of the world that evolves during the day according to the timezones and the spreading of mobile technologies."

Here is some interesting historical information from the site. The US is obviously the biggest-tweeting market (38%) but second spot is taken by Indonesia (15%). Incidentally, in Asia, Indonesia accounts for a whopping 65% of tweets, with Japan coming a distant second at 10%. India is nowhere in the map. According to this post on greyreview, the estimated number of twitter users in India is roughly 1 million. Of course, the picture could be different by year end, as the Twitter Blog reports that sign ups in India have increased 100% in 2010, with stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra getting onto the platform

Does brand loyalty truly exist in an exploding smartphone market?

Barely a month ago, I was a happy Nokia user, till the Samsung Wave lured me into the bada world that I (somewhat reluctantly) inhabit. This year has demonstrated to me that brand loyalty can truly vanish, in a flash. Just 6 months ago, when I was buying my E63, I would not even have considered a Samsung phone. But they produced a beautiful piece of hardware and I ditched the brand I have used for 5 years, without a second thought. It's a similar story for Samsung across the globe. Take a look at sales figures for Galaxy S; Samsung has sold 1 million units (and counting)  in the US, has outsold the iPhone 4 in Japan soon after launch and overall, shipped 5 million phones worldwide, with projected sales of ten million next year. And we are talking of just one phone in Samsung's line up. 2011 promises a Samsung-branded Nexus 2 and a mysterious super phone with a 1.2 gig processor and and a 4.3 inch screen, running Android 2.3 of course. Suddenly, Samsung is at the cutting edge of technology.

HTC has never been in my consideration set till they jumped on the Android bandwagon. This Businessweek article describes the rise of HTC from a commodity unbranded cell phone manufacturer to the largest  seller of Android phones in the world, the fourth largest handset manufacturer and the third largest company in Taiwan.

I have stated before in this blog that I am a budget smartphone buyer, but it was the specs of the flagship models on both HTC and Samsung, that captured my interest. I dig HTC for the Evo 4G, Desire HD and Desire Z. I would have bought an HTC phone had the company priced competitively in India. I loved the Galaxy S and I bought into the same technology at a lower price when I purchased the Wave.

And the funny thing is that I am now entirely brand neutral. My next phone could be from Samsung, HTC, Motorola or even Nokia. I will simply buy the most awesome specs in my budget. It's just that with so many handsets running Android, the bets are high that it will be an Android phone. Actually, the operating system is a bigger decision factor than the brand.

Do I miss Nokia? Yes, I do. I miss the ease and simplicity of the S60 UI that taught me the magic of a smartphone. I miss the attention to detail and thoughtful features that made navigation a snap. I miss the no-fuss Nokia push mail compared to messing around with Active Sync. I still remember how awesome the homescreen customisation options were  and I cuss out the stupidity of the Wave that will not allow any of the menu options to be set on the homescreen. Nokia truly understood how people use their phone and built it to make their life easier. Shifting to any other brand is like asking me to learn my alphabet again, but in a different language.

Yet the excitement that my Wave gives me is of a different order. I have the world's fastest processor (at least till next month) on my phone. I have the fabulous SAMOLED screen. I have widgets and apps with the limited choices of bada, but I do have them. I am tasting true smartphone functionality on a budget. To be precise, at Rs. 15000 post sale of my old Nokia handset. And nothing Nokia offers currently in this price range is remotely near it. Had Symbian 3 been released on a budget handset, it would have stood a chance with me.But it went first to the N8 at Rs. 25,000 - and to be perfectly honest, if I wanted to shell out that kind of money, I would have spent Rs.3000 more and got a Galaxy S.

Excitement is really what I am after now. With constantly upgrading specs, a cellphone has a much lesser life now than it did earlier. So brand equity, trust and reputation have kind of gone out of the window for me. I want a cheap well built device with top-end type specs that will stay moderately top-end and in one piece, for just a year. HTC and Samsung are both ready to give it to me. Motorola had my attention with the Milestone but they need to price lower to get my buy. I hope Sony and Nokia will still surprise me. Either way, I am spoilt for choice and see no personal stake in being brand loyal any more.

What about you - are you brand loyal or are you lured by the variety in the market?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Europe gets bada update, what about India?

Last month, Softpedia reported that Samsung would be rolling out updates of its bada operating system to handsets in Europe. The update named bada 1.0.2, offers several functionalities including an improved T9 text input system called Trace and the ability to browse or use your phone even when it is connected to your PC. It also fixes memory bugs and system errors that plague bada users, and offers a smoother browsing experience. The update allows you to set separate alerts for messages and mails; my Nokia E63 would do that from the start, but Samsung forgot to implement it!

It's impossible to find any communication from Samsung about the bada update, so I have had to fall back on the bada user forums. It appears that as of November 9, most European markets have been able to download the firmware update officially through Kies, the Samsung PC connectivity software. And many people in other parts of the world have successfully flashed the European firmware onto their device and are pleased with the improvements. I would love to do it, but I honestly lack the guts. It was one thing to flash firmwares onto my MP3 players; I had nothing to lose, but a Rs.18,000 phone which seems to be off the market already, is a different matter.

As of now there are no updates in India. This is the current firmware version on my Samsung Wave:

If I go by the alphanumerics, Bada 1.0 JH1 is not the oldest version of the bada OS.People in some parts of the world still have JF2  or JF5. The most recent updates are to bada 1.0.2 come with a bewildering range of different prefixes - 1.0.2 JI3, JH2, JH3, and even JI4 and somewhere just to confuse me more, an XXJ9. It does not help that Samsung maintains a policy of firm silence on firmware updates. Maybe they want to avoid confusing people more?

It's irritating but its part and parcel of dealing with firmware updates from Korean companies. I have lived through this for the last 5 years across iRiver, Cowon and now Samsung. Cutting edge hardware, great performance, a gazillion firmware updates and zero corporate communication. I have seriously contemplated learning Korean just so that I can understand what is going on, because I'm sure users in the country will have way better knowledge than I do.

With all these firmware versions floating around, it's reasonable for me to suppose that I can get an update. I connected to Kies and got the following message.


budget android smartphones in India

Like any enthusiast geek, I drool over the latest hardware, but what I will buy are budget smartphones. By budget phones, I mean something that comes in a Rs.10,000-15,000 range. This represents the limit of what I would spend on a phone because I carry and use my laptop almost everywhere so a phone is almost always a secondary screen. And it's less preferred because of the small size, except when I am on the move. I prefer to use a dedicated camera and DAP/MP3 player, so it will not really swap out either device except on the fly.

But I do find myself using my phone more often to browse at home on wi-fi when I feel too lazy to take out my laptop, in a mall when I suddenly want to check a product review, when I am in a coffee shop and planning a trip and I want to check flight schedules. It's fun to check a weather widget on my phone and see the latest weather forecast for the place I am flying to tomorrow. And it is indispensable to see and answer mail on the fly and to get notifications of updates to my FB/Twitter on my phone's homescreen. For easier access to the Net, apps and a better UI, I think upto Rs. 15,000 is a fair price to pay.

Today what you get in this range are called smart feature-phones (similar to my Samsung Wave running BADA OS). How will these be different from top-end smartphones like Samsung Galaxy S, Nokia N8 or HTC Desire? In two basic ways:

1) Hardware will be less sophisticated. You will not get the fastest latest processor (It will be less than 1 Ghz  as you go down the price ladder). You will get a TFT/ WVGA display of lower resolution and smaller size compared to the top end SLCD or SAMOLED displays. You will get a smaller battery. You will not get HD recording, high megapixel camera and a few other bells and whistles
2) Hardware will also limit you to an earlier version of Android. For instance Android 2.1 or 2.2 but not Gingerbread, the latest Android update that should be live by end of the year. The low-res screen will also create problems with certain apps, and it would be a trial and error to figure out which ones.

None of this should prevent you from getting a great experience from a budget phone, as long as it offers 3G and a wi-fi and a good user interface, and lets you access basic apps and widgets.

1. LG Optimus One P500

(Image from GSMArena)
LG has just launched the Optimus One P500, which is officially only the second phone to run Android 2.2 in India according to this Economic Times Review.  It also comes in at just Rs.13,000, which is a sweet price point. You can head over to GSM Arena for the full spec list and Tech Radar for the full review.

With Android 2.2 ironing out a lot of kinks in the Android OS, it can overcome most of the hardware limitations of the phone. If you mainly plan to use push mail, Google products and browse the net on your phone, you should have a good experience. It also offers the nifty Android 2.2 option to convert your phone into a mobile wi-fi spot so that you can share the internet connection with a PC (that will make more sense when we get 3G)

I also like that this phone offers a capacative touchscreen, and pinch and zoom functionality. It also features a very respectable 800 MHz processor and a 1500 MaH battery with a decent life according to the reviews.

The bad news for me is the 3.2 inch screen. I use a 3.3 inch one and as I have said in an earlier post, smaller touchscreens can suck, especially if you have larger fingers or are clumsy with your hands (I am!) So be sure to try this out before buying.

2.  HTC Wildfire

(Image from GSMArena)
It comes in at Rs.15000 in India and it's not widely available with big retailers, but it's worth taking a look at if you are searching for a budget Android phone. HTC has already confirmed that an update to Android 2.2 (FroYo) is due for the device very soon, and you might want to wait till it is out. But even with the older version of Android 2.1 the Wildfire was rated one of the top 20 phones of 2010 by Tech Radar, comparing favorably as a cheaper sibling of the HTC Desire.

Here is the spec list from GSM Arena. It's broadly similar to the LG Optimus One, except that the Wildfire has a smaller battery and a slightly slower 528 MHz processor.

You can read the full review of the phone on Tech Radar. The USP for the Wildfire is the HTC Sense UI experience, which optimises the performance and user interface, and provides a great stock keyboard. Another bonus is the optical track pad which aids navigation. If you do use a phone camera, this one comes with a flash and some basic image editing software. What you will need to watch out for is a low battery life and overloading that processor.

3. Motorola FlipOut

(Image from GSMArena)
Recently launched in India at a price point of approximately Rs. 16,000, this one caught my eye firstly because of the QWERTY keypad which is rare on most Android handsets and especially low-priced ones. I am not really a fan of the toy-like looks but I have to admit that with the interchangeable colors and the shape, it's a cute looking thing. Maybe someone younger than me will appreciate it more :) And in fact, it is targeted at an under20 demographic like the ill-fated Microsoft Kin

Here are the specs from GSM Arena. A 600MHz processor is OK, but smaller 1130 mAH battery sounds like bad news. Android can be a power hog, to be fair so is constant surfing and twittering over Wi-Fi and so is Angry Birds.

This phone does not get great reviews, the small screen size being the main complaint. 2.8 inches is way too small for a touch screen and restricts the browsing and viewing experience. But for those who want a budget QWERTY Android the only other option is the more expensive Sony Xperia X10 Mini Pro with  2.5 inch touch screen + QWERTY keypad which seems to be priced at Rs. 17,000 plus based on my last check in Croma. Overall, it offers a better, faster user experience than the FlipOut. I do not recommend this phone purely because it is has been running Android 1.6 for ages and the 2.1 update still does not seem to have come to India though it is available through Android developer forums. Also it is priced beyond the budget range in this review and once you cross Rs. 15,000, my benchmark of expectations would include a bigger screen + QWERTY keypad.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The latest and greatest smartphone specs - a checklist

I have blogged recently about how the cellphone industry is in a state of constant flux, with constant hardware and software upgrades making it impossible to buy the 'best' cellphone, as the best is always coming next quarter or even next month.  This is a state of affairs for which I squarely blame Android, with its Google-inspired constant beta innovation curve. Android has brought vibrancy and change into the cellphone space, both through the features of the OS, and through the enthusiastic response from handset manufacturers like Motorola, HTC and Samsung.

While this makes choice difficult for a buyer, some features seem to be stabilising, though slowly. And some have not really changed a lot over time! I thought it would be useful to make a checklist of such features for a prospective buyer to know what is the best - and then decide. This is an OS independant list, and covers purely hardware specs.

1) Display :
Currently the best displays are the Apple iPhone 4G 'Retina Display' and the Super AMOLED display on top-end Samsung phones like Wave, Galaxy S and Focus/ Omnia 7. Engadget compared both displays and called a draw, saying that personal preference would decide preference. This is the low down : theRetina Display has the highest pixel density (more than 300 pixels per inch) and therefore great sharpness, neutrality and clarity (better for text?) The Super AMOLED is brighter, has high color saturation (some complain of over saturation), high contrast ratio and true blacks. This makes it a brilliant screen to showcase colors of photos and movies. Both Apple and Samsung are ahead of competition, espcially TFT and AMOLED screens. Display technology may improve after this but on a mobile screen which rarely exceeds 4 inches, I doubt whether there will be any huge difference, even if we get a full HD display.

2) Display Size
This is the most critical element of the smartphone experience. I have a 3.3 inch screen on my Wave. I have discovered, the hard way, that I need a bigger screen, and I am even willing to shell out more for it. While the iPhone at 3.5 inches is plenty big, there is a lot of joy in the larger 4 inch display of the Samsung Galaxy S. HTC has put out the Evo 4G and the WP7 HD7 with 4.3 inch screens, which some feel are too large and unwieldy for a phone. I personally think 4 inches is the sweet spot for a display. You will value it when you browse the net, read long mails or e-books.

3) QWERTY sliders :
As mobile phone users discover the ease and delight of capacitive touch screens, pinch and zoom and scrolling (thanks to Apple), many of us including me still want our QWERTY keyboards back (blame Blackberry and Nokia). Towards end 2010, we have seen many touchscreen + QWERTY keyboard phones in a slider form factor. Blackberry Torch is an example. The Motorola Droid/ Milestone series has always offered this. Samsung is bringing it in through the Galaxy Q and Epic 4G and the low-end Wave 2 Pro. Even HTC, predominantly a purveyor of full touch Android phones, is acknowledging the needs of this segment through HTC 7 Pro. Dell provides this on the Dell Streak and the WP7 Venue Pro. Look for this option on more of the upcoming phones including Nokia E7-00 and LG Optimus 7.

4) Processor:
On a mobile phone, processor speed vs. battery life is a balancing act. In real life, a smartphone needs to last out at least a working day on a single charge, while performing basic operations like email, browsing, downloading and running multiple apps/ feeds, often on a wi-fi network, and of course, talking and texting. Today, the top-end smartphones across platforms use a 1 Ghz processor, with varying levels of efficiency. I personally believe that 1 Ghz is plenty for a phone and in the future, it's down to the operating systems to optimise and streamline their performance for greater speed. But I am not the decision maker.

Android is driving the specs on processor speed with its increasingly powerful apps and push towards true multi-tasking.. A leak of the specs required for Android 3 (Gingerbread) speculated that a minimum of 1 Ghz would be needed to run the operating system, meaning that the bar will be raised even further. I blogged last month about new, faster Adreno chipsets that will debut on several upcoming  HTC phones including the Desire HD. In simple terms, these chips will offer an incremental boost in speed and hardware acceleration support for Flash. It should make for a smoother user experience. Interesting point here - benchmark tests of the Adreno 205 vs. Samsung's current GPU (in the Wave and Galaxy S) show both running quite close. It will boil down ultimately to the efficiency of the new Android OS.

Dual-core processors will be coming in 2011, from QualComm and NVidia. I frankly don't understand processor talk, so I am just going to link this post to the NVidia Tegra page. To summarise, the dual core CPUs will offer console quality gaming, 1080 HD video playback,3D graphics capability and effortless multi-tasking, while also accommodating larger displays. LG has claimed that NVidia Tegra 2 will be used in its upcoming Optimus range of smartphones.  Motorola has also made similar claims. Judging by the description of the GPUs performance, we should also see applications in gaming phones and tablets.

So where does that leave us on the processor front? For a gaming phone or a tablet, it would make sense to get  the dual core processor. For most of the rest of us, 1 Ghz should suffice, with a more efficient GPU. The processor is the area likely to show maximum flux going ahead.

5) Gorilla Glass
Manufactured by Corning, this chemically strengthened, damage and scratch resistant glass is used on the world's best smartphones including Motorola's Droid/ Milestone, the iPhone 4, Dell Venue Pro and Samsung Galaxy S. AIncidentally, HTC phones do not have gorilla glass. This is another spec I would invest in at a premium if required.. It's not just about bragging rights, it's about protecting them against a few falls and jolts.

Windows Phone 7 arrives finally

Finally after nearly a year long wait, Windows Phone 7 was announced last month, and devices are now available for sale in Europe, Asia Pac (Singapore and Australia) and most recently, US. MS is backing the launch with aggressive advertising and has claimed in Computerworld that the OS is more efficient than either iOS or Android, requiring 20% fewer steps to perform daily tasks.

According to Mashable, the handset partners for Microsoft - LG, Dell, HTC and Samsung - have 9 WP7 handsets between them.All phones for the WP7 platform will all carry a '7' in the model name eg. HD7, which will distinguish them from the often similarly named Android handsets made by the same manufacturers. All of them are GSM handsets; the CDMA handsets are expected to debut only in 2011.

There's a fairly wide and confusing range on offer,across feature sets and price points. I mostly blame HTCs increasingly confusing line up for this, but Microsoft's insistence on certain base specs for all WP7 handsets, does not make differentiation any easier.

1) HTC Trophy 7 is the budget phone in the range and is sold unlocked. It is available only in Europe, but has been discredited by reports of display defects in some user forums.
2) HTC Mozart seems to be geared towards snappers and has an 8MP camera with Xenon Flash (N8 competition?)
3) HTC 7 Surround is positioned as a media phone and has a kickstand, slide out speaker and SRS WOW sound effects
4) The Dell Venue Pro, HTC 7 Pro and LG Quantum are all sliders with QWERTY keyboards. Dell Venue Pro is a portrait slider, and therefore stands out from the rest in design.
5) The Samsung Focus (US)/Omnia 7 (Europe) has very similar specs to the Galaxy S, but with a more premium looking body. It appears from reviews that the Omnia has only 8GB onboard storage and no expansion slot, while the Focus does have a MicroSD slot. The Super AMOLED screen is praised as the best display of the entire bunch.
6) The HTC HD7 has the largest screen (4.3 inches) and similar specs to the Desire HD. It has been reported in reviews that the TFT screen does not do full justice to the large display, especially next to the Super AMOLED Samsung display.

WP7 has entered the market really late, allowing competition, notably Android, a lot of time to settle in. Even Nokia and Blackberry, both of whom take their time in innovation, have launched their OS refreshes already. Microsoft's delay in launch has cost the company, with the MS market share of smartphone shipments down to 3% by Q3 2010 according to Canalys.

The general consensus is that Microsoft has created an OS that is differentiated, smooth to operate and most importantly, fast. It is also praised for being a beautiful looking interface; something that matters when you will be looking at it on a SLCD or Super Amoled screen! And it has serious potential as a music and gaming device, given good integration with the Zune marketplace and XBox Live. 

There has also  been criticism of some of the inherent shortcomings of the OS, notably:

1) It does not support multitasking of third party apps, only the original ones. Reviewers report that this causes some serious problems; when the screen locks, apps shut down and have to be reloaded, as they are not allowed to run in the background.
2) No tethering is allowed; you cannot use your phone as a modem to access net on your laptop, let alone use it as a wi-fi hot spot as people are doing with the Evo 4G and the  Droids of the world
2) It has only one homescreen, meaning that there are limited apps and widgets you can place on your screen and you have to scroll down to find the rest
3) It does not show an integrated mailbox for all accounts; every individual mail account becomes a separate app.
4) It won't let you set custom ringtones (no, really? The teen crowd is going to LOVE that!)

Hopefully, MS should fix at least some of these issues in firmware updates.

No word as yet about the WP7 launch in India, but Samsung and LG at least should be bringing their handsets down soon. Expect the pricing of most of these handsets to be Rs.25,000 +, given the hardware specs.

Gizmodo (list of all the available WP7 handsets)
Mobiletechworld (Specs of all WP7 handsets)
Techradar (Detailed Review of WP7 OS)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

mobile phone for senior citizens

This post has taken me a long time to write. Since the last few months, I have been looking for phones for my grandparents, and also been asked by friends to recommend a phone for other elderly people. While I spent time browsing phone shops, it struck me how most large handset manufacturers have inexplicably neglected this demographic. You can get hundreds of fancy cheap phones, but so few that are thoughtfully designed for an older user. Here are the basic requirements for any phone for elderly people:
1. Large screen/display
2. Large Font sizes
3. Discreet and large sized keys which are easy to press
4. Extra loud volume of ringtone/ speaker to help people who are hard of hearing
5. Long duration battery
6. Simple operating procedure (it should not be very easy to bar outgoing calls for instance!)
7. Voice-operated commands and dialling
8. Can be located/ blocked easily if lost
9. SOS call facility
10. Not expensive, durable and can survive a few falls!

When I went with this list, a helpful salesman pointed me to the Samsung 'Guru'. The Guru is a low cost dual-sim range from Samsung, but the cheapest model 1175 in this range is a single sim dual band GSM phone. What impressed me about this handset was the truly LOUD dual speakers (enough to turn me deaf), the large keys and the phone tracker facility that will let you trace your lost phone. Additionally, it has a giant 1000 mAH battery which has been going for 3 days now and is still at 75% after light use. I am quite impressed. Samsung does not provide bluetooth on this handset, but it does  have upto 6 daily pre-set alarms (useful if you want to set a reminder for medications), an inbuilt torch, FM radio and Indian languge support. It retails at Rs. 1800 and is a good option for senior citizens. If I find any more, I will let you know!

(image from Fonearena)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cruising the bada App Store

We have been told often enough on various phone review sites that the success or failure of Samsung's Wave series hinges on the way bada shapes up as an operating system. Which of course, boils down to what kind of Apps are available. With the Apple Store offering more than 300,000 in October 2010 according to this source and Android marketplace recently crossing its 100,000th app, Samsung has a lot of catching up to do.

Since as long as I can remember I have been a fan of Korean hardware. Across iRiver, Cowon and now Samsung, I have enjoyed the benefit of fantastically built hardware, coupled with wobbly firmware, non-existent manuals/ instructions and helpful user forums that help you figure everything out. Cruising the bada store was a similar experience, frustrating, yet unexpectedly funny and rewarding, once in a while.

In the Samsung App Store interface, apps are classified as Hot, New and under various categories and at first glance it seems that there are less than 1000, six months after the launch of bada (not good news). However, all apps continue to be free, not paid. In this respect, the bada store may ultimately shape up to be like the Android marketplace, with a majority of free rather than paid apps.

The apps are classified under 11 categories - entertainment, e-books, games, health/life, music and video, news,  navigation, productivity, reference, social networking, themes and utilities. These categories are not necessarily exclusive - for instance, I found a theme called Cool Blue under both entertainment and themes section. Games (156 items)  and entertainment (134 items) are expectedly the largest sections.

Despite the small size, the app store is multi lingual. Under Social networking apps, I found support for Chinese, Vietnamese, Israeli and even Latvian users. The news apps section features news apps relevant to Middle East, France, Ireland, Russia, Argentina, Italy, Germany etc. Apart from an AP app, I could not find any apps for major international news sites like CNN, BBC, Wall Street Journal etc.

I may be wrong, but as of now, it seems that there are many apps specifically geared to Russia, Turkey and France.  This could reflect the presence of more developers from these countries. But if bada is to ''democratize the smartphone platform" as per their claim, they have to specifically target the vast BRIIC markets especially China and India. We should accordingly see a lot more India specific content there than we do now.

There was nothing much I could find specific to Indian users, except a 'one touch hindi' e-book for learning the alphabet.

The ebooks section with just 26 titles, is pretty sparse, but gave me a pleasant surprise, including Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Alice in Wonderland. With a couple of classics like that, I would be kept well amused for a long time. Google Books it's not, but it does not take a lot to make me happy. Besides I have perfect vision without specs and I have no wish to change the status quo by reading too much on a 3 inch screen.

While I was surfing the app store, there were some genuinely funny moments. This game is called 'Mental', intriguingly features a picture of Albert Einstein and purports to be about calculus but turns out to offer basic sums;

This game is called Find  Lion and has a rather entertaining description which you can read below;

Finally, this game called text talkie (read the description!)

Some of the apps and widgets which I have downloaded and like using are
1) The AP Mobile and widget which give me updated news/ forex dollar rate on my home screen
2) Musical Instruments (Piano and Water Xylophone) which are a nice timepass when I am bored.
3) Compass App which is pretty accurate
4) A new SNS app which puts three shortcuts of Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo! on my homescreen. Anyone who has struggled with bada's mysterious stubborn refusal to accept more than 3 widgets per homescreen would find the screenshot below to be a sight for sore eyes (that's right, there's 5 different things I can do from my homescreen. Wow!)

My modest short-term wishlist would be:
1) An RSS widget/ reader
2) A linkedin widget
3) A music store, with Hindi and regional language titles
4) Better integration with the Google world of chat/ mail/ calendar etc.

 Bada is no android and may never be. But what I would look at is how it shapes up next to Symbian. Nokia's Symbian 3 may soon make its way down the smartphone food chain and Symbian has some seriously good apps. I would like to see Samsung pull up their socks and offer some seriously good stuff through their app store. Otherwise, bada will remain a promise unfulfilled and seriously, the Samsung Wave is a piece of hardware that could do so much, given half a chance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

review of netconnect broadband 2010

I have been using Reliance Net Connect Broadband since the last 5 months and I am in a fair position to give a review of the services. So here goes:

1. Activation : Was extremely prompt and smooth. Happened within 24 hours from the nearest Reliance World customer service center.

2. Customer Service : Easy to reach, technical service team calls back to troubleshoot. There are regular call reminders to pay the bill (which is irritating but also necessary sometimes).

3. Billing : This is one of my main irritants. You can opt either for bill through e-mail or hard copy. That is either/or. Not both. I need a physical bill for my tax purposes and I cannot see why they can't email me the bill too. It would not cost them anything!

4. Connection : It is reliable (I nearly always get a good signal) but not fast. 3.1 mbps is a pipe dream. I test the speed regularly using Speedtest and I have never gotten more than 500 kbps. In fact, the speed averages 250 kbps. Since that still qualifies as broadband, I am not complaining

5. Payment : Is easy through online gateway but I find that it is very difficult to register on their site. The password setting mechanism is autocratic (insisting on a fixed sequence of Caps/ alphanumeric). It's exactly the sort of password I would forget and I have forgotten it. There seems no way to retrieve it without telling Reliance what I had registered as my pet's name (I have forgotten - don't have a pet) and so I am locked out of my own account. IRRITATING

6. Tariff plans and pricing : I frankly find it expensive and the tariff plans as per Reliance philosophy focus on collecting a minimum monthly revenue per user. Not really economical for an occassional user like me.

When 3G comes in, if I get a good plan with tethering (allowing me to use the phone as a modem), I would probably ditch this. My Samsung Wave has the ability to function as a wireless access point for upto 5 devices so I would actually be able to surf with a 3G connection on my laptop without needing a wire.

High spec ultraportables that won't bust the bank

I have realised how my attention has gone off high-spec laptops - not surprisingly perhaps, given that all the excitement in 2010 has been around phones and tablets! The world of laptops has not seen so much change (except for the MacBook Air refresh). But the second half of the year has seen some reasonably priced ultraportables with decent specs, across manufacturers. We are talking sub $1000 (Less than Rs.45,000) though one has to see how that will translate in India after all applicable taxes.

Do note that all the laptops featured here come with iCore processor, 500 GB HDD, 4 GB RAM and NVidia GPU, and a 13" or 14" screen. The specs are amply sufficient for a business user, art director, casual gamer or movie watcher. 

1) Acer Aspire Timeline X1830T

The most exciting machine featured here, the 11.6 inch Acer Aspire uses ULV iCore processors. You can get an iCore 7 CPU at $900, and specs include 500 GB HDD, 4 GB RAM and 11.6 inch LED HD backlit display, all weighing in at 3 pounds (1.5 kg). On paper, the specs look like a dream and I would love to play with this baby!

Do note that the ULV core i7 processor will sacrifice some power for extending battery life. Also the 11.6" version has on-board graphics only - if you want discrete graphics, ATI Radeon is available on the larger screened models. Additionally, it lacks an optical drive. So a gamer would not find this a suitable machine. It is however a fantastic choice for a business user like me, who can get an ultra-light portable with top-end specs at nearly 50% less than competing brands like Sony and Lenovo.

Needless to say, I am waiting for this one to hit the Indian market! No word as yet on pricing in India, but so far Acer has been very competitive, so I would not expect this to be more than Rs. 50,000.

(Source : PC World )

2) Dell XPS relaunch 2010

Dell has refreshed their popular XPS range this month. Starting at $899 for the base 14" iCore 5 configuration, with a skype certified inbuilt HD videocam for chat, JBL on-board speakers, 4 GB RAM 500GB hard drive @ 7200 RPM and NVidia graphics with Optimus technology that automatically optimises battery life. Of course you can bump up the specs, but the basic package is fine for most users. What weighs against the XPS, is literally the weight - at 2.5 kg (5.35 lbs) starting weight, it's not a true ultraportable. And believe me, the extra weight will get to you over time. To be honest one more grouse I have against it is the block-like looks. My XPS M1330 is built like a beautiful racing car. Dunno why Dell could not put some more imagination into the new design!

The new  XPS range is already selling on Dells' US site but is not yet listed on the India site. Keeping in mind prior pricing of Dell XPS in India, I would expect this to be around the Rs. 60,000 mark.

3)Asus U30JC-A1

Praised in this PC Mag review and described as 'one of the few 13-inch laptops that run on a standard volt Intel Core processor while keeping your bank account out of the red', this machine is at first glance both heavier and lesser powered than the Acer Timeline. But it compensates with an NVidia GEForce 310M Graphics Card and Optimus onboard allowing the laptop to automatically switch seamlessly between the onboard graphics and discrete GPU as required. With the graphics card, Core i3 processor and 500 GB of hard drive, not to mention the slightly larger screen, this is a more suitable portable machine for a gamer or photoshop user. It weighs in at just over 2.5 kg (4.6 pounds), so it barely qualifies as an ultraportable. And it costs only $900. The icing on the cake is that it has a beautiful aluminium finish, and a battery which lasts 8 hours if you don't use the GPU.

I cannot find this listed on the Asus India site, but I imagine that it should come in between Rs.50-55,000. At this price, it is still a fantastic deal for an ultraportable.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Android the next big thing in India?

Canalys' report on the Q3 2010 global smartphone market share is making news across tech websites and attracting a lot of comments. Here are the key points in the report:
1) The worldwide smartphone market has grown 95% over the previous year. In the BRIIC countries (which includes India), the smartphone market grew by 112% which is more than the overall growth. Incidentally, smartphones are estimated to be approximately 8% of the market in India in 2010.
2) In terms of brand leadership, Nokia remains the worldwide leader in the smartphone market with 33% share (down from 38% last year), followed by Apple (17%) and RIM/Blackberry (15%). RIM has lost its second position in global smartphone market share to Google
3) However, in India, Nokia continues to hold 65% of the smartphone market showing 208% YoY growth, while RIM holds 18%, an increase in volumes of over 412%
4) Worldwide, the Android operating system has grown over 1000% and now holds 25% of the global market.
5) In the US, the world's largest smartphone market, the brand leader is now Apple with 26% share, while RIM has lost nearly 8 percentage points and has 24% market share. In terms of Operating System however, Android is now the largest OS in the US, with 44% market share.

The overall take out from this is the exploding smartphone market and the phenomenal growth of Android as a viable competitor to Apple's iOS.

The report also indicates that growth in the Indian market may not follow the world trend - highlighted by the fact that Nokia and RIM's shipments have increased in India while declining elsewhere. From an Indian perspective, well priced smartphones in the Rs. 10,000-20,000 range have possibly driven the growth of the category, coming from reputable and even aspirational brands, which buyers have always preferred in India.  The success of the Nokia N and E Series and even the BB Curve, highlight this.

But Android has shown the world that equations can change rapidly - in fact all the change and growth has happened in the last year since the launch of the Nexus One. And many of the top Android branded phones are yet to hit our shores (the absence of HTC android phones from the shelves of major retailers like Croma is a case in point, and a sore one)

So how can Android become big in India? The answer lies in Google's recent announcement to support homegrown Indian manufacturers like Micromax, Spice and Olive to launch Android powered phones at under Rs. 10,000. According to India Today, Micromax and Spice will be launching Android phones in the Rs. 6000-8000 range, with more Indian manufacturers set to follow suit. Videocon has launched Zeus and Spice will launch Mi300 soon - both phones cost under Rs. 10k

There is a question mark over the hardware that can be offered at this price range and what kind of apps it will be able to run, but nonetheless, it will run some version of Android. And since these manufacturers would not want to invest in developing their own interfaces like HTC's Sense or Samsung's Touch Wiz, it seems that these handsets might feature the pure Android interface which is not a bad thing at all, as it would get direct updates from Google. It would only get a boost when 3G comes into the picture.

And the local manufacturers are already a force to reckon with in India. Micromax ships 1 million handsets a month and commands more than 4% of market share, while all low cost handset manufacturers together accounted for 14% of market share according to Economic Times.

The middle end segment (Rs. 10,000-15,000) should see some action too. Symbian 3, according to tech rumors, is ultimately destined to not drive Nokia's top end phones (MeeGo and Qt will), but go onto middle range smartphones.Samsung too has launched the Galaxy i900 Android phone at Rs. 12,000 and HTC should follow suit with budget models.

I am personally excited by the prospect of a Rs. 6000 phone powered by 3G and running Android. It could turn the market around. Hell, it could convince me to switch sometimes, as I agonise over whether its really worth spending Rs.30,000 on a top end phone!