Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Drool list - My handpicked gadgets for 2013

It's year-ending and businesses are drawing up budgets for the next financial. It's a hectic but nice time of year, when everyone is free to make plans without the constraints of shrinking pockets. I have also decided to take advantage of the season's expansiveness and put down my pick of gadgets and geek goodies - the things I would really like to buy this year. If my business does well, I will be picking up most (well actually, all) of these. It's an added bonus that some of them will necessitate a foreign trip because they are not available in India So, here goes:

1. The Basis Watch

Source : Basis Website

It's the most advanced piece of health technology to come out this year, light years ahead of Nike Fuel, Jawbone Up, FitBit and other contenders. The Basis Watch synthesises data from various sensors - blood pressure, skin temperature, perspiration level, and movement - and collates them using sophisticated analytics tools to determine what activities are really helping you or hindering you from being healthy. This information is then presented to the user as simple 'habits' that need to be sustained, created or gotten rid off.

At $199, the Basis Watch is currently on back order on the company's website and is only available in the US. It's something I would buy in a heartbeat. I love the idea of collecting pure and rich observational data, without user intervention (interference?) and using it to provide the most simple tips that can change your health and lifestyle. 

2. The Sony Xperia Z

I have a long-held preference for Nexus phones running the stock Google operating system, and the Sony Xperia Z is the first phone that has made me change it.

This beauty comes in purple, white or black high-gloss glass and I confess that I am smitten with the way it looks, despite my usual policy that specs come first, and looks later - 

Source : Sony website

The Xperia Z also leaves me with nothing to desire in the specs department either. With a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, a 13 Mega Pixel camera, 2 GB of RAM, 5 inch HD screen and extendable memory, it's a powerhouse. And as additional icing on the cake, Sony has not messed too much with Google's Android experience, allowing 4.1 Jellybean to be showcased with all its unique capabilities. It is already available for pre-order on Flipkart at Rs. 38,000. 

3. The Google Pixel Chromebook

Google-backed Chromebooks running Chrome OS have a lot going for them - they are cheap, well speced, and fully poised to take advantage of the Google Cloud to run every basic need you have. Definitely a better alternative to the netbooks that they aim to replace.

The Pixel breaks every law of Chromebooks. It is expensive ($1200), it is machined in aluminium with a glass trackpad to rival (or resemble) MacBooks, it has a  beautiful, hi-definition touchscreen that puts any laptop to shame. And it comes with 1 TB of Google Drive space in the cloud, for three years.

If you don't have much use for Chrome OS or Google products, all is not lost. You can load Linux on it and use it like a regular laptop.

Last week, I checked out some of the touch-and-type Win 8 ultrabook offerings and I was not really won over. But I am bowled over by the Pixel. It's a question of device purpose - for me, the purpose of a Chromebook is browsing and accessing apps. For this purpose, it is a fantastic device.

4. Tesla Electric car

Tesla is environment consciousness with class, a design statement combined with innovation. For years, we have been seeing attempts at hybrid and electric cars. I think Tesla is one brand that is going to pull it off not only because their innovation is sound, but because they make their product aspirational. You do not think "Oh my god, how do I charge this thing?", but instead, as it should be when you see a great set of wheels, your reaction is 'Wow, what a car". If I want to save the planet, I'd like to do it in something that resembles a Bat Mobile, rather than on a cycle. Blame it on human nature.

Tesla already has the Model S in the market, costing USD 69,000-80,000 and a newer version, the Model X, will go into production in 2014. 

5. Google Glass

I would not have included Google Glass in this list if it were only a concept, vaporware, or pure hype. But it seems that Google's most exciting project is going to see light of day. Last week, the glasses featured prominently in SXSW, with several people wearing them and walking around. Google is even parting with limited number of sets for $1500, though they will not be launched officially till end 2013- early 2014.

Google Glass is wearable computing (much like the Basis Watch) but with a difference. It consists of a lightweight frame with a tiny display, camera, microphone and GPS built in. Results are displayed in front of your eyes and simple tasks like dictating (or reading out) emails, navigating with maps, identifying friends who are nearby, all become simplified. And to activate them you just need to say "Ok glass". I think its cool to talk to your glasses. And even cooler that they talk back, intelligently layering virtual reality onto your eyesight.

 If the concept clicks, it will revolutionise how we process and use  information in real time. 

That's my shortlist of most desirable tech in 2013. If I cannot afford to buy them outright, I would do anything to get a chance to review/ demo them!

Monday, March 11, 2013

A touchscreen on my work laptop? No thanks!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Croma checking out the new range of Win 8 laptops, ultrabooks and AIOs (All in One's). It was great to see that the price of Ultrabooks has dropped to levels where normal mortals can actually consider buying them - under Rs. 50,0000. And I was happy to see some international launches have reached our shores at reasonable prices - the Win RT Lenovo Ideapad Yoga at Rs.50,000 and the Asus Vivobook at just Rs.40,000. Both these devices have touch screens and physical keyboards to interact with Windows 8 in the way you prefer. I tried performing some basic tasks like creating a presentation, browsing or running a program and I came away with mixed feelings about the whole touch and type concept.

When I got my first touchscreen phone, I complained (correctly) that my texting would reduce because it's a pain to type on the screen compared to a physical keyboard. It's true that I write less, and rely more on apps to do the work for me. But in the process, I have developed a comfort with touch interfaces. The intricacies of operating a QWERTY keyboard have vanished from my memory and I am hard put to handle my friend's BlackBerry Curve. I keep jabbing at the screen foolishly as though it would accomplish something.

But I still love, love the feel of a good keyboard on a laptop. It's the second biggest factor I look at, after price, when buying a work laptop. My fingers can fly on a good keyboard in a way that makes me completely happy, like right now as I am composing this post. And I feel creative, productive and pleased with life when my keyboard keeps up with my thoughts.

So we have established that I have learned to live with touch interfaces and love good keyboards. But on separate devices, and for separate purposes. Marrying the two on a single device is not such a great idea. And to introduce the combination on a device that I rely on for work? That's a really bad idea.

Over years of using a laptop for productivity, I have learnt and mastered my own shortcuts, tricks and unconscious ways of working that save time and make my work easy. I will admit that I am reluctant to change the way I work. I can change the way I browse on a phone or a tablet - it is a leisure activity and I am ready to experiment. When I change the way I work, it costs me time and puts me lower on the learning curve and I am not so ready to trade this off for what Microsoft considers as the future experience. 

It feels like having a split personality when I am typing and suddenly I have to touch the screen to do something. It slows me down and confuses my mind and breaks the liquid smooth linear action of completing a task. I completely understand that it's nice to have a two-in-one device etc. But I question whether this type of convergence is necessary. I question why we have to unlearn so much. I maintain that in a fragmented era of multiple devices, it is important to understand the core purpose of the device and design to meet that purpose best. I am not sure if hybrid devices will suceeed.

I will eventually move to a Win 8 PC and try to figure it out. But I am viewing that development with apprehension, despite being wooed by some beautifully designed products like the Dell XPS 12 convertible and the Asus Vivobook.