Yes it is … and No I’m NOT – pt 1

Have you ever felt the universe was playing a cruel joke on you? That the people around you are all involved in some elaborate practical joke? Ever felt that your most innocent of actions will be misinterpreted with repercussions hilarious to all but yourself? …..  O just me then :(

Following are a snapshot of a few unfortunate incidents that seem to transcend the fabric of space/time and friend circles and come back to haunt me time and time again. For years I tried to avoid being put in that situation however when I least expect it … there it is and there I am again, the laughing stock of the lot.

From now on I intend to walk around with a banner that reads – ‘Yes it is … and No I’m NOT!!’ Read on to find out why –

It all began back in the year 2004 when I went to Bangalore with my cousin Dan, my neighbor Abi. We were there for the weekend and decided to drop in at one of the nearby pubs. Dan and Abi ordered their usual poisons however as I did not drink I was a bit lost in the alcohol menu. That menu to me was like a broken pencil – pointless! Noticing my clear confusion (oxymoron anyone) the waiter approached. Then as soon as I told him that I was a teetotaler his expression changed from genuine concern to absolute disgust –“but … but this is a bar” he said. I shrugged my shoulders and sank into my bar stool (which is not as easy as it sounds). After a quick pause he suggests I go in for a mocktail, something known as the bartenders special to be precise. I nodded in agreement. Not a puppy dog nod or an epileptic nod, but a manly nod – short, quick and very subtle (ladies do not read into that I was only referring to the nod). Soon the drinks arrived, well theirs did anyway; mine was late. I looked about impatiently as I know from past experiences that the guy not holding a drink in a bar stands out like a sore thumb. Little did I know that things were about to get worse, much worse.

By this time my cousin Dan and Abi were halfway down their beers when they stopped and stared out into the dimly lit bar. One of the waiters appeared to be holding something; something positively revolting. It was a fluorescing shade of pink and seemed to be dancing in the strobe lights. It had a long multicolored straw projecting well above the brim. The straw was flanked by two rather large strawberries which were in turn covered with a light sprinkling of whipped cream. Even the glass containing this bizarre concoction was oddly curvy in a very impractical yet suggestive way. It took me whole 20 seconds to take in how incredibly girly that drink was and was sure it could only be ordered be some really tacky girl with the need to OD on pink. It took my cousin and friend all of three seconds to realize that that it was my drink. Then it arrived … pinker and more girly that it appeared across the bar. Suddenly it sank in --- this was my drink. THIS WAS MY DRINK!! This was the bartenders special; Special What? Special Humiliation for coming to a bar and not ordering alcohol. 

I sat there, staring at the drink. Its rainbow colored straw staring back at me. Its whipped cream coated strawberries bobbing on either side of it. The incredible pinkness amplified and fluorescing by the UV lighting and dim surroundings. Laughter at the bar. Laughter so loud that no matter how hard you try, you cannot look away. Laughter by your own cousin and you best friend. I felt the walls close in on me. The music dimmed, faces disappeared (except mine thanks to the light next to my head). Whispers were heard (above the laughter) fingers were pointing, grinning teeth were seen, the two at my table were still laughing. Finally I had had it. Sat up straight, looking across at the crowded tables on either side of me I said – “Yes it is… and No I’m Not”. Then proceeded to take a sip of the drink, after moving the strawberries out of the way. It turned out that I hated the taste of the drink but no one believed me than and I’m sure they would not believe me now.

This was just the beginning… There is more … Much more… watch this space!

Review – Blackberry 8820

I am not a big fan of Blackberry especially not their earlier models. Due to an odd twist of fate (see ‘Quest for a Camera-Less Phone’) I ended up with a blackberry 8820. Since the phone has been around for a while and has been discontinued from production it’s a bit too late to come up with a review for this phone. However I am not one to let trivial facts prevent me from posting my thoughts. Lets dive right in.

The Blackberry 8820, like its poorer cousin 8800, is a pretty handsome phone. It looks very professional and has a good build quality. It’s full QWERTY keyboard looks a bit cramped with no space between the keys, but let me assure you they are one of the best I’ve used. Something about the shape of the keys and the placement of the ridges that make hitting the precise key you were gunning for. Typing long messages or emails are quite simple and the spell check is also fairly good (however I do miss predictive text). Menu options are quite basic I have to say I quite like the trackball navigation. It’s very accurate and takes up only a small amount of real-estate. It’s a pity that the trackball is such a dust magnet and cleaning it could be a pain.

The Blackberry 8820 has a single (mono) speaker on top of the phone. It’s a pretty loud and clear speaker and is more than sufficient for a speakerphone call or listing to music. The media capabilities of the device are rather poor. It can only play a thin list of formats so most of your videos will need to be trans-coded for the device. Audio quality through the supplied headphones and about average. They can go quite loud but bass reproduction is severely limited. There another major negative point to be noted. The phone comes with a 2.5mm audio jack as opposed to the standard 3.5mm jack. Also this 2.5mm jack only supports blackberry and Motorola handsfree sets and not the Nokia ones so availability of replacement headphones will be another pain point. I personally suggest option for a good pair of Bluetooth headphones. I use Motorola S9 stereo Bluetooth headphones. They are very comfortable, give a good bass response but need to be changed frequently (because I use them a lot).

There are a number of applications and games for the blackberry 8820 however very few of them are free. Another issue is that most of the applications need BIS to be activated in order to function properly. As I did not do so I cannot comment on the apps. On the gaming front, from what I can tell blackberry’s cupboard is quite bare. Yes this is a business-centric phone but that’s no excuse not to have some fun fast paced action games on the phone. No wait I forgot, the hardware can’t take it. Yes the hardware is pretty low spec. Essentially packman is about as good as it gets.

Customizations – there are a number of themes for the device however most of the good ones are not free. In conclusion this is not for the young media consuming music playing mobile phone customizing gaming junkie but rather for a simple professional who just wants email, listen to the occasional tune and not bother about touch screens or sliding out keypads.

GPRS without BIS on a Blackberry

There exists a definite hype surrounding Blackberry devices. Now many may argue that the hype is well warranted as Blackberry devices are the pinnacle of mobile engineering. To which I simple say “No they are not!!” Their secure and reliable services are definitely a plus however their device hardware is a significant let down for ‘some users’. The cost of their blackberry internet service also makes it unviable for a number of users.
That being said I still see a number of people itching to buy a blackberry handset in the hopes of seamlessly accessing the net. Many of my peer group have bought one or planning to buy one as they believe it offers them a desktop-like email experience and keeps them connected from a social-networking standpoint. Is that true? Well yes and no.
Blackberry devices are certainly a lot more powerful and feature rich then they were two short years ago, however what many don’t account for is the added expense of the Blackberry Internet Service. Without BIS you will not be able to use most of the Blackberry services and features. A vast majority of the Blackberry tailored apps requires a fully functional BIS in order to work. Even the core functionality of email will not function without it. Keep in mind that BIS rentals are usually significantly higher then your regular GPRS / data rentals and it is this steep monthly rental that keeps many people from opting for it.
Another issue (probably more relevant to emerging markets) is that Blackberry internet services are rarely offered on prepaid plans. This means that if you are a prepaid subscriber and have bought a shiny new blackberry specifically for your email/IM/social networking then what you have is a rather expensive paperweight. You could always switch to postpaid, activate BIS and cough up the monthly rental and never miss an email or status update again.
I however do not fall into that category. I do not want to be always connected and have work follow me where ever I go. As I am not the type to spend many hours browsing, chatting of emailing from my phone I did not see the point in activating BIS. Unfortunately for me (and many others out there) my telecom operator does not support GPRS on blackberry. Had I been using any other phone GPRS activation would be a snap but not on the Blackberry. Essentially ‘they’ want you to use BIS, that’s where the money is at.
There is a workaround however you would be limited to using a third party browser and no blackberry applications support. I have used Opera mini (4.2 and 5) however I believe the Bolt browser also works. First activate GPRS on your SIM card. Then go to your access point settings and type out the access point settings for your operator. Install the browser from your comp or download it OTA via WIFi. Once installed the browser will attempt to connect using the edited access point details. If it does not work try a battery pull. Switch the phone back on and try again. This worked for me and I am now able to browse on my Blackberry (8820). I can’t use the G-talk/Facebook or even the built-in browser however I can go to any website or check my email on the fly. It’s good enough for the casual user and let’s face it, most of our personal emails are spam or forwards anyway. If anyone figures out how to get a chat app to work without BIS do let me know. Remember consider your usage patterns before buying a Blackberry device. Hope this was helpful.

The best smart-phone of Mid 2010 – a feature wish-list

There has been much talk about smartphones and their ever-growing capabilities. While Nokia has for many years now, dominated the smartphone arena, other manufacturers are quickly getting on board, and how. In the past year and a bit we have seen, apart from the usual suspects (Nokia, RIM-blackberry, HTC etc) we now have quite a few more smartphone heavyweights – Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, Google and Apple. Even almost forgotten manufacturers Palm and Motorola have come out with some very high spec devices to possibly turn their fortunes. 

The number of smartphone operating systems have also mushroomed with the birth of Android, WebOS, OS X, Maemo, to join the ranks of Symbian, Blackberry OS and Windows Mobile. Now I will not get into which operating system is the best as quite frankly that is a topic of much debate. Here’s my two cents worth – don’t judge as operating system by its out-of-the box functionality alone. A good operating system should obviously come with tones of functionality and features but it should also have a well stocked collection of constantly updated 3rd party applications (a good number free). It should also have a large developer community to bring in fresh ideas, applications and games to the device. They say all operating systems are equal. I’d say some are more equal than others. 

Finally after rambling on for two paragraphs I am all set to dive into my topic of choice i.e. what would be the features I would look out for a phone in the middle of this year. For those of you still living in a hole that would be June 2010. I am choosing mid 2010 because most of the features I am about to talk about are currently available, just not on the same device :( My guess is that hopefully one of the manufacturers will pick up on this post and act upon it. These features mentioned below are not arranged in any particular order. The design I have in mind is a keypad-less full touchscreen phone like the iphone, Google Nexus One, HTC Desire, SE Xperia X10 etc. Though I like the tactile feedback of hardware keys, improvements in capacitive multi-touch and haptic feedback one can do without hardware keys (for the most part). 

1. Operating System:
  • Android –I’d prefer the phone run Android for three simple reasons (i) Growing 3rd party apps (most of them free); (ii) Large and constantly growing developer community (iii) likelihood of many new updates coming soon; Ok all three are kinda related but you get the idea.

2. Display:
  • Super AMOLED display (Samsung Beam) – AMOLED displays give a better contrast (deeper blacks and rich colors). Samsung has recently come out with a few phones (Wave, Beam) with these displays and from what I’ve seen they seem stunning.
  • Oleo-phobic coating on display (Iphone 3GS) – this fancy name simply means coating the screen with a chemical that repels oils. So say good bye to ugly fingerprints and messy oil marks on the screen. (very important if you have oily skin on your face (you know who you are) as you hold the phone pressed to your cheek while talking.
  • 3.7 to 4 inch screen (SE X10) – as there would be no hardware keys the screen can and should dominate the entire face of the phone. I find that a display upto 4inchs would be ideal, anything larger and it may become a bit too wide to use – especially when placed against your ear.
  • Resolution – 800X480 sounds about right (the Xperia X10 is a bit higher). At this resolution browsing web pages natively will be a breeze (note-you may have to squint a bit).
  • Pixel Qi functionality – low power E reader display with backlight off for extended battery life.

3. Input method:
  • Capacitive multi-touch – I know it’s almost commonplace now but I still feel it should be mentioned.
  • Trackball (Nexus One) – I know many feel this would be redundant on a full touchscreen but there are times where you don’t want to touch the screen; its easier to move the curser while typing in a text box; its small, hardly takes up much space, provides brilliant tactile feedback, can double as a status indicator. A negative to note it that it does pick up dirt and may need a bit of care.

4. CPU/RAM/Memory:
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 1 GHz processor
  • Atleast 512 MB RAM & ROM (Nexus One) - future proof; future android apps and games are going to be more resource hungry than current apps.
  • In-built memory – alteast 2GB (more emphasis on hot swappable high capacity SD cards – 32GB)

5. Camera/Video/Audio:
  • 5MP to 8MP with dual LED and possibly a Xenon thrown in - for all possible shooting conditions. Yes yes I know. There are 12 MP camera phones in the market but honestly I’d prefer better optics on a 5MP camera then a mediocre quality 12MP camera sensor. Those familiar with photography will tell you that “It’s not the size of the resolution that matters but how the optics use it”. Seriously a 12MP sensor is about the same size as a 5MP sensor but crams more pixels causing reduced image quality in certain shooting environments. Ditch pushing for more pixels but rather add-in functionality like face/smile detection, fast burst mode, more filters, quick auto-focus response etc.
  • Internal zoom lens – this is such a simple concept I don’t know why no manufacturer had built one in yet. There are quite a few point-and-shoot cameras that have an internal zoom lens. Simple put the components move within the camera housing eliminating the need for a telescopic lens array. Yes the zoom may be limited to 3x or 5x but its still optical 3x which is 3 times better that any phone lens out there.
  • D1 or WVGA video resolution with atleast 24 fps. Video light. continuous focus. Also add the ability to zoom (using the above mentioned internal zoom lens) while recording video.
  • DivX support - either out of the box of through free 3rd party app.
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS - never know when you need it.
  • FM transmitter (N900) - good to have and lets you play your music on a normal boom box - wirelessly.
  • Loud and clear stereo speakers with Good quality audio playback with equalizer and bass boost functions.
  • 3.5mm audio jack (all phones) – Let’s face it most headphones provided in the box are below par. Also most of us have our favorite headphones.
  • TV out through standard 3.5mm port.
  • Possibly DVB T/H - though at present there are hardly any places where DVB transmissions work but you never know what the future holds.
6. Connectivity/Browser/Misc. features:

  • All manner of connectivity – GSM (all bands), UMTS, WiFi (all bands), GPS, A-GPS, SatNav software, IR Port (again never know what magic developers can do with it), Mini USB (mico USB is just too fiddly)
  • Full flash/ajax support on browse, with tabbed browsing and add-ons (essentially firefox)
  • 3D hardware accelerator chip (Nokia n95) – for games and flash heavy sites.
  • Li-Po 1500 or more mAh would be about nice. (Removable battery necessary).
  • Pico Projector – if it’s not too bulky or power hungry. Perhaps the microvision’s model which does not require focusing optics.
  • Digital compass, Image editor, social networking clients, office editors, good email and IM clients, actually there are way too many to list but I am sure that all of them would be available so no need to go into specifics.
Issues to be concerned about – Heat build-up due to compact size and powerful (from a mobile perspective) electronics. Battery life for the previously mentioned reasons.
This is still a working wish-list and may/will be modified occasionally. Readers are welcome to comment of any feature I have mentioned or any feature I have left out.For more updates - watch this space !!