March 2010


I have this standing policy which I’ve developed over the years – where possible never buy first generation electronic products. Why? Its simple! Most first generation electronic products have an invisible sticker on them that shouts – ‘our experiment. your risk’. What I mean is that most first generation of any electronic product will likely have a number of flaws in them. Whether its the iPod, iPhone, or Asus EeePC model 700 – to name a few – all lacked a number of features that eventually creeped in on succeeding generation. In my opinion, it is a tactic to subtly coerce early adopters to get hooked on the first generation and move on quickly to the second generation.

Awhile back I hinted about my disklike for the BlackBerry Bold (first generation). While the first BlackBerry Bold had leather upholstery on its back panel, I found it heavy (136g versus 109g for BlackBerry Curve 8300). While the screen on the Bold was great it wasn’t a compelling enough feature for me to give up the smaller, lighter and almost the same feature-set Curve 8300.

That said I know many executives who do love the Bold because it felt very solid and truth be told, the leather exterior made it scream – luxury! The Bold also stayed true to its tradition of physical qwerty keyboard because working executives don’t want to waste their time thumbing three times to get to the character they want or even more time retyping a character because the iPhone keeps sensing the wrong key being pressed. After testing HTC, iPhone, Nexus, LG and Samsung touch phones, I can tell you, it pisses me off trying to send an SMS on any of these touch phones because people can’t decipher my short messages or complain how long it takes for me to send a short message.

There is a lot of things to be thankful about the BlackBerry Bold 9700 (I personally prefer to call it Bold 2). RIM took great pains to make this light (16g), smaller (6mm narrower, 5mm shorter, 0.9mm thinner). This last bit tells you the vendor had a hard time trying to figure out where else to trim the phone off. The only thing that the Bold 2 lost out to the Bold 1 is the smaller keyboard. I’m still trying to adjust to this change and it shows because I still fumble when sending sms even though I have a physical keyboard on the Bold 9700. That said the prismic design of the keys may help you adjust faster to the narrow but taller keys.

If there is any feature on the BlackBerry that has kept it the envy of Nokia and other contenders to the business smartphone device is the qwerty keyboard. Thankfully despite some experiments in the curvature and texture, RIM has kept the keys intact.

One thing I am grateful that RIM has finally decided to throw out is the trackball. If you’ve ever used one of those early mouse pointing device (or trackball in my case) you soon discover that the ball collects dust, dirt and introduces these to the contact points inside the device itself. I’ve had my Pearl jam on me many a times – often when I am in harried situations.

Apart from this, the Bold 9700 is a Bold 1 on steroids. It’s got a faster processor, and is a 3G phone so now I can use it in Japan and maybe Korea. Its got one of those HVGA-class screens only found on the HTC Magic. (more…)

When Apple launched the MacBook Air, everyone wanted the “coolness” that the new form factor exuded. At the time it was the slimmest computer you could ever have short of a piece of paper and pen. I certainly swooned over the MacBook Air until I started thinking about the limitations of the design. My wife almost bought one for me until I stopped her citing the technical limitations of the product as the showtoppper for me (USB, expansion, battery, and software to name a few).

Lenovo released the Thinkpad X301 as its answer to MacBook Air. But all Lenovo did was made the Thinkpad skinny enough to come close to the MacBook Air. But the external design remained the boxy look that is the hallmark of the Thinkpad series (until recently anyway).

Today the Adamo (which means “I fall in love with” in Latin) XPS holds the record for the thinnest laptop in the world. At 0.99cm, it is almost half the thickness of the Apple MacBook Air (1.94cm). Tough luck Steve, you had to know it was too good to last! However the Adamo XPS is wider and longer than the MacBook Air which explains why its a tad bit heavier (1.44kg versus 1.36kg for the MacBook Air) – but who can tell the difference?

How did Dell manage to make the Adamo XPS chassis so thin? Simple. Innovative design! The keyboard (which also houses the motherboard) tucks neatly inside the enlarged screen bezel. To open, you swipe your finger in the front bezel just above where you see a white LED. Done properly, a blue light flashes once, reminiscent of the Knight Rider, and the Adamo XPS releases the keyboard to reveal a full-sized aluminium-capped keys. As you pull up the screen, the hinged design raises the back of the keyboard panel that meets the LCD panel, giving you the elevated keyboard placement to counter carpal tunnel syndrome.

As with the MacBook Air, Dell managed to avoid installing noisy fans on the Adamo XPS by sticking it with an ultra low voltage (ULV) Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 CPU. To offset the under performing ULV processors, Dell bundled the Adamo XPS with a 128GB SDD. Combined with 4GB RAM on board, the configuration leaves you feeling appreciative of the speed with which this machine runs. Applications jump at you very quickly – even against my Lenovo Thinkpad X201. In fact, some applications load too quickly (no time to get a cup of water).

The Adamo XPS boasts a 13.4in, 1,366 x 768 LED display. The keyboard takes getting used but I can’t complain as the brushed aluminum keys give you that extra luxurious feel you won’t find anywhere else (not even from Apple). I am a little miffed at the rather small mouse trackpad though. This machine was built to take advantage of Windows 7 so I can’t fathom why Dell would not include a capacitative touch trackpad. How would extra would that cost? (more…)

I’ve observed that people’s choice of mobile phones is largely associated with what they intend to use it for. My wife, for example, prefers the simple Nokia phones – she has four of them over the years. For her, its the ability to make calls and send SMS or text messages. My daughter is into SMS herself but wants the option to have a camera nearby. So she tends to favor her BlackBerry Curve.

However, the nature of consumer electronics is such that we don’t necessarily know what we are getting until we’ve made the purchase. Take my brother who bought a Samsung Omnia i800 last year. Today he uses it mostly to play Solitaire (an expensive toy if you ask me). As for me, I want a device that can (1) make reasonably good calls; (2) keep all my 2,300+ contacts on Outlook; (3) send SMS; (4) I don’t have to charge every day; (5) easily syncs with my Google calendar; and (6) browse the web (for those occasions when I want to check something quickly.

Arguably, Taiwan’s greatest contribution to the world is its engineering prowess. One company that exemplifies this is HTC. In my opinion, HTC has managed to successfully corner the OEM market for windows-based smartphones. In this review I will give my impression of the HTC Hero – one of HTC’s first ventures into the Android operating system. The Hero is not a new phone. It was first reviewed way back in October 2009. I’ve posted the comments of other reviewers at the end of this blog should you desire to read other people’s thoughts.

The Hero is not my first HTC phone. I bought a HTC Touch years ago and have tried my hand on the HTC Diamond as well. The Touch is my first failure in identifying a good phone for my personal use. Its best attribute was being slim. Its worst attributes were everything else.

Likewise I wasn’t too happy with the HTC Diamond. In fact I was pleased that when Diamond 2 came out, HTC did away with the uneven back plate of the previous model. It was just way too uncomfortable to hold and also annoying when stored in your pant pocket. While both phones were endowed with TouchFlo as a way of introducing us to an iPhone like experience, I found TouchFlo to be a pain in the neck to use. Together with the Windows mobile operating system TouchFlo simply made navigating the phone cumbersome. I attributed this to the choice of underpowered processors used in both models.

To say that the Hero comes from the same family as the Touch and Diamond is a sign that HTC is maturing as a manufacturer. Despite what I think is its mistake of using a less then powerful processor, the combination of  Android 1.5 and HTC Sense gives consumers a near iPhone-like experience without the proprietary technology and design that is the hallmark of most Apple produced devices. (more…)

I’ve been using tablet PCs as far back as 2004 when I bought the HP TC1100 with Windows XP Professional Tablet edition. The TC1100 is more of a slate than a tablet PC since you can detach the keyboard and use tap on the screen with a digitizer pen to input commands and text by way of a soft keyboard. On one occasion my daughter borrowed my Tabby (yes, we give names to our computers at home) and many of her classmates thought it was a “cool, new” computer. Once on board a plane I took out Tabby to do some work and the passenger next to me asked what device I was using. I could never fathom why HP would decide to kill this product in favor of a conventional tablet PC with a swivel screen. You can see the slate formfactor of the TC1100 on first season of Bones.

Anyway, Lenovo had its Tabby equivalent in the form of the X61 and more recently the  X200T. The next iteration is the soon to be available X201T.

With Tabby being six years old and nearing retirement I’ve been on the lookout for a  replacement machine. I’ve checked out HP’s TX2 and Dell’s XT2 (ever get the feeling some product marketeers just aren’t that creative?). Both are too heavy for a  truly portable experience. The growing popularity of netbooks certainly made me think of  the possibility of a netbook equipped with a digitizer. True enough a number of tablet  netbook (netvertible) have recently cropped up (see list at the bottom).

The success of the iPod Touch and iPhone shows the possibilities. But even the latest Apple product – the iPad – can’t be construed as a true productivity tool because of its technical limitations. To get a sense of what I mean, click here to watch this video.

One vendor that has been pushing hard and fast in the netbook craze is Lenovo. Lenovo has branded its netbook offering under the label ‘Ideapad’. Early this year, Lenovo launched its first tablet netbook. What is unique about this tablet netbook is Lenovo’s use of a capacitative touchscreen (the same technology used on the  iPhone). This is important because capacitative screens are one of the reasons why the  iPhone and iPod Touch became popular. Unlike resistive screens which require you to put  pressure on the screen to register an action, capacitative screens uses static electricity to initiate an action. The net result is a more fluid experience.

The Lenovo Ideapad S10-3t uses the new Intel Atom Processor N450 which  offers a 40% reduction in power consumption. It is rumored that when the N470 becomes  available, the S10-3t will offer this option as well.

The fact that this is a netbook and not a laptop means you have to be prepared to take things in stride. A standard feature in most laptops and desktop computers is the ability to multi-task, i.e., run a number of applications at the same thing. The good news is that on a netbook you can still multi-task (unlike iPhones, iPod Touch and iPad). The bad news is that depending on the applications you are running, the experience may not be as smooth or satisfying. For example, watching a video while surfing the Internet will result in the inevitable skips or pause in the viewing experience. Don’t fret! This is hordes better than on an Apple iPad where you can’t surf the Internet while writing your memoirs. The Apple iPad OS simply doesn’t support this today. (more…)