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I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world.

In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success.

However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.

At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death.

In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of god of death drawing closer…

Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth…

Should be something that is more important:

Perhaps relationships, perhaps art, perhaps a dream from younger days …

Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.

God gave us the senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought about by wealth.

The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me.

What I can bring is only the memories precipitated by love.

That’s the true riches which will follow you, accompany you, giving you strength and light to go on.

Love can travel a thousand miles. Life has no limit. Go where you want to go. Reach the height you want to reach. It is all in your heart and in your hands.

What is the most expensive bed in the world? – “Sick bed” …

You can employ someone to drive the car for you, make money for you but you cannot have someone to bear the sickness for you.

Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost – “Life”.

When a person goes into the operating room, he will realize that there is one book that he has yet to finish reading – “Book of Healthy Life”.

Whichever stage in life we are at right now, with time, we will face the day when the curtain comes down.

Treasure Love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends…

Treat yourself well. Cherish others.

When I got the Canon G1X as a birthday present I thought I was getting an upgrade from my G10. To be honest I’ve had my G10 for over three years and remain very happy with it. G10 photos when taken with the external flash are reasonably good. So why would one consider upgrading to the G1X? Indeed except for the new sensor and better video shooting quality, the G1X actually looks like a downgrade from the G12.

WHAT I LIKE

The G1X features a large CMOS sensor that is just 20% smaller than those found on digital SLRs. This 1.5” CMOS sensor is about 6 times larger than that found in most digital compact cameras. So the theory is that you should be able to get better, sharper shots with the G1X compared to other cameras. Alas the CMOS sensor is the primary and mostly significant saving grace of this camera – it’s mostly downhill from here. Ok, before I list out the litany of misfires, the G1X is able to capture 14-bit RAW image files (if you are into this) and, like the other G series, can shoot in lower resolutions of 7MP, 2MP and 0.2MP for those occasions when you have to sacrifice quality just to be able to take some photos. It can take 16:9, 3:2 and 1:1 aspect ratios in addition to the standard 4:5.

A feature I like with some of the EOS cameras is the ability to shoot HD video. The G1X shoots 1080p Full HD at 24fps. You can downgrade this to 720p and 640×480 VGA if the need arises. Finally with an ISO range of 100 to 12,800 in standard mode, the G1X ups the ante in light sensitivity compared to its predecessors. For instance, the G12’s top setting is ISO 3200.

Thankfully, Canon kept the built-in 3-stop Neutral Density filter allowing you to shoot at slower speeds in bright conditions. The G1 X supports HDR mode that can automatically capture and then blend three images at different EV values for enhanced dynamic range. This is a cool trick to have when you are not absolutely sure what the best light setting is for a particular scene.

One of the things I liked with the G11 and G12 was the vari-angle LCD monitor. This allows you to shoot at odd angles. You can also fold it back towards the body to protect it from scratches when the camera is not in use.

Like my old G10, the G1X offers multiple exposure options including Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual. In addition to full automatic mode, it has 13 individually selectable Scene modes and a selection of digital effects.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Here we go. The G1X’s optical zoom has been downgraded from 5x on the G12 to 4x. So if you’re a budding paparazzi this camera may not be your default compact of choice.

Few compact cameras with the exception of the Canon G series come equip with an external viewfinder. This feature is great for shooting in bright conditions. However, the G1X only covers 77% of the frame and at a slightly offset angle from the true lens view. So you will need to remember this when composing the shot otherwise you may inadvertently crop your shot.

One of the attractions of compact cameras is the small built for easy portability. Unfortunately, Canon forgot this concept when they created the G1X – it is noticeably bigger than the G12 and arguably stretches the definition of ‘compact’. The lens of the G1X is huge as it juts out of the body by around 35mm rather than sitting flush like my old G10. I understand this is because of the larger sensor used – It requires a wider image circle, which in turn requires a larger lens.

Having used the G1X for sometime now, I noticed that the camera is sluggish when going through the menu of controls and features. Unfortunately this sluggishness is not limited to when skimming through the control menus.

The G1X autofocus speed is very slow for an expensive camera. In good light and with a target that is a reasonable distance the AF was unable to lock (and therefore shot). This becomes progressively worst as lighting conditions degrade. I’ve been disappointed on several occasions when I need to shot a moving object. This inability to focus on a target gets even more serious when taking macro shots. Let me make it simple for you – if you like taking macro shots a lot, this isn’t the camera for you.

This slow speed extends to burst mode. Once again the G1X fails miserably here. For an advanced compact camera like the G1X and with a heritage like Canon you wonder what were the engineers thinking when they were designing the G1X.

CONCLUSION

I will be at fault not to give credit where credit is due. The G1X takes very good images when the settings and conditions are right. For the prosumer photographer, the ISO performance of the G1X will be its saving grace. Canon engineers have done their homework here with the G1X delivering almost noise-free images from 100 to 3200. You do start to see some noise at ISO 6400 and 12800 but, come on, this is a compact camera – not a DSLR.

As someone who has been taking photos for more than 30 years, the G1X fails in so many other ways that you can argue, Canon cannot be forgiven for letting these technical slips go unnoticed. So many factors influence the outcome of a shot. End of the day though if the camera can’t focus, the shot can’t be taken, and you’ve lost that fleeting memory. What do you do?

I am guessing that some of these deficiencies can be corrected with a software tweak. So far, Canon hasn’t been forthcoming on this.

PHOTOS

If you want one of those video reviews, try this one:

Most everyone needs a phone these days. While there are those who still prefer a feature phone over a smartphone, the plummeting prices of smartphones should eventually kill the feature except for those who really prefer a physical keyboard.

But how cheap is cheap? If you check out Chinavasion you can spot really cheap smartphones for prices as low as HK$574 for the DOOGEE Voyager DG300 handset. How can a manufacturer sell a smartphone at that price and still make money? Your guess is as good as mine. But there is a good chance that they trim the fat around to come down to a bottom-basement price. Whilst Chinavasion claims this dual core Android 4.2 phone features a 5-inch IPS Screen, 960X540 QHD display and MT6572 1GHz CPU, and comes with a full year warranty. I am just not sure if anyone has ever tested that one year warranty.

I know from experience that getting support for your Samsung gadget at their local service centre is like going to the dentist – painful.

With that in mind, I happen to attend the launch of the Lumia 535 Dual SIM smartphone from Microsoft. The company calls this an affordable smartphone with advanced features like a 5-inch, 960 x 540 screen; Snapdragon 200 processor; 5MP cameras front and rear

Manufacturer. Wait! That reads like the DG300 above. So why would I buy the Lumia 535 phone? For one thing, you are paying for all the extra things that come from a branded phone.

One benefit of buying a Microsoft smartphone is longevity. The Lumia series are generally classed as durables following their Nokia heritage. Microsoft has also made it a point to upgrade its Windows Phone operating system regularly and so far, most of the early Lumia phones can be upgraded to the new OS – like the iPhones.

The Lumia 535 Dual SIM retail’s for HK$1,298. You can probably get it for free from your “friendly neighbourhood” local carrier.

Like its more expensive siblings the Lumia 535 has a sharp display even if it’s only a 960×540 resolution. You can see the phone when out and about. The 5-MP front facing camera with a wide angle lens makes this a selfie lover’s dream particularly for those on a tight budget. Most smartphones across any price range are handicapped with their cameras – front or rear – particularly when you want to capture a wide shot. The Lumia 535 doesn’t suffer from this condition. It’s therefore great for group selfies.

I understand that operators in Hong Kong want their customers to move over to 4G – to get consumer addicted to using more data – but the reality is that 3G phone is good enough for just about anything a regular user would ever need – PERIOD!

The Lumia 535 may look like it is skimping on storage – given the 8MB in-built storage – but Microsoft made sure you can expand this device to 128MB – something other higher end smartphones refuse to do. The back cover is removal so you can change the battery – again something many of the more expensive phones simply can’t do.

In Hong Kong where government statistics claim that people have more than two phones on average – the Lumia 535 Dual SIM may find life as a second phone. Certainly, if you are not into Microsoft but fancy an affordable full featured phone, the Lumia 535 Dual SIM gives you all you will ever need and it may likely outlast any Android smartphone you buy in the market – branded or not! As an ex-Android user, I find it disappointing to be left in the lurch each time Google updates its popular phone OS. Vendors like Sony, LG and Samsung take their time to upgrade their phone’s OS – if at all. In this regard both Apple and Microsoft live up to their responsibility of creating products with a longer-than-average shelf life.

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The first time I saw the Nokia Lumia 1020 was during its maiden product launch in Hong Kong. I must admit I was drawn by the rather inspiring video showing the work that went into the camera. Sure it was a shameless work of marketing but from a real mechanical shutter covering the 41MP sensor to the optical image stabilization (OIS) mechanics, this is – in my view – a class all its own.

I’ve read comments complaining about the 1020’s hump housing the 41MP camera and flash. Seriously, has anyone ever looked at the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom? Compared to the 1020’s ‘hump’, the S4 Zoom is like a camel’s back!

This is a short review as I plan to follow it up with a review of the various software add-ons that Nokia introduced alongside the new hardware.

Display: The Lumia 1020 comes with a 4.5-inch 1280 x 720 touchscreen display. Like its 920 and 926 siblings, the Lumia 1020 comes with a Clear Bright screen that you can easily see in outside bright conditions. Apple, LG, Samsung and Sony should figure out how they can deliver the same experience with their smartphones as Nokia’s smartphones including the 1020.

Audio: The 1020 has two microphones (top and bottom). The top mic, which sits next to the SIM card tray and the 3.5mm headset jack is for noise cancellation.

Buttons: The right side of the 1020 has a volume rocker, power and standby button and a dedicated camera button (other smartphones allow you to program one of the buttons to become a camera button but they have no dedicated camera button out of the box).

Weight: Despite the added components for OIS and the 41MP sensor, the 1020 is actually lighter (158g) than its sibling the 920 – its slimmer (130.4mm x 71.4mm x 10.4mm) too.

Connectivity: The 1020 comes with Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and LTE.

Other internals: With the release of the 64-bit A7 processor on the iPhone 5S, you’d wonder why Nokia would handicap the 1020 with a measly Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.5GHz processor. The reality is that combined with a decent 2GB RAM, the 1020 is actually fast. The Windows Phone 8 OS hasn’t slowed down the 1020 either. In fact, it’s still a relatively fast camera/phone.

Operating System: The 1020 ships with Windows Phone 8 called Amber which includes some new features like double tap the display to turn it on, or flip your phone over to silence it. Live tiles work as expected.

Apps: Nokia’s choice of Windows Phone as its operating system means it is handicap by the perception that it doesn’t have a sufficient number of apps on it. That could be a handicap if you are want to run all 875,721 apps currently available on Android or the 900,000 apps for IOS. But the truth of the matter is that the average user will only use about 30 apps over the lifetime of the device. I haven’t been able to find a listing of how many solitaire apps are on either platforms.

A real problem to date with the apps though is the lack of a centralized notification system. What happens is you have to scroll down just to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

I have a Samsung S3 and have 20 apps on it – a smorgasborg of tools and a smattering of games. But recently I observed that my phone has started to significantly slow down and while no one – neither the folks responsible for Android or the tech support people at Samsung – can give me an adequate explanation for what is happening, I have surmised that its partly due to incompatibilities between some of the apps and the OS itself. Sure, we get free upgrades on a regular basis but you start to worry at some point whether all your apps are optimized to both the hardware and the OS. Chances are – they are not!

The 1020 comes with a Xenon flash giving you a white balance closer to daylight compared to the blue hue you get when using the LED flash on most smartphones. The Xenon flash comes in handy when you are shooting photos at an event – range is good. The result is better than most phone, and some digicam, flashes out in the market today, including the high-end offerings out in the market today.

Camera: Make no mistake Nokia is very much focused on the digital imaging experience. The Nokia Pro Cam software is intuitive and comes with controls like manual focus and exposure you can find in prosumer cameras. Of course, you can always rely on the everything auto setting – it works too!

A unique feature of the 1020 is its default setting of creating two files for every shot you make – a 5MP oversampled photo and a 34MP (16:9) or 38MP (4:3) photo. The 5MP is for use on Twitter, Facebook or sharing via e-mail. The 34MP and 38MP is for downloading into a computer for editing or printing.

Do you really need a 34MP shot? I saw a demo where you are zoom to any part of a 34MP shot and get a consistent detail on virtually any part of the image – it’s like magic, and its freaky scary.

Limitations: The 1020 comes with a maximum of 32MB storage and no option for external storage – so you wonder how many 5MP and 34MP/38MP shots you can store on the 1020 before you have to start connected the device to your laptop or SkyDrive to offload photos. It also has a 2000 mAh battery and no option to swap batteries so you will have to buy one of those external, portable battery packs to charge your 1020 on the move. There are two options available. In Hong Kong, Nokia is offering an external case that comes with a built-in battery – the Camera Grip or by making some adjustments. There are two options available.

Continuous photo shooting for extended periods is also a problem. I’ve observed erratic performance when it comes to shooting photos in rapid succession. The camera takes a second to focus and shoot – sometimes it works a little faster, sometimes it doesn’t. So action photos and instances that require you to get a shot at just the right moment may not happen with the 1020.

WHAT I LIKE

The 1020 is a camera first and a phone second. It is, for me, the answer to having both a camera and a phone day-in, day-out. It won’t replace my Canon G1X or my old Nikon D70 but I don’t have to carry anything extra with me every day. The 1020’s 5MP photos are simply better than my Samsung S3 or my wife’s iPhone 5. Lossless zoom is a nice freebie courtesy of the 34MP/38MP with the zoomed-in photo is a blessing. The 1020’s battery is not bad.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

I love the Live Tiles but the lack of notification is a something I’d like to have.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a solid smartphone to own – and can hold its own against even the more technically souped up spec of the likes of Samsung S4, iPhone 5S or Nexus 5. There is a small learning curve to get off Android or IOS and ride the Windows Phone 8 bandwagon but I don’t think I know 70% of what my S3 running Android 4.2 today. So I can’t rightly complain about Windows Phone 8.

I think that the most popular apps will eventually come into the Windows Phone 8 platform – it’s just a matter of time. Microsoft does need to work to attract developers to help. For its part, Nokia has been working to deliver value to the Lumia series on its own.

I will stop here with this review and leave the review of the more exotic photoshooting experience for another session.

PHOTOS
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The good: The Nokia Lumia 920 can hold its own against the current Samsung Galaxy S series and Apple iPhone.

The bad: The availability of apps designed for the Windows platform remains the single biggest hurdle that Nokia faces as it tries to jockeys for third position (amidst a very crowded race with BlackBerry, HTC) in the mobile hardware device race (do I have to spell out who is in first and second spot?)

The ugly: The truth is that financial analysts, industry analysts and the media are probably stacked up against Nokia ever regaining its lustre as the mobile phone for the in crowd. I am not even sure whether its partnership with Microsoft is a lifesaver or an anchor.

I am writing this review on July 7, 2013, nine months from the time Nokia announced the Lumia 920 and seven months since the product was released so this is to a certain dated. So why do the review? To be clear this is not a full review. Go down to the end of this article for some of the best reviews I’ve read.

I was handed a Nokia Lumia 920 and my first impression is that it is big! By this I mean it is bulkier (130.3 x 70.8 x 10.7 mm) than my SGS3 (136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm) without the SGS3’s Otterbox protective case. When housed on the Otterbox Commuter case, the SGS3 is bulkier by a couple of mm. Its also quite heavy at 185g which makes the SGS3 a lightweight at 133g and you can feel it. Of course with weight usually it means it also feels more solid to the hand (its an illusion I keep telling myself).

This is a recap of my experience and experiments with Nokia and Microsoft Windows mobile. My favorite Nokia phone is the Nokia 8110 – the banana phone. To be honest while my wife adores her Nokia phones (she’s had about five over the years), I’ve never been a fan of the Symbian Nokia stuck with for many years. I have used Windows mobile OS (CE, pocket pc, Windows mobile and now Windows phone). I fell in love with the Windows Mobile 7 and its use of tiles – I actually thought it was not only cool but made navigation easy. A full generation and two years, the next generation Windows Phone 8 (Microsoft renamed Windows Mobile to Windows Phone – and yes it confused the heck out of me too).

HARDWARE

At the time that Nokia launched the Lumia 920, it boasted hardware comparable to any available from Samsung, Apple and HTC. In fact BlackBerry was still teasing the world with rumors of a re-engineered device and platform when Nokia unveiled its newest flagship. It comes with a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Krait CPU and a 114 mm (4.5″ 1280 x 768 resolution) IPS TFT LCD display, capacitive touchscreen covered by curved Gorilla Glass. It supports inductive (wireless) charging, 8.7 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens-equipped PureView camera with optical image stabilization, 32 GB internal storage, and arguably the only touch phone that can be used with gloves worn by the user.

I am not a fan of bright colors but when you consider that every Tom, Dick and Harry phone comes in either black, white or silver, Nokia’s fresh coat of colors (cyan, yellow and red) are a welcome change. I bought a red sleeve for my Nexus 7 because I wanted to easily identify it from the pile of stuff on my desk. Nokia endowed the Lumia 920 with a unibody polycarbonate design,

The Lumia 920 connects via dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS and NFC. I own a Samsung Galaxy S3 and I can tell you that it is virtually useless the minute I step out into the sun. No amount of cupping will let me see what’s on the damn phone – thank you Samsung!

Thankfully, the Lumia 920 is a bit better to look out in the open thanks to polarizing filters and a very impressive 600 nits of max brightness. I love watching videos or looking at photos on the Lumia 920. With a 60Hz refresh rate and deep, rich blacks, the Lumia 920 beats phones equipped with AMOLED and Super AMOLED displays.

The Lumia 920 is heavy 185g and you can feel the heft even against the Samsung Galaxy Note II (183g). But its curves beat the shit out of the boxy Sony Xperia phones (one of the worst designs I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying out).

When I showed the Lumia 920 to my wife she was immediately drawn to the bright yellow polycarbonate shell. The high gloss hardened surface remind me of a high quality auto finish (it helps when you have a yellow that’s reminiscent of Lamborghini and a red that’s just a tad cooler than Ferrari red). To complement the auto finish shine are bottoms made with a ceramic finish.

SOFTWARE

I’d be lying if I said using Windows Phone is easy. If any it was traumatic and this is for someone like me who has used Windows CE, Android, IOS and Symbian 40. While I abhor Apple’s insistence of using iTunes to add or remove content from the device, I am at times at a lost trying to navigate the innards of my Android phone. I do love the use of Live Tiles and the fact that the tile sizes can be adjusted makes the user interface (UI) even more appealing. But beyond the Live Tiles, mastering the basics of a Windows Phone demands a concerted effort on the part of the user to learn something new.

Thankfully the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia included the integration of some of the best innovations from Nokia, including Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive Beta offering the option to download maps for offline use, as well as spoken turn-by-turn directions.

Nokia Music features a very cool “mix radio” feature where you can stream playlists across a wide variety of genres absolutely free. You can also download playlist tunes for offline listening. Microsoft music player, XBOX Music, is also included out of the box. If you have an iTunes library, you can load your own music via the included USB cable. The Lumia 920 can also be used as a mass storage drive in Windows to drag and drop music, videos and documents onto the phone. Forget iTunes!

The Lumia 920 is equipped with Dolby headphone software with EQ bringing the best in even in your expensive headphones: no distortion with clear trebles and full bass.

Like most Android phone, the Lumia 920 comes with email client support for most email types including Exchange, Gmail, IMAP and POP3. Synching with Gmail, Google Contacts and Calendar using IMPA push is a breeze.

Needless to say, this smartphone comes equipped with the mobile version of MS Office that works with Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint files. It works with locally stored files, email attachments and documents on your Skydrive or Office 365 share.

When I met some executives from Nokia earlier this year they kept pointing me in the direction of the Nokia PureView Camera and the Lumia 920’s ability to produce clear, sharp photos even in dim light. The Lumia 920 can easily beat any photos taken by dedicated digital cameras. The rear camera includes a backside illuminated sensor, fat f/2.0 26mm Carl Zeiss lens with dual LED flash and optical image stabilization. The front f/2.4 1.2MP camera does 720p video for sharp video chat.

The Nokia Lumia 920 has a non-swappable 2000 mAh Lithium Ion polymer battery. During the test period, I managed to use the phone for a whole day without recharging. Like Android, it I capable of true multi-tasking (unlike the iPhone’s distorted interpretation of multi-tasking.

CONCLUSION

The Nokia Lumia 920 is deserving of its position as Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone. It feels solid to the hand.  The 4.5” IPS display offers crisp excellent contrast. Despite the lack of a SD card, its 32GB internal storage is more than sufficient to store your favorite movies, photos and music for those long or short trips.

I only have two gripes about it: weight and the steep learning curve re-adapting to the Windows OS; and the other the lack of apps. Otherwise this is a superb phone to own.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Display: 4.5″ capacitive multi-touch IPS display with enhanced sensitivity (works with fingernails and gloves). 60Hz refresh rate, Gorilla Glass. Resolution: 1280 x 728, 600 nits brightness, supports both portrait and landscape modes.

Battery: rechargeable 2000 mAh Lithium Ion with support for Qi wireless charging.

Processor: 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual core CPU with Adreno 225 graphics.

Memory: 1GB RAM and 32GB internal storage.

Size: 130.3 mm x 70.8 mm x 10.7 mm.

Weight: 185g.

Phone: GSM quad band with UMTS/HSPA+ and 4G LTE on AT&T Has mobile hotspot feature.

Camera: 1.2MP front camera and rear 8.7MP PureView camera with dual LED flash that can shoot 100p video. BSI, f/2.0 lens with optical image stabilization.

Audio: Built in speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headset jack.

Networking: Integrated dual WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC.

Software: Windows Phone 8. Internet Explorer 10 mobile with HTML5 support, MS Office Mobile, XBOX Music, XBOX video, full PIM suite (calendar, contacts, notes and email) with syncing to MS Exchange, Google services and POP3/IMAP email. Games hub, People Hub, Nokia Drive, Nokia Transit and Nokia Music.

Expansion: None.

Click here for more detailed technical specs

OTHER REVIEWS

Techradar

Brighthand

Digital Trends

Techterms.com defines a laptop as portable a computer that you can take with you and use in different environments. It comes with a battery allowing it to operate without being plugged into a power outlet. Laptops were originally lower powered versions of desktop computers but advances in manufacturing and industrial design engineering have enabled laptops to perform nearly as well as their desktop counterparts.

I’ve been in the IT industry for these 29 years and have worked on computers – desktops and laptops – for majority of those years. There was a time when I would be content working on a 10″ tablet (HP TC1100C) and for a while my ideal laptop, prioritizing on weight over power, was a 12″ laptop. When I turned half a century I realized that my priorities for laptops needed to adjust to my age: weight and size (real estate) of screen. I validated the latter last year when I bought a 14″ Dell laptop to replace by 8-year old iMac 15. Dick, our Dell 14z, was a beautiful machine powered by an Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge with 8GB RAM. For much of my requirements – video editing and writing, this was the workhorse I will be needing for years to come (hopefully until the day I retired). Dick has one problem that I didn’t consider at the time we were buying it – weight. At 1.98kg, I was under the impression that 1.98kg or 4.356lb was acceptable weight to carry around. I was damn wrong! When you add the charger and carry bag, that 1.98kg easily jumps to 3.95kg – a lot of weight when you consider that you will carrying paper plus other stuff.

It used to be carrying 4kg of stuff on a backpack isn’t such a bad idea but as I said when you get passed the point of no return (50 years) even 3kg can easily weigh you down. So when the financial opportunity came to get a second laptop an ultrabook seemed the only viable option (at least for me).

Reading as many reports as I could muster and going through models from Lenovo, Acer, Asus, HP, Toshiba, Dell and Samsung, I was looking for a laptop that met my minimum criteria of weight (total weight of laptop + charger + bag) of 3kg and screen size of 14″.

The arrival of ultrabooks was just what I was waiting for. Intel’s ultrabook specifications meant I could look forward to a laptop that a screensize of at least 13 inch and weight of XX kg or less. For the record though I have to note that there have been lightweight laptops long before the ultrabook specification came about. Sony and Apple have been at the forefront of these lightweight computers. Apple with their under powered MacbookAirs (MBA) and Sony with their overpriced VAIO T series (followed by S and recently Z).

At the end of the day, my wallet went for a Samsung S9 15″ laptop for a number of reasons: 15″ HD screen, 1.65kg machine with a 0.32kg charger. It came with a black leather sleeve which was cool.

The S9 I bought is marked NP900X4C and is the third generation in the series. It sports the same fingerprint-resistant, bluish-gray aluminum unibody and tapered design. Measuring 356.9 x 237.0 x 14.9mm and weighing 1.65kg, the NP900X4C is sleek and light besting the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z.

Its its predecessor, the keyboard is shallow and takes getting used to. The NP900X4C comes with backlighted keys though, seriously, with 400-nit SuperBright screen, the backlighting feature is a mute point. It comes with a generous 109.22 x 73.66mm touchpad. The reviews I read report that Samsung has greatly improved the accuracy and performance of the trackpad on the NP900X4C but, in my view, it still much to be desired (I am using a Bluetooth mouse right now to get better at working on the S9). At least it supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger-swipe.

The NP900X4C comes with a 15-inch (diagonal) 1600 x 900-pixel matte display registering 368 lux on the light meter (a downgrade from the previous generation’s 399 lux – the higher the lux the brighter the screen). To be honest, the Dell XPS 15 offers a far better resolution at 1920 x 1080p display, while the Sleekbook 6z’s 1366 x 768. The average ultraportable sports a brightness of 232 lux.

The NP900X4C follows the tradition of many ultrabooks – bad sound reproduction, particularly in the subwoofer range but it manages to maintain accuracy even at full volume.

The NP900X4C, for the most part, runs cool to the touch except the upper-middle of the underside which can easily warm up to about 33 degrees Celsius. Thankfully it doesn’t get much hotter – compared to Dick, my Dell XPS 14z which runs well above 38.

The Apple MacbookAir was the first of these lightweight laptops to sport very few ports. Thankfully the NP900X4C comes with two USB 3.0 ports, a powered USB 2.0 port, a 4-in-1 card reader, microHDMI port, mini-VGA port (you need to spend extra for the Adaptor) and a combo headphone/mic 3.5mm jack. It also comes with a micro (10-100-1000) Ethernet port (thankfully an adapter is included). It comes with Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6235, 2 x 2 802.11abg/n (up to 300Mbps) with Widi support and Bluetooth V4.0.

The NP900X4C has a 1.3-MP webcam and can capture video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 1024. The camera renders colors accurately and crisply.

The NP900X4C comes with the new Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3517U (1.90GHz, 4MB L3 Cache), 8GB RAM and 256GB SDD. Unfortunately, Samsung uses the slower SanDisk U100 SSD instead of the much faster Samsung mSATA drives in the second generation S9 – boooooo! Despite its choice of SanDisk SSD, the NP900X4C boots Windows 7 in just 23 seconds which is 20 seconds faster than the average ultraportable (45 seconds). The Dell XPS 15 boots at 46 seconds while the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z takes 43 seconds to boot Windows 7. Wake up from sleep mode is about 2 seconds.

Most ultrabooks sporting the new IVY Bridge CPU use the built-in Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip. Watching HD videos is fine with this graphics processor, just don’t complain when playing HD video games on this laptop.

The NP900X4C has a built-in 8-cell 62Wh battery and is expected to last about 7 hours.

The NP900X4C comes preloaded with Samsung Easy Settings which allows users to adjust battery settings, display and audio properties, keyboard backlighting and other settings. Easy Software Manager downloads and installs updates and drivers, while Easy Support Center can run checks on the notebook’s hardware to ensure that it’s running at optimal speeds. It also comes with Microsoft Office Starter 2010. If you want PowerPoint for free, download Star Office.

WHAT I LIKE

The S9 is, at the moment, the only slim laptop with a 15″ screen. Most ultrabooks out in the market follow Intel’s ultrabook specification of 13″ screen. To be fair Samsung never said the S9 series is an ultrabook. If you want to be strict about it, the Samsung S5 are marketed as ultrabooks.

For me, part of what attracts me to buy the Samsung S9 was the 15″ screen AND 1.65kg weight. Anything else is a bonus.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Price! This is an expensive unit. I bought it for US$1,666. This is already a discount from the suggested Hong Kong retail price of US$1,792. Samsung has never been competitive when it comes to price. I think it thinks that its brand is sufficiently at par with Sony to warrant the premium. Incidentally, the 13″ S9 retails for US$1,766 with 4GB RAM and 128GB HDD. This part confuses me as to how Samsung could charge so much for the smaller sibling when it competes with similarly configured machines at about half the price.

CONCLUSION

The Samsung S9 NP900X4C stays true to its marketing as a sleek, elegant machine with uncompromising build quality. If you are after price, choose either the Samsung S5 or Dell, Asus, Acer and so many other ultrabooks. Even Sony has its S series (the top of the line for Sony is the Z series). The Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition and the Asus Zenbook UX31 are good machines to try out. When I first started on the path to get an ultrabook I was consider the Lenovo Thinkpad X230 and Carbon X1, the Lenovo ideapad U410 or U510, and Acer S5.

As for me, for better or for worst, I choose to buy the Samsung third generation Series 9 NP900X4C. It is my first Samsung computer and I am hoping that despite my early hesitation, I didn’t make a mistake with this one. At the very least I did not regret not buying a Macbook Pro or Macbook Air – that would be a bigger mistake for me.

I did mention earlier that I went through as much reviews of competitive laptops as I could get my hands on. I even went to the Wanchai Computer Mall to look at the ultrabooks available in the market. At the time there was no 15″ S9 available for me to look at. I was almost hooked on the 13″ Sony VAIO Z series because it was light and beautiful. But when I held the upper left and upper right corners of the lid, there was visible flexing of the screen. It was scary. It showed to what extent vendors were willing to compromise on the build to keep the machine light. That was enough for me to decide on the S9. The aluminum case, while contributes to the heft, also protects the expensive innards of this machine.

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I’ve been to places like Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Seoul, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in California, and Paris. I’ve also been on popular holiday destinations like Phuket, Pattaya and Six Senses in Thailand, and Tenerife in the Canary Islands. But in all my travels few destinations – whether on holiday or business – have impressed me as much as London in the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

I am impressed because I find Brits generally very friendly people – about as accommodating as Japanese people in helping strangers find their way. Whether it is apologizing for accidentally touching you as they whisk by, or offering assistance when they see you struggling with your luggage, or pointing you in the right direction when you are lost, the charm of Londoners is there.

The other bit that impresses is the seemingly strong bond of its people to the country’s history and heritage. It is something that many cultures around the world appear to be slowly losing as its people adopt a more contemporary lifestyle.

I was told that the general weather in London is mostly gloomy for most of the year. I was also told that the period we chose to visit London would likely be the peak of Summer (though I always of summer as being at least a couple of months not weeks). The following is a diary of the eight days we were in London – summer of 2012.

Day one: Arrived at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3. Our CX flight landed in London on schedule. While there was a long line of arrivals at the Immigration counter (we were on row 6 when we queued up) the processing was very efficient. We were out at the luggage carousels within 45 minutes after joining the immigration queue. I was expecting to be stuck there as I’ve always been when arriving at major airports like Beijing, Tokyo, San Francisco and Los Angeles. We eventually decided to board our first “Tube” ride. It was only when I looked at the “Tube Map” that I realized how complex the London public transport system was and how dwarfish, in comparison, was Tokyo’s train system. Despite this being our first trip to London, we found our hotel easy enough (after asking for directions twice). I distinctly remember my Paris adventure where I got lost more than a few times both inside the train and outside, just trying to find direction towards my hotel. My last surprise of the day was realizing that the sun set at past 8pm. I was told this is typical summer in London – very long days. Having traveled over 12 hours we decided to sleep off the trip and get ready for a hectic next day.

 

Day two: I booked the family for an out-of-town excursion – Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge via Premium Tours. The coach (buses refer to public transport within the city whilst coaches are public transport that take you out of town) picked us up and hustled us to Victoria Station where we boarded a double decker coach. Gary, our tour guide, offered us tidbits of information about London’s history from ancient to modern civilization – it’s like a crash course in London history. My experience touring the grounds of Windsor Castle was comparable to the Palace of Versailles in France – lots of history I can barely remember. The decadence and opulence is mind boggling. Certainly I wondered if there gap between royalty and the poor at the time is comparable to our time. At one point I wondered if a thousand years from now, people in the future will think that the excesses of the 20th and 21st century would be viewed in much the same way. Lunch was ‘Fish and Chips’ at a local diner.

Next stop was a drive to the city of Bath. Along the way, Gary regaled us in Roman history and the Bath came to be. He hinted that our tour did not include entrance tickets to the Roman Bath or the Pump Rooms. Not wanting to spend more monies to see someone’s bath tub or some ancient pumps, we elected to have hot drinks and piping hot pastry at West Cornwall Pasty. That gave us almost an hour to shop. Long before coming to London, I was warned that prices for everything in London is expensive and that I should be prepared to budget at least 50 British Pounds per person per day to cover food and transportation. I didn’t factor in that this was summer sale period and that outside of food and transportation, UK and European branded products may actually be cheaper than the same brands selling in Hong Kong. I found the discounts for shoes sufficiently acceptable.

The last leg of the tour was Stonehenge, and this is where the disappointment was at its peak. Gary jinxed it when he said “the rain stopped!” as we disembarked from the coach and headed to the ticketing booth to get our entrance tickets. The rain and wind were sufficiently strong to force us to cut short our tour. Umbrellas were no match for the torrent so we scampered back to the coach and scooted our way back to the city (which surprisingly was comfortably dry). We managed to get a few photos taken but really I didn’t get a chance to experience the serenity of the place – to see firsthand if indeed these large blocks of stones were hauled and assembled into their position by ET and his extraterrestrial buddies.

 

Day three:  The morning began with a trek to London Bridge Station wandering aimlessly for a few minutes looking for the London Dungeon – which uses London’s nefarious history to create a sense of fear among its visitors. I am not sure how much of what was said was not exaggerated but the smell, sight and sounds certainly were entertaining at some points in the 90-minute tour. Next we took the train and headed off to Madame Tussaud‘s wax museum on Marylebone Road (exit off Baker Street station). Before entering the place we had a quick bite an Italian restaurant (expensive for a crappy meal but what can you expect this is London). I was expecting to be bored at the wax museum and to my surprise I found some of the replicas interesting. There was also a 4D short with Marvel Super Heroes (the script was extremely bad – not sure if this was sanctioned by the owners of the brand). It was a good couple of hours though of photo taking.

We took the afternoon off being tourists and met JJ (Ester’s classmate and close friend) and her son, Ralph, over on Oxford Circus, Oxford Street, to shop around. Oxford Circus is akeen to Singapore’s Orchard Road or Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong. While the group hopped from one store to another I went about to find a WiFi hotspot so I can check some stuff. We ended the evening with a dinner in a Thai restaurant manned by mostly Italian staff. The food is, as expected, westernized Thai so my expectations were tempered. Nonetheless it was interesting how such a place was packed, noisy and requiring a bit of patience to enjoy the company dining with you.

 

Day four:  As early as we could we took a slow ride on the London Eye – snapped as much photos as we could – and then ran off to the Sea Life (which is just a few minutes’ walk from the London Eye). A quick note here – if you’ve ever been to Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, Sea Life is just a fraction of the size of Ocean Park.

After a brisk lunch we took the Underground over to Victoria station to escort Abi to the Victoria coach station that will whisk her off to meet her friend in Southampton. Soon as her coach left we headed straight to the Science Museum on South Kensington station. To be honest the Science Museum was a disappointment for me. Yes! I was impressed with the two floors dedicated to medical science but the remaining floors from third to second weren’t as impressive for me. There was the flight simulator but only for kids and the queue was long. Lots of science stuff on liquids, gases, solids and light. Quite frankly for the age of my group: 18 to 50+, the Science Museum wasn’t as exciting. We scooted off to next door Natural History Museum and we knew we hit gold soon as we stepped into the foyer. We spent a good couple of hours touring the different sections of the museum. After all the history, we finally agreed to call it a day.

 

Day five: We took an early morning Thames River cruise in the direction of Greenwich (I keep hearing people say greenich). The co-captain of the boat acted as our cruise guide noting places of ‘tourist’ importance. We disembarked on Greenwich – notable for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time. The Cutty Sark (reconstructed sea clipper) was on display in all her majesty. The Royal Observatory would have been a nice place to visit but because of the Olympics, the entire section was closed to tourists. We couldn’t take the cable car to cross the river so instead we walked the length of the river through an underwater/underground 800-meter tunnel linkinf Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs. It was surprisingly very cool so the walk was a pleasant stroll. The highlight of our visit was the local market where we had a taste of what I think is steak served with cooked potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. The market comprised of many small stalls selling a variety of stuff from shirts, souvenir plates, costume jewellery and food. If they had chairs and tables it would have been a nice place to sit idly the afternoon.

After lunch we walked back to the pier and took a quick ferry to the Tower of London. There was a long crowd of people queuing to pay 20 pounds per person to see the palace and the jewels. We opted to just walk the streets in the direction of St. Paul’s Cathedral as the Tower of London tourist crowd was just too stifling. St Paul’s Cathedral is majestic and awe inspiring even for non-Christians. Like many visitors to this ancient shrine to Christian belief, we climbed 259 steps from the Cathedral floor to the Whispering Gallery so called because you can hear what another person is saying even from across the entire length of the dome. We sat for a few moments on stone benches overlooking the center of the church. We didn’t dare go up the remaining 119 steps to the Stone Gallery, which encircles the base of the dome on its exterior. Neither did we take a further 200 steps to the Golden Gallery, which would give you a 360 view of London, with views of the River Thames, Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre among other landmarks. My insurance doesn’t cover stupidity.

After St. Paul’s Cathedral we took a short trip a quick detour around the London Museum for a quick study on London history. Truthfully I am never one to like to live in the past so it didn’t take long before we were on our way to Harrods on Brompton Road (via Knightsbridge station) to see what the rich and wealthy do all their MONEY! We left Harrods richer by not spending a dime and just taking photos outside the store. By 8pm we were on our way home.

 

Day six: We took a 30-minute train ride to New Malden to meet JJ and her family. We went to Kingston by bus, had Chinese buffet for lunch, shopped around the small mall and had dinner at La Tasca, a restaurant specializing in Spanish cuisine. While the venue itself was deserving of a gold star, the service and the food were deserving of nothing short of a scolding in restauranteur 101. Service was bad, we were served the wrong order, and overall it was expensive. For the prices they were charging, I think we deserved more. Nonetheless, it was the company that we came for and it was a very nice relaxing end to the day. We took the train on Kingston station and were back in the hotel about an hour later.

 

Day seven: We started the day with a walk along the outskirts of Parliament House, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. We walked all the way to Buckingham Palace to watch the daily ritual of the Changing of the Guards – I really can’t see why this daily routine deserved so much attention. It was a scalding day under the heat of the sun. We decided not to stay for the entire duration of the ‘show’ and headed off to Trafalgar Square. We took a short bus ride – it was actually walking distance or a couple of train stops away. Took a lot of snaps in the center of the square, and headed to Regent Street – home of more shops. We spent the rest of the afternoon on Oxford Circus station (again). By nightfall, we were beat and ready to go home.

 

Day eight: We planned to spend the last evening in London inviting JJ over for dinner – at least that was our plan. Knowing that we only had half a day as Abi would be on her way home from Brighton, we took a train ride to Liverpool Street station and walked around the shops of Spitalfields. Ester got a call from another classmate who said she wanted to see Ester in person and was on her way to London from Bedford. So we headed back to the hotel to meet our guests. I left Ester with her classmate and headed off to Westminster station to meet Abi. After dropping off our luggage, we took the train back to New Malden for some home cooked dinner – our first real dinner since arriving in London. We got back to the hotel before midnight.

 

Day nine: After breakfast, we went to Waterloo Station for a quick stop at Marks & Spencer to buy some last minute food items as presents to people we know in Hong Kong. We booked a 2pm car to bring us to Heathrow Airport. Ester spent literally an hour queuing up at the VAT refund counter just outside Terminal 3. It turns out there is a similar counter inside the airport itself after immigration and there was almost no queue there. At the airport, we got a bit of a scare when one of the people at a souvenir store mentioned that the Hong Kong International Airport was closed due to Vincente, a typhoon 10 that swept through the city on Tuesday. Luckily, the staff was partially misinformed. According to the Cathay Pacific ground crew, inbound flights to Hong Kong were not affected. We landed in Hong Kong on schedule and were home by early evening.

 

Summary: London is a beautiful city to visit. It can be expensive – food and transportation are not cheap. The people are generally nice. It is a tourist magnet and hotels and tour operators quickly capitalize on the opportunity. There are some cheap accommodation like Premium Inn and you can live off in London as a tourist on 30-40 pounds a day excluding accommodation. Use a travelcard or Oystercard to avail of travel discounts. Avoid fancy restaurants but recognize that cheap restaurants aren’t necessarily better than fastfood restaurants like Subway or even buying sandwiches from a local deli. The tube or train system is complex and at times very confusing but if you know how to read a map and you know where you want to go, its easy to use.

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