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

The Sony DSC-RX1 is the first point-and-shoot camera with a full-frame sensor, a 24.3 megapixel Exmor CMOS – the same one found in the company’s top of the line, DSLR – the Sony Alpha a99 (rrp HK$35,900 with a 24-70mm f2.4 lens). To produce full HF video recording and doll out up to ISO 102,400 sensitivity, the RX1 uses a new Bionz processor.

Deceptive is what would best describe the Sony DSC-RX1. It is about the size of many conventional compact digicams. It has a large bright screen but is not touch (which appears to be the craze these days). It has a tiny flash that retracts with the press of a button (like the Canon G 1X). It doesn’t support interchangeable lenses (again going against the grain of today’s digicams).

When I took it out of the box of the first time, I thought it resembled an all-black Leica X2 camera with a large lens. Like most Leica cameras, the simplicity of the design belied the capabilities of the little camera.

BUILD

At 508 grams with lens cap, battery, SD card and strap, it is still 43g lighter than my Canon G 1X. The body feels very sturdy. It is also at least 20% more compact making it a better day-to-day companion than my G 1X. You know you have a quality product with this camera. It is sufficiently heavy requiring two handed shooting (like most DSLR) but sufficiently compact and light to fit into a small bag or hung from the shoulder or neck without causing any long-term injury. The right side of the camera body is coated with what feels like rubber or leather, giving you the added security when gripping the RX1.

I didn’t read the spec of the RX1 the first time around so when I lifted it off the box, I started looking for the mechanism to detach the body from the lens. I was confused to find no such option. Apparently part of the fixed, 25mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lens is built deep into the body of the camera. Sony claims this enables the camera to give the best possible optical quality.

WHAT I LIKE

Judging from the rrp of HK$23,990, the RX1 is aimed at professional photographers or people with money to burn. The Carl Zeiss Sonnar T offers a f/22-f/2 stop aperture control dial at the base of the lens. There is an ingenious switch around the center of the lens that allows you to switch from a standard 35mm lens camera into a 20-35cm macro lens. Finally, lightly depressing the shutter button and turning the outermost ring of the lens, will activate the Focus Peaking feature to aid in manual focusing (two options: Direct Manual Focus and Manual Focus).

A quick read of the manual (yes you need to if you want to use some of the magic of digital photography) shows that you can customize majority of the buttons of the camera.

For the money you pay for this camera, image quality should be first rate and the RX1 does not disappoint. I found it easy to create images with depth of field without having to fiddle with the camera beyond “auto” mode. Auto-focus is way better on the RX1 than on my G 1X and when light is really in short supply you can always override the auto focus feature and go manual.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

One of the features I love about my old Nexus 3 smartphone is the camera’s panorama mode – there is simply nothing quite like it if you want a simple way to shoot. The RX1 uses “Sweep Panorama” which I found difficult to use – at times it tell me I am moving too fast, other times I am too slow. Make up your mind RX1!

The RX1 shares a common problem as my Canon G 1X – poor battery life. The RX1 will last about 2 hours with moderate use. Sony slipped here big time since you’d expect photographers to be out and about during the day and having access to a wall socket is not always possible. You’d be wise to carry one of those portable battery-backed chargers if you plan to carry the RX1 around all day. Alternatively, if you carry a portable battery charger, this may solve the battery issue problem. I do love what Sony did here by providing a standard micro-USB port so you can also charge the RX1 from your laptop.

A small and trivial thing I don’t like with the RX1 is the removable lens cover which can easily be lost or misplaced. It happened to me a couple of times today when I was shooting around the house. Very scary since I don’t own this camera. It’s a very solid lens cover but would it have hurt Sony to include a small hole to string it to the body or the case of the camera?

CONCLUSION

In the age of multi-purpose, all-in-one digital cameras, the RX1 is a refreshing return to simplicity without sacrificing in what is really the core purpose of all cameras – making good quality photos.

So why would anyone want to fork out HK$23,990 (suggested retail price in Hong Kong) for a retro-looking camera? That’s like asking if there is a market for Leica cameras. If people are willing to pay HK$50,000 for a Leica, the Sony RX1 priced at half that of a Leica but comparable capability sounds like a bargain.

TECHNICAL SPECS

Image Sensor
Image Sensor 35mm full-frame (35.8mm × 23.9mm) Exmor CMOS Sensor, aspect ratio 3:2
Number of Pixels [Effective] Approx. 24.3 megapixels
[Gross] Approx. 24.7 megapixels
Lens
Lens Type Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* (8 elements in 7 groups (3 aspherical elements including AA lens)
Focal Length
(35mm equivalent)
f=35mm
[Still image 3:2] f=35mm
[Still image 16:9] f=37mm
[Movie 16:9] f=44mm (SteadyShot On), f=37mm (SteadyShot Off)
[Movie 4:3] f=48mm (SteadyShot On), f=45mm (SteadyShot Off)
F-number (maximum aperture) F2
Focal Range
(From the front of the lens)
AF approx. 30cm to infinity (Normal mode), approx. 20cm to 35cm (Macro mode)
Camera
Imaging Processor “BIONZ”
Total Zoom Magnification Clear Image Zoom (still image): 2x
Digital Zoom (still image): 24M approx. 4x / 10M approx. 6.1x / 4.6M approx. 9.1x
Movie: Approx. 4x
Main Function
Focus Type Contrast-detection AF
Focus Mode Single-shot AF (AF)* / Direct Manual Focus (DMF) / Manual Focus (MF)
*Functions as Auto Focus (AF-S) in still picture shooting and as Auto Focus (AF-C) in video shooting
Focus Area Multi point AF (25 points) / Center weighted AF / Flexible spot / Flexible spot (tracking focus) / Flexible spot (face tracking)
Light Metering Mode Multi segment / Centre weighted / Spot
Aperture F2-22 (9 blades Iris diaphragm)
Shutter Speed Program Auto(30”-1/4000*), Aperture Priority(30”-1/4000*), Shutter Priority(30”-1/4000*), Manual Exposure(Bulb, 30”-1/4000*)
*Maximum speed at F5.6 or greater aperture value.
Maximum speed at F2.0 is 1/2000.
ISO Sensitivity (Still Image) ISO 100-25600 (1/3 EV step, expandable to ISO 50/64/80)
Auto: ISO 100-25600, selectable with upper / lower limit
Multi Frame NR: Auto (ISO 100-25600, selectable with upper / lower limit), 100-102400 (1EV step)
ISO Sensitivity (Movie) ISO 100-6400 equivalent (1/3 EV step)
Auto: ISO 100-3200 equivalent
Exposure Compensation +/- 3.0EV, 1 / 3EV step
SteadyShot Electronic type (for movie)
White Balance Auto / Daylight / Shade / Cloudy / Incandescent / Fluor (Warm White) / Fluor (Cool White) / Fluor (Day White) / Fluor (Daylight) / Flash / C. Temp. / C.Filter / Custom
Shooting Mode (Still Image) Program Auto (Program shift available), Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, MR (Memory Recall) 1 / 2 / 3, Movie, Sweep shooting, Scene Selection, Intelligent Auto
Scene Selection Portrait / Landscape / Sports / Sunset / Night Portrait / Night Scene / Hand-held Twilight
Panorama Sweep Panorama
Creativity Style Standard / Vivid / Neutral / Clear / Deep / Light / Portrait / Landscape / Sunset / Night Scene / Autumn Leaves / Black & White / Sepia
Picture Effect Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterisation, Retro Photo, Soft High-key, Partial Colour, High Contrast Monochrome, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, Illustration
Still Image: Number of Recorded Pixels(Image Size) [3:2]
L: 24M (6000 x 4000)
M: 10M (3936 x 2624)
S: 4.6M (2640 x1760)
[16:9]
L: 20M (6000 x 3376)
M: 8.7M (3936 x 2216)
S: 3.9M (2640 x 1488)
[Sweep Panorama]
Standard (3872 x 2160/8192 x 1856)
Wide (5536 x 2160/12416 x 1856)
Dynamic Range Function Off, Dynamic Range Optimizer (Auto/Level), Auto High Dynamic Range: Auto exposure difference, Exposure difference level (1.0-6.0EV, 1.0 EV step)
Flash Mode Auto / Fill-flash / Slow Sync / Rear Sync / Off / Wireless
Guide No. 6 (in meters at ISO 100)
Flash Range ISO Auto 0.75m to 21.7m / ISO 25600 up to 43.4m
Continuous Shooting Speed (Maximum) Speed Priority Continuous mode: Approx.5 fps,
Continuous mode: Approx. 2.5 fps (AF-S)
Image Control Creative Style, Quality (RAW/RAW&JPEG/Extra fine/Fine/Standard), Long Exposure NR (On/Off), High ISO NR (Normal/Low/off), Multi Frame NR
Monitor & Viewfinder
LCD 7.5cm (3.0 type) (4:3) / 1,229,000 dots / Xtra Fine / TFT LCD
Brightness Control: Auto / Manual (5 steps) / Sunny Weather mod
Recording
Recording Media
* w/ Adaptor (not supplied)
Memory Stick Duo,
Memory Stick PRO Duo,
Memory Stick PRO Duo (High Speed),
Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo,
Memory Stick Micro*,
Memory Stick Micro (Mark2)*,
SD Memory Card,
SDHC Memory Card,
SDXC Memory Card,
microSD Memory Card*,
microSDHC Memory Card*
Recording File Format Still Image: JPEG, RAW (Sony ARW 2.3 format),
Movie: AVCHD Ver.2.0, MP4
Movie Recording Mode AVCHD: 28M PS (1920×1080, 50p), 24M FX (1920×1080, 50i), 17M FH (1920×1080, 50i), 24M FX (1920×1080, 25p), 17M FH (1920×1080, 25p)
MP4: 12M (1440×1080), 3M VGA (640×480)
Interface
Interface Micro USB, Hi-Speed USB (USB2.0), Micro HDMI, Microphone jack, Multi Interface Shoe
Normal
Battery NP – BX1 (supplied)
USB Charge/USB Power Supply: Yes (supplied AC Adaptor)
Dimension (W x H x D) 113.3 x 65.4 x 69.6mm
Weight Approx. 482g (Battery and Memory Stick Duo included)
Approx. 453g (Body only)
Print Exif Print, PRINT Image Matching (PIM3)
PlayMemories Home Yes
Others Smart Teleconverter (approx. 1.4x / 2x), Face Detection, Face Registration, Smile Shutter, Quick Navi, Grid Line, Digital Level Gauge (pitch and roll), Exposure Bracketing, White Balance Bracketing, DRO Bracketing, Flash Bracketing, Peaking, MF Assist, Auto Portrait Framing

PHOTO GALLERY

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have a collection of headset mostly because I like to listen to music and audio books as well as watch videos any chance I can find a small window of alone time. Over the years, I’ve been able to amass different brands of headset looking for that brand that meets my personal preferences: lightweight and portable, good sound isolation, and most of all  not overly expensive.

My current brand of headsets at home include a Sennheiser, Bose, Beats and AudioTechnic. I was recently offered a chance to try out the Sony MDR-1R. Sony markets the MDR-1R as “prestigious” family of premium headsets. There are three models in the Sony Store. The unit I have is the entry model priced at HK$1,880.
The Sony MDR-1R over-ear headphones speak volume about what’s important to the target audince for this series of headset: size, fit and comfort. The MDR-1R is light but has a very sturdy feel. It speaks of premium quality. One of the things I dislike about my Bose Quiet Comfort 3 headset if the skull-pinching after just an hour of use.
The earcups are mounted with three-dimensional flex. It takes a little bit of getting used to but once you find the sweet spot (fit), you are hooked.
Included in the box is a carry pouch and two serrated, non-tangle cables. One includes a remote for use with iPhones. The shorter length cable fits most other devices.
In the weeklong test of the MDR-1R, these have traveled with me on the MTR, on trams, buses and just plain walking around town. When indoors (even with the TV blaring my favorite program) listening with the MDR-1R is heaven. The cups provide some isolation sufficient to create the illusion that you alone in your very own theater listening to your favorite music tracks or watching a video with surround sound.I am not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination. However I do enjoy good music and my pet peeve are headsets that can block out outside noise, including human chatter in an enclosed area. Unfortunately I suspect all headphones are designed this way to keep the user from accidentally getting run over by a passing motorist.
WHAT I LIKE
I love the experience of using the MDR-1R indoors. It feels like I am in a sound-proof room where all I can hear is the music I am listening to or the video I am watching – nothing else. I love not feeling like my head is stuck between the jaws of a bench vice. The feel of the soft leather is difficult to put into words.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
My single biggest gripe about the Sony MDR-1R is its inability to block external noise when used outside of the quiet comfort of your room. These are not your walkabout headsets.
CONCLUSION
At HK$1,880 suggested retail price, the Sony MDR-1R is priced to compete against the fashion-driven Beats headset overpriced headset. Without a doubt the MDR-1R bested the Beats headset IMHO. There is sufficient detail (clarity) in the sound quality using your standard iPod or portable music device. If you want a heavier base, more thudding in your head, consider using one of those portable amplifiers.
For my money, the Sony MDR-1R is comparable value to many of today’s mid to high headphones. These are comfortable, stylish and a great addition to your home entertainment system or when you just want to quietly listen to your favorite music.
PHOTO GALLERY

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

TECHNICAL SPEC
Type
Headphone Type Closed, dynamic
Power
Power Handling Capacity 1500 mW (IEC*)
Audio
Driver Unit 40 mm, dome type (HD, OFC Voice Coil)
Impedance 24 Ω at 1 kHz
Sensitivity (dB/mW) 105 dB/mW
Frequency Response (Hz) 4 Hz – 80,000 Hz
General
Mass (g) Approx. 240 g (without cord)
Supplied Accessories Inline remote and microphone cord for iPod/iPhone/iPad (1.2 m cord, using PCOCC, Four-conductor gold plated L-shaped stereo mini plug) (1)**
Carrying pouch (1)
Operating Instructions (1)
Remark
Remarks
** Not compatible with all iPod/iPhone/iPad models.
I  got a chance to play with the Sony Xperia Tablet S for the weekend. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review since the Tablet S. This is the second generation of tablets from Sony aimed at breaking into the market dominated by Apple and Samsung.

The Tablet S sports a skinned Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, Tegra 3 quad-core SoC, and a 9.4 inch 1280×800 IPS LCD screen (the same panel used in the first-gen Tablet S) that is surrounded by a big, glossy black bezel. The Tablet S can be ordered in 16 or 32GB built-in storage with WiFi or 3G=WiFi. It has a SD card slot as well for those who feel 32GB isn’t enough.

This second gen Tablet S that I am testing still has the folded-over magazine shape although this time around it is more subtle (239.8 x 174.4 x 8.8mm). The magazine-like fold extends only a quarter into the back. In the middle of this “fold” is a 8-megapixel camera (no flash) and an IR blaster. On one end of the short rectangular back panel are located the power button and volume rocker. Across the other side is the 3.5mm audio jack next to the SD card reader which is hidden behind a silver coated plastic cover. At the bottom is a pair of speakers flanking the multi-port dock.

One final observation, when viewed from the other end there is a semblance to the iPad 2 or the new iPad.

WHAT I LIKE

The Tablet S continues the Sony tradition of being easy on the eyes and a droll magnet. It has very good contrast making for a pleasant experience looking at pictures, reminiscent of the experience you’d get from one of Sony’s Bravia TVs. Another plus I want to highlight are the speakers. By far the Tablet S is great for listening to  music or audiobooks or watching a movie. I don’t need a pair of headsets or plug in an external speaker. The speakers produce crisp clear sound – a very welcome change from the current crop of tablets (include the iPad) and even against some of the larger notebook computers.

I normally do not like it when a manufacturer skins the Android OS in their attempt to “add” value and differentiation to their device. This is one instance where the changes Sony has incorporated are sufficiently minimalistic that they truly add value without masking some of the inherently strong features of the base operating system. Kudos to Sony for taking this path.
Sony learned from Samsung creating small apps (pop-up widgets) that let you easily launch any number of commonly used apps including a calculator, clipping tool, memo, voice recorder, timer and a browser. For the socially addicted, SocialLife is a very interesting app that seems to have taken a lesson from FLIP.
Sony must have recognized that tablets are meant to be shared. It has integrated a feature called Guest Mode which allows another user to have access to the same device without being privy to your personal messages, etc. This is a great tool that will enable temporary “guests” to use the device without forcing the original owner to logout from all of his or her favorite programs or even exit those same programs. This is a great example of virtualization at work.
The Tablet S is the first Android smart device I’ve had the pleasure of using for extended periods – longer than 8 hours without recharging. Despite the large screen and loud speakers, you can literally several movies on the Tablet S without needing a recharge. Great job Sony!

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The proprietary multi-port dock is concealed under a removable cover which you can easily lose. Being proprietary means you have to use the supplied cable to charge or connect the device. The Tablet S supports HD video but the hardware didn’t come with a HDMI port. Instead you need to buy a special adapter that connect a HDMI appliance like a 3D TV to the Tablet S via the multi-port connector.
All vendors have a natural inclination to add their own special brand of software applications into their device. The Tablet S comes preinstalled with software and services like Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, PlayMemories, Walkman, Reader by Sony, and Sony Select. Most require a service, some paid. Sony, of course, is not forcing you to use these apps and services but because they come pre-installed and are integrated into the “skinned” Android, you can’t get rid of the apps.
CONCLUSION
Despite the skinning of ICS, the Tablet S is a fast tablet. Despite the added “skin” it performs better than most tablets I’ve had the pleasure of using. At a suggested retail price of HK$3,288 for a 16GB WiFi only model, it is not much more expensive than the 7″ Nexus 7 from Google/Asus (yes the Nexus is more expensive in Hong Kong than it is in the US – complain to Google please!). Sony did well not to alter the Google UI. The “Sociallife” software is a great addition (IMHO) to the stack of Sony apps that come pre-installed on the Tablet S.

I usually end these reviews asking myself “would I buy this device” for my personal use. If I favored a 9″ screen (with its added weight and portability issues), I would consider the Tablet S over the iPad anytime (since it is no secret that I don’t like iTunes and the slavery – aka vendor lock-in – it promotes). Would I prefer the Sony Tablet S over a Samsung Tab 2 10? Probably! How about a Samsung Note 10.1? I need to think about that harder? Let me get back to you on that.

TECHNICAL SPEC

Model SGPT121HK (Wi-Fi model)
Operating  System Android™  4.0
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 Mobile Processor | with 4‐PLUS ‐1™ Quad Core ARM® Cortex™-A9 CPU 1.4 GHz *1 *2
Display 9.4″ wide (WXGA: 1280 x 800) TFT Color LCD*3
Memory 1 GB*4
Storage 16 GB*5
Interface Multi Port Multi  Port x 1*6
Headphone  Jack Stereo  mini jack x 1 (works  as a monaural microphone jack)
Wireless  LAN Wireless  LAN Specification IEEE  802.11a/b/g/n (WPA2 Supported)*7
Wireless  LAN Data Rate Maximum transmission speed: 150 Mbps, Maximum receipt speed: 150 Mbps*8
Wireless WAN Wireless WAN Function No
GPS Yes
Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth® standard Ver. 3.0*9
Supported  Profile A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HID, SPP, OPP
Sensor Accelerometer  (3-axis accelerometer), Gyro, Digital Compass, Ambient Light Sensor
IR  Remote control function Yes  (Supports Multi Function, Learning Function (Pre-loaded remote control code))
Expansion  Slots Memory  Card Slot SD  memory card x 1  (Supports  SD,  SDHC, SDHC UHS-I)
Speaker Built-in  stereo speakers
Microphone Built-in  monaural microphone
Camera Front  Camera HD  web camera (Resolution: 1296 x 808, Effective Pixels: 1 Mega pixels)
Rear  Camera HD  camera (Resolution: 3264 x 2448, Effective Pixels: 8 Mega pixels)
Supplied  Accessories AC  adapter (SGPAC5V6), Power Cord
Battery  Life (Approx.)*11 *12 Battery Built-in  rechargeable battery pack*10
Browsing  web with Wi-Fi 10.0  hours
Browsing  web with 3G NIL
Playing  video 12.0 hours
Battery Charging Time 5.5 hours*13
Size  (Approx. ) Dimensions (W x H x D) 239.8  x 8.8 – 11.85 x 174.4 mm
Weight 570 g

OTHER SITE REVIEWS

TechRadar (http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/tablets/sony-xperia-tablet-s-1093685/review/2#articleContent)

Slashgear (http://www.slashgear.com/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review-12260425/)

The Verge (http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/24/3333106/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review)

PHOTO GALLERY

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Who does not dream of owning a personal computer (PC) that you can go anywhere with you and do just about anything you can with it. Let’s not kid ourselves here. The iPad and its Android and Windows siblings can only do so much. And unless you got an app that can do serious business work, you do need a PC that can do the odd video editing and all the document – word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and database what if scenarios. And again to be fair to Apple and gang, the tablet device ain’t cut for that kind of job

Unfortunately for geriatrics like me, lugging around a 2kg laptop and its accessories like battery charger, pointing device, DVD drive, external HDD and yes that travel-battered bag, can easily get you 6 kgs of arthritis-inducing pain very quickly down the line.

Enter ultrabooks – a new category of lightweight but powerful (aka better than the iPad and siblings) devices that can do just about anything a conventional laptop can do at price points reminiscent of top end netbooks. This review is about the Dell XPS 13 – a late entry by Dell in the fast becoming competitive category. According to Intel, ultrabooks are sub-US$1,000 computers that are lightweight (1.4 kg or less), 1.77 cm thin, offer decent performance (vs Apple Macbook Air) have sufficient charge to last five hours, comes with a SSD, and a 13” screen.

The Dell XPS 13 just makes it into the ultrabook category with it 13.3” screen, 1.4kg weight and measures 7mm at its thinnest and 18mm at its thickest. It flaunts a minimalist design that is representative of current industrial design trends for laptops. To be honest I am impressed with Dell’s approach to the design of the XPS 13. It is reminiscent of the Dell XPS 14z minus the bulk and heft that the XPS 14z suffers from. Dell purposely designed the XPS 13 for the corporate user with its Trusted Platform Module for BitLocker Data. Where the XPS 13 fails is in the pricing category – at least in Hong Kong where it retails for US$1,666. Of course Intel isn’t really policing vendors particularly vendors who buy its processors and chipsets.

The professional look starts with the machined aluminum outer shell Dell markets as Elemental Silver Aluminum. The underbelly is made of carbon fiber Underneath is a fiberglass while the jet black interior feels like a soft rubber surface. There are no ugly stickers anywhere on this ultrabook. The hinge is a nicely weighted and extends the quality-feel that comes as you caress the cold metal surface. The XPS 13 continues the tradition found on the 14z with its edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass panel. It also has a glass multi-gesture touchpad with integrated mouse buttons. The XPS 13 ships with isolation-style keyboards (aka Chiclet keys) proved comfortable when typing – although you need time to get used to the key positions. Like other ultrabooks, the keys are shallow but to its credit Dell made the keys slightly curved and backlit.

The test unit I receive came with an Intel core™ i7-2637M processor (yes, 2011 Sandy Bridge processor – sooo 2011), with 4GB RAM and 256GB SSD. Like most ultrabooks, the XPS 13 uses the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics processor. As long as you don’t use this laptop for processor intensive graphics application, the XPS 13 should do most of what you’ve come to expect from a standard laptop.

The XPS 13 comes with one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. If you want to connect the XPS 13 to an external monitor, you better have an adaptor because this laptop comes with a mini DisplayPort. Like other ultrabooks, the only way to connect the XPS 13 is via built-in 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth.

I almost forgot – the XPS 13 comes with a backlit keyboard.

WHAT I LIKE

One of the things l liked about the XPS 13 is its use of edge-to-edge screen – near zero bezel – creating the illusion of a smaller laptop comparable to a 12 or even 11 inch laptops. Apart from that there is nothing special about its 1366 x 768 pixel resolution and support for 720p high-definition videos playback.

With the exception of the very classy unibody (dare we day inspired by the Apple’s MacBook Pro and Macbook Air) design the only other feature I love about the XPS 13 is the charger. It is tiny compared to every Dell laptop I’ve ever had the pleasure of using or owning. In fact the XPS 14z I have at home comes with a brick that gets so hot you can use it to warm your sandwich (I tried that and it works).

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

It’s difficult to find something not to like with the XPS 13. If I have to be critical of the XPS 13 then I only have a few quibbles about the XPS 13 is the battery life. As with a lot of Dell laptops, battery life is disappointing – to say the least. I can’t for the like of me figure out why vendors overstate the battery life. What is their benchmark for declaring 5 hours of battery life? Everything, backlight, keyboard light, GPU, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc is off? Come Dell be honest when stating the battery life.

Finally, and for many consumers, the reason for buying an ultrabook is price. Yes, you get a reasonably powerful laptop with the ultrabooks compared to the netbook, but part of the allure of the ultrabook is the price. Intel set the suggested price point for an ultrabook at US$1,000. The low-end Dell XPS 13 comes with an online sticker of HK$12,999 while the top-end configuration ships for HK$14,999. At prices like this, the XPS series wants to price itself in the category of Sony or Apple.

CONCLUSION

Most vendors and sales people will tell you how light their laptops are. Ask them to show you the external charger and see how fast that brick turns into hot coal. Fortunately the XPS 13 doesn’t come with a “killer brick” charger although it does get warm relatively quickly.

UPDATED TECHNICAL SPEC (with Ivy Bridge Processor)

  • Windows® 7 Professional SP1 64bit Multi-Language(Traditional/Simplified Chinese/English )
  • 3nd generation Intel® Core™ i5-3317M processor (3M Cache, up to 2.6 GHz with TPM)
  • Microsoft® Office trial
  • McAfee® Security Center promo – 15 Months Version
  • 1-Year Premier Service with 1-year Accidental Damage Services and Oncall Subscription
  • 1 Year Dell Online Backup 2GB
  • 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 1333MHz Memory
  • Backlit English Keyboard
  • Intel® HD Graphics 3000
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6230 with Bluetooth v3.0+HS
  • System Document(ENG/TCHI/SCHI/JPN/KOR)
  • 47 WHr 6-Cell Battery
  • Elemental Silver Aluminum and 13.3″ Hi-Def (720p) True Life (1366×768) WLED Display with 1.3MP Webcam

PRODUCT PHOTOS

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

OTHER SITE REVIEWS
CNET UK
ULTRABOOK NEWS

PHOTO GALLERY

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.