Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hands on: HTC Flyer, available in May Singapore for S$1068

HTC has the knack for creating little unique selling points for what would otherwise be vanilla products. It’s Sense UI for Android phones, for instance, is one of the best around and heartily recommended by reviewers.

With HTC Flyer, the Taiwanese company has once again brought something different to differentiate itself from all the “me-too” Android tablets flooding the market. For one, HTC is building in what they call the HTC Scribe, a proprietary pen input method.

But here’s the million-dollar question: is it worth the steep S$1068 price tag?

First, a little about the Flyer. It has a 7-inch (1024 x 600) touch screen which is bright and crisp. It comes with 32GB of internal storage, which is further expandable via a microSD card. A 5-megapixel camera capable of taking 720p videos sits at the back and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing one lets you video call and take pictures of yourself.

A smooth aluminium unibody wraps around a rubbery plastic material which is nice to touch, and the device has solid heft to it. The standard Android buttons line the bottom of both the portrait and landscape orientations. Powered by a 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor with 1GB of RAM, the tablet runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread with a version of Sense that is customised for the Flyer’s larger screen.

Why not Honeycomb, you ask? Well, HTC has put a lot of work into this version of Sense for the tablet, and it really shows once you pick it up and start using it. Due to the various restrictions placed on Honeycomb by Google, HTC says they will need some time to customise it appropriately. Rest assured that an upgrade to 3.0 will be sent your way as soon as it’s ready.

But honestly, it’s not a dealbreaker. There’s a dearth of Android tablet apps at the moment anyway, and we’ll probably still be looking at Sense no matter which version it gets bumped up to. The new Sense is similar to the one on the HTC Sensation, with slick new animations and an unlock screen that lets you jump straight to a particular application after unlocking.

HTC Scribe

But the real star that sets the Flyer apart from the rest of the Android tablet pack is this little thing (see picture on left):

This is the Scribe technology HTC is talking about: A short little pen with two buttons. To make it as small as possible, HTC chose to power it with one AAAA battery.

Yes, you read that right, 4 A’s! I confess I’ve never heard of such a battery until today, and I imagine it won’t be easy to find shops selling batteries of this size.

The pen works great for note-taking and general scribbling, although there’s one disconcerting drawback: it’s only for writing and scribbling and you can’t navigate around with it.

If you try touching the screen with the pen at a screen other than an app which supports pen input, the Flyer will automatically take a screen capture.

Yes, HTC brings screen capture to Android at long last! Are you watching, Google?

This might sound confusing, so let’s break it down:

  1. The bundled HTC pen is not the same as any generic capacitative stylus. While a capacitative stylus will expectedly work like your finger, you can only use the HTC pen within apps that support it. At the moment, that means only HTC’s built-in note-taking and photo-editing apps. No word if 3rd-party developers can take advantage of it.
  2. Use the pen anywhere else and the Flyer will automatically take a screenshot of that screen, whether it’s a webpage, your app drawer, or your homescreen. You can proceed to immediately scribble and paint on that screenshot, then either share it with your friends or send it wirelessly to a printer to print it out.
  3. The pen will not work with any other screens; it’s specifically engineered for the Flyer with HTC’s proprietary tech.

In other words, this pen does not work like your good ol’ Windows tablet’s stylus, and it takes a while to get used to. For a moment, I forgot how it works and tapped on an app icon. I then stood there stupidly waiting for my app to load, not realizing that a screenshot has been taken and I’m now looking at a picture, even though the screen flashed to inform me a screenshot was taken.

It’s admittedly not very intuitive. I would rather have a separate method of taking screenshots (like the iPhone’s elegant way) and just let the stylus work like a stylus. What’s more, if you’re writing something with your hand resting on the screen, there’s a chance you might bring the keyboard up on-screen. This might sound inconsequential, but it starts to get annoying after it happens for the 500th time.

But other that than, the pen works like a charm. There are definitely benefits to writing something out compared to typing it out, and the ability to quickly scribble out charts and graphs can help us visualise information easily. And if your drawing skills are somewhat lacking like mine, you can also snap pictures and embed them in your note.

A special button at the bottom corner brings up the various brushes and colours available, including pencil, fountain pen, and highlighter. The pen is pressure sensitive to an extent, so it feels more natural writing. An artist was at the launch to show this off by sketching portraits, and it does look pretty good. But don’t throw out your Wacom just yet; it’s not that sensitive. Here’s a video of it in action:



And (ta-da!) the final product, printed wirelessly straight from the Flyer:

The notes app is linked to the calendar, so you can quickly start a note when you attend a pre-listed meeting. It’s also linked up to Evernote, so you can sync your notes and store them in the cloud. On the downside, you can no longer say to your boss you forgot to complete a task because you lost your minutes of the last meeting.



The best thing about Scribe is what HTC calls Timemark. Timemark is basically real-time audio recording in line with your note-taking. As you write, the Flyer records the audio of your meeting, lecture etc. When you review your notes and stumble across a part where you think, “What was going on when I wrote that?” Timemark will let you play back the audio recording at that very moment, helping you jog your memory.

HTC Watch, OnLive gaming, e-book reading

Part of the reason the Flyer carries such a hefty price tag is because of HTC Watch, a movie streaming service that the company is working to bring to users by Q4 2011. The service could possibly be free of charge, but nothing is confirmed as yet. For now, we can only watch movie trailers through the app.

The situation for OnLive cloud gaming is slightly murkier. Currently available only in the US, HTC is still trying to negotiate licensing deals with game makers to bring it to Singapore. There’s no timeline for this, so it could be a long wait.

The e-reader app, like on HTC’s smartphones, is powered by Canadian company Kobo and comes with several public domain titles preloaded. Unlike the Kindle, you can actually buy and download books off Kobo, which is a huge plus. Territorial rights still exist, however, so not all e-books will be available for purchase.

Should you buy it?

As a student, I can see many scenarios where the Scribe can save my life. It can also help me live a more environmentally-friendly live, as I probably kill a hundred trees every year just printing my notes and lecture slides. And it’s not just students who benefit; people who need to take regular notes will find the Flyer a attractive.

When HTC Watch and OnLive arrive, the Flyer will make a pretty good entertainment tablet too. After all, there’s built in virtual surround sound, powerful dual speakers and support for a good range of media formats.

Still, it’s hard to justify spending over a thousand dollars on it, when you can get a bigger screen tablet such as the Motorola Xoom for a lower price. You can simply purchase a capacitative stylus separately if you really need pen input. On the other hand, HTC will partner with telcos when it goes on sale, so we can expect some subsidies.

But Scribe with Timemark is a unique piece of software than no other tablet manufacturer offers, so if you need something like this on a regular basis, the Flyer is a no-brainer purchase.

Do you think the Flyer is a good buy? Let us know in the comments!


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Wednesday, April 27, 2011 by NEWS · 0

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Get a refurbished iPad Wi-Fi + 3G for $329

t was just a couple weeks ago that I told you about a refurbished 16GB iPad Wi-Fi for $349, and now AT&T is offering something even better: a refurbished 16GB iPad Wi-Fi + 3G for $329 shipped. 3G!

Don't think 16GB will do? The refurbished 32GB iPad Wi-Fi + 3G is $429 shipped. (For what it's worth, I've been able to get by just fine with 16GB--but I don't stuff my iPad with a ton of music and video.) Curiously, the 64GB model is also showing a price tag of $429, which is particularly awesome, but it's currently out of stock.


Great as these prices are, there are a few things to consider. First, these are online-only deals, so you can't just walk into an AT&T store--not a big deal for most folks. Also, you'll probably be on the hook for sales tax, same as if you were buying from Apple.

But the real downside here is AT&T's warranty: 90 days, versus the one year you get on refurbished gear from Apple. Of course, Apple charges $479 and $559 for the 16GB and 32GB iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, respectively, so you're saving a considerable chunk of change by accepting a shorter warranty.

My thought? Totally worth it.

By the way, I should mention that because these are 3G models, you'll need to sign up for a monthly service plan. They start at a fairly reasonably $14.99, and you can cancel (and restart) whenever you want; there's no long-term contract. (Let's hear it for some rare carrier sanity!)

As I mentioned previously, I use my iPad for a wide variety of tasks, including solving the "hidden" crossword puzzles in the USA Today app, sharing e-books with my kids, playing awesome games like Back to the Future and World of Goo, attending remote meetings, and even doing a little instructor-guided yoga in the privacy of my own home.

Although I don't travel enough to make having 3G a priority, I definitely wouldn't turn it down--not at this price. If you feel the same, act fast: I suspect AT&T will sell out of these in a hurry.

Bonus deal: And what's an iPad without apps? Today only, in honor of Earth Day, you can get the Locavore app for free. Normally $2.99, it helps you find in-season, locally grown food as well as nearby farmers' markets.

Bonus deal No. 2: Speaking of Earth Day, check my blog for five cheap ways to go green for Earth Day (or any day). This is the only planet we've got, folks--let's refurbish it while we still can.


Sunday, April 24, 2011 by NEWS · 0

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics spotted in Mumbai!

Mumbaikars had a rare opportunity to witness the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept car on the streets amidst the notorious Mumbai traffic. The car was in Mumbai as part of the Mission Impossible 4 filming. The crew of the movie are filming a scene where the BMW VED and a 2011 BMW 6-Series negotiate the chaotic streets of Mumbai.



The BMW Vision EfficientDynamics was first unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show. It is basically a Diesel hybrid which runs a 3-cylinder, turbo diesel powerplant combined with two electric motors. The hybrid configuration has enabled BMW to cut down on emissions and increase fuel efficiency. The Vision EfficientDynamics has been spotted at the Abu Dhabi circuit and a similar looking car will feature in the new Mission Impossible movie.

The BMW VED, although a concept at the moment could be put into production by late 2013 as Mercedes Benz has also announced plans of a similar car based on the F800 concept which according to Mercedes Benz officials could be possible in a couple of years.




BMW Vision EfficientDynamics stars in Mission Impossible 4

by NEWS · 0

Monday, April 18, 2011

MTS Pulse, the first free smartphone

At first glance, this looks like any other Android touchscreen phone. But the new MTS Pulse (or HTC Pulse, co-branded by MTS) is significant, because this is the first operator-subsidized smartphone in India (though not the first operator subsidized phone: remember the Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani offer?)

It has a 3.2-inch, 320 x 480 pixel capacitive touchscreen, 528Mhz Qualcomm processor, 288MB RAM, 5MP autofocus camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, micro SD slot (8GB card supplied, 32GB supported) and runs Android 2.1. The Pulse is a CDMA/EVDO phone, which means there's no SIM card. But in every other way, it operates just like any other Android touchscreen phone, with all the Google services, social networking features, push mail and Android Marketplace intact.



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Monday, April 18, 2011 by NEWS · 0

First Aston Martin Dealership Opens in India

2011_Aston_Martin_Virage



With a total of 55 billionaires living in India, it’s probably safe to say the country is going to be an important market for high-end automakers like Aston Martin. That’s probably why the British sports car brand recently moved in. According to Automotive News, Aston Martin has opened its first-ever Indian dealership in order to get piece of the country’s growing wealth.

Established in Kemps Corner, one of Mumbai’s most affluent neighborhoods, this dealership is the first of many to come, with the next one expected to open in New Delhi this May. Aston Martin forecasts that one quarter of its sales will come from Asia and the Middle East over the next five years, up from 10 percent this past year. With the $303,657 V8 Vantage as its least expensive offering and the $4.5 million One-77 topping its lineup, Aston is counting on India’s millionaires and billionaires taking interest in its cars.

“We are entering the Indian market now because we think the timing is right,” said Bill Donnelly, director of sales at Aston Martin. And Aston isn’t the only automaker that thinks India is ripe for the taking. Fiat set up its first Maserati dealership in India last week and plans to open a Ferrari dealership in Mumbai in the near future. Jaguar-Land Rover, which happens to be owned by Indian automaker, Tata Motors, has held a firm grasp on the Indian luxury market since 2009, with seven showrooms nationwide.

Deepesh Rathore, head of IHS Automotive’s India branch, predicts the country’s luxury sales may rise to 135,000 annually by 2020—an increase of nine-fold from last year’s 15,000 sales. Aston Martin’s entry into India is part of a growing trend of luxury brands targeting India and China. Apart from being the two most populous countries in the world, both markets have a rapidly-growing number of extremely wealthy people at the top—the kinds of people automakers like Aston Martin want in their dealerships.

Source: Automotive News

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Coming to India in 3 Months

On Wednesday, Samsung revealed the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a tablet with a 10.1-inch screen that will be launched in the U.S. on June 8. Online sources have speculated that it's very likely that the tablet will see an Indian launch within a month of its American launch.




Samsung has revealed that the 16GB Wi-Fi version of the Tab will be priced at $499 (Rs. 22,200 approx.) while the 32GB Wi-Fi version will cost $599 (Rs. 26,650 approx.). We still do not know the pricing of the 3G versions of the tablet and will keep you updated as it arrives. The Galaxy Tab 10.1's display has a resolution of 1280x800 pixels and it weighs slightly over half a kilo. It is powered by a 1GHz processor and has two cameras- a 3MP main camera with an LED flash and a 2MP front-facing camera. The Tab will use a combination of the Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) OS and Samsung's own TouchWIZ UI. The Galaxy Tab is also capable of 1080p HD video playback and supports Adobe Flash 10.2. Apart from the internal memory, both 16GB and 32GB versions of the Tab will support microSD cards up to 32GB.








Along with the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Samsung also showed off the Galaxy Tab 8.9- a tablet with an 8.9-inch screen with the same resolution as the 10.1 Tab. The 8.9 Tab also shares all its other specs with its larger screened compatriot. Samsung has not yet revealed the release date for the 8.9 Tab.


















Thursday, April 14, 2011 by NEWS · 0

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play



By Nimish Dubey, ET Bureau

Price: Rs 35,000

NEW DELHI: Almost eight years ago, Nokia attempted to merge a smartphone with a gaming console with the N-Gage. More recently, Sony Ericsson attempted to merge motion-sensing gaming with telephony in the Yari. But these never did very well, so a certain amount of cynicism was inevitable when Sony Ericsson announced the Xperia Play, a smartphone that ran Android 2.3 with a slideout gamepad featuring controls similar to those seen on Sony's legendary PlayStation consoles.




Features: 4.0-inch, 480x854 capacitive touch screen, Android 2.3, 1Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, 5MP camera, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, FM, 1500mAh battery, 175 grams

It is admittedly difficult to be impressed when you see the Xperia Play. In this era of uber-sleek, subcentimetre width devices, the Xperia Play comes across as chunky (16mm thick) with rounded, oval edges rather than sharp ones. The front is dominated by a 4-inch touchscreen, but the real star is the slide out gamepad, complete with direction keys (the triangle-square-circle-cross control buttons that are the trademark of PlayStation controllers), a touchpad, and buttons for menu, select and start.



Pros: Android 2.3, excellent touchscreen, dedicated gaming keypad

The volume rocker of the phone is unusually in the middle of the right side of the phone, a placement necessitated by the left and right gamepad buttons. The back is plastic and you'll see a 5MP camera with a flash. But if the looks of the Xperia Play are about ordinary, its innards are not. The phone packs in a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, graphics based on the Adreno 205 GPU, 512 MB RAM, a 8GB memory card (memory expandable to 32 GB), and every connectivity option you can think of.



Cons: Limited PlayStation games available, disappointing camera

And all of them perform very well too. Used just as a smartphone, the Xperia Play turns in a sterling performance, the large display, although a bit on the dim side, is great for browsing the Web and the specs allow Android to flex its mail and social networking muscleMind you, Sony Ericsson's Android layer is not in the same league as HTC Sense in terms of ease of use. The Timescape tool for accessing social networks, messages and calendars might look cool with updates appearing in the form of flickable cards, but can get to be a pain if you are the type that gets frequent updates (there is only so much flicking one can do)




The handset comes preloaded with some very decent games such as FIFA 10, Star Battalion, The Sims 3, Tetris, Bruce Lee and Crash Bandicoot. The graphics for the most part look good and the sound quality is excellent. Best of all, you do not need to touch the screen, allowing you so much more viewing space! Games pause when you get calls and let you resume from where they left off once you have finished talking.





A big disappointment was the relative lack of titles at the moment in the PlayStation Pocket (which links to supported games on the Android Market and publisher sites) and the fact that most of the games on offer also seemed targeted more at the hardcore gamer than the casual one, we downloaded Angry Birds from the Android Market but could not use the controller to play it, alas. But that should change in the coming days.



The Xperia Play will appeal to hardcore gaming fans who have a soft corner for the PlayStation, and want an Android phone too. The price, alas, will prove to be a massive deterrent for those looking to buy it as a smartphone that can also entertain. You can get a PS3, PS2 and a PSP for the same amount as a Play!

Monday, April 11, 2011 by NEWS · 0

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Microsoft to Develop Telematics Systems for Next-Gen Toyota Cars.

Toyota's Next-Gen Cars to Use Windows Azure-Based Telematics

Microsoft Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. on Wednesday announced that they have forged a strategic partnership and plan to build a global platform for Toyota’s next-generation telematics services using the Windows Azure platform. Telematics is the fusing of telecommunications and information technologies in vehicles; it can encompass GPS systems, energy management and other multimedia technologies.

“Today’s announcement of our partnership with Toyota [...] further validates the power of the cloud, as the Windows Azure platform will provide the enterprise-grade, scalable platform that Toyota needs to deliver telematics in its automobiles worldwide,” said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer at Microsoft.

As part of the partnership, the two companies plan to participate in a ¥1 billion (approximately $12 million) investment in Toyota Media Service, a Toyota subsidiary that offers digital information services to Toyota automotive customers. The two companies aim to help develop and deploy telematics applications on the Windows Azure platform, which includes Windows Azure and Microsoft SQL Azure, starting with Toyota’s electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2012. Toyota’s goal is to establish a complete global cloud platform by 2015 that will provide affordable and advanced telematics services to Toyota automotive customers around the world.

As part of its smart-grid activities, aimed at achieving a low-carbon society through efficient energy use, Toyota is conducting trials in Japan of its Toyota Smart Center pilot program, which plans to link people, automobiles and homes for integrated control of energy consumption. Toyota believes that, as electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles become more popular, such systems will rely more on telematics services for achieving efficient energy management.

Microsoft has a long history of delivering platforms and services to the automotive market, including in-car infotainment systems built on the Windows Embedded Automotive platform, in-car mapping services with Bing and the Microsoft Tellme voice application, and many other consumer solutions.

“This new partnership between Microsoft and Toyota is an important step in developing greater future mobility and energy management for consumers around the world. Creating these more efficient, more environmentally advanced products will be our contribution to society. To achieve this, it is important to develop a new link between vehicles, people and smart center energy-management systems,” said Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota






Wednesday, April 6, 2011 by NEWS · 1

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