Ask Siri: The Movie Critic / Reviewer

Siri has been ‘upgraded’ to now give her opinions on movies. She has quite a bit to say for quite a number of classic movies. Is it useful? Probably not, but it’s something fun to mess around when you are bored. Just like Google Now, there are some responses inserted that aren’t very useful (like asking it to do a barrel roll). It is just a fun Easter Egg for movie fans and geeks, but also a step in the right direction for a smarter Siri. I like how Siri pulls out Rotten Tomato reviews for movies at the same time and also provides a link to the movie trailer. Now, that could be useful! Read More

The New iPad Mini – Singapore

Quite a number of pictures and mock-up videos of the iPad Mini have appeared. Seems like information leaks by Apple for upcoming devices are getting more common or it could just be a market strategy. Through unnamed sources from Apple and rumours from the tech blogging world, it is likely that Apple would do another launch event, keynote-style event for the iPad Mini on the 17 Oct and the iPad Mini would likely go on sale a week later. Possibly, units will be sold in Singapore from November.

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iPhone 5 Launch Event! As it unfolds

12 September was the Apple Launch Event and there were some interesting announcements  with the most anticipated one being the iPhone 5 launch!

iPhone -> Phil Schiller starts sharing the new iPhone and its called the iPhone 5 (no surprises here). It’s made entirely of glass and aluminium, and its confirmed to look exactly like the leaked photos.Its a refining of the iPhone 4S and subtly improves quite a number of key aspects of the iPhone, processing, speed, weight, camera which are all quite important features to what makes a great phone even greater. Yet, there’s no new innovative breakthrough for the iPhone 5 this time around. With all the pre-launch leaks, all the specifications and changes were already expected.

Summary of H/W Changes:

  • 4 inch 16:9 ratio screen
  • 44% more color saturation than the iPhone 4S
  • Weighing in at on 112 grams! Wow. Thinnest iPhone at 7.6mm.
  •  Game Center to produce one of the coolest new features: time-shifted multiplayer
  • New Apple A6 processor is 2x faster with both CPU and graphics
  • Improved Wi-Fi
  • Comes with 4G LTE
  • 10 hours video playback, 40 hours music playback, 225 hours of standby
  • 8 hours of LTE browsing, 10 hours of WiFi
  • 8 hours of 3G talk time and 3G browsing
  • Improved Camera – Backside illumination, hybrid ID filter, five-element lens, f/2.4 aperture. SAPPHIRE CRYSTAL lens cover (no more scratches)
  • New Connector is called Lightning – improved durability, can be plugged in in either direction
  • Good thing is an adaptor is available if you would want to re-use your current accessories
That’s it for the Hardware. At least iPhone users get a 4″ screen now which should help somewhat with the jealousy over Samsung humongous displays. The new iPhone 5 Retina display has a 326ppi, with a resolution of 1136 x 640. Closer to a 16:9 ratio than before, the iPhone 5 is now better for viewing films on, with 44% better colour saturation, with improvements to reduce glare in sunlight. With the wider screen aspect ratio, the default apple apps have been updated to support the new format but apps that have not been updated would run in letterbox mode, i.e. with black borders at the edges. The homescreen displays 5 row of apps instead of the current 4, thanks to the wider screen. The game demo looked pretty good and the new iPhone processor should be pretty impressive. The new camera photos look great as well and would appeal to many who only carry around a mobile phone camera as opposed to a standalone camera. No NFC though, so no mobile payment or using it to replace your EZlink card.

iOS6 improvements:

  • Turn by Turn navigation but no details on whether it would be available in Singapore yet.
  • Facebook / Twitter integration
  • all new iSight camera, killer Panorama feature
  • improved SIRI

Nothing really new that Google / Android already have!

Pricing wise, its going to be the same as the iPhone 4S in US and we are expecting Singtel, M1 and Starhub to do the same. As confirmed, pre-order on Friday and sales of the iPhone5 would begin from 21 Sep. 

Expected pricing for iPhone 5 (16gb)

In summary, this feels like another upgrade to the iPhone 4S with really nothing revolutionary. If you are a current apple user and already well invested into their eco-system like apps, the Apple iPhone 5 is a worthy upgrade. The overall improvements makes for a very polished phone with good features all around. Yet, if you compare it to a Samsung SGS3 or HTC One X, the iPhone 5 is no longer a clear winner and they actually had to differentiate themselves this time around. What might be interesting would be to compare the camera of the iPhone 5 vs that of the Samsung SGS3. So are you bored of the iPhone? Android has started to increase its market share and with the new iPhone 5 not offering anything amazing, I would expect more people to consider switching over to the other camp.

Moving on, the new iTunes. Nothing much except for a simplified interface.

iPod Nano  -> New redesigned – 2.5″ display. Looks like the old candy bar nano crossed with an iPod touch, with a touch interface, a home button and controls at the side.It comes with Bluetooth so you can use it with your wireless bluetooth headsets or integrate with Nike+ receivers. What were they thinking?

iPod Touch -> The new iPod Touch is only 6.1 mm thick and looks like the new iPhone 5 (i.e. longer screen). Slower than the iPhone 5, uses the iPhone 4S A5 processor. But who’s in the market for an iPod touch? With mobile phones getting so feature rich, do we still need an iPod Touch-like device that can only function as a media player? Significantly, with a 5 megapixel camera with backside illumination. Shockingly, they actually announce the ability to add a loop to the iPod Touch as a feature. This basically just copied ideas from Nokia generations ago. Anyway, with this and the multi-colour iPods, I guess they are targeting the iPod Touch at the younger generations, as a portable gaming device.

iPad -> Apple had 62% market share last year for tablets, this year so far it’s at 68%.  More impressively, Apple sold “more iPads than any PC manufacturer sold of their entire PC line,” which is a little nuts when you think about it. So despite the Nexus 7 launch, Apple iPad still had an increase in Tablet market share. Impressive.

But that’s all! No iPad mini announcement. The iPad release cycle is approximately March but rumours are floating that Apple is gearing up to launch a new model, the iPad Mini to assert even more dominance in the tablet market. We are anticipating that news in October.

iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, 3GS, new iPad, iPad 2 and iPod touch all are getting iOS 6 next Wednesday, 19 Sep.

Best Music Streaming Service / Website for Singapore

These days there are more than a few ways to listen to free music online that one could become slightly overwhelmed by the choices. We’ve done a quick run up for some of the music services out there that works in Singapore and the plus and minus of each service. Services like Pandora which is the Grandaddy of music streaming or Spotify check your IP location so you can only access them through a VPN.

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Migrating from iPhone to Android (Galaxy SGS3)

Many current iPhone users are waiting on the fence for the launch of the Apple iPhone 5 to decide if they should continue with iPhone or well, perhaps switch to the Android Camp, namely the Samsung Galaxy SGS3. Apple has lost the crowd favour and more people are definitely tempted by the huge screen for Samsung. Even if Apple increases the screen size to 4″, the Samsung SGS3 provides an additional [tippy title=”39% viewing area”]
iPhone 5 screen dimensions: 90.25mm x 50.6mm
Screen Area : 4566.6mm^2
SGS3 screen dimensions : 106.3mm x 59.8mm
Screen Area : 6356.7mm^2
% of iPhone 5 Screen : (6356.7-4566.6)/4566.6 = 39.1%[/tippy] as compared to the iPhone 5. Simply put, if you frequently watch shows on your phone, switch to Samsung to do your eyes a favour.

Well, its going to be hard to compare an unknown, yet to be released phone with the current market leader. Thus, putting specs aside, before making the switch you need to consider whether you’re willing to switch from the Apple ecosystem to Google’s. Read More

Kindle Fire HD vs Nexus 7: Value for money?

Amazon has just launched a new, larger version of its Kindle Fire tablet with a high-definition display, in a move by the retail giant to take on the Apple iPad and also a smaller 7 inch to compete it against the Nexus 7. How do they stack up? Value for money? And judging by specs alone, the Kindle Fire HD is the better buy.

7-Inch Kindle Fire HDThe Kindle Fire HD vs Kindle Fire What's changed 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDThe Kindle Fire HD vs Kindle Fire What's changed Google Nexus 7Kindle Fire 2 vs Kindle Fire Whats changed
Display 7-inch LCD IPS 8.9-inch LCD IPS 7-inch LCD IPS
Resolution 1,280 x 800 1,920 x 1,200 1,280 x 800
OS (Skinned) Android 4.0 Android 4.0 Android 4.1
CPU Dual-core 1.2GHz TI OMAP4 4470 Dual-core 1.5GHz TI OMAP4 4470 1.3GHz quad-core
Graphics IT SGX544 IT SGX544 Tegra 3
Memory TBA (likely 1GB) TBA (likely 1GB) 1GB
Storage 16GB, 32GB 16GB, 32GB, 64GB 8GB, 16GB
Front Camera Yes Yes Yes
Rear Camera N/A N/A N/A
Cellular N/A AT&T 4G LTE N/A (3G coming)
WiFi Dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n Dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth Yes (TBA) Yes (TBA) Yes
Dimensions 193 x 137 x 10.3mm 240 x 160 x 8.8mm 198 x 120 x 10.5mm
Weight (WiFi) 395 grams 567 grams 340 grams
Battery “11 hours” TBA “10 hours”
Ports microUSB, microHDMI microUSB, microHDMI microUSB
Price $199 (16gb), 249 (32gb) 299 (16gb), 349 (32gb) 199 (8gb), 249 (16gb)

Clearly, Amazon is pricing the 7″ Kindle Fire HD aggressively. You get more storage for the Fire HD, better battery life, and HDMI output as well. In terms of playback, the Nexus 7 is only equipped with a mono speaker but the Fire HD is equipped with stereo. Currently, there are no real world experience or results that pitch the Nexus 7 processor vs the Amazon Kindle. The Kindle processor in benchmarks released by Amazon states that it is faster but I would  take the usual marketing releases with a pinch of salt. I would expect the quad core Nexus 7 to better it in other performance tests.

For the Nexus  7, you get a lighter tablet (15% lighter!), better “official” software, without waiting for 3rd party ROM releases. Amazon might be stuck with their proprietary software and limited to applications from their app store. Apparently, their screen saver would display paid advertisements as well. From the get-go, you would not have access to some of Google features like Google Now and Wallet, but this features as of today may not be that important to most of us.  Furthermore, the Kindle Fire HD has no GPS, no gyroscope so maps or location aware apps would not work well. Also no NFC.  Also, the Amazon app store has only 50,000 apps compared to 600,000+ for Google Play. I believe the Kindle Fire is limited to the Amazon App store without loading a custom ROM or rooting it.

The Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ version is actually quite valued for money if you were to compare it against the $499 16gb iPad. Apple boasted about the iPad revolutionary retina screen but now Amazon were able to launch a full HD 1920 x 1200 resolution tablet at $200 cheaper.

End of it all, it all boils down to what you are going to use it for, and which ecosystem you are currently using. The Kindle Fire HD would be the pick if you are going to use your tablet quite a bit as a media device. Although in this case, I would recommend that you just get the 8.9″ version instead. The better screen, larger storage and microHDMI output are useful features. The one huge selling point for the new Fire HD is the micro HDMI. I have that on my Optimus 2X, and it’s a great thing to be able to watch content in my living room or TV full size.

On the other hand, the N7 would be the pick if you value reading and portability as the N7 is more versatile. The 15% weight difference is significant if you are going to be bringing it out frequently and using it for reading. For books, you aren’t limited to Amazon Kindle store and you can still access the Amazon book stores and also other distributors like Barnes and Noble. Google Play also have a pretty well stocked magazine and book library. App and software access is also not restricted. However, it is very likely that the Kindle Fire HD would be rooted and custom ROMs made available and that would  allow full app and software compatibility. Still considering? Don’t forget the possible iPad mini launching in October.



HTPC: XBMC vs Plex… Winner? Read on

Interested to hear about the Pros and Cons of XBMC and Plex?

Well, I have been messing with Home Theater PCs or HTPCs for short since I bought the xbox in 2005 and loaded XBMC on it. Computers have evolved, becoming much more integrated with our daily lives.  The term, HTPC, had been coined years ago but has grown popularity in the recent years with the booming growth of the HDTV market. The phone is also the new age media device, just look at the number of people watching shows on their iPhones and S3s on the buses and trains. TVs have become smarter too, but I still like to use a HTPC for now. Its more customisable, can load more types of streaming content and I can even game through it. But its a matter of time before more efficient devices like the Android miniPCs take over.

XBMC on top, Plex on bottom, don’t they look similar

Well, I digress. The original topic of discussion was XBMC vs Plex. They are both HTPC software. XBMC is a standalone media center that you install onto your device, Windows, Mac, iOS and now even Android. Plex is more complicated. It is divided into two portions, a server where you host local media, as well as to load and share plugins and web-content. Plex Media Center is the front-end media player component and you might realise that it looks very similar to XBMC, that is because Plex had the same developmental roots and forked off in 2008. I would possibly consider XBMC to somewhat like an OS replacement as it is able to launch applications with the plugins and is inherently more customisable wheras Plex strength lies in the fact that the server can support multiple clients.

Installation & Setup: XBMC wins. XBMC as a single piece of software and is way easier to setup and get it off running. Plex requires a bit more attention, due to the uniqueness of the host and server setup. There might be firewall issues to navigate as Plex uses a MyPlex online server setting to broadcast your server. There are some advantages when you start to load it to more devices as basically, only the server needs to be setup. The applications and library are all pulled from the central server. XBMC while easy, requires more effort to duplicate the setup. Due to the initial ease of use, XBMC wins.

Media Support & Playback: Both have no issues supporting streams, MP4s, rmvbs, H264s, avis, etc. Certain reviews do indicate that Plex have issues playing 1080p media files as compared to XBMC but I do not face that problem yet. However, one key area which to me Plex is lacking is the availability of Airplay. The beauty of XBMC is that Airplay is built-in. With XBMC on my HTPC, I can stream media from my phone or video that my friend sent to me over email or Whatsapp directly to the TV. That is something not achievable in Plex. XBMC wins.

Device & Media Distribution: Plex allows small clients to be installed onto devices like Smart Samsung/LG TVs, Android Phones, iPhones etc where they retrieve the media from the server. The advantage here is that Plex supports transcoding and delivery of a format that can be played to these devices. XBMC on the other hand, does not offer the ability to transcode or stream media. With XBMC now available on increasing number of devices, the difference is that the media needs to be duplicated across all or at least shared via a local library. Today, XBMC has made its way to the iPad and Android devices and can play just about every filetype that is available (Android, not so, due to hardware decoding issues). Over the coming years, these devices will, more and more, be cheap enough and simple enough to erase the need for thin clients a thing of the past, to the point that the only value of a server will be in maintaining a consistent library of watched and unwatched material across devices. For now, Plex wins. If you have a Samsung or LG Smart TV, do try out the Plex application to make your Smart TV even smarter.

Database Management: All of us have plenty of data stored in our computers. This ranges from music collection to movie librarys and personal photo albums. A HTPC provides access to all this in a consistent and often elegant interface. It is meant as an entertainment device and provides easy access to your data through your TV or projector, without the requirements of digging deep into our PC folder structure. Both have no problem doing this. Plex has a central database which means all clients get their metadata from a central place. This allows global ‘watched’, ‘resume from’, metadata edits etc. In comparison, XBMC is a distributed model. Each client has it’s own database which means you can’d do things like start watching in the lounge and ‘resume from’ the bedroom. Or watching a show on the bus and continuing where you left off on the living room TV when you return home. If you have multiple device support, all can share the same database so its streamlined across all.

Addons: XBMC has a way larger database and this shows with the number of addons. If you are looking for a specific type of application, there are much better chance to find it on XBMC. However, the popular video channels such as Youtube, Revision3, Hulu etc do make it to both XBMC and Plex. With that being said, Plex offers the Plex It bookmark to easily transfer web content to your Plex Media Center or media devices. The addons also look more polished on Plex, perhaps the API and backend might be better for acquiring content. Draw.

Cost: While both are free, Plex clients for the Android and iOS do cost money. Just today, PlexPass just launched as well at US$3.99 per month and it provides premium features to the subscribers. One of the newest feature is the Plex web client which allows easier management of your media and to play it straight from the browser.

To summarise it all, it is a close call between this two very similar piece of software and it really depends on your usage. I currently am swaying towards Plex due to the multiple client, single setup feature as I do own a couple of devices that i watch on the go, an iPad and an Android phone, and for the ability to synchronise the playlist. Next is because some of my channel plugins just seem to work better on Plex. However, for instances when I want to deploy a standalone media center such as an Android PC connected to a TV, I would greatly prefer XBMC for its standalone features. I still have both software installed, and I do use the XBMC addon PleXBMC which grafts the Plex Media Server access into XBMC. Its not the best implementation and it feels rather clunky to use as a separate addon, but with some dedication to it, it might be the solution that brings the best of XBMC and Plex together.