The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – an iPhone 4 review from an Apple non fanboy.

Word count: 1005 | Estimated time to read entry: 14 min

It’s been a little over a month since I purchased my iPhone 4 and I have been giving many of its features a try. I didn’t want this review to be a comprehensive feature-by-feature rundown so I have kept this strictly to those features that jump to my mind when I ask myself, “What are the things that are great, not so great and pathetic about the iPhone 4?”. I also thought of including some philosophies of the iPhone because that is what makes this phone greater than the sum total of all its features (or less so), in my opinion. And this is what comes to my mind…

The Good:

  1. The form factor, touch sensitivity and screen resolution: Much has been said about this already by so many others and I completely agree with all the eulogies heaped onto the iPhone for this. These features are simply unparalleled.
  1. Utility: Of all the Apple devices, I find only the iPhone 4 worth its money for the sheer utility it has packed in. It is a one device equivalent to any device you need – a HD cam, a media player, a phone, a navigation device, a netbook, a portable gaming system and more.
  1. Attention to detail: Even seemingly small things have been given great attention on the iPhone. What impresses me most is the clicking sound that I hear when I lock and unlock the screen and also the fact that I just have to drag down apps like Twitter and Facebook to get fresh updates.

The Bad:

  1. iTunes UI: I just cant believe this software is from Apple, a company which stresses so much on UI. The prev page/next page buttons are 2 small icons on the top bar which is not very easy to operate. The software is sluggish and auto-suggest feature in the search bar works like it has a temper tantrum. And what’s more, the horizontal scroll of the 90’s is still seen on iTunes if you want to check the screenshots of an app you are about to install.  Unpardonable. Even the Windows 7 app store UI is far better compared to this.
  1. Music output quality: Somehow the quality of music on the iPhone’s iPod is drastically different, and for the worse, compared to the standalone iPod. I have tried changing the Equalizer settings but I don’t see much difference in the quality. The only reason I can think of why there is so much difference between these two products from the same maker is that Apple is deliberately underselling the iPod feature on the iPhone to keep up the sales of the standalone iPod and that aint fair.  That, together with the fact that FM is not enabled on the iPhone yet (but is already enabled on some iPods) makes the iPhone 4 a suboptimal choice for listening to music.
  1. Absence of Task/App manager: Of course multitasking came to the iPhone as a delayed boon but with that came the inevitable burden of managing the apps. Every time I shift to a different app, the previous one continues to run in the background for eternity consuming hardware resources and over a period of time slowing the phone down. The only way to kill apps is by a cumbersome method of double clicking the Home button and closing apps individually. Wouldn’t it be much easier to have an App manager like the Notifications menu, where I can turn off an app by a toggle button against each of the open apps??

 

The Ugly:

  1. The camera: This is a joke especially in the night. Small dark spots appear all over the snap when shooting in not-so-good light conditions. HDR on/off or for that matter Flash on/off makes no difference. The “HD” camera is a serious let down in iPhone 4.
  1. Geo discriminatory marketing strategy: iPhone 4 isn’t officially released yet in India, one of the largest market for mobile phones IN THE WORLD! Enthusiasts like me are forced to buy one from the grey markets and in the process pay upwards of $1000 for a device that is delivered without a receipt and without any warranty! Moreover, iTunes account geo isolates one on signup and if you aren’t in the US or Canada, apps like Yelp etc are not even seen listed in the iTunes app store! Maybe I will find very less utility for an app like Yelp here in India but I’d rather Apple let ME discover that instead of taking a call on that all by itself.
  1. Inadequate championing of the product: In India, Apple has never convinced  carriers to subsidize the iPhone so all versions till 3GS (as 4 is not yet available) were priced upwards of $800. And they were carrier locked all the same – that’s a double whammy!! Apple has till date not taken up the issue of mass adoption of 3G standards in India but has nevertheless sold 3G and 3GS phones. That is like selling a Ferrari to a village bumpkin knowing full well that the roads all over his village are bumpy and pothole ridden. Maybe the bumpkin got full value for his money for the Ferrari but imagine his delight when he hears that his car dealer is now taking up the cause of bad roads all over his village and trying to get that changed so that he has a great experience vrooming around in his new Ferrari! That’s what I call ‘championing’ and I have seen other great companies do it – not Apple. Not yet.

Apple is presently the best smartphone in the market, in my opinion. But considering the landscape, it can all change mighty fast. And I quote:

“There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those with a rope around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting”. -Tuco, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Look who is tempting us with an apple again

Word count: 920 | Estimated time to read blog: 12 min

Say NO to iPad

It was in my second year of engineering that I fell in love. The internet was a growing phenomenon and fascinated me no end. So I enrolled myself for a web designing course and it was here that we first met. Soon I started spending more and more time with this new found love and since then, not a day has passed by without my expressing, in some way, my sheer fascination of it all. It is called Flash.

Now, apologies for all that melodrama in the above paragraph but if you do manage to get to the end of this entry, you might probably agree with my calling it so. If you think this is too long a note, please read the last line and that should do. 🙂

When I began learning Flash, it belonged to a less known company called Macromedia – in fact they created the product. What fascinated me as much as the product itself was Macromedia Flash’s awe-inspiring credo: What the web can be. That one sentence said a lot – about the company, its dreams, its potential and about the product Flash. And it did live up to that credo and if you are a guy/gal who has learned web designing the good old way starting with HTML coding on notepad, then moving on to Javascripting and then Flash, you will certainly appreciate the overwhelming ease and interactivity that Flash brought to the web. Remember, we are talking early 2002 here.

By the end of my 4th year, Macromedia was acquired by competitor Adobe and along with it went Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks to Adobe’s kitty which had but one feather in its cap thus far – Photoshop. And Adobe did take Flash to heights unimagined. Soon every website was being designed in Flash, college students did their presentations, even resumes in Flash, most front ends and UI designers bragged about their Flash skills so much so that even HTML itself was used to a bare minimum and that too, only to embed Flash files on web pages.

The rest is history. Adobe kept the show going and made the dream-like credo, “What the web can be” a perpetually improving and pleasing reality. With their vast repertoire of heavenly fonts, video rendering functions etc, the web became the beautiful, lovely and aesthetic place it is today that you and I enjoy. The games, the videos, the glossy animations and all other media rich content kept coming in and Flash made it possible without ever declaring or worrying that behind all that magic there was a product that most laymen didn’t even knew existed or bothered to acknowledge.

In its advancement, never did Adobe restrict any other technology or device. With a credo like that to keep up with, one couldn’t; one wouldn’t. Be it PHP, AJAX or even devices like smartphones, Flash merged seamlessly to provide the unique experience it did on the web. What’s more, Adobe added cross functionality across its own product range and the magic of desktop design products like Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop could now flow in and out of Flash, making the web the far cry it is today from the days of HTML.

Without ever ruthlessly aiming for market domination at the expense of other technologies that improved the web and forever providing fantastic updates radically different from previous releases, first Macromedia and now Adobe, through Flash, made the web a lovelier, easier, pleasanter, richer and the most delightful experience it is today.

And today, one bearded son of a bitch dares to belittle this relentless and almost selfless contribution to the web by saying Adobe is headed to the grave. Just because he has had some market attention in the past 3 years and has sold a few million devices. That sob is Steve Jobs and hey it rhymes!

I have nothing against Apple devices – they are superb. The form-factor is lovely, the screen rendition amazing…in fact, the very things that Adobe and Flash stand for – beauty. Despite being a die-hard Google fan, I would kill for iPhone 4 and not the Nexus one. I also appreciate the fluidity of MAC OS and the utility of other devices like iMac, Time Capsule etc.

What I am against is the philosophy the company stands for which is evident in its actions: to cut down all others and promote only self interest, ethically or otherwise. More so, otherwise. Today’s declaration of Jobs sending ‘Adobe to the grave and that they have enjoyed their summer’ reeks of just that not to mention, a disregard to a great contributor to the web and allied technology and above all, to Beauty.

The mere act of iDevices not supporting Flash doesn’t spell doom for it; there are others that collectively outnumber Apple. But I dislike the spirit of not supporting Flash. It seems every 3 seconds someone is now buying the iPad. And that means every 3 seconds, someone is disregarding and forgetting all the beauty that Flash imparted to the web.

I for one am not buying the iPad. And if you consider yourself an admirer of beauty, a designer, an artist, a promoter of free thinking and to say the least a person who is grateful – you shouldn’t either.

It comes as no surprise that the last time someone tempted Mankind, it was with an Apple. And even today Satan is always dressed in black.

Say no to iPad.

PS: If you aren’t convinced about the last line, I’d certainly encourage you to read a more detailed explanation of the rationale. It has nothing to do with technology, it is simply a question of the mindset. Read more here


Flip Mino HD – Vblogs soon.

Word count: 434 | Estimated time to read entry: 5 min

DSC01214

I developed a fascination for the Flip Mino in the middle of 2008, when this was being touted on all the tech blogs as the one that will revolutionize our already over revolutionized digital age. Amazon wouldn’t deliver this outside of the US and it would take quite a while for Flip to consider marketing in India (in fact, it isn’t available in India yet. Just bragging.)

Fortunately by December 08, 2 ladies agreed to pick this up for me in the US and hand-deliver it while they arrived in Bangalore. I now had to take the chance of guessing which one of the two would arrive sooner. And as with all things that could ever be ‘guessed’ with ladies, here I am writing this blog entry on my possession of the Flip Mino HD, a good 7 months later 😀

In this time, Flip has been bought over by Cisco, cheaper and better alternatives like the Kodak Zi6 are now available and the dream of being one of the first to possess the FM-HD in India was also shattered when the package was unceremoniously dropped at my aunt’s place, thereby making her precede me in its possession!

Flip Mino HD, as the name suggests, records HD video on an in-built, non-expandable 4GB memory that amounts to 60 min of record time. The one thing that stands out about the cam, justifying the $250 price tag, is its simplicity of usage – no 100+ pages of manuals to read, batteries to charge and precautions to take. At the press of a button, a USB connector flips open and you can begin charging by connecting it to your PC. The software that helps you manage and upload videos, Flip Share, is loaded in the cam itself and prompts for an installation on first connect.  It is shaped like a mobile phone so it is very portable and maintenance free. There are the few basic buttons and unless you dropped straight out of Stone Age today morning, the operation of the cam is intuitive. The quality of the recordings is superb – in fact better than what you actually see with your eyes.

A few accessories come along with the standard equipment – a wrist strap that could be passed on for a platinum necklace, a pouch that looks and feels like a Hollywood hottie’s satin underwear and an AV cable to connect to the TV that looks exactly what it should look like.

I intend to begin Video blogging soon and put this cam to good use. Topics and suggestions welcome.


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Who says I ain’t a Roadie – Part 2

Word count: 1827 | Estimated time to read entry: 20 min

Note: This entry is in continuation of  ‘Who says I ain’t a Roadie – Part 1

 

At the camp:

We stood in line for lunch – you could eat as much as you wanted but the total supply was limited. One person’s greed would mean someone else had to compensate by staying hungry. So I struck a deal with the guys on perpetual diet and requested them to overload their plates and unload it later onto mine. This was one hell of a reality show we were in!

Our tents
Our tents

Our dwelling conditions were pathetic. The tent was made of crude asbestos sheets supported by wooden posts and thatches, with a flap for entry. There was a bulb and that was the only luxury. The floor was bare earth and all its inhabitants were our uninvited guests. A heavy gust of wind would throw open the flaps and sprinkle us with the surrounding dust.

 

Each tent had around 6-7 occupants and all you could do in the tent was to lie on your belly with your elbows on the ground and chin in your palms, staring at all the other tents’ occupants who were also doing the same thing. A few meters away, there was a huge open tank with a couple of taps and this was the water you could use for anything, including Jai Ho  🙂

A huge lamp on a post lit this entire area at night and people soon discovered that it had a plug and socket for charging mobile phones. Some others discovered that the wind always blew in a very favorable direction at one spot and would be ideal for smoking.

 

Some optimistic chaps exclaimed that the food served was delicious to which I pointed out that after all the hectic tasks we did, any food would taste like ambrosia. But even I had to agree that it was far better than what we got in our mess 😛

 

The temperament of the folks was varied. All of us knew that if we didn’t finish the tasks, we would be sent back again like some of our seniors were, and that meant not one but two weeks in hell. No one had failed twice till date so we didn’t want to even think about it ourselves. There was no question of backing out and most of us did the tasks grudgingly.

 

Some pretended to like it for a while but even they began to detest the tasks as the level of difficulty shifted to top gear. During this, we found great solace in abusing the profs who had planned this and resolved that after passing out, we would arrange a similar Outbound for them all. Fortunately, the group politics was absent and everyone was supportive, perhaps because there was no credit for excelling or out-performing another. It wasn’t a competition so we were all in it together.

 

Cave exploration:

After lunch, we were told that our next task was cave exploration. We got ready with our backpacks and set out with the three trainers. After a good 2km trek on uneven terrain, we again faced another rock but no caves were in sight. Miss commando came forward to quell our curiosity:

One of the easy ones we have climbed
One of the "easy" ones we'd climbed 😉

“The cave is inside this rock but entry is on the other side. You have to ascend it and descend half way from the other side to enter it. More instructions after we are at the cave entrance. Move!”

 

This rock was more difficult than the first one we had climbed in the morning. It was steeper and in many spots we had to get on all fours and use our hands for support. We also had to take 3 breaks to catch our breath before reaching the top. Finally, we made it and began the descent. While ascent was tedious, descent was scary. Looking down from some 150+ feet with the wind gushing in your ears is a petrifying feeling. It psyches you out. Every step had to be well chosen because though you wouldn’t fall to your death, you could certainly break an ankle rendering you incapable of doing any tasks further.

 

We arrived at the tip of the cave with zero casualties. I expected it to be an Indiana Jones kinda cave with beams of light streaking from above and a nice deep blue pool of cool water in the centre.  All I saw was a dark pit in the rock, some 15 feet in diameter.

Moments b4 the plunge
Moments b4 the plunge

“This is the cave, it widens as you go in but not enough for you to stand up. It is more like a tunnel – you got to form a human chain lying down and slide sequentially on your backs. Your feet should be on the shoulders of the person sliding in front of you and he will hold on to your ankles. He will tug at your ankles when it is time to move – and you will do similarly for the guy above you. And that’s the way the chain will move through the cave. The leader goes first and will not have anyone to hold his ankles or direct him”.

“Remember these points”, she continued –

  1. There is only one way out of this cave.
  2. The cave is wide enough so you can lose your way and can get lost inside.
  3. Worse still, you can get isolated inside if you break the chain so never break the chain.
  4. If you are on the right track towards the exit, it gets very narrow and you can get stuck.
  5. There are bats inside the cave who will fly towards you in hordes if you create a noise so this whole task should be done is absolute silence.
  6. The cave is pitch dark and lighters, torches or any source of light is prohibited as it could attract the bats or other creatures towards you.

Happy exploration, one of us will meet you at the exit. So who wants to go first?”

 

I couldn’t believe my ears. This was like my worst nightmare coming true. Imagine sliding on your butt inside a pitch black tunnel with bats and “other creatures” ready to attack you. WTF did anyone even want to try this?

 

Soon we were in the cave holding on to the ankles of the guy above us for dear life. Our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and the only sound we could hear was the rustle of denim on hard rock as we slid sequentially towards we knew not what.

“Waaaah! I think I have been bitten by a bat….a bat….a bat” echoed a panic-stricken voice from above.

“Shut the f#@# up Mr Batman, don’t make a noise…a noise…a noise”, came a reply.

“I’m stuck here, I can’t move a muscle….too narrow…too narrow…too narrow”.

“Whew! We are on the right track then…then…then”.

 

At the narrowest point, the cave touched our noses as we lay on our backs. We had to force ourselves out of this and the guy below tugged hard at your ankles to help you through. After a lot more acrobatics we saw light below and slid towards it.

 

Having come out of the cave, we had descended only 30% of the rock we had climbed. The remaining descent was before us and after that we had to cross a shallow river, go around the rock and head for the camp to reach our tents – a good 10 km of trekking awaited us. Our jeans were in tatters and so was our spirit.

 

We reached the tent before dark with every muscle aching. The medicine kits were out in full glory and the smell of odomos cream, boroplus, dettol, moov etc was in the air. A couple guys had injured ankles after descent but nothing serious.

 

Over dinner we realized that only 1 day had elapsed and we had to endure 6 more! And on this seemingly easiest day we had climbed 2 moderately difficult rocks and trekked nearly 15km! We decided to take one step at a time and went straight to our tents for some sleep. We were to be back in action very early the following day.

 

Mayday! We are under attack!

We were in a deep slumber when our camp was suddenly attacked by the best stealth bomber in the world – Rain. Angry torrents lashed at the unresisting tents and their confused inhabitants without warning. The flaps did little to prevent the gusts from entering and within minutes we all woke up to the fact that we were under serious attack.

 

The effects of the havoc unleashed were multiple. For one, most roofs started leaking and generous streams of water began to flow in. Secondly, the thatches on the sides got all soggy, thereby wetting our bag of supplies and clothes that were kept against them. Thirdly, all the insects from the earth came out in millions and we saw innumerable ants and worms crawl straight onto our pillows and glucose bottles. Fourthly, the tents were on an embankment just 6 inches from the ground and rain water was fast covering this little height and would soon flood in from the floor up as well. Fifthly, because of the rain the entire terrain and rocks would be rendered slippery, making our tasks more difficult and dangerous.

 

What followed was total chaos – lights were turned on, flaps were held shut, leaks were covered with towels to provide temporary relief, a few got into their boots and jumped all over the tents in an attempt to vanquish the insect army and bags were moved to the center of the tents to be fiercely guarded. As usual, there was a ‘manager’ in every tent who could only give ‘creative suggestions’ but could never implement any thing:

 

“Move the bag there….hold the flaps, hold the flaps….sweep out that water….why don’t you do something?!….stop being an idiot….keep the shoes away from the clothes…..”

 

Tempers flew in every tent very soon and there was utter fracas over all issues – people were shouting at the top of their voices addressing each others’ mothers, sisters and any other female member in the family one could think of. There were some pushes and shoves and the situation was slowly getting out of hand. The group leaders intervened finally, keeping aside their own quarrels, and decided to go to the coordinators’ tents for help.

 

The coordinators had thick nice tents made of canvas that were well furnished with beds, fans etc! They even had the luxury of securely locking their tents as some of them even had a TV. The plea for help was turned down and we were told that we are on our own and the crisis was part of the entire show – it was up to us to manage it and overcome it. We couldn’t even burn down their tents because of the rain and that reminded us that we were all unnecessarily getting wet. We returned to our tents, destroyed every single insect in sight, swept out the water and got ready to resume our sleep. The rain relented and we were soon asleep once again.

Pics Courtesy: Aashish/Nilesh/Lipjo/Paddy

>>To be continued…

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4


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