iPhone 5 review!

I took the plunge and bought an iPhone 5 (Black, 16GB) in December. The other contender I had in mind was the Nokia Lumia 920. Its weight was a big deterrent though. And as much as I wanted to move to the latest from Microsoft's new phone operating system, it simply is not available here in India. Here is a short review of my experience with the iPhone 5 so far.

Cost & Micro-SIM

At $700 (~Rs 38,000), and the rupee at an all time low to the dollar, this is an expensive phone to buy outright. Plus, Apple is selling it at an even higher price point through its retailers here in India, for Rs. 45,500. I got mine shipped through a friend, and it took some 3 days to reach from the US. Best shipping time ever, as it was carried in a pocket.

The other thing of note is the nano sim card. With airtel launching the iphone, my company facility folks were able to get me one in three days. Thank god for their help, as Airtel has no relationship centres nearby. The two nearest to my house do not exist, and hunting for them was a futile and time wasting exercise.

Design & Hardware

Apple has outdone itself when it comes to the hardware. The new iPhone 5 is sleek and looks like a million bucks. It defines the new sexy. The edges are finely crafted and the aluminium back looks amazing. The other thing that surprises you as soon as you hold it is the weight. For this big a device, you assume it to be heavy, but it feels almost weightless.

Worth it for the hardware alone. While the main structure of iOS has not changed much, it feels snappier than my iPod Touch and iPad 3. The screen is gorgeous, and does not feel like it is on a diet and shrunk from the super duper sized phone displays we see from Samsung etc. I did feel some awkwardness while reaching the top corners single handedly. This was maybe due to my heavy use of the iPod touch, which is a perfect fit at 3.7 inches. The display is one of the brightest and sharpest available today. It is very good outdoors and down right gorgeous inside.

Camera

The camera is vastly improved. Here is a sample of my first few clicks. The pictures are sharp and well lit. Auto focus is fast too and the camera is a good replacement for a point and shoot. This helps you capture the interesting and the beautiful from everyday life.

    

Wifi, GPS, Battery

I had an issue with the Wifi, but a little tinkering fixed it. I had to move to the G band on my router. Searching the Apple support forums was depressing as most people suggested for a replacement, which in my case would have meant anywhere between a month to six. Thankfully, the issue got sorted with a restart, but the reception is weaker than my iPod Touch. That can be said about the cellular network reception as well. While my Samsung Windows Phone never reported any network loss in my office (or maybe chose not to), I frequently see a network lost message.

Battery life is good for a phone this size. Charging is surprisingly fast, something that is yet to be seen in other devices. Since I do not own any accessories for the 30-pin connector, the new lightning port did not post any connectivity issues for me. Duel sided nature of the lightning connector is a huge blessing.

Radios are as expected. GPS and WiFi lock fast and do not drain the battery life. I chose to leave them on all times as the convenience outweighs the hassle of switching them off and on again. This was unthinkable with the WP7.

iOS6, Apps, iTunes, Maps, Siri & Facetime

The apps remain a strong point of the Apple ecosystem. I have a few loaded already, but maybe that's for another post some day.

Siri is supercool but has trouble with my accent for any real world use. The poor data connections do not help either.  I was successful in setting up some reminders, finding match schedules for my favorite football team, and send some texts, but nothing more. Siri still has difficulty pronouncing my name and the other integrations do not work in India, yet.

With iTunes music launch, things are looking good for this part of the world.

  

No maps in Apple maps. Thankfully, Google maps are now available on iOS.

Minor Cribs & Suggestions

The ringtones shipped could be improved. Apple maps is useless in India. But thats how I found out Waze. With Google maps now available, this is not an issue anymore.

Keyboard is good enough, as it was in the last century. It needs a new lease of life. Response is fast and accurate, but somehow I feel other options like swype keyboard maybe worth looking into.

I request Apple to provide a mechanism to skip songs while enjoying a morning/evening walk. Apple needs to provide some more user functions for the locked mode, apart from easy access to the Camera. This could be based on the current app running in the foreground. Music interaction and app notifications can be improved too. Plus, inter-app interactions do not exist. Apple should fix this. And perhaps freshen up the homescreen a bit?

By the way, I did a Facetime call on 3G. How cool is that?

In the end, I was a little sad at letting the Windows Phone 7 go. But the iPhone 5 is easily the best phone sized phone out there. Highly recommended.

That's it! Tune in later for a few recommendations on the apps I am using on the iPhone. Happy Valentines day!

The new iPad!

The new iPad I bought the new iPad (White, Wifi, 16GB) a couple of months ago. The primary argument against an iPad till now was this perception that it's nothing more than an oversized iPod or iPhone.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Today, the iPad has become my primary go-to device. The screen is gorgeous. Performance is snappy & fluid. Touch on the iPad's large screen is responsive and intuitive. I use it for Browsing, Games, Reading, Music and connecting with my friends and family. In short, gratification is instantaneous.

Till now, I was the single user for all my gadgets. Nobody in my family found them interesting. New laptop? Kindle? iPod Touch? XBOX? Nope. Not interested. But the iPad is changing this. A quick peek at email. Pick up the iPad. Listen to a song or play a game to kill a few minutes. iPad. Google this or that. iPad again. Everybody in my family leans towards the iPad first. And many times a need for a second one arises. :))

Nothing beats the iPad for the fantastic browsing experience it offers. Browsing is fast and rendering is world-class. The retina display is awesome. I use Flipboard for news and articles on tech, design, photos etc. I fear for my Google Reader usage. Flipboard has my undivided attention for atleast 30 minutes per day. Every day. Add Kindle apps and the excellent iBooks, and reading was never this much fun. For eBooks however, I still prefer my Kindle.

Going through email and checking social networks is a breeze. With wireless sync, music is always up to date. Skype, Facetime and iMessage provide a fantastic and fast experience while communicating with friends and family.

The App Store is the place for great, high quality apps. Believe me. Games like Cut the Rope, Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, Temple Run, NFS and Infinity Blade have made everybody in my family an amateur gamer.

Battery life is excellent. Charging is super fast and non-linear. The iPad feels comfortable to hold, and is sturdy enough. On-screen keyboard is usable. I rarely use the rear camera for pictures, but it does provide decent picture quality.  Once in a while, I do stumble upon a website using flash, but this happens less frequently than I initially feared.

All in all, iPad is a fantastic device and the best tablet out there. Highly recommended!

Windows Phone 8!

Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 event was a pleasant surprise. As a Windows Phone user, I am very satisfied with the way things are shaping up for this (not so) new phone OS. iOS 6, for me, was an underwhelming attempt by Apple. WP8 announcement packs in a lot and will help break the boring duopoly of iOS & Android in the smartphone marketplace.

Announcing Windows Phone 8

A quick recap of what is new and coming this fall :-

  1. A new start screen
  2. Better hardware choices, with support for three screen resolutions, dual-core & quad-core (planned) and microSD card.
  3. Internet Explorer 10
  4. Shared core with Windows 8, with easier porting and more interesting apps and games coming through.
  5. Nokia Maps, with offline caching and turn-by-turn navigation
  6. NFC/Wallet feature and In-App purchases
  7. Enterprise features including Encryption, Secure Boot, Device Management and App Deployment
  8. Full VoIP support

All of this sounds great. This release will strengthen WP8's pitch as a viable alternative to iOS & Android. We can expect a few more interesting features once the devices start shipping.

However, this did not please a lot of existing WP7 customers.

WP7 customers were distraught that WP8 won't be coming to their "barely days old" devices. And frankly, Microsoft could have done a better job on this. All the Software features should have been brought to the existing devices. A price correction is another way to sell existing, but now old and incompatible devices and software.

Apple customers face a similar problem every October. But instead of getting angry and upset, Apple customers support and queue in for the new hardware and software features. Google, on the other hand, announces a new version, which trickles down to a percent of existing devices in 6-12 months timeframe, and most of the time never.

Microsoft should take a leaf out of Apple's book, rather than following its PC legacy of announcing a product and following up with an actual release 3-4 months afterwards. The Phone industry is not similar to the PC industry, where the major distribution was through PC manufacturers. Here are a couple of things Microsoft can do better next time :-

  1. Fix an approximate announcement schedule, so customers know it is that time of the year again.
  2. Work with Nokia and release a new lead device, along with the OS announcement.

A new OS is a "once in two years" phenomenon. Microsoft has a couple of years to figure things out for WP9. Every new OS version should accompany a new phone announcement for Microsoft to gain a substantial traction in the market.

Macbook Air!

I just got an 11" Macbook Air (the base version). And it is awesome. What follows is an incomplete hardware-only review of my latest acquisition.

As Michael Porter says, there are primarily two kinds of strategies. Differentiation & Cost-based. While Apple's Macbook Air reeks of the former, considering the amazing quality on offer, it provides a great value for the latter. No wonder it is selling like hot cakes right now.

Design The aluminium unibody looks and feels great. There is nothing of similar quality available in the market, except other Macbook Airs of course. The keyboard is amazing to type on, right sized, with right number of keys, and very easy to clean. The multi-touch enabled touch pad is all you need to work effortlessly on the device. The Apple logo add style. The whole package provides a beautiful, durable & upmarket feel to your everyday, & till now, dull computing experience. At 11" inches, the display does not support HD resolution, but you will not miss the higher resolution. For what the display lacks in resolution, it more than makes up in rendering quality.

Charger From the magnetic latch to the extension cord, even the charger has been thoughtfully designed. It provides one more reference point that Apple cares about the whole experience, and does not try to get away with the bare minimum. The charger proves beyond doubt, that it is somebody's job at Apple to make the best laptop charger in the world. Charging is fast and the battery life is adequate. And the charger LED does not crave for attention in a dark room.

The missing ports? There is no HDMI port. No SD Card reader. No VGA. USB ports are limited to a meagre two. Headphones & Mic are rolled into one. And the thunderbolt port will remain unused, at least till somebody this side of the world decides to import some accessories supporting it. But here's the thing, you won't miss the "missing" ports. No you won't. You will be too busy enjoying the Air.

And the internals, you ask? The hard-disk at 64 GB is tiny. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up in performance. With a solid state disk, the Air is instant on, super fast and super quiet. Did I mention light before? It's worth repeating. This device is almost weight-less. In-built speakers are decent. But what about the processor? Well you don't need to keep up with the latest numbering scheme from Intel. The Air does pack in one of the newer versions of Intel's processors and it will suffice for the everyday needs of its target audience. And Apple knows that the Air's primary customer does not care too much about the RAM or the GPU either, as long as they do what they are asked to do. The Air does the job its designed for very well.

Finally, the Verdict! All said and done, if you are on the lookout for a light, durable, stylish, fast and fun laptop, look no further. The Macbook Air is what you need. Plus, not that you are spoilt with choices anyways. After four years, competition is finally waking up to the Macbook Air and we are now hearing about the Ultrabooks. However, not only is it too little too late, the whole pricing & positioning thing is wrong too.

Well, that is it for today. Hopefully this review is helpful to you, dear reader! I will share my first experience of the MAC OS X, but that is another day, another post. Ciao!

Kindle + Readability!

I am a proud owner of a Kindle. So proud, that I have recommended it to my friends and family. I have also demonstrated it, showcased it, and even lent it to a few of them to help them make up their minds on buying a Kindle. Currently the only option to get a Kindle in India is to (somehow) get it from the US, or ask Amazon to ship it to you, wherein they handle customs etc. So you either travel or have someone get one for you, or pay up more money to get it online. Hopefully Amazon has plans to retail this wonderful product in India sometime soon.

The reading experience on a Kindle is awesome, to say the least. And it’s an amazing device for a regular reader (not a fast one). The experience of reading on Kindle is as close as it gets to read an actual physical book. Plus being an electronic device, you also get a dozen of other useful features. (Dictionary, Social sharing, Notes, Highlighting are the ones I use regularly).

You can buy books and get them wirelessly on your kindle in no time. Books that were not available before or that are costlier in paperback are now available within a few mouse clicks.

That brings me to Readability. Apart from books, a lot of content is created every day in byte sized chunks, on blogs and websites. And it is really difficult to read on the web. Apart from the obvious technology related shortcomings of reading on an LCD screen, most of the websites litter good articles with ads, plugs and what not.

Readability solves that problem, and gets the good stuff on your kindle for an enjoyable & distraction free reading experience. With its browser add-ons, you can reduce the cluttered article in a browser to a readable format and send it to your kindle for wireless syncing. So if you do read long-ish articles everyday, but would rather have a better experience doing it, Kindle + Readability is what you need!