Monday, April 29, 2013

Pocket-size Camera, Professional Quality: Nikon Coolpix A Hands-On

Camera market in 2013 has been heated by many mirror-less cameras with smaller size yet professional image quality. The combination of APS-C sized sensor and fixed focal length has been popular across different brands: Sigma DP1M, Fujifilm X100s, Ricoh GR, etc. And now it's Nikon's time! Coolpix A is Nikon's latest product that brings APS-C sensor in a compact camera body. It comes with fixed length of 18.5mm (35mm equivalent: 28mm) and its largest aperture is F2.8. In this post, I will have a brief hands-on about how this camera feels.


As the name suggests, Coolpix A is in Nikon's Coolpix series, which is designed as a very compact camera body. The black paint is somewhat similar to that on Nikon's DSLR line. It has a special finish with some visible texture. There is a slight curved, leather covered grip at the front to increase the comfort level when people hold the camera. The lens, like many point-and-shoot camera, is covered by the curtain that is controlled by the power switch. There is also an Fn1 button next to the lens.


Compared to Sony RX1, it is shorter and narrower. With less prominent lens size, it is also smaller in depth. It is very light-weighted, 299g, around two smartphones' weight.



My palm is not big, but I still manage to grab Coolpix A in one hand. It can be easily slotted in a casual outing bag without much effort. People usually will not notice that it is something different from their point-and-shoot camera by just looking at the camera size.


On the back of Coolpix A, the control layout is very much like that on Nikon's DSLR, which is good for previous Nikon's DSLR users. However, I feel that the buttons on the left are somewhat crammed at the edge. Imagine holding the camera in one hand, it is difficult to press the button on the left side, no matter using left or right hand.


On the top left, it's the Coolpix A print and the flash is hidden in the plate. And this may appeal to some buyers: made in Japan!

So far I feel that Coolpix A is very convenient for carrying around: it can be fit in my suitcase easily and 28mm equivalent focal length is versatile in most cases. I will share more about the shooting experience with Nikon Coolpix A in the next post.  

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Love at First Sight: HTC One First Impression

To be honest, I didn't use an HTC smartphone before, except that I played a little bit with my mum's HTC Wildfire (yea, I know..that's from ages ago). While in the Android space, Samsung is taking the lead, HTC is trying its best to stop the declining sales and yes, from this latest flagship: HTC One, I can see that they have put a big bet on it. It is something completely different from HTC's past product line.

Before I saw HTC One, My impression of HTC phones stays at this: plastic phone design, curved corners and big camera right on the back of it. It is difficult to tell what exactly the model is by judging purely on the seemingly identical design. And HTC One just changed all my stereotype. The aluminium unibody build makes the whole design much more tasteful. The white and silver grey are a perfect match and it is suitable for both business and personal.  


The 4.7-inch screen is hidden behind the Corning Gorilla glass. Its resolution is enormous. 1080 x 1920 pixels, which sets the PPI 468. The brightness and sharpness need no further comments. It is just great.


Below the screen, there are two touch buttons, Back and Home. That is different from Android's common design of three buttons: back, home and settings. I guess the reason that settings button is removed is that most apps now have the setting button inside the app.


On the back of it, it is the camera and this design reminds of the old generations of HTC phones. I am a bit concerned about whether the camera glass will be scratched by the surface when it is facing down. In addition, this camera is one of the biggest selling point in HTC One and it's called Ultrapixel camera. I will have a more detailed review on the camera in the later post.


Beats audio is still part of the HTC smartphone eco-system. The earphones that come with HTC One is beats branded as well. I have not yet try out the earphone though.


On top of HTC One is the power button and audio jack. You can also see that the cutting at the edge is very beautiful. However, it needs to be taken good care of, otherwise it gets dented pretty easily. HTC One is a bit thicker and heavier than iPhone 5 but doesn't feel bulky at all. But the sleek design of aluminium body is somewhat slippery. It is better to put a case on it in case it slipped out of hand.

In all, I really love the design of HTC One, the aluminium unibody case is way better than any 'advanced' plastic. Yet it doesn't add too much bulk in the pocket. t haven't got much time on exploring its functions. I think I will do that over the weekend. Please check back the blog frequently so you don't miss that!

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Beta Released!

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The New Adobe Lightroom 5 Beta is released! You can download it from here, if you have an adobe account registered. 

I have been using Adobe Lightroom for a while. The first version I used is Lightroom 3 and I liked it very much, after that I upgraded to Lightroom 4, some new features are added such as adjusting highlights and shadows. However, I find Lightroom 4 is extremely slow when processing the photos. I was hoping they have a major update so that this could be fixed. It seems that now it's the time! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Facebook Home First Impression


After last week writing about Facebook's new move to release its app launcher 'Facebook Home', I was eager to have a hands-on when it's released. On 12 April, it was launched on Google Play Store. But it is bad that it is restricted to only US phone users. Thanks to the mighty Internet community, not taking too long, the Facebook Home apk file was uploaded. I got mine from this website here. If you have the compatible Android phones (HTC One X, HTC One X+, Samsung Galaxy S3 and Note 2), you can use your phone browser to download the apk from the above website. Also remember to check "Unknown Sources" under settings->application. It allows you to install 3rd party app (not from Google Play Store) on the phone.

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Once Facebook Home is launched and signed in using your Facebook ID, both the lock screen and wallpaper are replaced by the cover feed, mainly photos from your friends. The feeds will change over time just like a digital photo frame. By tapping on the screen, a button with your own profile picture will appear. Press on the button, three other shortcuts will appear around the button. Messenger directly brings you to the Facebook Messenger, Apps will display a set of selected apps. If you want to see all the apps, just tap the tiny app icon at the bottom. The right shortcut is the last application accessed. For example, I just opened Chrome, then it will be shown as Chrome.

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When you have any updates from Facebook, the notification will pop up like the screenshot above, tap and slide on it will direct you to the Facebook app and show the news accordingly. 

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By tapping the setting button on the phone, it will show settings for Facebook Home. Four most important settings are on the top, turn off the app launcher, show status bar, show home screen when screen turns on (meaning no lock screen) and data usage. Nothing magic here.

So far, I feel that Facebook Home is a good App launcher with smooth transitions and a bit of design element. However, lack of much innovative features makes the excitement fade away fairly quickly. Certainly Facebook needs better integration between its Facebook app and its app launcher.

Meanwhile, it can be somewhat worrying as all the Facebook Newsfeed is now directly display on the screen. It might be embarrassing if your friends or colleagues happen to glance at some pictures or news that you would not want them to know. How Facebook address this privacy concern will definitely have a big impact on the number of users who will use Facebook Home in long term. 

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Live Your Life UP: Jawbone's UP Wristband Review

Since starting to work after graduation, it has been hard to maintain a good and healthy lifestyle: everyday I spent most of time sitting in front of my screen without much movement. I was so tired after work that I rewarded myself with good food (of oversized portion) and stayed in bed playing with my iPad. As expected, the weight shoots up. So I was looking for ways to get back to the right track.

Then I signed up for the gym and did some workout before work everyday. However, as many others, it is hard to keep motivated and sometimes I just doubt whether it works. I started searching for some tips to stay motivated, then I found this small piece: UP by Jawbone.

A fitness gadget isn't something new. You may have heard of Nike's FuelBand. It calculates the steps and movement you made and rewards you with Nikefuel, a score that is similar to the concept of calories but god knows what the score means and how that is derived. And that is exactly why I didn't choose Nike+ FuelBand despite its really cool look. It doesn't do much in fitness aspect.



Then UP designed by Jawbone popped out. It is a wristband with minimal design. To be honest, nobody would notice that is a piece of gadget if I don't mention it. It is just like one of the rubber bands we used to wear in high school. The package is simple as well, just the wristband itself and a charging USB adaptor.


The wristband comes naturally in shape, with two ends overlapping. It comes with three different sizes and eight different colours. However, because it only hits Singapore market in April, I only found two colours are available at the moment: black and blue. I chose the medium size of the blue band. It is slightly bigger than my wrist but acceptable. First time I wore it, I felt a bit strange but soon it became just like a watch or bracelet, not annoying at all. 

UP is splash-proof, so you don't have to take it off when you are showering. However, Jawbone suggests taking it off when swimming. It's kind of disappointing since I was about to record how much calories I burned during swimming.



The band itself doesn't contribute to the whole user experience. The UP app plays a critical role in the use of the wristband. The app can be downloaded from iOS App Store and its latest development has included support for Android platform. For the first time using UP, it needs to be connected to the app to set up details like gender, height, weight and birthday. It also has instructions of how to play with the band.   

UP wristband has two major functions: record number of steps you take and track the sleep. You can set a daily goal for your steps and sleeping hours. The default setting will be based on your age and other details. For me, it's 10000 steps and 8 hours of sleep. 

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Recording steps is pretty simple, as long as you are moving, it will record down that. Tracking the sleep requires switching the band into sleep mode by long pressing the button on the tip of the band. The precision motion sensor will detect whether one is deep sleep or light sleep according to the micro-motion. I find it quite accurate because I remembered I woke up a few times in the evening and they were indeed shown in the record. 

Other useful functions include smart alarm, you can set a wake-up time and the wristband will vibrate 10 minutes before that to wake you from deep sleep. It helps you get up easier. Also you can set an 'idle alarm' in the daytime. When UP notices that you haven't been moving for a period time, it will vibrate to remind you to walk around. This is really helpful when I am working in the office. It keeps me aware of how much time I have spent at my desk so that I will stand up and stretch a little bit. 

Additionally, you can log the food in the UP app to keep track of how much calories you consume everyday. You can either search, scan the barcode or take a picture of the food and add in details later. But I find it less convenient as many Asian local delights are not recorded in the database. 

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After a few days, when UP collects enough data, it starts to generate trend and help get insights in your daily activity, like whether you have enough deep sleep or how to take more steps. It is all small tricks but they do keep me motivated. (Oops, I seem to be moving less with eating more. Bad sign. :( )

UP also has its social aspect. You can share your daily result with friends on Facebook and Twitter. More importantly, you can add friends who also use UP in the section Team. So that you can see and compare the results with each other to stay motivated. 

UP's battery lasts about 10 days and you need to charge it using the USB adapter. It takes about 80 minutes to get a full charge. I am quite happy with the battery performance.

However, as you may already have noticed. the wristband doesn't come with bluetooth. The sync between UP and its app needs to be done via the audio jack. It could be tedious to take the band on and off the wrist. Jawbone also recommends to sync it twice a day. I usually do it once after getting up and the other before I go to bed. I sometimes also sync the band after lunch just to check whether I can reach my goal today.


So far I have been really enjoying UP by Jawbone and had a very regular exercise everyday.

Good things: Simple design makes it suitable for everyone. Compared to Nike's FuelBand, sleep tracking is a huge bonus and also the smart alarm helps getting out of bed easier. The design of the app is intuitive and has lots of functions. It is really a perfect companion for the band.

Bad things (or things that I think should be improved): The band is not suitable for wearing in swimming pool, which is less helpful in tracking exercise. Moreover, it doesn't support bluetooth so you have to constantly take off the band. Also, lack of any display on the band means that you cannot access the real-time data easily. In addition, the food log could be improved by including more Asian food to make it more useful.

The UP wristband isn't cheap, but not as pricey as Nike's FuelBand. It also has more functions to keep your lifestyle healthy. So I would still recommend this to my friends who are interested in achieving their fitness goals!

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Facebook Home: A Whole New Experience from Your Smartphone

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(Photo from Facebook)

Facebook started as a website that hosts social network, and it is still true even today. However, its presence in mobile space is getting more prominent than ever. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced that, instead of launching a physical and dedicated 'Facebook Phone', Facebook Home is released to bring a whole new experience for smartphone users.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Black Beauty for Business: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review - Performance Part


After last post about Lenovo's Thinkpad X1 Carbon's design, today we are going to see the functional side of this black beauty. ThinkPad X1 Carbon is pre-installed with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, instead of the latest Windows 8. I actually think it's a good thing. Windows 8's revamped UI is specially designed for touch inputs. Since X1 Carbon doesn't have a touch screen, there is no point using Windows 8. Moreover, Windows 7 has been proved as a great operating system in business after the long-lasting Windows XP. Therefore, it is more desired to see ThinkPad, a business laptop equipped with Windows 7. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stay Organized! iOS App Mailbox First Impression

I believe most iPhone users like me are using the built-in Mail app for email messaging. It's convenient and rather intuitive and we can check all the email accounts at one go. Weeks ago, a friend of mine recommended me to try out the Mailbox app. I tried and downloaded the app. It turns out that because of the overwhelming demand, the service provider is struggling to catch up in capacity. They set up a reservation queue to curb the requests. Below is what I've got when I first made a reservation.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Black Beauty for Business: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review - Design Part

Since Lenovo bought the brand of 'ThinkPad' from IBM in 2005, its fans have been debating over whether the product line retains the original characteristics and value. Needless to say, till today, it is still one of the best-selling PC brand in the market and it is seen as a perfect companion for business use. Today my review is on Lenovo's latest ThinkPad family member, X1 Carbon. 

ThinkPad is well known for its state-of-the-art industrial design. It is simple, durable and reliable (that may depend on personal expectation). ThinkPad X1 Carbon inherits the merits from its family. Following the trend since Apple's MacBook Air, Ultrabook that emphasizes on mobility is now the mainstream in the laptop market. As the name suggests, the case is built using carbon fibre. That makes X1 Carbon lightweight (1.36kg!) and yet not compromise in its strength. 


The X1 Carbon has the typical Bento lunchbox design like its predecessors, with slightly rounded edges. The surface is matte finished which helps reduce fingerprints compared to a glossy one. However, it could still be obvious if anything oily is touching on it.