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This Blog Has Moved…

June 30, 2009

I have a newer, cleaner blog with brand new content.

Thanks to all for making this blog a success. I cant believe that I actually got over 30,000 views on what was a side project of mine.

New reviews of the latest tech, and mixtapes downloads too in my new blog.

Check it out @ http://www.chrischengonline.com

And follow me on Twitter for the latest blog updates @zzChris

Thanks again and hope to see you on the other side.

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BlackBerry Curve User Review

June 18, 2007

I have been using the BlackBerry Curve, otherwise known as the 8300, since June 1. It is the full qwerty version of RIM’s consumer oriented Pearl. The Curve is more of a mass market tool in form and function compared to, say, the 8800, which is being positioned as a high end executive device.

BlackBerry Curve (from RIM website)

Form and Finish

I seem to like the feeling of the Curve much better than the 8800 simply because the I find the 8800 too wide for my hand. The Curve is just a bit narrower and, because of the black rubber sidings, seem to be more secure to handle than the 8800, which, because of the smooth glossy surface, seemed to always be in danger of slipping out of my hands.

The Curve almost feels like an 8700, but much better because of the slim profile of the device compared to the older 8700. Of course, I still had to get used carrying around a wide BlackBerry again because I have been using the SureType models for over a year now, starting with the 7100, then moving to the 7130, and currently the Pearl.

The keys of the Curve are separated, similar to the 8700 and unlike the 8800, which has a keyboard with keys right beside each other. I found typing with the Curve much easier than the 8800 because on the latter, I ended up pressing the wrong key pretty often, which is bad considering that my thumbs arent that large. Using the Curve keyboard was not that much of a learning curve, although I noticed that some of the positions of the alt symbols seemed to be in different spots. There are two shift keys now on each side of the keyboard which makes life simpler when having to type quickly, but generally the keyboard layout wasnt that far different from previous models.

The finish of the Curve is a lot simpler than the Pearl and the 8800. The Curve is in gray with black rubber accents, with a shiny gray lens frame. Finish isnt bad but is clearly not as “high end” looking as the black Pearl and 8800.

Multimedia

The other strange thing is that someone seems to have changed the headset jack from the very small mini-jack which has been standard on BlackBerries for years to a more conventional (but non-standard) minijack. Given the Pearl and this’ device multimedia features, I would suppose that this was done to accomodate stereo earphones. Trying out my regular stereo earphones (Shure E3C) with the Curve resulted in the expected stereo output. Listening to some loud electro house tracks showed reasonable results, at least compared to the sample blackberry movie. The sound was clear enough, although not great. Some EQ control would have been nice as sound was a bit too flat for me. There wasnt enough bass, the midrange was quite clear with a distinct but not overly powerful high end. Obviously my iPod sounds better as a music device but the Curve will do, especially with the 2 gig microSD card I recently bought and installed. Listenting to the music while using the BlackBerry for other functions, ie, messaging, didnt seem to slow down the unit at all.

The only downside of this whole minijack thing is that I only use a headset in a car while driving and my old BlackBerry headset from my 7230 days wont work on this device anymore. I suppose that the Curve comes with a stereo headset similar to the Pearl which I hate using because of the mess of wires.

Meanwhile, camera on the device is now 2 MP, which is an improvement from the 1.3 MP Pearl. More important of an improvement for me though is the self portrait mirror which doesnt stick out of the back of the device anymore like the Pearl, which means less wear on the mirror.

Finally, the entire Media application on the Curve has been revamped, at least as far as the front end is concerned. The main menu to select if you want videos, music, etc., has been jazzed up with an Apple-like look and feel, which sort of reminded me of Front Row, or at least an attempt at it. Basically Apple style icons over an Aqua-like wallpaper background. Much better I must say than the Pearl and the 8800, but unfortunately doesnt fit the look of the rest of the device and still not that easy to navigate around in.

General Usage

Otherwise, the BlackBerry Curve is simply another BlackBerry. Performance was quite zippy, as expected. But generally, everything seemed to be where they were from a BlackBerry UI perspective.

One major improvement, admittedly the most useful for me, is the increase in sound volume. Alarms are loud, as in really loud. Speakerphone volume increased significantly as well, while remaining usable, a significant enhancement from the older BlackBerry devices, including the Pearl.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Curve is the best qwerty device out yet, in my opinion. I am not a fan of WIFI or GPS on my BlackBerry so the fact that the Curve lacks those features are not huge issue for me. I think the Curve is a great balance between a work and fun device, with the fun aspect focusing on multimedia. RIM tried to differentiate the device to its target audience of the device through a different look. I suppose that this is fine, but I dont particularly think its a beautiful device (unlike the Pearl where I was completely awe stuck). As an aside, I saw a gold colored Curve floating around here today, and it looks worse.

I like the 8300 because it is thin and light (much ligher than the 8800 which is just too heavy for me), because of the multimedia, and because its a BlackBerry. Would I switch from my Pearl to the Curve permanently? I doubt it. I was on the verge of switching back a couple of times already, but hesitated for some unknown reason.

In any case, the device is highly recommended in my book. It certainly beats all other qwerty BlackBerries today, in my opinion.

So my top list of BlackBerries in order of preference right now is as follows:
1. Pearl
2. Curve
3. 7130
4. 8800
5. 8700
6. 8707

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Nokia E90 Communicator User Review

May 7, 2007

I had the pretty rare chance of playing around with the new Nokia E90 Communicator. The E90 is the replacement to the Nokia 9500 and 9300 Smartphones, now under the E series name as it is mainly a business device.

Nokia E90 (From Nokia.com)

Form and Finish

The E90 had a great anodized aluminum finish across both the back and front of the handset. The keypad and command buttons had the same matte finish which was great to hold and resisted fingerprints. The unit was finished with some chrome pieces over the hinges and face, with of course the clear plastic lens over the screen. It seemed much more solid than both the 9500 and 9300, much more so the 9210. The hinge was significantly more durable than the previous model and allowed swivel to 180 degrees, similar to the 9300. The inside of the unit was matte finished as well.

The unit was color brown but the anodized finish make it look very elegant. The front of the handset had the typical keys and the usual Series 60 menu button. The screen was large and crisp, easily one of the best Series 60 screens that I have seen. A good analogy would be comparing an 800X600 PC screen to a 1024X768 screen. The difference in sharpness of the images and text is amazing!

Opening the unit revealed the qwerty keyboard surrounded by the typical command keys. the navigation buttons are located i the upper right part of the keyboard, much easier to manipulate when holding the unit. The top of the keyboard had the usual 9XXX series buttons for Desk, Contacts, Messaging, etc. On either side of the unit were buttons as well, on the left side Send and End phone keys, and on the right soft keys. I found using these keys a bit difficult as they were just out of reach of my thumbs when making a selection. Generally, though, the center key in the navigation pad triggered the correct selection to generally not need to press the screen buttons.

The inside screen of the E90 was even better than the outside. Extending the analogy, the inside screen can be compared to an even higher resolution PC screen, ie, 1280X800. Colors were bright and text was easy to read, even at small font sizes.

Navigation and General Usage

The unit was typical Nokia, and typical Communicator so learning curve is pretty much nonexistent. Typing was quick and easy, the qwerty keyboard is of a pretty good size that I had very few typing errors.Navigation was generally quite fast, even after filling in my PIM data. Note, though, that I only had something like 1000 contacts. I have seen 9500s run very slowly when filled with 4000 contacts, so this could still be the case. However, immediately upon getting the unit, it did feel significantly faster in response to the previous model.

The unit was 3G and HSDPA, of course, so browsing was quick, efficient, and, because it used the standard Series 60 browser, made an already excellent browsing experience even better. The E90 is WIFI enabled as well, and turning WIFI scanning on and off was a breeze. Connecting and browsing through my WPA Personal secured hotspot was just as simple.

The Desktop was made similar to the Series 60 active desktop, unlike the 9500 which was filled with a bunch of icons. This made all critical items immediately visible and therefore the user more productive. Other applications look similar to the older versions but, as mentioned, seemed much faster to navigate around.

BlackBerry Connect

The E90 is BlackBerry Connect enabled, similar to the 9500, which was one of the first (if not the first) BlackBerry Connect compatible device. However, unlike the older BBC units, the E90 has a brand new version of BBC, capable of not only wireless sync of Email and Calendar, but also Contacts. This is absolutely critical for me and this latest version of BBC for me makes the unit almost at par with dedicated BB units. Corporate Directory lookup is of course supported as well but Note and Task sync is still not supported, which is not a big thing for me.

BB on the E90 is great to use. I was able to get going from a virtually unconfigured handset (only connectivity settings were configured) to work with all my personal information within about 10 minutes, without any need to install any software or sync to my PC. Of course, I am a BES subscriber so all my data is stored in the company Exchange Server. Email composition and manipulation was quite intuitive and well integrated with the Series 60 UI, and updates for Calendar and Contact additions were pretty quick.

Other Apps

GPS is built in to the device as well but I was not able to try it out. Media is well supported with a Music Player, Flash Player, Radio, Real Player, and 3D Tone Effects built in. A key feature of the unit is the 3.2 MP camera with autofocus on the back of the unit. Another internal camera is located quite unobtrusively beside the screen of the E90.

Conclusion

Overall, I think Nokia built a winner here in the E90. The unit is great to use and finally has enough BlackBerry features for a serious user. I cannot comment on the stability of the software at this time because I was using an early software build which invariably hung a number of times. Note that this is NOT the fault of the unit as it is still in pre-release mode and I was unit a pre-release firmware. I am confident that all the bugs will be worked out and the final release version would be great.

I dont have any idea of the cost of the handset yet which is why I cannot give a rating, but in my short time of use, I can definitely say that it would be a great tool for any business professional to use.

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Mac OSX Leopard Delayed to October

April 16, 2007

So the latest news in Apple world is that Mac OSX Leopad, the latest and supposedly greatest release of OSX from Cupertino has been delayed to October. In a statement from Apple, the reason for the delay is simply a reallocation of resources from Leopard to the iPhone, still due to release in North America on time in June.

Personally, I have mixed emotions on this bit of news. While the release of a new OS version is typically extremely anticipated, looks like this latest release doesnt seem to be too revolutionary and there doesnt seem to be massive disappointment by Apple fans.

To a large extent, I think its the positioning of Steve Jobs since last year of Tiger being the most advanced OS and already ahead of Vista which therefore, either consciously or unconsciously, seems (in my opinion anyway) to have managed the expectations of the user base of the new release being more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Furthermore, the current disclosures on Leopard, through the sneak peek which has been around forever, and the more recent slew of screenshots as the varous pre-release builds have come out, seem to show nothing hugely new. The press release is so Redmond wont pre-maturely turn on their photocopiers, but at the same time, the limited release of information, even rumors, on what Leopard will be seems to have lowered the level of anticipation of the normally excited general public.

While this approach is definitely a valid strategy for a new product release, my view is that this strategy will only be hugely successful if the final product is nothing short of huge. Despite the bad press about Vista everywhere, including reports of slow consumer takeup and companies waiting before they upgrade, Vista in the consumers’ view is vastly different in the UI department from XP (which I think to a large extent of consumer perception is still more important than whats under the hood). I think that Leopard cant come short of showing something with some major WOW factor, to the risk of being seen as just another plain old Software Update to OSX.

Interestingly, though, Apple’s stock price didnt take much of a hit for the announcement. Is it because the general public bought the spiel that Tiger is already the most advanced OS around (which in this case may mean that the release of Leopard may not be a significant driver to new Mac purchases)? Could it also be that Apple is more seen as a content and mobile media company now, because of the iPod and iTunes Music Store, that the delay is not expected to significantly impact the company’s business as a whole? Or is it because everyone still have remnants of the iPhone frenzy that people still look at the iPhone shipping on time as good news?

In any case, only time will tell. So what do you all think about this announcement?

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BlackBerry 8800 (Codename: Indigo) User Review

March 2, 2007

I had the chance to try the BlackBerry 8800 for about 4 or 5 days since last week. The BlackBerry 8800 is pretty similar in spec to the 8700, except that a few additional features were added such as built in GPS, MicroSD card support, and 64 MB RAM, packaged in a much sleeker form factor.

Prior to using the 8800, I was using the BlackBerry Pearl, my favorite BlackBerry right now. The 8800 is about the same length as the Pearl, but about 4 or 5 mm longer than the 8700 and 8707. Thickness about the same as the Pearl, but significantly thinner than the 8700 and 8707. Of course, the 8800 is wider than the Pearl, and about the same width as the 8700 and 8707. In real world use, though, the thinness of the 8800 is quite apparent particularly when comparing to the older 8700 and 8707. The 8800 does feel solid and a bit more hefty than the older models, which is generally ok, but just that bit too hefty for me. The unit is not heavy, but for me is just that little bit too heavy for me to really like. Note, though, that my preference is for smartphone type form factor devices, so my point of reference is always the Pearl, which is extremely light.

The finish of the 8800 is a mixture of basic black and silver. The back of the unit is painted in a matte black finish, while the front of the unit has got the glossy, Pearl like finish. the 8707 style chromed earpiece accent, while the back of the unit has another chrome accent with the BlackBerry logo. The memory card is beneath this chrome piece, but is not accessible without removing the battery.There are two plastic chrome pieces covering the edges of the units. Unlike the Pearl, though, which had a very tight and secure fit to the body of the handset, the 8800’s moved a little bit, which was a turnoff for me.

The 8800 uses the new trackball interface, which is not bad once you get used to it. The trackball is flanked with the call, menu, back, and end buttons, similar to the Pearl.

Usability is, as expected, typical BlackBerry. application reponse was not bad in terms of speed and navigation is typical of a BlackBerry. Because the icons were made smaller, more could fit the screen. Otherwise, using the unit is typical BlackBerry fare. a few minor enhancements along the way, such as animated new message notication asterisk. The biggest difference is usability, though, is the keyboard. The thumboard of the 8800 consists of keys that are connected, as opposed to the thumboard of the 8700 and 8707, which have space in between. Typing was not as easy on the 8800 because I would frequently end up pressing the wrong key because of the key spacing. Generally, I got better abut a day or two, but would still make quite a few typos even after a few days.

I was not able to try the GPS becaue most of my time was spent indoors. My colleague who did try it was able to get a position fix, but maps did not show up. Maps will be progressively added for other countries in Asia, but it is not quite clear when, though.

Speakerphone was loud and clear, much better than the 8700, and 7130, which had a tendency to drown out your voice while you were speaking, rendering those speakerphones unusable. Other minor changes were the shift from the old “Turn Wireles On/Off” icon to “Manage Connections” which provides options to turn on or off the mobile and bluetooth radios. I suppose that when the WIFI enabled 8820 (Crimson) comes out later in the year then the Manage Connections icon will be used to turn WIFI on or off as well.

The device I tested did not come with a holster. At the end of the day, though, the holster is not really needed because the device is thin enough, and light enough, to put your front pants pocket. Related to storage, the only real gripe I had with the 8800 is that I couldnt figure out how to activate the key lock. On the Pearl, the keylock is activated by pressing and holding the * key. However, this is not the case on the 8800. To unlock, the * SEND key combination does the trick, but I couldnt figure out locking. So I had to manually go to the lock keypad icon and select it, which was pretty slow.

In general, the 8800 is a pretty good BlackBerry. If form factor is high in your priority list, then the 8800 would be a good upgrade from your old 8700 or 8707, or even older BlackBerries. GPS mapping support for the Philippines is not yet clear, so I am not placing high hopes on the GPS working. If such is the case, perhaps the option is to wait for the 8820 as WIFI will probably be used a bit more than GPS. In any case, the slim form factor of the 8800 series devices just makes using BlackBerries a joy again.

As for myself, I still prefer the smartphone form factor devices, so nothing beats the Pearl for me. The Pearl is just so much lighter and smaller than the 8800 (or even 7130), that it is just a joy to carry around and use.

BlackBerry 8800 Recommendation: 4 out of 5

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Getting Things Done

February 15, 2007

I recently stumbled upon a few websites on a this methodology to enhance personal productivity called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. The moment I read through the concept (without actually reading the book), I knew that this methodology was perfect for me! I used to use a To Do List for the longest time, either on Outlook (during my pre-Mac days), on my BlackBerry or PDA, and a bit on my Mac. Problem was, while the To Do List was supposed to get my life organized, I had no way of getting my To Do List organized, and in the end, stopped using the list altogether.

GTD for me is is a good way to organize my deliverables because it organizes them into Projects (which is basically any activity that requires more than one task to complete) and Contexts (which is a place or method where the task is done, ie, Email, Office, Errands). There are also a bunch of other concepts that are introduced such as daily review and processing, weekly reviews, etc., to make sure the list is never stale, and I am constantly reminded of what I need to do.

So since I started getting into GTD, the next natural progression was to look for the best GTD app for my Mac. I tried a bunch of applications, from Kinkless GTD, to Midnight Inbox, Life Balance, and a bunch of other things. As usual, my search criteria for the app of choice was one that had all the necessary GTD features in a good looking package. While the methodology was generally the same, the various apps implemented them in various ways, as varied as the way different users adapt GTD to their own use. After trying a bunch of them, I realized that my use of the app, and therefore the GTD methodology, started to decline.

It took me a while to figure out why, but I finally determined that the reason was that I placed the extensiveness of functionality of the app above the function the app was intented to do in the first place, which is get me organized. The apps I thought were good were really just too complex and time consuming to work with. In the end, I spent more time looking around for, installing, and configuring various apps instead of being more productive!

In my search for the best GTD app, I came across a dedicated GTD app called “Ghost Action”. I think its a relatively new app, but I immediately dismissed it without even trying because it just had a simple one window interface and very few menu buttons. As opposed, for example, to Midnight Inbox, which had a full GTD workflow built in, with automatic collections (from applications I dont use) and a very structured methodology. I thought having the most feature rich application was the key to getting things done, but in the end, the richness of the application just got me even more distracted than before I started using the app itself.

So my latest, and hopefully last GTD app (since I paid 20 bucks for it) is Ghost Action. It doesnt try to shoehorn me into a very structured process, but at the same time places just enough structure to organize the stuff I’m supposed to do. Moral of the story: KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

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72 Hours with the BlackBerry Pearl

February 12, 2007

I finally upgraded from my trusty BlackBerry 7130 to the hot new BlackBerry Pearl. I’ve been waiting for this upgrade for a few months now, since I first saw the real unit with a RIM representative. Must say, the website and pictures dont do it justice at all.

I’m beyond first impressions by now, because I have seen the unit before. However, the first impression that came to mind was really its size and finish when I first saw it. The piano black finish is pretty magnificent by any standards, much better than a Nokia, similar to the new LG and Samsung phones. Compared to the 7130, the Pearl is much more compact and light. I felt that the 7130 was quite large and heavy to put in a pants pocket, but the Pearl is the perfect size and weight.

Setup was pretty straightforward as usual. Since the handset wasnt new, I first wiped the handset by going into Options / Security. The Pearl then rebooted completely empty, and proceeded to register itself with the network. A simple entry of my email address and Enterprise Activation password (since I am a BES user) and all my data started to come into the device over the air. I was pretty disappointed that some old pictures from the 7130 didnt get through as well as my pretty extensive custom wordlist consisting of SMS shortcuts, slang, and Filipino words. This didnt turn out to be much of an issue, however, as most of these words still typed correctly on SureType.

Usability of the handset was no big deal. After all, its a BlackBerry, and all BlackBerries work the same way, since my 7230, the first one I used. The most noteable change, which I guess is pretty major in BlackBerry terms, is the absence of the scroll wheel on the right hand side of the Pearl and it being replaced with a trackball in the center of the unit. It didnt really take that much of an adjustment to get used to the new primary interface. It only took a couple of hours to get used to the sensitivity of the wheel (which is much more sensitive than the old trackwheel) and I was good to go.

Other than that, using the Pearl was a standard BlackBerry affair.

A few things I noticed, though:

1. The newest version of the Dimension Today Plus theme, which is my theme of choice, is much better thought of than the old 7130 version. Aside from being able to scroll through the standard PIM functions on the today screen, scrolling down shows a pop up toolbar of the first five applications in the ribbon. Pretty useful stuff for frequently used apps. I have Address Book, Alarm Clock, Calculator, Media, and Push Weather as my list in the toolbar.

2. The BlackBerry menu (which was the old center button on the 7130) has been redesigned for two purposes. When in the Today screen, this button shows the full application menu. The icons in the menu are much smaller now than in previous BlackBerries, which allows more applications to be viewed. With a trackball that scrolls horizontally and vertically, choosing apps to launch is pretty easy.

3. Meanwhile, when the BlackBerry menu button is pressed while in an application, the full menu appears, similar to when the old trackwheel is pressed. In the Pearl, when the trackball is pressed, an abbreviated version of the menu comes out depending on the application that is used. For instance, when an SMS message is open, only Reply, Reply to all, Forward, and Delete come out when the trackball is pressed. This is generally pretty good, except that it would have been nice if I could customize this mini menu. I sometimes use other functions that are not in this mini menu so it took me a while to determine whether to press the BlackBerry menu button or the trackball to invoke the command I needed.

4. In the old trackwheel days, the wheel has a mechanical click sound when turning the wheel. There is also a bit of feel on your thumb when you turn the wheel. However, in the trackball, no such mechanical click or clicky feedback on your thumb exists anymore. Instead, RIM simulated the sound of the click through the speaker. I realize its not really important, but it still is pretty fun to play around with sometimes…

5. My biggest problem with the Pearl is the absence of the Next key. The Next key on the 7130 sits between the Alt key and the Space Bar. Basically, what it does is select the next word on the SureType menu. The Next key on the Pearl has been replaced with the Sym key. while it makes choosing symbols 1 less click away, I now have the problem of having a harder time typing Filipino SMS messages since the only way I know how to choose another word in the SureType menu is to horizontally scroll the trackball, which more often than not overshoots the word I want to use. This is my major problem with the Pearl.

6. The Pearl now supports voice commands. The commands are pretty minor, though, such as checking status and other minor system checks on the handset. The only major voice command available is the Call command, which is really cool. Basically, the user says the word Call and the name of the person he is calling, and the system responds with a list of three names based on the closest match recognized. It will then ask if the user wants to call the first match by reading the name of the first person in the list, and the user can either say Yes, to complete the call, No, to then prompt the system to read the next name, or to Cancel. I think its a novelty at this point although may be useful when driving using a Bluetooth headset, which I have yet to try out.

7. Multimedia is now becoming more developed in the Pearl, although going to the media application is still a bit of a departure from the standard BlackBerry look and feel. Icons are used, but i think it could have been implemented a bit better in particular to preserve the BlackBerry user experience. It would also be interesting how to get videos and music into the BlackBerry considering I do not use Desktop Manager at all and do all my syncing over the air. I use a Mac and have yet to check if file transfers over Bluetooth are now supported, a function traditionally not allowed on a BlackBerry

8. The camera, which is 1.2 MP seems ok, but I havent used it extensively yet.

9. The absence of 3G is not really a major concern as I mainly use the BlackBerry for SMS, Voice, Email, and Calendar. I hardly do any browsing.

10. The browser of the handset has finally been integrated. Previously, BlackBerries had three browsers, the WAP browser, the Internet Browser, and the BlackBerry Browser. The Pearl finally only has one browser which I can use regardless if I want to go to a WAP site, an Intranet site over MDS, or an Internet site.

Overall, I love the BlackBerry Pearl. As a side note, I saw the new BlackBerry 8800, which looks almost exactly like a Pearl but much wider with the qwerty keyboard and no camera. I am usually partial to phone type form factors but even then, the Pearl is really just the perfect size to make it a great handheld. Its actually been a long time since I was this attacted to a new phone (in my line of work) and even after three days I still find myself just staring at the device. Its a new, sophisticated twist on the reliable and easy to use BlackBerry interface. I think the Pearl is the perfect smartphone and would recommend it without question.