The Ultimate Smartwatch

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A month ago, I finally hopped onto the wearable-tech bandwagon. I’d played around before – the equivalent of standing on the footboard – but with a Fitbit that’s supposed to be worn 24/7, I’m on it. 

And immediately, I have a list of problems. 

Problem #1. The biggest one isn’t an issue yet – access. My phone’s small enough to fit in a jeans pocket and hold in one hand while large enough to browse the net, so almost everything I need can be got by just taking it out – but I’m already using a tablet for media consumption, and while the phone’s fine for audio, anything more visually-oriented, just won’t be as portable. 

Meaning, a wrist-mounted or HUD display, running off the phone/phablet/tablet that’s sitting in the backpack. 

Problem #2 – limited real estate. 

The wrist is probably the most accessible, robust, and flexible option – and you don’t look as geeked-out as you would with a Glass (the contact lens should be a good step up, though) – but I have only two, and already have a watch on one and a fitness tracker on the other. Add one phone-display add-on, and that’s already one too many – plus, medical trackers, GPS locators, and a whole lot of other stuff is coming around the corner. 

It’s practically back to the pager-walkman-phone-camera utility belt days.

And I refuse to strap on devices to my head, neck, wrists, ankles, and fingers, and keep track of each one’s connection, battery level, sensitivity, and integration whenever I step in or out of a shower or pool. Or a Mumbai Monsoon. 

Smartwatches have to have a extension-based philosophy, I guess. A tough, moderately-sized but high-resolution screen – preferably waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof, since they’ll be getting a lot more abuse than a phone – a high-bandwidth, fast connection to the phone – and a lot of sensors.

Really, a lot.

It doesn’t need to have much processing or storage, all that can be handled by the phone – but by adding in the gyro, accelerometers, temperature, pressure, altitude, gps, body heat sensor, heartrate, gps, nfc, camera, mike, proximity, and compass, the watch can become the sensory cluster that feeds info to the brain in the phone, and reports back the results. 

Let the apps that use the inputs, process it, store it, upload it, and display it back all be on the phone – that way usage is software-based, upgradeable, in the cloud. New capabilities will come out in the apps that figure out how to use the existing sensors; the watch itself can just be replaced as and when needed, or whenever a new sensor gets added and is necessary. 

I’m not too enthused about modular sensors – have a feeling they’ll interfere with the aesthetics, make it too delicate. A single sensor-and-display block would probably be easier to manage. 

Let’s see what comes out. 

Interesting. A ‘safer’ #smartgun means

Interesting. A ‘safer’ #smartgun means less deaths… or more guns? http://ow.ly/tM6Su

New paradigms need early adopters and innovators

Sorry, Xbox 360 again.

In the aftermath of Microsoft’s u-turn after the backlash against the Xbox 360′s new features, some things start becoming apparent.

Microsoft had the right idea, but it got executed poorly, and handled worse. They wanted to go for a delivery model for gaming that’s like the current delivery models for apps, and like some movies and books (Netflix, Kindle, etc) – the core idea being that if the audience can switch over to digital-only, or at least a form of digital that might need the multiple-GB game disks acting as the first component of a game that would eventually be much  more embedded in a larger virtual ecosystem, allowing for easier, automated updates, upgrades, integrated mod purchases, portability, etc.

Having a game existing entirely and independently on a single DVD opens up the possibility of it being resold, exchanged, gifted, regifted, and yes, copied. Over time, they might have looked at a vision of a world where all purchases and ownership is virtual and linked to identity, and thus cut down on the resale, trade, and exchange markets, turning them into a new customer base. A purely virtual ownership would also allow for more opportunities to cross-sell, upsell, trigger in-game marketing (maybe based on the complex, detailed profile built up of the player).

The vision, it seems, didn’t get completely understood as it moved down the line from strategy to marketing to PR; end result, bad handling of the questions asked and the public’s assumptions made.

But why did the public react the way it did? Look at the expectations going in. The current 360-playing audience expects the next-gen console to be better, more powerful, faster, able to deliver a better gaming experience. And by that, they mean less latency, faster and better graphics, more realism, hardware support for more complex, realistic games, and maybe integration into a virtual ecosystem of add-on content, DLCs, demos, etc.

What they don’t expect, is a new paradigm of gaming delivery. Especially if the competition is delivering exactly what they are expecting. Nothing new, just better old.

What is a new gaming delivery paradigm? Google Play. Steam. Nexus Mods. Stuff the PC Master Race has been playing around with for years, and getting better, more organized. The biggest grouse I have, as a member of this community, is the amount of demand modern gaming places on my system. Hard disk space. RAM. Processor speeds. Graphics accelerators. Gamepads and adapters. Monitor size. Cabinet space. Installation issues. Viruses, trojans, malware. The living room has a good, large TV, sound system, and a nice couch, and it’s where I relax, not work. The computer is secluded, has a smaller screen and an upright chair, and it’s where I work. The living room has wifi, and the TV/console is online. Why should gaming not happen here?

That’s the main reason I bought a console. Easy plug-and-play, no dependency on system resources for work / downloads with a dedicated piece of hardware, and beautifully rendered graphics deserve a beautiful, big screen.

The Valve box is stepping in exactly here. Dedicated hardware that frees up your PC, makes gaming social and relaxed, and gives most of the PC gamer advantages… and console ones. It’s a new paradigm, so it won’t replace either the PC or the console – it’ll be an add-on. And over time, if it delivers on capabilities, it can replace consoles.

You need early adopters for a new paradigm, but console players are not early adopters. They’re followers, and they don’t like disruption, don’t want innovation. They want what they have, but better. Microsoft made the mistake of giving them something new – the mistake of confusing the huge market of 360 users as potential purchasers of the new system. Sorry, they aren’t. The audience you want is not playing the 360, or the PS3, or planning for the PS4. They’re using PCs, running mods, cracked games, constantly upgrading hardware and trying out new concepts. The Oculus Rift will come to PC first, as will Star Citizen. Consoles are a finished, polished product, and expected to perform as such.

Could Microsoft have done this better? Maybe by sticking the equivalent of a Valve box on top of a more powerful, flexible console. Give the masses something to be happy about and also experiment with, until they start using it more, getting used to it… then deliver the actual console. You’ll have a frankenstein console for a while straddling two paradigms, but it’s the only way. You’re trying to compete with both the PS4 (performance) and PC (innovation) – you have to deliver both.

Now it’s up to the Valve box equivalents. Hopefully with usable VR, solid-state drives, fast and easy but optional connectivity, and massively expanded storage coming up very soon, the PC can go ahead into innovation while the consoles follow for the mass audience.

XboX One: Will it impact my style of play?

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There’s been a lot of bad press about Microsoft’s flagship console recenyly, so I thought of doing a refcheck against my gaming style on consoles and see if I were handed a One tomorrow, would it be good or bad.

I play on controller, buy used games, sometimes trade back bad games but generally hang onto the good ones, and use the console for the high-end graphics, fast start and non-dependency on other systems (I have a PC that used to break down a lot before), I’m the only gamer and have a big TV in a small room. I look for intelligence and narrative in my games, but also a lot of the visual wow.

1. All my games are PS3 / PC. So I would have to buy all new games. But given I’m changing consoles, that’s probably fine – I’m ready for it.

2. I can’t buy used games. That’s a big problem – I generally wait for the reviews and buy well after release, usually from the replay sections. Now, I’m looking at spending close to 3K on average per game. Not really affordable – especially when I have a near-top-end gaming rig, where the new games are around a third of the cost.

3. Always-online (or at least once every 24 hours) – My internet connection is slow and sometimes unreliable. The speeds are usually decent late night – and a console means gaming from home, which usually will be always online. Not a very big dealbreaker, but there have been times (especially when moving) where home internet has been spotty and unusable for weeks. I don’t think I can use a wifi hotspot either – is it cable or router connection only?

4. Always-on Kinect: The console’s not in my bedroom or bathroom, but I am concerned about the security, since, if hacked, it effectively gives a clear indicator when I’m not home. The console’s in the living room, so no worries about porn or flashing the Kinect family.

5. Kinect: I’m not a major motion-games player; the room’s just too small, so I’ve always been more comfortable with the controllers.

6. Alternate systems: I’m probably not going to be giving up the current PS3, but my TV does have 2 more HDMI slots free, and I just disposed of my DVD player so I have enough storage space.

So on balance, there’s nothing dramatically new the One is delivering that makes it a compelling buy, and several okay reasons not to buy – privacy, cost of games, connectivity.

So, what are the alternatives?

a. I stick to the PS3. I’m pretty sure there’s enough games that are going to continue to be made for a while – just too many people own these rigs.
b. The PC. I already have it hooked to the TV with a wireless keyboard / mouse / gamepad combo; it’s running enough high-end hardware to nearly match the PS3. One major upgrade later, I’ll be sorted for years.
c. The Valve Steam box. All the PC goodness without the console issues, if you’re okay with Steam. I’d obviously have to have a much better network, but that’s something a few years in the future.

What can change this? If Microsoft comes out with absolutely AMAZING, kick-ass, unreplicable, exclusive games. A LOT of them. Not too sure how likely this is, and they will anyway be for PC as well. Oculus Rift is likely to be coming for PC first, and so will Kinect. And PCs WILL always have more customizability, control, hacks, mods, downloads, DLCs, and all the bells and whistles you could ever want. The only place where consoles had been able to beat them before – and the real reason I bought a console to begin with – was quality of display and hassle-free setup and use. All that changes with the new-generation consoles.

Long story short, time to start drawing up the specs for the next PC upgrade. 

Samsung Note 800: First Impressions

The Samsung Note N8000

Here’s a brief – ok, not so brief – set of first impressions on the new 10.1-inch Samsung tablet, the Note N8000 (or N800 in some places). I’m writing as a user, not a professional reviewer or a company spokesperson or something, so all opnions are mine, not endorsed by anyone, blah blah, let’s move on.

Specs -
If you want extreme detail, go to GSMArena and read in detail, they’ve done a better job.
Meanwhile, the basics -

OS: Android 4.1.1, according to settings. The descriptions say Ice Cream Sandwich, but the 4.1 series is JellyBean; maybe the ‘update to come later’ has already happened.

Memory: 16 GB onboard, so fairly decent to start with, depending on your use. Definitely takes care of standard stuff like docs and photos, and leaves room for a couple of movies at a time. There’s also an interesting add-on, I’ll come to later. Up to 32 GB can be added on SD card.

Processor: Exynos 4412 with a quad-core, 1.4 GHz Cortex A-9; for comparison, the earlier Samsung Tab is a dual-core. Hardware-wise, this tablet is definitely top-of-the-range, future-proofed item.

Screen: 10.1 inches, 1280×800 resolution, PLS TFT capacitative screen. Is it better that the iPad? I don’t know, looks the same to me. Is it better than all the ‘around-Rs.10K’ type tablets – all the Micromaxes and Karbonns, etc? Definitely yes. Do movies look DVD-quality? No. (And you and I both know that a movie that’s been transferred to a tablet is 99% pirated, which means quality is already degraded well below DVD. But is it watchable? Yes.) HD video on Youtube? Yes. If you have DVDs, buy a decent TV and watch them there.
And this is unconfirmed, but from what I’ve heard – this does NOT have Corning Gorilla Glass. Surprising. For a tablet with a stylus, even a little shocking.

S-pen: Interesting little gadget, basically a stylus with a variable pressure tip. Almost as good as a real pen-and-paper experience with a slight lag you have to get used to. An excellent, intuitive add-on for tablets.

S-pen

Camera: 5 MP back, 1.9 MP front. No, it’s not a camera. It’s a tablet. If you use it to take vacation pictures, you’re being an idiot.

Speakers: are on the front, so much better for listening. They’re also placed a little on the higher side, so you don’t block them while holding the tablet. Sound is fairly decent so far, but if you’ve heard an iPad 2, then it’s not as good.

Speaker Placement – the thin grey line

IR: Infrared emitter, the kind you get on your remotes. Limited use, but pretty cool – lets you turn your tablet into a remote for your TV / DVD player / Set-top box. Can’t think of anything else to do right now, more research needed.

SIM slot; 3.5 mm jack; IR emitter; SD card slot

Others: Takes a mini-SIM, SD card upto 32 GB, bluetooth, GPS and accelerometer, Wi-fi, 3G, and all the rest of the standard jazz.

Out of the box

You get – a charger, which is also a detachable data cable; headphones with a volume rocker, so you can listen to music while the tablet’s in the bag; no additional storage cards; no case or cover or scratch guard. There is a protective film on the front and lots of plastic film, but you’d best pick up these quickly.

Handling

At 600 g, the tablet’s pretty standard; not extraordinarily light or heavy, and okay to carry around but if you’re using while holding, your fingers will start to ache after a while.

It’s also smooth plastic finish, so there’s a good risk of the tab slipping and falling.  Fingerprints also tend to show up a lot because of this.

The light sensor is also right next to the camera, so tends to be covered by your fingers when holding in portrait mode; if your screen brightness is set to auto, you’ll find the screen abruptly dimming on it’s own.

Overall, the tablet feels smooth, polished, good quality, a sophisticated piece of hardware.

Startup 

Have your passwords ready! As soon as you switch it on for the first time – especially if you have a bunch of online accounts – the next hour will go in registering, signing in, authorizing, updating, and adding before you can get to actual use.

OS

I’ve been using iOS, 2.3 (Gingerbread) and 2.1 (Eclair) before this, so a couple of things immediately come up – creating folders, moving shortcuts and widgets, and navigation is definitely more streamlined, smoother, compact, and more intuitive.

Another major change is no physical buttons; everything is on-screen, except the power and volume rocker.

All apps + widgets can be accessed from the top right, notifications show in bottom right, back/home/switcher at bottom left (and screenshots – not sure why), and search is top left. The screens are therefore freed up for widgets and shortcuts, folders, and in my opinion, best used for some class wallpapers.

Critical Apps

This isn’t a phablet; I’m assuming you have a phone for doing the more portable stuff. A tablet is best used for reading, writing, creating, and video; install apps accordingly. Set up all your social networks; blogging and writing apps; a decent office-type suite (I like Kingsoft though the on-board solution is pretty good too); media consumers like Flipboard, Pulse, or Reader; a decent movie player; email apps; and since you have an S-pen and a tablet, creative sketching apps. Games if you want. I’ll do a separate post on specifically what apps you’ll need.

Oh, and buying this tablet gives you a two-year subscription to a 50 GB Dropbox account. It works even you’re already using Dropbox, it just upgrades the free account.

Performance 

Overall, good. Smooth, fast, no perceptible lag even with a lot of stuff open. It does feel slightly sluggish when switching between apps, and when using the sketching apps, the stylus point looks marginally marginally off-center, but definitely good to write with. Apple’s iOS is slightly smoother, but this is definitely more flexible in terms of widgets, control over data and content, and personalization.

Immediate next steps:

Buy a cover, a scratch guard, an SD card, and maybe a keyboard. You need these right away. Start using the S-pen to get a feel for it; load up some movies, some e-books and cbr’s – I’ve found it an excellent e-reader – and start using.

Final Summary:

The iPad is smoother and a little more user-friendly, with better sound. The Note is more flexible and customizable, with a better camera and hardware, and more powered-up than the Tab. Other comparable tablets in this range and capability would be the Acer Iconia, the Asus Transformer, and the Sony Experia S tablet.

Just Migrate

Just Migrate

Posterous is shutting down April 30, 2013. If you have a posterous blog, I found this really useful (almost-free) tool to move all the content to Tumblr.

Why almost free? If you have more than 100 posts, you have to pay.

Warning – Recommend first creating the Tumblr (empty) blogs and urls before migrating, since the interface is not very forgiving and editing on Tumblr takes some getting used to. Also be careful of primary blogs, since deleting those shuts down your account as well.

Once I got it sorted out, though, Tumblr seems to be better – I still have the primary reason I took up Posterous, which is post-by-mail, but there’s much better integration into my Facebook and Twitter networks. I miss that clean, bright, and minimal Posterous look, but will spend some time exploring the themes… is there a Posterous theme in Tumblr?

Home Networks: Part 1

rather than trying to crack games, I’m beginning to realize a far more useful way to spend a Saturday afternoon is meddling around with electronics. 

For a long time, I was frustrated with the very poor networking setup at home. 

Imagine the flat like a triangle, each corner being a place where I need connectivity – but the router’s being used more as a switch than a wifi signal broadcaster, which means it needs to be in one corner (where my TV and PS3 need to be connected onto the net) with one long cable going into another corner (which had my computer). The router couldn’t be in the center without a mess of ethernet cables draped across the hall, and putting all other devices in proximity would turn my living room into Lamington Road and still not solve the issue of connectivity in other parts.

Back when you’re a penniless sales exec who just needs a single dedicated connection to a computer (and maybe a cheap wifi that easily reaches every corner of a pigeonhole apartment), the single-router method would work – and besides, wires and cables just added to the ambience at that time, the rest coming from discarded pizza boxes, beer cans, ashtrays and laundry. 

Now unfortunately there are other considerations – there are already 5 mobile devices that like wifi, 3 more that want an ethernet cable with this number likely to expand… and cables draped across the room being out of the question, I have to get creative. 

First off, I leave the better router (a Linksys E1000) at the core of the network in one corner. 

The dedicated ethernet line to the computer is taken to a point midway in the middle of the flat, maybe a bit further towards the non-wifi side, and my old Dlink DIR300 gets hooked up here. 

You can’t use 2 routers on a single modem / line, unless you want to end up with 2 networks (which would be fun but not very user-friendly for the other residents) so it’s better to repurpose this as an access point. Setting up an access point is fairly easy - 

  • Get the network name, IP address, SSID, subnet mask, and network mode from your primary router. You can get this by logging onto the router’s admin panel from your browser – usually 192.16.1.1, but google ‘default ip address for (your router model) to confirm what it’s going to be for you. Write this down. 
  • Plug a cable into any ethernet port of your second router (not into the internet-in port) and get into the admin there as well. You may need to factory-reset (just stick a pin into the reset hole at the back) the modem to factory, I had to – and set the same details exactly the same as your primary router. 
  • Switch off / disable DHCP server on the secondary router, save settings. 
  • If you don’t have a wifi password set, then set them – especially if you’re not on an unlimited plan and moderate to low speeds. Free wifi will be very easily picked up by any number of devices, your bandwidth will get used up, and you’ll never realize it until the bill comes – and it’s not just other computers and laptops, but also smartphones, PSPs, ipods, the works. 
  • On my PC, now disconnected from the cable, I put a USB wifi receiver dongle. You can get relatively cheap ones easily. 
  • The ethernet cable coming from the primary router needs to be plugged into an ethernet port on the secondary (NOT the internet-in port).
  • For a more detailed step-by-step, see here and here. I found these to be the best advisories, and they have pictures. 

And that’s it. I now have wifi connectivity all over the house, fewer cables trailing into the PC room (and they’re damn painful to manage if it needs to go through a door – either the door will never close again or the cable will keep getting damaged), and the original core system in the living room is unchanged – and I didn’t even lose an ethernet port!

Talking of which, I’m thinking about adding a network storage drive – any suggestions? I need it to store my movies and stream them to either the TV directly, or the PS3. Tried setting up a mediaserver on the PC, but it slows the system down dramatically and doesn’t always refresh – and besides, I don’t want 2 TB of media clogging up my drives. 

That’s going to take my last available port, so I guess that means I need a switch as well. But that’s for the next post, once I pick up and install the network drive.  

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