Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mid-year Android smartphone buyers guide

Looking for a new smartphone?

Php25,000 more or less - LG Optimus 2X. Dual Core is here. With the arrival of the LG Optimus 2X we finally have a dual core smartphone being offered officially in the Philippines. The Optimus 2X's 4-inch 480 x 800 screen and 512MB of RAM, does not match the sheer size of the giant 4.3-inch display and the massive 768MB of RAM of the HTC Desire HD. The IPS display great, but is still not as good as the Super AMOLED display of the Samsung Galaxy S. The 8MP shooter of the Optimus 2X is not as good as the camera on Sony Ericsson ZPERIA Arc X12. In other words, Optimus 2X does not beat all phones in all categories.

But with a dual core Tegra 2 chipset, 1080p video recording and output via HDMI a front cam and 8GB of internal storage at a lower than expected Php27,900 suggested retail price (and as low as Php25,900 from CMK Cellphones) it is the most future proof phone you can buy right now. Among the four options we mentioned, twelve months from now, it is the one which will not yet feel obsolete. For that reason alone we recommend it for the power user.

It costs just a bit more than the Desire HD and Samsung Galaxy S and is actually cheaper Arc.There really is no reason to get anything else.

Php20,000 more or less - LG Optimus Black. In 2010 the HTC Desire was the standard by which all other Androids were measured. Now we have the Desire S. The HTC Desire S is the old Desire updated to just a HTC Desire HD specifications with a smaller 3.7-inch screen. A true Android 2.3 phone it comes with a front camera. At Php21,700 it fits the need for the average users for a smartphone.

We think, the standard has to give way this year. The LG Optimus Black P970's TI OMAP 3630 1 GHz processor, PowerVR 530 SGX graphics and 512MB of RAM is not as fast as the Desire S 1 GHz Scorpion processor, Adreno 205 GPU and 768MB of RAM, but it does come in at a lower price. 

At a lower Php19,900 suggested retail price (and as low as Php18,400 from CMK Cellphones), with the larger 4-inch ultra bright 700-nit display and thin 9.2 mm case, the Optimus Black really does look like the better deal.. 

You also have the Samsung Galaxy i9003 SL and the older HTC Desire for about 17K. But for the additional 1.5K to 2K you will be paying for the Optimus Black, we recommend the Optimus Black.

Php15,000 more or less - Samsung Galaxy Ace. At Php13,700, what the Galaxy Ace has going for it except against its similarly price competitors is 3.5-inch 320 x 480 screen and having the best camera among the bunch. The Ace 5MP snapper produced better pictures than even 8MP units on higher end phones (except for the SE XPERIA Arc). Basically, that it has the screen of an iPhone 3GS. When buying touchscreen phone, adequate screen size and resolution should be a main consideration. The Galaxy Ace is what delivers the adequate screen size and resolution at the lowest price, and packs a good camera as a bonus. As for the rest of the phone, with an 800MHz processor and a decent amount of RAM, it will get the job done.

There is also the newly released HTC Wildfire S, and we did a comparison a few days ago. But wit the larger screen and better camera, we recommend the Galaxy Ace.

Php10,000 more or less - LG Optimus One P500. At a lower price of Php9,990 the old warrior can again lay claim to the best bang for the buck Android in the market. It has a 3.2-inch screen like most of its lower end competition, but its higher 320 x 480 pixel resolution stands out in the sea of low cost Androids with 240 x 320 screens. Its 600MHz processor 512MB of RAM, at least matches up with all its sub-10K counterparts. There is little reason to recommend anything else in the budget class.

Need a physical QWERTY keyboard?

Some of us cannot make the transition to pure touchscreen, and HTC is happy to meet your need:

HTC Desire Z. HTC offers a 3.7-inch Android with one killer feature, a phyical keyboard with an innovative z-hinge. While some have felt that the z-hinge may be flimsy, so far no horror stories have come up about someone breaking one. The z-hinge is innovative because instead of sliding the keyboard straight out which results in a flat keyboard, it "lifts" the phone over the keyboard allowing for raised keys. Basically, is it is the best slide out keyboard I have ever tried.

Equipped with a 3.7 inch 480 x 800 resolution screen, a 800MHz Qualcomm processor and 512GB or RAM and 1.5GB of memory with a bundled 8GB MicroSD card. The price of this one varies wildly from seller to seller. But you can find it for as low as Php19,400 with an official HTC Warranty.

What is the Ultrabook?

Asus UX21

Intel has announced a new category of super slim laptops that it plans to call “Ultrabooks.”

These devices are supposed to have thicknesses of 0.8-inches or less, will use Intel’s 2nd Generation Core Series CPUs (“Ivy Bridge") to be release later this year, and be available this fall. ASUS’s announced the first Ultrabook, the UX21, which has an 11.6-inch screen and will weighs just 2.2 pounds. Pricing is supposed to be at about US$1,000.

Basically, the next generation of MacBook Airs and MacBook Air heir apparents. Expect to see them on the shelves by early 2012.

The Philippine Smartphone wars

We have been tracking mobile phone usage using StatCounter's service which gathers data on what mobile phone operating systems Filipino users use to access the Internet.

Nokia Symbian based phones are still the most common platforms used by Filipino users to  access the Internet. Given the years of Nokia domination in the country it will be some time before the old Symbian handsets disapear from the market. 


May 2010 - 63.28%
May 2011 - 53.68%

Still that represents a almost 10% drop in usage for the same period last year.

Following Nokia at second and third place are Apple phones and smartphones running on Google's Android operating systems.


May 2010 - 14.24%
May 2011 - 18.53%

Apple made grade strides in usage market share in the past year. Apple smartphone acceptance in the Philippine is hampered by high cost. But as old iPhones filter there way into the second hand market, more users are able to acquire these expensive devices. 

Shopping in Greenhills yesterday for a case, it is amazing how many Apple iPhone 3G's and 3GS models are available at the second hand stores.

Various/Google Android
May 2010 - 0.34%
May 2011 - 8.66%

Back in May 2010, Google's Android was a unknown quantity in the Philippines. In the past year, its web usage in the Philippines has gone up by over 2500%. At this rate, it should displace Apple's iOS at number 2 by the end of the year. Given that Android handsets can be had for less than 8K brand new, Android rise is not all that surprising.

RIM's BlackBerry has never been widely distributed in the Philippine Market, being limited mainly to corporate clients. Changes in the packaging of BlackBerry plans have helped improved its market share. Probably, a bit too late though.

RIM/BlackBerry OS
May 2010 - 0.67%
May 2011 - 2.00%

Windows Phone 7 still has to make a dent in the Philippines, which is though since Windows Mobile itself was never a significant player in the country. Right now it holds a bit less 1/100th of 1%.

Various/Windows Phone 7
May 2010 - NA
May 2011 - 0.08%

Worldwide DailyTech reports that this is how sales look (note Philippine stats are based on Internet usage and not on sales):

Google Android - 36%
Nokia Symbian - 27%
Apple iOS - 16.8%
RIM BlackBerry - 13%
Windows Phone 7 - 3.6%
Well, that is how things look right now.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Acer Aspire One 722 (AO-722-C52) and 12.1-inch Asus Eee PC 1215B

Update: Acer has released a updated Acer Aspire One O722-C60, details at this link.

Two new AMD Fusion powered laptops are now available in the market. By we are going to greet these two with a yawn. The first is the 11.6-inch Acer Aspire One 722 (AO-722-C52) with a suggested retail price of Php21,990 pre-installed with Windows 7 Starter. The second is the 12.1-inch Asus Eee PC 1215B with a suggested retail price of Php19,990 without an operating system.

Acer Aspire One 722

While more AMD Fusion options are welcome, these two are equipped with the slower AMD Fusion Brazos C-50 with 1.0 GHz dual core processor and Radeon 6250 graphics processing unit. This processor and graphics combination is more than adequate, providing performance on par with a dual core Atom with Nvidia Ion.

Asus Eee PC 1215B
But before you buy one of these C-50 units take a look at the HP Pavillion DM1-3016AU with the more powerful AMD Fusion Zacate E-350 with 1.6 GHz dual core processor and Radeon 6310 graphics processing unit. The HP Pavillion DM1-3016AU, has twice the processing power and 30% more graphics punch than these C-50 units.

The Acer Aspire One 722 (AO-722-C52) and Asus Eee PC 1215B do come with larger 500GB hard drives, as against the 320GB drive on the HP Pavillion DM1-3016AU. The slower C-50 might also mean longer battery life than a Zacate powered system but, we need to wait for more reviews and user feedback to verify this.

Could be an interesting option if the battery life is significantly longer, but right now the the HP Pavillion DM1-3016AU is looking like the value for money option among the three.

Update: Asus has released an E-450 version of its Eee PC 1215B. Looks like it might be the best of the bunch,

The HTC Wildfire S is here...

...should you buy it? The HTC Wildfire S has now landed on Philippine shores with a suggested retail price of Php14,950. Authorized reseller Top Electronics has it listed at Php14,000. The question is, is this the one to buy.

The HTC Wildfire S is touchscreen smart phone with a 3.2-inch LCD screen. It is an update of the HTC Wildfire released last year, with a slightly faster 600MHz processor,  more RAM (512MB of RAM), updated design and coming Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) installed. The most significant change with the newer model is the higher 320 x 480 screen resolution compared to the 240 x 320 resolution of the older model.

Against the old Wildfire. So how does the new Wildfire S stack up against its older sibling. You will still find the original Wildfire on the shelves for about Php11,000, but I would pay the addition Php3K and get the newer version. A 240 x 320 screen resolution is just too low to enjoy the Android operating system, and even on small 3.2-inch screens looks pixelized. The 320 x 480 resolution looks nice and sharp even on larger screens. But adding the 3K more for the higher resolution screen does put some other very interesting options into consideration.

Against the Samsung Galaxy Ace. The first stumbling block in the way is the Samsung Galaxy Ace which has a larger 3.5-inch screen with the same 320x480 resolution. The Galaxy Ace also comes with a faster 800MHz processor and the same Adreno 200 graphics processing unit as the HTC Wildfire S. Both units come with 5MP camera's, but the the 5MP unit on the Galaxy Ace does a better job of rendering sharper pictures. Neither the Galaxy Ace or the Wildfire S can take 720p video, both being limited to VGA quality video, and neither is very good at that either. Priced at Php13,700, the Galaxy Ace is also cheaper. 

So, does the Wildfire have anything in its favor? Overall it has a better build quality and the HTC Sense user interface is my favorite manufacturer customized user interface. But these are not decisive. While the Galaxy Ace does not feel as nice in the hand with its plastic shell it does have the same Gorilla Glass display as the Wildfire S and the Samsung TouchWiz user interface while lacking the eye candy of HTC Sense does have several advantages. 

The other advantage of the Wildfire S is Flash support in the browser through Flash Lite.  Flash lite is not full flash support so you cannot play flash games or display more complex flash elements, but it does allow you to interact with falsh banners and play YouTube video in the web browser.
Between these two it is a though call, but the larger 3.5-inch screen and better camera tilt the balance in favor of the Galaxy Ace in my book.

Against the LG Optimus One. The bang for the buck Android has pretty much been the LG Optimus One since its release. The LG Optimus One P500 also comes with 3.2-inch 320 x 480 screen a 600MHz processor. The Optimus One does not have flash support and it does not have the near scratch proof Gorilla Glass display, but at Php9,900 is it significantly cheaper than the HTC Wildfire S. 

Against the Samsung Wave II S8530. At Php14,600 you find the Samsung Wave II. With a 1GHz Arm Cortex processor and a PowerVR SGX540 graphics processing unit, a 3.7-inch SLCD screen 480 x 800 resolution screen a very good 5MP camera and excellent 720p video recording, the Wave II blows away all competitors in the hardware category for under 15K. But the Wave II runs on Samsung's Bada OS, and not Android. This makes it more like a very good feature phone, rather than a smartphone. Still it will take care of you basic call, messaging, social networking and web browsing needs.

Summary. When the HTC Wildfire came out, it did so in a less crowded market. Now with the Galaxy Ace and the lower prices on the Optimus One and the Wave II, the Wildfire S is less competitive than the original Wildfire during its release. Should you buy this phone. If you I cannot live without HTC's Sense, that is the only reason to buy the HTC Wildfire over its competition. While I love HTC units and Sense, I really would have to recommend that Galaxy Ace or Optimus One over the Wildfire S.

June 3, 2011 update - The price is now down to Php13,000.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Macbook Air and iPad challengers arrive

Villman has the 13.3-inch MacBook Air challenger, the Samsung 900X3A notebook om stock. Priced at Php79,900 with a 128GB SSD, this 13.3-inch 2.9 pound laptop has Sandy Bridge, but costs more that the 13.3-inch MBA with a 128GB SSD which is priced at Php67,990. The Samsung is faster, but for my money I would get the MBA.

Yugatech has the pricing on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. This 10-inch Android Tablet it priced at Php22,995. With the keyboad dock the price is Php29,990. With its 16 hour battery life makes this is one very interesting for the road warrior.

My first paid app...

I just bought my first paid app, Screen Off and Lock. Well it is actually a free app, with a donate version. As soon as I got me e-Card today, I decided to get the donate version. I wrote about this app a week ago here. You can find it in the Android Market here: Screen Off and Lock

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Netbook lives on

Neilsen reports that the adoption of tablets adoption is growing quickly. By the end of the second quarter of 2010 2.8% of all Americans owned a tablet. By the end of the first quarter this year, 4.8% of all Americans owned a tablet.  

Contrary to popular belief the netbook market seems to be alive and well too. By the end of the second quarter of 2010 5.8% of all Americans owned a tablet. By the end of the first quarter this year, 8.2% of all Americans owned a tablet. 


Q2 2010 - 2.9%
Q1 2011 - 4.8%


Q2 2010 - 5.8%
Q1 2011 - 8.2%

But these figures do not tell the whole story. With dropping netbook prices, profit margins on these devices are smaller than ever. Tablet profit margins must be fairly thin too, but every tablet sold means app sales and Adsence income.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

BlackBerry Playbook sales encouraging

PhoneArena reports that RIM has sold 250,000 BlackBerry PlayBooks and expects that RIM may be able to sell 3,000,000 tablets in 2011. Given that it is expected that 70 million to 100 million tablets will be sold this year, that gives RIM 3-4% of the tablet market. Not too shabby for a niche product.

With its 7-inch size, multitasking OS, promised Android App compatibility and US$499 retail price, this is my personal favorite second generation tablet. Now lets hope BlackBerry gives a phone worthy of the PlayBook.

I wonder when this lands in the Philippines. Am in no rush, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has been with us just for 5 months so far.

Updated May 2011 budget smartphone buyers guide

Some recent price adjustments require that we update out budget smartphone buyers guide.

LG Optimus One P500 - At a lower price, is again the best choice. Nowat a lower price of Php9,990 you get a phone running Android 2.2 (Froyo), with a 3.2 inch capacitive touchscreen display with 320 x 480 pixel resolution, a 600MHz ARM 11 processor, 419MB of RAM and 170MB of internal storage. For the camera, it has a 3.2MP autofocus camera. 

The main draw of this unit is the higher resolution 3.2-inch, 320 x 480 display. Everything else cheaoer runs at 240 x 320.
The Samsung S5830 Galaxy Ace - Still a solid choice. The Galaxy Ace combines a 3.5 inch 320 x 480 screen with a low Php13,390 asking price. Inside is an 800MHz ARM 11 processor and Adreno 200 GPU. The ARM 11 processor means no flash support in the browser. Internal storage is a scant 158MB but you do get a 2GB MicroSD card with the package, and Froyo (Android 2.2)  You get all the usual wireless connections. At the back, you get a 5MP auto focus camera with a LED flash.  It runs Android 2.2, Froyo, so the small internal storage is not as big a deal as it used to be.

This phone you buy for the screen it has a 3.5 inch screen. That is the same size as many of the higher end phones in the market like the iPhone 4 and Nokia N8. The 320 x 480 resolution is just high enough so you do not notice any pixelation. It is the most expensive budget phone in our comparison but you have to decide whether the larger 3.5-inch screen is worth paying the an additional Php3,400 over the LG Optimus One P500. 

Samsung Galaxy Mini - The cheapest we can recommend. Nothing great here. The 3.14-inch 240 x 320 screen looks a bit pixelized. The 600MHz ARM 11 processor and Adreno 200 GPU it will run all but the most demanding apps. Internal storage is a scant 160MB, but you do get a 2GB MicroSD card with the package and with running Froyo (Android 2.2) as the OS, the small internal storage is not the big deal it used to be. The camera is a 3.15MP fixed focus unit.  But priced at Php8,690 you really cannot complain.

There are several 2.8-inch offerings in the market at a slightly lower price, but we we really recommend going for the larger 3.14-inch screen. The additional 0.34-inches makes a big difference in when typing, and you do a lot of that with a smartphone.

But remember the LG Optimus One P500 with the higher resolution screen is available for just Php1,300 more. If you ask me, I would fork out the additional Php1,300.

HTC Wildfire - The camera and flash support make this old soldier is still a good choice. At the price of Php11,700 the HTC Wildfire offers a lot.  The spoiler in the package is 3.2 inch 240 x 320 screen. Both the Samsung Galaxy Ace and LG Optimus One having crisper displays.
Inside it still does have the best processor if the budget class. The Wildfire is powered by a 528 MHz Qualcomm processor, which is slower than the ones found in the Galaxy Ace and Optimus One, but this is actually a higher class processor. Clock speed is not everything. The 528 MHz Qualcomm supports flash in the browser, and this is the only budget phone which has any kind of browser flash support.  It has a good amount of RAM at  384 MB. Internal storage is also the highest at 512MB.

Another good reason choose the Wildfire is the camera. It has a decent camera, a 5 MP auto focus unit with a LED flash. The led flash plus the nicely built case and building quality makes it look and feel more like a high end phone. 

This one will be replaced by the newer Wildfire S soon. Still it is a solid choice.

Need a physical QWERTY keyboard?

Samsung Galaxy 551 - So so at the price, but it does have a slide out keyboard. One good option at less than 15K is the Samsung Galaxy 551. Priced at Php12,000 it is equipped with a 3.2 inch 400 x 240 resolution screen.  It runs Android 2.2 and is powered by a 667MHz processor and 256MB of RAM. For the money, it is not as good a choice as a Wildfire or Optimus One, but if you want the slide out physical keyboard, than it is not all that bad a choice either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sony Vaio VPCYB15AG versus HP Pavilion DM1-3016AU

Last month we wrote a article on our favorite budget ultraportables. The two least expensive options on our list were the Sony Vaio VPCYB15AG and HP Pavilion DM1-3016AU. We thought we would do a head to head.

Sony Vaio YB

Where the two are identical. Both the Sony Vaio VPCYB15AG and HP Pavilion DM1-3016AU are 11.6-inch ultraportable laptops with a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution screen. Both are powered by AMD's 1.6 GHz dual core E-350 processor. Both come with 2GB's of RAM and 320 SATA hard disk drive for storage. For connectivity, both have 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, 2.1 + EDR Bluetooth, USB 2.0 ports and HDMI out.

As you can see, essentially, these two laptops are nearly identical. Lets looks at what distinguishes them.

1. Price. The Sony Vaio YB is offered at a suggested retail price of Php29,999, and at this price you can pay for over 12 monthly installment. If you pay in cash or do a straight payment through a credit card, you can get it for Php26,999. The HP Pavillion DM1 is offered at a suggested retail price of Php22,990, and at this price you can pay for over 12 monthly installment. If you pay in cash or do a straight payment through a credit card, you can get it for Php20,999.

Depending on how you pay for it, the HP Pavillion DM1 is a 6-7K cheaper.

Winner - HP

HP Pavillon DM1

2. Battery life and endurance. The HP Pavillion DM1 comes with a 6-cell 4400 mAh battery. The Sony Vaio YB comes with a 4-cell 3500 mAh battery. Having identical innards, it is no trick guessing that the HP Pavillon DM1 wins this round. According to Laptopmag, the HP Pavillion DM1 has 6.5 hours of battery life, while the Sony Vaio YB will provide a tab under 5 hours.

Winner - HP

Sony Vaio YB

3. Graphics performance. While both units have AMD Radeon HD Graphics cards, the Sony Vaio has 384MB of dedicated video memory while the HP Pavillion DM1 relies on shared memory. Laptopmag in its review of the Sony Vaio YB said:

While we wouldn't recommend the VAIO YB as a gaming machine, it's capable of playing World of Warcraft. With the special effects turned down, the VAIO YB managed a strong 29 fps, a bit below the ultraportable category average but much stronger than the Lenovo ThinkPad X120e (21 fps) and the HP Pavilion dm1z (24 fps). 
Winner - Sony

4. Size and weight. The Sony Vaio YB dimensions are 8 x 11.4 x 1.2 inches and it weighs in a 3.2 pounds. The HP Pavillion DM1 dimensions are 8.4 x 11.4 x 1.2 inches and it weighs in a 3.4 pounds. The Vaio weighs less, but only because it has a smaller battery. We will call it a draw.

Winner - None.

5. Operating system. We would have preferred Windows 7 Home Premium, but neither comes with that. The Sony Vaio YB comes with Windows 7 Starter while the HP Pavillion DM1 come with Windows 7 Home Basic.

Winner - HP

In the end, the HP Pavillion DM1 is the better choice, trading some graphics power for longer battery at a lower cost. Objectively, that is what I would recommend and it is the clear winner in this head-to-head. 

Subjectively, the HP Pavillion DM1 does not look and feel like an HP Pavillion. It looks like a large HP netbook. The Sony Vaio YB feels and looks like a Vaio. For my money, I would splurge a bit and get the Sony Vaio YB.

Google Android paid apps now available in the Philippines

Google has expanded the list of countries where Android paid apps can be accessed from by adding 99 more countries, and the Philippine is on the list. What more can we say.

Best screen lock app for Android?

I have been looking for an app to lock the screen of my HTC Desire HD. I tried a few screen locking apps for my HTC Desire HD. Everything worked, but after locking my screen, the screen turns off and lights up again with the locked screen displayed. It stays back lit for 15 seconds than finally goes off. So while they work, they do not duplicate the way the power button on the DHD locks and turns the screen of immediately.

I came across an app called Screen Off and Lock. This app has an option to "Delay device locking". This option prevents the screen from coming back on immediately. It works exactly like the power button on my DHD. Brilliant.

It gives you the option to lock with a icon, or using a long press of a search key. For those who want to add a bit of flair it even allows you to select different lock screen animations and sounds if you like. The developer also included a lot of documentation to prevent you from having problems in case you decide to uninstall it. And actually, even this unnecessary since they provide a one click button instead of having to: 
Before uninstalling, go to "Settings" > "Location & Security" > "Select device admin" and uncheck "[name of lock screen app]"
All apps should be this way. Feature filled, well documented, with a explanation near each selection option to guide you. Amazingly it is free. You have the option to donate... this really should be a paid app, so please do donate.

Link to the app at the Android Market: Screen Off and Lock

Why you should give the AMD Fusion E-350 a long look

Lenovo's AMD E-350 powered G475. A capable 14-inch laptop at 20K.

If you are looking for a laptop these days, one offering you should seriously consider are laptops based on AMD E-350 processor. AMD E-350 systems, with the 1.6GHz dual core processors are not blazingly fast in pure processor performance. It is about equivalent to a low end Intel Core Duo from four years ago. 

That may sound disappointing. But look at it this way, if you are into heavy number crunching, it will not be your platform of choice. But AMD's E-350 is more than powerful enough for you to type and edit documents, prepare spreadsheets, prepare Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and browse the web. And here is the bonus, part and parcel of every E-350 platform is a AMD Radeon 6310 graphics processing unit.

The AMD Radeon 6310 graphics, will allow you to seamlessly watch 1080p high definition video and do a fair amount of 3D gaming. Surprised? For years Intel has been marketing based on processor speeds and promising the additional benefits of the new faster processors. In reality, older processors were fast enough that the average user sees little benefit from the newer processors. What is really needed is better graphics performance.

HP's 11.6-inch DM1 at Php20,900 is priced like a netbook, but performs like a laptop.

If you were to compare a low cost AMD E-350 platform like a Sony Vaio YB versus a more powerful Inter Core i7 powered Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T, the Core i7 unit is the more powerful laptop.

Well, until you play World of Warcraft, than the  Sony Vaio YB will run as fast as the Core i7 laptop. If you try to play World of Warcraft at the default 1366 x 768 resolution of both laptops, the Sony Vaio YB would run twice as fast as the Core i7 unit.
The most expensive AMD E-350 laptop on the market is the 11.6-inch Sony Vaio YB at Php26,990. Acer (eMachines), Lenovo, HP and MSI all have 11-inch, 13-inch an  14-inch AMD E-350 laptops priced at Php21,000 or less. 

If you are looking for a new laptop these days... the AMD E-350 laptops give you little reason to spend a lot of cash.

Monday, May 16, 2011

OtterBox Commutter Case for the HTC Desire HD

Here are some pictures of the OtterBox Commuter case for the HTC Desire HD. The case consist of two parts. A soft inner black rubber sheath to protect your phone, while the hardened plastic exterior shell which I think is primarily designed to protect the black rubber sheath.

 Initially, I felt the power button was hard to depress but after a day I got use to it. The stiffer buttons also stopped all the accidental depressing I used to do to the volume rocker button when the phone was in its older Capdase Xpose case.

The biggest issue with this case is the price. At Php2,150 it cost more than twice as much as some other decent branded case. It more than many mobile phones for that matter. After two to three weeks of pondering whether I should buy it, well I finally gave in. I hope it is worth the asking price.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A tale of two cases... and Capdase case discoloration

I never really place my mobile phones in silicon or other protective cases, but somehow, with the HTC Desire HD's fine aluminum case, it almost seemed mandatory. Within minutes of acquiring my DHD last February, I went into another store and purchased a Capdase Soft Jacket 2 Expose. I loved the way you could still see the phone through the semi-transparent silicon case. 

Fast forward two-and-a-half months later, my fine looking grey silicon case has turn greenish. I am not sure how good it is captured in the picture, but especially under direct sunlight, it looks like, in the words of my friend: "lumot".

 I know that a silicon case is not supposed to last forever, but 2.5 months feels a bit short for the Php900 I paid for the case. I decide to retire the Capdase and get an OtterBox Commuter Case. I hope this one fares better.

Four months with the Smart Unlimited Data Plan

Data charges on a unlimited plan. My experience with Smart Communications Data Plan (MENSA Plan 2000) started as a really frustrating experience. Despite being on a unlimited data plan I incurred over Php1,100 in data charges in my first two weeks of use. But with the help of Smart technical support, I was able to isolate two apps which seemed to be causing the data charges: the Opera Mini Browser and Microsoft Exchange Server based email app. Smart seems to interpret the use of these apps as availing of "Value Added Services." The data charges were reversed.

In the past three months I have still incurred data charges, between Php20 to Php50 per month. It would be nice to know why I am incurring these charges, but the amounts are small enough that I am willing to live with it.  By the way, these are on an Android phone. Other operating systems may have different issues.

Yes, Smart has 3G here
Speed. In the usual area were I roam around, the souther part of Mega Manila Cavite-Las Pinas-Laguna-Muntinlupa-Paranaque the speeds are adequate. In some area of Makati and Taguig, they can get so fast, that they are faster than the local WiFi hotspots. Basically, your mileage will vary. Great for apps pretty much everywhere. Web browsing on the browser is a bit sluggish (and there is where the Opera Mini Browser and its data compression could help a lot). Speed is not not currently a forte of Smart 3G. 

But speed is not everything. As far as the base of Mount Halcon in Oreintal Mindoro, I get a data signal and speeds fast enough for my apps to send and receive email, keep me connected to Twitter and Facebook, and get my news from GMA News. In the end, reliability counts more. 

If you have an Android, iPhone or Windows Phone 7 device, you should really consider getting a data plan. A smartphone isn't very smart, without one.

Faster built-in graphics make a laptop upgrade in 2011 very appealing

Every year you see new laptops coming out with faster and faster processors. In the real world, it does make much of a difference, with Intel Core Duo Processors from 5 years ago being fast enough for most people needs. But these days, Intel and AMD are giving you good reasons to buy a new laptop even if you find the processor of your old workhorse more than adequate.

For years Intel has offered us laptops with one variety or another of its Intel Graphics Media Accelerator chips. It seemed like the only way to get a decent 3D card was to buy an expensive laptop with a discrete video card. The on board solution was sufficient, but nothing more.

In 2010 Intel released processors with based on the Nehalem microarchitecture. These are what you more commonly refer to a Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. While the improvements in performance was substantial, the biggest improvement was in the built-in graphics card provided with the new processors: the Intel HD Graphics (or more specifically the Intel GMA HD graphics). 
As the HD moniker indicates these card were designed to play 1080p HD video content, and can do a fair amount of 3D gaming along the way. Looking at benchmarks conducted by LaptopMag will show just how much of a boost these newer graphics card gives:
  • Acer Timeline 1810T (Intel GMA 4500MHD) - 594 3D Mark 2006 points
  • Acer TimelineX 1830T (Intel GMA HD) - 1290 3D Mark 2006 points

     As impressive as the increase is, AMD has been going the same route providing ATI video as integral parts of even with their lowest cost platforms. In 2011 AMD released its graphics center Fusion platform. While AMD Fusion laptops, like the  Sony Vaio YB with a provide only modest but "fast enough" processor performance the Redeon HD 6310 graphics provided in these budget units are impressive.
    • Acer TimelineX 1830T (Intel GMA HD) - 1290 3D  Mark 2006 points
    • Sony Vaio YB (Radeon HD 6310) - 2490 3D  Mark 2006 points
    The new Sandy Bridge based systems up the ante even further. Systems equipped with Intel  HD 3000 graphics offer blazingly fast graphics performance. How fast, fast enough to convince Apple that is no longer needs to turn to  discrete graphics for all its computers.
    • Acer TimelineX 1830T (Intel GMA HD) - 1290 3D Mark 2006 points
    • 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro 2010 model (Nvidia GeForce 320M) - 4754 3D Mark 2006 points
    • 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro 2010 model (Intel GMA HD 3000) - 4509 3D Mark 2006 points
    While the Nvidia 320M solution is still faster, the Intel GMA HD 3000 solution is almost as fast and by far cheaper to integrate into a laptop.

    Graphics improvements, are by far the best reason to upgrade to a new laptop these days.

    Smart's Android Charge

    Smart is offering a very nice line-up of Android phones and a Android tablet on a promotional basis, from May 14-15, 2011. Might be a good two days to sign up for a two year contract.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    LG Optimus Optimus 2X blank screens, unresponsive screens, random reboots and exceedingly hot temperatures

    Engadget reports on some serious problems which apparently plague the LG Optimus Optimus 2X. 
    In LG's rush to be first, it delivered a unpolished operating system that hinders the speed and stability of the phone -- and we're now seeing user reports suggesting the troubles may go beyond software. Notably, the forum at xda-developers now exceeds 100 pages of comments describing blank, unresponsive screens, random reboots and exceedingly hot temperatures when recharging.
    You can read the rest of the article here.

    Creator of iFlow Reader App for iOS is closing down

    A bit of a sad story for an App developer was posted by TechRadar. iFlow Reader an eBook iOS App developer has closed down. In a statement posted by  iFlow Reader in its website, it said:
    We cannot survive selling books at a loss and so we are forced to go out of business. We bet everything on Apple and iOS and then Apple killed us by changing the rules in the middle of the game. This is a very sad day for innovation on iOS in this important application category. We are a small company that thought we could build a better product. We think that we did but we are powerless against Apple’s absolute control of the iOS platform.
    If you are an iFlow Reader user, there are instruction on how to save your eBooks here.

    Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830T-2412G64nbb

    The Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830T, the successor to the 3820T is now available in the Philippines. At a price of Php37,900, it cost Php3K more than the 3820T at its release.  The higher price is because while the 3820T sold in the Philippine had an Core i3 processor, the 3830T comes with a a Intel Core i5 processor. Sandy Bridge also bring faster Intel 3000 graphics (3X faster than Intel HD) and USB 3.0 support. The higher price also comes in with a larger 640GB hard drive.
    The Acer 3830T's specifications are as follows:
    • Screen: 13.3" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) high-brightness (200-nit) Acer CineCrysta LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
    • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Basic 64-bit
    • Processor: Intel Core i5-2410 processor (2.3 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz, and
    • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
    • Memory: 2GB DDR3 Memory
    • Storage: 640GB SATA Hard Drive
    • Optical drive: None
    • Battery: 6-cell (6000 mAh)
    The chiclet keyboard feels better than the older island style keyboard in the 3820T, and build quality has also been improved. The new Acer 3830T might weighs in at 4.1 pounds, a bit more than the 3.9 pounds of the older 3820T. This takes it out of the ultraportable classification and makes it a thin-and-light laptop.

    Last we checked the older Acer 3820T was available at Php31,900. The low price makes it a decent choice even with the release of the newer Acer 3830T.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Acer Aspire TimelineX 4830TG-2413G75Mnbb

    Those of you who follow this blog know that I am a fan of Acer's Timeline series of laptops. They combine the attributes of being substantially lighter than other laptops in the same class and having longer than the average battery life at a decent build quality at a mid-level price.

    The first third generation Timeline has arrived on Philippine shores, in the form of the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4830TG. The Acer 4830TG is a thin-and-light laptop with a 14.1-inch (1366 x 768 resolution) screen at a 4.7 pound weight. Light enough to carry around. Big enough to replace your desktop. Powerful enough to replace your desktop too... but more on that later.

    The first thing you will notice about the new Timeline is the its new garb. Instead of the business like subtle black and grey finish of the first and second generation Timelines, which were perfect for business users, the new Timelines come in a dark blue and silver case. It looks like the Timeline series is headed in a new direction, targeting gamers and the younger generation. The aluminum accented lid is colored in what Acer calls "Ice Blue" and the keyboard area is accented in Ice Blue and silver. Acer also has switched to a more conventional chiclet type keyboard from the older island type keyboard.

    Inside you will find a Sandy Bridge Intel Cotre i5-2410M processor running at 2.3GHz, and which can turbo boost up to 2.9GHz when needed. This is a dual core processor, with a 3MB cache. Along with Sandy Bridge, the new Acer 4830TG now has a USB 3.0 port. One other major change from the previous model is the Nvidia GT540M graphics used, instead of the ATI Graphics in previous models. The Nvidia GT540M comes with 2GB of RAM and brings Optimus technology (graphic card swithcing) to the TimelineX, which I think is a fair bit smoother than the ATI solution. 

    The Acer 4830TG offered in the Philippines is also equipped 3MB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive, more than the previous version. What has not changed is the price, still being priced at a decent Php46,990.

    Competitors. Looking at the other options available, one interesting alternative to the Acer 4830TG is Acer's own Aspire 4750G-2412G64Mn. The two have similar specifications, with the Acer 4750G coming in at Php12K less.

    What do you lose for the lower price. On the specs sheet you lose 1GB of RAM, 110GB of hard drive space and Windows Home Premium. The Acer 4750G-2412G64Mn come with a Linux operating system installed. You also do not get the new blue and silver garb with the chiclet keyboard. The Acer 4750G still has the older island style keyboard.

    What is not so apparent from the specifications is the battery size. Both the Acer 4820TG and the 4750G come with 6-cell batteries. But the one in the 4820TG is rated at 6000 mAh, while the 6-cell unit on the Acer 4570G is rated at 4400 mAH. This gives the Acer 4820TG 35% longer battery life than the 4750G.

    All in all, I think the additional Php12K is worth it.

    The other laptop which comes into mind is the new entry level Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro. Overall, I like the MacBook Pro better. It outclasses the Acer 4830TG on most counts. But at Php16K less, the Acer 4830TG outclasses the entry level MacBook Pro in one key area: Graphics. The MacBook Pro comes in Intel HD 3000 graphics, and while a very decent card it is no match for the Nvidia GT540M video card on the Acer 4830TG. One other advantage we think is the Acer 4820TG's USB 3.0 support and HDMI port. The MacBook Pro supports the faster Thunderbolt data transfer standard, but there are yet no peripherals that can take advantage of this in the local market. The MacBook also uses a Mini Display Port, which needs an adapter to be able to plug it into your LCD TV. All you need with the Acer 4830TG is an HDMI cable.

    The Acer 4830TG is a nice solid release. I would have preferred a black and grey finish, but that kind of thing is subjective. If you are looking for portable and powerful, this a very good choice.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    LG Optimus Black and Optimus 2X

    Techie.com.ph has the pricing for the two new LG Android handsets due in the market this month. The LG Optimus Black will be priced at Php19,900.

    With its 1GHz TI OMAP 3630 and PowerVR SGX530 chip and 512MB of RAM has specifications nearly identical to the cheaper Samsung i9003 Galaxy SL. Priced nearly 3K more, is the Optimus Black worth it?

    It is a matter of illumination. The 4-inch screen 480 x 800 resolution screen on the Optimus Black boasts of a 700-nit Nova display (a laptop typically has a 2000nit display). How good is it? GSM Compares the NOVA display with Samsung AMOLED and Apples Retina display here.  We will reserve judgment till we see it but it looks very promising. 

    The other competitor to the Optimus Black is the more expensive HTC Desire S. The HTC packs a bit more grunt with Adreno 205 graphics and 768MB of RAM, but the Optimus Black has a larger brighter screen.

    The second handset, is the one you all are waiting for. The LG Optimus 2X. This dual core Tegra 2 powered unit will be the most powerful smartphone in the country when it hits the shelves, well at least until the Samsung i9001 Galaxy S II arrives. 

    Should you wait for the Samsung i9001 Galaxy S II? Maybe. But at an expected price of Php27,990, we expect the Optimus 2X to cost a fair amount less than Galaxy S II anyway. If you have been waiting for one of the new dual core phones, it looks like you can get one in three weeks.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    HTC starts OTA Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) updates for Desire HD and Incredible S

    Engadget reports that HTC starts OTA Gingerbread updates for Desire HD and Incredible S.

    Well done HTC. Two months ahead of promised. What more is there to say?

    May 5, 2011 update -  So far, no update for my phone yet. But I do expect the roll-out to take a few days.

    May 11, 2011 update - So far, nothing yet.

    May 14, 2011 update - The new promised release date is May 16, 2011.

    May 31, 2011 update - Finally got the notice and installed the update. Everything went well. Did not even have to back-up anything.

    June 3, 2011 update - It was worth the wait. I love the more functional notification bar, get better battery life, scrolling trough the apps menu is easier and many other refinements. I was not expecting the update to be this good. Was worth the wait. Good one HTC.

    Why all Androids?

    If you have read our May 2011 smartphone buyers guide, it is almost impossible to notice that all the current phones in our list are Androids. Little by little, the Symbian, Bada, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry and iOS phones have disappeared from out list. Here is why?

    Wait for the iPhone 5.

    Apple iPhone. The good thing about Apple products is they hold their value. The pricing of their product stays pretty much fixed for one year until a new product is released. On the grey market you can expect discounted prices over time, but not by much. You can expect to pay about Php31K for a iPhone (16GB) on the grey market. About the same price we expect to see for the new dual core phone like the LG Optimus 2X, later this month, and Samsung Galaxy S II, by June.

    When the iPhone was competing with 30K Android's it was already the most expensive option. Now with its 2010 rivals at 19K to 23K, the iPhone 4 really feels expensive.

    The other issue is screen size. In 2007 the iPhone had a large screen by 2007 standards. Even into 2009 it was still at the top of the class. But by second half of 2010, the 3.5-inch screen was starting to look a bit on the small side. Now, 3.5-inches is the province of manufacturers second level phones, with their flagships having 4-inch or larger screens. While a 4-inch or larger screened phone is not for everyone, it would be nice if Apple provided that option. We would be happy if they up the screen size to even just 3.7 to 3.8 inches. But these days, a 3.5-inch screen just does not excite us anymore.

    We would wait for the BlackBerry OS 7 phones.

    BlackBerry. BlackBerry OS 7 launched with the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and Bold 9930 devices. The BlackBerry's that came before those two won’t be updated to v7 of the OS, not even the ones running version 6. Pretty much, we recommend holding off buying a BlackBerry until we can find out if RIM plans to continue updating for version 6.

    Still a risk, and there are plenty of options at 20K, but now might not be a bad time to give this OS a spin.

    Windows Phone 7. Buying a Windows Phone 7 smartphone right now is cheaper than ever. The HTC Mozart 7 is now priced at just Php20,500. If you feel like trying a Windows Phone 7 phone, this may be a good time. But we think the future of Windows Phone 7 is still iffy. With two established operating systems, iOS and Android, we would recommend going with one of the two leaders for 20K.
    That being said, I really like Windows Phone 7, but could not get myself invest in one myself. If you are looking at a Windows Phone 7 unit, now is not a bad time to get one.

    The best feature phone in the world.
    Bada. The Samsung Galaxy Wave 8530 is now available for less than 15K which might make one feel like jumping on the Bada bandwagon. The problem is there is no bandwagon and we do not see a future for this OS as a smarthpone OS. Still nothing at 15K has better specifications than the Samsung Galaxy Wave 8530, but I really would consider it more of a high end feature phone than a smartphone. The lower price Bada phones have equally low priced Android to compete with.

    If you own one, it will still get the job done. If you are looking at buying, there are many better options these days.

    Symbian. Symbian = Nokia. If you like Nokia phones, we recommend you wait for 2012 for the new Nokia Windows Phone 7 devices. No matter how much sugar coating Nokia does, Symbian as a smarthpone OS is near end of life. With Androids available for as low a 8K, we would recommend a Android instead.   

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