Monday, May 24, 2010

Alcatel 813D, Ice-Cube (ICE3) 4 years ownership review

About 4 years ago, I pursued a fancy wish of mine to own a phone that was not a smartphone, but had ample battery, and was ultra cool to hold and speak for an hour or two without worrying about radiation and all those issues.

At a time when smartphone sales were gaining pace all over the place in this country, I did some research and found a dual sim phone from [Alcatel](http://www.alcatelonetouch.com/global-en/products/featurephones/ot-813.html#.U4B28ViSxU4), called the 813D.



The FCC or Federal Communications Commission lays down rules regarding the acceptable [SAR values](http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/specific-absorption-rate-sar-cellular-telephones) for mobile phones. These limits are given in terms of a unit referred to as the [Specific Absorption Rate](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_absorption_rate) (SAR), which is a measure of the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone.

According to them, the limit for public exposure from cellular telephones is an SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg).

Alcatel's 813D boasts a SAR of (0.859) W/Kg and for use close to the body is (0.92) W/Kg. Now you can see why the phone is also referred to as ICE3. Just in comparison, the nokia asha is at 1.5 W/kg which is very high.

With a 1000maH lithium battery and music, pim, resistive touchscreen capabilities, this phone is slightly more useful than one can think. The keyboard is blackberry style and functions well though quite annoying in the days of swype keypads on smartphones.

After 4 years, I have had no issues with the phone in anyway after much of rough handling the instrument. On long international calls, I have felt very cool on the ear using this phone due to the rated SAR value. Quite obviously I use this phone as a secondary phone which I am now planning to change to the recently launched [Nokia 630](http://www.nokia.com/global/products/phone/lumia630/). Time will tell if that would still get me the same purpose solved.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The iPhone 3GS in India – a review

 

  

 

Many reviews have been written on the iPhone 3GS and now even the iPhone 4G with its impending launch sooner than later. However it was only in the last one month did Apple launch the iPhone 3GS officially in India, almost a year later than other countries and with good reason. With the country seeing a surge in 3G connection options from BSNL and the impending followup by other mobile operators shortly by September post the 3G auctions, the iPhone 3GS has enetered at the appropriate time into the country.

While some people may scoff at the fact that many mobile providers offer the service pretty late to developing countries, they must also realize that its not only about being a late entrant, but the limitation in technology makes in infeasible for higher grade devices to be launched at the same time. What would someone in India do with a 4G apple iPhone without an actual 4G service? Besides, red tapism and bureaucratic hurdles in our country only more definitely point to the fact that every new launch will be delayed if its linked to the spectrum. Having said this, still the iPhone 3GS launch in India deserves some coverage with respect to the aspect of having a great device to work with and this review makes these opinions rather precisely and to the point.

So what is the USP for going in for an iPhone? Well after my tryst with many other phones, including the Nokia 5800, Blackberry 8520, Blackberry Storm 2 9550, and Nokia N900 – I decided to sell off all these phones (except the last which I didn’t own) to finally decide to buy an iPhone 3GS. While all the above mentioned devices were no doubt great at their functionalities, the touch sensitivity and eye-catchiness of the user interface was rather sub standard and resistive touchscreens only made it worse for instance on the 5800 by Nokia. After ten years of being with Nokia the time had come to bid a rather eventless goodbye to the once upon a time king of mobile world. While their devices still continue to support multitude formats and be technologically advanced even now, unfortunately the company has not concentrated on the user interface and intuitiveness of use which has led to a steady downfall for Nokia. This is also the time companies like RIM and Apple have got very aggressive in their marketing pitch with their phones. While I wish to talk about the Storm flagship model from Blackberry later on, its now time to give standing ovation to a phone well made by Apple – the iPhone 3GS.

 

 

This is a phone people die to own. This is a phone people cannot afford to own. This is a phone that people will not sell once they own. This is a phone that defines your lifestyle from the moment you own it. This is a phone which is truly capable of making your life more meaningful and productive. And finally this is a phone for all ages right from the child in you upto the old man in you :-)

There is nothing to not like on an iPhone. The capacitive touchscreen and the user interface deployed to work with it by Apple, is by far the best strategy by Apple which has seen nothing short of its market share and stock price increasing from day one of launching its iPod and iPhone series of devices which are now in their fifth generations. It will take a long time for other companies to perfect the touchscreen input recognition and these companies will merely be second fiddling Apple for sometime to come. If there is anything you would want to pay money for to own an Apple, its the ridiculous simplicity of usage and nothing else! So does the iPhone stack up as worthwhile for the 35,000 odd bucks you would want to spend on it in India ? Read more to find out !

I do not in this review wish to dwell deep into each and every feature (known or hidden gems) that the iPhone provides, but I will try and make it as detailed as possible on things that I know after being with it for a month.

Design

When you design a phone whose usage will be across generations, you better keep things simple. While I may know the hardware to a greater extent than my dad, my kid may only know how to touch the screen to get things going at a little over two years old. So the point is Apple has really paid attention to this fact and kept the design of the instrument simple. The only buttons around the device are the On/Off button, Mute button, Volume button and well the Home key. Other than this are the two neatly placed speakers around the charging port, and on top you find the rather uncomfortable-to-take-out sim card tray and a 3.5mm standard headset jack. Period. Nothing else nowhere around the phone. No removable battery, no removable memory card and an almost no removable sim. This is where the Indian safety pin comes in handy. That or the paper clip are the only way to remove the iPhone SIM. Besides why would you keep removing your SIM card every now and then ? You wouldn’t and this is what exactly Apple wants from you as well.

I must not forget to add rather hastily that the phone is ultra slippery. One mistake could send such a costly device plummeting to the ground and break it before you can wink your eyes. While its a shame that Apple did not think of a hand grip (like a recess somewhere on the phone body), this is where companies have made a living making cases for the iPhone, besides a gazillion other things.

Ecosystem around the phone

If a phone has to survive for a long time as an icon which is desired, then it not only needs to look good, be simple to use and function well, but it has to have or create an ecosystem around it which makes it extensible for a good amount of time to come. This ecosystem must not only help this model, but also be readily available to be used by other models which are due. This is what AppStore is about and iTunes is about. Apple has slowly but steadily built the much famed AppStore which sports thousands of applications which are available either free or for a fee which is as cheap as eating out at a local fast food joint. Not only has this proved a life saver for Apple, but has also enabled thousands of developers to test their popularity on the AppStore. The result is that there are some wonderful applications which are highly usable yet simple and keep you productive and entertained for as long as you have the phone.

It will take a long long time before any other mobile phone provider can reach this level of the number of apps with Apple, and the release of iPAD has only increased the heat even among tablet developers to be on their toes for apps. Its not just the apps which are available, its their quality that makes their usage on a device such as the iPhone more outstanding.

Performance

This is one area which is a sure shot opportunity to produce a winner of a phone. While speed is not the only thing that matters all the time, it sure is one quality of the phone which makes people buy it. Comparing my early Nokia 6600 which was great during its launch, phones have come a long way in what they can achieve for you. Much to the extent that a PC’s processor now sits within a phone. If you had asked me an opinion about the 3G version of iPhone, I’d have passed it off as yet another normal phone. The speed took a hit due to the amount of graphical manipulations happening on the user interface and to the extent of causing annoyance among users after having spent a little over 30 grand. However Apple quickly worked on it, and with the 3GS speed is no more a concern. But if you want some serious improvement for speed wait for the 4G which will sport a 1Ghz processor.

Back to the discussion, the speed on 3GS is sufficient to make applications open rather instantaenously and perhaps the OS 4.0 would be only better in handling these. I have about 4-5GB of songs on the 16GB memory, and with these many, the unitasking system does well in terms of speed and data access. The browsing speed is also decent and Safari does well in rendering many pages properly. The scrolling, touch input are almost at a perfection level which many other manufacturers will never be able to achieve and these are the reasons Apple is sought after for their devices. With no stylus, the only way to input on the phone is your finger and Apple has done a good job to ensure your touches are interpreted correctly most of the time.

Battery life

For any Smartphone which does a lot of work from the morning to the evening and a large screen  as its offering, the only area of suffering would be the drain on battery. And drain it does, each single day and requires a charge each day more or less. The best I have got is one and half day (36 hours) and nothing more than that. If you ask me a question whether Apple has thought of plonking in a better battery, I am sure they would have, except that the reason they did not include it would be because of the design constraints which would have otherwise made this device as heavy as a brick. One has to also look at heat dissipation and other parameters like this with decisions on powering the device.

So yes, the battery is not the best, but a charger for the home, office, and the car must keep the phone going as the battery charges up pretty quickly way beyond the 50% mark. Some tips to conserve the battery power is to keep the brightness low to the extent you can read the screen, to switch off the wifi, bluetooth and 3g radios while not in use, and perhaps even keeping the volume low on the phone to the extent you can hear it. If you dont browse too often, or hear music too often, and dont use speaker or talk on bluetooth too often, then you get a bonus of a few more hours.

Price and conclusion

There is always a debate why Apple has priced this beyond 30 grand in India and the fact that the phone costs much more than a laptop. While I believe for other phones that manufacturers always make a killing in profits up to the tune of about 4-5 grand extra, with Apple I think even if it is the same case, you get a device that keeps you happy for a lot of time to come. And yes, the smaller and technologically advanced the device gets, the more costlier it is, so its not very surprising that a laptop should cost much lesser.

The best part of the phone is its great capacitive touch screen, stunning user interface, and outstanding simplicity of usage. The points that drag it down in terms of popularity would be its low battery life, its limited memory, non removable battery and also a non exposed file system which causes options like jailbreaking to be available for hackers.

On a more mediocre front, the ringtones could have been better, the camera could have sported atleast a flash and optical or digital zoom and the grip could have been better.

What will keep you happy though is its capability with respect to download and install (on a free or chargeable basis), good applications which will keep you amused and productive for many more happy days to come.

The Apple iPhone is not a phone, its not a music player, its not a video player, its not a photography device, its not for business alone, its not about data – but to sum it up – its a LIFESTYLE device which will appeal to all age groups alike and is extremely simplistic to use by people of these age groups.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Price versus Features – is anyone really serious in the automobile field?

 

 

The years 2009 and 2010 have witnessed a rather unusual flurry of new car launches. While the automotive market is no doubt on fire with these launches the question remains whether any single manufacturer has actually thought about power and features rather than fuel economy and subsidies for cars sans many common features. The phase during the early 90’s was radically different with just one or two manufacturers and a fraction of reasonably famous and good enough cars ruled the roads. The phase from early 2000 upto 2006-7 timeframe was mostly governed by car launches that showed the me-too-me-too syndrome with every auto manufacturer positioning a new car just because his competitor did. Still the idea was about garnering market share more than anything else.

2009 and 2010 have seen some rather fundamental changes in the way auto manufacturers perceived the country in terms of consumption. People were slowly shifting from mundane cars to more stylish ones. People wanted colours, variants, at different price points. Some were more than willing to pay for power and comfort as well. Fuel economy was no more the only reason people wanted a car. The trend was about how a car could enhance your image. On the road, off the road, within friend’s circle, or even as a normal enthusiast interested in new cars.

While auto manufacturers did take note of these facts, the cars that had power, features, all came at a price – mostly in the C or D segments alone. The cost of making low end cars does not still permit companies to include proper feature sets at that price bracket to make it a compelling proposition. Many cars still prefer to say power windows are safety features and a hot and cold blower means luxury. Some audacious ones even term a 40-60 seat folding as a luxury feature or a convenience feature. Lets really define what becomes more important in a car that belongs to this age and then relook how many actually offer such a proposition in a segment more dearer to the general public.

  • ABS/EBD : This is real safety and its not limited to wet road conditions alone. Every city has unruly rains and one needn’t be on mountainous terrain to actually derive the benefits of ABS
  • Airbags : Whoever said only seat belts are a safety feature needs to understand that its a combination of that and airbags that offer ultimate safety. While most manufacturers now offer airbags atleast as an option, some offer only driver side airbag rather than two of them citing price as a reason. Whoever gave these people an idea that lower variants need not have airbags have done a bad job of making these guys understand what safety means.
  • Alloys and Tubeless tyres : Well the real point here is that these no more cost the earth thanks to technology upgrades. Many do give tubeless tyres as a default while alloys are still a bit unaffordable by all
  • Climate control : What was once the forte of foreign countries is no more something that needs no attention here in India. The country is getting hotter and we don’t need just AC. AC is about chilling the hell out of you and making you switch it off beyond a point. Once you put it off, the windows fog up and you put it on again much to your own displeasure. Enter climate control – arguably it takes a bit more of fuel but in the longer run puts you at ease with respect to the temperature in the cabin as well as keeps out fogginess.
  • Speakers and music system : These are by default given with every new car now. No real gripes here, but it also makes you lose the ability to customize the system beyond a point. Some cars still don’t offer speakers which is a shame
  • Audio controls on steering : This is no more a luxury feature. It takes a bit of extra electricals to get this up and running and I dont see why any company cant offer this on all their models.
  • Bluetooth : The most important need for a car driver to keep his concentration on the road yet get to talk and finish those calls. In the days where we don’t even get much time to brush our teeth, its a god send to have this features for executives who get most of their calls completed on their long really long listless commutes to the office – not because of distance, but because of time! Agreed this is a distraction as well, but I strongly feel people who know how to use it will anyways use it properly
  • MID  : the multi information display is almost there in every new car these days compared to the CLOCK-only days of cars. Its a welcome change no doubt and over the period of next few years, it will only get better in terms of what it shows to the driver.
  • Lumbar seat : Height adjusting seats and lumbar adjustments are no more a luxury. It takes a bit of powering up to achieve this and I feel this is a must to be provided by all car makers as default
  • Electric side mirrors : Is this a luxury anymore at all ? We are in 2010, not in 2000 which sounds like oh-yesteryears!

 

So where then are we with respect to these features ? There is only one known car maker that has all of what I told above. So that you don’t have to spend one extra rupee beyond the car cost. Expect of course for the most powerful engine category! Guess who? Yes – FIAT – punto and linea. Absolute bliss with respect to features, technology and commitment to indian customers ever since good old palio days. In my quest for buying the next car (sedan) I have not come across any other car manufacturer to have all the above features at an affordable price.

 

(courtesy wikimedia commons & babez.de)

 

Any other car with all the features mentioned is well beyond the 10 lakh mark. Its time auto makers understood its not about money for no features. And its about time we the people of the country understood that we need to look at cars more holistically as a peace of mind factor in all categories rather than just mileage and cost. Hopefully the Vento Sedan from Volkswagen Polo brand should be a refreshing change after all the fiesta’s, aveo’s, accent’s, and sx4’s of recent times. We either need something as sexy and functional like the FIAT or a more business minded appearance like the Vento with lesser features but better reliability. Only time will tell the true performers from the rest.

Honestly my search for a car with all the features above, and legendary reliability within a price bracket that I can afford or even stretch; is still open. And something that I can proudly own atleast for the next five to ten years. While Honda and Toyota match that requirement of ownership timeframe, the FIAT is hard to comment on until time reveals the facts. Its only upto the new entrants to make a buzz in this field. Until then its a anticipatory wait !