Friday, February 18, 2011

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It seems like Aircel is busy updating its website for the 3G launch before world cup cricket matches begin. As of today morning their website is completely down with the browser returning this message:



 


It would be interesting to see how Aircel places its tariff plans in competition to the already existing 3G services from Tata Docomo and Airtel.


UPDATE: Aircel 3G has been launched in chennai since yesterday and the first 250 MB for the next one week is FREE. However Aircel has not updated its website on the pricing yet. This means they are buying some time to first see how much load their servers take up and how 3G performs before stating the pricing. Bangalore still is waiting for this service though along with other circles.


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

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For those who have just tasted the fruits of mobile number portability here is yet another sweet news. The IRDA, which is the ombudsman for insurance regulation just like the TRAI for telecom, has finally mooted the plan for health insurance portability.


In simple terms this means that you can port your health policy to another provider if you are dissatisfied with the current one. The crux of the matter was that until now you could not do such a thing without voiding the no-claim period spent with the earlier company. However with the portability announcement, by June we can switch to other health insurance providers retaining the benefits of the no-claim period, ideally thereby covering all excluded ailments of the first two years.


This is definitely a step ahead in the right direction for the IRDA. However the process is a bit more complicated than the MNP for TRAI. Already its not difficult to figure out that the insurance companies are a mafia by themselves. Lobby is a more decent term to use for covering up the word mafia. Still the lobby of such companies is so powerful that the government would have to tread quite cautiously while implementing this scheme.


Some of the key questions that likely need lots of thought are:



  • Would the no-claim be initially effective? or would there be a hold period for the same?

  • Once a person ports his policy to another provider, how long would he have to wait until he switches again? What does he lose in terms of benefits on early switching?

  • Can there be a single policy defined by IRDA that is uniformly acceptable and implementable by the umpteen insurance companies which are in the field today?

  • What amount of complexity is involved with the logistics of implementing such an operation considering there are only two or three TPAs behind all these insurance companies handling the backend?

  • How to enable healthy competition between insurance companies over and beyond the basic uniform policy? As is the case with MNP can there be freebies like increased hospitalization charges covered like higher room rent, or ambulance costs etc?

  • The biggest single most important question, can there be a uniform premium for all insurers put together?

 



 


Unless the IRDA seriously thinks about all this, this would be an effort which can lead to lots of confusion starting July and would take nearly a year more to stabilize. But if implemented properly and judiciously, with zero room for errors in insuring and claim processes, this would be the best gift Indians can get after a really long wait in the midst of archaic claim management cycles and policy renewals.


For those who have not observed, Reliance General Insurance as an example had a Gold and Silver policy for health insurance for sometime after which they removed Gold citing that not many people are opting for it. The real truth was that they had offered too many benefits under Gold policy and they could not continue in a state of non profit with this scheme. So they yanked it off immediately.


One more thing is that an average cover of 2,00,000 for a year, per person was costing about 2000 bucks a year ago. But within a year, citing 100% claims, the lobby (mafia) of insurance companies have succeeded in getting their way for a four fold increase in premium. In the above example it now costs 8000 bucks to cover the same 2 lakhs. So you can judge for yourself how you would be taken for a ride by the insurance lobby and how important it is that the IRDA brings in portability amongst these companies with uniform premium rates and policy plans.


This will be an exciting year to see how this reform is going to shake up the insurance market !


 


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Friday, February 4, 2011

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A friend of mine happened to recommend the ASUS O!Play Air media player to me and since the cost factor was tempting, I decided to buy it for myself. The need was to have the player play my media files over the wireless connection from an attached 2TB western digital hard drive and occassionally stream content from the internet - either videos or internet radio channels to be precise.


So did the Asus O!Play satisfy me? Read on! I ll make this review easier to comprehend by dividing it into crisp sections so you can read what interests you more about it.



Package & Cost



The O!Play Air is the third in the series of players Asus has released recently. The package itself is a compact one with the player, a HDMI cable, installation CDs for PC utilities and a rather chunky remote control. The power adaptor also had different country pin compatilibity. A manual accompanied the box and that's pretty much it. One has to also at this point note that Asus is primariliy a hardware oriented company from Taiwan which has since spread its reach to other geographies. My expectation hence out of the software for this player was not great. The cost of the package was Malaysian ringgit 400, which works out to Rs.6000 INR. Not bad at all for what it provides. Competing media players which provide wireless capabilities are priced 1.5 times more than this box which makes this one an attractive proposition.



Setting up the box & connections


Setting up the box was rather straightforward, with just connecting up the inputs (RCA cable in my case), installing batteries for remote (which it came with by the way) and powering it on. Under system settings one can set the box to either work over LAN, wireless or even PPPoE. LAN was simple to configure to use DHCP IP addressing and the box could acquire an IP dynamically in a pretty straightforward manner. Wireless configuration was not exactly pleasant to set up though one only had to choose the access points nearby and hook onto one of them either on open system or a shared WEP key basis. If this were to have been done manually one has to use the rather uneasy remote to click on an alphabetic keyboard just with arrow and OK keys which made configuration cumbersome.


User interface and Navigation


I already mentioned that ASUS is primarily a hardware oriented company. Its no surprise then that one can expect only a sparse user interface on their products unless they are high end ones. In this context the primary menu is just a circular carousel menu cycling between online media, music, photos, files, and setup. Go into any of these and you are greeted with a simple list based navigation menu. Navigation itself is fast enough, but the remote control plays spoilsport in giving you the best experience. The IR receiver is not exactly accurate to handle remote control inputs.


Quality of audio/video


This is where the Asus is strong. It does what it states on the box. Plays all formats without a fuss. By default the thumbnail option is set to playing video even while control is on the list. This can be disabled however. Asus has been stupid enough to have this option as it keeps playing the same video endlessly with full volume even within the PIP window. Asus also handles media which is on USB stick, or via an eSATA connection. It also sports SD/CF and MMC slots. At the rear it has an ethernet port, HDMI output for digital TVs, RCA outputs for analog TVs and a power adaptor socket. Simple in design and very functional is the way one can put the characteristics of this box.



 


Internet content


This is an area which is oft disregarded by small time players, or implemented very badly with respect to funtionality. Asus has not skimped on this and provides a lot of internet TV and radio channels, besides flickr and other internet portal support. Youtube however is not supported which is a shame. You can add your favorite channels any time you want from this list for easy accessbility and a good internet connection will mean you can access your likes fast enough.


Software updates and support


Asus releases software updates which can conveniently be copied to a USB key, and loaded onto the box with minimal fuss. The online forums are not exactly exciting so expect delays in implementing your suggestions. Support forums are also minimalistic but they do have useful suggestions to get you out of problems you face with the box.


Remote control and other quirks


These are better bulleted as under



  • Remote control sucks big time as the IR sensitivity is too low

  • There is no alphabetic keypad when compared to boxes like Boxee Box, which makes entering alphabetic information an irritating affair

  • Box does not remember wireless network credentials if switched off, which is pretty shameful for a product like this making users enter this information again and again. This happens if one of either the box or the router is switched off.

  • Logging onto network hard disks is cumbersome as it asks for network login credentials each time which sucks.

  • Though box does not hang, some menu items appear disabled without rhyme or reason and Asus has not bothered to spend time on fixing these issues.

  • The carousel menu isn't the most exciting on this product. Asus could have outsourced UI to a different company if they did not have the skills.

  • The user interface assets or artifacts like screens, fonts could have been designed in a much better way consider the TVs they show up on

  • When a user presses a key to go to a different menu, Asus does not give preference to that key press, instead it keeps doing what it was already doing. This is a delay for the user who will not appreciate this much


Verdict


So long as Asus provides some quality fixes for the user interface behaviour, this box is good. If not its best to stay away from buying this box, considering the quirks mentioned above, even if it comes cheap!


 


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About Me
Srikanth Eswaran
Bengloor Huduga

Srikanth is a blogger, reader, photographer, butter dosa eater, an urban car racer & an apple fanboy. He loves music, playing table tennis and traveling. Most times he would like to be solitary to introspect on what life has thrown to him and the bigger purpose of life.