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Friday, December 28, 2012

ASUS S400 C Ultrabook Review






Searching for the perfect computer is getting harder and harder these days. There are just so many brands and models to choose from. As my five year old MacBook was slowly dying, I questioned whether I really needed a new one. Ever since I got the original iPad two years ago, I have been using my MacBook less and less. Now that I have the iPad 3, I would go for weeks without using it. I realized that I only use it for backup, syncing and printing. I could do almost everything else on my phone or iPad. Undeniably though, my first instinct was to get a new one. So the question was, whether I should I spend P57,000 on a new MacBook or spend half the amount on a Windows laptop.

It is quite obvious that I went with the practical answer since you are reading this article. Let’s see if going against the norm makes more sense this time. I was finally able to narrow down my selection to just the Asus X202 (S200) which is the 11.6" Core i3 version of the S400. The retail price of P25,000 is just within my budget and good enough for my needs. One feature I was really looking for was a touch-screen since Windows 8 is optimized for it. I was also considering the S400 but with an SRP of P35,000 it was just too much. But as luck would have it, I was able to find someone on tipidpc.com who was selling it for P29,000 and so I figured the extra P4,000 was worth the bigger screen and faster performance. So now let's see if I made the right decision.

Design-wise, the X202 and S400 look really nice with a typical Ultrabook design and a mix of high quality plastic and metal. Build quality is quite good but the choice of materials makes it a fingerprint magnet. But most touch-screen devices are, anyway. At 4lbs, it's not as light as a MacBook Air. But since I will be using it as a desktop, weight is not so much an issue for me.




One of the main reasons I decided to spend the extra money is the Intel Core i5 processor and the "hybrid" hard disk (the X202 only has a core i3 and regular hard drive). The hybrid hard disk consists of a 500GB drive paired with a 24GB SSD (Solid State Drive). This improves performance significantly by storing the OS and cache in the SSD and the rest on the regular drive. As a result, you get performance between that of a dedicated SSD and regular hard drive. Boot time is just 10 - 15 seconds. Performance is pretty snappy but since I'm not a real power user, I was not able to test it fully with demanding games or video editors. And from what I read from other reviews, you should expect about 4 plus hours of battery life.




Another one of the unique features is its 14" touchscreen. Its touch-screen is very responsive. Unfortunately, it's not an IPS display, so viewing angle is not so good. Screen resolution is 1366 x 768. Which is just fine, but nothing to rave about. The integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics is more than adequate except for what high-end graphic intensive games require. 


                                  



Before I end my review, I have to admit that I have been a Mac user for more than 10 years and this has been my first Windows machine for quite some time. One of the reasons that made me consider switching is because of Windows 8. While it is a huge improvement from previous versions, I feel that it is still not as polished as it could be. There are still a lot of inconsistencies in the OS, especially as most apps don't give a seamless integration with its modern UI. But since I'm not reviewing Windows 8, all I can say is that I'm glad I got a touch-screen as I just can't imagine enjoying it with just a mouse or touch pad. 

Overall, I'm happy with the unit. If you have the same requirements as I do, then it should meet most of your needs and more. While I still believe that OS X is superior, it's hard to ignore the price difference, I guess sometimes being practical has its drawbacks. My suggestion is, if you are a power user and have the extra cash, get a Mac! Unless you can get the S400 for a really good price like I did, I would rather go for the cheaper X202 and save some money.

Update 1 - After about 15 months of use my Asus would not boot up. I brought it to Asus Greenhills for repair and it took them 2 weeks to tell me that my hard drive was broken. Something I already knew and the punch line was that replacement would cost Php 7500 and 30 days to order and replace the drive. I literally just went down to Vmall and bought a new drive for less than half the price and it only took 10 mins to replace. Something I should have done in the first place. Bad service Asus...Bad!

The Good

- Sleek design (looks expensive)
- Hybrid Hard Drive
- Responsive touch-screen

The Bad

- Non-IPS screen
- Not the best keyboard (shallow keys and no back light)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sub 1,000 peso Christmas Gifts from CD-R King

It's 5 days till Christmas and you still don't have that exchange gift for your office Christmas party? Or maybe you're still looking for a gift for the techie in your life? Here are my top 5 picks from our favorite tech store CD-R King. To be honest, I still can't understand why CD-R King still does not have gift cards.

5. Smart Phone Gaming Stick. For the Gamer in your life!



4. Waterproof Earphone. For the Runner in the family!




3. Solar Power Bank. For the Doomsday Prepper!



2. Mini Wireless Router - For the Frequent traveller!




1. Mini Bluetooth Speaker. For the Music lover!



all images are screen shots from CD-R King website

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CD-R KING INTERNET TV BOX REVIEW




Have you ever been tempted by the latest commercials of Samsung or Sony for their newest TV?  Do you have an old TV and wish you could turn it into a Smart TV? For P2,880 the CD-R King Internet TV Box might just do the job.

Last week, I was browsing the CD-R King website and found this item listed as “coming soon”. Like a much-anticipated movie release, I purchased one unit as soon as it came out. My goal was to off-load some of the work from my aging Macbook such as watching videos, downloading torrents, youtube, etc. to this one device. To give you an idea on what it does, it’s just like connecting an Android phone to your TV. Theoretically, it should function as a small Android computer and be able to do most of what I need. Spec wise, it has the following features:

- Android 2.3 (Upgradeable daw!)
- 1Ghz Cortex A8 Processor with 512MB DDR3 RAM
- 4GB NAND FLASH
- 1080P Output and support for various video formats
- 4 USB Ports / 1 SD card slot





The unit includes a wifi antenna, remote control and manuals. If you are familiar with Android, you should have no problems navigating the simple menu, setup and settings. Unless you are planning to use it purely as a media player, navigating with the supplied remote is “useable” at best. But maximizing all its features is where it starts to get tricky. I would highly suggest using a UBS keyboard and mouse or a CD-R King 3-in-1 wireless keyboard. It is a bit expensive at P1180 but worth every peso if you want to do more. (I tried using a Bluetooth keyboard with a Bluetooth USB dongle but could not get it to work.)



The menu system is pretty straightforward. Just select media player, apps, Youtube, Angry Birds (Yes, it works!), etc. You can even add shortcuts to the main menu. Just plug your hard drive, USB or SD card with all your media and you can play it right away from the media center app.





Here is the first problem I encountered. At first, I could not get to play videos in full screen on the media player app. After much tweaking and tinkering, I found out that by using the “My Files” app (which is like a file explorer), videos play in full screen with no problem. The second difficulty I encountered was using the Google Play store. I could not install some apps using an Ethernet connection. Using wifi instead, solved the problem.

The beauty of Android is that it is very customizable. There are lots of apps available on the Play store. Once I installed Atorrent, FTP Doid, Podkicker, I was able to browse the web, download and play vidoes all from one device. Heck, it even recognized my iPad, my other media player in the living room and I can now stream from that as well.



Overall, I am pretty impressed with this little box. The media player function alone is worth the price. Being able to access the Internet on a TV unit like a proper couch potato is practically having the best of both worlds.

The Good:

- Price!
- Media Player function
- Android OS

The Bad:

- Wish it had a faster processor and more RAM
- Not sure if Android 4.0 ICS update will be available

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Blast from the past

This is not a review but more of a surprise for me. While doing my "spring cleaning" I found some of my old games. Surprise! They still work.







Monday, April 16, 2012

Asahi Vortex Air Circulator Fan Review



It’s summer time again, and we need to stay cool, especially our gadgets. My trusty old industrial fan bit the bullet and it was time to get a new one. I have not gone electric fan-shopping in a while and I was surprised to see so many choices now. My first instinct was to get ones of those bladeless electric fans but after trying it out, its power was just not enough for the Philippine heat plus it was also the most expensive one. It looked really nice but not a practical choice. After looking around at the ‘normal” electric fans I came across the Asahi Vortex Fan and the gadget freak in me just had to try it out. First of all, it looks different and sort of reminds me of a jet engine or a cannon from some sci-fi movie.



After trying it out, I was surprised by the power this little thing generates. There were two models but I opted to get the cheaper single fan version. My only concern was that the fan sits close to the ground and so it might suck up more dirt than a stand fan. I wish Asahi raised it just a bit more to around 6 inches. Overall for P2,400, it’s a great deal for a unique looking “small but terrible” fan.

The Good:
- Design
- Power

The Bad:
- Might suck up dirt from the ground

Monday, April 2, 2012

Samsung Galaxy SII with ICS Review







In the world of smartphones, there are always a few models that stand out. Two of the most popular are Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy SII (S2). While the S2 has been out since mid-last year, it has been recently updated to the latest Android version 4, or what most people call ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich). When it was released, most of the top tech blogs called it, “the best smartphone you could buy”. Let's see if this latest update has given it a breath of fresh air.

Last month's Mobile World Congress showed us what to expect in 2012. Design-wise, the S2 still looks good and can still compete with the new models that are coming out. Its Super AMOLED screen is still gorgeous. Compared to an iPhone, it might make you wonder how you could live with such a small 3.5” screen. Especially if you have room in your pocket for it.

4.3 inches is the maximum size for normal one hand operation

So easy to accidentally press the Lock/Unlock button


Typing is much easier and looking at web pages looks so much better. It's 1.2 Ghz dual core processor and Gig of RAM makes for a smooth and snappy experience. The problem with entry-level Android phones is that while it may seem snappy out of the box, once you load it with apps, you really feel it start to slow down. Not so with the S2, even after installing numerous apps, it's still smooth as butter.

As for the camera, while its photo and video quality is up there with the best of the bunch, (in fact, probably as good if not better than the iPhone 4/4S) its performance is not as fast as I hoped it would be. The iPhone still smokes in start-up and autofocus speed.



Now let's go to the newest add-on to this phone, the ICS upgrade. Samsung has always put its TouchWiz layer over Android. Some people love it and some hate it. If you’re a new smartphone user or somewhat used to the iOS, then you really won't mind TouchWiz. It's actually quite intuitive and user friendly. If you're after a pure Android experience then you will probably fall in the category of those that hate it. I've been using the S2 with Android 2.3 Gingerbread so I was really excited when the ICS update finally came out. To my disappointment, after my update, I first thought it did not work because nothing looked new. I had to double-check the settings to see if it was really running the latest firmware. Because of the TouchWiz overlay, it just felt like the old phone I had. Perhaps this was the intention of Samsung all along so as not to confuse their users. The only noticeable differences are in the settings menu, the task manager and some minor differences here and there. But the average user will not even notice that they are running the latest and greatest from Google. And I take that as a good thing. My disappointment gave way to the realization that sometimes a little subtlety goes a long way.

Old Task Manager

Old Options Menu

ICS Task Manager

ICS Options Menu


Overall, the Galaxy S2 is still one of the best smartphones out there. The ICS upgrade is just icing on the cake for an already great device. The only real reason that you can possibly have for not buying this phone is because you are waiting for the Galaxy S3.


The Good:

- Great Hardware and Specs
- Probably still the best Android phone 
- Speed and Performance
- Great Photo and Video Quality

The Bad:

- So easy to accidentally press the Lock/Unlock and Volume buttons
- Camera operation not as fast as the iPhone 4S
- The Galaxy S3 coming out soon


Monday, March 19, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus Review



Need a new phone? Don’t want to spend more than 25T on a new iPhone or Galaxy S2? For the average user who just needs to simply check email, Skype and do a little Facebook or Twitter, the Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus might just be what you need. While there are a ton of Android phones in the market today, looking for a decent mid-range one is actually pretty difficult. Most people fall into the trap of either getting an entry level phone or end up spending more for a high end model. The sweet spot would be between the 10T-15T peso range.

The Galaxy Ace Plus is the replacement for last year’s model, the Galaxy Ace. The biggest complaint with the old model was it’s cheap plastic construction and the low resolution screen. Looking at the design of this new model you can tell right away that Samsung made an effort to give it a more high end look, especially this white model. It’s uncanny how similar the size and design is with the iPhone 3GS. In fact you can actually fit a 3GS case into the Ace Plus (except that the holes for the camera and ports are not aligned). As for the screen, Samsung for some strange reason decided to stick with the same HVGA (320x480) screen. However, they did improve the viewing angle and the colors are much brighter and with better saturation. This seems to help quite a bit because after using it for a few hours you forget about the low-resolution screen. They also increased the screen size to 3.65 inches. This might not seem like much but it makes typing just a little bit easier.
The white looks a lot better than the black


Very easy to accidentally press the unlock and volume buttons


Under the hood, it now has a 1Ghz processor with 512MB RAM and 3GB internal storage with Micro SD expansion. Performance is actually quite good and snappy. It’s running Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread with TouchWiz and technically it should be able to run Android 4 ICS, but there is still no official word from Samsung if you can upgrade. It also has a 5 Megapixel camera with LED flash. I was actually impressed with the outdoor photos, but as for the indoor, let’s just say its ok and try not to use the LED flash. My biggest disappointment is the video. It only records VGA. I still can’t understand why Samsung decided to do this. The processor and RAM should be able to handle 720p. Also, it has no front camera. Why Samsung? Why? Check out the sample photos.





Battery life is surprisingly quite good, despite having only a 1300mAh battery.  You can go for about 2 days before having to recharge. However, using WiFi and 3G and you will probably need to charge at the end of the day. Overall, I have to say the Ace Plus is actually quite a decent phone. Its performance is quite responsive and for about 12-13T pesos, I think the average user will be very happy as long as one doesn’t mind the screen resolution and not being able to record HD video. If you are more of a power user, you might want to check out the Sony Xperia Neo V, LG Optimus Black or wait for the newly announced Galaxy Ace 2.

The Good:

- Snappy performance with the 1GHz Processor/512MB RAM
- 5MP Camera
- Design and build quality

The Bad:

- HVGA Screen
- VGA video recording
- No front camera
- Galaxy Ace 2 will be out soon

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Eye-Fi Connect X2 Review


If there is one killer feature I would like in a digital camera, it would be the ability to share photos and videos via WiFi. Normally, features found on digital cameras find their way to camera phones. But in this case, it is the other way around. One of the reasons why people prefer taking photos with their phones is because it is easier to share them. No need to go through the hassle of plugging your camera to your computer. While there are some cameras with WiFi, they are very few and usually limited to just point and shoot models. The makers of Eye-Fi card came out with a great concept. Why not incorporate this WiFi technology into an SD card so that you can use it with any camera? Sounds perfect, right?

I have been using my Eye-Fi card for a several months now. Prices range from about $40-$80 depending on capacity, I have the 4GB X2. My expectations for my new toy was pretty high, especially when imagining being able to just share my photos like I do on my iPhone. After using it for just a few hours, I realized that it is totally different in terms of everyday usability. First of all, you have to first set it up on your computer which involves setting up an account, figuring out which features you want to use like “Endless Memory”, “Online Sharing”, etc. However, I believe the average user will use the “Direct Mode” the most. Direct mode works by using it with a Mac, PC, iOS or Android device. There is a free app which you need to install in order for it to work. It seemed simple enough and after going through the setup process I was able to transfer photos from my camera to my iPad.  The Eye-Fi card will only transfer the photos that have been marked protected. Once it is transferred to your device you can do the usual share options like email, facebook, twitter, etc. Eye-Fi has a list of supported cameras, but in theory it should work with any camera that uses and SD card slot. Luckily, my Sony TX55 is supported and has the ability to turn ON /OFF the card’s WiFi signal. This is important because I noticed that leaving it on drains the battery faster.






After reading the first two paragraphs, you might have ordered one already. But wait, everything is not all good. First of all, the card’s WiFi is intermittent, meaning it sometimes works, and sometimes it doesn’t. For some strange reason, no matter what I do I can’t get it to connect with my iPad or iPhone. However, there I times, I just turn on my camera and my iPad and it works perfectly. For the life of me I can’t figure what I did differently. This is so frustrating because it doesn’t work when I need it the most (Murphy’s Law I guess). It’s possible that it could be a problem with my camera or I got a lemon Eye-Fi card.

Secondly, it only takes about two to three steps to share a photo on your phone, compared to the six to eight steps using your camera and Eye-Fi card. In fact it is simply faster and cheaper to just buy a card reader for your PC or iPad and connect it to your device.
I don’t think I can really recommend this device. While it may seem perfect on paper, the practicality of everyday use is just too tedious. I realized why it is so much easier to share or transfer photos from a phone. It’s because the functionality is built into the OS, while the Eye-Fi needs to find a way to do that on its own. While this features might appeal to some professional or enthusiast photographers, for the rest of us, it’s just not there yet. Perhaps if Eye-Fi can somehow work with camera manufactures to incorporate more functionality into the camera’s firmware, then maybe that would help. Like I mentioned, my problems could be just an isolated case, however if you search the web there are lots of people having compatibility problems with their cards. Just something to think about should you decide to buy one.

The Good:

-Works well (when it works)
- Class 6 SD card
- Lots of features like Endless memory, Online Sharing , etc.

The Bad:

- Intermittent performance
- Price
- Lots of steps just to transfer a photo
- Shortens battery life of your camera


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Casio G-Shock G1200 Review






If I had to make an educated guess, I would say that most gadget freaks are also watch lovers. It stands to reason that the watch is a wearable gadget. From this statement you can tell that I love watches. While it would be nice to collect high-end mechanical watches such as Pateks, Omegas and Rolexes, I am what you may call a practical collector, it all started with Swatch watches back in the eighties. The ability to cram as much technology into such a small device really fascinated me. When talking about these type of watches, there are really just three major brands that come to mind, Citizen, Seiko and Casio.

There are many styles of watches such as divers, pocket, dress, etc., but anything pilot or aviation related really catches my eye. So when Casio decided to make an aviation style G-Shock watch I couldn’t help but get excited.  The first time I saw this watch, I immediately said “I want one”. When they finally announced the pricing, I found it high for a G-Shock. Staring at $250, all the way up to $450 for the limited models. So, I put off buying one for a while. Few months ago, I was walking in the mall and found it on display at Time Depot, I asked the sales lady how much it was. “Sir, on sale for 12T, 12 months zero interest and last unit na yan” She said the three words I did not want to hear, sale, zero interest and last unit. I said nothing and just handed her my credit card.

The last unit they had was the orange model. Since the metal ones where more expensive I was glad they only had this one. The design of this watch is great, perfect as an everyday watch. It’s a "set and forget” watch since it has an atomic solar movement. You never need to change the batteries and never have to worry about setting the time. More on that later.

Here are the specs of the watch:

- Shock Resistant, up to 12G
- 200M Water Resistant
- Touch Solar Power
- Luminous Hands/Markers
- 1/100 Second Chronograph
- Day and Date
- World Time

After using it as an everyday watch for the past few months, I can say, that I never get tired looking at it. The main dial shows you the time, upper right is your second time zone, bottom dial is your 24Hr time and the left dial is for date and mode functions. The main glass is dome shaped and gives it a magnifying effect, which makes reading the small dials a bit more manageable. I wish they had made the second time zone dial bigger. Thankfully, you can easily swap the time between the main and second time zone dials. Setting the 2nd time zone is easy and it’s fun to watch the dials move back and forth. This is the type of watch where you really need to read the manual if you want to use all the other functions. I like that it has no LCD display, like most G-Shock models, it gives it just a little bit more of a formal style. While the dials are bright, it would have been nice if Casio included a backlight, as it is hard to see the smaller dials at night. The strap is nice and wide but for some reason my older and much cheaper G-Shock GW500 has more premium feeling strap.



What I did not know was that Casio sells two versions of the same watch, the GW3000 and the G1200. They look exactly the same except that the latter does not have the multi-band atomic clock feature. This means, it syncs with atomic clocks around the world. Unfortunately, if you look at Casio's website, the range of the atomic clock signal does not reach the Philippines. I was wondering why I couldn’t find any indicator if the update works or not. The only physical difference I could spot was that one had “Multi Band 6” and the other just says “G-Shock” on the top portion of the watch. I’m guessing Casio makes a different version for markets where there is no atomic clock signal, and to be fair I have not been able to update my two other watches here in the Philippines, It does however work when I'm in Japan and in the US. What’s even more strange is that if you do a quick price check on the web, the cost is almost the same for both models. WTF Casio! Why not just sell the same watch? People travel, you know.

Can you spot the difference? GW3000 vs G1200 (taken from Casio's website)



Will I still recommend this watch? Yes, if you don’t need the atomic clock feature buy the G1200. But if you have the means, get the GW3000. If you're looking for an everyday, no fuss “set and forget” watch that you can use at work and also take to the gym, this is it. It's design, function and style is great and will still look good even after years of use.

The Good:

- Design and Function
- Solar Movement
- World Time
- Easy to read day and date

The Bad:

- No backlight
- Strap
- Chronograph indication limited to 24mins
- No Multi-Band Atomic feature if you buy the G1200