All posts by Pallab De

Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .

Facebook Offers Free Talktime to New Indian Users

FacebookWith developed nations like the US and the UK in the bag, the social networking giant Facebook is turning its attention to developing nations like India, where millions of new internet users are being added every year. The social networking giant has announced a new promotion, which is going to give all new users signing up with their mobile phones a Rs. 50 talktime. The same amount of talktime can also be won by referring new users.

Facebook is already pretty big in India, where it overtook Orkut to become the most popular social network in 2010. Since then, its reach has increased steadily. However, India is a country with a population of more than one billion, and an internet penetration of only about 10%. As the country continues to develop, millions of people are being newly introduced to the internet. This represents a tremendous growth opportunity for Facebook, which has hit saturation in several developed nations. The promotion is extremely smart as it offers something that is both relatively easy to distribute and also useful. India has a remarkable mobile penetration, and as Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report has highlighted time and again, a huge chunk of the population access the web solely through their mobile phones.

However, there is a major caveat with promotions like these. Most Indians have multiple SIMs and a promotion like this might lead to a sudden spurt of fake profiles. If this happens, Facebook might succeed in bolstering its user count, but in the long term it probably won’t gain much. Also, one has to keep in mind that if Facebook is struggling to monetize eyeballs from countries like the US, Canada, and the UK, it’s going to be significantly tougher to monetize eyeballs from countries like India.

In order to avail this promotion, go to m.facebook.com/tt and register with your mobile number.

HTC One X Case Review – Case-Mate vs Official HTC Case

The HTC One X sports a polycarbonate unibody construction and Corning Gorilla glass display. In theory, both of them should make HTC’s precious flagship more durable. In reality though, as the amply shattered glass of my friend’s One X suggests, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In fact, HTC’s sleek construction with a protruding display might have made the One X more vulnerable. It’s never a bad idea to get some extra protection for your beloved smartphone. I asked Mobilefun, a leading retailer of phone accessories, to send across a couple of cases for review, and they obliged.

The first case I wanted to check out was ‘Case-Mate Barely There for HTC One X’. As the name suggests, this case is extremely slim (just over a millimeter), and adds very little bulk to the phone. It’s made from flexible plastic and seems to be pretty durable. The case features neatly cut out orifices to provide you access to all the functionality, including camera and charging. Although the Case-Mate case is precisely crafted, portions of it overflow onto the screen, which is a good thing, since it offers protection for the screen on the sides.

HTC-One-X-Case-Mate-Barely-There

The One X is a pretty good looking phone. If not for its frog-eyed lens, it would have been a real stunner. The Barely There case does justice to the One X’s appearance and retains most of its beauty. Unfortunately, after a few days of usage, my unit developed ugly white patches that you can see in the image above. Mobilefun indicates that this is the first complaint it has received about the case, so it might be one of those one-off manufacturing defects.

HTC-One-X-Case-Mate-Barely-There-Sideview

The second case I reviewed is the official HTC Hard Case for the One X. The hard case is one of the most distinctive looking cases you are likely to see. Its perforated back renders it a unique appearance, while also improving grip. The case itself seems to be a lot more rugged than the Barely There case, and didn’t pick up any scratches or other deformities during my usage. HTC also claims that the mesh at the back improves ventilation and helps keep the phone cool during heavy usage. However, the perforations have one significant disadvantage – they also allow dust to accumulate. You will have to clean up your phone once in a while, if you don’t want to end up with ugly dirt spots (second image below).

HTC-One-X-Official-Hard-Case

HTC-One-X-Hard-Case-2

Both the HTC One X phone covers received from Mobilefun were excellent. The Case-Mate Barely There for HTC One X costs £15.95 in the UK and Rs. 1121.99 in India, while the HTC One X Official Hard Case costs £17.99 in the UK and Rs. 1266.00 in India. Given the nominal price difference between the two, I will prefer the official Hard Case. It appears to be more rugged, and also provides a better grip, while lending your phone a distinctive look.

HTC One X Official Hard Case: 4/5 (Excellent)
Case-Mate Barely There For HTC One X: 3/5 (Good)

[ Disclaimer: Cases reviewed were supplied by MobileFun ]

Pokki Takes on Microsoft, Tries to Fix Windows 8

Microsoft expects Windows 8 to herald a new era in computing with a touch-first user interface that is suitable for both post-PC devices like tablets, and traditional computing devices like desktops and laptops. One of the most iconic changes in Windows 8 is the lack of a start button as well as a start menu. While the new Start Page is a lot more informative and interactive, it will undoubtedly confuse a lot of users. This has prompted some manufacturers like Samsung to bring back the Start Menu through software patches. Pokki is amongst those that are trying to fix Windows 8.

Pokki isn’t, however, a simple Windows 8 Start Menu app. It’s an entire ecosystem. Pokki believes that Microsoft is onto something when it comes to using the web technology stack for native desktop apps. However, it doesn’t believe that a touch-first interface with reduced emphasis on multi-tasking is the way forward.

Pokki-Windows-8-Start-Menu-Replacement

Pokki has a fairly decent selection of apps. It’s not even remotely as comprehensive as the Play Store or the iTunes App Store; however, it’s better stocked than I was expecting it to be. You can find games like Angry Birds and Cut the Ropes, and apps like Facebook Lite and Tweeki.

Pokki-Windows-8-Store-Replacement

The Pokki Start Menu stocks your Pokki apps in a handy favourites section, but also provides access to traditional Windows apps, and frequently accessed system folders like Control Panel and Documents. Pokki will also begin supporting Modern-style Windows apps in its Start menu in the coming weeks.

The Start Menu also has a nifty search bar that searches for installed apps, documents on your system, as well as resources on the web. However, the search function doesn’t work perfectly, and is the biggest annoyance with Pokki. For example, I searched for ‘IrfanView’, and the search functionality only returned ‘IrfanView – Thumbnails’, which is a different app. The other big draw of Pokki is a smart notifications system that displays real time notifications from your installed apps in the Start Menu.

Techie Buzz Verdict

After taking Pokki for a brief whirl, I can confidently say that it’s worth a try. However, it is facing an uphill challenge. Not only is Pokki betting on the desktop app ecosystem, but it is also going head-to-head against the Windows Store that will be built into Windows 8. As browser developers like Mozilla and Opera can attest, that is never an easy proposition. In order for Pokki to survive and develop a viable business model, it will need to be adapted by a sizeable chunk of Windows 8 users. No matter how impressive the functionality offered by Pokki is, without an advertising budget, the little startup has slim chance of taking on Microsoft and surviving. I am rooting for Pokki, but I will be surprised if it actually succeeds.

Techie Buzz Rating: 3/5 (Good)

[ Download Pokki ]

Samsung Galaxy Premier Leaked

Samsung officially unveiled the Galaxy SIII Mini moments ago. Although the handset is titled as Galaxy SIII Mini, based on the specifications, it is more appropriate to call it the SII Mini. However, Samsung has another handset in the pipeline, which should fit in between the Galaxy SIII and the Galaxy SIII Mini – the Galaxy Premier.

Samsung is yet to open up about the Premier, but Mobile Geeks has already outed the device. The Galaxy Premier will sport a 4.65-inch 720p HD Super AMOLED display, and run on a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor. Other specifications include an 8-megapixel rear camera, 8GB or 16GB internal storage, microSD expansion, 14.4 Mbps HSDPA, 5.76 Mbps HSUPA, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS, and DLNA.

Samsung-Galaxy-Premier-Picture

Samsung is really going for a consistent look and feel for their 2012 line of products, and the Premier will also retain the nature inspired Galaxy SIII design. I find this pretty disappointing as the original Galaxy SIII design itself was nothing to brag about. Sony or Motorola’s approach of allowing each of its handsets to stand out is much more refreshing and exciting.

The Galaxy Premier will be available for €480, which equates to about $620. However, it will most probably be just for the international markets.

Google is the ‘Most InDemand Employer’ in the World

Google might no longer be the cool new kid in the block, but it still hasn’t lost all of its street cred. It tops LinkedIn’s ‘Most InDemand Employers 2012’ list not just in the US, but also around the world. The results for Europe are yet to be announced, and that might have an impact on Google’s final global ranking, but, being the most in demand employer in the US alone is a big victory for Google.

The biggest challenge that companies trying to change the world face is lack of enough skilled and talented people that share their vision. A company’s ability to attract talent is crucial in today’s fiercely competitive market, and when it comes to attracting talent, perception matters. Yahoo has been bleeding talent over the past few years, while new kings of the Silicon Valley like Facebook have been drawing in rockstar employees.

Most In Demand Employers in US and Around the World

LinkedIn analyzed billions of data points between members and companies and compared the data with surveys of thousands of members to determine a company’s familiarity and engagement score. Apple, which asks its employees to take pride in the fact that they can change the world through their work, ranks at #4 in the US list, behind Walt Disney and Facebook. Google is #2 in Canada, where Suncor Energy is the most in demand employer. It is #2 in Australia and #10 in India. Accenture, HP, and Oracle form the top 3 employers in India. Microsoft, Dell, Pepsico, and IBM are other top rated employers that make an appearance in several regional lists.

Firefox 16.01 for Desktop and Android Plugs Security Vulnerability

Just a day after releasing Firefox 16, Mozilla pulled the update citing security concerns. Needless to say this was a pretty unusual move. Typically any security vulnerability present in a major release is fixed through point updates. Removing a new release was a drastic move, which indicated that Mozilla reckoned that the vulnerability had a significant chance of being exploited in the wild.

Firefox

The vulnerability concerned could allow a malicious site to potentially determine which websites users have visited and have access to the URL or URL parameters. The security vulnerability was actually more of a privacy issue that could become a security issue on stupidly coded websites that use GET to transmit confidential information.

Mozilla released a fix for the Android version yesterday, and an updated desktop version was released moments ago. You can download Firefox 16.01 from here, or you can wait for your Firefox installation to automatically download the latest version.

Teenager Wins $60,000 at Pwnium 2 by Hacking Google Chrome

The second installment of Google’s hacking fest Pwnium has just wrapped up, and once again Google Chrome’s security features were successfully bypassed. Earlier this year, Chrome fell for the first time when VUPEN managed to exploit Chrome within five minutes at the first installment of Pwnium. During the same event, two more hackers – Pinkie Pie and Sergey Glazunov, managed to humble Chrome and bag the top award of $60,000.

Google-Chrome-PwniumThe second edition of Pwnium was organized as a part of the ‘Hack in the Box 2012′ security conference held in Kuala Lumpur. This time around, Chrome’s sandboxing mechanism was defeated by exploiting two flaws – an “SVG use-after-free” and an “IPC arbitrary write”. The exploiter was once again Pinkie Pie. Since his exploit depended entirely on bugs within Chrome to achieve arbitrary code execution, it qualified for Google’s highest award level as a “full Chrome exploit”, and won him $60,000 and a free Chromebook.

Detailed explanation of the bugs leveraged by Pinkie Pie is still not available. However, the good news is that Google has already patched the vulnerability, so even if you use Chrome, you are safe. Google deserves a round of applause for not only encouraging the security community to discover bugs in Chrome, but also for patching the vulnerability in less than twelve hours after its disclosure.

TweetDeck Updated, Finally Gets a Light Theme

If you are a Twitter power user, then the web interface is hardly going to cut it for you. Unfortunately, with Twitter actively discouraging new apps that replicate core functionality, the choices for the power user are not many, and they seem to get slimmer by the day as existing apps get acquired (e.g. Hootsuite acquiring Seesmic) or cease active development. TweetDeck is not just among the oldest, but also among the most flexible Twitter apps out there. When Twitter acquired TweetDeck last year, there were fears that it might languish under Twitter’s control. Thankfully, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Towards the end of last year, TweetDeck was rewritten to get rid of Adobe AIR dependency and improve performance in the process. Since then, the TweetDeck team has been rolling out minor improvements on a regular basis. A short while back, TweetDeck pushed out its second major update since being acquired by Twitter.

TweetDeck-Light-Theme

If you are not a big fan of the dark look of TweetDeck, there is good news for you. The new version features a light theme, which is frankly is a lot more pleasing to look at. There are minor interface improvements everywhere, and the tweets themselves have been reformatted to adhere to Twitter’s mantra of consistency. You also get the option to change font sizes – Small (13pt), Medium (14pt) or Large (15pt). However, columns are still not resizable and tweets are still not expandable.

TweetDeck has been updated for all supported platforms other than iOS, which means web, Chrome, Mac and Windows.

Opera Mobile 12.1 for Android Features Improved Security and Web Standards Support

Last month Opera spruced up Opera Mini for Android. Now, they have updated its full-featured sibling – Opera Mobile for Android. The changes are not massive, as indicated by the point increment in version number. However, they are still significant enough to make updating to the latest version worthwhile.

Opera Software now deploys four separate version of Opera Mobile, tailor made for ARM v5 and v7, MIPS and X86. Only the version that is suitable for your phone or tablet is automatically downloaded and installed, which means that you should notice a reduction in the amount of disk space consumed by the new Opera Mobile.

Most of the other new improvements are inspired by the work that Opera Software has been doing on its desktop browser. Opera Mobile now supports SPDY protocol, which enables faster browsing on compatible websites. Gmail and Twitter are two major services currently supporting SPDY. Support for websockets is also in, which means that web applications leveraging sockets for two-way communications will now work on your mobile phone as well. Other new web technologies supported includes CSS Animations and Flexbox, HTML5 Drag and Drop, and the HTML5 Clipboard API.

Finally, Opera Mobile 12.1 for Android improves security by adding support for fraud detection. Opera will now warn you before opening webpages that have been marked as being suspicious or used for illicit activity.

Opera-Mobile-Android-12

Opera Mobile lacks the inspired user interface of Chrome for Android; however, it is a great browser in its own right. If you can get past its ageing interface, you will appreciate its speed as well as the bouquet of unique features like Turbo.

[ Download Opera Mobile ]

RailRadar Tracks All Trains Running in India on Google Map

Indian Railways is hardly the most sophisticated public railway service, but it is one of the largest in the world. Given how every government treats the railways as simply a means to please the junta and gain votes, it’s a wonder that the Indian railways is still functioning as well as it is doing. However, the state-owned enterprise is capable of throwing us the odd surprise.

Today, I discovered on Hacker News, a neat Google Maps mashup developed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems or CRIS (an organization under the Ministry of Railways), called RailRadar. RailRadar is an interactive map that plots the position of trains running in India in realtime, and indicates whether they are on time or delayed. It uses the existing database of TrainEnquiry and presents it in a more visually interesting manner. Clicking on any train brings up more information including its next stop and route.

RailRadar-Track-Trains-in-India-in-Realtime

The conventional web and mobile interface of TrainEnquiry will still be more useful when you want to track a particular train. However, RailRadar deserves props as it’s not often that you see something as cool as this from Government of India owned entities. Now, if only CRIS would fix the nightmare that is IRCTC.

[ Visit RailRadar ]

Google Introduces Free SMS in Gmail

Gmail almost singlehandedly redefined the entire webmail segment after its launch in 2004. Since then, Google has steadily expanded the scope of its webmail service. It started off by integrating Google Chat with Gmail, and later added support for video chat, and recently integrated video conferencing through Google Plus Hangouts. Today, Google added another dimension to its mail service. You can now send free SMS to users around the world right from Gmail.

To be honest, this isn’t strictly a new feature. SMS in Gmail Chat has been available as a Labs feature for several years. Google is simply graduating this feature from Labs. To send an SMS to a contact who is offline, simply type his name in the chat window, and you will get the option to send an SMS from the “More options” section in the floating box that appears to the right of your contact. Of course, this will only work if you have your contact’s phone number.

Free-SMS-in-Gmail

SMS in Gmail Chat supports all operators in the United States, and most prominent operators in more than 50 countries. In India, it supports Aircel, IDEA, Loop Mobile, MTS, Reliance, Tata DoCoMo, Tata Indicom, Vodafone (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gujarat, A.P, Bihar, W.B. & A & N, Assam, N.E. circles only). The two big names that are missing from the list are Airtel and BSNL.

SMS in Gmail Chat is free; however, it does have some restrictions to prevent abuse. Initially, you will have a credit of 50 messages. Every time you send an SMS through chat, your credit will decrease by one, and every time you receive an SMS in Chat, your credit will increase by five. If your credit hits zero, you won’t be able to send a message. In such cases you have two options. You can either wait as the credit will increase back up to one 24 hours later. Or you can send an SMS to your own phone, and then reply to that message multiple times. Every time you send a reply message, your SMS credit is increased by five. Effectively, you will be buying more messages by paying your phone company for these outgoing messages.

Sony’s 2013 Android Lineup Spotted; Odin to Be the Next Xperia Flagship

AndroidSony has been pretty active this year, releasing new handsets every few weeks. Some might argue that Sony would perhaps be better served by focusing on releasing a handful of stellar performers, rather than confusing customers with dozens of different choices. However, Sony’s strategy of moving fast is definitely more preferable over its previous habit of mostly sitting and watching. It appears to be finally capable of releasing smartphones with both hardware and software that are current generation. The Japanese giant’s hard work seems to be paying off as reports suggest that Sony is now selling more devices in Europe than Nokia and Research in Motion. Of course, that isn’t really saying much, but it’s still progress.

2013 will hopefully see Sony continue its march in the right direction. While Sony has understandably been tight lipped about its next-gen devices, proof has emerged of the existence of at least three devices belonging to the 2013 lineup. The first device, which goes by the codename ‘Odin’ and sports a model number C650X, will be next year’s flagship. Unfortunately, the only thing that we know about the device at the moment is that it is running Jelly Bean (Android 4.1.1).

The other two devices that have been spotted are C150X and C160X. A Nenamark2 benchmark for the C160X suggests that the handset will be an entry level offering powered by a 1.0GHz single-core Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM7227A chipset with Adreno 200 graphics. It will most likely feature a small display (less than 4 inch) with a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels. No info is currently available for the C150X, but the model number suggests that it will possibly be an even cheaper variant of the C160X.

Android 4.2 will Feature Improved Battery Life Thanks to Project Roadrunner

Android-4-2Android 4.2 is expected to be announced sometime next month, along with the next Nexus device, which will be manufactured by LG. Google has managed to retain the veil of secrecy around the next version of Android. However, as we approach the official launch date, we will almost surely start seeing blurry cams and leaked information from “anonymous” tipsters. Kicking things off is Android and Me with a set of fresh rumors about the star attractions of the next iteration of Android.

Android 4.1 or Jelly Bean introduced a host of under the hood changes as a part of ‘Project Butter’, which increased the responsiveness of the Android user interface. Similarly, Google engineers have been working on something called ‘Project Roadrunner’ for Android 4.2. Project Roadrunner is going to deliver core improvements that will improve battery life.

Android 4.2 will also deliver several more visible improvements. The biggest of them revolving around the new ‘Customization Center’, which will act as a hub from where users will be able to change ringtones, language packs, background, launchers, and so on. Third-party Android apps will also be able to integrate themselves with the Customization Center. While the Customization Center will not sport anything too fancy in its first outing, it will support some form of icon packs and skins.

Google Play will be improved to support personalized search, optional promotional campaigns with notification center integration, more billing options, and easier in-app micro-transactions. Google Now will be able to answer basic system related questions like “Where can I activate Bluetooth?” that will help out new Android users. Finally, the video player will be revamped and provide more API hooks for third-party services.

Google will also reportedly change its Nexus program. Until now, Google has been releasing one Nexus device to showcase each major Android OS update. Google picked the Android OEM (original equipment manufacturer) for each Nexus device. It started off with HTC for the Nexus One, but has since used Samsung. Rumors suggest that LG is manufacturing a Nexus device for Android 4.2. However, LG might not be the only manufacturer to be working on a Nexus device. According to Android and Me’s source, Google is going to open up the Nexus program so that any manufacturer can launch a Nexus device. Currently, each manufacturer must meet some basic requirements to be able to use the Play store. Similarly, they will have to meet some additional requirements to be able to use the Nexus tag. For example, Nexus certification will have stipulations that will force manufacturers to use stock Android build and support Google Wallet. In other words, Nexus will simply become a certification program in the feature. Any device carrying the Nexus tag will offer an Android experience that will be in line with what Google wants.

LG Optimus 4X HD P880 Review

The LG Optimus 4X HD has a lot riding on its shoulders. Until the Optimus G arrives, the 4X will have to bear the responsibility of keeping LG’s head high in front of giants like the Galaxy SIII, the One X, and the iPhone 5. Thankfully, at least on paper, the Optimus 4X HD looks well equipped to go head to head against the latest and greatest smartphones from its competitors. Let us find out if the actual product lives up to its specifications.

Appearance

LG-Optimus-4X-Front

The LG Optimus 4X uses a lot of plastic, but doesn’t feel cheap and flimsy in the way the Galaxy SIII does. LG has eschewed the conventional smooth curves in favor of a design with sharp corners that exude boldness. Its prism-edged design with intricately patterned back cover and a double rimmed frame lends it a more premium feel, besides making the phone easier to grip. The One X is still the winner in terms of comfort factor, and also would have won hands down in the looks department, if not for the frog-eyed lens. However, as things stand now, I find the Optimus 4X HD to be more appealing than both the One X and the Galaxy SIII.

LG-Optimus-4X-No-Buffer

Unfortunately, the Optimus 4X has one major design issue. There is absolutely no buffer space between the display and the capacitive buttons – in other words, the buttons begin as soon as the screen ends. This can lead to some extremely frustrating experiences. If even the tiniest portion of your finger touches the Home button while you are trying to tap the space bar, you will be instantly taken out of whichever application you were using and to your launcher’s home screen. After using the 4X HD for a couple of weeks, I sort of trained myself to steer clear of the capacitive buttons while typing, but I am sure that LG has accelerated my balding process.

Display

The LG Optimus 4X has a 4.7-inch True HD-IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels (312 ppi). Any display with a pixel density greater than 300 should be stunning, and the Optimus 4X doesn’t disappoint. It uses RGB display matrix, which should (at least in theory) lend it an advantage over the Galaxy SIII, which has a pentile matrix. However, I couldn’t distinguish individual pixels in either of the displays. The Optimus 4X HD display is bright – I mean really bright. It has excellent outdoor visibility, and the viewing angles are quite good. However, the extra bright IPS display has its own disadvantage. LG’s display lacks contrast as a result of which images appear slightly washed out. The blacks of AMOLED displays are worth dying for, and LCDs still can’t get anywhere near.

Hardware

LG-Optimus-4X-Back

The Optimus 4X features an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, which boasts of a Quad-core (plus an additional power saving fifth core) 1.5 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU and a ULP GeForce GPU. This is precisely what the international version of HTC One X also uses; hence, theoretically both of them should be able to deliver similar performance. I benchmarked the Optimus 4X against Galaxy SIII and One X. Samsung’s flagship was the clear winner, while LG managed to beat HTC in AnTuTu, but trailed in Quadrant.

Galaxy-S3-One-X-Optimus-4X-HD-Benchmark

To be fair to LG, the difference between the Optimus 4X and other Android flagships isn’t particularly huge. The 4X HD feels zippy and smooth whether I am flinging through my pictures in the Gallery or playing an HD video. However, I did notice occasional frame rate drops while playing games like Temple Run, which was somewhat surprising.

Software

The Optimus 4X HD ships with Android 4.0, which is better known as Ice Cream Sandwich. This was perfectly fine when the 4X HD was announced. However, it has already been three months since Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) was unveiled by Google. Samsung has already started updating Galaxy SIII handsets to Jelly Bean, while HTC has committed to delivering Jelly Bean to One X owners in October. LG on the other hand is yet to even commit to rolling out Jelly Bean to its existing line of products. LG has a pretty poor track record when it comes to delivering updates, and it is clear that they haven’t learned anything from their past mistakes. It’s unforgivable that LG has failed to clarify their position on Jelly Bean update for their premium smartphone a full quarter after its release.

As far as ICS is concerned, LG has put in substantial amount of effort to distinguish its baby from the other smartphones in the market. As expected, the 4X runs the Optimus UI 3.0 on top of ICS. Skinning ICS is not the easiest task, simply because Google did an excellent job at creating a refined and aesthetically pleasing interface. Most smartphone manufacturers – Samsung and HTC included, simply fall into the trap of ignoring all ICS design conventions and slapping on a bright, colorful interface in the name of differentiation. LG is no different, but because it retains a sizable chunk of default ICS design elements, it comes off looking better than Samsung. Sony is among the few manufacturers who have managed to get the balancing act largely right by making tasteful design modification to the ICS user interface.

The strong point of the Optimus UI is its customizability. You can change everything from home screen transition effects to application icons. Even the lock screen is pretty customizable. You get to choose everything from how the clock looks to which apps appear in the lock screen dock. And, oh yeah, LG’s lock screen unlock animation is definitely the coolest that I have seen on Android. In spite of heavy customizability, LG’s Optimus UI feels slightly less intuitive than TouchWiz and Sense. Sense is packed to the brim with eye-candy, while TouchWiz uses a lot of clever gestures to enhance productivity.

As I mentioned earlier, LG has gone the extra mile to make the 4X HD stand out from the crowd. Many of the enhancements concern multimedia aspects of the 4X and will be touched upon later in this article. There are a couple of non-multimedia enhancements that I will briefly discuss right now. For a more in-depth look at the features unique to LG’s flagship, check out my earlier write-up on the USPs (unique selling points) of the 4X.

The first major enhancement is QuickMemo. It is essentially an enhanced note taking app that permeates through the Optimus UI. Just tap the QuickMemo button present in the notification bar, and whatever was happening on-screen will be frozen. You can annotate the screen capture and save it for later reference or share it with your friends. You can annotate presentations, documents, webpages, and just about anything.

The other major software enhancement concerns the mail client. The Optimus 4x ships with its own mail client called Smart Mail that offers a desktop-client like two pane view in landscape mode, and enhances discoverability of previous conversations through its smart email-sorting feature.

Multimedia

The Optimus 4X features an 8-megapixel rear cam and an 1.3 megapixel front cam. LG’s camera UI is simplistic, but still offers lots of configurability through the settings menu. Still photography provides four basic modes – normal, panorama, HDR, and continuous shot – all of which are standard features in current generation smartphones. However, the 4X does have one unique trick up its sleeve that gives it an edge over its competition. It is called “Time Catch Shot”. When you enable this feature, the 4X captures five shots in a quick succession, including shots from moments before you clicked on the shoot button, from which you can select and keep the best shot. With Time Catch, even if you are too late or too early with the shoot button, you can still capture the moment you wanted.

LG-Optimus-4X-HD-Camera-Sample-1
Shot taken at dusk
LG-Optimus-4X-HD-Camera-Sample-2
Shot taken at dusk in HDR mode

In terms of picture quality, the Optimus 4X really shines outdoors. It takes detailed, vibrant yet natural images with minimal noise. The HDR mode also works particularly well and is a great way to capture images of stationary objects under low light. However, one area where the 4X fumbles is normal low light photography. Both the One X and the S3 shoots better pictures under poor artificial lighting.

The 4X shoots 1080p videos at 30 fps. Once again, the poor low-light performance holds it back, but under proper conditions, LG’s flagship is a competent performer. The videos recorded have good color reproduction and low noise, but goes overboard with the sharpness that adds some artifacts. The continuous auto-focus works quite well, and unless you are trying to capture really close objects, the focus readjustment happens quite quickly and smartly. You also get the option to capture images while shooting videos.

As I mentioned earlier, LG has done a lot to enhance the multimedia experience. Most of its efforts show up in the video player. Optimus 4X HD’s video player has four nifty tricks up its sleeve that gives it a clear advantage over its competition. They are –

  • Fingertip seek, which shows a YouTube like preview of the frame you are about to jump to while seeking.
  • Speed controller, which allows you to slow down or speed up the video on the fly.
  • Split-Screen view, which allows you to quickly browse through your library.
  • Pinch-to-zoom, which allows you to zoom into any video you are watching. While this is not something that you will use regularly, it is a nice to have enhancement.

Others

A particularly thorny issue with modern smartphones is battery life. While we have briskly moved onto massive screens and quad-cores with frequencies in gigahertzs, the battery technology has been struggling to keep up. The 4X ships with the most firepower. It has a 2150 mAh battery, while the S3 and the One X have 2100 mAH and 1800 mAh batteries respectively. Unfortunately, in real world, 4X doesn’t perform so well. I didn’t benchmark LG’s battery performance; however, Samsung’s Galaxy S3 undoubtedly lasts quite a few hours more than the Optimus 4X HD. The 4X has a good standby time; however, surfing or watching videos kills the battery really quickly.

While purchasing a new smartphone the thing that often has the least impact on the buyer’s decision is the device’s capabilities as a phone. However, a smartphone that can seamlessly stream HD videos, but can’t be used for making calls in crowded places due to poor noise isolation is hardly a smart buy. Thankfully, the Optimus 4X suffers from no such flaws. Call quality is crisp and the speaker is loud enough to allow conversations even in noisy environments.

Connectivity options in the Optimus 4X HD include DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC. LG is also taking a page out of Sony’s book and introducing NFC smart tags. They are calling this LG Tag+. The NFC tags can be used for changing profiles, launching apps, altering phone settings and more with a tap. The Optimus 4X will ship with two tags.

Conclusion

The Optimus 4X is a great phone, there is no doubt about it. It looks and feels like a flagship device, and for the most part, performs like a premium device. The mixed benchmark scores and shorter battery life indicates that the software is not perhaps as optimized as it could have been. However, in real life, you are unlikely to notice the performance difference. The Optimus 4X is fast and fluid, and is capable of running games like Nova 3 smoothly. The user interface is highly customizable and there are numerous unique features to boot. LG’s latest flagship might not manage to beat the Galaxy or the One X on the whole, but it is extremely competent and can stand proudly next to the best of the best devices. The best part is that the Optimus 4X is a fair bit cheaper than most of its competition. Both the One X and the Galaxy S3 are currently available for around Rs. 35,000, while the Optimus 4X HD is retailing for around Rs. 32,000. Regardless, of which of the three you pick, you will end up with a great smartphone. The Galaxy S3 remains the best device that money can buy. However, if those three thousand bucks really matter to you, go for the 4X HD. It has its own share of strengths to justify its billing as a flagship. If LG can manage to get the cost down a bit more, then the 4X might even eat into the sales of previous generation super powers like the Galaxy SII.

Microsoft’s Developer Marathon in India Sets Guinness World Record

Microsoft’s Windows AppFest held at KTPO, Bangalore, has set the Guinness World Record for “Most Participants in a Software Development Marathon in One Location”. A little more than two and a half thousand (2567 to be precise) developers poured their heart and soul for eighteen hours to design, build, and test new Windows 8 apps.

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Microsoft has been holding developer events across the world in an attempt to energize the developer ecosystem for Windows 8 ahead of its launch. Windows 8 features an entirely new class of touch-screen friendly apps that leverage web technologies. While Windows 8 makes developing Windows apps easier than ever before, it also eschews backward compatibility. Old apps will still run on desktops, but only in the classic mode, and in ARM tablets, they won’t run at all. Microsoft is making a bold move by redefining what we mean by Windows Apps, and its success hinges on developer participation.

AppFest is an initiative to get developers familiarized and involved with Windows 8, as well as to raise awareness about the opportunities offered by Windows 8. The Bangalore event was filled with activities throughout the day and night including performances from DJRink, rock band Swarathma and morning yoga sessions. Bhaskar Pramanik, Chairman, Microsoft India, remarked “The spectacle of thousands of developers toiling through the night has demonstrated great commitment to their work.”

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[ Photos courtesy of Abhishek Baxi and Microsoft ]