LG Launches Optimus 3D MAX and Optimus L7 in India

LG isn’t kidding around when it claims that the future is 3D. The Korean electronics giant is really doubling down on the third dimension. Little more than a month after introducing the new range of Cinema 3D Smart TVs in India, it has launched the Optimus 3D MAX.

As the name suggests, the Optimus 3D Max is the successor of Optimus 3D. The newer edition is thinner and lighter, has a slightly faster processor (1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9), more RAM (1 GB), and supports NFC. Unfortunately, it still ships with Gingerbread (Android 2.3), which is now almost 18 months old.

LG-Optimus-3D-Max

According to Mr. Soon Kwon, President, South West Asia Region & MD LG India, “LG Optimus 3D MAX is a natural and powerful evolution of LG Optimus 3D. Building on the phenomenal success of the original Optimus 3D, we are proud to unveil this ultimate Smartphone. In 2012, we will take LG’s leadership in Speed, Screen and Content to a whole new level. With the Optimus 3D MAX, we want to set new standards of quality viewing and powerful performance on mobiles packed in a slim and modern design”.

LG is pricing the Optimus 3D Max Rs.30, 500, which means that it will be cheaper than the likes of HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3, but more expensive than the likes of Samsung Galaxy S2 and Motorola Atrix 2. The S2 offers comparable, if not better performance than the Optimus 3D Max, has a better screen, and is already running ICS. Given the limited availability of 3D apps and content, it will be interesting to see if draw of 3D is sufficient to justify the price tag.

LG also launched a mid-range Android device called Optimus L7, which is targeted towards the style conscious. “Design is consistently an important factor for customers when choosing a mobile phone and with L-Style we’re going to go back to our roots as a company focused on products that fit into the lifestyle of customers”, Mr. Soon Kwon emphasized. Unlike the Optimus 3D Max, the Optimus L7 ships with ICS (Android 4.0). Unfortunately, in order to cut costs, LG has decided to go with a measly 1 GHz Cortex-A5. Hopefully, LG has optimized the hell out of its ICS ROM, as otherwise the L7 is going to be slow for sure.

LG-Optimus-L7

The 4.3’’ L7 will be available for Rs.19, 900. This is again a pretty interesting price point. The Sony Xperia U, which is cheaper by a few thousand bucks, is powered by a more powerful Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9, but has a smaller screen. The Motorola Atrix 2, which has both a powerful processor and a large screen, costs a couple of thousand bucks more. LG believes that superior build quality and appearance coupled with a large screen and latest software will be sufficient to woo consumers. Time will tell us if they are right.

Is Opera Losing its Innovative Edge?

The newest version of Opera is out, and it’s a handsome enhancement. It ramps up performance, improves stability, increases security, and features quite a few nifty tricks. All in all, it’s a significant update that will please Opera fans. Yet, I can’t help but feel a tinge of dissapointment with Opera 12.

Opera-12

I have been closely following Opera Software for nearly a decade. I still remember installing Opera v7 and falling in love with its speed and intuitiveness. Opera was never particularly popular among the masses, but its strong culture of innovation allowed it to amass an extremely loyal fan base. Opera was the first browser to fully exploit the power of tabbed browsing (it wasn’t, however, the first tabbed browser), it was the first browser to allow full-page zooming, it was the first browser to incorporate session management, it was the first browser to add a dedicated search bar, it was the first browser to integrate a pop-up blocker, it was the first browser to have a private data cleaner, it was the first browser to support mouse gestures, it was the first browser to have speed dials, and so on and so forth.

Almost all major releases of Opera sported one or more innovations that allowed it to stand out from the crowd. Opera 8 featured voice recognition and text-to-speech support. Opera 9 introduced content blocker, widgets, bit torrent downloader, site preferences, and search engine creation wizard. Opera 10 introduced visual tabs and Opera Turbo. Opera 11 introduced tab stacking, and visual mouse gestures. However, when it comes to user facing innovative features, Opera 12 draws a blank.

The biggest new feature in Opera 12 is a lightweight skinning engine that both Firefox and Chrome have had for years. Other features are a mix of cosmetic changes, under the hood stuff that most users will not care about, and features that already exist in other browsers. Opera 12 is all about playing catch-up. Instead of leading from the front, Opera Software is now merely plugging the gaps in its existing offering. Make no mistake, there is no harm in taking inspiration from others. In fact, I was highly appreciative of Opera 11, which introduced extension support, and resolved several of my longstanding complaints. However, when you are the underdog, you need to do more than just equal your competition. You need to give people compelling reasons to ditch the browser they have grown comfortable with and try your product.

The problem with Opera 12 is that it simply doesn’t offer any incentive to folks who didn’t like the earlier versions to come and try out the new version. I have had Opera as my default browser for close to a decade, but earlier this year, I finally switched to Chrome as default. I still miss some of the features in Opera like its excellent built-in Notes, great RSS feed reader, simple IRC client, powerful keyboard shortcuts, and customizable speed dials. However, they are no longer reason enough to stop me from switching to Chrome, which offers powerful web apps like TweetDeck, full profile sync (including extensions), hardware acceleration with WebGL, and web notifications.

Opera 12: Faster, Safer, and Leaner

After dozens of snapshots and months of testing, Opera Software is finally ready with Opera 12 or Wahoo. Opera 12 is a bittersweet release that adds several new features, but also ruthlessly chops several old ones.

Opera 12 - Wahoo

As you might expect, not a whole lot has changed since the beta release, so my hands-on of the beta is still a good place for an in-depth look at the new features in Opera 12. The bits that Opera seems to be particularly excited about are:

New light-weight themes that are both easy to create and use: The new themes differ from the previous full-fledged skins in that they don’t alter appearance of browser elements like buttons and tabs. Much like Personas for Firefox, they simply change the browser background.

Opera-12-Themes

Improved security badge: Opera’s address bar security badges have been updated to make them easier to parse for novice users.

Opera-12-Security-Badge

Improved Standards Support: Opera 12 adds support for a whole host of new web technologies including WebRTC (native camera access), HTML5 drag and drop, CSS3 animations and transitions, and CSS generated paged media (new proposed standard from Opera for paginated content suitable for consumption in devices of multiple form factors).

Better Plug-in Handling: Opera now runs plug-ins as separate process. This change should significantly boost Opera’s stability as plug-ins like Flash are responsible for a large chunk of browser crashes. Now, even if the plug-in crashes, Opera will continue to function smoothly since it runs as a separate process.

Hardware Acceleration: Hardware accelerated graphics and WebGL compatibility were supposed to be the major draws of Opera 12. Unfortunately, in spite of pushing back the release of Wahoo, Opera Software hasn’t yet managed to get hardware acceleration working smoothly enough on a wide range of hardware. As a result, this feature is disabled by default, but you can enable it by setting opera:config#UserPrefs|EnableHardwareAcceleration and opera:config#UserPrefs|EnableWebGL to 1.

As mentioned earlier, Opera 12 is not all about new features. It also bids adieu to a host of old features including Opera Unite, Opera Widgets, Speech Recognition, Text to Speech, and Torrent downloader. This kind of chopping of features is unprecedented, and is perhaps an admission that several of the decisions made during the days of Opera 8 to Opera 10 weren’t in its best interests. While I am a bit sad to see some of these features go, most users probably won’t even notice that they are gone.

[ Download Opera 12 ]

Sony Announces Xperia Miro with Deep Facebook Integration

Sony-Xperia-MiroEarlier today, we wrote about the new Sony Tipo. However, that is not the only new Android smartphone that Sony has announced recently. Sony’s Facebook page is teasing another new Xperia handset. This one is called the Xperia Miro. On top of this, Sony will be holding its own event in Singapore on June 20 to announce several new Xperia smartphones.

The Miro appears to be a mid-range device targeted at Facebook aficionados. Besides featuring deep Facebook integration, it will be capable of performing a few novelty tricks like using illumination to notify about Facebook messages and social updates. Sony hasn’t divulged anything about the processor, but it’s a safe bet to assume that it will be a dual core device. The Miro will feature a 3.5’’ screen, 5 megapixel rear cam, front cam of unknown resolution, DLNA, and a large battery. It will be launching with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) on-board.

Xperia Miro has the potential to be quite the draw among the youth (especially the ladies), if priced sensibly. However, we will probably have to wait at least a week to know more, including its launch date and price.

More Proof that Facebook Might Buy Opera

Opera-SoftwareLast week, Pocket Lint broke the story that Facebook might be looking to acquire Opera. Initially, I was pretty dismissive of the report. While, the deal did make sense for Facebook, I wasn’t sure it was something that Opera really needed. In fact, Opera’s co-founder and ex-CEO Jon von Tetzchner’s comments echoed as much. “I want Opera to focus on growth and delivering good results; there are big opportunities for Opera,” Tetzchner, who holds 10.9 percent of Opera, told Reuters. “We have been promised 500 million users by 2013, and I think that’s a good goal and the firm should keep going for it.” He added, “I personally think that an ARPU (average revenue per user) goal of $1 is even modest. I am not pushing for a takeover.”

However, Pocket Lint’s initial report has since been backed up by Robin Wauters who is typically well sourced in browser related matters. Not only that, bankers told Reuters that Opera had “long been up for sale informally”. Now, I find this bit of information particularly interesting because of one reason. Tetzchner quit Opera last year. His departing email read, “It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving Opera”. My theory is that it is quite possible that Jon’s disagreement with the board was over their plans on pushing for a takeover by a larger entity. Tetzchner always regarded Opera as his baby, and insisted on staying independent and retaining a core set of values that defined Opera Software. It’s hard to think that he would have found proposals of selling out agreeable.

While all of the above is conjecture on my part, there is one bit of information that Vygantas has dug out, which strongly hints that something is up at Opera software. As you might already know, a significant portion of Opera’s revenues come from its search agreement with Google. Opera ships with Google as the default search engine, and in return, Google shares a chunk of revenue it generates from the traffic coming from Opera. Earlier today, Opera Software announced that it is extending its existing agreement with Google for a month. This move is extremely unusual, as typically such renewals are for a year or several years. I don’t remember Opera ever renewing its agreement for such a short period. While it is entirely possible that the renewal is simply a temporary measure to give the two companies some time to thrash out a new deal, it is also possible that Opera expects something big to happen in the next one month. You know, like being acquired by Facebook.

There is still no concrete proof that anything is really going on. But, over the past week, we have seen multiple sources claim that something might be up. In my opinion, the deal does make sense for Facebook. It will allow it to both gain eyeballs in the mobile segment, and also better monetize it. However, I am not convinced that it’s in Opera’s best interests to allow itself to be gobbled up by folks for whom browser is not really a priority. Facebook might increase Opera’s reach, but it might also stagnate Opera’s development, hamper its innovative edge, and tarnish its reputation and trust.

Opera Mini 7 for Basic Phones Introduces Social Hub with Twitter and Facebook Integration

Opera Mini 7 for feature phones, which was first showcased in this year’s Mobile World Congress, is now ready for the general public. The main draw of the new version is something that Opera Software is calling the Smart Page.

Smart Page is the new start page of Opera Mini, which helps you keep tabs on your Facebook and Twitter stream without breaking a sweat. It also provides quick access to your favorite websites, fetches weather info, updates sports scores, and keeps you informed about the latest news.

Opera-Mini-Smart-Page

“I’ve spent hours typing web addresses on my mobile phone, but now there’s a super smart way to get most of your content at a glance,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software. “With Smart Page, you just open the browser, and the content is right beside your Speed Dial shortcuts in the start screen for you to skim through — super practical, super time-saving and super smart. I guess that’s why the product team called it Smart Page.”

Opera Mini is the world’s most popular mobile browser with over 172 million users. It is especially popular in those regions where basic phones still rule the roost, and internet connectivity is slow and expensive. Opera Mini can work on even basic J2ME devices, since it offloads the task of rendering the webpage to its servers, through which all web traffic is routed. Opera Mini receives a compressed static representation of the webpage from its servers, and displays it on the mobile device. This can lead to significant bandwidth savings and increased surfing speed on slower networks.

Opera Mini 7 with Smart Page is available for Java-compatible (J2ME), S60 and Blackberry feature phones.

[ Download Opera Mini 7 ]

Avoid Being Misinformed with Rbutr

RbutrWhile most savvy internet users typically treat anything they read online with a healthy degree of skepticism, innumerable people are still fooled every day. This might be by something as dangerous but obvious as a Nigerian 419 scam, or something as innocuous as an email forward claiming that entering ATM pin code in reverse will summon the police. While there are phishing and fraud protection tools that strive to protect you from the first kind of disinformation, there isn’t really anything to help you out with the second kind. Now, a new app is trying to fight back against false information on the internet.

Rbutr is a browser extension that is trying to tackle the serious challenge of online disinformation. It hopes to employ crowd-sourcing to build up a knowledgebase of rebuttals to various pieces of content on the web. You will need to register to be able to use the service. This is a stumbling block, which might put off many users. However, once you get past this step, it’s pretty simple to use Rbutr. Install the Chrome extension and continue browsing as you normally would. If Rbutr finds any rebuttals for the content you are currently viewing, its icon will change to alert you. The drawback here is that the icon change isn’t really prominent enough to draw attention. Rbutr needs to figure out how to better draw the user’s attention without really annoying him. If you want to give back to the community, you can submit rebuttals directly through the extension in a couple of simple steps.

At the moment the utility of Rbutr is limited as its database is pretty small. However, this is something that definitely has a lot of promise. If it ever gains critical mass, it is something that everyone should go ahead and install. However, right now, I would only recommend it to early adopters and enthusiasts.

Rbutr is currently only available for Chrome, but support for others browsers is in the works.

[ Download Rbutr ]

Pay What You Want for 12 Great Games in Indie Gala V

This is turning out to be a positively great week for Indie game fans. Just a few days ago, the cross-platform “Because we May” promo went live. Now, we have another stunning indie-games deal in the form of “The Indie Gala V”.

Indie-Gala

Indie Gala follows the pay-what-you-want model that has been popularized by the massively successful Humble Indie Bundle. The fifth edition of Indie Gala V contains as many as twelve new indie-games. However, how many you actually end up getting will depend upon your tip. Minimum payment of $1 grants you access to four games, but you will need to pay $5.99 or more to get access to all the twelve games in the bundle. Not only that, folks who beat the average will get access to indie music (presumably game soundtracks) and additional goodies that will be revealed in the second week. If you stick with the default split, a part of your tip will also go to charity. This edition of Indie Gala is supporting AbleGamers (charity for children and adults with disabilities) and the Italian Red Cross. It’s worth noting that the retail price of the games on offer adds up to $150, while the current average tip amount in Indie Gala is only $5.27.

Rumor: Facebook Looking to Buy Opera Software

Opera-SoftwareFacebook might be eyeing Norwegian browser maker Opera Software, if a report from Pocket Lint is to be believed. According to its “man in the know”, Facebook might be preparing to step into the browser market, in order to ensure that no matter what you are doing, you are always connected to your Facebook social graph.

If true, it’s going to be another stunning move by Zuckerberg. Opera currently boasts of more than 200 million users, with a very strong presence in the mobile arena. For many in the developing world, Opera Mini is the only means of surfing the internet. It also has strong relationship with leading handset makers and carriers. Facebook can certainly help Opera in expanding its audience, and Opera can embed Facebook into its user’s life. Opera also has a strong presence in the mobile phone and smart TV market that Facebook will find valuable.

That being said, acquiring a company like Opera is different from acquiring a start-up like Instagram. Opera has dozens of offices with hundreds of employees spread across the globe. Developing browsers is complicated stuff, and Opera has had to really fight it out to survive through multiple browser wars. Facebook and Opera have very little in common in terms of their products. In fact, they even have distinctly different cultures and company ethos. From where I am sitting, this certainly doesn’t look like a marriage made in heaven.

A couple of years back, when Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner was at the helm, I could have confidently said that Opera would never sell out. With the new management, I can’t be so sure. However, even then, it’s extremely hard to fathom that Opera will allow itself to come under Facebook’s umbrella. What might happen though is that Facebook and Opera might enter into a partnership. We have already seen Opera develop customized browsers for the likes of Nintendo. It might create and maintain a Rockmelt like browser with tight Facebook integration, in return for eyeballs and revenue from the social networking giant. But, in the recent past, Opera has been focussing on a more streamlined approach with less customized solutions.

When asked for a response, Opera declined to comment citing its standard policy of not reacting to market rumors.

Facebook Launches Instagram Clone for iOS, Calls it Facebook Camera

In the days leading up to the Facebook IPO, one thing that pundits loved to harp on was its weakness in the mobile segment. One of the cornerstones of Facebook is its Photos feature, which helped it gain rapid traction in the first place. However, in the mobile segment, Facebook lacked a compelling app to leverage this advantage. Not only is uploading videos to Facebook through its iPhone and Android apps cumbersome, but viewing it also is a less than pleasant experience. As a result, upstarts like Instagram that made sharing photos from your mobile phone elegant and pain free quickly gained popularity. Zuckerberg himself realized this and went on to shell out a billion dollars to prevent Instagram from falling into its competitors laps.

However, long before Facebook purchased Instagram, it had set about to fix the void in its mobile offering. A team was hard at work to come up with a dedicated Instagramesque photography app. A short while back, Facebook unveiled its creation on the iTunes App Store.

Facebook-Camera-Photo-Stream

The new app is called Facebook Camera. While Facebook wouldn’t win any awards for the name, it pretty much nails everything about the app. Facebook Camera is Instagram with a few differences. It features multiple photo effects to lend your snaps the ‘artistic’ touch, it enables quick sharing of photos, and it has a photo stream that just contains pics shared by your social graph. Its biggest advantage compared to Instagram is that it supports batch photo upload, which allows you to club multiple related photos together. However, it also has its share of disadvantages. The biggest one is that Facebook Camera doesn’t allow sharing of pics across social networks. No one really expected Facebook to make it easy for you to share your pics on Twitter or Google Plus, but this is still a very real drawback. Also, since the Facebook Camera photo stream includes pics that were not shared through the mobile app, not all photos look as classy as Instagram. Of course, folks who have a strong disdain for the artificial photographs popularized by Instagram will probably appreciate this.

Facebook-Camera-Photo-Filters

The big question is how does Facebook Camera fit into Facebook’s future strategy. It will directly compete with Facebook’s Instagram, which is the current leader in the mobile social photography app segment. A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch, “As Mark asserted, we’re committed to building and growing Instagram independently, so I anticipate some healthy competition.”

Most people believe that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram was a defensive move rather than an aggressive one. Zuckerberg didn’t want Google or Twitter to get a boost from Instagram’s existing popularity, so he acquired it. He had to promise to keep it independent, as otherwise Instagram wouldn’t have allowed itself to be taken over by Facebook. However, this also means that Instagram’s social graph is going to remain distinct from Facebook in the foreseeable future. Instagram doesn’t really tie into Facebook, and augment Facebook Photos. Even though Instagram is under Facebook’s control, Zuckerberg will obviously prefer if people used Facebook’s social graph to share photos on the mobile. It will increase the stickiness of the platform, and strengthen the lock that Facebook has on a user. This is probably why Facebook went ahead with the release of Facebook Camera, even after announcing the acquisition of Instagram.

Facebook Camera is currently available for download in the App Store for English speaking countries.