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 .

Samsung and LG Announce World’s First Curved OLED TVs

We have been seeing lots of new and exciting televisions in this year’s CES, and the competition is extremely stiff. On Tuesday, Sony’s reveal of the world’s largest OLED 4K TV was matched by Panasonic within hours. Yesterday, we saw the same scenario playing out with Samsung and LG.

Curved-OLED-TV-Samsung

Samsung was the first off the block, with its “world’s first curved OLED TV” announcement. The massive display measures in at 55-inches, and has a curved texture that Samsung reps termed as “IMAX feel”. Being a OLED, the display is expected to offer fantastic color reproduction and crisp and vivid images.The curved OLED is scheduled to be released during the second half of the year. However, other than that, we know precious little about Samsung’s gorgeous new display.

LG-Curved-OLED-TV

Soon after Samsung’s announcement, LG announced its own 55” curved OLED TV. The LG EA9800 promises the same panoramic, immersive viewing experience as Samsung; however, it will also be capable of displaying 3D content. Once again, LG didn’t reveal any specifications or release information. However, given the epic rivalry between the two Korean giants, it’s reasonable to guess that LG’s display will hit the markets round about the same time as Samsung’s curved OLED.

More 4K TVs and a 4K Windows 8 Tablet

After dominating discussions on day 0 of CES, 4K continued to be a buzzword on day 1. Panasonic stole the show with its 56-inch 4K OLED TV, which promised rich vibrant colors that we have come to expect from OLED displays on a large form factor with an insanely high resolution. The 56-inch beauty is also stunning to look at, measuring in at less than 0.5 inch thick. Unfortunately, much like its competitor Sony’s offering, Panasonic’s 4K OLED is still in prototype stages. Panasonic refused to divulge either price or release date. However, Panasonic did reveal that, somewhat curiously, it is using 3D printing technology in the manufacture of the displays.

Panasonic-4K-OLED-TV

The other 4K entry from Panasonic was a tablet. At 20-inches, Panasonic’s tablet doesn’t quite fit within Steve Jobs post-PC vision; however, Panasonic has shown before that it is comfortable operating in niche markets that other manufacturers often ignore. The gigantic tablet is meant for artists and designers, for whom the big display with extra-high resolution will really make a difference. Once again, we don’t have a release date or price tag for the product. However, we do know that the Panasonic tablet will be powered by an Intel Core i5, run Windows 8, and ship with a stylus and some sort of a cloud based collaboration tool. The battery is expected to last about a couple of hours.

Panasonic-4K-Tablet

LG, which was among the first to introduce 4K displays, is demoing the previously announced 55-inch and 65-inch 4K televisions for the first time. Again, we don’t have any information on availability and cost. However, I would be really surprised if LG takes more than a few weeks to launch its new TVs.

[ Images via CNET ]

Tactus Touchscreen Can Morph into a Tactile Keyboard

The Consumer Electronic Show might not have the clout it used to possess a decade back, but the nearly fifty year old trade show is still capable of throwing up products and prototypes that offer a glimpse of the future. One such product on display in this year’s CES is the Tactus touchscreen.

Unlike most other touchscreen manufacturers of the day, Tactus isn’t attempting to compete on resolution, pixel density, vibrancy, etc. The distinguishing feature of the Tactus touchscreen is its ability to morph into a keyboard. Tactus’ Tactile Layer technology replaces the conventional cover glass of modern displays with a thin, flat, smooth and transparent cover layer varying in thickness from about 0.75mm to 1mm. This cover has multiple-layers. The top layer consists of an optically clear polymer, while the bottom layer consists of a number of channels filled with fluid. The fluid’s refractive index is same as the refractive index of its surrounding components, which makes it fully and evenly transparent when light from the display passes through. There are a number of micro-holes between the top layer and the bottom layer. Increasing the pressure of the fluid layer causes the fluid to push up through the holes and against the top polymer layer, making it expand in pre-defined locations. The state and shape of the buttons can be controlled by the software.

Tactus-Keyboard

Right now Tactus’ chief value proposition is being able to offer true tactile feedback on touchscreen keyboards. However, the technology can be possibly used for more demanding requirements including gaming. I don’t mind my touchscreen keyboard, since I love Swyping on my phone. However, I would love to have a tactile game controller built right into my touchscreen handset.

Samsung and Sony Announce New 4K TVs

CES 2013 officially kicks off today; however, some folks couldn’t just wait. Samsung, Nvidia, Sony, and many of the big names got the ball rolling yesterday itself. Judging from the day zero, if last year was the year of ultrabooks, this year can turn out to be the year of 4K television.

LG and Sony already have strong offerings in the Ultra-HD or 4K segment. Yesterday, Samsung announced its entry with a 85-inch monster. The Samsung UN85S9 takes away the crown of the world’s largest 4K television from LG and Sony by being an inch bigger. However, its reign at the top is bound to be short-lived as Westinghouse is expected to announce a 110-inch monster later on during the CES.

Samsung-4K-TV

The Samsung UN85S9 features a stunning “floating” design, which allows the display to be easily adjusted vertically. Samsung’s new UHD television is powered by a 1.35 GHz quad-core A15 processor, but unlike LG’s dual-core counterpart, it doesn’t support 3D.

The other 4K TV displayed yesterday came in a smaller package, but was equally wow-worthy. Sony showed off its 56-inch 4K OLED display. However, the display is currently in prototype stages, and no price or launch date information is available.

Sony did, however, have some good news for consumers looking to purchase 4K television. The Japanese giant will be leveraging its media portfolio to alleviate the lack of content issue. Sony will be bundling ten UHD movies sourced from Sony Pictures or its subsidiary Columbia Pictures with its 84-inch 4K TV. The selection includes the likes of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘The Karate Kid’. It is also planning to launch a download service, from where buyers of smaller 4K televisions, including the 55-inch and 65-inch 4K TVs that were announced yesterday, will be able to download 4K movies.

Firefox 18 Released with Numerous Performance Enhancements

Firefox 18 is expected to be officially released anytime now. However, as always, it has been uploaded to the FTP servers well in advance. If you wish to grab the stable release of Firefox 18 ahead of its announcement, scroll down and head over to Mozilla’s servers.

Firefox-Web-Installer

Changelog for the final version is also yet to be revealed. However, we can get a pretty good idea about what’s new by looking at the changelog for the beta. Firefox 18 ships with the new IonMonkey JavaScript engine, which promises up to 26% improvement in speed compared to Firefox 17. Mozilla has fixed several bugs related to Firefox’s proxy handling, and users surfing behind a proxy should be able to enjoy a much faster browsing experience. Mozilla is also promising improved startup times through smart handling of signed extension certificates, in addition to performance improvements surrounding tab switching. Beginning with Firefox 18, Persona backgrounds will no longer support animated images, in order to improve performance.

There are quite a few goodies for developers also in Firefox 18, including preliminary support for WebRTC and CSS Flexible boxes. Both of these features are disabled by default, and must be enabled from about:config. Other enhancements include support for W3C touch events, better image scaling algorithm, and support for retina displays.

[ Download Firefox 18 for Windows, Mac, and Linux ]

Firefox for Android to Introduce Private Browsing and Improved Customizability in 2013

Last year, Mozilla promised to rock your World Wide Web with Firefox for Android. While Chrome is still my default browser, mainly due to a preference for its user interface, Firefox Mobile has indeed gone on to garner sizable fan base, with an impressive rating of 4.2 in the Play store.

Mozilla has revealed some of the features that are lined up for Firefox for Android in 2013. The most significant new feature to be disclosed is Private Browsing. Private Browsing has become a standard feature in desktop browsers, and several mobile browsers including Chrome and Dolphin have offered it on mobile phones also for quite some time. Incidentally, Private Browsing in Firefox for desktop is also being rewritten to offer increased flexibility.

Firefox-Android

The other focus point for Firefox in 2013 will be enhanced customizability. The mobile edition of Firefox will support themes as well as offer a customizable start-page. “No matter how you browse with Firefox for Android — for news, the most useful sites, the funniest pages — we’ll never stop trying to give you the best and fastest experience”, Mozilla promised in its note.

The final revelation concerns increased availability, both in terms of device compatibility and language support. Mozilla didn’t offer a timeline, but promised to make these features available “soooooooon”.

Cleanup Your Facebook and Other Network Profiles with MyPermissions Cleaner

While Facebook’s one-click login button makes it really easy for users to signup for new apps and services, it also makes it ludicrously easy for malicious entities to get their hands on your private info. All they need to do is to create a quiz to lure you into sharing your Facebook profile data.

In a previous article we reviewed Privacyfix, which automatically identifies and highlights security issues in your Facebook and Google settings. One of the threats that Privacyfix identifies is app permissions. However, it doesn’t provide a quick way to withdraw access you have previously granted to various apps. Chances are that over the years you have allowed hundreds of apps to access your Facebook profile. Manually delisting them is likely to take quite a while. Thankfully, there is another browser extension, which can take care of this problem.

My-Permissions-Cleaner-Facebook-Scan

MyPermissions Cleaner is a handy extension for Chrome, Opera, and Firefox, which scans your Facebook profile and lists all apps that have access to your Facebook information, and allows you to revoke access to all apps with a single click. Ideally, you will not want to revoke access to all apps. For example, if you are an avid Instagram and Tweekdeck user, it makes sense to let these apps be. Thankfully, MyPermissions allows you to add select apps and services to a whitelist (Trusted Apps) with just a couple of clicks. Once you have whitelisted the apps you need, you can get rid of the rest of them with a single click. However, if you have several hundred apps in your list, then it might be easier to simply revoke permissions for everything and add back the apps that you use as and when required. MyPermissions Cleaner does a good job at exposing exactly what sort of info each app has access to, and allows you to filter apps by their access levels. The only trouble is that the extension doesn’t always work perfectly, and sometimes gets stuck while deleting an app. However, a page refresh generally takes care of the issue.

My-Permissions-Cleaner-Facebook-App-List

It’s not just Facebook alone, MyPermissions Cleaner currently also supports Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Dropbox, Foursquare, Instagram, Flickr, AOL, and Windows Live. For each of these services the app works in an identical manner, and offers to cleanup your app permissions. If you have never bothered to look into the apps that have access to you profiles on various networks, go ahead and do it now. Let this be your little end of the year cleaning.

[ Download MyPermissions Cleaner ]

Videocon Launches Dual-Core Jelly Bean Tablet for Rs. 11000

Google and Amazon rained on the parade of budget Android tablet manufacturers with the Nexus and Kindle Fire series respectively. However, both of those devices aren’t officially available in India, which has left the field open for Indian brands as well as Chinese manufacturers. Videocon is hoping to grab a slice of this market with its new VT10 tablet.

Videocon-VT10-Tablet

As you might have guessed from the naming scheme, the Videocon VT10 is a 10” tablet. It sports a capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 1280×800, which is pretty good for a budget tablet. It’s powered by a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon processor, which is again better than what is found in most budget tablets in India, but not as powerful as the Nvidia Tegra 3. The VT10 is equipped with 1 gigabyte of RAM, and 8 gigabytes of storage. You will almost certainly fill up the limited internal storage quickly. Thankfully, the VT10 includes support for external memory up to 32 GB. Both front and rear-cams are 2 megapixels, and the battery is rated at a hefty 6800mAh. The VT10 is Wi-Fi only, but supports 3G dongles. The default packaging includes an adapter, headset, battery, HDMI cable, OTG cable, and manual.

On paper, the VT10 appears to be a competitive tablet, which makes just the right compromises. However, its biggest draw isn’t really the hardware specifications. It’s the software and the price. The Videocon VT10 ships with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), and is available for purchase from Snapdeal and HomeShop18 for Rs. 11200 (about $204) with free shipping.

Sony Mobile 2013: Odin to be Xperia X, and Yuga to be Xperia Z

We already have some idea about the phones in Sony’s 2013 Xperia lineup, now details have emerged about what they are going to be called.

The C660X, which was until now known by its codename ‘Yuga‘, is rumored to be the Xperia Z. According to a source on XDA, the Xperia Z will be both water and dust resistant with IP57 certification. It will also sport a 5” 1080p display with OptiContrast technology, which will reduce reflection and glare under sunlight.

Sony-Xperia-Yuga

Odin, which is the other powerhouse that Sony will be releasing next year, will probably be launched as the Xperia X. It will be identical to the Xperia Z in terms of specifications with a 5” full HD display, Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core chipset, and 13 megapixel camera. However, it will sport a different design.

There are also rumors that the Xperia Z and the Xperia X might be announced in China on January 15 at a price point similar to that of Xperia T. Even if that doesn’t turn out to be true, the phones will almost surely make an appearance at next year’s CES and MWC.

Facebook Poke Sinks as Snapchat Gains in Popularity

Making it to the top isn’t easy, but staying there is even harder. And, Facebook is finding this out the hard way. Facebook Poke shot to the top of the free apps list in the iTunes App Store within a day of its release. Fast forward a week, and it has not only lost its #1 spot, but has vanished entirely from the top 10. In fact, Facebook Poke is currently languishing at #35.

Snapchat vs Facebook Poke

Facebook Poke’s rise and fall shows that even if you already have a billion users, things don’t necessarily become easier for you. Sure, the massive existing userbase allowed Facebook to climb rapidly to the top of the App Store charts. However, once users discovered that Facebook’s app offers little that isn’t already there in Snapchat, interest waned. In the meanwhile, Snapchat, the service that pioneered the concept of self-destructing messages, climbed to the #4 slot. The fear of having to use real names while sending risqué messages might have also played a role in Poke’s quick fall.

Blindly copying features from other apps hasn’t worked out well for Facebook in the past either. Questions, which was perhaps inspired by the popularity of Quora, was shuttered fairly quickly. The check-in feature has fared comparatively better, but hasn’t managed to come anywhere near dethroning Foursquare, as the original ambition was.

Mobile is Facebook’s biggest challenge, and it won’t be able to conquer the segment by simply copying and iterating. Facebook has some of the smartest engineers in the world. Perhaps its time that it went into another lock-down and brainstormed ideas that can lend Facebook the decisive edge.

Lock Down Your Facebook and Google Accounts with Privacyfix

Way back in 2010, just as the controversy surrounding Facebook’s Open Graph was exploding, we had reviewed a nifty bookmarklet called ReclaimPrivacy that could automatically scan your Facebook settings and highlight areas of concern. Recently I came across a Firefox and Chrome extension called PrivacyFix, which does the same thing, but better.

As soon as you install the extension, it will scan your currently-logged-in Facebook and Google accounts, as well as your browser cookies to identify privacy threats. Once it finishes scanning, you will see a neat report, which highlights potential areas of concern. Privacyfix explains each of the identified issues, and assists you in fixing them.

Privacy-Fix-Facebook-Privacy-Settings-Recommendation

Privacy Fix also maintains a database of popular websites that track and retain user data. For websites with an opt-out policy it offers to send a mail requesting to opt-you out. Additionally, it can delete existing tracking cookies, and block tracking cookies from being placed in the future.

Privacy-Fix-Facebook-Privacy-Settings-Configuration

Privacyfix is a simple, hassle-free solution that goes a long way towards avoiding accidental privacy breaches on social networks. Both Facebook and Google offer great privacy tools. Unfortunately, they are either difficult to find, or too confusing for most users. By automatically identifying and highlighting potential issues, Privacyfix makes things easier for the user. It’s a tool that even your parents could use with confidence. Go ahead and download it. There is no reason not to.

Privacy-Fix-Health-Bar

[ Download Privacyfix ]

Google Spotted Testing Quick View for Wikipedia in Mobile Search

Google Search is known to test new features on random unsuspecting users. At any point of time, there are probably several different versions of its search page floating around. The latest feature that has been spotted in the wild is “Quick View” for mobile search results.

Google has been offering the Quick View option for documents (PPT, PDF etc.) for quite some time. Now, it’s toying with the idea of introducing Quick View for websites. Wissam Dandan spotted that Google is displaying a Quick View link in the search results page for Wikipedia pages. Tapping on the link opens up the mobile version of Wikipedia.

Google-Mobile-Quick-View-1 Google-Mobile-Quick-View-2

Currently this feature seems to be limited only to Wikipedia. However, there’s no reason why Google couldn’t expand this feature to include all webpages. It can either attempt to load the mobile website whenever possible, or load a stripped down version (sort of like Readability mode) of the webpage. Right now this feature doesn’t really make much of a difference; however, I like the concept. Hopefully, Google will expand the feature and roll it out to all mobile users in the future.

Facebook Releases Snapchat Clone Called Facebook Poke

Facebook has released yet another app for the iOS platform, and this one was apparently created in just twelve days by Zuckerberg and a small team of coders. The new app is called Facebook Poke, and is essentially a Snapchat clone. The story is that Facebook attempted to buy Snapchat’s tiny team of five, but the team chose to stay independent. So, Facebook decided to simply build its own Snapchat like app.

Facebook-Poke-Inbox

Facebook Poke is a mobile messaging app which can be used for sending pokes, messages (120 char), photos and videos (up to 10 seconds). However, like in Snapchat, the message self-destructs seconds (1,3,5, or 10 seconds) after the recipient views it. It also has a screenshot alert that notifies the sender if you attempt to screenshot the message.

Facebook-Poke-Message-View

In less than a day after Poke was launched, it has climbed to the #1 spot among free apps in the App Store, with Snapchat staying at #9 position. Poke is tightly integrated with the Facebook graph, and the Facebook brand name alone is strong enough to drive millions of downloads. However, the are a couple of areas of concern with Poke that might hold users back from jumping ships. Snapchat allows users to use custom usernames. On the other hand, Facebook Poke displays your real name, which is pulled from your Facebook profile. The other concern is related with data retention. Snapchat promises to delete your messages as soon as possible after the message is transmitted. Facebook on the other hand holds onto the message for two days after they have been seen by the last recipient, and after that it deletes the encryption key making the message inaccessible for everyone. However, the encryption key might persist in backups for up to 90 days. This if of course better than the standard Facebook terms of service, which grants the company liberty to store your content for as long as you have an account. But, will it be good enough for an app, which is meant for sharing the intimate photos you don’t want to be committed to record?

[ Download Facebook Poke ]

Google Music Introduces Free Song Matching Feature in the US

Google-MusicGoogle Music hasn’t exactly set the world on fire as Google was hoping it would. However, there is no denying that it is a pretty neat service. It’s biggest selling point is perhaps the free digital locker that could store up to 20,000 songs in the cloud. Unfortunately, before you could use the digital locker, you had to manually upload your media library. Even with a conservative estimate of 5 MB per song, we are looking at 100 gigs of data transfer for 20,000 songs. Obviously, this could take a while.

The good news is that starting today, users won’t have to upload their library before being able to access it through the cloud. Thanks to the newly introduced song matching feature, Google will simply cross-reference song signatures before unlocking access to that song in the cloud. Google’s desktop app called Music Manager will take care of syncing songs from your PC to the cloud. This feature was available for European users for over a month, but was enabled for US users only a few hours back.

Google’s competition also boasts of a similar feature; however, Google is the only one to offer it for free. Apple charges $24.99 for iTunes Match services and stores up to 25,000 songs. Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium also charges the same amount, but it can store up to 250,000 songs. Amazon also offers a free version, which is limited to 250 songs.

The Scan and Match service has long been dubbed as a sin tax. Since none of the service providers attempt to validate the source of the music file, it’s assumed that a lot of the tracks in the users library are illegally sourced. Apple and Amazon pay out most of its subscription fee to publishers as a compensation. AllThingsD is reporting that Google also has a deal in place with record labels. However, instead of paying them on a per-user basis, it’s offering a hefty upfront payment.

Facebook Bans Popular Extension F.B. Purity, Again!

FB-PurityWith the turf war between social media services heating up, these services are getting more and more hostile. Startups that were once proud of their open gardens have begun constructing walls to keep out competitors. Recently we saw Instagram pulling support for cards from Twitter, possibly in reaction to Twitter blocking Instagram’s friend import feature. Facebook and Google had earlier tussled over access to contacts data. Now, in a controversial move, Facebook has slammed the ban hammer on F.B. Purity.

F.B. Purity, which stands for Fluff Busting Purity, is a browser extension (actually an userscript) that promises to get rid of all the bloat from Facebook. It filters out the annoying and irrelevant pieces in your newsfeed, such as application spam, ads, and sponsored stories. F.B. Purity’s relationship with Facebook has always been tenuous. Facebook had threatened to ban F.B. Purity as far back as 2010 for infringing on its trademark. However, the developer managed to reach an agreement with Facebook and the script survived.

Now, Facebook is outlawing F.B. Purity because “Facebook’s terms specifically prohibit interference with the way Facebook is rendered to its users”. It also alleges that the script breaks Facebook’s ToS as it doesn’t connect via Facebook API, which is the approved method for interacting with Facebook’s services. Last time around Facebook tried sniffing F.B. Purity to render it useless. However, the developer managed to quickly find a workaround. So, this time Facebook didn’t even try. Instead, it banned the developer’s Facebook account, imposed a site-wide ban on the fbpurity domain, and threatened legal action.

Of course, a cursory investigation of the way F.B. Purity works is sufficient to unravel Facebook’s allegations. F.B. Purity is neither a Facebook client nor a Facebook application. It’s an userscript or an browser extension. It doesn’t directly access Facebook’s services. It’s a client-side script that modifies the page after the browser has downloaded it. In some ways it can be considered to be a browser feature. Hence, its ridiculous to force F.B. Purity to use Facebook’s APIs.

Facebook owns its services, and as such is free to do whatever it feels like. However, its latest complaint against F.B. Purity is simply thinly veiled bullying. If courts start buying Facebook’s logic, pretty much all browser extensions and scripts including ad-blockers and pop-up blockers will become illegal. I can appreciate that Facebook is trying to protect its interest. But, it is doing so by clearly inconveniencing the users and stepping on their freedom. It should be up to the user to decide how he wants the pages to be parsed by his browser, not Facebook.