Thomas Was Alone Comes to iOS and Android

The BAFTA award winning indie platformer Thomas Was Alone is now available on Android and iOS. The game garnered critical acclaim for its PC, Mac, and PS3 editions, and is now promising the same emotional journey to mobile gamers.

Thomas Was Alone - Title Card

Unlike many recent indie platformers that focus on bringing back the 80s style challenging gameplay, Thomas Was Alone focuses on keeping things simple. A majority of the fifty levels in the game are simple enough for even the most casual gamers to enjoy. The protagonist of this game is Thomas – a self-aware AI created accidentally. Thomas is represented as a simple red rectangle, and all he can do is move and jump. Over the course of his journey he meets up with other AIs, who are also represented as quadrilaterals. By combining each character’s unique ability you need to traverse each level and reach the portal that’ll take you to the next one.

Thomas Was Alone - Game Commentary

Mike Bithell – the creator of the game, introduces enough variations and novelties to keep you engaged till the end, but the gameplay is still fairly basic. What elevates this game to greatness is the atmosphere. Thomas’ journey is expertly narrated by Danny Wallace, whose humorous and quirky comments establish an emotional connect that’ll leave you thinking about the game long after you have finished it. David Housden’s minimalistic background composition suitable complements the level design and the narration.

Thomas Was Alone - Platforming

I played the Android version of the game and did notice one annoying issue with the port. The option for switching between the characters is on the left and right edges of the screen, which makes it very easy to accidentally hit the Home button. Switching between characters requires too much attention and precision and often distracts you from the game. Hopefully, the developers will tweak the control scheme to address this issue. Other than this the game worked flawlessly, without any performance issues.

The game is available during this weekend at a 33% discounted price of $3.99, which is a steal for a game of this calibre. To make the deal even sweeter, the Bossa Studios has included the Benjamin’s Flight DLC pack with twenty additional levels in the mobile version of the game. Thomas Was Alone is a mesmerizing experience that I can’t recommend enough.

[ Download Thomas Was Alone from iTunes App Store or Google Play Store ]

Digiflip Pro XT 712 Tablet Unboxing and Review

Last week, Flipkart stepped into the electronics market with the launch of its own tablet – the Digiflip Pro XT712. Much like the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Digiflip will serve as a vehicle to increase customer engagement with various Flipkart products. However, unlike the Kindle, Digiflip doesn’t quite put Flipkart left, right, and center. Instead, it offers an almost pure stock Android experience with a couple of bundled Flipkart apps. But, before getting into the details of the software, let’s take a closer look the hardware.

Digiflip by Flipkart

Unboxing the Digiflip

The packaging is neat and functional. Lifting the thermocol seat that comfortably houses the Digiflip, reveals the accessories compartment. Included in the package are a power adaptor (along with an USB cable), an in-ear earphone, an earphone converter, a manual, and a soft wipe. I also ordered the book case, which was available at 50% discount.

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 1

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 2

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 3

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 4

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 5

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 6

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 7

DigiFlip by FlipKart Unboxing 8 Flipkart Digiflip Unboxing

Appearance and Display

The Digiflip is sturdily built, and feels solid and reassuring. There’s no metal here, but the polycarbonate body manages to avoid the cheap plasticky feeling. The power button and volume controls are on the top left, but there is no physical camera button. The 3.5 mm earphone jack is on the top, while the micro-USB port is at the bottom. The speaker grill is just beneath the front camera.

The Digiflip Pro sports a 7’’ IPS display with a resolution of resolution of 1280 X 800, which amounts to a 216 ppi pixel-density. If you look closely, you can spot the pixels, and outdoor visibility is just about decent. However, considering the price range, the display is actually quite decent, with good contrast and viewing angles.

Flipkart Digiflip Tablet - Front
Flipkart Digiflip Tablet – Front
Flipkart Digiflip Tablet - Side
Flipkart Digiflip Tablet – Side

Hardware

Perhaps the weakest point of the Digiflip Pro is the hardware powering the tablet. It uses the low-end MediaTek MT8382 chipset, which houses a 1.3 GHZ Quad Core CPU. GeekBench3 benchmark suggests that the CPU is on par with flagships from a couple of years back. The GPU is Mali 400 MP2 clocked at 500 MHz This is even weaker than the CPU, and is comparable to GPUs that Android flagships like the Galaxy SII were using as far back as 2011. Quite obviously, with such an outdated hardware, the Digiflip Pro doesn’t fare very well in synthetic benchmarks.

Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - Geekbench 3 Single Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – Geekbench 3 Single Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - Geekbench 3 Multi Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – Geekbench 3 Multi Core
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - Basemark X
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – Basemark X
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark - 3D Mark
Flipkart Digiflip Benchmark – 3D Mark

Synthetic benchmarks aside, the Digiflip performs quite well for regular day to day tasks. Web browsing experience is smooth, as is watching videos on YouTube. It handles casual games like EA Golf and Score! With ease, but if you’re planning on playing more heavy duty games, this is not the tablet for you.

Multimedia

The Digiflip features a 5 megapixel rear camera with flash and autofocus that’s capable of recording videos at 1080p. The front camera is takes snaps at 2 megapixels. On paper all of these specs sound decent enough, but specs can be deceiving. There’s no way to sugar coat this. The Digiflip camera is bad. Both the front and the back camera fail to take a decent picture in any lighting. Using the flash over exposes the picture to the point of hiding any detail in the image. Here are a few sample images captured with the rear camera.

Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample - Outdoor
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample – Outdoor
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample - Indoor with Florescent Light
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample – Indoor with Florescent Light
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample - Indoor with Flash
Flipkart Digiflip Camera Sample – Indoor with Flash

Flipkart uses MxPlayer, which is a great decision, given that it’s one of the most versatile players available in the market. MxPlayer managed to play back any video I threw at it, and had no issues in with playing back 720p HD videos, even with software renderer. 1080p videos, however, proved to be too much to handle for the software renderer (none of the formats I had worked with hardware renderer).

The stereo speaker won’t impress anyone with its loudness or quality, but it gets the job done. And, thankfully, it’s front-facing, which means most of the time (but not always) it’s loud enough to be audible. As I mentioned earlier, the Digiflip accessories bundle also includes an earphone adaptor. The reason behind this is that the Digiflip uses OMTP standard, which pretty much everyone else has abandoned. If you want to use your Apple devices compatible existing earphone on the Digiflip or the Digiflip earphone on other new electronic devices, you’ll need to use the bundled CTIA-OMTP converter. As far as the earphone itself is concerned, it’s not very good. But, even using a different pair will only help improve sound quality marginally, as Digiflip’s audio processor itself seems to produce a lot of noise.

Connectivity options include dual-SIM 3G HSPA+, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and USB OTG. There’s no NFC. The battery is not removable and is rated at 3000 mAh battery with a talk time of around 8 hours. Digiflip ships with 16 gigs of internal storage (out of which about 12 gigs is available to the user), and supports micro SD cards up to 32 GB.

Software

The Digiflip runs an almost stock Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean). While I’m glad that Flipkart chose to provide a near stock experience, it’s disappointing that the version of Android that Digiflip is shipping with is over sixteen months old. Given that there are no custom modifications to handle, I don’t understand why the Digiflip couldn’t ship with KitKat. What’s worrying is that Flipkart hasn’t even committed to shipping KitKat or newer builds.

Flipkart Digiflip Homescreen
Flipkart Digiflip -Homescreen
Flipkart Digiflip - Version Info
Flipkart Digiflip – Version Info

While Flipkart hasn’t modified the core Android experience, the Digiflip comes bundled with Flipkart shopping and eBook apps, which aren’t removable. The eBook app comes bundled with a dozen eBooks work Rs. 2, 300, while the shopping app includes various coupons with a cumulative discount of Rs. 5000. Each coupon can only be used once, and is valid until the end of the year.

Flipkart Digiflip - Free eBooks
Flipkart Digiflip – Free eBooks

Conclusion

The Digiflip is a rather well rounded tablet, whose main draw is obviously the low price point (Rs. 9,999). The added goodies thrown in by Flipkart (including a Platronics Bluetooth headset) sweeten the deal further. The weakest link of the Digiflip is its low-end chipset, which makes it unsuitable for heavy duty tasks. The camera output is also disappointing. However, the near stock Android helps the tablet to remain snappy and it’s well suited as a media consumption device. The Digiflip is all about making the right compromises. It doesn’t have any killer features to set it apart from the crowd. However, there’ also no Achilles’ heels. For a budget tablet, that can often prove to be enough.

Aviate Launcher Steps out of Beta, Gets One Step Closer to Becoming the Perfect Android Home Screen

Aviate Launcher, which dubs itself as an ‘intelligent homescreen’ for Android, was acquired by Yahoo in January. Unlike most other Yahoo acquisitions, Aviate wasn’t put on the chopping block. To the contrary, Yahoo promised to make it a core part of its Android-based experiences in 2014 and beyond. Today, Aviate came out of the private beta, and released the most significant update since its launch.

Aviate-Home-Screen-Android

The new version retains the two cornerstones of Aviate.

Workspaces

Your Aviate experience changes throughout the day based on where you are and what you are doing. There are several pre-configured workspaces (‘Spaces’ in Aviate terminology) like Today, Moving, Listening, Work, Home, and Nearby. If Aviate detects that you’re at work, it will automatically show scheduled events from your calendar and display productivity apps. If it detects that you’re travelling, it will automatically pull tips about nearby venues from Foursquare. Throughout the day it keeps switching between the different Spaces to surface information and apps that are most relevant. Each of these workspaces can be manually configured to display the content that you want. Yahoo has also begun leveraging Aviate to cross-sell its other apps by tying them in with the workspaces. For example, the Today page integrates with Yahoo News Digest to showcase breaking news from around the world. I suspect that future versions will integrate other Yahoo properties including Stocks, Weather and Flickr.

Aviate-Spaces
Aviate – Spaces

Collections

Aviate automatically categorises all installed apps into Collections like Social, Productivity, Utilities, Music, Transit, and Games. You can add or remove apps from Collections, or even create entirely new Collections. You can add these Collections to relevant Spaces to get quick access to apps when you really need them. Each Collection also doubles up as a neat app discovery service, by suggesting other popular apps that belong to the same category.

Aviate-Collection
Aviate – Collections
Aviate-App-Drawer
Aviate – App Drawer

Aviate has also introduced three major enhancements with this release.

Favorite People

A simple swipe up from the home screen brings up a list of your favorite contacts as well as recently dialled numbers. This ensures that the people you want to call or message are just a swipe away.

Aviate - Favorite People
Aviate – Favorite People

Calendar

Previously Aviate used to simply display calendar apps when you were at work. It now directly displays your calendar entries in the Spaces and offers neat options such as getting directions to your next meeting, booking an Uber to your destination, or directly calling a conference number. This is once again an example of Yahoo leveraging its existing portfolio to improve Aviate. The calendar capabilities are similar to what was previously present in Donna, an intelligent assistant from Incredible Labs, which was acquired by Yahoo.

Aviate-Space-Calendar-Integration
Aviate – Today Space

Daily Delight

As mentioned earlier, Aviate integrates with News Digest to offer you a quick glimpse of events around the world. A new digest is available twice a day –in the morning and in the evening. The weather functionality has been enhanced so that if a significant deviation in weather forecast is detected from the previous day, Aviate will automatically alert you. Additionally, Aviate also monitors your usage to double up as a light-weight sleep tracker.

Aviate-Home-Screen
Aviate – Customised Home Screen with Google Now

Smart launchers aren’t exactly a new concept in the Android world. However, among all the smart launchers that I’ve tried, Aviate is the one that comes closest to getting it right. The objective of smart launchers is to make you more productive by simplifying things, and simplification often mandates trimming down on features. The biggest challenge for developers is to achieve this without alienating users by eliminating the strong suites of Android. For example, Nokia’s Z Launcher goes too far in its pursuit of simplicity. By removing everything from multiple screens to folders and widgets, Z launcher stifles users. Using Aviate also entails sacrifices. You’ll have to live without live wallpapers. You’re restricted to three screens – Spaces, Home, and Collections. You can configure these screens by adding app collections and widgets, but you won’t get the myriad of options that you’d get with Nova or ADW. Nevertheless, Aviate never ends up being too restrictive. Once you spend some time personalizing your home screen and the Spaces, you’ll have a smart home screen that’s truly personal. And, this is its biggest achievement.

[ Download Aviate ]

LG Optimus Vu P895 Review

Samsung’s original Note singlehandedly created the segment of smartphones that is commonly referred to as Phablet. These are devices that are larger than most conventional phones, but smaller than tablets. I have never been a big fan of phablets. They are essentially compromise devices – too large to be conveniently used as a phone, yet too small to confer the multimedia benefits of a tablet. I found the original Note to be simply a bloated version of the S2. However, clearly, a large section of the populace didn’t mind the giant screen, as the original Note sold quite well. The recently introduced Note 2 has been doing even better – selling more than three million units in less than a month.

Now, other manufactures are also getting in on the act, and last month, LG introduced its first phablet – the Optimus Vu P895 in India. Soon Kwon – MD of LG India, believes that the Vu has everything that the competition fails to offer. I used the Vu as my primary device for the better half of the past week to find out if it lives up to the promise.

Appearance

LG-Optimus-Vu-Front

Even though LG’s 2012 series of smartphones have been a bit all over the place in terms of overall quality, one thing they have consistently delivered on is design. The Optimus Vu is no exception. It is exceedingly thin (8.5 mm), and feels solidly constructed. There’s a lot of plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap and flimsy. I have been a fan of LG’s bold rectangular design principle, and the Vu holds onto much of what I liked about the Optimus 4X. The matte finish of the back cover makes the Vu easier to grip, and the sliding door covering the micro-USB port is a nice touch. However, the most striking feature of the Optimus Vu is just wide it is. At 90.4 mm, the Optimus Vu is about a centimeter wider than the Note 2. The extra width means that unless you have a really big hand, you are going to have a hard time gripping the Vu. I found it extremely uncomfortable (almost painful) to hold the Vu during long conversations. Thankfully, in spite of the bulk, the Vu is fairly light, weighing just 168 grams.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Galaxy-S3-One-X
LG Optimus Vu next to a Galaxy SIII and an One X

LG has utilized the extra width to pack in a couple of additional buttons. At the top left there is an additional button that triggers the QuickMemo app. At the bottom, there is an additional capacitive button for launching the new Android task switcher. Both of these are non-essential additions, but are nice to have.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Back

LG could have slimmed down the Vu a bit more by shrinking the rather wide bezels. However, the extra bezel space has eliminated the accidental button press problem that I encountered in the Optimus 4X.

Display

The Vu features a 5’’ HD-IPS LCD screen with a resolution of 1024-by-768 pixels. LG claims that the PC-like 4:3 aspect ratio is ‘perfect for multitasking’. I will take a closer look to see if that claim has any substance in the Software section of this review. The screen is bright and offers good outdoor visibility with excellent viewing angles. It’s not as vibrant as the Note 2’s or One X’s display, but doesn’t appear washed out like some of the other LG displays.

Hardware

The Optimus Vu ships with a Quad-core 1.5 GHz Tegra 3 processor and 1 GB RAM. Performance-wise it’s very similar to the Optimus 4X. It scored 11593 in AnTuTu, 2749 in AnTuTu 3D, and 4411 in Quadrant. These scores mean that the Vu is significantly faster than the original Note, but is handsomely beaten by the likes of Note 2 and Optimus G. In real life, the Optimus Vu’s performance offered little reason for complaint. Whether I was browsing through the gallery, surfing JavaScript intensive websites, or playing Nova 3, the Vu didn’t miss a beat.

The Optimus Vu ships with a 5.5’’ Rubberdium stylus. Vu’s stylus falls somewhere between the original Note’s and the Note 2’s stylus. It’s thicker than most styluses, but not as think as the new S Pen, which can be actually gripped like a pen. Since, the Vu needs to be used with two hands anyway, it’s a smart move to include a stylus. Unfortunately, all the benefits that the stylus could have offered is rendered moot by sheer stupidity. LG has thrown in a stylus, but the phone itself doesn’t have any slot for storing the stylus. Instead, you have to actually carry around the stylus in your pocket. This is of course a major annoyance. I already almost lost the stylus once, and after a couple of days, I simply stopped carrying around the stylus. Samsung on the other hand, not only provides a mechanism to store the stylus, but actually reminds you if you forget to tuck your stylus into the phone before walking away. The second sore point is that the Optimus Vu stylus is not pressure sensitive. The S Pen stylus for the Note 2, on the other hand, can differentiate between 1024 pressure levels. So, the Vu stylus can only be used as a pointing device or for scribbling. Don’t think about drawing or doodling with it. The final and the biggest point of annoyance is that you can actually tap on the capacitive buttons with the stylus. So, while using the stylus, you will have to consistently toggle between using your finger and the stylus. The stylus really seems to be something that LG tucked on to the Vu at the last moment for namesake.

Software

LG-Optimus-Vu-Home-Screen

The Optimus Vu ships with Android 4.0.4, and is slated to get Android 4.1 (Jellybean) in first quarter of next year. No word on whether it will receive Android 4.2 or not. There is the customary LG Optimus UX running on top of stock ICS. While some aspects of the Optimus UX – like its overuse of bright colors – are annoying, there are plenty of thoughtful additions. LG has a TouchWiz like scrollable notification bar, but unlike in TouchWiz, it’s completely customizable. In fact, customizability is one of the strongest points of Optimus UX. For example, everything about the lock screen can be changed including how the clock looks or what shortcuts appear in the dock.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Notification-Quick-Settings

LG’s QuickMemo, which we earlier saw in the 4X and the L-series handsets, has made it to the Vu too. It is essentially an enhanced note taking app that is now accessible through its dedicated physical button. You can annotate presentations, documents, webpages, and just about anything with QuickMemo. You can save your memos for later reference or share them with your contacts.

In addition to QuickMemo, LG has added another note taking app called Notebook. In fact, all QuickMemos go into a single folder inside the Notebook. The Notebook allows you to create elaborate notes with images, drawings, and text. Other bundled apps include a backup tool, a news reader, Polaris office, and a video editor called Video Wiz.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Notebook-Handwriting

One aspect of the Vu where LG has put in a lot of thought and effort is the keyboard. The keyboard has four distinct modes – a classic feature phone layout (that I am sure no one will use), QWERTY layout for tap typing, QWERTY layout for Swype style shape writing, and a handwriting recognition mode. Normally, typing with single hand is impossible on the Vu. However, the keyboard has a special singlehanded typing mode that can be triggered via convenient gestures. When in this mode, the keyboard automatically shrinks and sticks to one edge of the screen (left or right). Although, I found the stylus to be pretty unusable in its current form, I did give handwriting recognition a fair spin and came away impressed. It was able to pick up my shabby handwriting with surprising amount of accuracy. Not only is the recognition engine accurate, but also quite fast. It’s a pity that the stylus is so unusable. The only complaint that I have is that most keyboard settings are buried several levels deep in the Android interface.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Keyboard-Modes

LG claims that the 4:3 interface is best for multitasking. After taking the Vu for a spin, I can’t say that I am convinced. LG might be onto something, but the Vu’s software fails to drive that point home. In fact, the Note 2 with its multi-window multi-tasking is a lot more productive. Even, QSlide from Optimus G with added support for streaming videos, would have been quite handy. However, with the standard interface, I don’t see how the Vu is better suited for multitasking than any of the other current generation smartphones. In fact, the 4:3 aspect ratio has a negative impact on the multimedia experience, since almost all video content is in widescreen aspect ratios. Some apps like Subway Surfer also have a problem with the Vu’s resolution and need to be scaled. The only aspect where the Vu really benefits from its resolution is web browsing in portrait mode.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Width

Multimedia

LG Optimus Vu P895 ships with an 8 megapixel camera, which may not be the best mobile camera in the market, but produces good quality images and acceptable videos. Its weakest point is low light capture, where it performs significantly worse than the S3. However, under proper lighting conditions, the Vu takes well balanced, detailed images. The algorithm that LG is using is really smart and manages to get the settings bang on in most cases. In keeping with Optimus UX’s focus on customizability, the camera interface is also adjustable. The usual features including panorama, HDR, and burst modes are present. The Vu lacks an option for macro-focusing. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the Vu can’t take close up pics. The auto-mode is really good at figuring out when you want to use macro mode. The camera app’s biggest draw is ‘Time Catch Shot’, which we first saw in the Optimus 4X. When you enable this feature, the Vu 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. Another gimmicky feature called Cheese shot captures the pic when you say ‘cheese’.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Camera-Sample-Landscape
LG Optimus Vu Camera Sample: Landscape
LG-Optimus-Vu-Camera-Sample-HDR
LG Optimus Vu Camera Sample: HDR
LG-Optimus-Vu-Camera-Sample-Macro
LG Optimus Vu Camera Sample: Macro

The Vu shoots videos at 1080p with 30 frames per second. LG has thrown in a couple of interesting video effects. You can remove the video background and instead use a disco, sunset, or space background. You can also pick a video from your own library to use as a background. Be warned though, in order for this feature to work, your background needs to be stationary and the phone needs to be extremely stable. You also have bunch of face wrap options for playing with your friends.

The video player in Vu boasts of all the excellent enhancements we saw in the Optimus 4X. 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

LG Optimus Vu features a number of connectivity options including NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, and Bluetooth 4.0. Like Sony, LG includes a couple of NFC Tags called Tag+, which can be used to automatically change your phone’s settings to a preset mode. These tags can be configured with the companion Android app.

The Optimus Vu includes a 2080 mAh non-user replaceable battery. This can be a real headache, given that the Vu doesn’t really last all that long. I only got about nine hours with moderate usage on 3G. This is unacceptable for a phablet, since its strong point is supposed to be watching videos and surfing the web. The Note 2 on the other hand comes with a 3100 mAh battery.

LG has also opted to not include an expandable memory slot. However, this is unlikely to be a major problem for most users, given that Vu ships with 32 GB of internal storage.

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the beginning, I am not a big fan of phablets, and the Vu did nothing to change that. However, if I keep my preferences aside, then I must admit that the Vu is an interesting device. It certainly has a lot going for itself. It’s fast, well designed, sports a good camera and a feature-packed video player. It also makes a few mistakes. Unfortunately for LG, the Vu’s oversights are really big, and they end up hurting what would have otherwise been an excellent product.

I tried really hard to understand why LG would go for a 4:3 screen, but failed to come up with anything concrete. My takeaway is that with this odd proportion, LG has sacrificed too much to gain too little. The next slipup is with the Stylus. In fact, LG gets the stylus so wrong that you should pretty much ignore it all together. You are unlikely to be using it a lot. And, even if you want to use it, you will probably lose it very quickly. My final grudge is with the battery. If you are going to make the battery non user replaceable, you better make sure that it has enough juice to last a day.

When I began to use the Vu, I really liked the device. Yes, it was too big, but it had a nice display, was really smooth and fast, had a nice speaker, and took great snaps. Unfortunately, the poor battery subconsciously affected how I used the Vu. I started watching YouTube less frequently as I was afraid that I would run out of battery before I reached home. This is a real pity, because the Vu had a lot of promise. It’s sensibly priced and can currently be picked up for Rs. 30,000. Yes, it costs the same as Samsung’s previous generation Note. And, that’s the biggest redeeming factor for the Vu. On the whole, the Vu fails to live up to Mr. Kwon’s promise. It simply can’t compete against the Note 2. However, it’s also significantly cheaper. If you want the best phablet that money can buy, you should get the Note 2. However, if you want something cheaper, take a long and hard look at both the Note and the Vu. If you can live with Vu’s odd proportion, and don’t mind carrying your charger around, it might make sense for you to go for the Vu instead of the Note. It’s hardware is a generation ahead of the Note. Otherwise, the Vu might end up frustrating you.

Editor’s Pick of the Week: Skifta

Welcome to the third edition of Editor’s Pick of the Week. This week, our editor, Simon, tells us about a very nifty DLNA/UPnP app for Android – Skifta. 

With the recent trend of shipping devices with less and less local storage, in a very transparent attempt and pushing users towards the cloud, users are left with either giving up “owning” their media, or picking and choosing what to store directly on their devices. If you’re inclined enough to have set up a DLNA or UPnP media store in your home network, then you might want to take a look at Skifta for Android.

Skifta is much more than a DLNA/UPnP app. It is developed by Qualcomm Atheros, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, they make the chips that are likely powering the mobile device you’re reading this on. Skifta is DLNA certified (it was actually the first Android application to be DLNA certified), fully supports the UPnP standard, and if QCT has their way, will be pre-packaged in a wide range of devices.

Most DLNA/UPnP applications support client and server mode. That is, you can either host media and push it to a device in server mode, or you can use client mode, and pull media to your device. Skifta does both, but also has the addition of local storage support for when you’re offline or not within range of your home network.

Skifta is very straight forward to use, as you basically have 3 options before you start listening to music or watching movies. Firstly, where do you want to get this content from? Local or remote. Second, where are you playing it to? Local or remote. Third, what do you want to play? If you’re smart enough to answer those 3 simple questions, you’ll be enjoying your media wherever you want, in no time flat.

 

Upon selecting a file to play, Skifta will immediately attempt to buffer the entire song over whichever connection you have available to the media server. If you’re using an 802.11n network, this happens very quickly. Almost instantly. It would be nice if the application would load the next few songs in the album in order to reduce “seek” time when moving to, or skipping, a track. The lower blue indicator line indicates buffer status.

While Skifta does display embedded album art, this is only shown on the “now playing” screen. Instead of thumbnails when selecting tracks, a small placeholder icon is used to denote a folder, audio track, video file, or picture. While it doesn’t detract at all from usage, it would be a nice bit of polish to have.

Skifta also doesn’t seem to do any caching of any sort, even if the network was remembered. This means your entire library is polled every time you reconnect. This isn’t a large issue with the proliferation of fast wireless networks, but if you’re offloading media storage to a dedicated machine because your device doesn’t have enough local space, you’re going to be adding up the seconds that it takes to load a large library.

Like most 3rd party audio players, Skifta sticks itself into the notification drawer, but 2 icons are present. One indicates the network you are connected to, the other shows your media information about the media being played. Unfortunately there are no media controls, but tapping will bring you to the according screen.

All in all, Skifta might not be jam-packed with features and fluff, but it does a perfect job at pulling or pushing media around from a DLNA/UPnP server. If you’re looking for a fast and stable media player, Skifta by Qualcomm Atheros is a great app.

Samsung Galaxy S III Review – The Good, The Not-So-Good And The Bad

The Galaxy S III is no doubt the most popular Android handset of this year, at least until the next Nexus from Google is unveiled. Samsung has left no stone un-turned to make sure the handset excels in each and every category, right from the outstanding 4.8-inch Super-AMOLED HD display, a powerful quad-core Exynos SoC to the beefy 2100mAh battery.

If you, however, still have not made up your mind on whether you should splurge so much money on the handset or not, read our short review below to find out.

The Good

Ergonomics – Excellent! The handset is roughly the same size as the Galaxy Nexus, but the rounded bottom of the phone makes it easier to use the phone single-handedly. The missing bump at the back also helps in improving the overall ergonomics of the phone.

Performance – This thing flies! Literally! The quad-core Exynos SoC and the ARM Mali-400MP4 GPU make sure that the phone does not stutter even under heavy multi-tasking. All the games I have played on the handset do not show even a sign of lag, including GTA with all the graphics settings cranked to full.

Apart from the SoC, even the NAND storage used by Samsung in the handset is blazing fast. It took only 10 minutes to transfer nearly 9GB of data from my Mac to the S3’s internal memory. The I/O performance of the handset is unrivalled by any other Android handset.

Storage – One thing I absolutely hate about my Galaxy Nexus is the low amount of storage space.  13.3GB of storage space just does not cut it in 2012, with most games taking up nearly a GB of space.

The Galaxy S III not only comes with 13GB of internal space, but also a microSD card slot to make sure user’s never run out of space.

Sound Quality – Unlike the HTC One X and the Galaxy Nexus, Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S3 with more than audible loudspeaker. Considering how silent these loudspeakers are getting with every new handset, this should come as a welcome change to many.

Samsung has also equipped the Galaxy S III with a Wolfson W8914 audio chip. Original Galaxy S and Nexus S owners who know what this means. The Galaxy S3 is going to have top-notch audio quality enough to rival dedicated audio players.

Battery Life – The Galaxy S II barely used to last a day on 3G with medium-usage. Thanks to Samsung’s under the hood optimizations, and a beefy battery, the Galaxy S III will easily last you a day on medium to heavy usage. Earlier firmware of the handset have had some ‘Cell Standby’ battery drain issues, but that has been greatly fixed via a couple of OTA updates from Samsung. The Galaxy S III might not have the best battery life, but it is right there at the top with the iPhone 4S and the Droid RAZR MAXX.

Developer Support – The Galaxy S and Galaxy S II had one of the best developer community, and the Galaxy S III is no different. The phone already has a stable CM9 port, along with some extremely talented developers like Supercurio and Franco cooking mods for it.

The Not-So-Good, Not-So-Bad

Display – The Super AMOLED HD display on the Galaxy S III is probably the oldest piece of ‘tech’ used in the handset.  The display exhibits typical AMOLED characteristics, with bluish whites, and strange artifacts at extremely low brightness level. Even then, the display holds its own against the S-LCD2 used in the HTC One X, thanks to its black levels and contrast.

However, the naked human eye will definitely prefer the SLCD2 on the One X to the S-AMOLED HD on the SGS3 because of better color rendering.

Camera – The 8MP snapper on the Galaxy S III is stupidly fast. It makes the zero shutter lag on the Galaxy Nexus feel slow. The Galaxy S II packed an awesome 8MP camera, and the Galaxy S III is no different. The sensor inside the SGS3 is slightly better than the one on the Galaxy S2, with a slightly larger aperture. In adequate lighting, the Galaxy S3 can take some fantabulous shots, almost iPhone 4S like.

However, in low-lighting condition the camera is nothing short of a disaster. Pictures come out grainy, with barely any details and look like they have been clicked with a VGA camera. In fact, the Galaxy S II camera performed much better than the S3’s camera in poor lighting conditions. The OTA updates rolled out by Samsung did bring about a noticeable improvement in the camera image quality in low-lighting conditions though, but there is still room for improvement.

It is only because of the poor low-light performance, that the camera on the S3 comes in the Not-So-Good, Not-So-Bad list. If you don’t care about the low-light photography, you will be more than happy with the S3’s camera.

The Bad

Design – The Galaxy S was a cheap iPhone lookalike from Samsung.  The Galaxy S II looked like a smart looking ‘matured’ Galaxy S.

The Galaxy S III has been “Made for humans” by Samsung. Sadly, most humans on Planet Earth have not really appreciated the looks of the handset. Some, like me, have found the handset to be downright ugly, while others have not found it to be particularly attractive.

Build Quality – The Galaxy S and S II had terrific build quality, all thanks to the plastic used by Samsung to make the phone. Even though the Galaxy S III is made of plastic, the phone is much more fragile than before. In quite a few drop tests done by other bloggers, the Galaxy S III could not survive a fall from shoulder height with the Gorilla Glass 2 on the handset shattering into pieces.

TouchWIZ – Samsung has made a lot of progress with the Nature UX on the Galaxy S3, but it still does not stand a chance against stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. TouchWIZ may trump stock ICS in terms of features with Smart Stay, Direct Call, and Smart dialer etc.

However, TouchWIZ looks dull and ugly compared to stock ICS. There is no UI consistency in TouchWIZ, with the magazine like Swipe UI missing in some places (like Dialer) creating confusion. The inclusion of a menu button instead of ICS styled Recent button adds to the confusion. Also, nearly every list menu in Samsung’s stock apps are *long* I understand TouchWIZ is necessary for Samsung to differentiate its product, but the company can also offer an option to disable TouchWIZ for advanced users

Conclusion

If the looks and the poor build quality of the handset does not bother you, the Galaxy S III is THE handset to buy. Not only is it much faster than its closest competitor, the HTC One X, it also has better battery life, music quality and better developer community support.