Jag Venugopal's Blog

July 21, 2013

Samsung has a ways to go before dethroning iPhone

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 4:34 pm

I recently bought a Samsung Galaxy 4 smartphone. The price from AT&T was just right, the screen looked tantalizingly big, and I kinda like Android over the iPhone.

But if Samsung intended the Galaxy 4 to be the iPhone killer, they have much more ground to cover. Don’t get me wrong, the basics are just fine. Slim body, large screen, good battery life for a smartphone, when paired with the Battery Guru software, standard Android features. In short, its one heck of a smartphone, if you’re into using Google (gmail, search, voice, etc) for everything.

The disappointments are in areas where Samsung tried to innovate beyond the current smartphone paradigm. One much-ballyhooed feature involves tilting your head to get the screen to scroll up and down. After a few minutes of trying it, my luddite daughter, who was in the same room, took great delight in asking if I was having a seizure, seeing my head bob up and down at random. Well, so much for that, but there’s another feature where you can tilt your phone to get it to scroll. That works. Most of the time. A third doodad has you waving your hand over a sensor to scroll up and down a page. Now this I mastered, though I suspect my colleagues often wonder why I feel the need to swat imaginary flies off my smartphone so frequently.

Yet another feature allows you to see a preview of your email by pointing your finger at it. Similarly, one can get a preview of the contents of an album. But, it seems downright silly to point to my smartphone, inches above the screen, as if I was about to release a bolt of force lightning on the Gorilla Glass.

Even when it works, most of the finger pointing and hand waving stuff only works on Samsung’s additions to Android — the browser and email apps in particular. The sensors haven’t been integrated into the OS, and therefore no other app is aware of their existence.

I had high hopes for the infrared blaster on the device, hoping to use it as a universal remote. We have a Logitech Harmony that I bought off ebay, and which has worked perfectly for our home theater for over a year now. Alas, here too, the Samsung excites, only to ultimately disappoint. The software does not recognize my Sony CT 100 sound bar. Given that the sound bar is also an HDMI multiplexer that mediates between cable, Blu-Ray and Roku, not being able to use this makes the whole universal remote thing rather useless.

Being on the rather tubby side of things, I figured I’d use the Samsung health application to lose a few pounds. Here again, it took my height and weight (the latter being a growing number), and… did absolutely nothing with it. I was asked what my calorie target was. Well hello, shouldn’t the app be telling me what my target ought to be?

So, I’m back to using the Galaxy 4 as a big, generic Android phone, with some pluses like a thin body, an SD card slot, and a replaceable battery. Nothing wrong with that. I like it. But not one of Samsung’s new features is good enough to be satisfying.

June 14, 2013

Future King of England a (part) desi dude

Filed under: India — Jag @ 6:08 am

Indians all over the world are ecstatic that the future King of England has been outed as a part-desi dude. To think that the house of Windsor would one day have the brown man’s genes!

Laloo Prasad Yadav is said to have dispatched a gift of two buffaloes to his newly discovered compatriot. Narendra Modi stressed that the genes discovered in Prince William are shuddh Hindu genes, found only within genuine believers. The RSS, elated by the discovery, has FedExed the prince his own khakhi chaddi. Given the Prince’s Indian background, the Central Bureau of Investigation has launched an inquiry into whether he too was involved in the betting scandal affecting the latest version of the India Premier League cricket tournament. Manufacturers of fairness creams in India have approached the Prince to be their “brand ambassador”, in an attempt to show that a desi can be lily white, too!

Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson, responding to the news, stated that should Prince William desire to visit the USA on official business, he will now need an H1-B visa.

May 6, 2013

The most cost-effective way to read Amazon ebooks on a tablet is now… the Nook

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 6:36 am

Barnes and Noble has slashed the price of the Nook tablet this week from $269 to $179. Its a great price to pay for a full-sized tablet with excellent resolution, one that by all accounts seems well made. And, one can easily read all their Kindle books on the device by downloading the Kindle reader from Google Play. Sadly, Barnes and Noble will not be seeing  a dime from me in eBook purchases.

I don’t understand what Barnes and Noble’s motivation is, in putting the Google Play store on the Nook, and discounting the tablet at the same time. Chances are, they are not making back their cost on the device. And because they allow competitors to sell their wares on the tablet, they’re not likely to make money off the content, either.

In the mean time, the Nook is proving to be a great replacement for my smartphone. I can now access email and calendaring wherever there is WiFi. And I now have a prepaid phone for those rare occasions I need to place a phone call.

March 12, 2013

India’s a more advanced welfare state than even Sweden

Filed under: India — Jag @ 10:41 pm

Take that USA! India now even beats Sweden in being a welfare state. How you may ask? Well, in which other country do they distribute laptops like candy?

OK, let’s rewind. The head goon Chief Minister of one of India’s poorest states had a brain wave. Why not leapfrog the other Chief Ministers of the great motherland in showing how much he cared for his people? Others merely handed out bicycles, blenders, sarees, television sets and the like as government largesse. Akhilesh Yadav decided to hand out laptops to everyone that passed tenth grade. And each laptop has his face and his pop’s face plastered on it. How convenient!

Distributing laptops has significant advantages. For one, you don’t need to deal with pesky contractors as you would have to if you decide to improve sanitation, roads, and access to water. Secondly, the visible benefits are immediate, without the usual legal circus that accompanies any real project designed to benefit people. Third, real projects take time. And by the time they are complete, your rival could be in power and take all the credit. Ergo, the laptop giveaway! A final side benefit of laptops is that they tend to be small, yet expensive. All the bribes you could make on a large project can be made quickly and less obviously by purchasing high-ticket electronics.

Sarcasm aside, it is a crying shame that a Chief Minister is allowed to take the people’s money and hand out expensive goodies to a minuscule section of the population. This in a state and country crying out for basic necessities such as clean air, water, sewers, roads and access to basic education.

March 8, 2013

Seven habits of highly effective electronics buyers

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 7:08 am

Electronic gadgetry is usually a big-ticket and high-risk purchase. Technology is changing constantly — you don’t want the next version of your widget to show up a few weeks after you purchased it. Also, you don’t want to pay a dollar more than what you must.

Here are some suggestions from someone that has spent way much more of his paycheck on electronic doodads than he should have. I’ve shopped both local stores and on the web, and for the most part have come out on top by following the below principles:

1. Buy your widget about three months after release: Your widget will be at its most expensive the moment of release. That’s when manufacturers expect the early adopter crowd to swarm the stores and pick it up. For these early adopters, price is less of a consideration than bragging rights about being the first. About three months after release, the model is still brand new, but the initial fervor has died down. Sellers will be vying with each other to rack up sales. Ergo, your chances of landing a good price are much better.

If that’s the case then why not buy six, nine or even twelve months after release? That’s because technology changes very rapidly, often on a yearly cycle. Buy within six months of release, and you’re paying not much less than at the three-month mark, but have to now accept “technological depreciation” of six months instead of three.

2. Buy last year’s model in a stable category: In certain categories, the march of technology has slowed, and significant savings are to be had in purchasing last year’s model if it is not too different from this year’s. Dealers are looking to unload the stragglers and price their products to move. One example where this works well is TVs and Blu-Ray players. Sure, you get incremental improvements year-upon-year, but last year’s model is usually pretty good, and will come at a fantastic discount as well.

3. Don’t buy last year’s model in a rapidly changing category: In categories where there is still a lot of technology churn, avoid last year’s model. The discount is low compared to how much better the latest model is. An example of such a category is digital cameras, where advances in technology are very rapid. Another is the entire category of tablets and handhelds.

4. When buying smartphones, don’t get the 1-penny deal: Yesterday’s smartphones are usually on sale for a penny with a 2-year contract. The latest, on the other hand, cost about $200-300 with the same contract. It would appear that you are saving a lot by buying last year’s technology but in fact your savings are meager in exchange for what you’re missing out. Most of the cost of smartphone ownership are in the monthly payments for 24 months. You will roughly pay $2400 over the duration of the contract for the privilege of owning a smartphone. The $200 you save by buying an obsolete model is less than a 10% discount, in exchange for something that is behind the times.

5. Check if your local stores will honor web prices: During the last holiday, BestBuy matched Amazon on price. Where it gets interesting is that if during the return period the prices fall further, best buy will give you the difference but Amazon won’t (you will have to return and re-buy). So, with Best Buy, you get as good a deal initially as Amazon’s, and you have a month or two worth of price protection.

6. Never buy store brands: Names such as Dynex and Insignia are store brands. They may look like Samsung and Panasonic products, but are usually a generation older, made by different Chinese factories, to hit a price point. You may think you’re getting a deal, but the difference in quality is clearly visible, not to talk of it being obsolete on day one. A similar consideration applies to buying lower-tier brands such as Vizio, Westinghouse, etc. If you’re going to pay the money, buy a top-tier brand.

7. Never buy HDMI cables for more than $1-5: I’ve always bought the least expensive HDMI cables from Amazon, and they work just as well as the $60-100 deals from Monster cable routinely pushed by BestBuy and their ilk.

Bonus recommendation — Evaluate not just purchase, but lifetime costs: For example, when you buy an e-reader, Barnes and Noble may offer you a better deal today than does Amazon. Similarly, with a Digital SLR, you may get a better deal from a lesser-known brand than you might get from Canon or Nikon. But in both instances, you also have lifetime costs to consider. For the e-reader, it is the cost of books. Amazon typically sells books cheaper than does Barnes and Noble. Over time, your savings in book costs will likely oughtweigh the extra $10-20 that you may pay for an Amazon device. Similarly, with cameras, you will end up buying lenses, flashes, and assorted other add-ons. With Canon and Nikon, you are assured of a vast market of third-party suppliers and a robust used-equipment marketplace for lenses. With the lesser-known brands, much less so. Additionally, when you buy Canon or Nikon, your existing accessories will be virtually guaranteed to work with a new camera. Not so with off-brands, who may discontinue the entire line at short notice.

 

November 12, 2012

Return of the Netbook

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 9:10 pm

Amid all the hoopla about this tablet and that, the resurgence of netbooks has quietly flown under the radar. A few years ago, they were all the rage, and for a while until the arrival of the iPad, were very popular. I bought my father in law a WinXP based netbook three years ago, which serves him faithfully to this day.

The netbook had many disadvantages, however. The major one was that the Intel Atom was vastly underpowered for Windows (XP/Vista/7), and using one was a subpar experience. There were a few that ran various versions of Linux (e.g. Lindows) but they, too, floundered quickly.

Google is betting that the next iteration of netbooks in its Chromebook avatar can change all that. The Chromebook runs Google’s derivative of Linux, called Chrome OS. Where it departs from traditional Linux and Windows OS’es is that none of the operating system is exposed to the user. They see only the Chrome browser. The bet is that the user will perform all activities in Chrome and save their work to Google’s cloud. Thus, instead of Microsoft Office bloatware, the user is directed to Google docs and Google email. The operating system is reportedly kept secure by allowing virtually nothing else to run on it other than “Chrome Apps”. Now I’ve never tried a Chrome App, but I believe it is a scripted application that runs on the Chrome browser.

The Samsung version of the Chromebook is a super-slim affair, resembling a much more expensive Macbook Air. It contains no hard drive, and 16 GB of Flash memory. The CPU is an ARM derivative manufactured by Samsung. Because its an ARM, power consumption is much lower than X86, allowing the system to be designed without a fan or other accoutrements common to Windows machines (e.g. VGA port). As with all Chromebooks, the OS is installed and is self-updating over the web. There are no patches to apply, and no antivirus to download.

While the Samsung was a bargain at $250, and continues to have customers on a waiting list at Amazon, there is a newer kid on the block. This one is from ASUS. It appears that ASUS has repurposed a traditional netbook (X86, 320 GB HDD, all PC ports) into a Chromebook for an even lower price of $199. For that kind of money, expect a much heavier and thicker machine than the Samsung.

Google may find a niche with its Chromebooks, for users that live their electronic lives in the cloud (preferably Google properties), and that have robust Internet connections. For such people, the devices present a zero-hassle computing system that allows them to get 80% of their job done at far lesser cost than a Wintel solution.

October 24, 2012

The Power of IT

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 6:13 am

I’m re-reading Hammer and Champy’s “Reengineering the Corporation”. In their new preface, they quote an anonymous person as saying “IT allows us to make worse decisions sooner.”

Couldn’t agree more with that observation. When I worked at CTP, we used to illustrate the futility of automating inefficient business processes with the following diagram. From my experience over the last decade and more, we keep strapping IT rockets to the business dog and hope to get a Cheetah.

Image

October 14, 2012

Mamata Bannerjee: Interacting with the opposite gender and holding hands invites rape

Filed under: India — Jag @ 9:54 pm

So says the Chief Minister of India’s West Bengal state, according to an article on IBN Live. See below. No mention of the state’s duty to provide law and order, or to make women feel safe. If you’re assaulted, its because you brought it upon yourself.

“Mamata said that rape cases are on a rise in the country because men and women interact with each other more freely now. “Earlier if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It’s like an open market with open options,” she said.”

October 11, 2012

The new iPad mini has a Cornea display

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 7:16 am

Retina is so 2012. The new thing for the iPad mini is a Cornea display. And they apparently have a new technology to create picture-perfect color using individual red, blue and green pixels. All in an iPad that fits in your shirt pocket and can be held in one hand. Apple’s raised the bar again. I’ll be queueing up at the Providence RI store before midnight! Take that Samsung/Motorola/Google/everyone else.

August 30, 2012

Boss vs. Leader

Filed under: Management,Project Management — Jag @ 6:42 am

Via Michael Roberto and Bill Flemming’s interview comes this quote from Russell Ewing, a British journalist:

 “A boss creates fear; a leader, confidence. A boss fixes blame; a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all; a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery; a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself; a leader is interested in the group.”    

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