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Lumines Electronic Symphony – review

Lumines Electronic Symphony

Lumines Electronic Symphony is the latest music puzzle game from Q Entertainment’s successful Lumines series. The original game “Lumines – Puzzle Fusion” (pronounced as luminous) was released for Playstation Portable (PSP) in 2004 as a launch title. 8 years later, Lumines re-emerged on the Playstation Vita, also as a launch title.

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Fitbit Ultra – review

Fitbit

The Fitbit Ultra is a wireless activity tracker that uses an accelerometer to track one’s physical activity level. It then uploads activity stats online automatically. Here’s a quick review and unboxing entry!

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PlayStation Vita

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Playstation Vita is Sony’s latest portable entertainment device, the successor to the popular Playstation Portable (PSP) console released back in 2007. With a large brilliant display and powerful quad-core processors, it promises to deliver the ultimate portable gaming experience. Sony is also keeping up with the latest mobile device trends, and has put in place some location-based and social networking services in the Playstation Vita.

Playstation Vita (or PS Vita) has not officially launched in Singapore, but almost all game retailers in Singapore (except Sony’s retail and partner stores) had the console and games available one day after the PS Vita launch day in Hong Kong. The last I’ve checked on Sunday, this new console is completely sold out at most stores. The PS Vita (Wi-Fi model) will launch in Singapore on 22 February 2012. Devices imported from Hong Kong are not covered by warranty offered by Sony Singapore (owners will need to send their devices back to Sony Hong Kong for servicing)

I managed to get myself a Playstation Vita (Hong Kong Import) two days ago. Here is my unboxing gallery and short review of the Playstation Vita Value Pack and Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

Update! Check out my review of Lumines Electronic Symphony!

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Sony NEX-5n

Recently, I sold away my NEX-5 to upgrade to NEX-5N. On paper, it seems that the NEX-5N only has a few changes: Touchscreen input, 16.1 Megapixels (up from 14.2) and a higher burst/consecutive shooting rate. Using the camera however, tells a different story.

NEX-5N + Planar 2/35

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iPhone 4S, Siri and Singapore

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Despite recommending that iPhone 4 users should stick with their devices for another year… I’ve changed to the iPhone 4S.

It’s a lot easier to get hold of an iPhone 4S in Singapore now (compared to the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4) as most telco companies, especially Singtel, did away with their messy and unreliable “queue” system for walk-in purchases.

The greatest motivation to upgrade? Since I’m reading Interactive Media this semester, I thought it would be enlightening to get a first-hand experience with conversational interfaces. Personal assistants and chatbots have come a long way since the Eliza – the pseudo-psychiatrist robot – spoke to bewildered new media majors, all struggling with their term papers on interactivity. Okay, that’s a lie. Hahaha.

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So anyway, what do you really gain if you upgrade?

iPhone 4 -> iPhone 4S

– Siri
– Dual-core A5 processor
– Dramatically faster performance for most tasks
– Speaker is A LOT louder
– Improved noise-cancelling for Microphone (clearer voice over calls, especially between two iPhone 4S)
– Vibration motor is very quiet
– Antenna is drastically improved (2-3 bars, when iPhone 4 can get only 0-1 bar)
– World phone
– Improved camera sensor + optics (f/2.4 optics)
– Captures 1080p30 video and 8 mega-pixel images
– Weaker battery life (drains more than it should, due to faster processor and some bugs)

iPhone 3GS -> iPhone 4S

All of the above and..
– Retina display
– Front-facing camera
– FaceTime
– Phenomenally faster performance for most tasks
– Slimmer design which feels lighter
– The updated Apple Earphones with 3 buttons (not that you should only use this…)
– A mandatory switch to microSIM

iPhone, iPhone 3G

You should definitely upgrade as these devices do not support iOS 5.

How good is Siri?

Anyway, the voice-recognition ability of Siri is astonishing. In the particular way that it can understand what I’m saying most of the time. There was no need for any accents, or at least, I just spoke normally in Standard Singapore English (NOT Singlish). I believe Siri will work for most Singaporeans with no problems. As long as you speak in complete sentences and enunciate words clearly, Siri will be able to recognise commands. However, special care must be taken when it comes to diction. Any awkward break, or “errrr/hmmmm/lahhh” sort of thing will throw the voice recognition off. If you happen to speak like this then there is no chance that Siri will work.

One thing to note, Siri requires an internet connection at all times for it to function. Voice processing (and finding answers) occurs at Apple’s servers – The Siri interface basically compresses your voice data and sends it to Apple. Eventually, Siri will learn the nuances and speech habits of its owner.

Siri will become more useful in 2012 when location-based search is available in Singapore.

Here are some of “My Siri moments”:


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Siri could interpret this sentence and run a conversion through Wolfram Alpha.


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Wolfram Alpha processes most of the questions. If you are familiar with its capabilities, then Siri simply acts as the voice-recognition agent.

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I’m not sure if Siri is made for people who have little time (or just plain lazy) to use Apps. While Siri does makes things easy (such as setting reminders and calendar events), it does get very tiring after a while to keep speaking to the iPhone.

And to test just how powerful the voice recognition engine is, I have this image to show, courtesy of my sister who first tried this out.
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Of course, Siri has a personality:

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Top features from iOS 5

Update: 05/10/2011

iPhone 4S annnounced

Apple has unveiled an update to their most popular smartphone, iPhone 4. While the revised product is physically similar to the CDMA (Verizon) iPhone 4, the real changes occur under the hood:

– Dual-core A5 processor, also found in iPad 2
– 8 Megapixel rear camera, Improved camera abilities and 1080p video recording
– Siri Voice Recognition
– World phone (supports UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA, GSM/EDGE, CDMA)
– Bluetooth 4.0 support
– 64GB model now offered
– Airplay Mirroring

Should I upgrade?
Personally, I would recommend iPhone 3G/3GS users to upgrade to enjoy the latest set of features (and er, for some people, this is strangely important for social inclusion/status) – either to the latest iPhone 4S or if budget is tight: the iPhone 4 (which is now available at a lower price). Even after 15 months, it is still a solid-performing smartphone, with the most beautiful screen and a form-factor I call “almost perfect”. All new features (except the ones listed above) will be supported on the iPhone 4 as well.

Current iPhone 4 users should stay put for the next generation iPhone, although it appears that it might be a longer wait than we expect.

iPhone 4S will be available in Singapore on 28th October 2011.

iOS 5 will be released on 12th October 2011 (13th October 2011 in Singapore).


The new iPhone will be revealed at Apple’s media event next week. Along with the birth of the new “must-have” gadget is the public release of iOS 5 for iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad and iPad 2.

I have used iOS 5 on my iPhone 4 for about three months now and it has been a wonderful experience. While the new features in iOS 5 are not completely groundbreaking or even new – in fact Apple adopted most of them from their competitors. It is not just a copy-and-paste job – the features are highly customised for Apple’s devices and I believe that it will allow Apple to re-deliver functional and memorable experiences for their customers.

A number of friends have seen some of the features on my iPhone and wanted to see an entry about them – I’m consolidating my personal favourite features from iOS 5. Perhaps after reading this, you might be compelled to update the moment it’s made available.

Click here to read more…

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COTEetCIEL Laptop Messenger Review

COTEetCIEL Messenger

I have grown out of Crumpler and Timbuk2 bags, which are too common and do not last as long as they did before – Plus these brands release bags in all sorts of bright colours that could become hard to wear sometimes – so that you have to always buy one in black, or feel pressured to buy a few of your favourite colours. I’ll just be honest here and say that none of the designs really “speak” to me anymore, plus I hate the amount of noisy Velcro on those bags. Dumping the Crumpler is an important phase of any youth’s rite of passage to adulthood. I’m sure the world-famous tea noir agrees with this statement.

Hailing from France, COTEetCIEL (pronounced like “kote-a-seal”) is one of the rising makers of stylish lifestyle products for the “modern nomad”. As they have clearly put it: Practicality and a pure aesthetic colliding in innovative products for professionals on the move. A strong sense of aesthetics and functionality from Paper Rain (the designers of COTEetCIEL) can be both seen and felt in their COTEetCIEL products. Their other notable products include Diver Sleeves for MacBook Pro and some slim cases for iPhone.

The Messenger bag is well-built and simple in design – with the use of purposed lines and recycled materials, in an ensemble of discreet colours. It has a dedicated laptop sleeve, the right amount of compartments at the right places and expandable to accommodate A3-sized articles. This is one of the rare messenger bags to make it on the pages of Bagaholicboy and if that is saying nothing about style to you, I don’t know what does.


COTEetCIEL Messenger
Flip open the flap and you get two zipper pockets, useful for stuffing with small gadgets and other necessities.

COTEetCIEL Messenger
The flap, when left unclipped, expands to a large, A3 sized compartment.

COTEetCIEL Messenger
Inside the main compartment is a hidden zipper pouch and slots for pens.

COTEetCIEL Messenger
Clips hold down the main flap and can be adjusted to keep the bag’s physical form very compact.

COTEetCIEL Messenger
The laptop sleeve compartment at the back is tailored to fit a 15″ MacBook Pro.

Clips and zippers, which are a lot quieter to use, are found on COTEetCIEL bags – so you won’t get looks in a library trying to fish out your stationery. I have also found the dedicated laptop compartment to be very useful for dumping small items for quick retrieval later.

The Messenger uses recycled PET canvas marketed as CetCycle (known as C&CCycle in 2011) which is rather impervious to most stains, dust or marks. Just a wipe with a damp cloth and it’s good to go. The shoulder strap is not the typical ballistic nylon found on messenger bags, also known as the “seat belt strap”. Instead, it is a thick fabric strap similar to the textile shoulder strap found on Louis Vuitton’s men’s collection and other good brands. This is quite important because the “seat belt strap” will eventually cause some section of shirts (especially around the shoulder) to wear off due to friction. Of course if you are the sort of person with camp t-shirts making up the bulk of your wardrobe, this is then not a matter of concern.

Speaking about colours, the Messenger comes in Black, Black Melange, Grey Melange, Toffy Brown and Navy Melange. Take a look at the colours here. The Melange types are not flat colours, but a subtle, rock texture-like blend of tones, similar to what Mélange actually means. The bags I owned and featured here are in Black and Black Melange.


Some stores stock a revised series of COTEetCIEL bags. As I have not seen any coverage about the 2011 editions, I’ll just share the info here.

In 2011, Paper Rain has renamed the label, from COTEetCIEL to Côte&Ciel. This has been reflected in products manufactured in 2011. Do not be alarmed if you see the slightly different name on products.

Similarly, the marketing term for the textile used for their bags have been changed from CetCycle to C&CCycle.


COTEetCIEL Messenger
Zippers have changed from the clunky and large sort to something flat and discreet. The zipper pull design is now a ring, instead of a tab. This design change makes the bag much quieter – that slightly annoying noise of metal tab rattling is no longer present.

COTEetCIEL new label
The label is no longer a piece of hard plastic (which gets scratched easily) but a suede-like fabric tag with (removable) rolled cardboard inside to retain the cylindrical look.

There is also a new CetCanvas colour available : Green. It is similar to COTEetCIEL’s Urban Chic colour, but darker – like Filson’s green canvas. Definitely not the same shade as those cheap SAF backpacks. It is exclusive to the Rucksack line for now.


Items from COTEetCIEL can be found in many stores in Singapore, including Apple resellers as well as specialty lifestyle stores such as Cumulus. For a full list of stockists, refer to this page: http://www.coteetciel.com/find-a-dealer

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The FinePix X100


While some camera manufacturers are flooding the market with competitively priced, simplified DSLRs and tiny compact cameras with many, sometimes gimmicky features, Fujifilm has boldly emerged in another direction – to build a high quality premium camera that not just have the good parts inside, but a stunning look to match. The FinePix X100 was first unveiled last year at Photokina and has attracted quite a large number of fans.


The Look
It is easy to tell why. The X100 looks delightfully vintage and minimalistic. The camera body is mostly covered with a black leather-textured material, with the top and bottom plates in a smooth grey finish. It resembles a classic rangefinder design, very much like Leica’s M system. The look is completed with a range of mechanical knobs, switches and rings.

Despite sporting a nostalgic design, the hardware within the X100 is of course, up to date. The designers have utilized various tricks to create the illusion that the camera has various “manual” controls (such as the aperture ring and shutter speed knob) when it is mostly electronic – and it is not just the looks, the ring “click” like old lenses.

The Specifications

Fujifilm FinePix X100
• 12.3 megapixels APS-C CMOS sensor
• Fujinon 23mm f/2 (35mm equivalent) custom-designed lens
• 9-bladed aperture diaphragm
• 10 cm Macro
• Built-in 3 stop ND filter
• ISO 200 ~ 6400 (can be extended to ISO 100 and ISO 12800)
• Hybrid Viewfinder (Optical and LCD display)
• 2.8″ LCD display
• SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards supported
• Maximum image resolution: 4288 x 2848
• Video resolution: 1280×720 Progressive

The Hardware
Image quality is obviously one of the top considerations for the Fujifilm engineers. They did not go for an APS-C sensor with high megapixel count. Choosing a 12.3 megapixel sensor would yield less “noisy” photos and of course, clearer images. The Fujinon lens is custom-designed for this camera and is very sharp in all apertures in most situations – and the aperture has 9 curved blades – This makes out of focus areas appear very smooth and pleasing.

church fence

The most talked about feature about the X100 is actually the Hybrid Viewfinder. It is two viewfinders in one – optical and electronic. Allow the diagram below from Fujifilm.com explain it better:


X100’s Viewfinder modes, Fujifilm.com

Essentially, the X100 has an optical viewfinder (0.5x magnification) that also overlays useful information on top of the optical image – such as framelines, exposure information, distance scale, histogram and even an electronic level. However, the optical mode does not see exactly what is going through the camera lens due to differences in field of view. Hence, there are some slight variances in the final image due to parallax and sometimes the camera is unable to “focus” because the images from both the optical viewfinder and image sensor are too different – leading to frustration because the camera would need to be switched to electronic mode for images at closer distances to be taken properly*.

The electronic mode gives a 100% view of what the camera actually sees – including the right depth of field, but is not as bright (in low-light situations) as the optical mode. Of course, it is also not as sharp or as fast as optical mode, but I found it sufficiently speedy. In electronic mode, a screen would be raised in the viewfinder window to block external light coming from the front, allowing the LCD display to appear vivid and bright.

The X100 manual suggests not sticking with just one viewfinder mode but rather switch them depending on shooting conditions. The optical viewfinder is excellent for landscapes, street photography and most portraits. When shooting closer subjects, the electronic mode is the only way to go. The camera is designed to switch between both modes quickly with a dedicated switch – convenient positioned for the tip of the index finger. The camera also switches between modes quickly after each shot, utilizing the electronic display for image review (which can also be disabled entirely, should the user chooses).

*The optical viewfinder is able to focus up to distances as close as 80cm. Activating electronic mode would allow the X100 to focus to 40cm. The camera is able to go closer in macro or manual focus mode, bringing the minimum focus down to 10cm.

Time for the short story
My family got the X100 a month ago, by sheer chance and luck. For the past few months, I was talking to my Dad about how he should probably buy a camera to document his travels – he travels to many places for business and it’s quite a pity how we only get photos from his Blackberry! He used to be (or so he claims, haha) to be very into photography when he was my age. He didn’t like my NEX because it was cumbersome to use – I only mount old Carl Zeiss lenses on it and those lenses are manually operated. The X100 was a strong option.

A month ago, there was a worldwide shortage of X100 cameras due to the disaster in Japan causing the factory to be closed and also delayed shipments out of Japan. In Singapore, wait-lists were already very long (even before the earthquake happened) and some people were asking for refunds for their reservation deposits as it was unclear if the camera would be able to arrive within a reasonable time-frame.

My family was just having our usual dinner on an ordinary Friday evening and we decided to just walk past a camera shop to see if we could see a display set. Nope, there was nothing captivating on display apart from the X100 poster. We then decided to ask a salesperson, who quickly just said “Yes, we have it.” and out of nowhere, took out a new set for us. Jaw-drop moment! No reservations or anything.

Well, for the past few weeks, I was fortunate enough to have the camera for myself as Dad decided not to bring it along with him for his recent long trip to the US.

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Real-world usage
The X100 is a joy to use. The small size meant that the camera would be carried anywhere and everywhere. The body is ergonomically designed (despite its blocky appearance) to hold and has a good bit of heft to it – it is not too light nor heavy. Most importantly, the viewfinder just allows me to focus on nothing but the picture. The prime lens, fixed at 35mm (equivalent) is a perfect focal length to work with – and after working with prime lenses with my NEX for the past 6 months, it just feels natural for me to “zoom” by actually moving about. The lens is fantastic with great overall sharpness, little distortion and great control over chromatic aberration. However, it could produce quite a bit of flare in some situations. Depending on the photograph, it could either look distracting, or rather spectacular.

The sensor used is able to produce cleaner images compared to my NEX as it has a lower megapixel count and seems to be using a very weak anti-aliasing filter – allowing more details to be captured in images. It has pretty good dynamic range too.


Live updating

Other features which I thought were great were: Built-in ND filter (for shooting wide-open outdoors in the sun), circular aperture (nice out of focus areas, always!), super silent shutter (huge difference from the NEX) and also the quick autofocus speed in most situations. While most users on the internet tend to praise Fujifilm’s signature colours that is inherent from X100’s out-of-camera JPEGs, I prefer developing my photos manually in Lightroom.

It is not a miracle machine however – the camera did take me a while to get used to and the first images from the camera seemed very underwhelming.. until I realized that I have not really “used it in the right way”. It could be anytime from days to weeks to become fluent with the X100’s true capabilities (and problems). So yes, there is a learning curve for this camera and it is a very critical phase that has split the userbase into 2 groups: People who love the camera to death and might actually want to die with it and.. People who find that this camera is just too different and utterly incongruous to how they think cameras should work. I think that the X100’s prime lens is probably one reason why these people could not appreciate the camera. And also that mystical photographer-camera synergy – if it’s not meant to be, it just isn’t.

The camera is not without flaws. The way Manual Focus is implemented in the X100 is absolutely hopeless and it utilizes a light-sensor to track the amount and speed of turns on the focusing ring. However, as it uses light, it becomes very indecisive and sluggish in dim conditions – situations where manual focus will be very useful. Instead, the lens focus mechanism would make a lot of “chutt-ing” noises as it struggles to figure out what is happening to the focus ring. Focusing could also become an irritating issue when it comes to video recording – there is no way to lock focus during recording; the lens would persistently try to focus.

As I have said before, the X100 does resemble Leica’s digital M cameras and unfortunately even the slow processing speed was also replicated. I kid, but not on the speed! Perhaps I am too used to the blazing speeds offered by the NEX even with a normal SD card. The camera buffer seems to have problems pushing out images fast enough to the card, causing the camera to lock up until the transfer has been completed. This is a lot more drastic in burst-mode – the X100 could take 7-8 images in quick succession and become unusable for a few minutes. Perhaps a faster (or the fastest) memory card could ease this issue.

However, there are some very serious shortfalls could potentially ruin the experience for some users. I don’t know if the camera was rushed or Fujifilm is abusing a bunch of overworked programmers – there are numerous glitches and strange quirks littered everywhere in the camera’s firmware. DPreview has documented a long (but not exhaustive) list of bugs and issues with the current firmware. For me, I have just learnt to work around those issues, but they do get in the way from time to time.

Ancient Egypt

But..
I have talked to a several friends who own professional cameras and most of them told me the problem they have with the X100 is the price. Yes, at S$1699, it is rather steep (some retailers offer lower prices, do ask for discounts) but it is interesting how the price is quickly compared with other DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They did not deny that they still desire it, though. No matter what combination, it is not possible to get a camera with a good APS-C sized sensor, high quality 35mm (equiv) f/2 lens, a decent viewfinder and keep it within a compact body – good looks will just be bonus points. It is only with highly customized parts – and that’s what Fujifilm did. Therefore, I feel that the initial high investment will be quickly paid back with lots of fantastic pictures and without the hassle of experimenting with lenses and cameras.

I would think that the X100 should only be compared with the Leica X1, although both cameras have their own differences anyway. Both cameras belong in a niche market: Large sensor, fixed focal length, beautiful design, premium materials, “luxury” marketing strategy.

Still, depending on the photographer, the X100 is not a replacement for a full DSLR system. You cannot do high-speed shooting. You cannot zoom. You are stuck without interchangeable lenses. But what if you have no need for these things? Would this be the perfect camera? What do you think?

Perhaps it’s just me but – I want to be able to bring a good camera everywhere – like I’ve already said in the NEX entry. It should be able to fit in all my bags so I could bring it to school, overseas or any place interesting. It is just me, but I don’t understand the point of having a large camera to lug around in its special bag. If I am a professional photographer, then yes.

So I guess, it depends. Okay, I admit it’s rather pointless for me to comment anymore because I have access to the camera now (hahaha). Still, I must state that I have never felt so excited to take photographs and actually enjoy the process of doing so. I still love my NEX though and I am waiting for the E-mount 24mm f/1.7 lens to be released!

wind and water

vertigo

flower

Sunny

Lights, Camera, Action!

cumulus

More photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikolux/

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