Honda Civic no longer to be made in the Japanese market!


The classy and sporty option for the Corolla, Sunny users has always been the Civic.  Aided by the uber cool Type-R and the somewhat simmered down but yet sporty SiR the Civic has always captured the hearts of motorist.  The local motorist here also got access to the JDM only RS version which was a standard Civic with a bit more sporty suspension and external kit which though disappeared after the 7th generation Civic. The current (8th) generation Civic had such a futuristic design that it had Toyota delaying the launch of the Corolla to do some design tweaks, though that hardly made a difference as the Civic was a class on its own on the visual impact.

However it seems that in its homeland the Civic has been loosing out, not to competitors but to its own siblings, and based on the reports the nearly similar sized Honda Fit, and the Civic based Stream being the major causes.

However the Civic model will live on, as it still is a very popular car in other markets, and the new (9th) generation will be produced in the new Honda plant in Argentina.  The question remains though is what will happen to the highly acclaimed Type-R sedan.  While the European arm of Honda will surely develop a new Type-R hatch, the Japanese division were always one step ahead with an even more sharper and sporty sedan version.   Hopefully Honda will retain a team to make this car and keep the sporty Civic sedan image alive.

The links on this are many – one for instance http://www.dailytech.com/Report+Honda+Civic+Getting+Kicked+Out+of+Japan/article20165.htm

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Apple IPad vs Samsung Galaxy Tablet comparison


Not an easy topic, and i am sure fanboys from both groups will hotly dispute any negatives that you point out.  Frankly speaking the decision between either is very dependent on the user, since both are very capable (and expensive) devices.  So lets take me give my view on various aspects of usage,

Size and Handling : If we were to say the Galaxy being considered as a overgrown gorilla phone 🙂 is fairly a valid statement considering the Touch UI still has to much phone it in than a true tablet.  However the overgrown gorilla phone is definitely more light and carry friendly compared to the whale like IPad 🙂  Though the larger IPad screen definitely is a superb magazine reader, the fact remains that currently it is tad to heavy for long periods of use, as the balance is simply not there.  The Galaxy tab in comparison is a lot more balanced and ideal for this purpose, though a slightly larger screen would have made this perfect (hint- LG with their 8.9″ G-slate/Optimus Pad may have the ideal solution assuming they have perfected the balance of the device).  Do note that both run the same resolution, so there is no difference in the pixel sizes, though the upcoming range of tablets are all set to boost the pixel size (though the IPad2 rumored specs say the screen res will remain the same, though nothing wrong with the current no of pixels!)

Expansion:  The IPad currently comes in 3 different capacities 16/32/64GB and this is important, as you need to decide how much space you really want, since you cannot load and play content from any external media such an SD card or USB stick.   The Galaxy in comparison has an microUSB slot built-in that supports upto 32GB microSD cards.  So in addition to the built-in 16/32GB memory you can expand it.  However note the issue, even if you expand the Galaxy its going to top off at 64GB, so while the flexibility is there you really don’t get any additional space.  However the advantage is that you can load and play media from any microSD card, so you can have multiple cards, or use cards from your friends to play content, which is gives it the advantage.

Communication: The IPad 3G version comes with the ability to use an microSIM that means you can connect to net without the need of an WIFI router.  While most reviews talk about the fact that the WIFI is faster, this will be applicable for countries where WIFI is freely available.

However for most asian countries this will not hold true, and 3G is more important and accessible.  In my country (Sri Lanka) the speeds on the 3G connections can average around 1-2Mbps, and for the same price you only get 1Mbps on fixed lines, so 3G is a better alternative.  The Galaxy too supports 3G and though both the IPad and Galaxy Tab offer high speed supports you may find that your provider will not be able to provide sustained speeds at these levels.  However the place where the Galaxy out does the IPad is again in the area of BlueTooth, as its has the newer spec, and also has no restrictions.  The BT on the Galaxy Tab is just like any phone (not Apple!) so you can transfer files, explorer, etc unlike the rather limited voice only and limited device connectivity supported by the Apple BlueTooth support on the IPad.

Camera and Communication: Not really a comparison, as the IPad gets slammed big time as it does not even have a front facing camera though it ports a mic to allow voice calls.  While having a normal camera may not be essential for a Tablet, the front facing camera i think is fundamental considering the price of these devices, and that these are pitched as the mobile devices you may have with you.  The Galaxy front cam allows the video calls, and since its a normal phone you can use it for standard video calls over 3G as well.  The back camera is a 3.2 MP pixel and is of average quality, but surprisingly the flash that is included is very powerful and does very well indoors.  However i would have liked a bit more mega pixels in the camera, since you may need to take photos of white boards or books and here the mega pixel is important and 3 MP has insufficient detail for this purpose.

However not everything is sweet, as the most popular call software Skype is poorly implemented on Android, and is also now not available for many devices and regions, while this issue is not there with the Ipad/Apple iOS or for that matter even Symbian!  While Fring is available, the lack of a proper skype implementation i think takes the home advantage of the front camera.

Being able to take calls on your Tablet is something i feel is not that vital, since you would need to carry a mobile in addition to your tablet as the tablet cannot be carried for all events.   Hence while this is an advantage, I think its not vital and would be fine without it.  If samsung could have done this and reduced the price of the Galaxy tab i am sure the number of devices sold would have been far greater.

PDF support:  I included this as a separate criteria as i felt it was important, and maybe its just me as i read a lot of material in PDF format.  Here while the Android platform has many PDF readers the PDF reader on the IPad is far smoother and better implemented.  You notice that you can flip through pages (and the page is rendered) much faster on the IPad, and also the loading time for a PDF is significantly better on the IPad.  In addition the zoom feature is a lot smoother on the IPad, and hopefully the HoneyComb Android upgrade will improve this on the Galaxy Tab (and other Android tablets).   And again here is where i felt the 7″ form factor being insufficient specially for magazines, and the IPad 9.7″ screen a lot more suited as you could read the content with no zoom needs.

Microsoft Office support:  Again since these tablets are more than simple ebook readers, you will end up having to view and possibly edit MS office documents. Here there is not built-in product provided by Apple on the IPad, while Samsung bundles software that allows you to view and edit documents, so definitely something that again makes the Galaxy a better option.

Multimedia: I covered this in my individual review, as here the Galaxy wins as it supports more formats natively including Divx/Xvid than the IPad.  The Galaxy form factor also makes it use the full space for wide screen content, while the IPad will have the two black streaks that reduces the effectiveness of the larger screen space.

—- to be continued

Apple IPad – Hands on


The same contact who gave me the Samsung Galaxy tab also gave me a 1 day evaluation loan of his Apple IPad, as he senses i was keen on getting a tablet.  While i had several fleeting experiences using the IPad this was the first time i had a complete experience, and coming just a few days after trying out the Galaxy tablet also ensured i had a good idea of what the non-Apple tablet products offered. Note that my comments are mainly using the IPad as a ebook reader and portable computing, and not as a gaming platform where i am sure the IPad may have a far superior set of games available than the Androids (for now). Though the IPad got was the 3G version i could not try out the 3G or the wireless since i did not have a microSIM, and my trusty router gave me trouble.   My attempts at using the X10 as a router failed as i found all the apps on the Android market for using the phone as a hotspot required the device to be rooted.

Positives

  • The larger screen definitely made it an ideal magazine reader as you could manage to read a magazine without any need for a zoom.
  • The PDF reader was able to flip through pages with practically no lag which is very impressive, since you sometimes have a lag even on your desktop
  • Built-in mic useful for skype video calls

Negatives

  • No SD card slot or ability to play video and content from a memory card even with the camera kit which has a SD slot.  All content has to be copied to the on-board memory (which is why you have to decide the capacity you want in th IPad as there is no going back).
  • The lock on file transfer is so tight that even the bluetooth is purely only for voice, and has no support for any file transfers.  Considering we are used to transferring files through BT using our phones (non Apple phones atleast!) this was very limiting.
  • Limitations in syncing on multiple computers – The Ipad already had a load of applications installed, however i could not install any new apps without loosing all that was there, since iTunes sync detects that you have set it up with another desktop and disallows any additions without erasing all existing apps. Another high security feature of the Apple to avoid people misusing the licenses on apps i guess :).  However it does seem to allow upto 5 computers to officially registered for syncing, though the restriction still limits the flexibility you need.
  • No DivX support (officially) – You cannot import DivX videos into iTunes and transfer to iPad directly.  You have to convert DivX videos to iPad compatible videos or purchase an app such as CineXPlayer/OPlayer HD or stream divx content through apps like AirVideo.  The third party DivX players though have many limitations, where some files may not be playable.
  • No front facing camera – Sadly paying $500+ for an IPad just for the ebook reader seems criminal, when other pure ebook readers sell for less and have much longer battery life, albeit that most of these are eInk implementations (grayscale only, bar the Barnes and Noble Nook Color which however seems more tablet than ebook reader!).   However the IPad not having a front facing camera for video calls seems a criminal omission (Bet Stevey J wanted to sell the next gen IPad with the camera, and suddenly now finds that omission is hitting him hard as all the Android devices are featuring cameras and even dual 3D cameras to lure clients away from the IPad).
  • Micro SIM.  Possibly another move by apple to allow their telecom partners to make things harder for the users to use the device with other providers.  Thankfully a simple modification to the normal SIM makes it a Micro SIM to overcome this rather stupid decision.  See http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/apple/how-to-make-your-own-ipad-or-iphone-4-micro-sim-681020 in case you want to DIY.
  • No official headset with mic for IPad – unusually though the device has a built-in mic, the headset accessory with a mic is not available officially and you have to try and find an unit that will do this job

The small story of the two R’s, the Honda Civic Mugen RR vs the Honda Stream RSZ


Just had to add this to blog !

After years of some spirited driving, i have had to sizzle down my rather aggressive and speed/thrill crazy driving style with marriage and now father-hood!  While the regular drives are still very much greater than the normal folks, I usually control my desire to take on that occasional spirited fellow drivers with my aging maturity 🙂

However last evening i had this KL- registered Red Civic, with the RR badging which came alongside (I had it place as Type-R, but today my expert friend on local sport car imports confirmed that it was the Mugen RR – http://www.autoblog.com/2007/06/28/official-japan-gets-honda-civic-mugen-rr/, the ultimate front wheel drive sport car).  Seems the owner of the car was keen to find out what my Stream RSZ was all about.  Anyways this got me triggered and off we went on rather congested roads, the RR on the left and me on the right (or wrong, if you consider driving on the opposite side wrong) down bauddhaloka mawatha.  I got the advantage of having the opportunity to weave through the traffic more easily than the RR, and kept clear two color lights thanks traffic and some “casual” overtaking.

However the RR driver whoever it was, was a spirited chap and decide to follow the RSZ and show the true power of the RR.   Turned into Stanley Wijesundra Mw, and though i had switched to sports mode and 1st gear, the RSZ was shown the power of the RR as it just burst past, and kept moving.  The RR driver was still game as he definitely must have taken the foot of the accelerator as i started to close the gap at the end of the road as he turned into Reid avenue.  I decided that i needed one more view of the RR and took the turn at full throttle, and went through traffic (again in a very “Casual” manner) catching the RR driver a bit off guard as he then floored to catch up.  Somehow the RSZ remained ahead at the end of the road, as we turned into Thurstan road.

However this time around the RR driver had decided that enough was enough, and must have worked out that the RSZ was not in the same power league, and was also an automatic 🙂   Once into Thurstan road, not just 20m in the RR just burst through and showed me a clean pair of heels, and with my destination being Thurstan Road, i gracefully turned to the lane with my brakes and mechanicals having more than a dose of burning rubber aroma!

Two positives from that, one that the RSZ seems to catch the eye of even sporty drivers such as the RR, and that I was able to see the RR in its full glory, and had me wishing for an immediate change to a manual gearbox sporty sedan once more….

Message to myself – wake up, get back to the mature mode 🙂 To the RR driver good to see that RR (and a Honda) being driven the way it should be 🙂 and to see that buyers in Sri Lanka have taste and bring interesting vehicles, not just Allions, bulky SUVs and luxury sedans.

Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 hands on review


Decided that it would be unfair to comment on features that are more phone oriented in the Android 2.1 review article, so here are some in relevant to the Sony Ericsson X10 phone.  How relevant they are to other Android phones needs to be based on the phone you have 🙂

Camera and multimedia

  • 8MP camera, good on mega pixel but with a weak flash indoor photographs are crap to worthless.  However the daylight photos are very good and have a lot of detail, with the only issue being in very bright light where the photos are heavily exposed and can end up with very little detail and lots of light.
  • Some overly intelligent engineer at Sony Ericsson decided not to have an option for the flash in the menu and hide it as the “Photo Flash” in the Advanced Menu.  Super intelligent and totally non-user friendly.  So if you want the flash at your fingertips, this is not the phone.  Also third party Camera software such as eCamera do not detect the flash, so some issue with the SE implementation of the camera.  The Nokia phones may overuse the flash but they at least give you blur free pics, not so with this phone, got to be lucky to get blur free indoors.  However the LED light is more a camera light / torch light, so its practically useless for shooting still photos.
  • The touch focus works super fast, but is rather slow and inaccurate for precise work, however the touch focus works beautifully for landscapes and is ideal since the hardware camera focus button is so hard to press that when you press it you get blurred photos (UPDATE: Seems the blurry photo issue is associated with Android 2.1, so not a Sony Ericsson issue but i still think the hardware button is too firm).  Forget the build in image stabilization, its pure software and crap, not seen any use for it.
  • Smile recognition is another feature, but unlike a digital camera implementation it takes a long time to lock and shoot, so only ideal with adults who will remain smiling until you tell them not too.
  • The camera features have several combinations, and Sony Ericsson developers have made life very hard that you need to work out these combinations. E.g. With smile recognition enabled the hardware button won’t work, and for macro you need to make sure you have the correct mode enabled.  Would be great if these automations were worked out by the software, rather than making the user do it.   From a software perspective we have gone back several steps compared to what we had in phones, and this coming from camera experts Sony is very dissapointing.
  • The autofocus is there alright, but its so slow, that it borders uselessness.  However eCamera focuses much faster, so its a problem with the Sony Ericsson software.
  • The video quality is pretty decent and performs decently under low light as well, much better than the still photos in low light which is very strange.

Keyboard

  • The SE default keyboard simply stated is CRAP.  The sensitivity is not great, and the error rate high compared to using with the N97.  For the people who want to text, just get a full QWERTY hardware keyboard phone in the likes of a E-series nokia or blackberry or a full keyboard Android if you want an Android based phone.  However i tried out the SwiftKey keyboard which was a marked improvement over the default keyboard, so clearly another areas where SE can just buy a third keyboard than wasting their time writing one.

Photo Gallery

Some pictures taken from the camera using the standard camera app, and other camera apps such as eCamera, FXCamera.

Taken during the day, the quality of pictures is pretty good and the metering quite decent, though the skies seems a bit overexposed.

Taken indoor in some testing light condition, flash photo light switched off. Quite surprised that the output has been good.  However this only applies only to fixed landscapes, any moving objects come out blurred and smudged.

Again when the light conditions are favorable the pictures turn out pretty good for a phone camera.

Taken indoors under weak florescent lighting.  Flash / Photo light was not activated (though doubt if that would have done any difference).  Look decent but you can see the picture is very noisy.

Samsung Galaxy Tablet – Hands on


The urge to join the tablet group has becoming increasingly hard, specially with the long term fascination of wanting to read my automobile magazines at my finger tips.   The move to the Xperia X10 with android though not as ga ga as expected, also got me the opportunity to test out a brand new Samsung Tablet.   The contact offered it an awesome price (in local terms), and though i was about to commit, he suggested that i go try it out over the evening and make the decision or return (now that’s what you call trust, thanks Rizwan).

Externals

First the device definitely is small compared to the IPad, its like a CR book vs a standard exercise book in local equivalents for size.  The build quality is good, but you don’t see anything that is impressive.

However the Gorilla glass is a practical selection, even though the viewing angles may not be great as the Ipad or Barnes and Nobles Nook Color IPS screens.  To me the screen seems fine, though the reflections are a bit of an issue specially indoors in the night.  The back white cover is supposedly scratch proof too, but seems rather thin, specially at the slots for the SD and SIM card, that seems to be a potential area where the device may potentially crap if mishandled.

Connectivity

Proprietary USB connection seems so ridiculous considering microUSB is now becoming a standard, and i think its also being pushed as the standard in Euro.  Why Samsung wants to make a bit more pocket money selling these cables when the device is already so overpriced seems ridiculous.  Shame on your Samsung (okay okay, we know you want to be another Apple/Stevy J).

The SIM slot and microSD slot are on the right side, and has rubber covers to protect the ports.  Requires you to have nails to pry open, but nothing seriously flawed in the design.

Android OS – Froyo 2.2

Ah to the meat, my first experience with Froyo (android 2.2), since my beloved X10 is on 2.1 (yet to find time to root it and try the XDA ROMs).  The large touch friendly icons makes it seem a bit toyish, and also means a lot of flicking.  Now i know when they say that Android 2.x is not tablet friendly, coz the interface looks like a magnified phone interface. The reviews of the new honeycomb 3.0 android looks more like an desktop OS which may fit tablet computing better.

The interface is quite nippy and flicking through the desktops and loading apps have no noticeable lag.

However one quirky thing which i think was bad coding on google was that initially i could not get on the web or sign-in to my Google account to enable me to get access to the market.   The error was more like my login credentials were incorrect. After while i just had a feeling it was a network issue and then remember that the auto APN setup had not worked on my X10 as well, and i had to create it manually.  However the settings were downloaded a while later.

E-Reader

I downloaded Adobe PDF for Android and loaded a few digital contents, as one of the main reasons for this purchase would be to read my auto magazine collection, and also do my referring up on technology (my actual job of software engineering related aspects!).  Here is where i noticed though the 7″ form factor was more convenient, that reading full page was out, as the fonts were too small.  Switching to landscape helped, but the rather non-friendly approach to page switching on Android / Adobe for Android made it rather messy.  The Adobe PDF reader seems to be in its infancy on the the Android platform on features, as the zoom features were limited, and though you could not set a specific zoom that would stay across pages. However the page switching was quite smooth even for very graphics heavy magazines.

I also tried BeamReader, and though this was a bit more pleasant on usage, thank to the two arrow buttons for navigation, this reader was less smooth and had trouble with large graphics pages with rendering being painfully slow.

On the whole while it might be good for pure text based books, the 7″ form factor could be limiting for specially for PDF compared to the 9.7 or 10.2″ screens.  So make sure you see your usage pattern.

Multimedia

Camera: 3-mega pixel, oh come on Samsung clearly you want the buyer of the Tablet to also buy a phone since that’s just not enough!  One thing i am sure any tablet user might want is to take a picture of a white board, or paper article.  The camera just has not enough detail at the mega pixel, and is also lousy for macro shots.   General outdoor shots seem fine, and the flash is quite powerful that it does sufficiently fine indoors though the photos have a rather dull output.

Camera Video: The video is decent, and the ability to use the flash as a video light useful.

Video playback: Tried out various formats such as MP4 and DIVX and things were smooth.  The standard player played divx with no issues, something that my xperia cannot do.  Maybe the new hummingbird implementation has native support for Divx compared to the Snapdragon processor based implementation on the X10.  The built in speakers are loud enough, though headphones are recommended.

Calls

While using it suddenly i noticed it ringing, until then i had completely forgotten that the tablet was also a phone.  Was impressed that you could take calls without even the headset though it felt weird talking to a book like device 🙂

Battery

Used the tablet for about 2+ hours, and it was on full charge.  Connected to wifi for about 30mins, and on 3G data for around another 30 mins, the rest it was viewing complex pdf files, a few photos and video trials and general mucking around.  For all this the battery only dropped by less than a bar, so definitely impressive.