First Impression: iPad mini

Posted by Mark

Xcite dropped off the new iPad mini for me to play around with earlier today and I’m honestly surprised that I like it. I really wasn’t interested in the iPad mini when it was first announced and didn’t think it made sense until I took it out of the box and held it in my hands. Now I’m wondering if there is a purpose for the regular sized iPad. The new iPad mini feels a lot lighter and slimmer than my now huge iPad 3 and I really LOVE the black anodized aluminum finish on the back.

Once I downloaded Zinio and the latest issue of Backpacker Magazine I realized why I’d rather have my iPad 3 over the mini. The problem with most of the magazines on Zinio is that they were originally intended for print in sizes similar to that of the regular iPad. Since the iPad mini is smaller, all the text in the magazines become smaller as well and makes it a lot more difficult to read. The fact the iPad mini doesn’t have a retina display isn’t helping its case either.

But for a first impression, other than the issue I would have reading magazines on it the iPad mini does make sense. I’ve stopped carrying my iPad when I travel and instead have been carrying my 13″ MacBook Air and my Kindle because it didn’t make sense to carry iPad 3 and MacBook Air at the same time. If I had the iPad mini on the other hand I wouldn’t mind taking it along since it wouldn’t be adding that much weight or size.

If you want to check out the iPad mini yourself, Xcite have them on display right now at their Avenues and Al Rai locations.


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First Impression: The iPhone 5

Posted by Mark

I was leaving the house this morning when I got a phone call from Xcite letting me know they received the new iPhone 5 and if I was interested in picking it up to check it out. Luckily traffic wasn’t that bad and I was over at their head office 15 minutes later picking up the phone.

The new iPhone 5 looks smaller than my iPhone 4s even though it’s taller. It looks very slick and slim while the iPhone 4s which I didn’t have a problem with an hour ago now looks pretty bulky sitting next to the iPhone 5 on my desk. I have the black iPhone 5 with me which is black all over including the side trimming which is what is also helping the iPhone 5 look smaller than it actually is.

Even though I was expecting the iPhone 5 to be light based on the reviews I read online, I wasn’t expecting it to feel this much lighter than the 4s. It’s really the first thing that grabbed my attention when I picked it up and it kinda feels like the phone is hollow on the inside. The second thing that grabbed my attention was the aluminum back of the phone. To me it doesn’t look or feel like aluminum but more like a plastic. I think it’s because I was expecting the metal to have some sort of texture which is doesn’t.

I booked my nano sim card from Viva [Here] but I still haven’t received the sim card yet nor do I know when they’ll be available. So right now if you want to use the iPhone 5 you’re going to have to cut and sand your sim card down to the size of the nano.

If you want to check out the iPhone 5 yourself you can since Xcite have it on display right now at their Avenues location. They aren’t selling them just yet nor have they priced them since they’re waiting to secure a large quantity of phones first. If you have any questions or curiosities about the phone let me know since I’m going to have it with me for a few more hours.

Update: Xcite just informed me they’re now selling the iPhone 5 starting at KD299


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First Impression: WiMD Internet

Posted by Mark

Last week I posted about a new internet provider that I found out about. Turns out they aren’t really new and have been in business for some time now but they were catering mostly to companies and certain individuals until they decided to expand their presence and showed up at InfoConnect for the first time this year. I was looking for a new internet provider myself so I got in touch with them and they came over yesterday to install it.

The internet provider is called WiMD which stands for Wireless Mobile Data. They provide you (obviously) with wireless internet to your home using the 5 GHz wavelength which is kinda similar to a wifi connection except it can transmit a lot further (in theory around 70km I think). To setup their connection you require the installation of a small white box that needs to be pointed to one of their towers. This is probably the most difficult and complicated part since the box needs a direct line of sight to their towers. If you’re living in an area like Salwa, Mishref or Bayan where all the buildings are low then you won’t have a problem. But, if like me you live in an area where you’re surrounded by tall apartment buildings and in my case Salmiya, then you’ll most likely NOT be able to get a direct line of sight. But I got lucky.

When they came over they tried installing the box on one of my balconies but it wouldn’t work. One balcony had tall buildings blocking my line of sight to their Hawalli tower while the other balcony wasn’t pointing towards their Ras Salmiya tower. Since the box is tiny I managed to get permission from my building to install it on the roof specially since we were just going to connect it to an existing pipe. Once we got onto the roof we were able to see their Salmiya tower (which is the communications/post office building near Salmiya Coop) and get a strong connection.

The white box is small and light and can be connected to any existing post on top of your building. You then need to run an Ethernet cable from the box down to your apartment and to your router or directly to your computer. There are two different connection speeds you need to know about. The first is the actual connection speed from your apartment to their tower. In my case the connection speed was around 15Mbps. The second connection speed is the one you subscribe to. So say you have a 15Mbps connection to their tower but you subscribe to their 1Mbps internet connection then you get just a 1Mbps internet connection. WiMD uses internet providers like Fasttelco, Zajil etc.. to provide their customers with internet. That is a good thing because it means if one internet provider is congested or having problems their system is smart enough to shift the balance over to the rest of their providers.

Right now I think they have my connection speed unlimited, so I’m getting internet as fast as my connection to their tower can handle. I’ve provided some speed test results below but really they do not do justice to the connection. Ignore the numbers below because in real world use the connection is super fast. Regular browsing which is what I do 90% of the time is very quick with instant page loads and no sort of lag whatsoever. Downloading files varies, I was downloading the 1.3GB Lion update from Apple at around 300kbps but that’s because I had one session open and it’s probably a limit by Apple. By using the software SpeedDownload I opened up a number of sessions and hit 1.2MB/s. I downloaded torrents as well and the accumulated speed of all my torrents was around 2.85MB/s! That’s by far the fastest I’ve ever downloaded torrents. Whats even better is the fact that while my torrents were downloading at that speed I was still browsing as usually not noticing any slowness. Their upload speed is also faster then anything I’ve ever had before.

I had my brother who lives next door and connected to my network try out gaming online and this is what he emailed me back:

The connection is f****** amazing. I always had trouble playing Halo but with this new connection there’s zero lag at all. Literally, no lag. I would have trouble connecting to games, no trouble here. Pretty cool

and later

I just tried FIFA, another game I had issues with, worked really well.

So first impressions, this connection kicks ass. Now I just need to figure out what speed to subscribe to. Originally I was thinking 6Mbps, then moved up to 10 and now really want to go even faster but once you go higher their connection isn’t exactly cheap. Below are their yearly prices again in case you missed my previous post:

1Mb KD130
1.5Mb KD150
2Mb KD180
3Mb KD225
4Mb KD270
5Mb KD320
6Mb KD325
7Mb KD355
8Mb KD390
9Mb KD473
10Mb KD523
11Mb KD590
12Mb KD660
13Mb KD730
14Mb KD800
15Mb KD870
16Mb KD940
17Mb KD1,010
18Mb KD1,080
19Mb KD1,150
20Mb KD1,220

If you’re interested in a connection you can call them on 22475841 and 22475842 or visit their website [Here]


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First Impression: iPhone 4S

Posted by Mark

As I mentioned in my previous post, Alghanim Electronics sent over an iPhone 4S for me to try out. I’ve been using it for a few hours and thought I would share my first impression on two of the most important new features.

The Camera
Thew camera on the iPhone 4S is a much better camera when compared to the regular iPhone 4. I saw some sample shots on the Apple website and they looked great but those shots were obviously taken in perfect lighting with an amazing photographer. I was curious to how the camera would fair in boring regular situation with random light and a not so great subject. Since the weather today is a mixture of humid, hot and dust, I decided to go to the roof and take a landscape shot.

On the left is the iPhone 4S shot and on the right the iPhone 4. Although it doesn’t look like that dramatic a difference when you zoom in at 100% it’s a complete different story as you can see below.

As you can see the iPhone 4S photo had a lot more details and a lot less artifacts. Another advantage of the iPhone 4S camera is that the lens is brighter which means better shots in low light situations. Below is a photo I took indoors.

Again zoomed out like this the details don’t show as much but once you zoom in at 100% (check below) you’ll see that the iPhone 4S shots are a lot less noisier and a lot more sharper.

One of the main reasons I purchased the iPhone 4S is because of the camera. I take a lot of shots for the blog and although I should, I don’t usually carry my good cameras with me all the time. Most of my shots are taken with an iPhone so the ability to take better shots is a great advantage for me. If like me, image quality is something you care about then the difference between the iPhone 4 and 4S is actually pretty major. You can download the full resolution images I shot and used above from these links:

Landscape with iPhone 4S
Landscape with iPhone 4
Low light with iPhone 4S
Low light with iPhone 4

Siri
Another reason I got the iPhone 4S is because of Siri. I’m a huge Stark Trek TNG fan and Siri reminded me a lot of the computer on the starship Enterprise. Even though Siri is limited when compared to the computer on Enterprise (it can’t prepare meals for example), it’s still very impressive and I love it. Siri is going to get even better in the future and I honestly can’t wait.

There are a few things that won’t work in Kuwait though. If you ask Siri for the best burger joints in Kuwait it will tell you it won’t know. Some of the Siri features are US only for now but it does do a whole bunch of other things. You could ask it to convert currency for you, find out the population of countries as well as other trivia. More importantly for me it can take notes and set reminders which is a big deal for me. I’m a very forgetful person and also very lazy so even when I usually remember something I never write it down or set a reminder. Now with Siri, once I remember something I can just tell it to write it down or remind me when I get home or work to do something. She’s really going to be my personal secretary/assistant.

Siri didn’t have that many problems understanding me. I do tend to mumble and I did have a few instances when Siri wouldn’t know what I was talking about but I also found Siri pretty forgiving. For example I might start saying “tell me” and then mid sentence change to “I mean what is the capital city of Kuwait” and Siri would still understand and tell me “Kuwait City”. Yes it does feel weird (ie stupid) talking to a phone but I’m sure I can get over that.

I ordered my iPhone 4S last week from the Apple UK store but for those of you who haven’t ordered yet and just want to walk into a store and pick one up Alghanim Electronics will have them in stock starting tomorrow. I asked about the price but as of this post they still hadn’t finalized it yet.

Update: The prices for the iPhones has been released by Alghanim and they are the following (don’t shoot the messenger):

iPhone 4S 16GB for KD350
iPhone 4S 32GB for KD390
iPhone 4S 64GB for KD420


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Hello iPhone 4S

Posted by Mark

My iPhone 4S is currently stuck in customs but Alghanim Electronics sent me one over to check out. There are two things I was looking forward to, Siri and the camera and so far it feels a bit weird having a conversation with my phone, it’s something I need to get used to. I haven’t tried the camera yet but will be doing so in a bit.


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First Impression: Elevation Burger

Posted by Mark

Yesterday I finally got the chance to pass by Elevation Burger at The Avenues. I had heard from a friend that they’re always packed so I tried to pass by early and got there around 1:45 which clearly wasn’t early enough since the place was already full. Luckily I found one table clearing up in a corner and had Nat wait at the table while I ordered at the cashier. The interior is pretty dull and kinda reminds me of a food court which is fine since it’s more like an upscale fast food joint then a restaurant but one thing that really bothered me was the lack of proper ventilation. I quickly tweeted that and the owner of the place replied saying they’re working on it. That’s great because I already have a hard time getting Nat to go to a burger place yet alone a burger place that will also make her smell like burgers.

I took a quick glance at the menu and right away knew what I was going to have. I ordered the Elevation Burger which is a double patty double cheese burger and added Elevation sauce to it, I also added a side order of french fries and a fountain drink. I took my receipt and went and waited for my order. A few minutes later my burger arrived and it looked really good. I quickly took my picture and then dug in. The burger was pretty thick, a lot thicker than it looks in the picture since after I picked up the burger I noticed the patty had slid down to the other side. Note to everyone, I love thick burgers. I took my first bite and in under a minute it was gone. I was originally worried the bun wouldn’t be soft enough but it was and it also did a good job of soaking up all the burger juice which there was a lot of. The beef patties were super greasy, by the time I was done with the burger there was a large pool of grease lying at the bottom of my plate. I thought the sauce could have been thicker since it was washing away with the grease but it might have been thick to start with and then got diluted with the grease I’m not sure. In any case the burger was good and I was considering ordering a second helping but since I still had my fries I decided not to.

I’m not a fan of their fries and wouldn’t order them again. If you’re a fan of home made fries you’ll like the Elevation ones but the next time I’m there I’ll be skipping the fries and ordering a second burger instead. The main direct competitor for Elevation burger right now at the Avenues is Johnny Rockets but in a few months time it’s also going to be Shake Shack. Would I go back? Yes I would. It’s located in a convenient location, it’s a no frills in and out dinning place with good burgers. The biggest issue really is their ventilation which is getting fixed this week. Elevation Burger is located outside in Avenues Phase II, on the top floor.


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My Fuji X100 review and GF1 comparison

Posted by Mark

Here’s a quick spoiler, I’m very disappointed. When I first saw pictures of the X100 I fell in love with it right away but after playing with the camera all day I’m having trouble understanding how Fuji went wrong with this. The issues this camera has aren’t major but there are many which I am going to try and go through some below.

The first issue is with the Menu/OK button on the rear (pictured above). I read a lot of complaints online about how the button is too small and very difficult to press. I thought psshhht whatever, can’t be that bad. Well it IS that bad, I don’t know how the engineers at Fuji missed this but the button is tiny and nearly impossible to press. Every time I try to press it I end up pressing up or down instead. It’s really bad and very annoying when you’re trying to quickly select an option or delete a file since you keep missing the OK button and spend wasted seconds going up and down instead.

The second issue is with the focusing. It doesn’t focus! It’s ridiculous how terrible the focus system on the camera is. At first I thought I was having problems focusing on low contrast objects but I was just checking some portrait shots I took today and I don’t think any one of them is focused properly. Another issue with the focus is the fact the camera thinks macro mode is like a mile away. With most cameras you need to activate the macro mode when you get super close to objects but with the X100 you have to activate macro mode on objects that are more than 50cm away. And if that’s not bad enough after you’re done taking a picture in macro mode the camera puts it back in regular mode so if you have to shoot another shot in macro you need to activate it again. Finally when in macro mode the optical view finder turns into an electric view finder (which I hate) so during my shoot today the camera spent a lot of time swapping between the two modes and it annoyed the hell out of me.

There are some cool things about the camera, just not enough to make me want to get it. I love the retro look and the metal body although I do wish it was a bit heavier. The X100 has something called a hybrid viewfinder where information is displayed on top of what you’re seeing through the viewfinder. Hard to explain but imagine looking through a view finder and seeing information displayed on top of your subjects [Check this visual]. Some reviewers online complained about the start up speed and recording speed but it didn’t cause me any issues when I was shooting.

Now compared to my GF1 I prefer the GF1 in every way except for two things, the knobs and the optical view finder. I really like the exposure dial on top of the X100, it’s similar to the one I have on the Canon G11 and it’s a knob that should be on top of all the cameras. The shutter speed and aperture ring around the lens are also two things the X100 has and I wish the GF1 had as well. Lastly I wish the GF1 had an optical viewfinder like the X100. The X100 has both an optical viewfinder and an electronic one which you can swap between. I don’t care for the EVF, I have it on my GF1 and would rather have a proper optical viewfinder instead like the X100. Size wise the GF1 is slightly smaller and heavier than the X100. Focusing, although the GF1 isn’t that great focusing and although it gives me trouble every now and then it’s like ten times better than the X100, that’s how bad the X100 is.

Basically because I got to try out the X100 I’ve decided to cancel my Amazon.com order and stick with my Panasonic GF1. I really really wanted to love the X100 but I didn’t enjoy using it and if I’m not going to enjoy using it then whats the point in getting it? Now keep in mind my review was based on my experience with the camera in one day. There are a ton of better reviews online which I’ve listed at the end of this post. But personally I had issues with the camera shooting today and ones that would effect my ability to take shots the way I want. I’m not a great photographer and need every help I can get out of the camera and I felt the X100 was holding me back with some of it’s annoyances. Below are some pictures I took with the X100, they’re not as is from the camera since I’ve color processed them.

The X100 is available on Amazon for around $1,200 [Amazon Link]

Here are some reviews online:
Luminous Landscape 1
Luminous Landscape 2
The Pictorial
DigitalRev
Steve Huff Photo 1
Steve Huff Photo 2
Steve Huff Photo 3
Enticing the light 1
Enticing the light 2
Enticing the light 3
Photo Radar
ePhotozine
DC Resource
135 Street


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Hello Fuji X100!

Posted by Mark



A few days back I posted about the Fuji X100
digital camera and a reader was kind enough to lend me his to try out and review. I was having a really hard time deciding if I should get it or not since the reviews online are so conflicting and now I understand why. One minute I am going wow this is amazing and the next I’m going WTF?! I’m already divided on if I love this camera or hate it and I’ve just been playing around with it for 30 minutes! Will use it all day tomorrow and post a proper first impression and most importantly a side by side comparison with the Panasonic GF1. I really want to love this camera so hopefully everything works out fine.


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Sneak Peek: Al Hamra Tower

Posted by Mark

One of the best things about blogging is the fact I get invited to check out a lot of cool work in progress projects like Messilah Beach, Missoni Hotel and The Regency Palace. My dad’s an interior designer and as a kid I used to tag along with him on Friday mornings to various construction sites which is why now whenever I get invited to visit one I can never say no. It brings back good childhood memories and that’s why when I was asked if I wanted to tour the Al Hamra Tower I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve been a big fan of the tower for a long time to get a tour of it before completion would literally be a once in a life time opportunity since they’re only going to build it once.

First a bit of history and some facts. Al Hamra used to be Kuwait’s and the GCC’s first indoor cinema. It had two large theaters, one played Bollywood movies while the other played Western movies. Al Hamra Tower is being built in the same location where Al Hamra Cinema used to be located. It’s currently the second tallest building in the region with Burj Khalifa being the tallest. It’s the tallest asymmetrical structure in the world (no side is like the other side) and it’s also the second tallest concrete building in the world.

So my tour started off with a video presentation of the tower. It wasn’t really boring since there was a presenter and I was able to interrupt and ask questions. After the presentation I was taken to the mall that’s located at the bottom of the tower. The mall is made up of five floors and each floor will be around the size of a floor at Al Raya mall across the street. The fifth floor will hold the Al Hamra Cinema. Whats special about this cinema is the fact it will be the first non-Cinescape theater in 50 years. Back in 1953 Cinescape got a 50 year exclusivity for cinema’s in Kuwait. That exclusivity expired in 2003. The mall will be a luxurious one and having Hermes there is a good start.

Once we were done walking around the mall we headed to the main tower lobby (pictured above) which is really going to be huge when completed. Although the tower is super tall your average wait time for a lift will be under 30 seconds, the lift also travels at a speed of 10 floors a second. To get to the top floor of the tower we had to take a lift up to a lobby on the 54th floor I think and then swap to another lift and continue up to the very last floor.


[YouTube]

Once we got to the last floor it was filled with scaffolding since they still have a few more glass panels they’re installing at the very top. But the space up there is just astonishing, the ceiling is incredibly high and the view is just overwhelming. I shot the video above to try and show what I was experiencing and seeing but you really need to be there (Trivia: Can you tell when I hit my head on a scaffolding? Luckily I was wearing a hard hat!). Once completed this last floor will sadly be a private invite only chairman’s club and not a restaurant like I had previously heard. This means very few people will actually get to enjoy this beautiful view.

It’s hard not to like Al Hamra Tower, it’s an office tower done right and we don’t have many “done right” projects in Kuwait. I really can’t wait for it to launch which should be September of this year. Below are some pictures I took today.

Update: Forgot to mention that the windows will be cleaned by a team of robots and it will take a month to clean all the windows. Burj Khalifa on the other hand employs 36 window cleaners who take 3 months to clean all the windows. Burj Arab I believe uses 2 people who take a full month to clean their windows.


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First Impression: Nintendo 3DS

Posted by Mark

I think I’ve said this before but in case I didn’t here it is… I hate 3D movies. I think 3D is just a gimmick, it doesn’t add anything to a movie and I find it ridiculous that we need to wear glasses to watch a movie. With that said when I heard Nintendo were releasing a 3D portable I thought that was just stupid. Now that I’ve actually spent time with the 3DS I can back that statement up.

Nintendo have managed to get 3D on the DS without the need for 3D glasses. The screen manages to display a 3D image but it only works at a certain distance and at a certain angle. Any position other than the perfect one will result in a blurry image. It’s also very difficult to get a perfect position since it’s a handheld and you’re going to be pressing buttons which moves the DS in your hands and out of the perfect viewing position. I was playing Rayman 3D which is a crappy game but since it has a 3D environment it was a good game to test out the 3D effect. Sadly, even when the 3DS is in the perfect position the 3D effect isn’t really that 3D. Nothing jumps out of the screen and it really wasn’t comfortable playing since I was seeing doubles the whole time. I kept fidgeting with the 3DS to get it into the perfect position and after awhile I realized I spent more time focusing on trying to get the 3DS in a perfect viewing position then I spent focusing on the game. It also messes up your sight, I am seeing double right now as I am typing this post because I was playing with the 3DS before I started typing here.

I personally think the 3DS’s 3D is going to flop in the same way the Nintendo Virtual Boy did. I can’t imagine anyone playing on the 3DS without getting a headache or double vision. Now I’m looking forward for Sony’s followup to the PSP, hopefully they won’t mess things up as well.

My Nintendo 3DS was a loaner from X-cite Electronics and if you’re interested in one they’re selling them for KD110. They have them in two colors, Aqua which is the one pictured above and regular black. They also have a few games now for sale as well with more coming in at the end of the week.


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