First Impression: iRiver Story

Post by Mark

Alghanim Electronics dropped off an iRiver Story eBook reader for me to check out. I’ve been wanting an eBook reader since the Kindle first came out but never got one because of the hassle involved with buying eBooks from Amazon (its US only). When the Barnes & Noble Nook got released I quickly pre-ordered one but when I tried to buy an eBook I ran into the same problems as Amazon so I canceled my order. I am not sure yet where I can get books for the iRiver Story, I just did a quick search and found out the Story is compatible with UK’s Waterstones so will try it out and see if I have any luck with them.

I haven’t had much contact with eBook readers, I think I’ve only interacted with one once at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 duty free. So far the iRiver Story looks pretty, it’s very similar to the Kindle just slightly more stylish. Once I spend some more time with the Story I will post more details. I just need to find a book I actually want to read…

Update: Just realized it’s only compatible with Windows which means connecting it directly to my Mac will only charge the device. To get books onto the iRiver with my Mac I need to upload books onto an SD card and then place the SD card into the iRiver.

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First Impression: Canon G11

Post by Mark

I have a ton of cameras but recently I noticed I had a gap in my collection. I didn’t have a digital camera that fit between my Nikon DSLR and my Sony point & shoot. It’s not really a problem but since I love cameras it gave me an excuse to buy a new one. After a bit of research I had two options, the Canon S90 and the Canon G11. I passed by the local Canon dealer in Kuwait City to check them out and right then on the spot decided to go for the G11. The S90 is a great camera but it felt flimsy and it was too similar to my Sony W300 as in they’re both pocket cameras. If I got the S90 it would compete against my W300 and I wanted a camera that would compliment it instead. The G11 on the other hand was love at first sight, it felt indestructible and I loved the way it looked.

The dealer was selling the G11 for KD235, so I checked Amazon and noticed they were selling it for KD127. That’s over a hundred dinars difference!! So the same night I placed an order for the G11 from Amazon with one day shipping and the total came to KD133 (I sent it to my DHL mailbox so I didn’t pay the 8% NY tax). I received the camera today and it cost me KD14 in shipping and custom fees bringing the total cost of the camera to KD147. Thats still a HUGE difference compared to the price of the local dealer. I really want to buy stuff locally but some local dealers over price their products.

I’ve been playing with the camera all day and I love it. The camera is very solid, very well built and it sits really great in the hands. I love the old fashioned dials on top which makes setting the ISO or exposure extremely easy. The camera also shoots in RAW format which is one of the features I was looking for when researching cameras. The screen on the back also swivels so if you want to shoot something over your head or from your waist you can. The only downside to the camera is that it doesn’t fit in my pocket but I knew that before I bought it.

If you’re interested in this camera it’s available on Amazon for KD127.
Here is the [Link]

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First Impression: DHL EasyShop

Post by Mark

I just received my first package with DHL today and I have decided they will be my primary shipping courier from now on and here is why.

1) I was able to sign up, open an account and pay for it all online and in a few minutes

2) Their mailbox is located in Ohio which means I no longer need to pay the 8.375% New York sales tax

3) It seems they ship packages the next day which means my package doesn’t sit in the mailbox in the States for long

4) They have EXTREMELY detailed tracking (check this)

5) Because they have extremely detailed tracking I can use the iPhone app Delivery Status to keep track of my packages

6) They’re fast. Package shipped December 2nd, arrived to Kuwait December 5th, cleared customs and was ready to pick up on the 6th

7) They don’t deliver but they have 4 pick up locations, Khaleejia in Kuwait City, Ardiya, Fahaheel and Camp Arifjan. The Ardiya branch is open till midnight everyday except on Friday they close at 9. The Kuwait City branch closes at 9 every day.

8) You pay based on weight and the size of the package doesn’t effect how much you pay

9) It’s KD3.5 for the first half kilo and then its KD2.5 for every half

Now to clear something up. Like Aramex, you also have to pay customs for packages over $100. The stories about Aramex making up this 5% to make more money is not true. But, unlike Aramex, with DHL you pay 5% customs and KD3.5 handling fee. With Aramex its just a KD1 handling fee. Now the advantage of DHL is they clear the package the same day while with Aramex it currently looks like its taking over a week.

I picked up my Drobo today and I paid KD31 shipping and KD8 for customs and handling. Overall I found DHL cheaper than Aramex. Why? Because you save on the New York sales tax, because you pay based on actual weight and not volumetric weight and because you pay KD2.5 for every half KG instead of Aramex’s KD2.750.

If you want to sign up for an account here is the link to their website [Link]

Note: Ignore the shipping price that’s displayed in your DHL account when tracking a package. My Drobo according to the online invoice was going to cost me KD70.57 in shipping fees but that was based on volumetric weight which was calculated to be 11.02 kg. Before I picked up my package they put it on the scale and it weighed 5.5 kg and thats what I paid for.

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First Impression: P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

Post by Mark

Before I found out someone had broken into my car I was enjoying dinner at P.F. Chang inside the Avenues. They haven’t opened up to the public yet, it’s just by invite since they’re still training and I managed to get one. The first thing that struck me about the restaurant (other than the fact it was packed) was how big it was. According to my friend they’re either the largest or second largest P.F. Chang’s branch in the world. They’re also the 200th P.F. Chang branch to open and only the second to open outside the US. The other international branch is in Mexico.

I had the crab wanton for starters which was amazing and then for my main course I had sweet & sour chicken and this other dish that had prawns, melons and walnuts. The sweet & sour chicken looked nothing like the usual ones I have, it didn’t have the regular red sauce nor any vegetables or fruits but it still tasted really good (I actually always order my sweet & sour without fruits or vegetables anyway). The prawns and melons dish was a very strange but interesting combination, I can’t believe someone actually came up with this mix, very cool.

There was a ton of staff in the restaurant since in addition to the P.F. Chang Kuwait staff they’ve brought in over 20 more staff from the States to help with the training. Paul Fleming the creator of P.F. Chang was even in the kitchen overlooking everything. Our waiter was one of the local staff and was very friendly.

The prices haven’t been finalized yet but they’re supposed to be even cheaper than what was currently on the menu. The sweet & sour chicken was around KD4.400 and the prawns dish I think KD5.450 so if they drop the price it should be pretty affordable. The quantity of the food was too much and I think they know that because they were quick to offer to pack my leftovers to take home. Too much food is always better than too little. While there I also got confirmation that Shake Shack will be opening up in Kuwait early next year and the first branch will be at the Avenues. It was a pretty nice evening overall until the car incident…

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First Impression: The Meat Company

Post by Mark

Tonight was the soft launch for The Meat Company so I decided to pass by with Nat and have dinner there. Like Wagamama, I hadn’t been to any other Meat Company before so I didn’t come in with any expectations. The interior of the place is very well done, the lighting, the carpet, the wooden walls all help give the place a very warm and cozy feeling. The staff all seemed to be from South Africa and very friendly. Our waiter was previously based in Dubai and he’s now going to be living and working in Kuwait along with a few other waiters who also moved to here from Dubai.

For starters I ordered the salt & pepper calamari while for my main course I ordered the 300 grams Australian fillet, pepper crusted and medium rare with a side order of mashed potatoes. Nataly ordered the petit fillet which is 200 grams but she ordered hers well done with a side order of salad but also pepper crusted. The calamari was ok but I wouldn’t order it again. The steak on the other hand was probably one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. It was cooked perfectly and the meat was so soft and tender it was just melting effortlessly while I was chewing it. Even Nat’s well done fillet was extremely soft, I was actually surprised since most well done steaks I’ve had end up being dry and tough. I really loved the steak which has put me in a strange position because when I was first checked the menu I spotted some burgers and decided that I would try one on my next visit. Now I don’t think I will because it would be a shame not to have the fillet again.

Price wise the petit fillet for example costs around KD10.5 and comes with a side order. The calamari was KD3 something. Oh I also tried their home made wine (alcohol free). It comes in a nice wine glass and it looks a lot like wine but sadly doesn’t taste like wine. On the bright side I didn’t drive back home drunk.

I really liked the place and would try to make it there once a month at least. The Meat Company is located in the 360 Mall, first floor opposite Coffee Republic.

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First Impression: Wagamama

Post by Mark

I passed by Wagamama for lunch to try it out. It was my first time trying Wagamama anywhere not just Kuwait so I didn’t know what to expect. At first glance most of their menu seemed to be made up of a lot of noodles and fried food, two things which I don’t eat but after a closer look I did start spotting some grilled dishes. I decided to go with the Negima Yakitori for starters, its grilled chicken and spring onions on skewers which turned out to be very good followed by Chicken Katsu Curry. Some readers had previously recommended I try the Katsu Curry but when I found it on the menu it turned out to contain deep fried chicken which was a let down. BUT, turns out they had an option where you could swap the deep fried chicken for grilled chicken which is the option I went with. When my dish arrived it looked like the chicken was too dry but after mixing it with the rice and curry I tried it and it wasn’t dry at all. The chicken was soft and the curry sauce was pretty good.

When I first went in the place was empty so we got to sit on our own private table. On our way out the place had filled up and you had strangers sitting next to each other on the long shared tables which should theoretically be awkward but wasn’t since even though the tables are connected the benches were far apart.

I had a good experience and would probably go back. The prices were decent with the Negima Yakitori costing KD1.500 and the Katsu Curry KD3.750. You can actually download and view the whole menu with the prices from the local Wagamama website and here is the direct link to it [Link]

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First Impression: Acer Aspire Revo

Post by Mark

I am a huge fan of XBMC which I believe is the best media playing software out there. I first started using it on my original xbox, then I installed it on the AppleTV and now I just moved over onto the Acer AspireRevo. XBMC on AppleTV was great except for the fact it couldn’t play 720p and 1080p videos.

Two weeks back I found an article on Gizmodo about how XBMC installed on an AspireRevo could handle 720p and 1080p video files with great ease and best of all it cost only $199. So after failing to find one for sale in Kuwait I placed an order for one on Amazon and got it via Aramex.

Installing XBMC was super easy and after I set it up I copied all my settings from my AppleTV and started experimenting. I can’t believe how easily this thing plays HD files! I have trouble playing HD files on my Apple G5 yet this little thing which is slightly smaller than an AppleTV can play it without a hitch. It has HDMI out, its small, its super silent and streams HD movies from my server with great ease, I love it.

I ordered a remote control for it but it hasn’t arrived yet so I am using my browser or iPhone to control it. Shipping with Aramex cost me KD18, no tax since computers no longer get taxed.

If you want to get one here is the [Amazon Link]
If you don’t know what XBMC is click [Here]
Here is a guide to install XBMC on the Revo [Link]

Update: This is the remote control I bought for it [Amazon Link]

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First Impression: iPhone 3GS

Post by Mark

My iPhone 3GS arrived today from Australia and I’ve been playing with it for over an hour now. I am upgrading from the original (2G) iPhone since I never saw a reason to upgrade to the 3G. The 3GS on the other hand had a decent amount of improvements that was worth upgrading to. Here are my impressions so far:

– It is literally twice as fast compared to my previous iPhone. My favorite game Fast Food boots up much much quicker than before

– Love the new smudge proof screen

– I got internet tethering working which means I can use my iPhone like an eGO

– Can’t get MMS to work (never mind just work, APN, username and pass should be pps)

Voice command surprisingly easy and fun to use. I just talk to my iphone as if its my secretary and it understands commands like cancel or what band is this? when music is playing

– I don’t like the plastic back of the new iphones, I prefer the older aluminum

– 3G is faster than edge, finally I can browse at decent speeds. The BBC low graphics site now loads instantly and every link I click loads in under a second

So basically the new iPhone 3GS is a great step up from the original one. The OS speed difference, the 3G, GPS and the tethering were all worthy enough reasons for me to upgrade.

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First Impressions: Sennheiser PXC 250

Post by Mark

I own too many headphones for some reason and yet I always manage to convince myself I need a new pair. I currently own a B&O A8, Shure E2, Sennheiser PX100, AKG K81 DJ and the Ultimate Ears 5 Pro. These cover just about every type of headphone from in ear’s, to over head, from open air to closed back, and from tiny to large and bulky. Whats missing are a pair of noise canceling headphones. I originally fell in love with the noise canceling Beats but due to the fact they weren’t very portable made them unpractical for my main reason of wanting noise canceling headphones and that’s traveling.

So after a bit of research I decided to buy a pair of Sennheiser PXC250’s. I had read about them ages ago and remembered them again with the release of the newer updated PXC300. But after some googling I realized the 300’s were just a slight improvement over the 250 but were also double the price. So without hesitation I bought the 250’s from Amazon for just $73.

I’ve been listening to them for over an hour now and the headphones don’t have much bass. I was expecting that based on previous reviews I had read but since I will be primarily using them to watch TV shows on my Archos 7, its not a big deal for me but might be to you. The noise canceling seems to be working right. The dryer is on and when I turn the noise canceling on I don’t hear it, when off I do. The proper test will be using it on the plane which I should be soon.

The little device thats in the picture above is the battery holder. The Sennheisers work with or without battery but the noise cancellation only works with batteries. Once I get back from a trip will post another review on these.

The Sennheiser PXC 250 is for $72 on Amazon [Link]
The Sennheiser PXC 300 is for $128 on Amazon [Link]

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First Impression: Pocket Retro Game Emulator (Dingoo Digital A320)

Post by Mark

I ordered the Pocket Retro Game Emulator from ThinkGeek 10 days ago after reading about it on a few websites. Its a small portable game system that comes with built in emulators that would play games from the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, NeoGeo and a few other systems. Since I am a huge fan of retro gaming and since it would be a great addition to my collection, I ordered the device for $99.

The device has a built in 4GB drive so I quickly copied all my favorite games onto it and realized I still had nearly 4GB free so I copied ALL my Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games onto it which amount to around 2000 games. I also copied a few NeoGeo games including SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos.

The device played everything I threw at it even SVC Chaos which was a huge shock. Not only that but the device also came with the appropriate cables to connect it to my TV so I could play the games there if I wanted to. Some SNES games weren’t running that perfectly for example NBA Jam was running slightly faster than it should and the sound in Donkey Kong Country was a bit strange but the device plays NHL ’94 perfectly which alone would make the game system worth $99. The build quality isn’t that great, it feels cheap and its pretty light. I am not sure how much abuse it would take but I doubt its as durable as a Nintendo DS or PSP.

Now one thing that kinda pissed me off is the fact that ThinkGeek is marketing this device with the name “Pocket Retro Game Emulator”. In reality the system turned out to be called the Dingoo Digital A320. A quick search on eBay for the Dingoo would result in a ton of results with the device priced at around $75. So if you want to buy one that’s where I would look. Will post a more thorough review at a later date.

Note: The device also plays movies and music. Also has a built in FM tuner and an eBook reader. The battery is built in and lasts over 5 hours. In case 4GB isn’t enough the device takes SD cards.

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