Thursday, July 30, 2009

And the small one

There’s not much to write about the new Acer Aspire One D250 netbook, not because this little work-as-you-move netbook is no good, but because it still as good as the old Aspire One. This one is slimmer though—with thickness of one inch and a 10.1’ LED LCD screen—and cheaper at about Rs 21,000. This David still packs a punch with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, 1GB DDR2 RAM memory and 160GB hard drive.

However, the keyboard is not for flat-fingered users like me who will end up typing M along with N, and R along with E every time—maybe it is time for some lessons from the neighbourhood piano teacher. There are no dedicated keys here and most keyboard characters are multi-tasking—I think it’s the price you have to pay for going size zero.

The webcam though with the same feature as that of the Acer Aspire 5738Z, just doesn’t do the same trick in low light. Though it carries an Energy Star tag, the battery won’t last you more than a couple of hours. And I still don’t know how this can be a primary computer for anyone without a DVD drive. But for those looking for a second, smaller laptop to take to the coffeshop, or read RSS feeds in the loo, look no further.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Acer Aspire 5738Z: Big screen entertainment

A laptop called Aspire is much like a cricketer called Tendulkar, it comes with an excess baggage of expectations and hopes. So when I got hold of the Acer Aspire 5738Z, I knew I would be reviewing a very good laptop, it was just a matter to checking if it had become any better in its latest avatar.

To start with, Acer has got the act of pricing for the Indian market just right. Though of Taiwanese origin, the company has started thinking like an Indian entity. For instance, any laptop with the configuration and features of the Acer Aspire, would have been priced at least 25 per cent higher, at least they used to be, and wondered were the buyers were. The new Aspire, however, is priced at a stop-and-look Rs 38,000, what any regular laptop would cost.

But the 5738Z is no regular laptop. With a 15.6” 1366x768 LED Backlit screen and two Dolby optimised surround sound speakers which have been augmented by the 3rd generation Dolby Home Theatre audio enhancement, this is a movie buffs dream. For a change, you have laptop with speakers good enough for watching movies with the subtitles safely turned off. However, if you won’t stop short of being psyched by the shrill shrieks of blood-fest movies just plug in a good headphone to feel what Dolby is all about. I nearly fell off the sofa when I check out my iPod earplugs at full volume—don’t try that at home. The knockout dope for multimedia junkies, however, is the Arcade which bring all your movies, music, online media and pictures on a single platform.

But you’d be thinking about the power needed to sustain such performance, well the six-cell Li-ion battery claims to have 3.5 hours of juice in it, more if you use the Acer Powersmart option, which comes with a dedicated button.

The multi-gesture touchpad supports circular motion scrolling, pinch action zoom and page flip, though the last option needs some practice to master. The keyboard is very user-friendly, though I’m not sure the gap between the keys is ideal for dusty Indian conditions. I also found the Bluetooth and Backup Manager buttons very handy.

The 5738Z comes preloaded with Windows Vista Home Premium and touts specs like 360GB storage, 3 GB DDR3 1066Mhz memory, a Intel Core2 Duo Processor T6400 2.0 GHz, a decent 1.3 Mp webcam with built-in microphone. It has a DVD-Super Multi double layer drive—the 4x Blu-ray disc option has not made it to India yet—and a 5-in-1 card reader.

The dampener, however, is 2.8 kg that all this adds up to. But I guess you can lug around a bit of excess baggage after all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

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Chasing the Sun

I got up at 6.10 am, quite an achievement for me considering I never get back home before 2.45 am, to view the solar eclipse. But there was disappointment written on the sky as the sun was covered by clouds in Delhi. However, just as the final phase of the eclipse started, the clouds cleared to reveal a magnificent sight.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Making sense of AdSense

Those of us who got bitten by the personal website bug in the early part of this decade will remember Google’s AdSense with some trepidation. Many new webmasters tried to monetise their blogs or websites with a disastrous effect, thanks to their limited knowledge of HTML codes, which then was essential to incorporate Google ads on to you webpage.

But things have changed, and for the better; putting AdSense on a website in now as easy as making it using Google’s Blogger platform. The AdSense link, which will throw up ads relevant to your page, can now be posted on the webpage like a picture or any other element. The ads that appear are unobtrusive and always relevant, plus Google does not believe in pop-up ads that will put off readers.

So what is AdSense? Google says it is an ad-serving program where website owners can enroll to enable text and image advertisements on their sites—”a goldmine of opportunity for web publishers to monetise their online presence”.

In simple words, owners of websites and blogs will get paid if those coming to your site clicks on the ads appearing on it. Well, there is a catch. The payment process starts only once the revenue threshold has been crossed — the threshold now is $100. While breaching this limit will take a popular website or blog just a few days, for amateur bloggers this could mean a very long wait — my blog hasn’t crossed $1 in the three years it has been online.

“AdSense is a free programme which delivers advertisements based on keywords on a website combining Google technology with its vast pool of advertisements,” explains Atul Satija, Head of Wireless Business, Japan & Asia-Pacific, Google. In fact, the Google ad network is the largest organised ecosystem to globally target and distribute online ads.

So what are the benefits of the AdSense programme. “Firstly, the ads start showing the moment you activate AdSense on you website. It is also cost effective since no sales teams are required to sell the ads or find the target websites,” he adds.

Supplementing the AdSense programme is AdWords which is a simple way to purchase highly targeted cost-per-click or cost-per-impression advertising, with the flexibility to set and modify the budget level. Remember how advertisements of national parties used to show beside your email or on websites during the recent elections campaign? Well, that was AdWords at work. However, Satija clarifies that putting an AdSense link on you page does not mean there will be more visitors or clicks. It will be entirely up to you to generate the content that will draw in readers.

So how do those opting for AdSense get to make money? Once a website crosses the threshold limit owners can ask Google to start paying them. “We send cheques or transfer money directly to bank accounts as Paypal is still not an option in India,” says Satija.

Google already has thousands of users in India and hopes the numbers will increase as more Indians start realising the potential of online advertising. And the potential is huge, for as per a Lintas media report, online advertising in India could be worth over Rs 2,500 crore by 2011.

Google has taken AdSense a step further by enabling the services for mobile sites as well as RSS feeds. While Google’s ad services are already enabled for regional websites, Satija says it is working on making its programmes more effective for the India’s multilingual audience.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An online world

My first hands-on experience with a computer was in the early 90s when my aunt returned to India after a long stint in the Gulf with a Personal Computer. Soon, that piece of equipment came to occupy the pride of place in our household, complete with a special room fitted with an air-conditioner and peppered with anti-humidity sachets. The PC itself used to occupy a large part of the room, with the boxes of floppy discs that went into it consuming most of the remaining space.

But that was almost two decades ago. Last week, when Airtel installed its new Net PC at my home for a review, it struck me how much the computer had shrunk. The Nivio Companion unit on which the Airtel Net PC runs has a CPU which is not an inch bigger than the set-top-box that comes with my cable connection, a sleek 15” LCD monitor plus a regular USB mouse and keyboard. The whole unit was safely perched on a small side table—in fact, the modem that comes with the connection and the extension box to plug in the wires took up as much space as the unit.

But is the Net PC just a small PC? Well, no, there is more to it, or, lets say, less to it. This is literally an Internet computer since it is useless without a Net connection. So forget about switching on a ghazal to hum you to sleep at night.

The Nivio Companion, which surprisingly takes just a few seconds to switch on, comes to life only with the Airtel broadband cable plugged in. The desktop appears only when you have logged in to the server using your Nivio log-in ID and password. Everything on the desktop is familiar, except for the fact that there is no My Computer icon, for there is no hard drive so to speak on the CPU. While some software are pre-installed on the virtual desktop, more can be downloaded from a site which looks something like the iPhone app store.

Though just a 256 kbps connection, the Internet is fast as there is nothing on your PC to slow it down. There is a catch, though. You cannot watch movie clips online—YouTube videos actually appear like a slideshow. The Nivio call centre told me they were working to resolve this glitch.

You can, however, download videos, movies or anything else on to your virtual desktop and play them. The Airtel package comes with 10GB online storage; more can be bought for an extra fee. Users also have the option of saving files from the virtual desktop to an external USB storage device. Printers can also be installed to the Net PC through one of the four USB ports on offer. There are also jacks for headphones and speakers.

Another great advantage of the Net PC is the running cost. The Companion uses just 5w of power and does not require any hardware upgradation. Moreover, since there are no moving parts on the CPU, it is virtually maintenance-free. And as all work is done on a virtual desktop, protected with high-power anti-virus package, there is no chance of acquiring a virus. Everything is saved to a central server, so in case of a crash or power failure there is no data loss.

The initial cost of setting up the Net PC is under Rs 10,000, including the Rs 7,999 for the Airtel Net PC (Nivio Companion, 15 inch LCD screen, keyboard and mouse). The Airtel monthly packages are priced between Rs 689 and Rs 1,199—all 256 kbps connections. Plus there is a one-time broadband installation cost of Rs 850. Airtel is not alone though, MTNL and Tata Indicom too have lauched similar products.

Overall a great buy for the cost-conscious households, though I wouldn’t recommend this to cyber junkies.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stress busters

So what’s the best way to bust stress? There is yoga, you can take a spa holiday, sleep it out...or bring home a bunch of gadgets that ease your nerves. That’s not all, if you are willing to spend, there are gadgets that help you look slim and beautiful, without spending much of your spare time in the gym or trying to think what not to eat. In fact, you can start working on those extra inches while watching a movie on the DVD in your living room and even keep a tab on you health and fitness without a personal trainer: all thanks to a long list of massagers and stress relievers from Singapore-based OSIM international.

(Acupressure head massager)
IT MIGHT make you look like Mr Frankenstein, but the “world’s first acupressure head massager” gives you a traditional head massage, undoubtedly the best stress buster after a tough day. The massager has three modes—vibration, air pressure and heating— which can be used simultaneously or separately for cycles of 5, 10 or 15 minutes. That’s not all; this crown comes with headphones that play relaxing music in three modes: nature, therapy and ambience. The music plays on small speakers embedded in the crown if the headphones are not plugged in. Priced at Rs 11,500, this is a must-have if you are one of those who spend a packet for a chumpi at the neighbourhood salon.

(Slimming and toning belt)

Anyone with a paunch knows it is one of the toughest things to get rid of. The uZap slimming belt claims it can help reduce the ‘bulge in the equator’ with an invigorating oscillating massage. The belt, which can be set on a rhythmic mode, also has a heating feature to help burn unnecessary fat. The belt with Velcro straps can be set to work on your stomach, buttocks and thighs. The massage is quite intense, so I wouldn’t suggest you do it just after a meal. Though slightly heavy, the belt makes you feel light after a 15-minute session. The uZAP is priced at Rs 10,500.

(Handheld massager)

HE iPamper combines warm air with vibrations to give you an all-new massage experience. The warm air emitted by the machine improves blood circulation to flush away lactic acids while reducing muscle pain. The unique shape helps you attend to aches and pain along your spine without any external help.
The iPamper is priced at Rs 6,500.

Keeping tab
iCheck 500 ( Blood pressure monitor)

The iCheck 500 helps you keep a tab on you blood pressure and pulse rate at home. The machine also measures body fat percentage, after you feed in you age, height and weight, though I found the process slightly complicated. Cost: Rs 13,500.

uCount (Digital motion-sensing pedometer)
Here’s a gadget that tells you how many calories you have burnt during your morning jog or evening walk. The pedometer uses digital motion-sensing technology to measure your pace, exercise time, distance covered and calories burnt. The handy gadget has an FM radio to keep you company during your workouts. Cost: Rs 2,150.

iCare 200 (Eye massager)
LONG hours in front of the computer do take a toll at the end of the day, often resulting in headaches and eye stress, and worse deteriorating vision. The iCare 200 relieves your eyes from monitor strain, tiredness and headache whilst improving blood circulation around the eyes. It has vibration, air pressure and heating modes which can be set for the cycles less than 15 minutes using the remote. The air pressure mode feels as if someone is gently massaging you eyes, easing the strained optic nerves. While the iCare 200 is priced at Rs 5,500, the cheaper iCare 100 comes for Rs 1,999.

uPapa (Massager)
THE best massages are always those done with strong hands that actually wring the stress out of you. No wonder royalty used to employ wrestlers to soften their muscles and improve blood circulation. The uPapa gives you a similar experience. You can rest you back, buttocks, thighs, calf muscles or feet on this pillow-like massager for a real good ‘drumming’. The six-point tap massager, inspired by Japanese Taiku Drums, somehow finds the right spots on the body to give you a relieving massage. I really enjoyed the 15-minute intense massage session on rhythm mode, with the crescendo of the last few minutes really taking away a lot of pent up stress from my muscles. It is, however, better to keep the massager in low intensity for the upper body. The UPapa provides 245 different massage combinations and is priced at Rs 14,500.