Monday, September 27, 2010

Pint-size punch

HOLDING the Samsung HMX-H200 in my hand, I could not help but wonder how the video camera has shrunk over the years. A couple of decades back, a video camera would need an array of boxes of all shapes and sizes to carry it along with other paraphernalia — it could not be transported in anything smaller than a car. At weddings and other functions which needed to be recorded for posterity, the video cameraman was the chief guest, often dictating how the function should proceed.
Now, however, the video camera is a camcorder not bigger than your palm and still packs far more features than what its VHS ancestors could do. The H200 for instance is small and compact enough to come within the grip of a six-year-old, but it still has a 1920 x 1080 60i Full HD resolution recording and a top of the range 20x optical zoom.
To make sure that the HD and super zoom are exploited to their full potential, the camcorder also boasts of a Schneider Kreuznach lens equipped with Smart OIS (Optical Image Stabiliser). The Smart OIS eliminates the effect of shaky hands or body movement, especially when in maximum zoom, with minute shifts of the lens. It also helps that Samsung has thrown in a 1/4.1” 3M Pixel back side illuminated CMOS Sensor, which is far more sensitive than conventional CMOS sensors, thus reducing noise and distortion. The sensor also works wonders in low-light conditions. 
The camera can also be used to click stills at a decent 4.7 mega pixel, which I thought was slightly below par for a camera which has HD capability. But, interestingly, this feature can be used for time-lapse recording by presetting the camera to click at specific intervals and piecing the images together.
I liked the fact that the camcorder switched on by itself every time the LCD screen was opened. The touchscreen LCD has a very convenient menu, which can also be accessed with the buttons on the body. The interface is intuitive and tells you if the light is low and if the camera shutter has not been opened. This also means you can just touch on the screen to tell the camera where to focus. Talking of focus, the Smart Auto function sets automatically sets up the camera parameters depending on the scene.
Another user-friendly feature is that there are two ways to do most functions, users can just choose which way they like to do it. Then you don’t need to install a software on your PC to access or edit the videos as the built-in Intelli Studio software will take charge as soon as you plug the camera on to a PC through the USB.
But, Samsung could have added a small LED flash to go with the camera, but I guess that would have used up a lot of power. In fact, the H200 claims it can shoot up to two hours without a recharge, enough for you to record a full football match or one of those lengthy Indian weddings. The H200 is completely dependent on the SDHC card for storage, while its costlier siblings like H203, H204 and H205 have built-in solid state drives.
Overall, the H200 is a great buy at Rs 19,000.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mobile Navigator

The Google maps app for mobile leaves you with no excuses for getting lost.
Stuck in a train which just refused to reach Delhi, I started fiddling with the apps on my Nokia E63. Curious to know where I was, I switched on the Google Maps app which I had downloaded recently. My phone doesn’t have GPS and I was definitely not near a city from what I saw through the blue glass windows, yet the app plotted my exact location on the map — I was 20 km from Aligarh. As my fellow passengers tried to figure out where we had been stuck for the past two hours, I chipped in with my gyan, much to their surprise.
But the Google Maps app for mobile phones can get you far more than some brownie points on a forgotten Indian Railways express train. For instance, users in Delhi can get the app to show them how to get from Point A to Point B by the Metro. Along with telling you how much the journey will cost and how long it will take, the app also uses your location to direct you to the nearest Metro station. Sadly, I could not get the app to work in Kolkata, the other Indian city with a Metro network, or Mumbai which prides itself on its local train system. 
The app will, however, tell you road directions for anywhere in India. It plots the route on a map and gives you directions for the entire journey, telling you where to turn or which overbridge to take. In the big cities, it automatically factors in the traffic delays and tells you how long it will take to reach the destination—the accuracy of this feature is debatable though. It can also plot alternative routes, in case you are stuck in a traffic jam. As a third option, you also get to know the shortest walking route with detailed directions.
In phones with built-in GPS, the Google app can give other navigation devices a run for their money, with its voice output that reads out directions. As default the app shows locations on a map, you also have the option of switching to satellite view.
But the best feature of the app for me was its ‘My Location’ technology which shows where you are on a map using the nearest cell phone towers. This was correct to a few metres every time I checked, even in interior Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.
The app lets you use keys on your phone to zoom in on the map and find businesses that have been tagged, but there are not many tagged in Indian cities for now. In the US, the app can plot all the nearby restaurants and even pop up their contact details. In India, you can use the ‘Layers’ feature to see important marking on the map like airports, transit lines and so on.
Google Latitude, which lets you log in to your Google account and tell the world where you are at any given point of time, is also a part of the app. However, it is best left switched off in order to avoid embarrassing situations.
While the features available depend on the phone OS and your location, most basics are available on all phones. The good thing about this app, which is free like other apps from Google, is that you don’t actually need a smart phone to get it going. It works like a dream on cheaper phones too, provided you have a GPRS or WAP connection.
So, you don’t have an excuse for getting lost any more.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Being Net Savvy

Are you sure you need a notebook, or will a cheaper netbook work better?

BEFORE buying a laptop, most of us have grand plans about what we want to do with it — maybe, write a book, shoot a video and edit it into a movie, bring home spreadsheets from work and reduce your burden in office. But once we get hold of a laptop, all the plans die an easy death and we end up using it for surfing the Net, watching movies and playing games. It could be a couple of years before you realise that some of the programmes, and even the DVD writer, are still in mint condition.
Actually, what most of us need is a much-cheaper netbook and not a full-fledged notebook. Something that lets you connect to the Net seamlessly, lets you listen to music and watch movies, play games, write new posts for your blog and do other light-weight stuff, all things you can do without lugging around a laptop that weighs nearly 2 kg. 
In fact, netbooks these days have become more Net savvy. Companies have started realising the key requirements of their users and clustering them together, pushing the other, boring or underused functions and applications behind the scenes. Here is a look at two netbooks that have evolved for the better.

The Lenovo S10-3s: S10 IdeaPads have been Lenovo’s netbook workhorse for a few years now, but the third generation likes to flaunt what it likes to do best. In fact, just beside the 10.1" LED backlit screen is the Quick Start (QS) button which takes you to online in under 20 seconds —yes, I timed it. The screen that pops up is not the Windows 7 on which the 3s works, but Lenovo’s proprietary Quick Start application which looks a bit like the desktop of the Mac OSx. Below it is a bar that links to applications most-used like Facebook, Orkut, Flickr, Gmail and Skype. You can add or remove the apps from the collection provided, or get your own if you know the URL.
To go online on this mode, you will need a Wi-Fi, LAN, DSL connection—I had trouble getting it to work on the Tata Photon. You can always use data cards by switching over to the Windows OS. But on Wi-Fi – you can always plug in your data card into a router – the QS mode works like a dream.
Even without the QS, the S10-3s is a good netbook, certainly the most stylish in this price range. It is a tad smaller than regular netbooks and weighs just 1.1 kg with the 3-cell battery. It comes with an Intel Atom N450 processor, up to 2GB DDR2 memory, 240 GB storage, three USB ports and a 5-in-1 card reader. The all-white full-size keyboard is among the best I have seen in a non-Mac laptop and has an ease-of-use factor only people who spend over 10 hours a day in front of computers will be able to describe. The S10-3s has built-in protection against drops and falls as well as a one-touch backup button.
To make space for the keyboard, the speakers have been pushed under the body, which muffles the sounds to a great extent. As the netbook has a Dolby headphone certification, it is better to buy a good pair of earmuffs along with it. The touchpad is cool, but not multi-touch, so you will have to adjust a bit if you are used to pinching and flipping on your larger notebook. But, what all do you need for Rs 19,625?

Samsung N210: The N210 is also a Windows 7-based netbook. Once you boot up the OS, there is the option of switching to the Hyperspace mode, ideal if you just want to surf the Net, and maybe jot down some notes. This mode fulfills most of your computing needs provided there is a Wi-Fi connection for it to play around with. The main page has tabs to your favourite websites and pages, shortcuts to Realplayer, a browser and even a very handy notepad. It also gives you one-touch access to your mail accounts and social networking sites as well as news applications. You can also change the layout of the page, and add or remove shortcuts as needed.
Inside is an Intel Atom N450 processor, 160 GB storage, and 1 GB DDR2 SDRAM. The N210 comes with a full-size all-black keyboard and a touchpad with separate left-right clicks. The speaker is among the best you will find in a netbook and gels well with the 10.1” display.
Though slightly on the heavier side at 1.34 kg, the N210 promises around 11 hours of juice. But there seems to be no one-touch access to the Hyperspace mode, which is actually a waste of a very good idea.
Then, the designers don’t seem to be all that good with buttons, for I had some serious trouble locating the main power button – good thing you only have to find it once. Overall a good buy for Rs 20,952.