Friday, October 29, 2010

So the Galaxy is flawed

Following my earlier post on the Samsung Galaxy S, it seems the honeymoon period is definately over !
First of all, I am trying to find a way to make a phone call to someone in my contact list in less than 8 or 9 clicks ! First select the phone app. You can find the person in the contact list easy enough. Type in the first few letters of a name, and the phone finds those people fast (very fast to its credit) ... but then you have to try and call them. Press the person, select which number, then press call and then again press confirm. I know I am being pedantic, but these things are phones primarily after all (or maybe THAT is a big question), so I would have thought you should be able to make a call without much hassle.

Second, while I am getting used to not being able to file emails on my phone, there has been a very annoying issue of emails not being sent ! There is an outbox view (which is hidden and can only be seen in the "combined inbox" app). When I finally found that, after about 10 days of using the phone, I saw a number of emails stuck there (I was wondering why I had no replies to those messages !). There was nothing I could do to "release" those messages. I scanned different chats and blogs on this subject, and found that I was not the only owner to face this very critical issue. The only solution was to uninstall and then reinstall my user account. Hugely inconvenient, but it APPEARS to have fixed the problem. My only concern now is that I have to check the outbox each time I send a message, as I fear something could get stuck in there any time.

(on the flip side, having found this combined inbox, it is a very good app - and for once I can synchronise a number of different exchange accounts on one device).

Another issue is the battery. After my first few days, when I was impressed, I am now struggling to get a full working day from the device. I find myself reducing screen brightness and shutting down push mail (and syncing only periodically) to make the battery life longer. Make the phone thicker and heavier, but don’t make such a critical sacrifice in designing a smart phone (especially a top end one).

However, I remain happy with the excellent screen, very good voice call quality and the Swype keyboard.

With Windows Mobile 7 about to be launched, I may switch again in my search for the perfect smart phone ... I already have reservations though, as I understand they have no cut and paste. With such sophisticated devices, I remain curious how each platform falls just marginally short. As long as they do, my hunt and trials and tribulations will continue !

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Will I see my daughter?

So after 10 days in HK and China, I'm exhausted and dying to get home.

I am on the overnight Emirates flight which should get me in at 4.35am. Plenty of time to get home and see the kids before they go to school.

But today the plan has gone wrong. After a decent sleep on the plane, I woke up at 4am with an announcement that we were going to land, but due to excessive fog over Dubai, we ended up circling for an hour !

We were finally touched down at 5.40, and as Tia leaves for school at 7am, there remained an outside chance I was still going to make it home in time ... but that didn't factor in the 15 minute taxi the plane had to make. All the while, my legs are twitching and my frustration building. Why can't all this be moving faster. The fog was so dense that you couldn't see more than 10 feet out of the window, so I couldn't even get my bearings. Finally, the plane came to a halt, and low and behold, we aren't at the terminal. Down the stairs and onto the bus ... could they have found somewhere further away from the terminal. I wanted to scream to let out my angst, but I just stood against the bus door ready to jump off and run as soon as they opened.

We reached the terminal at 6.20. If I hadn't any suitcases, getting home in time was very possible ... but I did, and I was going to have to wait. I was hopeful that the usually reliable "priority" tags wouldn't let me down this time, and as it turned out, they didn't. What did let me down was my e-gate card. Why wasn't it working? I had to go the desk to ask, and found it had expired ! How could all this happen today / this morning ?

It took a few minutes, but he stamped my passport and I was through. I grabbed a trolley and saw my bags just coming out. Was my luck this morning changing? Straight out, no hassle in customs and my Emirates car was waiting.

My drivers name is Hayat. Credit to him. He has put his foot down ll the way from the airport and has done everything in his ability to get me home fast. It is now 6.55am and I am entering Palm. I have had a chat with Tia on the phone. She's waiting at the front door and we both hope we will at least get a fleeting chance to meet before she leaves .......

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MY review of the Samsung Galaxy S

So after a bad experience with the HTC Wildfire, I changed to the Samsung Galaxy S.

Having used the Nexus One and the Wildfire, I like the Android platform, but was disappointed with the sluggish performance and poor battery life of the Wildfire. I think HTC made too many compromises to hit a size and price requirement.

So my decision was between the HTC Desire HD and the Samsung. Lucky for Samsung that there model was available in the shop I went to buy it, and that was the sole deciding factor.

Out of the box (considering I bought it in HK) the phone booted up in Chinese! Luckily I had my Wildfire and I used that to follow the menu trail and get the language converted to English. I was also peeved that they don't ship with an additional SD card. Its hardly any cost nowadays, but is a required convenience for consumers.

The main things of note:

Fantastic AMOLED screen. Big, bright and easy to read.
Easy to set up and sync with MS Exchange.
Very good. loud and clear speaker.

The size is a question for me. The housing accommodates the excellent large screen, but any bigger I would be struggling to fit it in my hand ! It is however very thin and very light, but does have a  bit of a "plasticy" ... making it feel cheaper than the iPhone and the Desire HD.

The email reader is good (although it does take a few seconds to open up), and has a yellowish background to make reading easier, but its infuriating that they have taken away the functionality to let you file mails !!!!!

SWYPE is a fantastic keyboard assistant. I can't stand on screen keyboards, but this is really convenient and really fast. Just drag your finger over the keys and it has a surprisingly high success rate of guessing the word you wanted. The more you use it, you start to pick up nice little tricks on how to make it work even faster for you. Very nice ... shame its not in Android market yet for other phones.

I did have some issues with the screen freezing as the processor took time to "think" (especially when opening the mail program). I didn't expect that, but its nothing like as slow as my Wildfire.

There is also a great feature that can make your phone into a WiFi hotspot. This is standard on all Android 2.2 (FROYO) devices, but this product currently ships with Eclair (2.1) - so it's good that Samsung added this feature.

After 3 days and heavy usage, the battery is certainly better than my Wildfire's. So far its giving me more than 24 hours of life, but whether that performance will deteriorate is yet to be seen ... it does ship with a second battery (although I have no idea how they expect me to charge that).

The actual voice call quality (lets not forget this is a phone after all!) is impressive. Very clear, but the proximity sensor is less than perfect, as I hung up a couple of calls as put the phone to my ear ! The dialing app is good. Easy to tap in a name on the number pad and all the matching names pop up ... but this time with an option to choose which of the number to dial of the selected person.

I think Android has a lot to offer. I know all the Apple evangelists out there are going to give me 101 reasons why Apple is better, but I am not comparing the two. Between Android, iOS, Symbian and then upcoming WinMo 7, I think they all have positives and negatives. Most are off putting for petty little points, that to my non-programming mind, would appear to be easy to fix.

I will just conclude to say that after 3 days of heavy usage, the Samsung Galaxy S has proven to be a good purchase ... lets see if the same is true after 3 weeks or 3 months.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Etisalat has made me really angry !

Customer service in Dubai is generally been a disappointment, but I encountered something today that really made me fume !
While travelling in Hong Kong and China, my roaming service was cut off. I called Etisalat to find out what was going on, and I was told by a very "helpful" lady, that I dont have a roaming subscription and if I want to have one applied, then I need to send them a FAX to apply!

I explained, as calmly as I could, that I have had a roaming service for the past 10 years and it was working until the day before yesterday. The lady refused to accept this and continued to insist that this can't be the case. My argument back was to tell her to look at my phone bills for any previous month, and with the amount I travel she will always see some amount of international roaming. "I can't look at phone bills" came the helpful reply, at which point in my 30 minute international call, I insisted to speak to her supervisor. The lady I was speaking to agreed, but instead of transferring me, cut me off !

So I called back and had to spend another 5 minutes to re-explain my situation to a new operator this time, but at least he successfully transferred me to the supervisor. The supervisor did prove to be more sympathetic to my plight and did also manage to look at my file and see that I used to have a roaming contract in place. However, he told me that the only action he could take was to file a complaint on my behalf and then proceeded to give me another phone number, for the enterprise division, that could switch on my roaming.

So I have now spent nearly an hour on the phone, god knows at what cost, and the enterprise division promptly told me they cant help and I need to call the number that I had previously been speaking to.

Backwards and forwards, and in the end it was just better to give in and ask someone in my office to go to the Etisalat office and discuss and apply for a roaming service for me! This would take a couple of days, but that is what you have to put up with when you are the customer of a monopoly.

So I am stuck on a trip without my main phone, and the people on the end of the phone, the so called customer service reps, have shown no desire or ability to help me beyond reading what limited script they have in front of them, and the most senior person ready to come forward was bound by bureaucracy.

Shame on you Etisalat. You have inconvenienced a high revenue customer ... but you obviously don't care because you live in the luxury of knowing that i have no alternative choices available to me!

Monday, October 11, 2010

City of Life !

I had heard about this movie. Reena had seen it when I was out of town, and I finally got the chance to see it on my flight this weekend from Dubai to Hong Kong.

An excellent movie. Not only well written, acted and produced, but also bold enough to address some real social issues in Dubai which I would believed to have taboo to address in a movie in this way and be shown in the Emirates.

The movie follows the lives of 3 very different people in Dubai. A cab driver, an Emirates stewardess and a local boy from a prominent family.

The story holds no punches and deals with the real hardships and ruthlessness the labour class has to face with life in Dubai. The "empty" lives the expat professionals sometimes have to face being posted away from home for the sake of a career, and the social paradoxes local families face dealing with their own culture and background in a rapidly modernising and "westernising" city.

Basu is an Indian taxi driver with a talent for acting, singing and dancing along with movie star looks. A nice guy with a big heart, always seems to have a stream of bad luck on his side. Working in Dubai to earn a small wage to send back home to his parents, he dreams for a break in show business, but a lack of attention on his day job puts him on constant trouble with his employer.

Natalia is a young Romanian lady working as an Emirates stewardess. Her job pays a decent salary and gives her the chance to travel the world, but she is not happy and has a hole in her life. She dreams to go back to being a ballet dancer, but doesn't seem to have the drive or courage to make the change in her life. Circumstances occurring with her room mate and a new romantic interest do finally push her to make a move.

Faisal, a young man from a local family (his on screen father bearing a striking resemblance to Sheikh Mohammed), is struggling to grow up and take responsibility in his life.

In this, the most revealing of the tales, the movie addresses the trappings of growing up in Dubai as an Emirati in today's Dubai with tremendous wealth in a protected society and where the youth have little moral pressure to take up morally responsible positions.

It will prove to be an eye opener for foreigners in the country who would typically look at the local population as privileged, with everything they desire falling in their lap. Indeed, all is not what meets the eye.

Faisal's father is an upstanding Emirati citizen and strives for his son to achieve something with his life. His friends, however, with no such pressure, continue to lead him astray.

In this vain, and with refreshing openness, the movie deals with a selection of rich locals drinking, fighting, womanizing and leading aimless lives and the challenges this can cause in the city and with society. It brings a fresh, more sympathetic eye onto a very serious issue.

By raising these issues at all is a great start. Every city and society has issues and room for improvement, and rather than hide from them, the way to deal with them is to bring them into the open and accept that they exist.

Well done Dubai for allowing this movie to be made and shown, and it is a must see for all those living in Dubai. It is as educational and emotional as it is entertaining.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blackberry survives the ban!

PING, PING, PING! The handsets are ringing in celebration as Dubai society lives to party on for another day ... thanks to the continuation of Blackberry services in the UAE.

The 11th hour reprieve came on Friday with a message being sent to users that Blackberry services now comply with the telecom authorities requirements, and this begs the question as to "who caved"? Did the telecom authority relax it's requirements, or did RIM (the makers of Blackberry handsets) succumbed to pressure and opened it's security codes to the government ... something they stated would never be done.

Either way, users of the service won't really care as they can now continue to BBM away, but the question really should be asked as to what happened.

A couple of months ago, there was a strong statement from the UAE that Blackberry services would be cut off in the country. The reason given was because of security concerns. Blackberry encryption was too tight and the UAE government could not read the messages being sent via these devices.

To my my mind, there is nothing wrong with the UAE's (or any other governments) concern on this. While we may all wish for our privacy to be protected, let's not be naive - all governments are looking at phone message, text messages, instant message and emails etc..

If you are one to be concerned about this, and therefore use Blackberry because of this security, what are you really trying to hide?

Once this call for a ban came from the UAE, RIM were very fast to say that the will not compromise on their security and will not allow any government access to their servers and encryption. Who are they kidding? Does anyone seriously believe that the USA government, for one, doesn't have the full ability to tap into any Blackberry message they want?

The problem here has arisen because the discussion about access took place in the public domain instead of behind closed doors, where a sensible and discreet settlement could have been arranged. However, with the way this played out and now that Blackberry services will continue, did the UAE relax it's rules (and is now no longer concerned about security), or has RIM given in and allowed access, destroying their key differentiator from Apple and Android etc...?

My money is on RIM giving in, and they will be forced to with India as well ... and then all other countries in the world in which they operate.

But should this be a worry for people? In today's day and age, I cant believe that any information we have is secure, and people buying Blackberries for THIS reason are being unrealistic. The service RIM offers may be the most secure of all its competitors, but the security they claim to offer is by no means impenetrable. We all have enough weaknesses in our data and communications systems anyway to make the need for this imperfect protection virtually null and void.

With such a crack in it's defences, is this then the beginning of the end for Blackberry and RIM? For companies, there may now be a second thought about exclusive implementation of RIM's platform, but for my wife and the rest of Dubai society, "long live Blackberry and BBM"!