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Your Next Gadget: Portable PC

When thinking about purchasing a new computer, or more specifically a portable computer, there are many things one should consider, as follows:

  • Purpose
  • Budget
  • Processing power
  • Screen real estate
  • Graphics performance
  • Amount of RAM
  • Storage space

These things will affect a user’s experience, positively or otherwise, when thinking about Your Next Gadget. For additional reading on the differences between a notebook and a netbook, I would recommend reading this Brighthub article before continuing.

Of course, there are a number of reasons for getting a new computer. One reason might be because of the aging desktop or laptop computer trying to serve its purpose, or at least keep up with the times. Another reason may be for portability/mobility. Being able to do work or have fun wherever and whenever can be a major factor. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just focus on a couple of reasons: desktop replacement and mobility.

Desktop Replacement
Being able to do in a laptop what you can do with a desktop is always a good reason to get a new computer, as notebooks/netbooks consume lower power, hence savings in your electricity bill. However, that scratches the possibility of getting a netbook, as netbooks are designed with Internet connectivity in mind, and not for graphic design nor editing multimedia/video files. Notebooks, as described in the Brighthub article, range from screens with 10 inches and above. However, personally, a desktop replacement notebook should have a minimum of 13 inches for its screen, as using a 10 inch screen is frustrating, especially when you have a 19-inch monitor for your desktop. A notebook’s portability, however, is inversely proportionate to its screen size. The bigger the screen, the less portable it becomes.

Netbooks maybe portable, and in some cases, ultra-portable because of the thin-and-light form factor of newer netbook models, but they don’t offer as much versatility as a notebook. For instance, most netbooks, if not all, don’t have an optical drive for reading or burning CDs and DVDs. Also, most netbooks don’t have the processing power as notebooks. The most common processor installed in netbooks is the Intel Atom processor, which in this case is a single core processor that can’t efficiently handle resource-intensive applications. I have used the MSI Wind U100, and I was utterly frustrated with its sluggish performance. Personally, a single core processor doesn’t quite cut it. I want responsiveness and snappy performance from my operating system. So should you.

If you just want to stay connected to the Internet anytime, anywhere, and if you truly want to be mobile, get a smartphone. I would suggest one, but that’s for another article.

For this round, as far as versatility goes, the Notebook wins.

Notebooks are kinda pricy. Netbooks are a dime a dozen. As far as I’m concerned, Sony portables are overpriced and underspecced because there are a number of portable PC manufacturers that offer the same specs as Sony’s portables for a fraction of the price. Stay away from Sony. If you want a portable that can go head-to-head with the best desktop rigs, with a budget north of the sky, Alienware is your choice.

For this round, cheaper is better, therefore the Netbook wins.

Processing Power
As I’ve stated above, notebooks offer more processing power than netbooks. However, with the advent of AMD’s Athlon Neo X2, it may change quite a bit. The Neo X2 is a dual core processor with low power consumption that’s designed to compete with Intel’s single core Atom processor. The Atom still outclasses the Neo X2 when it comes to power consumption, but the number of cores outweigh the smallest number of watts consumed. And notebook manufacturers aren’t shy of putting as much cores as they can in a notebook than in a netbook. Intel’s still playing catch up in releasing a dual-core Atom processor globally, but the battle for netbook supremacy next year (2010) for most number of cores in a netbook should be interesting.

For this round, more cores is better, therefore the Notebook wins. At least, for now.

Screen Real Estate / Graphics Performance
The bigger they are, the harder it is to lug them around. However, for media enthusiasts, watching a movie on a 17-inch screen is a lot better than watching the same movie on a 10-inch screen. The only time it would be the other way around would be when the 17-inch screen has a crappy graphics processor and the 10-inch screen is able to playback video in high definition. Most portables have integrated graphics processors in the motherboard, and most of them don’t support 3D hardware acceleration, so it’s something you should look for when hunting for that perfect portable PC.

Recent developments in graphics processing technology from manufacturers such as NVIDIA and ATI are making great progress in taking graphics processing to the next level. This only means that your processor, Intel or AMD, will be able to allocate more processing powers to handle other stuff that would normally be reserved for rendering graphics. At least, that’s how I understand them. And they’re cramming it into notebooks, as well as netbooks. The year 2010 will see a new wave of ultra-portables that can display 1080p high-definition videos, but not now. Not yet.

So for this round, the Notebook wins, for now.

Amount of RAM / Storage Space
As of this writing, most portable PC manufacturers are bundling at least 1GB of RAM in notebooks and netbooks. Very seldom do I see a listing for a portable with anything less. It doesn’t matter if the RAM is DDR2 or DDR3, nor if it’s 667MHz or 800MHz. The more you have, the better. The same goes for storage space. The most common hard drives currently included with portables are SATA drives. There are manufacturers that offer SSD, or Solid State Drives. The advantages of using SATA drives are capacity (it can go up to 1TB) and price. As for SSDs, there are no moving parts (hence, more rugged), but the largest capacity currently available is 512GB, and it is VERY expensive.

This round goes to both notebooks and netbooks.

Overall, the notebook is the most sensible and most practical purchase. Personally, I would settle for a netbook since I figured I don’t really have a need for an optical drive these days, what with the proliferation of very cheap USB thumb drives. A netbook that has a 12-inch screen with a decent graphics processor, about 160 – 320GB of storage space, at least 2GB of RAM, and at least a dual core processor for about US$500 wouldn’t be bad. Not bad at all.

The Smartphone Party: You’re Invited!

Nokia finally plays catch up to what is showing to be the start of the smartphone revolution, but it seems they were a bit late coming to the party since the revolution started a couple of years ago with the launch of Apple’s iPhone. Although there were smartphones already present in the market, their presence wasn’t felt until Apple decided to enter the fray and put their marketing muscle behind their very much anticipated offering. Only then did the public notice the smartphone.

Research In Motion (RIM), makers of the Blackberry, were more focused on providing devices for corporate executives, way before Apple launched the iPhone, but now, they started innovating and began to market their devices not to just the elite, but to professionals who can afford the lifestyle of always being connected.

The first smartphone that I ever wanted was a Sony Ericsson P910i. Now, there are a whole slew of new smartphones being released almost every week, with Samsung and LG a little bit ahead of Nokia. The number one handset maker in the world, however, decided that it’s also time for them to cater, not just to dumbphone users, but to smartphone enthusiasts, as well. This is evidenced by the upcoming releases of new touchscreen smartphones, such as the 5230, powered by Symbian S60 5th edition. This particular software that debuted with the launch of the Tube, aka 5800 XpressMusic, is far from being the perfect smartphone OS, especially when it’s compared with the iPhone OS, and the more recent Palm Pre’s webOS, but it gets things done, and that’s all that matters, especially for me.

Nokia may be late to the party, but Sony Ericsson might have come and gone already and it seems they have dropped off the race. That, or they seem to be producing devices that does not merit rumors or hype, which means people may be losing interest in the handset maker altogether. Not a good sign.

Smart Sandbox is MySandbox. Sort of.

A few weeks ago, Sandbox officially went to public beta. I would like to explain what it is and what it is good for, but Jayvee of A Bugged Life has beaten me to the punch and has put it more eloquently, as quoted below.

What is Sandbox?
Sandbox is an online platform that allows anyone to connect with friends and share blog posts, photos and videos. Apart from this, Sandbox is also an online content store where you can buy music and games. So what sets it apart from other social networks? Sandbox is also locally developed and thus there is a continuous stream of offline fulfillment through giveaways, raffles and prizes.

In other words, Sandbox is in the business of building communities because not only is there interaction between your friends, there is also conversation between the developers and the users. In marketing terms, it isn’t just horizontal exchanges between consumers, but also vertically, where the product talks back and gives value to insights and suggestions from the community — alongside promotions and giveaways! – SOURCE

I was given the chance of participating in the private beta testing phase of Sandbox, and I have seen its growth and changes, from the very minute detail of a typo to the addition of a major feature. I wasn’t all impressed with it at first, but I can’t really blame the developers. It is, after all, in the very early stages of development.

Now, I’m the type of geek that gets his hands dirty without reading the manual first, so when I check the manual is when I find a bug. I look for answers first, and upon finding no documentation whatsoever, inform and suggest solution/s to the developers. After all, that’s what a beta tester is supposed to do.

Sandbox has two interfaces: web and mobile. Sandbox Web caters to the user that prefers accessing a site via a proper web browser (e.g. Firefox, Chrome, etc.), while Sandbox Mobile, also accessible via a computer’s web browser, is designed with the mobile-toting geek in mind. Sandbox Web is where most of the promotions and giveaways are found. From here, you can get free games, music, photos, etc. To get the free items, Sandbox will send a link to the mobile number you subscribed with upon joining. Unfortunately, you will need to be a Smart subscriber to be able to get those free items. Being Smart-powered, it wasn’t a surprise. Also, these free items aren’t available internationally.

Sandbox Mobile, when accessed using a web browser, displays three columns, but only displays the center column when accessed using a mobile phone. However, this interface is basically a skinned Mostyle interface, and the backend is also a customized Mostyle engine. Mostyle is a mobile site generation engine that simply asks for some information, and with a few clicks of the mouse, a mobile site is born. At least, that’s what I think it is. Currently, users are allowed to create up to two mobile sites.

In summary, Sandbox is a mega mashup of services and web apps. It tries to put together a number of social network sites into one big portal that is designed to be accessed on a mobile phone. It allows users to post status updates and blog entries, share videos and photos, and provide a markteplace of sorts for selling and buying stuff. It is still in beta, and a lot of features are being added as of this writing. Hopefully, all pending issues and bugs will be fixed when it goes gold. User adoption rates will basically dictate if this service, developed by Pinoys for Pinoys, will sink or swim.

Further reading:

Too Loud: Mirrored Posts in Social Networks

It has become quite a common routine for people to open a whole slew of social network sites upon opening a browser in one’s computer. My browser, Firefox of course, opens up about a half dozen sites when I start my online routine. There usually is no problem in doing this, but the problem lies in updating all of them with as little time in between when doing so. Thankfully, there are a number of web apps or services that help me update all of my social networks in one go. Also, the social networks themselves are adding features that let you update other social networks when posting updates. When left unchecked, it can cause feedback, much like a microphone that’s too close to a speaker. It gets loud. Too loud.

Twitter, by itself, does not post updates to other social networks, like Facebook, MySpace, Plurk, etc. Facebook, by itself, also does the same thing. The difference between the two is that Facebook imports “stories” from other sites, such as blog feeds, Google Reader, StumbleUpon, etc, and shows it in the home page. Facebook is noisy as it is, with updates from friends that answered quizzes, joined groups, became fans, etc. Twitter is noisy when the people you follow update their statuses by the minute, which is sometimes the case. I don’t mind the noise. Not at all.

Other social networks choose to do something different. Take, for example, Friendfeed. Although it functions like Twitter BUT with real-time updates, it also aggregates friends’ feeds from other social networks. So if a friend of mine is a Friendfeed user and I follow them on Friendfeed, I get their status updates to Friendfeed and any social network they have decided to add to their feed, like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. Friendfeed is great as it tries to be the one-stop-shop to check friends’ updates and start-slash-continue discussions by posting comments. The problem with Friendfeed is that it can’t post an update to other social networks, other than Twitter, at the same time.

Ping.fm solves this dilemma by providing a service that updates a number of social networks. So in one posting, I can update my status in all the social networks I belong to. It was great, at first. However, whenever I check my Friendfeed, it displays my Ping.fm-based update several times because the same message was posted to a number of social networks I added. It may not be a problem, nor would anyone care, but it was me who was annoyed by multiple instances of the same message. I decided to remove the social networks from Friendfeed that I update simultaneously through Ping.fm. So before, when I update my status, my Friendfeed displays the same message that I posted in Twitter, Facebook, and Plurk. Now, it just displays the update I posted to Friendfeed. This way, I don’t annoy my followers with a number of mirrored posts. The only difference in those mirrored posts is where it was posted.

There are desktop clients, whether AIR-based or otherwise, that let users post messages simultaneously to multiple social networks. Twhirl, an AIR-based desktop application, posts primarily to Twitter, but has extended its coverage by using Ping.fm’s service, posting tweets to other social networks. However, I still use Ping.fm’s service to update my social networks instead of Twhirl, mainly because I can’t use Twhirl on other computers or on my phone.

And then, there’s Plurk. Although the concept is similar to Twitter, the execution is very different. And recently, they have decided to add a feature where a plurk is also posted on Twitter and Facebook, among others. Since I was using Ping.fm already, I saw no reason to use this feature. It only made sense that I stick to one service, or method of updating my status, to prevent confusion and me annoying the hell out of everybody else.

If only Friendfeed’s aggregation features and Ping.fm’s updating service merge into one, with a desktop client to boot, it would make updating and keeping tabs on multiple social networks a whole lot easier. That would, in my very humble opinion, take the social network scene to a whole new level.

Facebook’s News Feed Woes

Facebook has been receiving a lot of flak lately due to the recently deployed redesign of a user’s News Feed, the default or home page of a user upon logging in. A number of people have created groups petitioning the return of the “old” Facebook, claiming that if they wanted a Twitter-like interface, they would have used Twitter instead. However, just to clarify some things, the new Facebook News Feed is something more akin to Friendfeed, which is a micro-blogging platform that also took a page from Twitter, but does more. Friendfeed aggregates a user’s social network updates, including Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Google Reader, and blog feeds, among others. With Friendfeed, users can comment on posts and feed updates, and they also have an option to “like” them. The major difference between Twitter and Friendfeed is the 140-character limit. Now, this “like” feature is what Facebook copied from Friendfeed, and Friendfeed copied the “like” feature from Twitter’s “favor” feature. So you see, Facebook did not copy Twitter. Facebook copied Friendfeed, which copied Twitter somewhat. Or at least, that’s how I perceive it. And it’s not just me.

Personally, I like what Facebook did to the News Feed. For me, it was easier to use than the previous design, although I wish it had the auto-update feature of Plurk, which notifies you when there are new updates to your timeline, or in Facebook’s case, the News Feed. Facebook’s notification system is limited to the kind where someone comments on your status, tagged you in a photo, or shot you with mayonnaise in the face. Plurk notifies you if any of your friends have updated their status or responded to one of your or your friends’ updates. It may not be easy, but it is doable.

Since the deployment of the new design, there were a few minor tweaks in a Facebook user’s News Feed, like the “People you may know” and “Requests” sections are now above the “Highlights.” There will be more changes and tweaks in the News Feed, as Facebook has expressed, one way or another, that they will be taking into consideration the feedback and input of their users. This may not be a good idea, according to TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington. And I agree with him.

Facebook is a free service. To demand something from a free service is not really my cup of tea. Whatever they decide to implement, if I like it or I hate it, it doesn’t really matter. The bottomline is that it’s really my choice if I want to continue using the service or not. And it is yours, too.

To each their own, I guess.