Yes, this is a post that isn't about smartphones. You're not hallucinating. Well, not directly about smartphones anyway...
It's been coming for a long time. As profit margins on the budget end of digital cameras got slimmer and slimmer, and as cameras in phones got better and better, it became only a matter of time. The industry as a whole is shifting in this direction now. Point & Shoot digital cameras are on the endangered species list.
Yes, there is still the one glaring feature that most phone cameras don't have: an optical zoom. It doesn't seem to matter that much, though. The big names in digital imaging are paying less attention to their budget lines and focusing more on one thing that's much harder for phone cameras to best: big sensors.
A poster child for this shift in strategy would certainly be Sony's new RX1. It's a digital camera with a full-frame sensor (the same size as a 35mm film frame) and a permanently attached 35mm f/2 lens. It's the first of its kind to my knowledge. At the $2800 asking price, it's also going to be for a very small niche.
In more reasonable territory, there's been a spate of new digital cameras rocking 1" sensors. These are a bit smaller than your typical APS-C or 4/3 sized sensors, but also quite a bit larger than your typical P&S sensor. Nikon's compact 1-series cameras use this format, as does Canon's new EOS-M. These are both interchangeable lens systems, though. Sony's RX100 is taking more direct aim at the P&S crowd, and at its $650 MSRP, it's very much in the range of most consumers.
Fast optics are also the order of the day, and another area that camera phones have a hard time competing in. Sony's above mentioned RX100 opens up to f/1.8 at the wide end, as does Olympus' XZ-1. Fujifilm's X10 starts at f/2 (and its troubled launch issues seem to have been resolved now). Granted, the latter two have smaller sensors, but those fast optics allow for lower ISOs in more situations which negates some of the issues of smaller sensors.
On top of all of this, many DSLRs and 4/3s cameras from the past few years can be found refurbished for prices at or below what these current high-end fixed lens cameras sell for, and they're still very good cameras. The size argument is starting to disappear as well. Many of these larger sensor cameras are easily pocketable, and even some of the smaller 4/3s cameras with pancake lenses will fit in a pocket.
I don't give the dedicated P&S market long. I very much think that within the next couple of years, finding them on the shelves of your local Best Buy or Wal-Mart will be very difficult.
Seems that a lot of my posts are about smartphones. It's hard to ignore the industry given how prevalent the devices have become in our daily lives. It's also hard to ignore the ongoing battle between Apple and Samsung. And as much as I'd like to make Apple out as the bad guy, I can't deny that Samsung is flinging some poo as well. Here's the thing... I don't care about those lawsuits, and neither should you. Why? Nothing that results from them will benefit you, the consumer, in any way, shape, or form. I'm tired of talking about it, and I'm tired of reading about it, so I'm just going to drop the topic now.
So I've had my Galaxy Nexus for a couple months now, and I'm quite happy with it. Sure it's not top-end specs anymore, but those quad core phones don't do anything for you besides enlarge your e-peen. And drain your battery faster. There's no practical difference in performance for the daily tasks I use Android for. I still think the LCD on the HTC Evo LTE is better than the AMOLED screen on my Nexus, but it's still a very nice display.
Jelly Bean is also quite nice, and just as buttery smooth as the project's namesake. T-Mobile has also been pleasantly surprising with very speedy service. At home I have full bars most of the time and can pull down 10 megabits in speed tests. At work it's a bit hit or miss once I go inside a building, but not completely unusable. Definitely not as fast as at home, though. Really I can't argue for $30/month. It's not quite as good as the plan I had on my iPhone 4S for the three weeks I spent in the UK (15 pounds/month for unlimited data, 3000 minutes/texts), but pretty amazing by U.S. standards.
Speaking of the iPhone, I upgraded the 4S to iOS 6 last night. And promptly yawned. Major version increments in iOS usually mean big new features. With iOS 4 we finally got multitasking, and with iOS 5 we got Siri and notifications. With iOS 6 we got a new maps app with turn by turn navigation. It really feels like iOS 5.2. Sure there's a lot of tweaks and small new things, but it doesn't add up to a major version in my book. Turning wifi on or off from the home screen is still a three step affair requiring the settings app.
Oh, and am I the only one that thinks the iPhone 5 looks like a Photoshop gone bad? What the hell was Apple thinking when they came up with that aspect ratio? Short of scrolling lists, there's nothing I can think of that is made better by adding pixels to one dimension of the screen and not the other. It really boggles my mind. Yes, Apple, you want to be different. But different is not always better.
Anyway... if you want a good phone without a contract, get a Galaxy Nexus. You won't regret it. It's a steal for $350 from Google. T-Mobile's your best bet if you have good coverage with them (luckily I do), though there's also Straight Talk if AT&T's network will serve you better (though be warned, they're a bit thuggish with their hidden data caps). If you're on Sprint, my recommendation of the HTC Evo LTE over the Galaxy S III still stands.
Maybe it's insensitive, but I had hopes that Apple might head in a better direction after Steve Jobs passed on. It's been no secret that Jobs had a pathological hatred for Android. He felt that Android had stolen literally everything from iOS. Maybe it did, but saying iOS didn't steal a good deal of elements from software that came before it is outright lie. Innovation, by its very nature, is built on what came before. Steve Jobs' definition of innovation seemed to include the line "as long as it doesn't build on what Apple has made."
Unfortunately, it looks like Jobs left enough of his special kool-aid to last a while longer.
The recent ruling over Samsung is exhibit A. There is literally nothing in this lawsuit that benefits consumers. Apple stifles innovation by putting fear into hardware and software developers while continuing to prove just how broken the U.S. patent system is. Oh, and they get to add another billion to what I can only assume is a Scrooge McDuck-like vault of cash (a hundred billion and counting). It's nauseating. It makes me want to punch Tim Cook in the face, especially after that gloating memo he tossed out for all to see.
I admit, I owned an iPhone 4S for a while. It wasn't bad, but it was somewhat underwhelming. I knew at the time that I didn't like Apple, but I could hold my nose while using the 4S without too much trouble. After this, though... the stench is just too overwhelming. It stinks of selfishness and greed. I was actually somewhat interested in the new mini iPads, but there's just no way I can in good conscious buy an Apple product anymore.
There was a time when Apple was the plucky upstart to Microsoft's behemoth. Buying an Apple product was cool. How things have changed. Apple now gets SWAT teams to raid people's apartments when a prototype iPhone is suspected to be there. They toss their corporate weight around with lawsuits like the malevolent beast that they are. Don't even get me started on "beating a dead horse" metaphors with their Kodak suit. Apple claimed once to be purely about innovation. Now that seems to come with a clause that reads "as long as it's only our innovation."
I am absolutely done with Apple. No more hardware, no more software, no more purchases on iTunes. The bile spewing forth from that company is just too much to ignore anymore. I've owned iPods, iPhones, and even a few Macs over the years. Apple products have generally been solid. It's just a shame that their upper management is quite possibly the largest group of flaming assholes in the industry.
But enough of that rant.
In other news, I'm now using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile, and I'm quite happy with it. It does everything the iPhone didn't and then some. Quite a good bargain too seeing as it sells for about half of what an unlocked 4S goes for. I'll do a review on the GNex in another post.
Right. What I said about smaller being better? I still stand behind that, but bigger isn't quite as bad as I thought at that point. It wasn't exactly a fair analysis because I had never owned one of the Android beasts. Now I do, and it's really not so bad.
So as I said, I bought an Evo 4G LTE. That's Sprint's take on the HTC One X. Unlike the One X in GSM flavor, it's rocking a dual core 1.5 GHz Krait chip. Seems the Tegra 3 isn't quite compatible with
CDMA LTE yet. The lack of two cores really doesn't seem to be that big a deal. I find the Evo to be quite sufficiently quick.
As to Sprint's very different take on the One X's design... meh. I don't know why people make such a big deal of how a phone looks. You're going to put it in a case that covers up that design anyway. Likewise, mine is in an Otterbox Defender series case.
Of course, the biggest highlight is this thing's screen. It's as stunning as a Super LCD rocking 1280x720 in a 4.7" display should be. That's nearly the same resolution as the average 15" laptop (Apple's new Macbook Pro not withstanding).
This being an HTC device, Sense 4.0 is very much present. It doesn't feel nearly as intrusive as it has in the past though. It does a much better job letting you get things done and then gets out of your way. Serious effort seems to have gone into making Sense far better optimized than it has been in the past.
The Evo is also one of the few devices running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). I could spend an entire post talking about ICS, but I'll say it in short. ICS is the best version of Android so far, period. Not by any small margin either. It's a dramatic upgrade over Gingerbread (2.3), with a laundry list of new and improved features. Google needs ICS on more devices, stat. The crazy thing is they're about to release Jelly Bean (4.1). I'm drifting off-subject now... back to the Evo.
As to the size... well, it's big. There's no denying that. When I first switched over from the 4S to the Evo, it was a bit of a shock. A couple weeks in now, it doesn't feel quite as big as it did. I'm really appreciating the extra screen real estate for typing out messages. It also makes browsing the web a bit less squint inducing. It still fits in a pocket quite nicely, though you will notice it being there a bit more.
So... best device on Sprint right now? Easily. Why not the Galaxy S III you ask? Two primary reasons. One: the AMOLED screen isn't quite as good as the Evo's Super LCD. Two: Samsung's habit of using proprietary connectors. HTC uses the mini USB standard. In day to day use the Evo is easier to live with. In the very common scenario that you happen to be without your charger, with the Evo you can borrow one from a wide array of other devices. With the S III, you're just out of luck.
I don't normally give free advertising to retailers, but in this case I have to. Best Buy is currently selling the Evo with a $50 gift card. If you buy in the store, they let you use it on the phone. Sprint's flagship phone and a One X variant for $150? It's a no brainer, and you can't do better on any network. Yes, there's still the nagging issue of Sprint's slow 3G, but they're turning on LTE next month and should have a lot of major markets covered by the beginning of next year. [update 7/14: the deal appears to be over now]
On Sprint? Ready for an upgrade? This is the phone you want. The debate is harder if you're not on Sprint, as not every carrier has a One X variant. Verizon is notably lacking, as is T-Mobile. That just leaves AT&T, which I wouldn't recommend to my worst enemy. You could pick up a One X unlocked, which gets you the blazing fast quad core Tegra 3, but that's an expensive proposition. Especially when Google's got the Galaxy Nexus going for $349 straight up with no contract. Sure it's not a Tegra 3, but it matches the One X and S III on nearly every other spec.
That didn't last very long. Now before you jump to any conclusions that I'm just an Android fan bashing on Apple and iOS, let me just say for the record that I like my iPhone.
Yes, you read that right. I like how smooth the UI is. I like how stable most of the apps generally are. I like the battery life, along with the quality feel of the hardware and the small size. I like the pixel-dense display. Here and now, it's a great device and quite competitive with what Google and Microsoft have to offer (RIM still remains to be seen).
So why did I go back to Android if I liked iOS and the iPhone so much, you ask? Simply put, I caved to the ecosystem war.
I've never been deeply tied to Apple's walled garden. However, I use Google.com, Gmail, Google Reader, Drive (formerly Google Docs), Google+, and many other Google services all quite extensively. These services, while accessible on iOS, just aren't as convenient as they are on Android.
I know; no duh, right? It's no secret that Google and Apple have no love lost between each other, and Google definitely isn't putting a lot of effort into supporting iOS. When it gets down to it, Android offers better methods to access the stuff I use every day.
I'm sure if I were more deeply invested in Apple's ecosystem, it'd be a very different story. I held the line as long as I could, trying not to tie myself to any one system, but I lost that battle.
So I'm back with Android on a shiny new HTC Evo 4G LTE on Sprint. So far I really like the device, and the 4.7" screen doesn't make it as unwieldy as I thought it would be. I've only had it a couple days, so I'm not going to write a review just yet. That will be for another post.
You win, Google. I'm keeping my eye on you, but for now you've won in my corner.
There's been a veritable explosion of independent games as of late. Some of them are even quite good. I'm going to go over a couple I've played recently that are really more like interactive works of art than games.
First up is a PSN exclusive called Journey. It's $15 and you can play to the end in only 2-3 hours. I know, that doesn't sound like a great way to sell a game, but Journey doesn't feel like it's shorting you at all. Those 2-3 hours cover an impressive arc of shifting visuals and emotion. There's not a written word to be found anywhere once you enter the game proper, but there's definitely a story being told. The music is also no small part of the package; it's obvious it was given just as much care as the visual presentation.
Journey definitely leans more towards interactive art than game, but there is a game in there with some surprises laying in wait. I can't really say more without ruining the experience, and I'm not sure I could do it a proper description in words. It's something you have to see in motion to truly appreciate.
The other game I've played recently is Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery. It's $8 on Steam (and also available on iOS), and can be finished in about 6 hours. It's done in an 8-bit side-scroller style, though there are some conventions for modern hardware present. Most notably is the game's headline feature: it's soundtrack. There's no other way to put it... the music is absolutely sublime, and is worth the $8 alone. The game is mostly a puzzler, though it does have a few combat sequences. It's a real trip to play, and the dialog can be pretty hilarious.
I'm enjoying these games, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more like them.
Normally I review games, but there's really no point with Mass Effect 3. You've already made up your mind if you're going to buy it or not, and nothing I say is going to change that. Instead, I'm just going to cover the much ballyhooed ending.
In short? I liked it.
You still want the long version? I suppose... though you might want to stop here if you haven't played to the end yet.
There's been a recurring theme in the tech industry as of late. That theme goes something like "everyone's loosing their damn minds!" The sheer absurdities coming from the tech industry are mind-boggling.
I'll start with Apple, since they're such an easy target. I was hoping that in a post Steve Jobs climate that there might be room for independent thought again inside their headquarters. The opposite seems to be happening; at least inside their legal department. Some say it's desperation because nobody at Apple knows how to innovate without Jobs telling them how. Whatever the story may be, it seems that Apple thinks that suing everything in site is the only way they're going to stay in the game.
The latest insult to fly from Apple's legal team is against Kodak. This just baffles me. Kodak made digital cameras and printers. The first is an area that Apple has never been in, and the second Apple abandoned more than a decade ago. Maybe they're thinking about getting into both areas, but when was the last time a Kodak camera or printer was serious competition to anyone? Not really since the instant camera days, which is why they went bankrupt. Apple typically goes after companies that are serious competition and are doing as well or better than them in the same field. There's no way they can justify going after Kodak, even with the usual corporate doublespeak they use for their lawsuits.
Apple's actions as of late smack of a desperate company that can't keep pace with a rapidly moving industry. It's completely insane, because other companies will retaliate, and only the lawyers will win. The consumers lose no matter what, because of the amount of money having to be redirected from product development into the legal department.
One of Apple's ongoing targets has been Samsung, and I can't say they don't deserve it sometimes. This is a company notorious in their South Korean homeland for corruption scandals. This is also a company that follows the mantra "iterate, don't update."
Samsung recently released the Galaxy Tab 2. It's a 7", dual core tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich. Here's the thing... they just released the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus back in November. And you guessed it... it's a 7", dual core tablet running Honeycomb.
What. The. Hell.
The hardware is virtually identical. One of the headline features of the Galaxy Tab 2 is an "upgraded Android market." Really Samsung? That's reaching pretty hard. I almost feel some pity for the shill that had to get up there and do the corporate dance pretending this thing was new. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to just offer a software update for the tablet you released not even four months ago?
I know those suits with Apple can't be cheap, but when you're making moves like this I think that maybe you and Apple are made for each other. Like Selma and Louise; partners in crime driving off a cliff together. We can just hope that you two don't take the whole industry with you.
It's been a while since I had a good rant like this, but the growing insanity of an industry trying to sue itself out of existence is just getting to be too much. Make good products that people want to buy. Offer choice, then provide support and updates. It's really not that hard, and people will want to buy your products if you can do those simple things. Competition is a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and keeps innovation moving forward.
Seems I've been doing a lot of these as of late, but I can't resist when I've got comedy gold like this.
So today's spammer is brought to you by "questionable hobbies."
Try to make all of the poles identical and that one oddball so odd that there is NO WAY I can mistake it in the dark for a regular pole.
So you go pole spotting in the dark? Whatever floats your boat. If that's your hobby, though, wouldn't making all the poles identical make it a really boring hobby? Or is it just that you want your favorite pole to really stand out?
Today's spammer is brought to you by "unintentional hilarity."
These deppresants are wrongly sometimes writtenabated to as travelers? diarrhea.
This is one of the few spam attempts that has actually made me laugh. Use machine translators responsibly, children.