Sony PlayStation Vita first impressions

Got a chance to use a friend’s PSVita, which he had gotten for review. After spending about five minutes with it, here are my first impressions. 

  • It’s pretty massive. I make fun of large phones all the time but the Vita makes even the Galaxy Note look like Danny DeVito in comparison. It won’t fit into any pocket I own (even after all the space that will be created after I spend on it). You will need to carry around a bag for it. Having said that, for something this big, it’s pretty light. 
  • The display is gorgeous. Makes everything look great. 
  • Extremely fluid UI that looks like it was designed by a six-year old. 
  • Games look great but like its bigger console counterpart there are plenty of jagged edges due to a lack of anti-aliasing. I hate that shit on mobile phones but on the Vita’s larger display it becomes even more apparent. 
  • The joysticks are really good, despite their short travel. The rest of the buttons are pretty good too. 
  • The device operation isn’t very straightforward and self-explanatory. E.g., when I took the device in hand it was already running a game so it took me a while to figure out which button to press to go to the home screen. 
  • Didn’t get a chance to use the touchpad at the back or the cameras. In fact I completely forgot they existed when I was using the device. 
  • Videos look pretty awesome on the display but the format support is abysmal. 

Overall, I’d say it was pretty good but it wasn’t something that I felt I must have when I used it for the first time. I think I’ll stick to the PC/console for serious gaming and the smartphone for casual gaming. The PSVita, like the PSP before it, reminds me of the Galaxy Note, wherein it tries to bring the best of both worlds into one device without being particularly successful at either. The games are obviously not as good as on the PC or console, even though they cost as much and it is not as portable as a smartphone. The 3-5 hour battery life isn’t particularly great either. 

I’d like to spend more time with it but unless the prices of the console and the games drop I don’t see myself purchasing it or even recommending it to anyone else. 

Opinion · Reviews

Why Chrome Beta for Android is a fucking piece of crap

Yesterday, Google launched the Chrome Beta for Android. When I say ‘Android’, I only mean Ice Cream Sandwich devices, that too in a handful of regions. As usual all the fandroids creamed their panties because this was somehow a big deal.

After managing to scour the internet for the installation file I finally sat down to find out what all the fuss was about. The hype (and the initial reviews) suggested it was better than the stock Browser. I expected it to be on par. It turned out to be worse.

The following are the reasons why I think that Chrome Beta for Android is a fucking piece of crap.

  1. It automatically zooms in the text in an article to fit the display width by default. This behavior is similar to mobile Internet Explorer in Windows Phone and messes with the page layout, not to mention makes it look goofy. There is no way to disable this. The stock browser can fit text to display width too but it doesn’t increase the font size and more importantly, it is optional.

  2. Lots if blank spots on the page while scrolling. The stock browser almost always has the content ready and if it doesn’t it shows a blurred image of the page instead of blank space.

  3. The browser cannot keep the data for more than a couple of tabs in memory. If you switch tabs they reload every time. This happens on the Galaxy Nexus as well so its not because of the low RAM on my Nexus S.

  4. Swiping from the side switches between tabs. This also gets triggered when you are simply trying to scrolling horizontally through the page and your thumb was near the edge of the display. Again, no way to disable this “feature”.

I’m sure there would have been more annoyances had I used it further but I couldn’t stand it any longer so I uninstalled it. The browser has no advantage over the stock browser. People say it is faster but I didn’t note any difference. As for syncing bookmarks, the stock browser can do that as well.

I know the browser is still in beta and it could get better but I haven’t seen the future so I’m not going to talk about that. As it stands now, it sucks. Unfortunately, this shit is going to replace the stock browser. If it still sucks the day it does that then I’m going to dump Android. I take my mobile browsers seriously and one of the best things I like about Android is its browser. If Google is going to fuck that up then I ain’t sticking around.

(Wrote this post entirely on the Nexus S using the Tumblr app.)


Android Video Player Comparison

One of the good things I like about Android phones is the choice of video players available on the Market. That, along with the fact that it’s extremely easy to transfer any video file on to the phone and that a lot of them have large screens make them especially good for video playback. 

But choice is a double-edged sword. Too much of it can be just as bad as no choice at all and that’s exactly what is happening with these video players: there are too many of them, with more coming out every few days. 

Screenshot by public demand (and by public I mean @preshit)

Personally, I have been using Dice Player on my Nexus S, a paid app, rare for Android Market and more so for video players, which are usually always free (and ad supported). I chose to pay for it because back then it offered the best in terms of video playback. It was the only player that not only supported a wide range of audio and video formats but also successfully played 720p videos on my phone. The Nexus S hardware is capable of encoding and decoding 720p videos but it needs a good software to enable it to do that. 

Now, with even more video players available than what they were six months ago, I decided to do another little comparison. Partly because everyone keeps asking me which one is the best and also because I’m getting tired of Dice Player. It still does a good job of playing videos but has become terribly buggy lately and although it is updated often it seems the developer isn’t particularly bright. 

So I downloaded a handful of players, which ranged from the old faithfuls like RockPlayer and MoboPlayer to MX Video Player, Mobo Video Player Pro (yes, there is another player named ‘Mobo’) and BSPlayer (it’s hard to expect much from it after reading the name). 

I lined up a bunch of 720p videos that included MKVs, MP4s, AVIs, MOVs, WMVs and even a Flash video. 

Before I started, I tried them all in Dice Player. It played almost all of them well except for the WMV and Flash video, which stuttered profusely. The WMV in question was a particularly high quality file that will make slower computers struggle and I wasn’t really expecting either of these players to play it on the Nexus S. The Flash video was a bit of a surprise because I’ve seen Dice Player play other Flash videos and it usually plays them well. 

Then I tried the other players one by one. For those who use these, I’m afraid to say they all suck, especially on less than stellar hardware like the Nexus S. Not only did they all have problems with the files that Dice Player didn’t work with, they also struggled with other files that played perfectly fine on DP. In some cases there was no audio whereas in others the video stuttered. 

I’m sure if you’re using a more powerful device like, say, the Galaxy S II, then all of these should work fine. Then again, that phone has a pretty capable player of its own so you shouldn’t need a third party alternative. You are likely to use these players on older phones or those with slower processors and that is where Dice Player shines. 

In the end I’m glad that I spent that money on Dice Player all that time ago. I hear it is not available for purchase any more on the Android Market for some reason (remember that comment about the developer not being bright?) In that case I guess you’d want to know the second best and that would be MoboPlayer, followed closely by MX Video Player in third place. Honestly though, you won’t be able to play half of the videos that you can on these that you can on Dice Player. 


Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich Review

The good stuff: 

The user interface has been completely revamped and unlike the lipstick on a pig that was Gingerbread or Honeycomb which tried too hard to look cool, Ice Cream Sandwich actually looks good. Most of it is tastefully done and although it is hard to please everyone ICS is bound to please a lot more people than the previous versions of Android. Ugly is no longer the adjective that one would use to describe Android anymore. 

There are a lot more transition animations at work here than before but they all fit right in and at no point did I feel that the designers have gone overboard with them. As before, you have the option to disable them completely but now you can even control the speed of the animation. I chose to leave them on at the default speed as it makes moving through the UI feel a lot more natural. 

The new font – Roboto- looks good. I’m not a huge fan of it or hate it like some people, but I appreciate the change because this is the first time the font on Android has been changed since it was first released all those years ago and Droid Sans was never a good font. 

There are some new wallpapers both the static ones and the Live ones. The good thing about the Live wallpapers is that they can now be used without affecting the UI speed, although I’m sure they still have a greater impact on battery life than static wallpapers. 

The new lockscreen looks better and is more functional that before. You can also access the notification tray without having to unlock the phone first. 

Homescreen folders are a welcome addition. Android supported folders before but the implementation was quite terrible. The new method resembles the one on iOS, wherein you simply drag an icon on top of another to create a folder. 

All the built-in apps have been updated. The contacts app now shows large thumbnail images for your contacts, the camera app has a panorama mode for stills and a time-lapse mode for videos. The calendar app now supports pinch to zoom to let you see more details. The Gallery app is vastly improved. Gone is the horrible Cooliris gallery of the previous Android versions and replaced with a much slicker version. It even has an extensive photo editor built-in. 

The browser is much better, too. It’s a lot smoother than before and also incredibly fast. It also lets you sync your bookmarks with the Chrome browser for desktop computers. 

Text input is now much better and more precise. Underlines mistakes and offers replacements on double-tap. 

Built-in screenshot utility. Finally. 

The bad stuff:

UI performance on the Nexus S hasn’t improved. There is still that stutter every now and then. 

The Nexus S homescreen has a permanent Google search bar which is pointless as the phone already has a dedicated search button. 

You still cannot move around icons. If you’re confused by that statement, let me explain. In iOS, when you press and hold on an icon it starts wiggling and then you can move it around and the other icons move to make space for it. That does not happen on Android. If you have to interchange the position of two icons, for example, you would have to move the first one to an empty space, move the second one to the now free space and then move the first one in place of the second one. This, of course, becomes impossible if your homescreens are full, so you have no choice but to delete the first icon, move the second and add the first back again. Strangely, though, this works perfectly inside folders, as it does on iOS. 

You can’t move an icon across multiple screens in one go. Initially, when you press and hold on an icon and drag it to the sides, the home screens would keep moving till you reach the last one. Now it moves one screen and stops, till you move your finger and then it again moves one screen only. Makes moving icons across multiple screens a pain. 

Folders don’t name themselves. Google copied the folder creation method from iOS they might as well have gone all the way. 

The lockscreen lets you launch the camera but you won’t know that until you touch the lock icon. The camera icon is hidden until you touch and start sliding the lock icon. You also can’t change or add other functions to the lockscreen. 

The new widget system is terrible. It instantly gets filled with crap widgets from all the programs you installed and finding one the good ones becomes a lot more difficult. 

The new iOS-style horizontal paginated application drawer is pretty with all the fancy animations but not as convenient as a simple vertical grid of icons as in the previous versions. 

The new volume control bar can now also be operated by touch but it falls bang in the middle of the screen and blocks whatever it is you are watching. 

Gmail UI is a clusterfuck of meaningless icons and buttons. 

The browser is smoother but it does that at a price. When you scroll around the browser blurs out the page and only renders it when you stop scrolling. This makes the scrolling smoother but often you will be staring at a blurred page till it takes its time to render the content. If the content is particularly heavy it could take couple of seconds. On heavier pages the constant blurring when you scroll becomes extremely frustrating. Makes you wonder whether the boost in speed and smoothness is worth it. 

No smart dialing, still. 

No built-in voice recorder, countdown timer or stopwatch, still. 

The new pop-up menu uses a list view instead of a grid of icons at the bottom of the screen. The list items are a much smaller target and the lack of icons means you have to read the text every time before clicking on them, so you can’t just instinctively click on something. Third party apps still use the older method but it’s only a matter of time before they adopt the new view too. 

Taking screenshots is tricky. You have to press the power and volume down button simultaneously and the timing has to be just right or else you either decrease the volume or switch off the display. It’s nowhere near as forgiving as the iOS system. 

The ‘OK’ and ‘Cancel’ button position in pop-up dialogues has been interchanged. No idea why they would do that. 

Terrible battery life, although I believe it is just a bug and is likely to be fixed in the next version.