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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sharing Digital Content

Several months ago we'd put out a post on our blog entitled "Digital Dilemma: How do you share content?" where we asked three questions with regards the frustration we have living in the UAE with access to digital content that we've currently got on our smartphones, tablets or e-readers.  While not much has changed in this region since then, it's comforting to know that some of the questions we had raised are being answered internationally.

1. How do you buy it?

To answer the first question which we asked in our original post, we're still sadly in a part of the world where most content providers haven't given us a means to legally purchase digital content.  Google's Android doesn't allow you to buy Apps.  Apple's iTunes only lets you buy Apps but not music, TV shows or music.  Amazon's Kindle is not officially supported in the Middle East.  This has then meant that if you live in the UAE and you want to legally get access to this digital content, you're using a foreign SIM card in your Google phone to access paid Apps on Google's Android Market, buying Gift Cards from the US or UK to access Apple's iTunes store or using an American billing address to buy content for your Amazon Kindle e-reader.  There is still no timeline on the horizon as to when the situation will change and sadly this question still remains unanswered.
Image: philosophyblog.com.au

2. What do you do if you only want the content for a short period of time and have no intention of buying it?

One of the other frustrations till now had been how do you borrow a book digitally as you would from a library.  Amazon and Apple both have services where you can either rent a textbook for a year or rent a movie.  This is often times at 30-40% of the cost of buying the content but at least you now an alternative if you can access the content using the means mentioned above.

3. How do you lend the content to a friend or family member?

This is something that Amazon recently helped address recently via the Kindle.  If you own a Kindle, you can now lend books to another person in several cases which in essence would be like lending a hard copy of a book to a friend.  There are certain time restrictions but it's good to know that at least an option has been worked out.  If you've got a Kindle and are interested in knowing more about this, there's more information at this link.

The bottom line is that to get access to digital content legally in the UAE, there are still several hoops you have to maneuver through until you get to where you want.  There are some people who will go through this trouble but the rest end up getting the content where they find it, which is often on an illegal peer-to-peer download services.  Content providers are yet to take this region seriously enough and until then, have to accept the fact that they've created a treasure hove of pirates in the region.  Things can change and content providers can start to get their rightful share of the pie if they gave us a solution.  Till then, they like us have come to accept the fact that the digital dilemma will remain as it is and the region will remain behind most of the developed world when it comes to digital content.

Posted By: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

2011 Jacky's Festive Guide - TV's and Cameras

Following on from our previous post on what products that could be a part of your shopping list this festive season, we've worked out a second list of recommendations for those looking to buy TV's and cameras.  The trends have clearly moved towards 3D, connectivity and HD quality images in both these categories as you'll see in the write-up below.

Samsung MV-800 Digital Camera

Samsung may not be the first name you think of when thinking of cameras but what has made Samsung rather unique is that they've taken their expertise in smartphones and started incorporating this into digital cameras.  The interface of several Samsung digital cameras is starting to resemble that of a smart phone and the use of icons on the touch screen would make you think you were using an Android-powered digital camera.  Even the picture modes or filters that are available will remind you somewhat of Apps that are used on smartphones today like Instagram or Halftone.

Apart from the interface though, the MV-800 is unique in that it has a rotating LCD screen that can tilt out to 180 degrees.  That means you can take pictures from angles where you wouldn't have been able to see the viewfinder traditionally.  The MV-800 also has a sweep panorama function that allows you to take wide shots or sweeping pictures much more easily.   The camera has a 3" LCD screen, 16 mega-pixel picture quality and 5x optical zoom.

Olympus SZ10 3D Camera

The challenge for most manufacturers of 3D cameras has been in capturing 3D content.  To capture 3D content, you generally need to use two lenses and this can be an expensive proposition.  Olympus has worked out a solution for their SZ10 camera wherein using a single lens, you can take 3D pictures by taking a picture twice out of the same  lens.  This means that you have got 3D quality images in a camera that can be more affordable and which is also compact.

Will all pictures come out great in 3D?  The jury is still out on this as it may work for pictures where the subject remains still but in a dynamic setting, it may not give the best result as it's taking a picture a second time to get the 3D effect.  Also, you can't preview how the image looks in 3D on the LCD screen as its not 3D enabled so it is only when you connect it to a 3D enabled television or computer that  you can check the picture quality.  The argument is that glasses-free 3D may still give you a headache if you use it for too long on a tiny LCD on a digital camera and commercially it probably would be much more expensive.

Other features of this camera include 18X optical wide zoom, dual image stabilization, 720p HD video capture, HDMI connectivity and a host of magic filters to take pictures with.  A lot of this functionality is not found in most smartphone cameras today and thus meaning, Olympus has tried to carve out a niche for themselves.

Canon EOS 600D and Nikon D5100 Digital SLR Cameras

Buying or using a D-SLR camera was a daunting thought once upon for most consumers as they were extremely complicated to use, required a lot of photographer skill and were expensive.  Over the last couple of years, we've seen a lot of this change as most major manufacturers started designing these cameras keeping the consumer in mind.  In this regards, the Canon EOS 600D and Nikon D5100 D-SLRs have been probably the most popular D-SLR in the consumer range of both brands.  A lot of the functionality that you would expect to find in a typical point and shoot camera is now included in these D-SLRs which means that most members of the family can expect to use the camera without too much difficulty.

Canon EOS 600D

The quality of pictures at the end of the day from a D-SLR is far superior to what you'll find coming out of even the best camera phones so if you're looking to preserve any of your special moments, a D-SLR camera is the product for you.

Nikon D5100
The Canon EOS 600D is a 18 megapixel camera whereas Nikon's D5100 is a 16.2 megapixel camera.  Both have a 3" LCD screen.  Both have got on-screen feature guides that help explain the different modes a little better and both would work well in challenging situations where a camera or point & shoot camera may not give ideal results.  The Nikon D5100 also has Full HD recording capabilities and thus can be used for video recording where required.

Deciding between these two brands really comes down to personal preferences at the end of the day but once you decide on a brand, be prepared to keep investing in the long term as the lenses generally are brand specific and you may be locked into that particular brand in the long term.

Samsung UA55D6600 LED Smart TV and LG 55LW6510 Internet TV

Samsung UA55D6600 Smart TV
The idea of a TV being "smart" or Internet-enabled has in theory been something that should've and could've been possible for a long time but it's only really been in the last year or so that we've seen this category develop.  The fact is that for a long time we've been dependent on using our computers at home for a lot of tasks that we're now realizing we can do on other devices, whether it be a smartphone, tablet or even a television.  Connectivity to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter on a television may not seem too exciting as those are probably best experienced on a tablet, laptop or smartphone but connecting to YouTube, Skype (wherever it is legal) and movie streaming sites, a Smart or Internet enabled television could be ideal.  Even if you've got a WIFI  network setup at home, it could be possible to stream your TV shows and movies that you've downloaded onto your television, thus making the entire experience of watching a TV show or movie more sociable.

Initially it may not seem that you'd need a Smart or Internet TV and sounds like a "nice to have" than a "must have" but as you start using it, you realize how easily it fits into your domestic lifestyle.
LG 55LW6510 Internet TV
The Samsung Smart TV is a Full HD 55" LED TV.  It has Samsung's "All Share" functionality that allows you to connect several devices within your household wirelessly.  It also the ability to convert 2D content into 3D content.  During the festive period, it's also coming bundled with a Samsung Galaxy Tab.  The equivalent model in LG is also a Full HD 55" LED TV.  It can also convert 2D content to 3D and unlike Samsung, uses regular 3D glasses, similar to what you'd use in a cinema, which are much cheaper than the glasses used by other manufacturers.  The LG TV has two USB slots and three HDMI slots on the TV.  It's coming bundled with a WIFI dongle and Blu-Ray DVD player during the festive season.

Posted By: Mahesh Chotrani, Head - Retail Buying and Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics

Sunday, 4 December 2011

2011 Jacky's Festive Guide

With an action-packed end to the year, we've been getting all sorts of requests with regards what would be our picks during this festive season here at Jacky's, so we decided to do a festive gadget guide of our own.  Before we get into our recommendations, we'd also like to remind you to ensure you dispose of your products responsibly.  At Jacky's for example, we have our Eco-Exchange program, wherein you can recycle used phones, cameras, gaming consoles and laptops.  Everything traded-in under our Eco-Exchange program is re-used or recycled and nothing ends up in a landfill.  If you want to set an example for the next generation, then we request you to please think of your environment when buying your next set of festive toys.

We hope you find our shopping guide useful and look forward to your feedback on it.

Acer S3 Ultrabook

A lot has been said about the Ultrabook category since we first it at GITEX Shopper's this year and till now, demand has far outstripped supply at our retail outlets.  Acer has been the first brand to market the ultrabook in this region and has had thus had the first mover advantage.  

Image courtesy: engadget.com, photographed is the
Core i7 variant of the Acer S3
What makes an ultrabook unique is the fact that it is designed to be super slim (like the Macbook Air) except that it runs on Windows 7.  For people who don't want to make the switch to Apple but want an ultra-slim notebook that switches on instantly, the S3 Ultrabook is the product for you.

There are various models of the Ultrabook, but our pick would be the model with an Intel Core i5 processor, 13.3" LED screen, 4GB RAM and 240GB SSD.  This model typically retails for Dhs. 5,299, though there are some variations of the S3 Ultrabook that retail for as low as Dhs. 3,599.

An SSD for those who aren't sure is an alternative to a conventional hard disk that we're used to normally having in most notebooks and PC's.  An SSD is uses flash memory similar to what is used in most MP3 players and smartphones today.  SSD's are normally more stable than conventional hard disks.

Dyson Air Multiplier 

Dyson have always been known for having cool products and their bladeless fan is no exception.  If you ever thought a simple fan wouldn't be able to grab your attention, then you are indeed mistaken.  The Air Multiplier works using a motor that's in the base of the fan which can suck in air and push it up into the ring.  There are tiny, millimeter long slits which the air rushes out of which are designed to push air out uniformly around the ring.  If you ever wanted to get someone a housewarming present, this would be the one to get.  Prices range from Dhs. 1,299 to Dhs. 1,899.

Apple iPad 2

Image: cnet.com.au
Nearly two years after Apple basically introduced the tablet category to the world, they still run supreme with their tablet offering.  The user-experience and variety of apps that are available for Apple still make it a must-have product.  For those who've never owned a tablet before, it's never too late and no matter whether you're talking about a child who's just a few years old or a grand parent who's never used a computer before, the ease of use of the iPad, makes it the perfect gift during the festive season.  Prices vary based on capacity (16, 32 and 6GB) and connectivity (Wifi or 3G + Wifi).  The iPad 2 is also available in two colors, white and black.

Samsung 8.9" Galaxy Tab

Image: slashgear.com
The only major brand that's managed to dent Apple's sales overall in tablets in this region has been Samsung.  Starting initially with a 7" model, Samsung added various products to ensure they had a portfolio of tablets in different sizes.  The 8.9" is probably our pick of the lot as it doesn't feel too small in your hands when you're browsing a website or watching a movie and still remains handy enough to carry around.  The Galaxy Tab is different from the Apple tablets in that it runs on the Android operating system and thus ties you into Google's ecosystem.  It has a better camera than the iPad 2 (three megapixels) and can accommodate an SD card in case you want to increase the memory on your tablet as the standard model comes with 16GB memory but you can expand it by 32GB using an SD card.  

BlackBerry Bold 9900

Image: engadget.com
The market leader in the UAE for smartphones is BlackBerry and it's no surprise that the Bold 9900 was an instant hit from the moment we launched it in August of this year.  It's running on the latest version of RIM's operating system, boasts a wider screen, faster processor and superior camera.  The stand out feature of this device though is the fact that apart from a bigger keyboard, it also has a touch screen that makes surfing the web or accessing apps on the phone that much quicker.  There is also a new BlackBerry Curve that was recently introduced that boasts the new operating system and touchscreen capabilities but the Bold 9900 still remains our pick within the BlackBerry line-up (to see a more detailed review we did on the Bold 9900, please click here).

Samsung Galaxy Note

Image: guardian.co.uk
Is it a phone or is it a tablet?  This is the question we asked ourselves when we first saw this device at the Samsung stand at GITEX Shopper's.  Since then, Samsung has gone ahead and answered this question for us and said it's a smartphone.  Boasting a massive 5.3" screen, this Android-powered device looks like a bigger version of Samsung's hugely successful Galaxy SII smartphone.  It has super sleek, has an extremely quick interface and packs in the power as far as camera (8 megapixel with flash), processor (dual-core 1.4 Ghz) &  network connectivity go (HSPA+ with supported speeds of 21 mbps).  It also has a little stylus that pops out of the phone so if you want to take notes the old-fashioned way, you can still write them down.  This is a phone that makes a statement wherever you take it and if you want to be noticed this festive season, this may be the device for you.

Nokia N9

2011 has been a year re-emergence for Nokia.  After taking the decision at the beginning of the year to start partnering with Microsoft on their next generation of smartphones, Nokia surprised everyone with this phone that runs on the MEEGO operating system.  More fundamental than the operating system is the philosophy that Nokia has adopted on this device which Nokia hopes changes the way we use our smartphone.  Apple for all intensive purposes changed the accepted norms of what we'd expect from a smartphone when they launched their  iPhones but Nokia has again challenged this by deciding to drop the concept of a home or back button.  The N9 fundamentally works off three screens and the belief at Nokia is that you need three screens to run your phone that you can swipe to and from.  If you're curious what Nokia has in-store with Windows Phone 7 in the future, the N9 is a good indication of that and we hope many of the fundamental shifts that Nokia has implemented on the N9 will carry forward into the devices we see coming in 2012.

Apple iPhone 4S
Image: apple.com

The hope is that Apple announces the launch of the iPhone 4S via their authorized partners, du and etisalat, before the year is out.  This is good news if you're a die-hard Apple fan or someone who's been delaying buying an iPhone because you were waiting for this to be officially launched in the UAE.  When it'll launch is still a mystery, what price it'll launch at is still a mystery but what we do know, is that when it launches, it'll no doubt be one of the most successful products for us this festive season and we don't require Apple's digital assistant, Siri, to tell us that.

Posted By: Mahesh Chotrani, Head - Retail Buying and Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics

Carrier IQ: Is it Worth the Fuss?

The past week in the United States, the technology blogs and publications have created an uproar over the role of a company that's been apparently snooping on most people that own a smartphone.  The company at the centre of the scandal is Carrier IQ and they've opened up a can of worms with regards data privacy in the US media.

Carrier IQ has said they've worked with most major vendors so regardless of whether you've been using an iPhone, BlackBerry or most variants of Android, you've probably been feeding data back to Carrier IQ on how you use your phone.  Who wants this data?  Well, it seems manufacturers and telecom companies are keen to analyze what we've been doing and have been using the services of companies like Carrier IQ to gather this (Gizmodo have a nice summary entitled "What is Carrier IQ?").

The fuss apparently though has been dug up because Carrier IQ could actually gather keystroke data which means if you've been feeding in credit card data or anything else sensitive into your smartphone, they could be recording all of this.

Of course, Carrier IQ denies it would keep that and most manufacturers are now trying to distance themselves from Carrier IQ as well, but this really does beg the bigger question: As consumers in a digital era, should we be surprised that we're being digitally analyzed?  

Image: filmandmusicfashion.com
My basic belief is that if you've got nothing to hide, then you shouldn't worry.  As individuals, we've all got digital fingerprints plastered over the Internet and it may not always seem obvious to us, but if someone wanted to, they could piece together everything about our lives like a jigsaw puzzle.  We've moved on from the age of when Peter Sellers was playing the role of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies and so has any sense of privacy we can expect to have.

Most of us have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google (Gmail), Hotmail, Yahoo, Amazon or Apple iTunes these days and in most cases, these are linked back to our desktop or notebook computer, smartphone, tablet or e-reader.  We've had no problems that these companies with whom we have an account are using this data every minute of every day to either recommend products or push advertisements our way.  They've all get access to a treasure trove of data about our lives and probably use some sort of data consolidation and analytic tool in the background.  Carrier IQ is no different.  It is a tool used to consolidate and analyze our usage patterns.

The responsibility for digital data and digital fingerprints lies with us as individuals.  If we don't want to be traced, we do have an option.  That option is to not buy a smartphone, not use a browser, a social networking service, a search engine, an online commerce retailer or an e-mail account.  The moment we do, it is implied we've consented to have our lives under the magnifying glass.

The US Senate has now weighed into the Carrier IQ case and I'm sure there will be countless more investigations.  The fact is that even if Carrier IQ is slapped over the wrist or dropped as a partner by most smartphone manufacturers, someone else will replace them in this space.  Data privacy laws only go so far but in the digital age, you can't expect to remain private if you want to remain connected.

Posted By: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics