Smartphones Trend: Is Bigger Better?

2014, is the year when small flagship smartphones considered “dead”.

The smartphones trend now follow the same suit: bigger, better. Manufacturer’s flagship phones from year to year always have improvement in CPU’s raw processing power and increment in size. 4.7 – 6 inch, it’s always around that. The smaller variants, like the “mini” version always get reduced power. It’s what has and always been in Android world.

iPhones, were faithfully adhere the principal of: maximum 4 inch let user’s thumb to reach anywhere in screen. But, things changed in Sept 2014 where Apple showcased their first 5 and 6 inch phones, and the world in crazy uproar. Pre-orders are overloaded. It means that people want bigger phones.

But, what about us, some people who still believe that smaller phones is what suit us best. I don’t really know anymore, what kind of “flagship” phones that will still in size of palm. I got into this problem when my sister asked me what flagship Android phones that still have the size of 4-5 inch. She wanted to buy a new phones because Lollipop deteriorated her phone’s performance. But until now, I am still confused.

If Moore’s Law now begin to failing, can this smartphone size trend can be broken?

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Separate Ways

I have been living in Bandung since mid 2009, and ever since, people come and go. Some friends stay together because of things that keep us together. This month, however, things have to change. People change and we choose our separate ways, because life must go on. We took different paths, different cities, different workplaces, different goals. However, for me it’s not a farewell. It’s just a new beginning.

Well, I said, good luck, to all my dear friends. Let’s meet up again somewhere in the future.

Planned Obsolescence

“Beauty lies in things that last for a long time”

An ironic quote, if I do say so myself. Most of the things manufactured nowadays are considered as things of beauty, however the manufacturer intentionally include the biggest flaw ever in their product. Introducing Planned Obsolescence. For those who didn’t know the coined term, planned obsolescence is a term to describe things that only last for limited time and will be rendered useless after its lifetime (Bulow, 1986).

Let me give you a simple case: watches are designed that it will last forever (well, not literally, but for a very long time). LED TVs are designed to last for 10k hours, it is an industry limitation. Li-ion batteries are designed to have around 6000 battery cycles, it is an technology limitation. Smartphones, on the other hand, are somehow designed that it will obselete for 2 years at most, not because of hardware deterioration, but because of software update.

Let’s take a look on iPhone/iPad for example. Apple did release newer iOS for older generation devices, but at the great price: sluggish performance. If you upgrade the iOS, you get sluggish performance, but still can enjoy newer version of 3rd party apps that have been enhanced to suit the newer OS. Or, decide not to upgrade the iOS, and sooner or later, the support for that older apps will be removed at all. The solution: buy newer device.

Let’s take a look on LG/Samsung/Motorola/HTC non-Nexus devices. When newer Android version released, they won’t bother to support 2 years behind devices to include newer OS. They would just released newer devices included with newer OS. The impact: your device apps are obsolete and unable to communicate with the service because the service needed your apps to be updated. But, to update the apps, you need to update the OS. The solution: buy newer device, root your phone (not recommended).

The manufacturers do this on purpose, so that newer hardwares will replace the older ones then consumers are forced to buy the newer ones. Silly? Not really. It’s business, it’s their own business, and we are the victim of their business model. But really, we always have the urge wanting new things, and those companies play their hands right.

No smartphone is built to last forever. Not even Project Ara.
P.S.: I still love my watch, it’s still working even after 7 years.

Sources:

  1. MacWorld: Why old iPhones become sluggish over time,
  2. Oxford Journal: An Economic Theory of Planned Obsolescence by Jeremy Bulow

Inbox by Gmail Review: E-mail as To-do List

Introduction

Back in 2004, I was the beta invitees of the first iteration of Gmail, although at that time I still didn’t consider e-mail as part of my life yet (I was a middle schooler back then). Gmail, has undergone serious changes, froma simple HTML webmail, to HTML5 webmail back in 2010, including tabs in 2013. For me, E-mail client is a lifesaver. Until 2012, I still routinely go to webmail, and I don’t know how many tabs I opened at a time. Then, I volunteered to close beta test my first lifesaver: Mailbird. I fell in love with Mailbird as Windows mail client, unlike Outlook nor Thunderbird, it feels lightweight and has clean UI. Mailbird is the first app which gave me a new perspective to handle e-mail: Inbox Zero. For 2 years until Oct 2014, I can count how many times I opened Gmail webapp: 5 times, only to make new filters for incoming e-mails.

To sum up: E-mail client has saved a lot of my times to search, open, read, and reply e-mails for this 2 years. As long as the e-mail client has sync the e-mails, I can do all of the above without any internet connection.

Now, here comes a new challenger.

Inbox by Gmail

Google likes to experiment and now they provide a new, experimental webmail called Inbox by Gmail. If you already have the invitation, of course you can go to http://inbox.google.com. What does it do? You can see it in action URL above.

Before, I still think that incoming e-mails as incoming message. New inbox notification, open the message, read, (optional) reply, then archive if I don’t need it anymore. Only important e-mails remain in my inbox in my Mailbird.

Inbox by Gmail try to change my perspective. While most email clients and even Gmail webapp treat e-mail inbox as “list of messages”, Inbox treats e-mail inbox as a “newsfeed of to-do lists”. Does it make sense? Fortunately, yes.

Features

First is Bundle. Bundles work almost the same with Promotions, Updates, Social tabs in Gmail, but they go to some extent: smart categorization. In Gmail webapps, e-mails contains promotion or advertisement go to Promotions, purchase receipts go to Update, and credit card billings go to Primary. In Inbox, advertisement still go to Low Priority, purchase receipts go to Purchases, and credit card billings go to Finance. It’s just that smart that I love it very much.

E-mail types Tabs
Gmail (webapp & mobile)
Bundles
Inbox by Gmail
Amazon Advertisement Promotions Low Priority
Steam Promo Promotions Low Priority
Purchase Receipt Updates Purchases
Credit Card Billing Primary Finance
Flight Ticket Primary Travel
Account Registration Updates Updates
Quora, Tumblr, LinkedIn Social Social
Mailing list Forums Forums

Second, swipe right to Mark as Done. E-mails are considered as to-do list, so when you’ve read it and you don’t have any business with that mails anymore, you mark them as done. It’s the same as archiving e-mails in Inbox Zero perspective, but somehow Inbox add it even further. Rather than swipe each e-mail to mark them as done, you can swipe the bundle to mark all the e-mails inside the bundle as done. It’s as the same thing as: click the filter, click mark all, then archive all marked messages. Inbox simplify how I manage my e-mails and everytime I mark them done, I feel like I have done one task of my “to-do list inbox”.

Third, swipe left to Snooze. Most of the time, important e-mails which require attentive reply are just marked as starred but I forgot when to reply those important messages. Snooze feature change that by making a reminder when to remind me to reply the specific message. I may forget that I have messages unattended, but Snooze will remind me at one time that I must reply the message. Nice feature.

Fourth is Pin. It behave almost like mark as starred in Gmail features, but it feels more like a “saved to Pocket”. Pinned e-mails contain all e-mails that I have pinned so that I can easily access when I needed to reread the messages. Unfortunately (but also fortunately), applying pin is not considered as marked as star in Gmail, so those pinned e-mails are still not starred in my Mailbird, but in my phone Inbox, it’s pinned.

Inbox as Newsfeed? It’s Plausible

Before, I never thought to see my mail inbox arranged like a Facebook newsfeed. With Inbox, now I see my inbox like a newsfeed. E-mails organized like a timeline, e-mails with attachment have the attachment previewed in the newsfeed. It’s hard to explain with words, but screenshot can explain it more clearly.

The Verdict

So, do I like it? Yes, very much! Although Google insisted that Inbox to be used in conjunction with Gmail app, I already uninstalled my Gmail app from my phone. Its sole purpose has become my mobile e-mail client, while for my desktop I still run my Mailbird. I can say this for sure: Google has successfully made me change my perspective to see e-mails as to-do list organized neatly, instead of bunch of messages organized chronologically. Do I feel improvement in productivity? Yes, I do. How you manage e-mails is very important and the right e-mail client will certainly help you a lot.

Inbox will only useful for people whose routine is to read and reply e-mails, and it will be not as useful as it means to be when used by people who just want the invitation without the need for routine e-mail operations.

P.S. Don’t ask for invitation. I still have some left but they are already reserved.

Powerful, Long-lasting, Portable Gaming PC?

The main reason why I wrote this is because of this: Is it unreasonable to expect any laptop to simultaneously be a good gaming machine and have portability and good battery life?

Have you heard about this infamous triangle of college life? Pick 2!

Pick 2 College Life

Reality of College Student

Now, we are living in a world where gamers want to play their games anywhere (if possible). Back then, we need special device connected to TV or display monitor to play games. Now, say, you can play games in your phone, tablet, or laptop. As a PC gamer who usually spend my day outside (not in home), I need my games to be playable in anywhere when I have free time. I believe many people have the same vision with me, that’s why we have manufacturers who make gaming laptops.

However, no matter how strong gaming laptops are, they are still dwarfed by the real gaming PCs, though the margin has been decreased as the time passes by. So, let’s say that we live in world where gaming laptops are powerful enough to run most demanding games at reasonably high graphical settings (not ultra-high for videophile). So, laptop, which is a portable computer with its thin body and limited battery life, has enough performance to run games. Seems legitimate.

Now is for the interesting moment, Pick 2!

Reality of Gaming Laptop

Reality of Gaming Laptop

 

See above? At the moment, no gaming laptop is ever free from the clutch of Performance-Portability-Battery Life triangle. Why is that? Let’s get real.

What makes computer (not laptop) powerful to run games? Of course it is because of the combination of high-performance CPU, GPU, RAM, and the power it needed to run those power hungry components. CPU and GPU are power hungry components. That’s why when computer is quite idle, the clockrate is turned down and other cores are powered off. If your computer needs to render lightweight graphics, it turned off the GPU (via NVIDIA Optimus or AMD Enduro) so the power is not dissipated to the GPU and the render workload is shifted to the integrated GPU (Intel HD/Iris).

When a demanding process needs extra horsepower, your computer throttles the clockrate of CPU, and turn on the GPU if needed. To do the throttle, it needs extra voltage. Extra voltage means extra power means Power Supply Unit (PSU) must support bigger power drain.

When the throttle occurs, do you realize that your computer is noisier than when it’s idle? The noise come from the fans which needed to cool down the CPU and GPU.

Typical Cooling Fan

Typical cooling fan

 

If both components get too hot, your computer might explode or melt. The hotter the components, the faster the fans spinning, and louder the sound they emit. FYI, sometimes using fan is not enough, so here comes Water Cooling. Water dissipates heat better than air, so computer running with water cooling will substantially cooler and quieter than mere cooling fan. Here’s the catch: It needs extra space for the hose and the radiator.

A simple water cooling for PC

A simple water cooling for PC

 

“In short: ultimate powerhouse needs both power and space.”

Laptop is a portable PC, with limited battery, but needs to deliver that kind of performance. We live in a world of trade-offs. You can’t maximize every single variables, but you can still optimize the result. That’s why we know about linear programming in math. Extra power means more battery drain, which leads to shorter battery life. To achieve portability, laptop needs to be thin and very limited motherboard real-estate, it is still impossible to fit in a water cooling inside a laptop chassis.

In the end, I can only give a simple answer examples of the pick 2 solution.

The answers

The answers

 

Macbook Air

(Performance -, Battery Life +, Portability +)

Thin, sleek, and lightweight, this is most people preferred laptop. Yes, the most expensive one can give you the performance needed to run Adobe Photoshop or iMovie but it doesn’t have enough horsepower to run demanding games. I know that Witcher 2 was ported for Mac, but not for this one, because it has no dGPU.

Don’t even think this can run Battlefield 4 (if one is ever made for Mac). I bet now you’re imagining it running Battlefield 4. Don’t. Even. Think. Period.

Razer Blade 2014

(Performance +, Battery Life -, Portability +)

This one is a 14′ thin laptop which can run most games at almost 4K resolution (3200 x 1800, almost 3840 x 2160). It’s quite powerful for a laptop (please don’t compare it to most gaming PC) but the main drawback is the battery only lasted 3 hours, all thanks to its high resolution display.

Thin and sleek, who knows that it holds such performance.

Thin and sleek, who knows that it holds such performance.

 

Large Pixel Collider

(Performance +, Battery Life +, Portability -)

Okay, this is not laptop at all. For the sake of ultimate performance and endless battery life (not really, just endless stream of electricity), this powerful PC needs a lot of space and A LOT of money. Cost as much as $10k, this uncomfortable power hungry PC consists of Intel Quad-core i7-4960X (X=Extreme), 4x NVIDIA GTX Titan in quad-SLI, 64 GB of RAM, water cooling, and an uncomfortable 1200W PSU. What can it do? Run Battlefield 4 in 7680 x 1440 ultra-high settings (3 monitors setup).

LPC

See how big it is?

 

To see some demo in action: Battlefield 4, Titanfall

Conclusion

At the moment, it is still impossible to maximize the three axis of Performance-Portability-Battery Life. It’s just the time has yet to come. Although, I always though this: by the time laptop can fit in water cooling and 12-core CPU, the PC would have been leapt too far.

Do you think surround headset/home theatre is worth it for gaming? Why or why not?

Answer by Max Loh:

Yes, surround is worth it for gaming, if you are that type of person which appreciates sound (and judging by the fact you are asking this question in the first place, you probably are).

Rather than surround sound headset, use emulated surround on headphones by a good algorithm/soundcard. I use X-Fi’s CMSS-3D for headphones. The algorithm is very good and sounds are very believably behind you. I remember the first time I tried it on, I looked behind me expecting there to be a speaker when there wasn’t.

Don’t do what Kevin Kappel did and use a no-name emulation algorithm that sucks balls. Don’t do what Daniel Super does and use the game’s emulation algorithm (which also sucks balls). Proof that soundcard emulation still provides industry-leading realistic/immersive 3D in headphones can be found in this Youtube video (CMSS-3D and THX are clearly superior, Dolby Headphone is good, and software rendering is so bad it sounds like vanilla stereo). USE HEADPHONES when listening:


Now keep in mind that there are a lot of complaints about Creative’s X-fi brands of cards for having horrendous customer support. But their sound is very good — if it works. I’ve been lucky enough that my card is still working without flaws after all these years. However, other brands might have sound cards that also emulate 3D on headphones very well. For example ASUS cards use “Dolby Headphone” (as in video above), which in my opinion doesn’t sound as great, and even adds room reflections for no reason, but is still decent.

Most people who have compared the two agree that the emulated 3D with a dedicated card is better than actual cumbersome surround speakers built into the headphones.

When playing a sound-heavy competitive game such as counter-strike, it is essential to have surround sound because often you hear someone coming from your left, but it could be left-front or left-behind. With emulated surround in headphones it is extremely easy to pinpoint their location. In fact it is much easier than in real life, since they don’t model reflections off of walls. There is a location in a particular map where if I stand, I can know where the whole team is headed and call out to my team “they’re going through apartments” or “they’re going through tunnels”. When I only use stereo, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two.

For immersion and cinematic quality, real 5.1 or more speakers is probably best, but for pinpointing location in competitive games, nothing beats headphones with emulated surround.

Do you think surround headset/home theatre is worth it for gaming? Why or why not?