Archive

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Dear TOOZE:

I’ve just bought myself an iPhone but there’s just too many apps out there! Which apps should I get?

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At the point of writing, there’s 425,000 apps in the App Store. This post is dedicated to the great developers of great iPhone apps, as well as any new iPhone owners.

Note the following labels:

  • iPhone (works on iPhone only. I’m going to ignore iPod Touch compatibility since most apps work on both devices except for a few)
  • Universal (runs on both iPhone and iPad natively, meaning on the iPad the app is full-sized; not iPhone-sized scaled up)
  • Win/Mac (has desktop clients)

Also, all prices are in US$.

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Calendar stuff

Calvetica Calendar (iPhone, $2.99)

This has once replaced the stock calendar app for me on the iPhone. It’s still by far the prettiest, and is rather fast in terms of event creation/viewing. Even trashing an event is fast as it requires just a swipe and a tap. It has quite a few nice touches like collapsing your day to show events only (as compared to showing all the hours), switching to agenda mode or a week view in landscape mode etc. There is a free version so do try it out and see if it helps you focus better.

Agenda – A Better Calendar with Today’s Date (iPhone, $0.99)

This is currently the default calendar app for me, replacing Calvetica. Personally, Calvetica is very much prettier; Agenda has to me a very unpolished look. Having said that, it’s the fastest in terms of viewing/referencing your calendar. Fire up the app and you’d see a list of your days with all the events, with the current day right on top. Want to see the past? Scroll up. Future? Scroll down. Want to zoom in to the day’s timetable? Swipe left. Up and down swipes work for future and past as previous. Want to zoom in on an event? Swipe left. You get the idea.

For adding new events, the ‘+’ button brings up the full dialog box to key in everything. This is different from Calvetica which allows you to key in something fast, but not if you want to fine tune it.

Ultimately, I love this app (if only it looks like Calvetica!) for its focus on gestures and wealth of information accessible.

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A note about 3rd party calendar apps. The apps work by getting data from your in-built calendar app. What this means is that if your calendar is not updated (i.e. the information is not pushed to your phone), your 3rd party apps are going to be useless. Hence, if you find events missing from your apps, just fire up the in-built calendar and let the information sync. It will be fine then.

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Occasions (iPhone, $0.99)

One of my earliest apps when it was still free. Basically it’s an app that tracks all your birthdays, anniversaries and what-nots. What it does is that it accesses your contact list as well as your Facebook friends’ list, and downloads them. Looks great and works well, plus it has push notifications, which is a big deal for me (meaning to say that I don’t have to open the app to check those dates). Also, you can set when should you be alerted of the events. Useful for those who would like to remember dates but can’t.

Some of you might think of creating an alarm in the calendar app as opposed to spending $0.99 for this. Well, besides having your Facebook birthdays in as well, there is a second reason. Those of you who subscribe to your Address Book’s birthdays for your iCal or calendars, will realize that you cannot set alarms for them. The workaround is to create a separate event for each birthday (there are scripts/programs that do that). Occasions solves that this by putting all your dates in one place.

Keynote Remote (iPhone & iPad, $0.99 –  it’s not universal; it’s the iPhone size on the iPad)

This is a nifty little app that allows you to control your keynote (on the Mac or iOS devices) from your iPhone. For a Mac/iPhone pairing you’d need both devices to be on the same Wi-Fi network, but there’s a great workaround by Ricky Buchanan. For an iOS device/iPhone pairing, you can do it over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

AppVault Pro (iPhone, $0.99)

This is one of those all-in-one apps which I don’t use much, but is really useful when you need a guitar tuner, dice, unit conversions, a ruler etc. There’s a lite version too so do check that out first. A caveat though: this app has not been updated since July 2010, and the original site is gone, which means it’s probably a dormant app with no updates. Having said that, it works fine for me but you might want to shop around for other newer apps.

Getting things done

OmniFocus (iPhone, $19.99. iPad, $39.99. Mac, $79.95 / $49.95 for education pricing)

Omnifocus is a GTD (Get Things Done) app and by far the best in the market. Yes I know it’s pricey but the thing that won me over from other GTD apps is the availability of a desktop client and the ability to sync over-the-air (OTA). Do check out the tutorials and see how different it is from the rest; having said that the learning curve is steep, and might be overkill for some…

Wunderlist (iPhone, Free. iPad – Wunderlist HD, Free. Mac, Free)

Wunderlist is a simple to-do list with OTA syncing between all your devices. It’s free, and pretty, and works. I believe it’s a great stop-gap measure before Apple rolls out their Reminders app.

2Do: Tasks Done in Style (Universal, $6.99)

It’s one of my first few GTD apps and it is still one of the prettiest GTD apps out there. The only reason why I switched from this to OmniFocus is because it doesn’t have a Mac client for me to work in, unlike OmniFocus. If you don’t need a Mac client, then this is a must try, especially with its hefty set of features.

Reading / Writing

Instapaper (Universal, $4.99)

Instapaper is a web service that allows you to save whatever you read online for later consumption, and this is the iOS app. This is how it works: Let’s say I’m reading an article on the web and I need to go out for an errand. What I’d do is to save it then open up Instapaper when I’m on the bus to carry on reading. It allows offline reading so that’s the whole point of it. The service is free on web browsers so you might want to try it out before committing to the apps. It’s really more of a habit/workflow than anything.

It is significant because I now save articles for later reading when I’m more free, instead of skimming through or skipping them totally. It’s also great for keeping some articles for referencing.

Previously I was using Read It Later (RIL) but one big issue I had with it was that some of the pages were not saved properly, resulting in me having to visit the original site which kind of defeats the whole purpose. However, RIL manages the articles better and I am able to mark them as read and move on to the next article without going back to the article list, something Instapaper is unable to do. Nevertheless, I’ve switched to Instapaper and never looked back.

Simplenote (Universal, Free)

This is a must have note taking app. It’s fast, clean, simple and free. Plus it has a web app which you can log on to view those notes you taken on your iOS devices. To top it up, it has tags, and the ability to save multiple versions. A must have!

SpringPad (Universal, Free)

SpringPad is an app that allows you to store things besides plain text (which Simplenote does). As a case in point, I use it to store photos and reviews of the wines I drink. The iPad version of SpringPad is rather fun, but I hardly use it as the app on my phone is much more accessible. The more famous app competitor out there would be Evernote, but I don’t like the slow syncing, as well as buggy syncing between web and devices. Furthermore, editing tags on the web is a pain. Then again, a lot of people use Evernote, and it’s free so do check it out if you don’t like SpringPad.

iBook (Universal, Free)

The official e-book reader from Apple. Pretty and sports syncing across devices. The only problem is that it (or rather Singapore’s iBookstore) doesn’t support paid e-books, yet. If you want to buy e-books, check out Kobo. The only problem I have with Kobo is that when you restore your device, all your annotations get erased, which defeats the purpose of annotations in the first place, and there’s no cloud syncing for annotations.

Communications / References

Whatsapp (iPhone, 0.99)

When iMessage comes out with iOS 5 in a month or two, Whatsapp will be kinda redundant, especially with the high penetration of iPhones in Singapore. Having said that, Whatsapp has group chat which iMessage probably don’t have, so it might stay for a while. A great and prettier alternative (and free) is eBuddy XMS, but the penetration is not as high. If you don’t want to spend the $0.99, then ask your friends to install eBuddy XMS (do not confuse with eBuddy; XMS is the SMS app while eBuddy is the IM app) and chat with them free. Look out for a review on eBuddy XMS here soon.

1Password for iPhone (iPhone, $9.99); 1Password Pro (Universal, $11.99. Win/Mac, $39.99; Win + Mac, $59.99)

This is actually a desktop client which stores all your passwords and web logins as well as other stuff like license keys. What do you need to know? 1 password, literally. It then has a browser add-on that you can use to sign in to various websites (after you have saved the logins). It also sports a random password generator (no more password123), dropbox syncing and more. Basically the iOS versions allow you to carry your passwords and other sensitive information around.

SoundHound (Universal, Free + in-app upgrade $6.99)

This is a useful little app for music buffs. Ever heard a song and wonder what’s the title? Well, SoundHound solves that; just point your phone to the source of the music, let it record for a while and identification happens. Personally I don’t use it much but I have friends who swear by it. Having said that, another competitor app worth looking out for is Shazam.

MoneyBook (iPhone, $2.99)

This is a expense tracking app which does its job well. Sure there are some areas of improvement to be made but overall, the GUI and function fits me well. It has customised categories, a summary view of transactions by categories, a summary view of expenditures by month and a web app to company it. Pretty nice if you’d ask me. Another (slightly cheaper) app worth looking at is Expenditure.

gothere.sg (iPhone, 2.99)

The app from the popular location/direction service. Works beautifully.

SG Buses V3 (Universal, Free)

A simple app to tell you the timings of the buses. Include bus routes too. There are other apps but well, this works fine for me. SG NextBus is another app to look out for, and according to the developer,

SG NextBus is not a replacement for SG Buses. SG NextBus provides faster access to bus arrival time while SG Buses is a bus directory to get more detail[ed] information about buses.

Dictionary.com (iPhone, Free)

A nice dictionary app. Includes pronunciation.

SG Showtime (iPhone, Free)

This is an app that shows all the movie timings in cinemas around Singapore. Pretty useful for movie buffs. Personally, I don’t use it; in part because I almost watch movies at Shaw exclusively, and their web app – Shaw Mobile (m.shaw.sg) works very well.

Games

Words With Friends Free (iPhone, Free)

Scrabble (sort of with a different board and tile points) with friends as you take your turn when you want to; paid version removes ads.

Gun Bros (Universal, Free)

It’s a freemium top-down shooter game with two people in the likes of Minigore. The best part about this game is that it now sports multiplayer over 3G and Wi-Fi. Go get it and blast some aliens/monsters/baddies.

Street Fighter IV (iPhone, $4.99)

This is a beautiful and great port from the arcade game, and multiplay over Bluetooth works quite well too. There’s also a nice ‘SP’ button which helps you overcome the screen limitations of the phone by making it easier to execute certain moves. Definitely worth a look.

Other games worth looking at, inclusive of the uber famous ones are: Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, Zen Bound, Bug Heroes, Drop7 Free, Plants VS Zombies, World Series of Poker Hold’em Legend, Burn The Rope, Bejeweled 2, Mini Squadron, Zenonia 3, N.O.V.A. 2, Mega Jump, Tilt to Live, Oven Break.

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There’s a lot of apps out there so I’ve listed those that I use on a daily basis or solve a need. If there’s any app you’d like to recommend, do add it in the comments below. One last point before I end. If you want to monitor the prices of apps, do check out AppShopper. They track price drops of apps as well as offer a wish list to login-ed users. There site can be found here.

Hacking

Image source: stock.xchng

With the recent media showcase on the hacking antics of the very 2 prominent groups Lulzsec and Anonymous, some of us here may wonder, “How safe am I actually?” “Is my password secure?”.

The main thing to password strength is a combination of length and entropy, which is a fancy way of measuring randomness in a password.

Despite this, even if you have the world’s most awesome hard to remember super password like “$%#SMVrt43TGt09%^^#@342608$@#%SDFY” which requires you to roll your face over your keyboard in the same pattern each time, I believe many of us fall into the very easy trap of using ONE single password for many of the websites we log on to. Just think about it, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo!, random internet forums, your bank account, your blog, Photobucket, etc etc…

This following webcomic should pretty much sum up the dangers of such a practice.

Credit: xkcd.com

And if that is not enough to scare you, a recent article over at Tom’s and PC Pro tells us of the possibilities of using our GPUs to crack a password.  A CPU such as the core i5-2500k  (recommended in our previous build a PC post) can churn out about 28 million passwords per second for a brute force attack, where a hacker just tries every possible combination of text and numbers. A gamer with a recent GTX or Radeon card with either Nvidia’s CUDA or AMD’s Stream GPGPU cores can utilize those cores on the GPU which are optimized for parallel computing to break passwords at a blazing speed. The TL;DR version is a decent graphics card, or worse, in SLI/Crossfire can churn out passwords at a rate of over a billion passwords per second. The Whitepixel project running 4x HD5970s is already pushing 33.1 billion passwords per second!

So how do I protect myself then? Stay tuned for our follow up post!

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Check out our followup posts: Part 2, Part 3.

Dear TOOZE:

I’ve heard many things about a Mac and would like to consider one. However, there are several considerations holding me back; especially the worry of compatibility. What’s your take on this?

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Note: since DT is the only Mac user in TOOZE, he will be answering this query alone with XY being the devil’s advocate. This post is also in response to a previous post about buying a Mac as an option for getting a new desktop.

DT: This is a classic question, and a legit one as well. After all, we are used to our Windows programs and environment, so why switch? Before I dive into my take on this, let me share with you my hardware history. My first machine way back in 2005 was actually my dad’s Compaq laptop running Win XP. After a year or so, the hard disk on the Compaq died and after repairing it I returned it to my dad. I then had a D.I.Y. machine built. After some time I realized I needed a laptop for my courses in university. Since I had a Windows PC, and I heard much about a Mac being useful for photos, movie production, design and what-not, I got myself a bumped 15″ MacBook Pro (MBP). Soon I was using dual OS and after some years the hard disk on my desktop died, leaving me with my MBP only. I survived solely on the MBP for a year or two before getting myself an iMac, and most recently a MacBook Air to replace my MBP which I sold away.

XY: So you were Mac only for quite a while. Were there problems? I’m sure there were, weren’t there?

DT: You are getting to much into your role you know. Some of the common programs I use are Adobe CS 4, Microsoft Office and MSN Messenger. The former two have versions specially written for the Mac, and they work wonderfully well, though a little different. Nonetheless, file compatibility is not an issue as they still save in their native formats, for example .doc for MS Word.

XY: You left out Messenger, and I’m sure there were some programs you couldn’t use. Even Office for Mac is really different no?

DT: Messenger for Mac was a sad program. At that time, Messenger for Windows was already at version 9 (I think) but it was version 6 for the Mac. They only recently updated the software to allow for video chats on the Mac. Two other classes of programs don’t work too well on the Mac platform: Flash apps and games. Flash is not optimized on the Mac and tend to be buggy/laggy, unlike its WIndows counterpart. Games are also sorry on the Mac. I tried running Warcraft 3 on the Mac and it crashed often due to driver issues. As for Office, I’m still sticking to MS Office for Mac 2008, which I thought was much prettier than the Office for Windows 2007 onwards, which sport the ribbon (and I hate). Excel is by far the most different in terms of layout and stuff, but since I wasn’t really a power user, I didn’t have much problems.

XY: Yeah, I remember you crashing out so often on B.Net during the DOTA games. So why bother with a Mac?

DT: Apple’s website has a page on why you should switch to a Mac but for me, it’s really because I like how it looks and works. Frankly, it is a lot more intuitive; the phrase “it just works” isn’t a lie — at least to me.

XY: You’re kidding me. A while back they don’t even have right click on their single-button mouse! And it’s so different from Windows!

DT: Different yes but not necessarily worse off. To a brand new computer user, a Mac layout is actually much more easier to pick up. Heck, the right button thing proves the point because my dad struggled with the right click when he first started learning the Windows platform. I mean, we take it for granted but for a new user, it actually takes quite a bit of effort to remember which finger to use and for what. Personally, when I first switched to a Mac I felt stupid because I kept pressing the wrong buttons. I took almost 3 weeks before I got back my productivity but it was history ever since. It’s all practice. However, I would think that power Windows users (meaning those who know many keyboard shortcuts) would feel frustrated on a Mac because there is just so much to unlearn, but to call it worse off is hardly justified.

Secondly, while Messenger and games don’t work well, there are actually many good programs that are solely Mac. For example, there’s Pixelmator and Acorn which can be considered to be Photoshop and Illustrator alternatives (might not be replacements per se). There’s also Marsedit, a famous blogging program, the Omni Group of programs and more. Heck, the iLife suite which comes free with every Mac wins its Windows counterpart any day. Just try iMovie and GarageBand and you’d never really want to go back to Windows Movie Maker and Sound Recorder.

XY: So basically you’re saying that you lose some but you win some. However, as a gamer myself, I’d avoid Mac since games don’t run on Mac.

DT: Perfectly legit. Well, I’m running Win 7 on my iMac via Boot Camp, which gives me access to all the games and Flash apps and whatever I want on a Windows platform. Essentially I have the best of both worlds. However, I use the Mac platform primarily and boot up my Windows platform only when I want to play games. Here I’d add that even though they have some games for the Mac (there are games that are only Windows) like Starcraft and Civilization V, they don’t function as smoothly as their Windows counterpart. Hence, if you really want to play games, I’d say stick to a Windows platform or be prepared to use Boot Camp.

XY: True. Even if you ran Boot Camp, the hardware is still pretty behind*. Anyway I think that’s enough for our readers. Any conclusion for us?

DT: Agreed. Well, know what you are looking for in a machine and seek clarifications instead of being swayed by uninformed people. Call me a fanboy for loving Apple stuff, but I believe that I am aware of its limitations, as much as I am aware of Windows’s strengths. Ultimately, use the machine you are most comfortable with, and be productive. For those who have just switched and would like some help in adjusting to your Mac, check out my previous post here. As a summary, here’s my take:

  • If you want lots of games and everything else is secondary, stick to Windows.
  • If you want to make movies and play with music or photos, try the Mac**.
  • If you want to make movies and play with music or photos, but want games, get a Mac and Boot Camp.
  • If you are frustrated with how Windows work and look, try a Mac.
  • If you have a lot of Windows only program, and don’t have time/don’t want to play around with something new, stick to Windows.
  • If you are looking to change your computer and don’t have a preference, and only want to surf and do the occasional Office stuff, try a Mac or maybe just get an iPad*.

As an afterthought, before you get a Mac, do borrow a friend’s to try it out and ask them for their take on using a Mac. Afterall, your friends would know what suits you better (I hope). Need more clarifications? Drop us a comment below!

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*Behind as in not cutting edge, especially since it is a pre-built machine. However, it is more than sufficient for most.

**As for which Mac to get, I’m currently recommending the MacBook Air, or else 15″ MacBook Pro. Personally, avoid the MacBook and 13″ MacBook Pro. My previous post about MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air should clarify this point better. Having said that, do NOT buy any Mac machines until OS X Lion has shipped and the machines (iMacs and laptops) are all updated for the new OS.

***We’d be doing a post about using the iPad as a primary computer soon. Keep a look out!

Dear TOOZE,

I’ve SG$1500 to spend and I would like to get a desktop for games and Photoshop. What would you recommend?

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Note: all prices are in SG dollars, and obtained at the point of writing. Hence prices are subject to change over time and from vendor to vendor. This post might also get a little geeky, so bear with us as we work out the numbers for you! If it’s too much, then scroll down to our summary right below.

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D.I.Y. systems

DT: The age old question: which computer should I get? Well, there’s three options here: a D.I.Y. system, a pre-built machine and a Mac. I’d let XY talk a bit more about getting a D.I.Y. system first.

XY: Ah, going the D.I.Y. route eh? Nothing like having your own computer, built personally, 100% customizable, going as high (or as low) as you want. It probably entails more sweat carrying the parts from Sim Lim Square (SLS), maybe some blood from cutting your fingers on metal edges, but you get more bang for your buck!

Before we get to the guts, let’s talk about the monitor first. I’d recommend a good monitor, preferably one with an IPS panel, which can last you a long time out of that budget. For the benefit of the uninitiated, please refer to this article from CNET regarding purchase of monitors.

Let’s now get to the guts of the computer. $1500 will get you a very decent computer which allows you to run most games in 1920×1200, and in high details. Here’s a recommended build:

  • Monitor: Dell Ultrasharp U2311H – $279 inclusive of delivery
  • Motherboard + CPU: Asrock P67 Extreme 4 + Intel Core i5-2500k (3.3 GHz) – $560, the k denotes that you can overclock the CPU.
  • Graphics: MSI R6850 Cyclone 1GB – $255 or Sapphire HD6950 – $379
  • RAM: G-Skill Ripjaws-X (1600MHz) (CL7) 2x2GB – $118
  • Optical drive: Sony 24x DVD+RW – $30
  • HDD: Western Digital 1TB Black – $118
  • Power supply: OCZ ModXstream Pro 700W – $139
  • Casing: CoolerMaster 430 – $79
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit – $112

Total: (excluding monitor): 6850 – $1411; 6950 – $1535 Total: (including monitor): 6850 – $1690; 6950 – $1814

DT: That sure was geeky. Anyhow, while XY and myself are quite poles apart in our preference of platform and others, we both agree on one thing, and that is about pre-built platforms being not worth your money, except in one case…

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Pre-built machines

XY: That’s true. Let’s consider Dell’s XPS 8300 and Studio XPS 9100, which are selling for $1299 and $1599 respectively. If we were to count the parts separately, and ignoring the case which we obviously cannot replicate outside, we are left with the following numbers:

XPS 8300 as D.I.Y.-ed: (note: since I can only guess the parts that go in, I’ll be taking the cheapest available options. Italics are the specified specs on the manufacturer’s website)

Dell XPS 8300

  • Monitor: None
  • Motherboard + CPU: Biostar H61-MH B3 + Intel Core i5-2310 (2.9 GHz) – $321
  • Graphics: HD6450 1GB – This part is not available in SG. US$49.99 = S$62
  • RAM: Kingston 1333MHz 2x2GB – $45
  • Optical drive: 16x DVD+RW – Again it is hard to find a 16x drive now. Sony 24x DVD+RW – $30
  • HDD: Hitachi 1TB – $67
  • Power supply: Generic PSU + Casing – $100 or so
  • Casing: see above
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit – $112
  • Total: $737

Savings = $1299 – $737 = $562 or 43%!!!

Also note that Dell gives you a 1-year warranty whereas most D.I.Y. parts give you an average of 2-3 years of warranty.

Dell Studio XPS 9100

  • Monitor: None
  • Motherboard + CPU: MSI X-58A + Intel Core i5-950 (3.08 GHz) – $697
  • Graphics: Sapphire HD6670 1GB – S$149
  • RAM: Team Elite 1333MHz 3x2GB – $79
  • Optical drive: $30
  • HDD: Hitachi 1TB – $67
  • Power supply: Generic PSU + Casing – $100 or so
  • Casing: see above
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit – $112
  • Total: $1234

In the same way, Studio XPS 9100 as D.I.Y.-ed will save us $365 or 23%. Also note that the XPS 9100 uses the Core i7-930 which is the Nehalem series (i.e. previous generation Intel chips vs the Sandy Bridge series shown in the 2 systems above).

The Core i7-930 (2.8 GHz) is not available in Sim Lim Square, and the nearest comparison would be the Core i7-950 (3.08 GHz) – there’s not many Nehalem chips left I’d presume since it’s older technology. The price differential online would be approx. US$20, bringing the total lower to $1197 or a 25% savings.

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Mac

DT: That is some savings. Anyway, here is where I come in to recommend a Mac.

XY: Isn’t that a pre-built machine? You’re shooting your own foot you know.

DT: Yeah I know, but there isn’t really a way to D.I.Y. your own Mac without some serious headache. Furthermore, owning to the nature of a Mac and the way it’s built, the price of a Mac isn’t really the sum of its parts as seen in the case of Dell computers.

XY: I’d hate to agree but there is some truth to it as Apple integrates the hardware a little differently from the others, often with customized firmware that optimizes the system better.

DT: So in this case I’d recommend the cheapest iMac sold on the online Apple Store. It’s going for $1648 and if you can get the education discount, it’s $1578. If we did the same comparison as before, and factoring in the 21.5″ IPS panel monitor, wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse as well as the OS, we’d save…

XY:

  • Monitor: Dell Ultrasharp U2311H – $279 (this is the cheapest IPS monitor but it’s bigger at 23″)
  • Motherboard + CPU: Biostar H61-MH B3 + Intel Core i5-2400 (2.5 GHz) – $330
  • Graphics: HD6750 512 MB Proxy with Sapphire HD6750 1GB – S$159
  • RAM: Kingston 1333MHz 2x2GB – $45
  • Optical drive: $30
  • HDD: Western Digital 500GB Blue – $49
  • Power supply: Generic PSU + Casing (built into monitor, we can assume that the larger monitor here sort of cancels out the cost of a PSU + smaller monitor)
  • Casing: see above
  • OS: Mac OS X Snow Leopard – $48
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard + Magic Mouse + Trackpad: $98 x 3 = $294
  • Total: $1234

Savings = $1578 (education pricing) – $1234 = $344 or 22%

DT: Except we cannot really count it that way as there’s still the build and design of the machine to consider. It is after all an all-in-one compared to our standalone desktops. Oh and if you intend to get a Mac, I’d recommend AppleCare as well. It’s worth it (to me) for machines beyond $1500. Anyhow, this is a long enough post and I’d leave the FAQs about using a Mac for the next post.

XY: I think our reader really wants to consider a pre-built machine.

DT: Oh alright. One machine you can consider is the Alienware Aurora; it’s pretty decently priced within your budget and you can modify the specs – a build-to-order.

XY: Or you could go to SLS and ask the local Ah Beng sellers there to fix up the D.I.Y. system for you for about $50 or so, making it a semi-pre-built machine. This is actually highly recommended; 100% D.I.Y. is not recommended unless you know what you are doing.

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p.s. As if we didn’t show how we don’t like pre-built machines enough…

XY: 2 more problems with a pre-built machine. A friend (let’s call him M) recently came to me with the first problem:

M: I’ve just bought a new laptop from company A. I have this windows error and I called tech support who told me to just do a restore from the backup partition. I tried that and I still have that error.

XY: Can’t you reinstall your windows?

M: I can’t, they didn’t give me any Windows disc; only their own disc.

XY: I could lend you my Win 7 disc, but let me guess, they didn’t give u any Win CD-Key right?

XY: There you have it, when it comes to such a problem, you are really stuck with going back to the tech support, which in some cases cannot help you much. This happens because a lot of programs are preloaded (cheaper) and they don’t give you the physical disc for reinstalls. Also, what if the hard disk crashed and you lost that backup/restore partition?

As for the second problem, pre-built machines tend to also skimp on the graphics card since the are likely to have a generic (read: average/lousy) power supply unit with a low rating and motherboard, as well as slower RAM with higher latency. These, especially the power supply will severely limit your future upgrade potential. Even in the computer world, brand sometimes do matter as it signifies quality.

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Summary

Go for a D.I.Y. system and get the guys at Sim Lim Square to fix it up for you. If you know that you want a Mac, then get the cheapest iMac. Pre-builts are really erm… not recommended by TOOZE.

A day with Snapseed

Previously I wrote about Snapseed, an iPad photo editing app and after using it rather intensively today, I thought I should do an update of my entire experience, from shooting to finishing.

Here’s what transpired today.

I was shooting for my friend’s wedding today with my Nikon D90, saving RAW+JPEG images. After the shoot, I went to Starbucks with my iPad and iPad Camera Connection Kit (the connector that allowed me to import photos from my SD card). So I plugged in the SD card and imported all photos (RAW+JPEG) into the camera library. The first irritation (not Snapseed’s, but the import utility’s) was the inability to select all photos then unselect a certain number of photos; I could only select those I want or import all.

After a while, all the imported photos will go into the Last Imported album. There, I’d review all the photos by swiping them, and delete those that aren’t too good. These is my first cut.

When the first cut is done, I’d max up the brightness on my iPad before firing up Snapseed. This is to allow me to see the colors better, and also prevent over brightening of photos. Once in Snapseed, I’d Open the first file from the Last Import album. After the file (JPEG, not RAW) is in, I’d run Auto Correct then Tune Image. The former usually corrects the contrast and color, but tends to make the color a little too green, and the brightness a little too high so do adjust accordingly. From there, I’d then do all the funky edits and filters.

I took about 2 hours to review over 200 photos and edit (after the first cut) 80 of them. They are now sitting in my iPad Camera Roll, awaiting my extract of them via Image Capture (on the Mac) when I return home.

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Here’s some limitations of the app that I came across.

Cropping

Cropping is great but fine/precise movements are a little difficult since it’s gesture-based and my fingers ain’t that skinny. Then again, precise movements on the iPad is almost impossible due to the nature of the capacitive screen. However, that wasn’t the biggest frustration about cropping. The thing I’d like to see in Snapseed is the addition of fixed ratios for cropping. I wanted to do a square crop but since the grid was free form, I couldn’t get a square. The best I did was to use a ruler and try measure the grid on-screen to get a square.

Center Focus

Center Focus is a nifty filter that allows you to choose a point to be focused upon. How the app does it is to blur and brighten/darken the surroundings depending on your setting. One irritation is that the filter blurs the sides always, and there’s no way to turn it off. This is an irritation if I want to do a vignetting but not a lens blur, for the filer automatically adds in the blur for me. One (sort of) way of working around it is to darken the whole picture in Tune Image, then using Selective Adjust brighten the center. However, this is not the best because Selective Adjust is applied to objects in the picture and not the whole picture. Same applies for Grunge filter as well – inability to remove blur.

Revert

Revert allows you to remove all changes and work from your original file. However, what if I want to undo something I’ve done previously? There is no way because there is no edit history. Hence, if you ran like 4 filters only to hate the last one (but applied it already), you have to redo the first 3 again.

No…

This is not really an irritation, but I would like to be able to work with curves, RAW, and have sharpening adjustments. Selective sharpening for eyes would be great! Let’s hope they add it in further updates.

One more thing

One very important thing to take note for Snapseed or any photo editing app on the iPad is that the iPad screen is not calibrated. On our computers, we can calibrate the screens using tools like SpyderPro but not for the iPad. I mean, sure, Datacolor released an app to calibrate the iPad screen, but it’s only calibrated within the app; elsewhere it’s still native. Hence, after editing, it’s good to verify the colors on a color calibrated machine, be it on your computer or within Datacolor’s iPad app.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, Snapseed is still a great tool to work with and I see it replacing Photoshop for me most of the time. Granted it cannot do cloning, healing brush, text etc, but one must remember that it is a editing tool, not an enhancement tool. I would see it as a replacement for most people, especially hobbyists, and an add-on for many others. Do give it a spin if you haven’t!

p.s. for those who are wondering, the Drama filter is really a HDR filter (to me).

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Further readings:

iPad Camera Connection Kit

My original review on Snapseed can be found here.

In the beginning…

Photos want to be edited… Not that we have to; but editing our photos bring completion to an experience we want to give others, and ourselves. The problem is not a lack of photo-editing software; we’ve got expensive photo editing software like Photoshop, Acorn even Lightroom, Aperture and many others. The problem is a lack of an affordable and intuitive software for hobbyist and even pros alike.

There wasn’t really a contender, until now. Say hello to Snapseed (for iPad only).

Then there was Snapseed

From the developer’s site:

Snapseed for iPad makes any photograph extraordinary and is brought to you by Nik Software, the recognized leader in digital photographic products and technologies. With Snapseed, enhance your photos with one tap. Tweak photos to perfection with Tune Image or selectively adjust only a part of your photo with revolutionary Control Points. Add incredible effects with innovative filters like Drama, Vintage, and Grunge. Share photos with your friends and family with social network support, or print your photos directly in Snapseed.

Using Snapseed

Snapseed is fast and totally intuitive. Use it for a while, and you’d be editing photos non-stop. What makes it different from the rest is the ease of usage via touch, and its lack of complex instructions and menus/drop-downs. It can’t get any simpler: swipe up/down for options/adjustments, swipe left/right for intensity of adjustment, drag your finger around for adjustments that are point-centered. There’s also a ‘Compare’ button which allows you to quickly compare between your edited state and your photo before you started using that particular filter.

There’s brightness, contrast, ambience, saturation adjustments, as well as tools for straightening and cropping, which works like a charm. There’s also the more creative filters for B/W, vintage, drama (trust me, they’ve used the right term for this filter), grunge, center focus and frames.

Here’s a photo I’ve taken in Hong Kong before the edit.

original photo

And here’s the same photo after about 5 minutes of editing in Snapseed.

edited photo

One particular brilliant option is the selective adjust, which allows you to choose a specific spot on the photo to edit (options limited to brightness, saturation and contrast). In the next photo, you can see the round spots with a ‘B’ on them; they are the spots chosen for selective adjusts, and the B signifies the Brightness adjust. Here, I’ve picked the spots but haven’t done any adjustments yet.

selective adjust

Here’s the same photo after the selective adjustments.

after selective adjust

The sky on the top right is a little darker and lower on contrast; the buildings on the sides are darker and the center is a little brighter. Granted, this is not a great edit but it’s to prove my point about how useful the selective adjust can be as it allows you to edit just a part of your photo. You can also adjust the radius of the area affected.

Now, I know some of you purists would think that this borders on the sacrilegious as such effects usually require quite a bit of work and knowledge of filters and what-nots. However, to the hobbyists and even to pros who want a quick edit on the iPad, Snapseed is almost a god-send (sorry, I had to use this term).  Besides the ease of use and great effects/filters available, Snapseed also allows for full resolution export into your iPad’s camera library; it’s only limited by the file you imported into it.

And it’s only US$4.99. Seriously, for an app of this polish, this is so much of a steal it’s almost a crime. I’m not exaggerating since I’ve already spent several hundred dollars on the educator’s edition of Adobe CS 4, Aperture and Acorn.

All is not well though…

Snapseed is not without it’s limitations. There’s two that bothers me quite a bit:

1. The inability to work with RAW. The iPad can import RAW files into its photo library, but when you try to import a RAW file into Snapseed, what it does is that it takes a snapshot of the RAW file as it appears in the import dialog, giving you a picture that is 160 x 120 pixels, and at 72 dpi. Hence, you’d need to convert your RAW photos into JPEG before you use them in Snapseed.

2. Snapseed cannot sharpen. There is no sharpening adjustment for use.

Snapseed as part of me

So how am I going to use Snapseed? I’ve just bought myself the iPad Camera Connection Kit which connects a SD card to the iPad. Later I’ve a wedding shoot. What I’d be doing is to shoot (with my Nikon D90) in RAW+JPEG, and then import the JPEGs into my iPad via the connector and do all edits on iPad with Snapseed. As a final review, I’d run the photos on my iMac and see how they look like, and if I need to do any color correction or sharpening before sending them out.

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Links/Further readings

Snapseed

Review by Scott Kelby

Review by About.com

Review by Digital Photo Buzz

Review by dpreview.com

An update of this review can be found here, and an app update here.

 

 

Once a while we’d do a roundup here at TOOZE for technology news which potentially affect you our readers, but not exactly suitable for a full length post. Here’s the first of it and I hope you find them as useful as they are to us.
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Splashtop Hits a Top Spot For Business Apps (PCWorld)

SplashTop is an iPad app that allows you to control your PC (yes, both Win and Mac platforms) from your iPad. Personally, I’ve tried it and it didn’t grow on me much but it’s darn cheap compared to the alternatives. I might be doing a review sometime later so look out for it. Nonetheless, check out the full report here.

Garmin looks to purchase Navigon (Phandroid)

Garmin, the giant in-car navigation tool/app maker looks set to buy Navigon, another navigation app maker. According to the Phandroid, this might signify Garmin’s re-entry into the Android market. We’d keep you guys posted not when it happens, but when we have news of the fruits of the acquisition. Full report here.

Cartoons about purchasing of apps and on using smartphones (The Oatmeal)

Oatmeal published the first cartoon a while back but it has never failed to tickle me. WIth my recent post about iOS 5, this cartoon becomes even more relevant. The second cartoon is on his (or maybe your) experience using smartphones; our love and hate relationship with them. First cartoon is here, and the second here.