BBM: Why you should be using it and the benefits of BlackBerry Messenger.

BlackBerry-Logo-Mobile-2012

So finally after about two years of picture leaks of the beta BBM for Android it arrived. I’ve head the chance to play with the service on an Android device. So what is the big deal you may ask, why is everyone flocking to BBM?

There are several reasons for this I would like to think. For the majority of us it may be nostalgia, but I hope it is the feature set that is available and that has not yet arrived. 10 million users downloaded the application in a span of 24 hours, could they be wrong?

So what are the benefits of using BBM when I can use Whatsapp, LiveProfile or similar chat progrmas? Well firstly BBM is secure encrypted communication. Profiles on the BBM platform are identified by a 8 character hexadecimal key string (PIN), it’s not email nor is a user id just a generic unidentifiable PIN. In a world where the NSA deems itself the world police for communications, weather sitting on a public wifi or using your providers data plan and chatting via BBM, it is encrypted using your PIN. No one should be able to sniff and read your communications. The encrypted communications part is the biggest selling feature for myself, maybe it is a false sense of security, or perhaps not, but having some security is better than none. Another benefit of the BBM platform is that you do not require a cellular data connection, it can work off WiFi. If you’re travelling across the pond or just to your neighbour next door, you plop in a SIM card with a data plan and your contacts will know who they’re communicating with.

BBM plays great with my battery on the Nexus 4, I’ve seen an improvement in battery usage already. My SMS application eats battery when in heavy usage, BBM doesn’t seem to even scratch the surface of what the default SMS applicaiton consumes.

blackberry-messenger-logo

Then there is the elephant in the room. Sometimes SMS and MMS messages do not go through. They are very unreliable and this is just a fact of life. The unreliability of SMS/MMS communication has actually one time lead me to break up with a woman, lol. She would get very irritated with me when I wouldn’t reply to her texts. I tried to explain to her what the problem was, but she just woudln’t get it. So I had to cut the cord. With BBM you know if the message has been sent, delivered, and read, this is where the reliability comes in. Also the huge infrastructure and the time that RIM… err, BlackBerry has been at this for gives them an advantage in this space.

My personal favourite for BBM on the Android device is being able to add a contact to BBM via NFC. Open your BBM on both devices and touch your phones, they will vibrate, your screen will zoom out, you press the screen, and voila the contact is passed and added to BBM on both devices. Android to Blackberry NFC contacts are even simpler, you just touch the devices back to back and contacts are added on both devices.

So what is missing from BBM for Android and iOS? Two things, video chat and screen sharing. These will be added at a later date, this is straight from the horses mouth.

And lastly because… CANADA, F**K YEAH!

canadian-flag-620x310

Update: Apparently BB said that the video and sharing features will be available on Android and iOS within months. Also what I have been wondering is how they play on monetizing BBM, welcome to BBM Channels a new social media feature on the BBM. Check it out.

Advertisements

Windows 8.1, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

You might have read my previous post about Microsoft not understanding it’s customers, and might be confused about the above title. My opinion still stands, but there is hope for Windows  8 and 8.1, if you want to know how and why just read on.

desktop

Recently I have had a chance to get my hands on the Windows 8.1’Blue’. I finally understand why they called it blue, it will leave you blue as soon as you find out that the Start Menu hasn’t changed one bit. A few new customization options in the start button have been added, but for the most part the Start menu is still full screen and very intrusive. This is the biggest gripe that most people have with the OS. Yes, you can boot directly to the desktop, but modern Metro apps and the Start menu are still full screen. I think MS misunderstood the cries of the masses, when they cried bring the Start button back. The Start button is an easy and quick way to access your system with just one click. As a power user everyone knows that there are many shortcuts to applications and menus when you right click certain links in the start menu, for instance right click My Computer and you can map a network drive, get to Computer Management, or bring up the System menu. You get the picture and as a System Admin these are very handy shortcuts.

Don’t get me wrong the Windows 8 UI works for mobile computing, I’ve tested it on a tablet, and it really shines in this space. It is great for a touch interface, but it falls really short when it comes to desktop computing. In my humble opinion, the user should have a choice when installing the OS on their device. You pull the device out of the box and the image asks you if you’d like the Mobile or Desktop experience. But I digress…

I’ve been waiting on 8.1 since the rumours of the Start menu coming back surfaced. I was even excited, then disappointed when I got to try it. But I was also aware of a fix, a fix that even Samsung opted in on some of their Windows 8 consumer laptops. That fix is Start8 and ModernMix by Stardock. This is the light at the end of the tunnel for both Windows 8 and 8.1.

One can purchase Start8 for $4.99 and ModernMix for $4.99 from Stardock, or bundle these two together for $7.99, and voila Windows is back to it old self. For companies you can buy a volume license, but you will need to contact Stardock directly.

So what do these applications actually do you may ask. Well, Start8 essentially brings back the old trusted Start Menu, you can still access the new one but for the most part Start8 replaces it. With this software you can also disable the hot corners and change certain windows defaults that are normally not adjustable. Have a look at the gallery for all the available options in Start8.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ModernMix on the other hand “windows” the metro apps, normally they occupy the entire screen. This also gives you the ability to close these windowed Metro Apps by pressing the X at the top right of the window, and a few extra options for the MetroApp become available at the top right corner as well. You can exit or enter full screen mode for these apps, and you can open the charms menu.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These two applications really saved the Windows 8 experience for me, and for the price of a Pint of beer I really didn’t mind paying for the software, not even an afterthought. I am fully switched from Windows 7 to Windows 8 now, running the same applications i was in Windows 7. There are very few compatibility issues that I have noticed,  actually I have noticed none yet, it seems that all the applications I was running in 7 I can run in 8. I’ve been running 8 with both these application for a couple weeks now, and it is a solid and refined experience.

Also the Windows 8 is a little snappier than 7. Here is why the experience is snappier, I will explain to you as the Microsoft Engineer did to me last year at a Dell event. With Windows 7 prior to loading the desktop it loads everything, drivers, software, dlls, dependencies weather it needs it or not. With Windows 8 it loads things on demand, hence the quicker load times.

Like it or not Windows 8 is here to stay, but at least you don’t have to suffer through the most intrusive desktop experience ever developed someone out there has got your back.

Update: I ran into an instance where Bing Maps would randomly open up, on computer boot, and then while I was already in windows browsing or doing anything at all. Now with these Metro Apps there is no uninstall option. So what one has to do is use PowerShell to uninstall the Metro App.

Open PowerShell and type in the following to list all the metro application installed on your computer… listpckg

This will list several pages of text, scroll and find the package you wish to uninstall. Note the PackageFullName line, you can copy it by highlighting it with your mouse and right clicking it.

Next we will uninstall the package, in this example I will uninstall the BingFinance package. Type in “remove-appxpackage ” then right click into the PowerShell window and it will paste the package name you copied earlier, hit enter…uinstpckgPowerShell will progress to the next line, the cursor will change and show the loading circle beside it. Now if you look for Bing Finance it will be removed from your Win 8/8.1 machine.

Here are the Microsoft KBs associated with uninstalling the Metro Apps.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh856045.aspx

Ready for fall gaming?

Winter is coming, and that means new titles, less time spent outdoors and more time in front of the TV and monitor. For us gamers that’s a blessing in disguise, I’m sure my gym going routine will suffer a bit. 

I recently picked up the Gigabyte Radeon HD 7970 OC Windforce… that’s quite the mouth full if I might say so myself. This is essentially the R9 280, minus 100MHz on the core clock and 125MHz on the memory clock. It’s missing a couple of features as well, but at the steal that I found this at I have no qualms about picking it up. You could catch this up to the R9 280 frequencies with a simple OC, but unfortunately Gigabyte locked the voltages on this line. Either way I was ready to upgrade from my dual 5870s, and the performance boost will be most welcome. I’m going from 1GB to 3GB RAM and this is necessary for the Ultra settings in any game. Well actually you could get away with 1GB GPU RAM but then the computer needs more than 8GB of RAM. Either way BF4 will look better than ever, and so will the other titles this winter.

For those that already own 7970 cards and wish to update to the new R9 series from AMD, have I got a little treat for you. You can go a step further and crossfire the 7970 with a R9 280X. That’s right folks, since they share the same silicon they can be crossfired. The only down side to this,  if one card has a higher clock than the other, the one with the higher frequency will be down clocked to match the slower card. The same goes for the other R7 series cards. Now that is what I call customer service and good old fashined Canadian engineering. If you want to read a little more about this head over to Hardware Canucks they will explain it to you in grater detail. http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/hardware-canucks-reviews/63551-will-crossfire-r9-280x-hd-7970-scaling-tested.html

Then comes Mantle, for those of you not familiar with this term this is AMDs new API. This API gives developers direct access to the silicon and all the features it comes bundled with. It supposedly eliminates the unnecessary overhead of DirectX and OpenGL, improving performance and giving greater control of the hardware to the developers. Currently developers are slaves to the likes of DirectX and OpenGL, and these APIs do not support all the features of the GPU. With Mantle Game Developers will have the same API for the PC, Xbox One, Wii U, and PS4. BF4 will be patching their game in December to utilize the Mantle API from AMD. It will be interesting to see some benchmarks on this to test the performance. While Nvidia spent 5 million on optimization for a couple of Ubisoft games this fall, AMD paid DICE 8 mil or so to essentially design or rather optimize their Mantle API for the Frostbite 3 engine. This encompasses all platforms and a plethora of upcoming games. Whereas Ubisoft is notorious for ignoring the PC gaming space and releasing less than stellar software for it, Ghost Recon Future Soldier comes to mind for me. GRFS was unplayable for 3-4 months after being released on the PC. Go online now and it’s a barren wasteland. Looks like Nvidia is backing the wrong horse. AMD got the better deal and made a smarter business decision in the long run.

There is a lot of exciting and interesting things happening in the PC gaming space right now. Steam is at the fore front of all this trying to Steam roll all the competition/consoles and make it’s way into the living room. It already has into mine. Me being a PC gamer and a member of the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race, this is very exciting in deed. Steam and Valve have the potential to shut those console peasants up for good. I kid, I kid, I own consoles as well and use them as paper weights and book ends, ha ha ha.

Here is a video demonstration of the Steam controller.

Happy gaming to you all.

LG LA6900, a TV viewing pleasure.

Design:

When you first take this TV out of the box you can’t help but to be impressed visually, the lack of a bezel around the television and a mere depth of 1.3” is very appealing as it should be, this is the exact reaction LG promotes with their Cinema displays. Weighing in at 44.1 lbs without stand and 50.1 lbs with stand an average sized adult can set this unit up themselves. The LG logo at the bottom of the television lights up if you want it to, it can be controlled through the televisions menu and has 3 brightness settings. The logo can be set to power on when the television is off or on, or can be disabled completely.

The stand the television comes with is also very sleek, much like it’s closest competitor LG is using a similar TV stand design. It seems that sever TV manufacturers are opting for the wrap under TV stand look these days. The screen is a glossy finish, this concerned me at first as glossy TVs tend to reflect light in a room. However generally glossy finishes have better picture quality and as is with this television the screen diffuses bright lights and bulbs in the room that are reflected on the screen. This must be a coating placed on the screen by the manufacturer.

Picture Quality:

This is a 120Hz TV and comes equipped with passive 3D.

After running the picture wizard which LG provides in the menu of the television, I was ready to test the unit. The picture quality is stunning, the colours are nice and aren’t over saturated, the tones and balances are perfect and it was a treat for my eyes to watch Television and play video games on.

True motion leaves something to be desired, often times it creates a halo effect, that’s what some call it. What it is is artifacts, the television needs to process both frames and create a mid frame, this often results in errors or artifacts and creates the less than desirable effect around certain objects on screen.

The Passive 3D is a great. I have never considered owning a 3D TV set but LG changed my mind. This unit came with 6 pairs of glasses, but if you watch 3D movies in the theatre you can just take those glasses home and use them. Both the Theatre and this LG set use the same passive technology to display 3D. The glasses are passive so they do not need batteries, the ones included with the set are very light and very comfortable to wear. Downside to the Passive glasses is that it dims the picture a bit. However the 3D is very comfortable and easy on the eyes, unlike the movie theatre 3D, and the active glasses which some users report to have flicker. Test subjects “The Hobbit” and “Tron: Legacy” both look great in 3D on this television. And passive 3D accounts for 48% of total 3D TV panel shipments in 2013, up from 39% in 2011. http://goo.gl/r1RC07

LED+ means that this set is edge lit using LED and has the dimming feature, during really dark scenes I was able to notice the LEDs dim, this threw me off at first, it was a bit distracting at first. The local dimming feature can be turned down or up depending on the preference, that or disabled altogether.

Sound Quality:

This TV comes with 2.1 sound, it has a subwoofer built into it. I tested this TV with some music that I streamed from my DLNA server, the sound was rich and the low frequency reproduction was acceptable. If you’re having people over and you want to stream some music to this unit it does a decent job. Don’t expect much though.

I also ran a test of the built in sound system with a couple of Movies, here is where the sound system buckled a bit. A 5.1 Soundtrack was not meant to be this TVs forte. It wasn’t terrible, but as with any 5.1 soundtrack one should couple it with a 5.1 receiver.

The sound system has some presets and a sound optimizer. The sound optimizer depending if the television is wall mounted, or sitting on a stand, adjusts accordingly. It has three settings, Normal or disabled, Wall-Mount Type, and Stand Type.

Then you have your presets such as Movie, Music, Game, User… etc.

All in all the sound is decent for a Television set, a lot better than any other TV speakers I’ve heard.

The Remote:

The magic remote can be operated as a mouse, and it has voice search functionality.

The voice recognition software is very accurate.

Features:

Miracast is similar to Intel’s WiDi which this TV also supports, but essentially if your devices support it like an LG smart phone, one can display the screen of the phone on the television.

This technology uses wifi to send the signal from phone to the TV.

The Good:

Picture quality and the passive 3D is where this set really shines here. This years models also sport dual core processor, and side by side to the 2012 models the performance is very noticeable. The 2013 Smart TV sets are a lot more responsive to button presses and menu changes. ARC functionality.

The Bad:

The dimming can be sometimes noticeable in dark scenes. For the most part it does a good job and lets the blacks really shine on screen.

The menu layout is not very intuitive if one is not familiar with LGs Smart TV technology and the magic remote finding the input selection screen can be a little confusing for new users. An input button on the remote would be very welcomed. ARC does not pass 5.1+ sound from any device connected to the TVs other HDMI inputs, this only works for the Smart TV features embedded into the TV operating system.

Side Note:

Remember to turn on the Gaming Picture mode when playing video games on the television, it will dramatically cut down on the input lag by disabling some of the processing that goes on in the background.

Conclusion:

I’d give this TV 8 out of 10, this is a very sexy and sleek design. The picture quality is superb and one of the better screens I have experienced. Passive 3D is nice and really easy on the eyes.  Really good for gaming.

Keywords:

LG LA6900, Dual Core, Passive 3D, Cinema Screen, 120 Hz, Smart TV, Voice Search, Magic Remote, 2.1 Sound, DNLA Compliant