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Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Hidden Strings on HSBC Amanah Credit Cards

I recently got myself a HSBC Amanah Platinum Visa and was attracted to it for 3 things:

  1. 1.0% cash back on overseas retail spending
  2. 10% discount at Starbucks (yes I know I know….wattudu…I like my fancy coffee)
  3. Balance transfer interest free for 6 months

Balance Transfer Interest Free 0% for 6 months….WITH STRINGS

I got a phone call from HSBC that offered 0% for 6 months. Interestingly, there is no mention of this 0% for 6 months plan. On their website it states HSBC Amanah Balance Transfer Plan from as low as 6.99% for 12 months.

Back to the phone call, I was told simply that as long as I paid within 6 months, I wouldn’t be charged interest so I thought heck, why not and transferred my credit card balances from my other bank’s credit cards. No documents were signed and everything was done over the phone just through a verbal confirmation.

Now I have been continuing to use the card so I have incurred some charges on top of this balance transfer. I wanted to settle these charges but not the balance transfer since I had still quite a long way to go to settle it. I was told that I couldn’t do so and that I had to settle the balance transfer amount first BEFORE I could settle the other charges.This defeats the whole point of having an interest free balance transfer unless I was not supposed to use the card for 6 months! I told this to the customer representative who laughed when I explained to her the absurdity of the situation (she was otherwise very helpful).

Pretty sure I wasn’t imagining it and sure enough I found this this blog post:

HSBC 0% 6 Months Balance Transfer

Some of you might have heard or received calls from HSBC offering 0% Balance Transfer for 6 months. Well, a forum member at Low Yat did report that he was going to do BT with HSBC until he found out that he may face some issues since he got installment plans with them. So when HSBC called me to offer the BT Plan I took the opportunity to ask about it. She explained that HSBC have some kind of hierarchy when you make payment and told me not to worry as I don’t have outstanding balance or any installment plan with them. The thing is she said not to worry, why should I worry in the first place, and that got me worried about HSBC Balance Transfer. Anyway I don’t understand how the payment hierarchy works and not interested to know about it anyway since I am very happy with CIMB BT. But if you want to do Balance Transfer with HSBC, my advise to you is ask them about this payment hierarchy and if you understand then I guess ok for you to do BT with them. But if you don’t understand like me, better stay away from it to avoid unnecessary headache.

No mention of this ‘payment hierarchy’ was made to me when I signed up over the phone!

1.0% Cash Back for Overseas Retail Spending does not cover the INTARWEBZ

I thought I was being smart as well by using this card to spend on my server bills for BolehVPN but realized internet transactions were NOT considered overseas retail spending. Not a deal breaker but something to take note of.

So for now I’ll just enjoy my 10% discount at Starbucks :-(

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Firefox 4 Released: Now Faster

Firefox was released ahead of its release date and is now available for download. It appears it has taken some tips from Chrome in its uninterrupted browsing in the event of a crash and a more minimalistic look. Another Chrome-inspired feature in Firefox 4 is the ability to “pin” Web apps to the tab bar. All you have to do is right click on a webpage and then select Pin as App Tab.

Speed of loading of pages is also noticeably faster with its improved Javascript engine called interestingly, JägerMonkey. As a comparison the guys at PCWorld tested using the SunSpider 0.91 benchmark. Firefox 3.6 completed the test in 1103 milliseconds (ms) on average, which was the slowest among the major browsers (Safari, IE9, Chrome, Firefox, Opera). Firefox 4 completes the test in 363 ms on average, making it competitive with other current browsers (In PCWorld’s testing, all browsers averaged between 329 and 439 ms.)

There’s also the addition of no-tracking privacy features but unfortunately it’s an all or nothing approach where you can’t selectively allow certain sites and disallow others.

Also those of you with 3rd party object docks that hover at the top of your desktop might be unhappy that the tabs are now located right at the top of your screen and it may take a while for your favorite addons to update.

If you’re a Firefox fan, I highly recommend this upgrade. If you’re already using Chrome, then well it boils down to personal choice with the more feature rich Firefox or the minimalistic simplicity and speed of Chrome. If you’re using IE, well I won’t judge :D (to be fair IE9 is a decent browser).

What’s New in Firefox 4:

Fastest Firefox Ever

  • Performance: Firefox is up to six times faster than the previous release. With improved start-up and page load times, speedy Web app performance and hardware accelerated graphics, Firefox is optimized for rich, interactive websites.

Streamlined Interface

  • App Tabs: give a permanent home to frequently visited sites like Web mail, Twitter, Pandora, Flickr.
  • Switch to Tab: easily find and switch to any open tab from your Awesome Bar without opening duplicate tabs.
  • Panorama: drag and drop tabs into manageable groups to save time while navigating many open tabs.

Private and Secure Synchronization

  • Firefox Sync: access your Awesome Bar history, bookmarks, open tabs, passwords and form data across multiple computers and mobile devices.

Most Customizable

Private and Secure

  • Do Not Track: Firefox is leading the Web towards a universal standard Do Not Track feature that allows users to opt-out of tracking used for behavioral advertising.
  • Firefox puts privacy first, fixing flaws in some Web standards to prevent others from accessing your browser history.
  • HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS): automatically establishes secure connections to stop “man in the middle” attacks and keep sensitive data safe from interception during the log-in process.
  • Content Security Policy (CSP): prevent cross-scripting attacks by allowing sites to explicitly tell the browser which content is legitimate.

Cutting Edge Tools for Web Developers:

  • The JavaScript engine incorporates the new JägerMonkey JIT compiler, along with enhancements to the existing TraceMonkey JIT and SpiderMonkey’s interpreter for faster page-load speed and better performance of Web apps and games.
  • HTML5 support in Firefox includes hardware accelerated, high-definition video (WebM), 3D graphics, offline data storage, professional typography, touchscreen interfaces and the Mozilla Audio API to help create visual experiences for sound and more.
  • Firefox 4 also improves existing tools like CSS, Canvas and SVG to enable developers to make exciting Web pages.
  • Firefox provides uninterrupted browsing when there is a crash in the Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime or Microsoft Silverlight plugins. If one of these plugins crashes or freezes, it won’t affect the rest of Firefox. Simply reload the page to restart the plugin.

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Alienware M11x Awesome but a little flawed

Just a quick note for those of you considering an Alienware M11x.

It’s an awesome system, hands down, portable, long battery life and heck it plays games! It’s also reasonably affordable especially considering it is one of the few portables that can play games and it’s still much cheaper than a MacBook Pro (which has a weaker graphics card as well).

However there is a serious drawback is in its LCD hinge construction where it suffers fatigue pretty quickly and breaks. I had first hand experience of this myself where my LCD screen had to be replaced just because of the broken hinge after a few months of use.

Dell has posted that they are aware of the problem and are working on a fix but however there’s also this post from a Dell rep:

I heard from my friend that they got the hinge problem solved.
* That is true for the M11x-R3 but false for the M11x-R1 and M11x-R2. We are still working on the solution. When it is resolved, I will let you all know. No, I do not know when the R3 will be available nor do I know its specifications.

Now the R3 (or Revision 3) is not even announced so it’s rather funny that they fixed an issue on an unreleased product while the existing R1s and R2s remain without a resolution. I have a feeling it’s more an issue of the cost of product recalls and rectifications rather than an actual technical issue. Further evidence to this shows that the ‘home’ fix isn’t difficult and it points to a PLASTIC screw support which wears out in this post.

My advice? Wait it out and wait for R3.

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Blackberry OS6 Review (Running on Bold 9700)

I maintain a Blackberry 9700 as my workphone as its combination of battery life, portability, security and quick messaging made it just that much more convenient than my Samsung Galaxy S. As much as I adore my Samsung, it is just like that sexy babe that is extremely high maintenance and needed your constant attention. The Blackberry on the other hand, as unsexy as it was, remained that reliable and faithful platonic buddy.

So when I received news that there was a leaked version of OS6.0 for the 9700, I immediately jumped on it and installed it. Here are my experiences on the leaked 6.0.0.344.

VIDEO RUNTHROUGH

GENERAL FEEL AND HOME SCREEN

BB OS6.0 is very snappy. It appears that the new engine powering the device renders things a lot quicker even with the animations in between. Things of course might seem a wee sluggish when the device first boots up as it redownloads all your friends’ BBM avatars (why does it need to do that?) and scans your media card, but after that it’s all smooth sailing. Boot-up time unfortunately is still pretty long in the range of 5 minutes ish.

The home screen feels new yet familiar. The major thing you’ll notice is that pressing the Menu button doesn’t open up a list of Apps. Instead, they have several drawers of different categories of stuff. I’m not sure if I like the new layout as it feels I have to do more to get to my application but that’s probably just how used I got to the old Blackberry OS.

The drawers are divided into All, Favorites, Media, Downloads and Frequent which are more or less self explanatory. Frequent automatically fills up with the apps you use a lot while Favorites is possibly your only customizable drawer where you can add your Apps there. In the old Blackberry OS, it felt like you had more control over how your Apps were displayed but in OS6.0 you’re pretty much locked down. Not that the layout doesn’t make sense and I think for most people especially those new to the Blackberry, it will work fine.

What I really liked was the ability to Manage Connections directly from the Home Screen so I could turn on and off my wi-fi quickly. Well done and about time!

UNIVERSAL SEARCH

Search has improved a lot in OS6.0. Looking for all e-mails that were sent by someone? Just type in his name and you’ll be presented not only with his contact, but all e-mails/messages and memos with that search string.. Looking for an app that you don’t know where it is? Just type the app name in! This used to be an arduous and slow process but results now appear almost instantly.

WEBKIT BROWSER


The browser is pretty solid. Considering you’re working on a processor that’s only half the speed of your Android/Iphone 4, the browser loads things in reasonably good time. It was definitely not as fast as say an IPhone or Android Froyo but interestingly, in one of my tests, a simple webpage actually loaded faster on my Blackberry than on my Galaxy S on Froyo. Autofit to text works pretty well which is pretty crucial for those of us on smaller screens. Tabs also are new and work pretty well.

Flash is still absent which is not surprising considering the 624 Mhz processor on the device but there are lower end Android phones that can do Flash (albeit rather slowly) so it would be nice if this was implemented down the line at least for displaying webpages with Flash.

In this build there were still some bugs including the ‘this webpage is too large for the device’  which seemed to occur on more complicated pages but was resolved with a refresh. Another thing that was lacking (or at least I couldn’t find out how to do it) was an option to ensure that webpages were displayed in their full mode rather than in mobile mode.

SOCIAL FEEDS


I believe this was implemented pretty well. It’s not a new thing as it was implemented on HTC’s Sense interface but the difference is that the Blackberry’s version works on push without the need for polling which was sometimes buggy on the HTC/Samsung. Updates were easy to read and it has a handy word limit that adjusts itself according to where you wish to post your status update.

BATTERY LIFE

This is rather subjective but I have a feeling that battery life has suffered quite a bit. Now with the new OS, I find myself using it a lot more so it is hard for me to say but it does last through the day even with heavy use (I receive more than 100 e-mails a day and BBM/Facebook/surf a lot). It does take a few reboots and days for battery life to stabilize however after the new OS reload and now it lasts throughout the day without any problems. Why this happens I have no idea but it’s certainly not a problem limited to Blackberries (remember that weird HTC Desire trick?).

That’s the awesome thing about Blackberries, you aren’t generally worried about battery life even when on 3G. Use it as much as you want but here’s hoping that this will improve when either the OS stabilizes or the new official version comes out.

CAMERA/VIDEO FUNCTIONS

Camera functions have been improved with more effects and modes which is nice (Auto, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Close-Up, Snow, Beach, Night, Text) and also tightly integrated Geo-Tagging. I haven’t had the time to test all of it but here’s a sample video to test the video quality. Note that Youtube of course will downgrade the quality but its pretty decent. My friend swears it has improved but I don’t know, it does seem that way though I can’t be sure, I’ll leave that to you to decide.

YOUTUBE


I was pretty excited when I saw a dedicated Youtube icon but was disappointed when it still redirected me to the mobile Youtube page. In effect, Youtube is just a glorified mobile link with an option to upload to Youtube. What was even more annoying was that to stream Youtube, it would turn off your BIS connection and use your regular carrier network’s connection which was ok, but upon closing Youtube, your BIS connection isn’t re-established requiring you to turn off your wireless network and then turn it back on for it to establish. For many newbies to Blackberry, this will be a major problem as suddenly their e-mails/bbms won’t go in or out and many won’t know what to do. This was a problem that is not new to OS6.0 as earlier builds of OS5.0 also had this problem so let’s hope that RIM will get this fixed in the official release of OS 6 for the 9700.

WIRELESS MUSIC SYNC

I haven’t had the time to test this out but it appears that your Blackberry can wireless sync with your computer over wifi! This syncs with your ITunes or Windows Media Player playlists and has to be done over Blackberry Desktop Manager 6.0.

GRIPE: STILL CAN’T USE A NUMBER TO COPY TO AN EXISTING CONTACT

This feature is still surprisingly missing. You can add a recently dialed/texted number to a New Contact, but you can’t do so to an Existing Contact. You would have to manually copy, go to the contact list, edit and then enter the new Contact in. This is really unforgivable as it is a basic function of phones even so called dumb phones have this feature.

6.0.0.344 BUGS

There are still a few bugs here and there, besides the Page is too Large error. During my 1.5 days of use I’ve encountered one random reboot while fiddling with my video camera, USB mode not working suddenly and the occasional (but still very rare) stutter. We hope this is just due to it being unofficial and hope this gets ironed out when it goes to official.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You may have remembered my post on my gripes with the Blackberry where I was disenchanted with Blackberry. Looking back, it seems that most of the issues I posted there have been resolved in a period of a year. OS6.0 brings to Blackberry a bunch of major changes the most critical being its browser. Although it was widely criticized as merely a facelift to an outdated OS, I beg to differ. Having used IOS 4, Android 2.2 for extended periods of time, I still find the BBOS making sense and being exceedingly easy to view/send messages and stay in touch. Its mixture of portability, long battery life and security still make it ideal for people on the go. An added benefit is that it is more likely to look like you’re doing work if you’re checking a Blackberry as compared to an IPhone. :P

Although the Blackberry may lack in sex appeal with its small screen and slow processor, these things can also be seen as its strengths with it being extremely portable and more importantly pocketable and also its trademark long battery life. Your screen may look absolutely fancy and you can surf through pages quickly, but that’s pointless if your battery dies halfway through the day. The value of a good qwerty keypad (and Blackberries have arguably the best in the business) also cannot be underestimated if you message a lot. Touchscreen keypads are reasonably fast nowadays but you often still have to think, look and correct, while there’s an aura of certainty when typing on a QWERTY. True touch typing. These factors have to be weighed in when evaluating the Blackberry as your mobile device.

Lastly, although there are apps to do this, it would be nice if Blackberry implemented remote wipe and location functions natively into their OS. I understand remote wipe is available for Blackberry Enterprise Server users but with more and more of our data going into our mobile devices, I think this is becoming a necessity. HTC has recognized this and implemented such functions directly into their new Sense interface and I’m sure other phone manufacturers will follow suit soon too.

In short, Blackberry OS6.0 breathes a fresh new life into the 9700 and it feels like I’ve just got myself a spanking new phone! I haven’t stopped using my Samsung Galaxy which is my time-waster and media phone but for everyday use or work use, in this author’s opinion, the Blackberry still reigns supreme.

HOW TO UPGRADE

I hold no responsibility for any mishaps/lost data/bricked phones from following my instructions. I have merely documented the process in which I did to update mine. Note that this does not have EastAsian character support and this is a LEAKED OS so there are no warranties.

I recommend a backup then a full Wipe.

  1. Download the OS (Google 6.0.0.344)
  2. Download BBSaK 1.8.5 (Google for this)
  3. Make sure you have Blackberry Desktop Manager 6
  4. Uninstall all other Blackberry Device Software (VERY IMPORTANT)
  5. Install the new downloaded OS  by double clicking on the executable.
  6. Browse to C:\Program Files\Common Files\Research in Motion\Apploader
  7. Delete vendor.xml
  8. Keep window open.
  9. After backing up, fire up BBSak and connect your phone.
  10. Choose Wipe Device. This process takes about 5 minutes or so. Don’t interrupt it.
  11. It will now return a white screen with some error on it. Don’t panic.
  12. In that window you kept open, double click apploader.exe
  13. Continue and choose which stuff you want to install.
  14. Finish the installation.
  15. It will take quite a long while to boot up upon first bootup. 10-20 minutes is normal.
  16. Once that is done, fire up Blackberry Desktop Manager.
  17. Restore backup. I recommend only restoring the essentials like Contacts and then reloading it from fresh to ensure a fresh install.

Monday, October 18th, 2010

2.1 Speaker System Review: Part 1

Introduction

This is a quick review of my recent experience in shopping for a set of 2.1 speaker system in Malaysia. I spent a few good hours testing most of the speakers on display there (thankfully the shopping attendants were patient). Now I know that there are many other good systems out there, but coming from a small-ish town, choice was limited and here’s hoping that this review would help those in a similar position such as mine.

Altec Lansing FX4021

My trusty Altec Lansing FX4021’s control pod broke and required me to find a new pair of speakers. Ok fine…I broke my control pod…more on that later. Now here’s a quick few words about the FX4021…they are awesome even when they came out way back in 2006. The sound is crisp, the bass actually booms without distortion and it’s suitable for medium rooms. The subwoofer is really quite special with an “isobaric” woofer design, the bass output is deeper than many other larger subwoofers. You can read up on the meaning of what isobaric is here.

My only gripe is the control pod which is rather fiddly (which required me to jab the power button several times to turn it on).  It was in fact this exercise to disassemble and see what was causing the problem which broke the power button leaving me with a void where the power button was supposed to be. To turn it on, I had to jab a pencil at the little switch on the circuit-board…

I would still recommend it though for those looking for a good set of 2.1 speakers and it can be had at about RM490.00 (though I’m sure you can bargain it down considering it’s a 4 year old model). Problem is that it can be rather rare.

Shopping around in Saberkas, Kuching

Saberkas, is the Kuching equivalent of Lowyat with a huge concentration of computer/mobile phones/electronics. Arguably the most popular store there is PCImage (it certainly has the largest floor area) and they generally stock most common items.

Divoom and Eacan: Speakers for the Ah Beng/Ah Lian

Upon browsing their wares, I could see that their stock was mostly aimed at the budget conscious with lesser known brands such as Divoom and Eacan.

Not wanting to be biased, I decided to give it a go. The sound from these speakers were awful with a huge emphasis on bass bass and rattly bass at that…Furthermore, I noticed that one of Divoom’s larger 2.1 speaker sets (the XForce 5) had misspelt ‘Standby’ as ‘Stanby’…(this was priced at about RM380.00 by the way). Apparently Divoom is a Singapore brand which has atrocious English. I’ll let their website do the talking:

Source: Divoom

Site Title: Divoom Technologh Co.,LTD.Portable Audio, Laptop Audio, Lifestyle …

Divoom Technology Co.,Ltd.based in Singapore is dedicated to the research,design and development of Personal Audio System for Personal Computer and Portable Audio Devices.With its manufacturing and logistics base in the Middle Kingdom, Divoom Brand of products is currently retailed in more than 40 Countries Worldwide, with such a comprehensive integrated services.The Divoom Brand is now a Registered Trademark Worldwide, main market in North and South America,Europe,Asia and even the Pacific Islands.

Ouch. Middle Kingdom (they mean China btw)?

Their ad for the XForce 5 was hilarious too…

WHY YOUR FLOOR SHAKING!!!!

The picture does make it look a lot better than in real life.

Eacan seems to be in the same can of worms, being a China based company with both companies producing speakers that looked huge, Ah-Beng and downright nasty with loud but rattly sound.

In other words, unless you need your speakers to be large and Ah-Beng-ish and want your ‘Floor Shaking’…avoid at all costs.

Part 2 covering the offerings from Altec Lansing and Logitech to come soon!


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