Monday, June 9, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S5 Quick Review

Samsung Galaxy S5 Quick Review

Samsung Galaxy S5: Most power-packed Android device right now
By Sherwin Loh

A Samsung smartphone launch tends to be more exciting than launches of other brands.

On one hand, I know that the company will stuff loads of features into every dTECH SPECSevice, though not all of them may work perfectly and some are not even necessary. A few, like the motion and gesture features, have later been adopted by other brands.

On the other hand, I want to be there when it finally announces that it is junking plastic for more premium materials in its phones.

The latest, the Galaxy S5, still uses a plastic shell, but the added features are finally droolworthy enough to make me overlook the plastic.

It has stuck with the curved corners and the single front button design that is a hallmark of all its flagship Galaxy devices.

While many brands choose to seal their smartphones, making it hard to change your battery, both Samsung and LG have stuck with removable back covers.

On a recent trip to South Korea, I noticed that South Koreans prefer this to using external battery packs, so perhaps this design is more cultural than technological.

Samsung still uses TouchWiz, but it has made changes to this interface so that its presence is more subtle. For instance, its new customisable settings menu lets users create a list of favourites to appear on a drop-down menu, rather than forcing them to comb through the swelling list of features that Google and Samsung have shoehorned into the Android operating system.

Fast to focus

The biggest change is in the camera. The most obvious of the several remarkable changes is in the fast autofocus, which makes it less likely that you will lose any precious moments.

It focuses quickly even at night, producing great-looking pictures. The overall image quality of its 16-megapixel camera is comparable to that of the Sony Xperia Z2's 20.7MP camera, but the Z2 has the edge, with better details.

In low-light images, the S5 matches the Z2 in brightness levels.

Then there is live HDR mode. It takes the same photo under different exposures in quick succession, then merges all of them into one photo to even out light and dark areas, for a more balanced image.

It lets you see the final HDR image on screen before you press the shutter button, so that you can, if you wish, reposition the camera to produce the best lighting results.

Like the competition, Samsung has also included the refocus feature, which takes a photo with varying depths of focus, allowing users to select the focus in the final photo.

Many handset makers have introduced different versions of this feature, but unfortunately, none stands out.

HTC's method turns the unfocused area into an aggressive tilt-shift effect, while LG's use is a one-time thing as users cannot revisit the original picture to change the point of focus later on.

Samsung's Selective Focus does not let you pick a specific focusing point in the photo. Instead, you get to pick a near focus for foreground objects, far focus for background objects, or pan focus for everything to be sharp.

This automatic breakdown of near and far means the software may not detect the objects in the background that are meant to be in focus while the photo is being taken, leading to the camera simply snapping regular photos instead.

While HTC has this refocus feature set by default, Samsung's feature needs to be turned on.

Live HDR and Selective Focus cannot be used at the same time.

Finger activation

A significant addition to the S5 is the biometric sensor. You activate it by swiping a finger (it will store the biometric information for three fingers) downwards over the lozenge-like sensor.

This has to be a two-handed action, whereas for the Apple iPhone 5s, this can be done with one hand as it requires just a finger to be placed over the sensor.

What makes the S5's sensor dangerously useful is that Samsung has tied up with e-payments provider PayPal to enable biometric authorisations. You will not even need a password to be a big spender.

The new heart-rate monitor may be useful to older folks and people who work out frequently, but for most people, it will simply be the garnish on a dish few will bite into.
Samsung has added two terrific new features that will appeal to compulsive downloaders and heavy users of smartphone features.

Download Booster, when enabled, lets users concurrently download files larger than 30MB over 4G and Wi-Fi networks to speed up overall download times. But this applies only to sites without secured download protocols. In other words, not for cloud services such as Dropbox.

It took 20min 10sec to download the latest 130MB Open Office file over 4G. On Wi-Fi, it took 37min 36sec to complete.

With the booster turned on, it took only 12min 4sec. So the time saved is significant.

The other new feature which I like is the Ultra Power Saving mode. Most smartphones, including the Galaxy S5, have a power saving feature that disables mobile data, dims the screen and limits push services.

In Ultra Power Saving mode, the S5 restricts background data and greyscales the display. Because the Super Amoled screen does not use a backlight, all black pixels on display, including text and images, do not draw power.

Ultra mode lowers the brightness to 87 nits, instead of 400 nits, and caps the processor speed at 1.5GHz.

This is supposed to keep the phone running for another 24 hours, and still leave a 10 per cent charge.

Having a greyed-out phone that can handle calls and send SMS messages sure trumps having a super-fast smartphone with a colourful screen - and a flat battery.

In benchmark tests, the S5 clocked an impressive 25,598 on the Quadrant Standard.

The S5 packs some fancy frills, but offers enough useful features to make it the most power-packed Android device in the market so far.

This article was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on April 16, 2014. 



Price: $1,068 (Singapore)

Processor: 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801

Display: 5.1-inch Full HD Super Amoled 1,920 x 1,080 (432 pixels per inch)

Camera: 16 megapixels (rear), 2 megapixels (front)

Operating system: Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)

Memory: 32GB, 2GB RAM

Battery: 2,800mAh


Features 5/5

Design 4/5

Performance 5/5

Battery life 5/5

Overall 5/5

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Wolfenstein: New order, old rules

Wolfenstein: New order, old rules

Twenty-two years after its smashing debut, the godfather of first-person shooters is still piling up Nazi corpses.

Over this impressive span, the Wolfenstein franchise has experienced highs — namely Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Enemy Territory — and a few lows, like the hollow 2009 re-imagining.

To reinvigorate the brand, Bethesda tapped Machine Games, a new studio led by former members of Starbreeze Studios — the ­developer best known for its criminally under-celebrated The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.

RAMPAGE: Only after his ­caretakers are shot and killed does Blazkowitz snap out of his vegetative state and start a new ­rampage against the totalitarian regime.

New Order is an amalgamated reimagination featuring a few familiar characters and a new central premise. After a failed attempt to assassinate General Deathshead in 1946, B.J. Blazkowitz suffers a head trauma and spends the next 14 years as a vegetable.

During his absence, the Nazi Wehrmacht conquers the world. Only after his ­caretakers are shot and killed does Blazkowitz snap out of his vegetative state and start a new ­rampage against the totalitarian regime.

Along the 20-hour campaign he joins a colourful resistance group hiding within Berlin, infiltrates a prison to save some old friends, steals some valuable vehicles, and even journeys to the moon to retrieve the nuclear launch codes necessary to wipe the Nazi regime off the map.

The varied environments do an effective job of keeping things fresh, and the varied cast is much more memorable than most first-person shooter campaigns.

Blast from the past

In building its own vision for the brand, Machine Games is hardly forgetting the series’ past. Many homages exist to New Order’s precursors, including the muscular character model for Blazkowitz, using Nazi helmets as icons for armour pickups, secret rooms hidden in each level, and even a “nightmare” dream sequence that lets you play the first level of Wolfenstein 3D.

Traces of Machine Games’ DNA are also evident throughout the game. From the surprisingly varied and satisfyingly ­brutal close-quarters melee takedowns to the quiet moments interspersed between action sequences, New Order shares many ­similarities with the Riddick title.

PAYING HOMAGE: New Order shares many ­similarities with the Riddick title.

The studio also endows Blazkowitz with an internal dialogue to give the character more depth, but these monotone ­philosophical ponderings feel at odds with the wanton brutality he projects through the rest of the game.

The combat is a mash-up of both lineages. You can dual-wield and decapitate enemies with headshots, or take a more measured approach to combat.

Most levels have Nazi commanders ­stationed throughout. Sneaking up and ­performing a stealth takedown prevents them from pulling the alarm once the bullets inevitably start flying, giving cautious players a tactical option. You can also fire from cover, but the cumbersome mechanic makes this the least valuable tool in your arsenal.

The RPG-lite perks system offers some incentive for experimenting with your approach.

Meeting certain requirements, like ­completing a certain amount of stealth ­takedowns or racking up a set body count from cover, unlocks useful upgrades that give you an edge in combat that isn’t necessarily needed thanks to the stunted AI.

Fish in a barrel

New Order offers a wide array of enemies, from traditional soldiers and panzer hounds to monstrous mechs and heavily armored super troops. None of them are very smart.

Their casual approach to patrols makes it easy to run through levels carelessly making stealth takedowns (including on the hounds, which seems highly implausible), and they have the unfortunate habit of running for the furthest cover away from them in the middle of live fire, giving you ample time to line up kill shots.

The final boss fight is the only exceptional challenge, but this battle essentially boils down to classic trial-and-error. If you’re ­looking for a challenge, I strongly suggest you up the difficulty.

FISH IN A BARREL: Scavenging for enigma codes unlocks new challenges to give seasoned players a run for their money.

With no multiplayer modes on offer, Machine Games adds replayability by littering levels with collectibles and introducing an early choice that changes the trajectory of the narrative.

Deciding which of two fellow soldiers lives changes who participates in the resistance, and gives you different alternate navigation routes in levels, but otherwise the game is essentially the same.

Scavenging for enigma codes and cracking them also unlocks new challenges to give seasoned players a run for their money.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a positive step forward for the series after the last dud.

Machine Games presents a competent shooter with more polish and a better array of characters, but ultimately the game feels more comfortable recompiling ­established conventions than it does striving for innovation. — Game Informer/ McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Wolfenstein: The New Order
(Machine Games/Bethesda Softworks)
First-person shooter for PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Price: US$59.99 

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Nikon’s DF-initely retro DSLR Review

Nikon’s DF-initely retro DSLR Review

Nikon Df

Nikon’s DF-initely retro DSLR

Nikon’s first retro DSLR has retro styling, but inside, it’s all modern. 

AS I’VE mentioned before numerous times, I’m a big fan of retro-styled cameras and while companies like Fuji and Olympus have been riding high on retro-styled cameras, neither Nikon nor Canon have produced a retro-styled digital camera. Until now. 

With the Df (or Digital Fusion as it apparently stands for), Nikon is making its first foray into retro cameras and has produced a camera which brings to mind classic SLRs in the company’s proud history, namely the Nikon FE2 and Nikon FM2. 

Styling aside, the Nikon Df is actually a DSLR through and through, with a full-frame 16-megapixel image sensor taken right from the Nikon D4 professional DSLR, mixed with the innards of cameras like the Nikon D600 and D7000. 

Since so much of the Nikon Df is all about emotional response, this review will inevitably stray towards how it feels to use the Df as opposed to its performance (which is actually really good). 

Partial retro 

The Df is available in a choice of two colours — the basic black, and a silver and black version. 

Now while I generally like my retro cameras in silver and black leatherette, to my eyes, the Df actually looks better in black. Most users may find the silver version nicer. 

Anyway, the whole intent of the Nikon Df is bring back the classic control scheme found in film SLRs and in this camera, it’s successful — up to a point. 

In terms of weight, the Nikon Df is apparently lighter than most DSLRs in the company’s range and in size, it’s actually smaller than the D600. 
BIGGER: The Nikon Df (top) is quite a bit fatter than its ancestor, the Nikon FM2.
BIGGER: The Nikon Df (top) is quite a bit fatter than its ancestor, the Nikon FM2.

When compared to its film ancestor the Nikon FM2, however, the Df is a lot larger in every dimension — it’s taller, fatter and wider. 

On the top of the camera is where most of the retro controls go — you get a full shutter speed dial with all the speeds you’d expect in full stops as well as Bulb (shutter opens as long as shutter button is held down), Timed (shutter opens on first press and closes on second press of shutter release) and X-sync (flash sync) options. 

Additionally, if you’d prefer to have a modern control system, the shutter dial has a “1/3 increments” option — when set to this position, you can use the command dial on the back of the camera to adjust your shutter speeds, the same as a modern Nikon DSLR. 
SHOOTING MODES: The tiny MASP shooting mode dial on the Nikon Df has to be lifted up before you can change modes.

SHOOTING MODES: The tiny MASP shooting mode dial on the Nikon Df has to be lifted up before you can change modes.

On the other side of the top plate are two dials stacked on top of each other — the larger dial at the bottom is the ISO setting dial while the smaller one on top is an exposure compensation dial. 

Both dials have separate locks to prevent accidental switching, but I personally would have preferred the dials without locks — I feel they’re already stiff enough to prevent accidental switching. 

Presentation is key 

One rather weird concession to modern DSLR design is that the Df has a tiny LCD display on the top and a P,S,A,M mode dial. 

Now I feel that the tiny LCD — which shows shutter, aperture, battery life and exposure count — is completely unnecessary since you can get that same information in the viewfinder and on the back LCD.
ALL DIGITAL: The Nikon Df back plate should be familiar to most modern Nikon DSLR users.

As for the P,S,A,M mode dial, while I can understand why Nikon put it there, a more elegant solution would have been to simply put an “Auto” on the shutter dial and a switch near the lens bayonet mount with an “A” similar to how Fuji does it in the X100S. 

The way Fuji has set up the X100S is how old cameras used to work — with both switches set to “A” you get full Programmed auto, while moving the shutter dial out of A will give you shutter priority auto, while moving both switches out of A would give you full manual control. 

Nevertheless Nikon’s P,S,A,M mode dial on the Df works alright — you just have to lift it and twist the tiny dial to change modes. 

One interesting feature of the Df is that it’s compatible with modern as well as old manual focus Nikon lenses made before 1977, making it the first Nikon DSLR to support such a wide variety of lenses in the Nikon range. 

AWKWARD PLACEMENT: The front command dial of the Nikon Df is too awkwardly located for comfortable use.

Most modern Nikon DSLRs have some compatibility with older non-autofocus Nikon lenses but the Df goes further and offers compatibility with non-AIS lenses made between 1959 and 1977. 

However, using these non-AIS lenses — which have no aperture couplings to tell the camera what aperture is set on the lens — you get metering, but you need to manually set the aperture based on the camera’s recommendation obtained from the exposure meter.  

On the back of the Nikon Df, it’s all modern DSLR — you get a control scheme that should be familiar to any modern Nikon DSLR user, including a Live View button on the back and a 3.2in LCD screen. 

What you don’t get is video recording — that’s right, the Df doesn’t have a video recording option and does not have a built in microphone nor a port to add an external microphone. 

Oh yes, my one real gripe with the Nikon Df is that Nikon has relocated the front command dial to an area that actually makes it a little hard to use — I found the positioning of the front dial awkward and a little hard to spin with my forefinger.  

In use 

After a couple of weeks using the Nikon Df, I found that despite not being as retro as I would have liked it to be, it was still a joy to shoot with it. 

The camera feels good in the hands and is reasonably speedy. 

Some people may object to Nikon’s choice of integrating a 16-megapixel image sensor into the Df instead of the 24-megapixel one from the D600/610, but in use, the Df’s sensor performed very well — coupled with a good lens, images were pin sharp and ISO performance was simply amazing. 

If anything, the Df’s image sensor outperforms the professional D4 in terms of noise and produced perfectly usable results from ISO100 to ISO6400. 

Although there is obvious noise reduction at ISO12,800, the results were actually quite usable at a pinch. 

All in all, very impressive ISO performance from the Nikon Df. 

Also particularly notable is that the white balance on the Df is nearly perfect — producing correctly colour-balanced shots in almost every type of lighting condition that I could throw at it. 

Despite having a smaller 1,230 mAh lithium ion battery than professional and semi-professional siblings, the Df actually had very good battery life — I charged it once and went through many days of reasonably heavy shooting before I had to recharge again. 

Unfortunately the single SD card slot is also located inside the battery compartment — if you have the camera mounted on a larger tripod plate, the door may not be accessible while the camera is mounted on the tripod. 

That said, I personally didn’t have any problems with this as my tripod mounting plate is pretty small.  


All in all, I really liked the Nikon Df as a camera — where it matters most, i.e. in image quality, the camera produced consistently accurately exposed and sharp images. 

ISO performance is also top notch — this camera will really allow you to shoot handheld in lower lighting than ever before and still produce usable images. 

In terms of handling, while it doesn’t hold you back when shooting, I feel Nikon could have gone even more retro with the Df — the whole point of a retro camera is to minimise the number of buttons and yet retain the control that advanced users need. 

With the Df, there’s still a plethora of buttons and dials, some of which I could have done without.  

That being said, the Df is a nice camera to use — I really did enjoy shooting with it and certainly used my test unit long after I was done with the review. 

Pros: Relatively light for a Nikon DSLR; retro styling is quite nice, especially in black; excellent image quality and ISO performance. 

Cons: Nikon needs to go more retro with the design; front command dial a little hard to use. 

(Nikon Corp)
Sensor: 16-megapixel (4928 x 280-pixels) full-frame CMOS
Viewfinder: Optical and 3.2in 921k-dot LCD
Lens: None
Shutter speed: 30sec — 1/4000sec
ISO range: 100 — 25,600 (up to ISO 204,800 in ISO boost mode)
Shooting modes: P, S, A, M
Video format: None
Battery: EN-EL14a 1,230mAh lithium-ion
Storage: single SDXC card slot
Interface: USB 2.0
Other features: Compatible with Nikon SLR lenses made before 1977
Dimensions (W X H X D): 144 x 110 x 67 mm
Weight: 760g
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Quick Spec

Class : DSLR
Manufacturer : (Nikon Corp)
Other Features : Compatible with Nikon SLR lenses made before 1977
Dimensions : (W x H x D): 144 x 110 x 67 mm Weight
Weight : 760g
Sensor : 16-megapixel (4928 x 280-pixels) full-frame CMOS
Lens : None
Shutter Speed : 30sec — 1/4000sec
ISO range : 100 — 25,600 (up to ISO 204,800 in ISO boost mode)
Shooting Modes : P, S, A, M
Video Formats : None
View Finder : Optical and 3.2in 921k-dot LCD
Battery : EN-EL14a 1,230mAh lithium-ion
Storage : Single SDXC card slot
Interface : USB 2.0
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