Sandeep Murali | VP of Awesome / A little corner of the web where this Windows Phone toting, beer swigging, advertising professional posts his opinions on tech and advertising related happenings. Do also check out my adventures with a DSLR in the photography section.

The only work bag you’ll ever need?

I’m one of those people who are very picky with everything they buy. I tend to find faults with things that appear flawless to the majority. So when I started looking for a work bag, I spent an eternity going through the various options.

What’s out:

- Your run-of-the-mill work bag that you’ll see from Samsonite/ Picard/ Braun Buffel Etc. They may use decent enough leather, but they are bland and boring, have no personality whatsoever and every other white collar guy has something similar slung from his shoulders. To me, one’s choice of accessories reflect their personality and if you choose off the shelf, department store options, you are the vanilla ice cream of the working class.

- Designer label bags. Unless you go into the stratospheric price realms, the lower end options that all the labels have are outsourced to factories in Morocco/ China etc. These have mediocre leather, crappy fastenings and flimsy fabric linings. They look good for 6 months and then deteriorate rapidly. To me, they are just a higher end option for the use and dispose crowd that shop at Zara and H&M. I don’t mind spending S$500 on a bag, but when I do, I want it to last an eternity. That’s not too much to ask and I knew that there’s bound to be something like that out there somewhere.

Which brings us to:

Funny enough, one of the comments in a review of a competitor’s bag lead me to the Rustic Leather website. I took an instant liking to their products. Made from tough full-grain leather (The kind that develop beautiful patina over the years and remain strong and pliable, provided you take care of it properly), the bags have a purposeful, slightly rough around the edges (Just like yours truly) look. They have none of that pretty-boy aura that the department-store brand bags have and look like they can take a thrashing (Which by all accounts, they can). Available in 3 different colors, I immediately fell in love with this version:

Leather Briefcase Messenger Bag Backpack MEDIUM - Rich Chocolate Brown Distressed, Rugged

There’s absolutely nothing to not like about them. I love the distressed dark brown finish, the unfinished edges, the thoughtful pouches and pockets and the tough, no-nonsense construction. Well actually, there ARE a couple of things I’d like different about them.

- The big honking logo: It needs to “e toned down and moved to somewhere less conspicuous. Under the front flap should be a good place.

- The stitching: I am not yet sure if I like the red stitching or not. I think an option to have black and contrast stitching would be good. The red stitching is too close to the leather’s color palette to stand out, yet a bit off to blend in.

That’s about it. I possibly can’t find anything else wrong about them. Yes, it’s not what the average white collar guy would take to work, but trust me, the first day you take it to work, you’re gonna get a LOT of glances (…and not the “What the hell is that guy in the skinny jeans and glassless spectacle frames thinking” glances) and even a few compliments.

You can buy the bags off Etsy here: http://www.etsy.com/listing/54490976/leather-briefcase-messenger-bag-backpack

They ship worldwide via USPS and I am told that it takes about 8-10 working days for the bags to reach the customer. Judging from my past experience with American sellers that use USPS, that sounds about right.

Full disclosure: Rustic Leather offers a 15% discount to customers who blog about them (Like this one right here), but they place absolutely NO RESTRICTIONS on what you can and cannot write about. This post is in a positive vein not because they asked me to do so, but because I am genuinely happy with their product offering. I will be making a follow-up post on how the product actually holds up to my daily use and abuse in a month after I receive them.

Cheerio!

How to make a Gursky actually look interesting in 10 minutes: …I’d like $5 million for that, thank you.

Samsung takes the fight right to Apple’s door

In a rather amusing fashion too:



It’s interesting how a few years ago, companies were actually SCARED to even draw comparison to Apple products in their ads, but now; more than one competitor is taking not-so-subtle shots at the products and the culture that surrounds them.

“I can’t get a Samsung, I’m creative!”. That made me chuckle.

Windows Phone Mango: How to improve upon a good thing?

I like Mango. Very much.

Like countless others have mentioned by now (And with good reason), this is what Windows Phone should have been right from the start. The OS is finally living up to its potential. The enhanced live tiles make the start screen come alive. Many a time, I find myself unlocking the device just to see the tiles update. They really are that darn cool!

The new messaging hub that integrates Facebook chat and Windows Live is so elegant, you wonder why no one had thought of this before. I only wish if they’d open this up for third party applications. I’d love to integrate Whatsapp, Kik, Skype (I know that’s coming, but still…), hell; even Yahoo Messenger and Google talk into this. Windows Phone was supposed to “Save us from apps”. This would be an obvious way to do it.

On that note, I wish it’d save us from Android nightmares too. No, I’m not talking about horrible looking OK buttons  or anything that sort. I’m talking about battery life. Ever since my LG Optimus 7 was updated to Mango, I have been forced to charge my phone twice a day. Not since my hideous Motorola Milestone have I lived through this misery. It’s scary how the phone can go from 49% to 13% battery life in an hour from news reading on a Google Reader client (Flux, in case you’re interested). I’ve tried everything; disabling live agents, turning down brightness, the works. All I need is a phone that stays alive for a work day and dinner/drinks afterwards. I’m sure that’s not too much to ask, especially for something with a 1500 mAH powerpack!

Zune (Client):

Let’s talk about the Zune client now. I’ve been using Zune ever since the software first came out and I love it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Now I understand that Windows Phone (And Microsoft) embraced the cloud to the fullest extent before others started adding vowels before the term, but the ability to back one’s apps onto the desktop isn’t the stuff Jules Verne novels are made of. I am currently contemplating an upgrade to my handset (more on that later), but you’re not making it easy for me! I am aware of the feature on Windows L ive where one can re-install the apps that they installed, but that’s not what the cloud is all about. Ideally, I’d like seamless syncing across say, 5 phones which are logged in with the same Windows Live ID. Contacts, pictures, apps, mail, messages, everything.

You could even open up an API for developers to sync application data across devices. So let’s say, I’m reading a PDF on my Windows Phone, I could resume from the page where I left off on my Windows 8 slate. The possibilities are endless.

While on the subject of Zune, let’s also talk about the sound controls. I understand the simplicity of a unified volume control, but people do need differing volume levels for alerts and media. I like my ringtones soft and my music (Played in the headphones) loud! The current quick access volume controls can still cater to media, but we could use an additional control in the settings menu for alert volume.

Notifications:

Toast notifications are awesome.If you see them, that is. If you don’t, they’re gone for ever. I don’t want to pin a live tile for every app that I use. That would be a loooong list! I’d really prefer to have a notification center of sorts where unread toast notifications stay until one takes action.

The live tiles:

As mentioned, they are awesome. But can’t they be improved further? In a way that no other manufacturer as done before? Can’t they re-arrange dynamically above the line (Similar to how contacts re-order themselves in Windows Live Messenger), depending on on which ones have a pending notifications and which ones don’t? (Except maybe a hard pinned one like the phone tile). At the very least, add a subtle glow at the bottom of the screen (Similar to the Zune software visualization effect as one plays a song) when the tiles below the line have pending notifications. Also, the calendar tile could be a lot more dynamic with say, location aware to-dos and so forth.

Quick settings. I’m not ashamed to say, this is one thing I miss from Android. Wifi/ Airplane mode/ Bluetooth toggles must simply be accessible from the start screen. The logical thing to do would be to add them to the overlay that appears as one presses the volume key. But who knows, there may be more elegant ways.

Performance of third party apps:

Yes, Mango brought some improvements. But many of them still lag behind the native apps in terms of smoothness. The home grown Facebook app would be an obvious example. It is slower in terms of data refreshing and UI interactivity. I’d like to see Microsoft take an active approach in guiding the developers into building better performing apps. Apps such as IM+ are a disgrace, I’m sorry. That sort of jerky-jerkerton UX belongs in Androidland. Not here.

Light a fire under the asses of your hardware partners:

Seriously. I’ve seen the N9. It’s beautiful. I made my mind up on the spot to upgrade to the Nokia Sea Ray. That’s the level of commitment you should be demanding from your hardware partners. All of them. Sure, the world needs some Acer W7s so that the OS propagates, but the high end hardware should feel special like the N9/ Sea ray and the iPhone 4S, not like the disposable pile of junk that the Android makers peddle for 6 weeks before they push out their next “Latest and greatest” device. What Windows Phone needs is iconic, memorable hardware because the software is (Almost) there. 

I don’t wanna sound like a spec-sheet warrior when I say we need dual core processors, high-res displays and the likes on Windows Phone, but we do. Yes, Windows phone on a 1Ghz, first gen Snapdragon is faster than a good lot of Android “Powerhouses”. But high end hardwares get great developers going. Android has no decent relationship with game developers(The Playstation Suite has done jack and squat since launch). Apple does. Great hardware from them got the developers going and resulted in titles such as Infinity Blade. Microsoft doesn’t need to be told how to court the developers (Hell, I’ve got Steve yelling out each time I get a call. Yep, THAT’S my ringtone). Great hardware on Windows Phone will finally do justice to the games hub and live up to the Xbox Live name. Do it. Please.

You’ve got an instantly recognizable UX on Windows Phone. Something only Apple can boast currently. Paste it out there everywhere. In everyone’s faces. Put out roadside kiosks where people can use Facebook connect and print out T-Shirts with their personalized People Hub on it. Let them proudly say, “I’m a Windows Phone”. Think aggressive.

In case you didn’t get it by now, I really, REALLY don’t like Android. And that comes from a subpar UX that I had to go through while I was using the platform. Windows Phone has done SO MUCH right till now on that front. It’s got a lot going right for it and that extra bit of refinement could be all that’s needed to catapult it past the fragmented beast from Mountain View.

Hide ‘n seek
Did someone just call my name?

Amazon Kindle Fire - AKA how Google just got pwned

Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the first proper competitor to the iPad. Not an iPad-killer or replacement, but proper competition.

It won’t lure people away from their existing iPads. The hardware is way too weak for that. That’s not the market that Amazon is looking a. They are looking at people who want to get a tablet, but haven’t pulled the gun at an iPad. The Android tablets out there all suck in equal amounts and Google has so far failed miserably at making a tablet friendly UI AND  ecosystem. Amazon has, in one shot, addressed both and in many ways, freed Android from the clutches of Google.

It has a proven ebook and music store built-in. The appstore isn’t huge, but it is curated better than the official Android Market. There will be basic productivity tools offered, but make no mistake, this 7” device is aimed more as a media consumption platform; not a productivity oriented one.

In short, the “Open-ness” of Android just bit Google in the ass. Hard.

Au-KDDI’s brilliant demonstration of the power of Windows Phone

I love this.

One of the best things about Windows phone 7 is the People Hub, which brings together everything about the people you interact with daily, in an intuitive fashion. I had always wondered why the WP7 advertising campaign never highlighted ace features such as these to the users. I personally would never ever go back to the “Normal” addressbooks in the other platforms because they all feel decidedly last-gen.

Well, they finally “Get” it and this little microsite is testimonial to that fact. It’s a idea seen before, pulling data off your social network account (Usually, Facebook) and re-arranging it as per the purpose of the campaign. Pretty sure I saw it for the first time in a Sony Ericsson Microsite almost 18 months back. But this time around, it actually makes sense because that;s exactly what the People hub does!

Hopefully, this is a start of a fresh new campaign to promote WP7 Mango, which focuses on the unique user experience rather than the snobbish “Saves you from your phones” activation campaign from a year ago.

Click on the source link to try it out yourself. Maybe, just maybe you’ll become a fan of the platform like I did.

(Source: au-windowsphone.jp)

Fusion Garage’s Grid 10 Tablet

Has anyone seen this yet?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cVhjfHh9bTQ

Quite simple the most innovation on the UI front I’ve seen in the handheld realm since Windows Phone 7. And to think, it’s based on Android without any of the fugly associated with that OS!

OK, so the company has some bad press thanks to the much maligned Joo Joo tablet, but it really does seem like they did their homework this time. The UI is fantastic and it runs Android apps downloaded via the Amazon appstore.

Which brings us to another interesting point. With the Amazon appstore being a viable alternative to the Google Android market and with the official Amazon tablet  coming later this year as well (Running Android, but without Google apps), it seems like a power struggle is imminent, WRT control over Android. If Amazon (Or someone else) succeeds at this, it’d be the “Openness” of Android that would close the doors on Google in the end.

Irony be thy name.

+ Scalado Rewind lets you re-frame group shots after the shot, let's you make the best out of them

No, it’s not another hipster toycam app. The world has enough of those.

Not a lot is known about this yet and it may not even be a dedicated app, but scalado rewind us one of those things that make you go “why didn’t anyone think of this earlier”?

It takes a few pre-shots of people before the actual group photo is taken and using face recognition, lets you select the right expression for each person AFTER the shot. The video better explains it.

Can’t wait for this to be a reality!

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Running around in my aunt’s house.

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