[REVIEW] Once in a while, you see your fellow MP walking within your estate. Once in a while, we see a Singapore product take the international central stage. See the similarity? In both cases, it is about time you sit up and take notice because it could only mean that elections is coming and a Singapore company has produced something that the international community might actually like.

iTwin is the Singapore-based company that managed to showcased it’s original product, the iTwin at the famous TechCrunch50 Conference in Silicon Valley. Also, you will be interested to know that iTwin is a spin-off from the Institue for Infocomm Research under Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A Star). How’s that for you?

But reputation only goes as far as the real product performs. 


What is iTwin?

The concept of iTwin is super innovative, surprisingly different and somewhat not difficult to understand.

Quite simply, iTwin enables direct data transfer between two computers which had one half of the iTwin (see the image above) plugged in. And… that’s all it does!

Simply sharing files between two computers including on-the-fly editing of documents.

No technical configuration is required.

You have a brain of Sherlock Holmes, I know. So essentially,this is how iTwin works. It sends the data via the Internet under AES-256 encryption with the pair of iTwin working as encryption token. Only the two halves of the iTwin can recognize each other.

So there are two levels of security, at the software level as well as the hardware. Pretty assuring. And for your personal assurance, you can also set a passcode to further encrypt the connection between the two PCs.

And no, there is no Mac support yet.

As you would have realised by now, Internet connection is absolutely required for iTwin to function. And your inner geeky self is probably screaming “Remote File Access” by now. Indeed it is, except for the much stronger security which is of paramount importance for obvious reasons.

Which adds to my curiosity of the device. Fortunately, I have one in my hands now. Courtesy of iTwin, of course.


What’s the Deal?

It is not often that I have to tell anyone how a device can be useful to their lives. I mean you are a clever dude/gal, you know the good stuff. But iTwin is in the class of it’s own. I guess it would be beneficial to share my thoughts on this one.

Sure, there are as many ways to transfer files over the Internet; Dropbox, Skydrive, MobileMe and ... you get the drift.

BUT, here is a big BUT, data duplication is often required. Synchronization, uploading and downloading data to edit or for viewing is unavoidable in many instances. Yet, it seems to be convenient enough for the most of us.

So what’s iTwin offering here? A solution for you to have direct access to your data in the original physical location. Edit files that reside on your home desktop from your workplace. Gain access to your entire library of documents and media. Something like a dedicated server to yourself.

More crucially, there is ZERO technical configuration needed. A person who knows where is the USB port can use it and this is equivalent to EVERYONE.

But things aren’t that straightforward yet.

For iTwin to act as a thumbdrive or delicated server, it means that you need to have a PC (with one half of the iTwin) has be switched on to accept the data connection from the other PC. Even in times of emergency.

In other words, the use of iTwin is pretty peculiar. Either you have your PC switched on most of the time or you plan to use iTwin in advance so you can leave your PC switched on. Another situation could a direct sharing of files between two users. Something like a secret channel between a CEO And his/her CFO. So each of them owns one half and no other people can have the same access.

For such a unique device, I have also penned down it’s installation and usage guide which you can spend the next 3 minutes of your life reading. Go on, you know you want to read it.


Setting Up

There aren’t much in the package. There is the pair of iTwin and a Getting Started Guide. Two first thoughts when I opened up the box; One, I wasn’t going to read the guide because the concept seems so simple and two, the hardware design is fairly professional but that’s not the point.  

The real point is how well it works. So the iTwin went separate ways. One to my family computer and the other to my personal computer. Minutes later, they are connected again; literally virtually.

The installation screen automatically pops up on Windows XP while Windows Vista and 7 are more polite folks, they asked if I want to run the program. From what I see, the program installed itself to the computer, validate the program and try to find it’s counterpart (online of course).

I am installing the first of the twins, so clearly it is unable to detect the other half. The program told me so. You will also notice the iTwin icon in the system tray to facilitate the use of the device. And that’s is that, the installation flew past in 60 seconds. Well, another 60 seconds for another installation and they are instantly connected.


The Concepts

There are 2 simple concepts to note. In my explanation, I will always refer to the two computers, which I plugged each half of the iTwin, as “Computer A” and “Computer B”.

#Concept 1: On each PC, there are two folders; “Local Files” and “Remote Files”. The “Local Files” (on Computer A) will store all the files that you want to share with Computer B. The “Remote Files” (on Computer A) will show all the files being shared on the “Local Files” folder of Computer B. The exact same concept is mirrored on Computer B.

#Concept 2: To share a file, you use the “copy” on the mouse’s right click menu and “paste” it in the “Local Files” folder. That’s what we all know but I am not underestimating your intelligence. Here is the catch, the “paste” command would only insert the LINK to the file. The file still physically reside where it is located originally.

For example, let say you want to share your Edison-Chen-like photos (on Computer A) with Computer B and those scandalous photos resides in the folder “My Pictures” (on Computer A). By the way of “Copy” and “Paste”, the “Local Files” will now store the links to those photos. Deleting the links in the “Local Files” will in no way impact the original files.   


Think Think Think…

The concept of inserting the links instead of moving the physical location of the files meant that your current folder structure will not be affect by sharing. For instance, you can share the Edison-Chen-like photos from the folder that keeps all your photos and also the videos of that nature from the folder that keeps all your videos without moving them out the original folder structure. There is no need to duplicate the files in two folders in a single computer too.

Just in case you wonder, yes, by putting in a folder, all the files between that folder will be shared automatically.

And there you have it, you have master the usage of iTwin.

Other details you might be interested in may be the following:

  • You will alternate between “Local Files” and “Remote Files”. There is no option to see both at the same time.
  • You can alternate the folders via the icon in the system tray.


Wrapping Up…

The single most impressive part of the iTwin is it’s ability to connect two computers without technical configuration. I said it three time in this post so you can absolutely believe in my testimonial. Clearly, this is the easiest solution to sharing files between two computers in the market at the moment.

Of course, you could treat iTwin like a thumbdrive, to store data anywhere you like. Except that it does not really function like a ordinary thumbdrive, you will require two things; Internet Connection and the other PC to be up and running (not in sleep mode).

Fundamentally, iTwin is does what is does in supreme simplicity. Practically, if sharing files between two computers connected to the Internet is a common use case for you, then it is high time you invest in iTwin. 

Yet, is that the most common use case for consumers?

iTwin is in it’s first iteration and it certainly has great potential to be part of many digital lives. More so after the COO of iTwin, Mr Kal Takru, said something that interest me the most; “iTwin will extend the plaform over time to support Mac OS X, smartphones and other devices.”

Remember the first version of iPhone didn’t exactly set the world alight? For me, direct desktop connection from my Android phone is something that will surely wow me. And possibly the world.

Link – iTwin Official Website Purchase Page (iTwin is only for sale online for now)

[Event Report] [Hands-On] Following the introduction of A10, we finally laid hands on the actual retail set at the ultra-interactive launch event. That’s right, we got to walk around Fullerton One, ride on the Hippo Bus and toy with the mobile phones along the way. And then, there is the element of surprise; Garmin-Asus A50 also made its debut at the event and incredibly retails at a lower price than A10 despite boasting a bigger screen. Yep, there is one whole load of stuff I took away from a packed 1 hour event and I have cut and highlighted them for a busy you to know A10 and A50 like your long lost friends in 5 minutes.    


The Maps in the Brain

Garmin-Asus A10 and A50 is all about maps and navigation. Some thing along the line of carrying a PND (Personal Navigation Device) with you. And it is more like adding the phone function to PND than adding PND function to the phone.

Preloaded with the NAVTEQ® map of Singapore and Malaysia, Garmin-Asus’ game plan revolves around Garmin’s professional 1690 car navigation software and that means both models come with standard PND functions such as turn-by-turn navigation and more advance features such as Lane Guidance and Junction View.

To show these features, the host told us to go Saint Julien from One Fullerton where the conference is held. The thing is, they aren’t prepared to lead us there; instead we were told to find our way there with the latest Garmin-Asus phones.

My experience for the short walk? It is harder to lose my way to the destination than ending up there.

First, key in the destination. The phone automatically finds my current location and gave me the directions to the end point. I didn’t know where Saint Julien is but the A10 in my hand vibrates when I am suppose to make a left. The only gripe I notice is that there is some lag to inform when I was already at the destination.

Next, the hosts brought us up onto the hippo bus.

I personally have never own a PND, mainly because I am not Peter Lim (the guy that bid for Liverpool FC), meaning I couldn’t afford the four wheels on our precious roads. I have a class 3 license though, so I am also not exactly David Beckham holding on to a basketball either.

But I knew these Garmin-Asus phones are really simply PNDs that are not called PNDs. While on the hippo bus, again we setup the destination of the phone and for the next 10 minutes, all I hear are the programmed voice to tell me to turn left and right and all I see are lanes instructions and speed limits on every road we turn into. Plain simple.

I am pretty sure the host checked the phones to ensure that all the features work during our short trip, so as far as I see, the map are updated and the ability of the phone to consistently discover my current location is accurate.

All in all, it looks like a premium version of Google Maps which is also installed on the phones. Including other features such as the Point of Interest database updated by Garmin-Asus and street views feature via Google Maps.

The navigation is brilliant but throughout my time with the phones, I just wished the screen on the A10 is sharper and larger than it is. It will no doubt improve the experience of using the maps.


The Twins with Strengths of their Own

The physical sizes of the phones does not differ too much. It is the screen size that you probably want to zoom in on. And to give you an even better breakdown, I have highlighted the areas in which the respective phones is stronger in. In the game of A50 and A10, Garmin-Asus is going against the market trend; to put a larger screen on your premium product (think Samsung Galaxy S or HTC Desire). And so, a Garmin-Asus customer will have to decide between have a speeder phone with better camera and battery life against a bigger screen. A difference of 0.3” might theoretically seem small, but holding them up tell a true story. I can’t harp on the screen since it is still a matter of personal preference though it is hard to imagine anyone in for a smartphone settling for anything less than 3.5” (incidentally, the screen size of an iPhone 4). Other specifications puts both models right in the bracket of the Mid-range Android smartphones.

  Garmin-Asus A50 Garmin-Asus A10
Networks HSDPA  downstream :7.2Mbps upstream: 384kbps HSDPA DL:7.2Mbps UL: 384Kpbs,UMTS 900/ 2100
Operating system Android 2.1 (Eclair)  Android 2.1 (Eclair) 
CPU Qualcomm 7227 600MHz Qualcomm 7227 600MHz
Memory 256MB SDRAM + 256MB ROM, 4GB eMMC flash 512 MB SDRAM + 512MB ROM, 4GB eMMC Flash
Connectivity Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, USB 2.0, WLAN 802.11b+g Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, USB v2.0, WLAN 802.11b+g
GPS Qualcomm GPSOne – Gen7 (AGPS supported) Qualcomm GPSOne – Gen7 (AGPS supported)
Display 3.5 HVGA TFT with capacitive touch , 65K colors 3.2 HVGA TFT with capacitive touch , 65Kcolors
Camera 3 megapixel, autofocus 5 megapixel, Auto Focus
Battery 1150mAh lithium 1500mAh Lithium
Standby time Up to 18 days (2G/3G)* 530-660 hours(2G/3G)
Talk time Up to 9 hours (2G/3G)* 560-710 minutes(2G/3G)
Expansion microSD ™ (supports SDHC, up to 32GB) microSD (supports SDHC, up to 32GB)
Browser HTTP/Google browser HTTP/Google browser
Messaging SMS/MMS/email/push email SMS / MMS / Email / Push email
Video Video playback: MPEG4/H.264/H.263/WMV @ 30 frame per second VGA Video recording: MPEG4/H.263 @ 24 frame per second VGA Video Playback: MPEG4/H.264/H.263/WMV @ 30fps VGA Video Recording: MPEG4/H.263 @ 30fps QVGA



Holding Them like Babies

The A10, the pricer product of the two, is a compact phone. Only the front side is glossy while the back portion is setup with matte texture. It feels extremely solid with a little bit of weight. The curvy sides makes holding on to the A10 (the first of the two images below) a joy. The A50 is somewhat more economical in terms of the build quality. The black plastic casing feels a less solid than expected and the 5 way navigation pad is a little loose. But in general, A50 looks a lot like LG Chocolate Series; Simplistic black glossy design. Comparing the two purely on the terms of outlook, they are probably design for two different market segment in mind. But I personally prefer A50 with the larger screen. There I said it again.

Garmin-Asus A10

Garmin-Asus A50


Signing Off…

The launch conference of the Garmin-Asus A10 and A50 clearly shown the strengths and weaknesses of the phones. The navigation functions are excellent but the specifications of the phones are perhaps on the underwhelming side. Which to an extent, affects the core function of these devices; to be a smartphone.

Yet for the prices, Garmin-Asus A10 and A50 for $598 and $568 respectively (SRP without telco contracts), they represent value for your cash. The prices also reveals the indecisiveness of the engineers and designers to make which of these two a premium product. A mere S$30 dollars meant that A10 wins by a whisker. But I won’t bet on the consumers making the same decision. A 3.5” screen is particularly attractive to me (For a 3rd time in this post).

There are other details to cover but they shouldn’t go beyond the materials in this post in general. With the exception of the Android experience which should, navigation software which I will spend some time trying out, take the central stage in my A10 full review. I have gotten my review set. So if you wanted any particular information on the phone, I am probably able to provide some ideas.

Otherwise, enjoy your Sunday. Because Monday is sneaking up on us…

[EVENT REPORT] To be frank, prior to the invitation to experience a 3D movie on Panasonic’s 3D enabled TVs, I am not prepared to tell anyone to empty them wallets for a 3D TV. Yet, I could be prepared to do that to some selected ones. All will be reveal in due course.

The event is a causal one. Panasonic Asia probably wants the crowd to purely enjoy the movie and for specifications to take the back seat. To top it off, the breakfast served by Brotziet (313 Somerset) is brilliant.

But I did not forget my objective for every event. To understand and blog.

Let’s talk about the 3D experience first. Admittedly, Panasonic VT Series produce some of the best home cinema experiences. At the event, Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (3D version) is screened on a Panasonic VT Series TV. Compared to the early 3D TVs, the images are surprisingly vibrant. The fast motion of the cartoon characters are very smooth and in fact, I have to say that the 3D effects are probably the most natural one I have seen so far.

I think it is largely because the 3D effects are implemented well within the movie itself. For instance, when Scrat (the saber-toothed squirrel) digs for the nut beneath the stack of dry leaves, the motion of the leaves exploding into the air is perfectly illustrated by the 3D effects. I feel that the leaves are falling right into front of me and that leaves are fallen everywhere.

In another moment, a layer of ice cracked and the camera is positioned as if we are watching from beneath the layer of ice and as a result, the TV screen “acted” as that piece of ice and it “cracked”. Refreshing stuff.

After 20 minutes of the movie, I got to admit, the experience is damn pretty good. 3D can certainly create more visual entertainment than we think it could and I think most people will enjoy Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs on 3D than on 2D.

At this point, we have to talk about the glasses, don’t we?

Right off, I am short-sighted. So I am putting on the 3D glasses on top of my own regular glasses. And yes, it is not the most comfortable experience I have but neither is the level of discomfort at the point of irritation. Panasonic also tried to make it better for bespectacled people like me. The glasses come with removable nose pads. So if you are already wearing a glasses, you can remove the nose pad on the 3D glasses.

The issue of glasses is really dependent to individual’s preference. Those without glasses already should not have too much of a trouble. Other things you should know about the 3D glasses are that there is a on/off switch and it is powered by battery with a life of around 40 hours. Also, the glasses don’t work well if you are sitting too far to the side. And of course there is the problem of buying more 3D glasses (if you have more than 2 viewers at one time) which there have been no solution yet.

So, the question that you ask and I probably should try to give you some clues is: Should you buy a Panasonic 3D TV (VT Series) then? Or 3D TVs in general?

The first part of the answer is the content. Will there be a wide range of 3D movies make available soon? Will those movies be making a use of the 3D effects? There isn’t a lot of value add watching 500 Days of Summer on 3D. So content are largely dependent on the likes of publishers and maybe in the future, cable TV suppliers; SingTel and Starhub. For now, 3D content is still limited to an occasional movie, though it seems that many companies are trying hard to push for 3D content.

If that occasional movie is Ice Age 3, I think money will be well spent.

The second part of the answer is perhaps more intriguing. In case you didn’t know, 3D effects are actually a feature of a standard HDTV. And therefore, when you purchase a Panasonic VT Series TV, you are really getting a premium plasma TV instead of a “3D TV”. Hence, underlying question is more important: Is Panasonic VT Series a HD TV that you would buy? 

The conclusion to the 3D TV debate revolved around the prices then. If there is no significant price differences, then buying a 3D enabled TV is great. If there is, then it is worth considering if you have the extra budget or 3D movies are something that you craved. Which is why I would only recommend 3D TVs to certain people.

At the end of the day, I guess a combination of the hassle of glasses, the limited content and uncertainty about the technology makes 3D enabled TVs still a product for the early adopters.

But you should try it out if you haven’t, especially on Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

Link – Panasonic 3D Microsite

[COMMENTARY] Next Monday, October 11, is no ordinary day. It is not a day for Monday blues. Microsoft and Steve Balmer certainly will hope it will not be the start of an extended blue Monday. All because that day has been penciled in as the day where every human being (whom are not holding to an iPhone or Android or Blackberry phones) will hold their breath and witness Microsoft unveil Windows Phone 7 as their latest mobile operating system and the initial series of handsets.

Here is the problem, after leaving out iPhone, Android and Blackberry phones’ users, there aren’t many people around that is going to hold their breath for this event. Instead, these people will mostly read, watch and discuss this historical Microsoft events on their iPhones, Androids and Blackberries. How ironic.

What’s even more ironic, some of these people may have been old enough to once be followers of the legacy Windows Mobile OS. Right now, Microsoft have to convince them to rejoin.

For us, the Singaporeans, it seems that October 12th could be a launch day for the Windows Phone 7 manufacturers. We got an invite from LG for an event on that particular day (LG sent us the image above.) More to come with our coverage then.

Check out the Windows Phone 7 official website here – Microsoft Windows Phone 7 and one last technical preview before the launch next week.

Launch date’s Source: Wall Street Journal

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