Sunday, January 29, 2012

Preparing for travel itineraries the app way

I'll be traveling again for work in the next few days and that means a lot of preparations not only for the work to be done, but also the things left at home and other personal to dos that must be accomplished while away. While most of the home stuff, I can do without personal technology, thanks to my supportive wife and mother-in-law, my work related to dos and itineraries, I have to do by myself.

It's a good thing that every smartphone out in the market has a solution for travel and I have been using some applications that have helped a lot. I currently use 3 phones: iPhone 4, BlackBerry Curve 8900 and a Nokia N8. But I'll just focus on apps available for iOS and BlackBerry. There was a time where the Symbian platform had great travel apps, but as developers have moved away from that, the quality of apps available has gone down. Some of the iOS apps mentioned are also available for Android and even on BlackBerry.

  1. TripIt - my essential travel app. I can't make a decent itinerary without it. Upgrade to TripIt Pro is worth it if you travel a lot within the United States. (iOS, Android, BlackBerry)
  2. Hipmunk - a great travel search and booking engine where it takes into consideration the potential stress and time between layovers. Shows results in a timeline so you can compare price and flight times. (iOS, Android)
  3. Skyscanner - similar to Hipmunk but with a wider airline availability. It provides some pretty weird results. Tried to find flights from Manila to Jakarta and it gave me a suggestion to take a flight with Qatar Airwarys with a layover in Qatar. I'm not booking that flight for sure. It has a local site though that provides pricing in Philippine Pesos. (iOS, Android)
  4. XE Currency - No doubt the best currency calculator site out there. (iOS, Android, BlackBerry)
  5. TripAdvisor - great site when checking out hotels and nearby places of interest. I get a kick out of the user posted photos of bad hotels and weird stuff being discovered. (iOS, Android)
  6. BlackBerry Travel - I used to have TripIt and a bunch of other travel apps in my BlackBerry but when BlackBerry Travel came out, I decided to just use it exclusively. This is actually a rebranded WorldMate that takes advantage of the BlackBerry's mobile functionality and executes flawlessly.
If I were to choose 1 phone for travel with all the functionality I need, it would be a BlackBerry (surprise, surprise!). BlackBerry Travel pretty much has everything I need in 1 app. If your contacts are BlackBerry users, it would be very easy to catch up with them by using BlackBerry Messenger. I haven't encountered any roaming issues with the BlackBerry and carriers usually provide a bridge data plan that is optimized for the platform.

I would give TripIt second place since it is multi platform and very flexible. I can write my whole trip itinerary with this service. Upgrading to TripIt Pro is an option and seems to be more useful for frequent flyers in the United States rather than world travelers.

There are many apps out there that try to solve some particular travel issues, but the list above provides me  all the functions I need whenever I'm out of the country. Happy travels!

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Battle of Los Angeles 2012

Last night we were treated to a great basketball game in the NBA featuring hallway rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Los Angeles Clippers. Having briefly lived in LA, I follow both teams and make sure to watch their games at Staples Center whenever I'm in town. Its quite interesting to observe the basketball culture of LA. Being a "big market" team in the NBA means a lot - gate tickets, merchandise and of course tinseltown itself. SoCal is big. That's why Donald Sterling moved the Clippers from San Diego to LA when he bought the team in the early 80s. That's also the reason why the Maloofs are keen on moving the Sacramento Kings to Anaheim (although Orange County isn't exactly LA, but tell that to the Angels).

Going back to hoops, both teams are in the process of transforming themselves - the Clippers, still adjusting and getting their swagger back thanks to the signing of CP3, Mr. Big Shot and Caron Butler (and probably still have some cap space for the next season). They are definitely LA's hottest ticket right now. The Lakers, still adjusting to the Mike Brown system have the ever reliable Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. But I see a lot of changes happening after this season in their lineup. Most of the time, the Lakers are relying on Kobe, but he can't be the only offensive threat of the team. Pau did a great job offensively last night and we were even treated with a Metta World Peace sighting.

I'm excited how this season will turn out in LA. I would expect the Clippers to go to the Playoffs either as a 5th or 6th seed in the West while the Lakers will still make it but I wouldn't be surprised at all if they end up 8th.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paid Apps in the Nokia Store

I'm one of the few who still swear on what Nokia is capable of despite their recent setbacks. That's why I still hold on to the N8, arguably the best Symbian phone Nokia has released to date (its currently running in Symbian Anna, but scheduled to be upgraded to Symbian Belle next month). The Carl Zeiss Tessar powered 12MP camera is just one of the reasons why the device is such a keeper. The only problem I really have with the N8, and Symbian in general is the availability of quality apps. A few months ago, Nokia renamed the Ovi Store to Nokia Store which makes sense in branding and marketing. But the Philippines only had access to paid apps just recently, and I'm really glad Nokia decided to make third party commercial apps finally available locally.

The number and quality of paid apps in the Nokia Store obviously pale in comparison against Apple's App Store and the Android Market. But you'll be able to grab some good apps for as low as P20. A number of HD games from Gameloft are priced aggressively.  The most expensive app I've seen so far is the excellent Gravity social networking client which sells for P150. I wouldn't be surprised if Nokia subsides a huge chuck of the pricing of apps.

Many thanks to @loell for pointing out an important factor in making this work for me - as of this time, only Globe Telecom supports phone billing which allows you to access the paid apps from the Nokia store. You can still use a prepaid sim from Globe as long as you provide your credit card details from your account profile in the Nokia Store.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I still prefer the Kindle E Ink devices

This month marks a year and a half of continuous use of the Kindle Keyboard (used to be called Kindle 3). Between those months of use, I've had the opportunity to own other tablets and use other reading formats but I keep on going back to the simplicity of the Kindle.

It's probably because of E Ink which just works. I've always been a fan of the display technology when it was introduced. Now its being used in other products such as wristwatches, retail displays, etc. I hope Amazon continues to build E Ink based Kindles and perhaps even move to Color ePaper technology.

Regarding formats, the only thing I'm not really happy about is not being able to support ePub, while the rest of the competition has adopted it. Even the new version of iBooks for the iPad supports the latest version of the ePub format although there are reports that the support is broken in a way that Apple added undocumented extensions that pretty much breaks the standard. But I don't see myself using a lot of iBooks in the future even though the books are pretty. The problem is that the file sizes are too huge (the Life on Earth book is almost 1GB).

It's amazing how ebook technology has evolved over the years. I remember in my previous work, the first time I had a chance to work on ebooks was when we had to do some work on the Franklin eBookMan. It was a terrible device to begin with. It didn't ship with an OS, you had to download it first before actually using the device. At least it had support for Mobipocket format (before Amazon bought them). When I started reading books and building content for the eBookMan, I got hooked and have always been looking forward to ebook reader technologies that come out since then.

Hopefully, Amazon continues to develop the technology for dedicated book readers without resorting to LCD or LEDs. The E Ink Kindles work just fine and have a market of their own. Heck I wouldn't be surprised in a few years, Amazon will just give them away to any Amazon Prime subscriber.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sometimes a reboot is necessary

The first month of January is about to end in a week and I decided its the right time to do a "reboot" on my online presence. I finally got to transfer my domains out of GoDaddy and into NameCheap. The transfer process was pretty straightforward, after unlocking the domain from GoDaddy, I initiated the transfer and everything went as planned, just replying to emails explaining the process and authorizing NameCheap to be the new registrar. Moving the DNS took some delays as I wasn't that familiar anymore with the interface of Google Apps and learned along the way that it doesn't require domain name verification anymore.

Going back to Blogger was a no brainer. It's simple and it works. Although I'm a bit worried how its going to get integrated into Google+ in the future. At least I can say I have a very clean blog right now and hope I would be able to sustain it.