Thoughts on Apple’s Retina Display

There’s a lot of commotion going on about the awesomeness of Apple’s Retina Display and I think it’s getting blown out of proportion. Before I share my thoughts, let me just begin by saying that I think the iPhone 4 is a wonderfully crafted piece of hardware. As always, Apple gets high marks for thinking “different” and really putting the user experience first.

Now on to this Retina Display screen.

Apple gets to claim highest resolution screen on the market due to their quadrupling of pixels thanks to the doubling of screen dimensions. I suspect they chose this resolution in order to maintain easy compatibility to all their software programs since it’s programmatically easier to do a double scale. Also, compared to the competition the existing ppi of their product at 165ppi was noticeably blurrier than the competition. Of course, they now get to say they have a 300+ ppi screen and dream up some marketing slogan about why it’s so good. Granted, they’re not the first to have this. In recent memory, the Sony Xperia X1 released in 2008 had a 800x480 resolution screen at 3” which equates to around 312 ppi. I still have this phone so I can verify that having the high ppi “can” make a difference….up to a point. The problem is that having a high resolution on a small screen doesn’t end up helping most people much because they end up increasing font sizes or zooming into the content anyways because the display port itself is so small. Ask anyone with devices with 4 or 4.3” screens with 854x480 or 800x480 resolutions and you won’t hear anyone complaining that they have trouble reading their screens. My Xperia X10i has a 245ppi screen at 4” and I have to try really hard to make out the pixels.

Most of the reviews comparing the Retina display have been doing so with close ups where the camera macro-focused on the screens. This doesn’t seem to mimic real world usage (i.e. holding the device 12-18 inches in front of you) and most people are not going to be able to tell the difference. So, while it’s an improvement, it’s not really that much better. I’d argue that there’s a point where simply having a larger screen more than makes up for having more pixels per inch. Imagine monitor shopping where you’re comparing a 20” 1920x1080 LCD monitor to a 23” 1680x1050 LCD monitor. While the 20” may be crisper, it’s probably just as easy (if not easier) to read text on the 23” screen since text is larger.

So, while I like the direction Apple is going with their display, it’s simply not that big a deal.

Windows Mobile is not a cunning linguist…

Last year I picked up a Sony Ericsson Xperia X1i to be my primary mobile phone. For the most part, I find the phone to be a beautifully designed piece of hardware marred by software that’s inadequate for the times.

So on to my beef with WinMo, the software running on the Xperia X1i…

As a fan and owner of numerous Sony Ericsson phones (T68i, Z200, Z600, W850i, and W910i), I had become pretty accustomed to the features and abilities their phones. One thing I always took for granted was their ability to display different language character sets. Given that phones are commonly used internationally (or at least sold internationally), it makes sense for them to be “multilingual” aware. So, when I got my Sony Ericsson Xperia X1i, it was a rude awakening for me to find out that Windows Mobile (WinMo) 6.1 AND the forthcoming 6.5 lack the native ability to display multiple languages. If you have the correct ROM, then you can display a single character set but that doesn’t help if you need more than one.

I know it may seem like a minor thing but it’s not….especially if you’re multilingual and correspond with people if different languages. WinMo really is a business oriented platform…and business is becoming more and more international everyday. Microsoft really needs to get their act together. Fast.

What makes a netbook a netbook?

What is a netbook?

Seriously, what is it? It’s a small and cheap notebook, right? Right? Right?

Actually, is it even small? These things are reaching 12” in screen size!

So, all we’re left with is the cheap component of the term…and ultimately, that’s all it is. A marketing name for a cheap laptop.

The funny thing is that these “netbooks” really aren’t anything new as the form factor has been around for a really long time. It’s just that the products were very expensive. Years ago, I owned two “ultraportable” notebooks: the venerable Sony VAIO PCG-SR5K and the Fujitsu Loox-T.

A product of the year 2000, the VAIO PCG-SR5K was a 1” thin 2.98 lbs. notebook that sported a 10.4” (1024x768) screen and all the usual ports for the time (e.g. Firewire, PCMCIA, USB, VGA, etc). It came with a 6-cell battery that got roughly 3-5 hours of life. It supported up to 256MB of memory and a whopping 12GB hard disk.

A year later, I picked up the original Fujitsu Loox T which was the first “ultraportable” to sport an integrated DVD drive at 3.4lbs and got 3-4 hours of battery with the standard battery and 7.5-8 with the extended battery. The screen size was 10” (1280x600) and also came with all the typical ports for the time period (e.g. Firewire, PCMCIA, USB, VGA, etc.).

Now look carefully. Don’t those specifications look a lot like the “netbook” specifications that we’re seeing today? Physical screen size and resolution remains largely unchanged, battery life certainly hasn’t gotten any better, and weight is more or less the same. Certainly, technology has advanced but it’s really the same thing….except back then we just called them “ultraportable notebooks”.

Despite me not being a fan of this shameless marketing term, I do like that “ultraportable” computing has finally trickled down to the masses. The only bad thing about it is that it makes it a lot harder for non-netbook ultraportable notebooks to justify their markedly higher prices.

Ok, enough of this pseudo-rant. I’m off to bed.

VAIO Z and Sony Customer Care Revisited

A follow up to my last post…

I’m currently waiting the arrival of my 2nd VAIO Z which is scheduled for next week. In the meantime, I’m still using the current one so I can get some testing and reviewing done. Everything else is functional afterall so it would be a shame to not review it. Once I get confirmation that the other laptop has shipped then I’ll start the RMA process with this one. I’ll still be within the 30 days return policy although I will have to eat the cost of shipping it back since it’s not “technically” defective.

In terms of the 2nd VAIO Z, I didn’t end up getting the exact same model specifications. After some deep thought, I went against my original conservative configuration and opted for the Blu-Ray burner. My reasoning for this as that despite the price, I was writing this off for business anyways and while I won’t be watching a lot of Blu-Ray movies on this, I will be creating a lot content (including HD videos) and will need a quick way to burn the data. I know I could get an external (which I still plan to do) for less but it’s just more convenient to not have to bring extra stuff. Other than that, I didn’t upgrade anything else. Eventually, I’ll want a bigger HDD but the one I got in my configuration is double what my old laptop had and that should suffice for now.

In terms of my comprehensive review, I will start on it this weekend and possibly post it partially to help others who are considering buying one. I’ll then add the Blu-Ray component of the review after I receive that unit. I’m actually pretty fired up to do the review since this is the first piece of exciting technology I’ve had in a while and most of the reviews I’ve seen already aren’t that great due to lack of research and understanding of the product.

Sony Customer Care doesn’t care

After four long years of waiting to upgrade my main laptop, I finally took the plunge after hearing about the announcement of the new Sony VAIO Summer 2008 line up. My Sony VAIO S170P, my trusty workhorse all these years, was starting to show it’s age and just not able to handle my new computing needs and the new HD lifestyle.

I was immediately intrigued by the Sony VAIO Z series, Sony’s new flagship ultraportable laptop. It’s a new model clearly influenced by some of the best design elements Sony has brought to the market over the last several years. There are clear influences from their venerable TR, X505, S, SZ, and TZ notebooks. It also brings all that and a breadth of new technologies and designs all in an amazingly light package.

So, I placed an order the day they were available (July 15, 2008) and then I endured a painful wait as the production was delayed by a shortage of parts. I finally received the notebook yesterday August 28, 2008 and was wildly excited to receive it since it was everything I hoped it to be.

Unfortunately, I’ll be returning it.

Why? It’s not that I don’t want it. On the contrary, I’m trying to convince myself to not send it back. The reason for returning it is simple.


Of course, I called Sony Customer Care about this and gave me the generic “we can’t do anything about it unless it’s 8 pixels. it’s the industry standard” message. I understand they have a card the support people have to read when someone calls in about this.

So, let me begin my rant…

- The pixel is in clear view and now off to the side. You can’t miss it when there are darker colors on the screen. Horribly annoying while watching videos since it tends to shimmer. I plan on doing a lot of work on this thing so there’s no way I can ignore it. For my coding work, I use light-on-dark scheme so I’m going to see it all the time.

- I do understand about failure rates and how these things are normal occurences in the industy…BUT SO WHAT? This is arguably Sony’s flagship notebook and I dropped over $3K on it.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I plan on showing it off to my local Starbutts and to my Mac-snob friends. I can only imagine them saying, “you spent how much? and it has a flaw like that?”

- Am I asking for special treatment? Heck yes I am. If I had purchased a value-line model I might be less angry since I believe “you get what you pay for”. It’s like buying a brand new luxury car and seeing a chip in the wind shield on the driver’s side…right in your line of view. It would drive you crazy and you would refuse to take the car unless you get it perfect off the lot.

- The more I think about it, the more I think Sony needs to rethink their policy on this kind of stuff. As a company, they’re taking a bashing from competitors such as Apple. Sony is no longer the first company you think of when you think about innovation, quality, technology leadership, and plain cool. If they want to rebuild their image then they really need a better marketing team and have products that stand up to their previously legendary standards. Are you listening Sir Howard Stringer? You can start by treating your customers better. Don’t just follow the industry standard. Define it.

So, what’s my plan of attack? I’m going to return it and order another one at the same time. Since it’s a long weekend, I’ll continue to play around with this thing and then possibly start the RMA process next week. I may put it off a week since I need to go out of town and they don’t have units in stock. After all, I have 30 days to return it hassle free.

Don’t get me wrong. My initial impression of this laptop is that it’s an amazing piece of technology. It’s wicked fast, the screen is phenomenal (save for the pixel), the keyboard feels great, and it’s worth of the Sony VAIO name. That’s why I’m willing to buy it again (and again) until I get one that’s perfect.

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