27 February 2013

The Nokia Loyalist

I guess you could say I'm a bit of a loyalist when it comes to certain brands. Ford cars, Canon cameras, airlines allied to the oneworld alliance and there'd be many other examples. While I've changed through different telecommunication suppliers, one constant has been that my mobile phones have all come from Nokia.

Starting with a handed down 3110 'brick' and going through models including the 5110, 6150, 7250 (the first phone with an inbuilt camera), 6280, 6210 Navigator and the X6, I've had a good look at decent, robust phones from the Finnish company through nearly 20 years. Each phone did its job well and lasted a decent run before being replaced - except the X6. Probably the black sheep of the models listed, it was the only Nokia I owned that I never sought out to own. It was a promotional bribe from a telco to keep me on contract and out of Apple's reach as I was contemplating changing over to the iPhone 3GS. The X6 did its job but it was never really a smartphone. It didn't have the wow factor of other phones like the iPhone or its stablemate, the Nokia N97. However, it proved itself a trooper surviving until it could go no more - just before acquiring my latest phone.

So there's a bit of my phone history, but what's the point of all this?

In recent years, Apple has dominated the mobile phone sales with Samsung only recently clawing back some market share for itself. Nokia, meanwhile has fallen to near insignificance. I wasn't sure what my replacement for the X6 would be and playing with the thought that I'd have to submit to the evil Apple empire or go for an Android. The former decision never sat well, though I admitted above that I did consider the 3GS once upon a time.

Thankfully, Nokia weren't out completely and had started their comeback with phones like the N9 with a new (Meego) operating system and bright colours to help owners stand out from the rest. Then came their Lumia range running Windows Phone and I started to pay attention.

The Lumia 800 & 900 offered a sleek new looking device amongst the sea of iPhone 3 & 4's flooding the market. While Samsung and others were offering alternatives, the Nokia's sang out to me instantly. I was prepared to track down a cyan coloured 900 in Australia, just as information started to come out that newer 820 & 920 versions with HD screens and even more features were just around the corner.

Unlike Apple, Nokia's information was scarce and a release date was nearly impossible to confirm. With the X6 starting to show its age, I was hoping it would last until the new Lumia's were out and before we headed to Japan for our holiday so I could test the device while away. It wasn't to be. 

Release was slated for the end of 2012 and then only in certain colours. After deciding I had to have a Lumia 920 over the smaller 820, I then set my mind on a red version which was one of the last colours to become available.

As would happen, the X6 didn't survive long enough to usher in its replacement. The key lock broke before 2012 ended and while I was on the waiting list for a red Lumia 920, the Christmas break meant there was no way I'd see the phone in my hands before new year. In the meantime, my Dad let me borrow his Nokia (of course) E63.

The E63 wore the right badge and did a decent job as a stand in, but thankfully I was informed that stock became available in early January and a new red Lumia 920 was mine. My first proper smartphone and it's been a great experience with Windows Phone 8 after so many years in the Symbian OS. I'll save a review of Nokia's flagship phone for another post since I've managed to fill this one up with my mobile phone history!

 photo IMG_7207_zpsd14f6699.jpg
Nokia 5110, 7250, 6280, X6 and Lumia 920

I never quite understood the appeal of a smartphone until owning one - and now I look like everyone else - at the dinner table checking the latest updates or playing games with friends. I was always taking photos of food, but the Lumia 920 allows me to do that with even better photographs and options now! I might be a latecomer to the party but I don't think there's any going back?

Nokia have delivered a remarkable phone here. I know they've been quiet but hopefully this is a sign of a resurgence for them and to bring their name back in favour and popularity amongst smartphone purchasers.

Stay tuned for my more detailed review of the Lumia 920 and my experiences with it some time soon :)

15 February 2013

Trek Review: Star Trek III - The Search for Spock

Kirk and the Enterprise crew travel back to Genesis, against orders to recover Spock's body at his father Sarek's request. In the process, they encounter Klingons who want to seize the power of the Genesis device for their own needs.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

The Search for Spock is the middle of the trilogy that began with The Wrath of Khan. The Enterprise is returning home after its encounter with Khan and the Reliant. On Earth, Sarek meets with Kirk and reveals that only Spock's body was dead but his katra lives on. Realising that McCoy is carrying Spock's katra, Kirk and co work to get themselves to Genesis by stealing the Enterprise in one of Star Trek's most exciting moments.

Meanwhile, Saavik and David Marcus are surveying the Genesis planet aboard a science vessel. They find a young, regenerating Vulcan boy on the planet but their ship is soon destroyed by a Klingon Lord wanting to take Genesis himself.

The Enterprise arrives and comes under attack. Both it and the Klingon ship are crippled and the Klingon Lord Kruge takes the life of Kirk's son, held captive on Genesis. Kirk accepts Kruge's terms for surrender and to have a Klingon boarding party beam over to the Enterprise and in a final act for our faithful starship, has her destroyed as the Klingons come to take their prize.

Kirk faces Kruge on Genesis in a showdown as the planet tears itself apart. After sending Kruge to a fiery grave, they commandeer the Klingon ship and take Spock to Vulcan for a ritual to restore his mind.

The Search for Spock is a touching instalment in the Star Trek movie franchise. We regain our friend Spock, even though we lose David and the Enterprise. The needs of the one certainly outweigh the needs of the many.

Leonard Nimoy does a great job directing this with the right amounts of humour sprinkled through the film and some great effects shots from the Enterprise returning home to Spacedock, the escape scene and the new ships including the Klingon Bird of Prey, Grissom and Excelsior. In the blu-ray cut, the eagle-eyed can see the Klingon ship moving through space even while cloaked!

James Horner returns for the score with familiar cues used from his work on The Wrath of Khan and new music for the Klingons.

The blu-ray version is definitely worthwhile with all details in beautiful high definition. I only noticed the green hues of the Bird of Prey seemed really emphasised at times and some of the space scenes could do with cleaning up (the 'plates' for each element are visible in some shots, like when the Enterprise approaches Spacedock for the first time). Still, rather than tinker, the film retains an originality about it in the transfer and that is something worth keeping than messing with.

My Rating: 7/10 or 3.5 stars
Eleonor's Rating: 7/10 or 3.5 stars

13 February 2013

B5 Review: Matters of Honor & Convictions

Babylon 5's third season gets underway as the story begins to ramp up the action now that Warren Keffer's footage of a mysterious ship in hyperspace has been broadcast...

Matters of Honor
Sheridan & Delenn review Keffer's footage
In the aftermath of the Centauri attack on the station, Babylon 5 is being repaired and Sheridan checks in with Kosh.

We are introduced to Marcus, a Ranger who has come to Babylon 5 to ask for Delenn and Sheridan's help with a training facility on a Drazi planet, Zagros VII. The Centauri have setup a blockade which threatens the colony and trainees. Marcus offers a means to help the colonists without it being traced back to the B5 staff.

With an Earth official on board investigating Keffer's ship sighting with the other Ambassadors, Sheridan and Ivanova must slip out discreetly. With Delenn and Lennier, they are taken to 'a beginning' as Marcus describes. Sheridan and co are introduced to the Whitestar, a Minbari/Vorlon hybrid ship that is small, sleek and fast.

Meanwhile, Londo moves to sever ties with Morden and his associates. As part of the agreement, the Centauri are to withdraw from Zagros VII and leave their blockade in place as Morden's associates have a vested interest in that planet putting their plans and Sheridan/Delenn's on a collision course.

The first episode of 2260 introduces us to new characters and a new ship. Yet still, taking on a Shadow ship in direct combat brings us a tense situation that appears impossible to win.

Matters of Honor is only a glimpse of what is to come for our characters this season and deserves a 7/10.

Sheridan and Garibaldi
A series of bombings rock Babylon 5 and the crew must work to find their source and save lives before they lose the station.

The bombings affect our characters in different ways with Lennier spending much of his time in Medlab after attempting to help Delenn and Londo in one of the attacks. In another, Londo and G'Kar find themselves trapped in a lift and providing some of the funniest scenes and interactions between the two to date.

As the station welcomes a brotherhood of monks who wish to learn all they can by taking residence and offering their services to the crew, Sheridan comes face-to-face with the terrorist and buys enough time for Garibaldi and his team to save the station.

Convictions is a non consequential episode in the scheme of Babylon 5's overarching story but it remains a decent watch with humorous scenes of the Drazi worshipping anything that was in Kosh's presence in The Fall of Night to G'Kar singing about fish in the sea with Londo in the trapped lift. Another 7/10.

07 February 2013

Trip Review: Japan

We go from what was probably the worst experience of 2012 in the previous entry to the best. Our 15 day trip to the land of the rising sun - Japan.

The idea was thrown up around mid year and Eleonor didn't seem overly keen initially but after some investigation we found it could be done within an affordable budget. For the first time we decided to travel independently from tour groups and Qantas were throwing a special at the time we enquired which sealed the deal for us.

Prior to leaving, we had a number of friends telling us about how amazing the place is. We had no idea how right they would be.

Our experience started in Tokyo, what better place to start? Our early arrival meant we had plenty of time to spend in the city prior to checking in at our hotel based in Shinagawa. We decided to explore Shibuya (above) and Harajuku. With plenty to see and do in the massive city we visited the Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace and the Tokyo Skytree the following day.

From the beginning we quickly realised how great this place was. The people were so polite - everywhere, the food was great and the whole place was quite clean.

Out of Tokyo, we headed for the hills to visit Takayama and Kanazawa. We had purchased a Japan Rail Pass prior to travelling and this entitled us to unlimited travel on JR services including trains and certain Shinkansen (bullet trains). Takayama and Kanazawa were more relaxed places with our Takayama hotel offering a traditional feel and Onsen baths for those keen while Kanazawa offered nice gardens and walking tours.

Kyoto and Osaka were next. The former being the ancient capital of Japan with castles, temples, gardens and shrines to satisfy everyone. Eleonor encouraged us to go on a bike tour of Kyoto which proved to be an affordable and effective way to see the sights of the large city.

The colours in Japan in Autumn were wonderful. As shown in the image above from Kyoto. Trees varied from green to red through shades of orange and yellow. We may have missed the cherry blossoms which are popular in Spring but we weren't disappointed.

There was a contrast between Kyoto and Osaka, with the former offering a look at ancient Japan and Osaka offering a look at modern, commercial Japan. In Osaka we visited Universal Studios, Osaka castle and the developing Umeda area.

A visit to Japan most definitely requires a stop in Hiroshima. Not only for the historical significance of being the first city to have an atomic bomb detonated above it but it is a fantastic place. There's plenty to see in the Memorial Park and while we spent a day there, it would be easy to spend more time walking around and taking it all in. 

Hiroshima is also the home of car manufacturer Mazda. I wanted to check out a different place to Toyota which is heavily promoted through Japan tourism brochures. The free tour of the plant was interesting and showed the history of the company and the manufacturing process and distribution of their current models. We also visited Miyajima with the popular Torii gate that can appear to be floating on water at certain times in the day. 

We continued west to Hakata and Fukuoka. Eleonor wanted to see a Sumo tournament seeing we were visiting the land of the Sumo. We were able to time our trip with the final tournament for the year and enjoyed a day full of Sumo wrestling from the lowest ranks to those of higher rank and respect from the excitable crowd. Ganbareh!

From Fukuoka we flew back to Tokyo aboard a shiny new 787 Dreamliner, before their current spate of problems. Flying was a 1.5 hour journey which was easier to take than the proposed 6 or so hour Shinkansen ride! We had a few more days to enjoy in Tokyo before finally heading home. 

We loved everything Japan had to offer. The people were great, friendly and helpful. While there are plenty of them over there, the places never feel crowded as everyone keeps more to themselves as compared to say, China where everyone wants to sell you something. 

The food was great and served quickly wherever we went. We got quite used to being greeted and farewelled from every restaurant we visited. We certainly missed that upon returning home. 

Public transport was reliable, clean and fast. We only had one train arrive late, which admittedly threw our travel plans slightly out of whack as we missed some connections but overall, things went well.

The weather for November was reasonable but got colder the further west we ventured and the closer to Winter we were getting. We saw a fair bit of rain during our stay with some entire days washed out, including those we were at Universal Studios in Osaka and a day of exploring museums in Tokyo. We did find the weather to be extremely variable during our time but there's never much you can do about it.

We would highly recommend anyone thinking of going to do so and would say that Japan would be an ideal first destination for those who have not yet ventured to Asia. There's not much of a culture shock there. Everyone appears to have a basic understanding of English and even in the public transport network announcements are made in both Japanese and English.

We're looking forward to going back again some day :)