Tag Archives: gadgets

Canon PowerShot S90 Review

My search is over.

Canon PowerShot S90

When I first read about the Canon S90, back in August of this year, I held out hope that it was the pocketable camera I was looking for to complement my Nikon D90. The only thing pocketable I had was a Canon SD200 (yeah, ancient). By the time the S90 was announced, I had tried and rejected a Canon SD870IS, a Nikon P6000, a Canon G10, and a Fuji F200EXR; okay, that last one’s a bit of a lie. It’s been my point-and-shoot up until now.  The SD870IS didn’t have the IQ or controls I was looking for, the Nikon P6000’s IQ was disappointing, as was its shot-to-shot performance (over 3 seconds between JPEGs, around 10 seconds between RAW), and the Canon G10 had good IQ and fantastic controls and performance, but was too large to fit in a pocket. That meant carrying a bag, in which case, I felt I might as well bring my DSLR. The Fuji F200EXR ended up being a compromise to myself. The low-light IQ was quite good, size was pocketable, but I sacrificed most of the manual controls I wanted.

So you might have gathered by now what my ideal P&S camera would be: small enough to fit in a pocket, have good image quality, especially in low-light situations, and give me manual control over exposure. The S90 hits all these points. I bought one on the first day it was officially available from Best Buy, October 11, so I’ve had some time to get a sense of what’s good and what’s not so great.

Design

After a couple iterations of my search with the G10 and P6000, I realized that there was one criteria I simply could not sacrifice: size. I didn’t have a camera that could slip into a pants pocket and not freak people out when pointed at them, as a DSLR too often does. The G10, and to a lesser degree, the P6000, are serious-looking pieces of photographic gear, and can’t easily fit into a pocket.

The S90 measures 10cm x 5.8cm x 3.1cm. By comparison, the SD870IS, which I also tried, measures 9.2cm x 5.9cm x 2.6cm. The body of the S90 isn’t much larger than that of the SD870IS – the lens housing protrudes somewhat, making the dimensions a bit larger front-to-back than the SD870IS.

Canon S90 size compared with Nokia E71
The S90 has a slightly smaller footprint than my Nokia E71, but is around 3 times the thickness.

From a size-performance standpoint, the main competitor of the S90 seems to be the Panasonic Lx3. Although 1.5 years old, the LX3 is still the reference point for the small, compact, high-performance camera. Its price, at least in North America, is a bit higher than the S90’s. The LX3 is advertised by Panasonic to be 10.9cm x 6.0cm x 2.7cm. However, this doesn’t seem to take into consideration the large lens protrusion, which brings the camera’s thickness to around 4cm. From a size standpoint, the S90 wins out by a fair margin, especially in the important thickness dimension. The S90 fits in a 28-105mm f/2.0-4.9 lens, which is slower, but covers a wider range than Panasonic’s 24-60mm f/2.0-2.8 lens.

Canon S90 versus Panasonic LX3 thickness

As you can see, there’s a pretty significant difference in the size of these two cameras. The key thing here is that the S90 can pass itself off as just another point-and-shoot. I don’t feel like the group photographer or any sort of awkwardness when I carry the camera to a social event. That’s very important. It means a whole new range of photographs can be taken, with decent image quality.

The S90 has a metallic-feeling outer casing, and is generally well put together. There’s no flexing of the chassis and carries some heft (175g, without battery or SD card) to give the impression of quality as well. When the flash unit is enabled, it rises up from the body using a motor, and retracts (motorized as well) when flash is disabled. It feels very confident and there’s no wobble or weird sounds from the motor system.

The Dark Side

The lens housing dominates the otherwise plain camera face. An autofocus assist light is just above and to the left of the lens. Otherwise, a couple logos adorn the front. Overall, it makes for a relatively quiet subject-facing design. There’s really nothing indicating serious camera equipment, hiding in the back.

Unlike the Panasonic LX3, there is no hotshoe. I presume Canon decided it simply isn’t what the targeted demographic is interested in. I don’t blame them. When I had the Nikon P6000, I tried mounting my SB-600 flash on it. It was comical. The flash head was about 2.5 times the volume of the camera and weighed 50% more. It was unwieldy to hold and use. It mostly defeats the purpose of a camera as small as the S90, if its size is doubled by just about anything you could mount on a hotshoe.

On the left side of the camera are mini USB and HDMI ports. At the bottom of the camera is a sturdy feeling flap for the battery and SD card compartments. The S90 takes NB-6L batteries. Also on the bottom, at just about the centerline of the lens is a metal tripod mount.

Microsoft Zune HD – Thoughts on Integration

Disclaimer: The following are my thoughts and opinions and are in no way those of Microsoft, nor are they endorsed in any way shape or form by the company.

I played briefly with the Zune HD at the launch yesterday. Surprisingly, the events at the Microsoft campus were quite muted. There was a tent set up and quite a bit of swag given out, but the actual Zune HDs were few and far between. When I finally got my hands on one, the lady I spoke with told me that every effort was made to get as many of the devices into customers’ hands as possible. Hence, even the launch crews were short-Zuned! Given that most of the stores in the region that were supposed to be carrying the Zune HD did not have them on launch day, this course of action was probably prudent, yet still insufficient. But enough on the shortages, what about the device?

Microsoft Zune HD

The thing that strikes you first is just how light the device is. Seeing as it’s sheathed in metal, I expected it to be pretty hefty, but instead, it feels substantially lighter than my Nokia E71, which I had for comparison. A glance at the specification plays that out. At 73.7g, it’s only 1.5x as heavy as the flash-based Zune I have, or about 65% the weight of the iPod Touch. That’s a hefty difference. Still, fit and finish is great; there’s no creaking or play in the device at all.

The OLED screen is superb, with one caveat: it suffers under direct sunlight. Launch day turned out to be a scorcher, with unhindered sunlight. I started off in the launch tent, but I asked permission to take the player outside to test it in the sun. The demo lady obliged and followed me out, where the screen washed out under the sun. With no transflective property, it’s going to be pretty hard to use the device in those conditions. You can still see the screen if you try real hard, or more realistically, shield it with one hand. Still, that’s a slight downer for usability. You gotta pay somehow for the fantastic colors in less-than-direct sun, it seems.

The operating system is what I was/am most excited about, and it delivers excitement in spades. There is no sign of hesitation in any of the transitions. The fluidity creates a user experience like no other Microsoft mobile device. You saw parts of the UI design pattern in the previous generation Zunes, but the Zune HD takes it a step further, and the more natural touch interface works really well with the slick animations. The integration with Zune Marketplace is seamless, grabbing albums by the same artist, bios, photos and more. There is a big emphasis on the Zune Marketplace, something I’ll explain in a moment. I wasn’t able to try the on-screen keyboard in the web browser, as there was no Wifi available in the middle of the soccer field the tent stood on.

Microsoft is increasingly focused on the integration of the three screens (PC, TV, and mobile) and the cloud. The recent Zune development is one of the most visible products to come out of that mentality. Zune Marketplace exists on the PC and can also be accessed through the Zune. The TV will soon get Zune integration, via Xbox 360. The value proposition presented by seamless media portability across these three device types is mouth-watering. The Zune Marketplace also launched its TV and movie download service, in conjunction with the Zune HD. This is clearly aimed at the TV portion of the equation, which will be launching in the near future. Apple was actually way ahead of the integration game with their computers, iPods and Apple TV, along with iTunes. However, Apple TV didn’t sell terribly well, so Microsoft has a chance to capture some of the home theatre market with the already established Xbox user base.

I mentioned previously that I had signed up for the Zune Pass. It was a great choice. With the focus on the Smart DJ and mix-view in the Zune 4.0 software, I’m discovering so many new artists and albums. There’s no obstacle preventing me from downloading or streaming music nearly at will. On the 10mbps+ connection we have here now, I can listen to most songs instantly. The QuickPlay screen of the Zune 4.0 software mimics the design goal of the QuickPlay feature of the Zune HD – it’s an easy way to get at your most commonly played media. Shown below is the Smart DJ listings I’ve set up. Clicking the albums below the DJ lists makes the recently played, recently acquired, and pinned content swoosh in.

Zune 4.0 software

Many people have openly questioned Microsoft for not putting a cellular module in the Zune HD and swinging for the mobile fences. Now, my immediate reaction to that is simply of a feeling that it’s really not the hardware that is the main driver behind the Zune HD, it’s the software/firmware. You can be sure that the Zune software DNA will find itself in Windows Media Center and Windows Mobile 7 (and even in small part, in 6.5). Microsoft still believes it has the correct mobile market model is in providing software for hardware partners, as they do in the PC market. I tend to believe given Microsoft’s completely different position in the mobile market (compared to their domination in the PC market) that it’s not the most effective model. That aside, the interface and user experience will carry on into devices that other companies will manufacture, which I believe will make the difference in the user perception of Windows Mobile down the road. The hardware is really nothing terribly special. That’s the really compelling part of the Zune experiment. It may not end up becoming a popular mobile media device, but it will set the tone for Microsoft’s next generation of mobile and media-centric software. In that integrating capacity, I look forward to it. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the new features of the Zune HD release.

The Zune Marketplace also launched its TV and movie download service, in conjunction with the Zune HD. This is clearly aimed at the TV portion of the equation, which will be launching in the near future.

Olympus E-P1 – This Could Be It

Olympus has me all worked up with today’s launch of the (much leaked) E-P1, the reintroduction of the Olympus Pen series film cameras from 50 years ago, but in digital form. The E-P1 manages to shoehorn a Micro Four-Thirds sensor into a body that isn’t much larger than a compact point-and-shoot. Plus, it adds 720p video recording and in-body image stabilization. With what should be very good image quality, I can seriously see this as an almost pocketable carry-everywhere camera to complement my DSLR. Certainly it won’t need a dedicated camera bag like my D90.

While the E-P1 takes advantage of the mirror-less design of micro 4/3rds to reduce the size of the camera, it is not without faults. Certainly, one of the most major is the lack of an electronic viewfinder, instead opting for a plain old LCD, which only has 230,000 dots (QVGA), as opposed to the VGA version used in most mid-to-high end DSLRs nowadays. Both the Canon G10 and Panasonic LX-3 high-end compacts have higher resolution 460,000 dot displays.

Furthermore, the contrast-detect autofocus employed seems to be pretty sluggish, at least in pre-production units, slower than many point-and-shoots, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. Hopefully production hardware and firmware can improve that. The Panasonic G1 shows that it is absolutely possible to achieve very good AF performance using the contrast-detect method.

With those thoughts in mind, I’m still very excited about the Olympus E-P1. Although not cheap, the $799 MSRP for the body and 14-42mm kit lens is fairly reasonable, and less than what many predicted. Certainly, in light of the Panasonic G1’s identical MSRP of $799, it doesn’t look too expensive.

Microsoft Zune HD

This past week, Microsoft launched the Zune HD, which won’t become available until the fall. In the meantime, a few sites (Engadget, Gizmodo) have had a chance to see the device in action. I’m not sure if these are prototype devices or actual production units, but the software seems well-polished. On the other hand, fall is quite a whiles away, so you’d imagine Microsoft wants that time to fix up some things.

Zune HD

Gizmodo posted this ‘hands on’ of the Zune HD. Unfortunately, the video camera seems to be focused on the carpet instead of the device, but you get the idea.

All the animations and transitions are oh so smooth. There’s no lag when accessing the different functions. The photo album flips to landscape mode without hesitation and extremely smoothly, which is more than can be said for the iPhone. There’s buzz that NVIDIA’s Tegra may be behind all this action, which could presumably allow some Xbox-level games to the played on the device. The most surprising aspect of the iPhone/iPod Touch has probably been its uptake by casual gamers, and I’m sure Microsoft has that on its radar. NVIDIA’s Tegra may also be why the device won’t be ready until the fall, as production of the Tegra isn’t supposed to start until this summer.

On another note, WMPoweruser.com had rumoured Zune HD specifications and a 3D render from a month and a half ago. Back then, most other sites rejected them as ‘fanboy specs‘, but now that the real deal has been launched, the available specifications as well as the render were spot on. That makes me think whoever leaked the specs knew what was going on. With that in mind, the only major feature from the rumoured specification, not yet made public by Microsoft, would be the 3D Xbox games, although even the rumour isn’t sure what form that would take.

Whatever the case, with the E71 having replaced the iPhone in my day-to-day use, I would definitely consider an upgrade from my Zune 8GB for portable music purposes.

Oh, I sure hope they give these to the interns in the fall! 😉

Deal – Zune 16GB with AC Adapter $124.99

Future Shop has the Microsoft Zune 16GB flash MP3 player for $129.99 this week, $50 off the regular price. Even better, BestBuy is carrying the same player for the regular price of $179.99, meaning a price match brings it down to $124.99. Furthermore, BestBuy is bundling a free AC adapter with the 16GB Zune. All told, a very good deal for a good capacity flash MP3 player.

I’ve written about this very capable player in the past. It still serves me well to this day. The Zune software is so much better than iTunes (in Windows) it’s scary. If you’re looking for a player that does music and does it well,  I can heartily recommend the Zune.

Nikon Launches D5000 – Thoughts

Well, a day has come and gone, and Nikon’s D5000 (along with a 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 lens) is now official. While it was widely expected to be a D40/60 update initially, after the leaked specifications appeared, it was pretty clear this thing couldn’t be priced in the same region of existing entry-level DSLRs. The press releases confirmed this, with the Canadian MSRP for the 18-55mm VR kit version set at $1059. Like Canon, whose recent T1i comes in at $1099 with a 18-55mm IS lens, Nikon’s not looking to win the race to the bottom of the entry-level market.

Nikon D5000 DSLR

However, at around $1000, there is still a significant gap down to the D60, which sits at around $600 with the same 18-55mm VR lens. There are some serious improvements to be had by moving to a D5000 from a D60 (the 12.3MP CMOS sensor, derived from the one in the D90/D300, is excellent), but I feel $400 or 2/3rds of the cost of the D60 itself will be a difficult upsell for most salespeople at the likes of BestBuy and Future Shop. Chances are if the customer is looking at the D5000, the D90 will be an easier upsell.

The rumours were right on most of the major features – swivel display, video mode, increased resolution. That said, it’s some of the bullet points buried deep in the feature list that caught my eye.

  • Exposure and white-balance bracketing
  • Viewfinder grid
  • Multi-CAM 1000 AF module (as with D90)
  • 4 FPS continuous shooting
  • In-camera CA correction

All told, we’re looking at a slightly stripped down D90 feature set stuffed into an entry-level body, which is not really any smaller than the D90. But with a similar sensor, video, a swivel display, and most of the features of the D90, some are questioning the viability of the D90 going forward. After a cursory comparison, here are some of the key features the D90 still has over the new D5000.

  • AF motor in-body
  • larger, brighter viewfinder (pentaprism vs. pentamirror)
  • And extra command dial
  • Commander mode for CLS (Creative Lighting System)
  • Better battery life and optional battery grip

For some, any one of these features alone could be worth looking at the D90 instead of the D5000. In Canada, the difference in price for the D5000 and D90 bodies will be around $200. Not a significant premium to pay for the added features, if they’re at all useful to you.

Now, for beginner users, the lack of the AF motor in-body is likely not a big concern. Nikon’s recently launched lenses have all been AF-S, with in-lens motors and relatively few new users will go and buy second-hand or exotic lenses without in-lens motors. Even third party lens manufacturers have been refreshing their product lines with in-lens motors for the Nikon system. Indeed, I think the removal of the in-body motor will only percolate up the product chain. Some people were disappointed Nikon didn’t bring back an in-body motor to the larger D5000, but it’s business after all. Nikon wants you to buy the somewhat more expensive (and most likely higher margin) AF-S lineup of lens.

The key features that I’m sure will get highlighted in every big-box store advertisement are HD video recording and the articulating display. Now, I’m not going to comment on the video mode; there are plenty of other articles that address its benefits and limitations. However, I am disappointed Nikon decided to go with a smaller, lower resolution articulating display as opposed to a fixed, higher-res one like Canon in the newly released T1i. The articulating display is designed for use with the Live View mode. Unfortunately, if the implementation on the D90 is any indication, Live View will still be very slow (much slower than even a decent compact digicam), making the usefulness of the swivel monitor questionable for most situations. Meanwhile, Nikon claims the flip-down swivel allows the user to comfortably hold the camera with two hands, in contrast to the side-flip articulating displays used by the Olympus E-620 and Panasonic G1. However, the place where Live View would be most useful (in my opinion), on a tripod, the downward swivel would interfere with most mountings. Quite unfortunate.

Don’t get me wrong, the D5000 looks to be a very capable DSLR from Nikon. However, the focus seems not to be on pushing the boundaries of image quality, but instead cramming headline-grabbing features into the camera, pushing its price to a higher level than is necessary. If a user really wants video, they can look at the D90. I think most customers who buy the camera will realize that the features they were enticed by, video and the display, turn out to not be worth the incremental cost. The $400 over a D60 is a large chunk of change to swallow (both figuratively and literally). What does give me cause for hope are rumours of a ‘D4000’ (I know, already, huh?), which would be a  stripped down version of the D5000, perhaps without video and the articulating display. If the same excellent 12.3MP CMOS sensor were kept but the price cut by a couple hundred dollars, I think we’d see the real king of entry level DSLRs.

Disclosure: With all this said, I think it would be only fair to note that I currently use a Nikon D90.

Goodies Await my Return from Waterloo

It was the final day of lectures for the 3B semester at the University of Waterloo, and I now find myself writing this from the comfort of home sweet home, where I’ll spend the next week or so, studying for final exams.

With that in mind, I came home to a whole pile of goodies that demanded my immediate attention. It goes without saying, there was little in the way of studying this evening.

A whole pile of goodies await me

Deserving of an analysis which I’ll leave for another time, the 3G iPhone hasn’t impressed me much, with my horrendous luck with the hardware, awful device performance (third-party verified), and the piss-poor iTunes application, which is necessary for the management of the device. Everyone says it’s karma for my hatin’ on Apple… Regardless of the reason, it hasn’t been the most pleasing of devices to use. It’s no longer aligned with what I want in a smartphone.

Enter the Nokia E71. Long story short, Newegg.ca listed the E71-2 for a stunning $320CAD a short while ago. At about half the cost of a BlackBerry Bold (my other replacement consideration), I decided it was worth the risk to try a device on an unfamiliar platform. Worse comes to worst, I can sell a mint E71 on eBay, at least recouping my cost. Plus who doesn’t like new gadgets to play with? 🙂 I’m stretching the device out right now; hopefully I’ll have something to detailed to write later next week.

The Office 2007 Ultimate package came along with the book on designing forms for InfoPath from, you guessed it, Microsoft. My hiring manager at Microsoft kindly sent me some materials to help me get acquainted with the product I’ll be working on. That’s $1000 of software and textbook there…

Finally, the three CDs are from the marketing director for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, who contacted me after reading the post on my experience at last season’s performance of Holst’s The Planets. I gave her permission to use a quote or two for marketing purposes and was kindly offered a TSO Live CD. She sent three. 🙂 I’m looking forward to listening to them as I study this next week. If you’re reading this, thanks! It’s great to see every sort of organization keeping the pulse of the online community.

Garmin nüvi 755T

I picked up a Garmin nüvi 755T earlier today from Future Shop during its Web Deal of the Day. While the original $549 price was inflated, it was marked down to $249, which was a steal.

Garmin nüvi 755T

I’ve found my iPhone’s Google Maps and GPS capabilities to be two of its most useful, but really shouldn’t be used while driving. I’d been on the lookout for a GPS unit, but wasn’t impressed with the around $300 prices for a mid-end unit.

The 755T is a 4.3″ widescreen unit with built in FM traffic updates, although that apparently only works in Toronto and Montreal for the time being. Still, lane assist and a smooth user interface should make it more enjoyable to use than a lower end model.

iPhone 3G Is Mine

I broke. Not only did I shell out for an 8GB iPhone 3G this past Monday, I ended up getting the $30/month for 6GB data plan with Rogers. Rogers now owns me for another 3 years of bill-paying fun, and I’ve converted myself to just one more mindless Apple zombie.

And it sure feels good.

Apple iPhone 3G

The Apple iPhone 3G – now with… 3G

The device is certainly not without faults, it has plenty of them, but when all is said and done, it reaches a level of polish and integration I haven’t found on any of the devices I’ve owned or used.

I’ve had plenty of hands on time with the first generation iPhone; friends and classmates were quick to pick them up for unlocking. From day one, I was impressed with the interface and usability of the device, but never considered the device due to relatively slow wireless speeds and horrible Rogers data plans. I didn’t want to go through the hassle for a glorified iPod. It was the combination of the $30/month for 6GB data plan that Rogers started offering and 3G support in the iPhone that pushed me over the edge.

Apple iPhone 3G
A great screen. It has the uncanny ability to look like a printed picture.

Data performance is to the point that browsing is more than simply tolerable. Coupled with the Safari browser, I think this is about as good as it gets (currently) for HTML web on something this small. Google Maps gets a huge boost with the assisted GPS feature. Being able to whip out a map to search for anything without fear of a $100 overage bill at the end of the month is liberating.

Another enticing feature is the Apps Store. I’m certainly a tech/gadget enthusiast and didn’t shy away from searching out good software for my previous devices, but I’m finding my free time to do so is starting to dwindle. Having a ton of applications all available in one location is super convenient. Streaming radio from Last.fm? Yes, please (although I fear for the battery life consequences). Of course there’s the video and music capabilities of the iPhone, but I’m more inclined to carry around my Zune for that purpose. I hardly want to waste the battery life on that…

Apple iPhone 3G
Ooooooo, shiny.

Which leads me to the bads. Battery life is far from impressive. I’ve been spoiled by the awesome battery life of the BlackBerry Curve. Even with push email and moderate voice use, I can usually get through most of a work week. My initial testing of the iPhone has yielded far lower, to the tune of less than 2 days. The last time I had to recharge the iPhone (less than 10% battery warning), the usage counter in Settings showed that I had used the phone for 4 hours between charges, along with 1 day and 16 hours of standby. Granted I’m still in the introductory stage of trying out random features and generally taxing the device more than typical usage, it’s still disappointing. It’s going to have to be connected to a charger pretty much every day. I understand that 3G inevitably eats up more battery than EDGE/GPRS (as can be seen with other 3G phones as well), but with an all-in-one device, battery life is even more important.

The lack of push email is also mildly disconcerting, but understandable given I just switched from a BlackBerry. Without something like Exchange or MobileMe, the best one can do is to set the iPhone to poll for emails every 15 minutes. Of course, that isn’t very friendly on the battery, which ties into the previous point. Additionally, the vibrate notifier is terribly weak. Again, I’ve been spoiled by my BlackBerry’s veritable earthquake of a notification, but I’ve already missed calls because I simply didn’t realize the phone was vibrating. I almost always keep my phone on silent, given I’m in class and other discrete locations for much of my day, so this is a big deal.

I’d also be remiss not to clearly point out that this specific iPhone will be going back to Rogers for a replacement. Pieces of glue and rubbery material were flaking out from the right side of the screen when I carefully inspected it after I took the iPhone back home from the store. Rogers with its characteristically amazing service (note: I’m being sarcastic) led me to visit the physical store twice and call into customer care/relations/tech support/the physical store 4 times before finally arranging a replacement. I was passed back and forth like a soccer ball for 3 days on end before reaching some form of resolution to the issue.

But is it worth it overall? My current response is yes. I’m loving the almost ubiquitous (and more importantly, usable) data connection.

Amazon.ca Zune Sale

It’s finally coming to the end of a terribly hectic week and I wanted to quickly bring the Zune back into focus again. I know my promised review isn’t ready for consumption yet, but my main concern about recommending the device was price. Now, that barrier is gone. Amazon Canada is having a sale on all Zunes. Furthermore, with the coupon MAPNEWNCSAVE, you can save an additional $10. That works out to the following pricing:

Zune 80GB – $197.99

Zune 8GB – $141.99

Zune 4GB – $113.99

Pricing is before taxes, but coupled with free shipping, it’s a very good deal if you’re in the market for an MP3 player. At these prices, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the player.