I've always been scared around gadgets and software. And in awe of people who're good with them. After three years of science and tech reporting though, I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. Before this, I covered automobiles, health, careers and business, for seven years. Nice thing about technology is, it lets me poach into all those fields once in a while. I love this job. But I'm not sure how I managed to land it. I did my BA in Advertising from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and MA in Journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a guitar player and a footballer but sucked in all those fields. I can play the flute and harmonica though. And I have an interest in machines that move - it was cars and bikes earlier but considering there's nothing revolutionary happening there, it's military stuff now. I'm the sort who drools over figures. Not the 36-24-36 types. But top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, drag co-efficient. I drive an Alto though. And usually take the Metro to work.
Last night, I didn't have enough money for the metro ride home. I survived last week, mostly on doles from my wife, my parents, and reimbursements on old bills.
All that time, though I've been testing really expensive cell phones. Pawning them off, would probably have bought me a new car. Such irony no? Did you know Acer makes cell phones? I didn't. I thought they just made laptops. So when I got the Acer Liquid smart phone for review, I was very curious.
And very happy, when I actually got my paws on it. The Liquid, is about the same size as the Apple iPhone. It's fully touch screen and the one I got came with a metallic red sheen. Very classy. If you've seen photos, remember, the Liquid looks even better in real life.
The trouble started when I tried inserting my SIM card. For the life of me, I couldn't open it. The Liquid is so darned sleek and refined looking, it doesn't have the orifices, levers, or joints I've come to expect on a phone, when I'm looking for a way to slide off the cover.
I'll readily admit I'm a loser when it comes to gadgetry. So I actually read the phones user manual online, to figure out a way to remove the cover. There's this small little notch on the top of the body, where you slide in your fingernail and then practically rip off the cover. It felt like sacrilege, doing that to such a good looking phone.
Picture an ancient ape man peering at an alien, handheld holographic projector. Scratching the screen, grunting in amazement when the device lights up. Honestly, that's how I felt in the beginning. No fault of the Liquid. It's just that this is the first fully touch screen phone I've used. And it's been a very steep learning curve.
One of the first things I do with a new phone is shoot a picture and set it as the wallpaper. Then, I meddle with the ring tones, till I find one I like. The Acer has a 5 Megapixel camera, so I figured it would be a delight to shoot with.
There was an icon in the menu which said "Camera", all right. And the screen filled up with the shot I'd framed too. But I couldn't find anything to actually press. To tell the camera to "Click."
Again, I went online, and found there's this little button on the side. Pressing it once doesn't help, you have to press hard, for a looong time, before the darned thing clicks a photo.
If your subject moved, or the light changed in the meanwhile, well, tough luck! Worst part was - the button didn't even have a "Camera" icon on it, it's just a silver button. I felt like a complete moron.
That's something I learnt about smart phones. They assume you're very smart. (If you're smart enough to earn huge lumps of money, you're smart enough to operate the phone.) So they don't exactly fall over themselves, trying to make things easy for you.
I wonder how wise that is. I mean, imagine a busy businessman, juggling a thousand calls and emails in the car. The last thing he wants to do is use up precious time and brainpower trying to make his cell phone work. If he spent so much money, he'd expect the device to literally sprout wings and fly no?
Anyways, it took me fairly long to figure out the ring tones. I didn't particularly like them either. Because they sounded either like an Ibiza party on speed. Or baby lullabies. It took some time to settle on a soothing, yet classy sounding tone.
Messaging was a bit of a surprise too. Instead of sorting messages into separate folders like Inbox, Sent Items, Drafts etc, the Liquid has just one folder. All messages between you and a person are bunched together, in a flowing conversation. Messages from other folks too, are separately bunched.
The advantage of course, is that you can scroll down and read the entire history of a conversation you've had with anyone. The disadvantage is, it's a bit taxing, trying to figure out which message you sent out last, which message just landed in your inbox etc. It takes some time getting used to.
One thing I loved, amidst all this gloom, is how the Liquid warns you about missed calls and messages. The thin black panel on top, lights up with small white icons. You don't have to take the phone out of its cover, or tap on the screen. Those pretty, blinking white lights quietly tell you that something needs your attention. Nice touch.
Funny how that smart touch didn't flow into every aspect of the design. For example, there's no physical button on the body to press, to receive a call. The "Receive Call" button is on the screen. But there have been times when I'd get a call, the phone would ring, but the screen wouldn't light up. I went crazy fiddling with the phone, coaxing the screen to come to life.
It wouldn't, the phone would keep ringing, and strangers would stare at me on the street. The same thing happened a couple of times with the morning alarm. The screen wouldn't light up, the phone would shriek and I'd go crazy trying to make it shut up. Of course I couldn't go back to sleep after that. So I suppose that's a good thing, in a twisted sort of way.
There have been other times that a call I was attending to suddenly went on speaker mode. I figured some part of my ear must have touched the "Speaker" icon on the screen - but shouldn't the phone have been 'smart" enough to know better?
Honestly, I'm not sure if all this happened because the gadget itself was faulty. It did have the words "Engineering Sample" written on its innards. But it left me with a bad taste in the mouth.
I spend four hours a day commuting. And when I'm on the metro, I like to spend my time typing on the keypad. In fact, I'd planned to write this blog out on the phone. I couldn't. There is an icon labeled "Documents to Go" in the menu options, which opens up to reveal Word, Excel, and PDF file option.
But tapping on say the "Word" document option and trying to create a new file, brings up a warning which says "Buy Full Version - The feature you are trying to access is included in the full version of this application."
After spending twenty one odd thousand rupees on this phone, why would I pay extra to be able to get work done on it? Again, I haven't researched this feature further - but my ten thousand rupee Nokia E 63, fires up a Word Document without a murmur. This one costs double the money and won't let me work in peace. Sad.
It's probably very late in the day tell you this. But the Liquid is powered by Google. I mean, Google's helped develop an operating system for cell phones called Android, and that's what runs on this particular phone.
This is the first Android phone I've laid my hands own. Experts have told me not to be disillusioned, all the snags I came across are probably this particular handset's fault. There are many more, much cheaper Android powered phones selling in India now and people who've used them assure me they're pretty neat.
Personally, I used the Liquid briefly on the wireless internet we've got at home. YouTube videos loaded very quickly, checking email was brisk, I didn't have much to complain about.
People who're much better than me with gadgets tell me Android powered phones work extra well with Google products like Gmail. I didn't have any problems on the net - that much I can tell you. But I haven't used the web out in the open, on Vodaphone or Airtel's network. I've only used it in a wi-fi zone. I'll keep you posted if I run into problems.