Friday, 24 December 2010

Microsoft should port Windows to ARM

Been reading my daily dose of technology news and stumbled upon an article on ArsTechnica about Bloomberg reporting about Microsoft porting Windows to ARM. Pun with multiple references as intended :D BTW: ARM logo sucks. They really should hire a designer.
Anyway, since I've been meaning to write a piece on that for a while now, after reading those articles, I feel like I must. So here it goes:
I think both those articles are wrong in guessing as to why such a port would be nice. They cite a port for tablets, smartphones and such devices. But this is all wrong. Why would Microsoft do this only weeks after finally releasing their new platform (WP7) for such devices? Even thinking of this is beyond ridiculous. Though some WP7 design decisions, like Silverlight being the API of choice, are wrong and damaging, the platform itself is fresh and new and good.
What a Windows port to ARM would do for the OS giant - or better said: for us - isn't introducing yet another contender for the tablet OS of choice. No, instead such a port would provide an alternative for the average Joe.
See, the average Joe buys a PC to surf the web, watch YouTube and sometimes prints a web page or Word document. AMD is right with is current mobile novelties where they went for these exact users with their fusion processor introductions.
What ARM chips provide is the same functionality within lower power envelope and with lower system costs. Remove the display from a smartphone, add a mini DP socket and a couple of USB ports and you have the perfect web surfing device for less than 100€ / $. If this device runs your latest Windows that you know and love, why wouldn't you buy?

Update: I forgot to mention that seeing an actual Windows port to the architecture would most probably stimulate chip designers to start designing desktop oriented ARM chips. More power hungry but also reaching for x86 performance.

So, yes, Microsoft should port Windows to ARM. Not to introduce a new system for tablets, but to support the world's most usable and loved OS on the most useful and fastest progressing processor technology of today.

Ahhh, the blessed consumerism

So, in this year, we first had Greece and now we have Ireland and Portugal. All countries that managed to get themselves almost bankrupt because they spent way beyond what they had. A nice blow to the young currency that is Euro.
I'm writing this article because I like Euro as a currency, because I like Euro as an idea of federation of European countries and because I like EU for its economic and political power potential. I'd hate to see this gone, especially so soon after we finally got to have it all.
But the problem is that us Europeans turned into real consumers. Much worse than americans who even preach the philosophy. We turned into consumers and forgot that we have to earn what we consume first. We need to make something and sell it first. We went so far in our oblivion that entire countries go (almost) bankrupt.
So I ask: How can so many people that work in government grow so blind not to notice that their own and (hopefully) beloved country is going down? Is corruption really such a bliss? I unfortunately wouldn't know, I'm working in the private sector.
Then on the other hand we have countries that haven't (yet) gone down and they take debt to help the failed ones recover. Since these too are on the brink of sinking, how long before they do? It's an avalanche, we just don't see it yet. The German prime minister is right to question these methods, I just can't agree with the way she questions them (hinting they might abandon Euro currency).
Historically countries have solved these kinds of problems in three ways:
1. Go to war
2. Print more money
3. Transfer existing money from richer to poorer parts of the country
4. Probably many more I care not mention or have no idea about
Since the first option is barbaric in these times I really can't recommend it. Though I'm sure our beloved leaders will take it the moment things really go south.
The second option leads to inflation and all the things we came to love in the post WW2 period. Taking more debt is just another way of printing more money which the €-bank says won't do (and rightly so). Though I must admit I like the idea of us sticking together. We should do this more ever increasing the power of the union and decreasing power of individual member states. Current situation really isn't the best with the big three bossing the entire union around. That's not a union you guys! That's conquest executed a bit differently / subtly. But I went off topic just now.
The third option wasn't employed much in the past. There just weren't that many benevolent leaders on our continent. Usually it more like "Hey, I'm at the top of the hill - let's grab everything I can before somebody else gets to be better than me". Despite this, the EU as an institution by definition lends itself really nicely to the third option. The mixture of more or less still independent nation states just screams "differences" at us. Economic differences as well. Though I'm sure none of the currently still floating countries would be glad to pour their fortunes into the poor losers that went under.
A few days ago I was just sitting in my living room contemplating on this particular situation when I realized that pretty much all electronics that I have in my living room is either korean or at least "designed in" the USA. None of the high tech stuff I have is from my continent. OK, OK, save for the mouse / keyboard which is Logitech. And it's not like I chose to buy foreign stuff - there just isn't any of our own to buy. Now, how long can one go about this world in the present without investing in technology? I think not long, but I'm sure I see things wrong here, my political leaders will definitely think something up. NOT!!!
It wasn't long ago that AMD was selling their fabs, one of them even being in Europe. Instead of our leaders grabbing at the opportunity, they let this fine peace of cutting edge tech slip away. We should really be fighting for (and investing in) high tech, not just buying the consumer products of it.
But, still, we are now consumers. Pure ones. Just consuming and not producing much any more. And now we are taking more debt for those that went too far in their spending. Oh sure, our GDP is still high and all, but without investing in high tech, just how long will this last? I don't think long. I just hope long enough so that I can leave this world in peace instead in yet another world war in which we will again be waiting for our offspring (the americans) to come save our sorry asses (from ourselves) yet again.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Naša zunanja politika ni servilna

Se opravičujem, malo pozno, ampak iz srca:




P.S.: Seveda, da ne bo pomote, zgoraj priloženo mnenje šteje tudi za pretekle vlade, ne le za trenutni mandat...

P.S.2: Due to age of this particular masterpiece (and the fact that I only embed the video from elsewhere) I'm assuming that I'm not violating any copyright. Should the rights owner think otherwise, I will remove the embedding code upon receiving a notice.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Good old Games

I had a dream tonight...
Talk about a weird start, but there's a point to it, so I'm just going to continue typing whether you decide to read or not :D

There was a young guy once, nice, knew what work was and how to work it. He wasn't very tall and had this curly hair that made him an instant geek the moment you laid eyes on him.
Anyway, this guy once did a favor to another guy. I unfortunately forgot what the favor was, but the important thing is that the favor was made and that the other guy didn't forget about it. As it turns out, the other guy became a big time games publisher with lots of power (and money to go with it).
So our young guy likes games. A lot. And he likes good games. Since he knows how to make things going, he once decides it might be nice if he made a little old site which sold good games. Naturally, publishers that would go along with his ideas aren't exactly lining up and all he gets are a few good, but old games. Hence the name of his site: Good old Games.com.
Trying to increase site traffic and purchases, our guy sets on a long journey to his old friend he once did a favor to. He has to walk up the steep slope towards the mansion. He passes man-made canyons that the road to the mansion carves into the mountains. Finally he arrives and rings the bell.
The old friend, now a big time publisher, remembers him and gladly invites his old friend inside. He listens to his story and he listens to his plea for a title that would help his site gain a few hits. Finally he speaks and proposes such a title...

Here my dream ended. Oh, the title btw was The Witcher 2. If it's half as good as the first one, it's going to kick ass. I have no idea whether the dream is in any way connected to reality or not, but I thought it might be a nice start to today's blog. What I am sure is that the dream was most probably influenced by a shock I got yesterday when I actually bought one of the GOGs off the site.
It was a classic title and I bought it just for nostalgia and also because at the time I was playing such titles, I couldn't buy it. There was no internet and no shop accessible to me at the time and we kids would just exchange floppies. The particular title was The Settlers 2.

The shock however didn't come from the game itself, but from its manual. Let me cite a couple of lines from it:
Credits: You must be dying to know who those weirdos are that give up years of their lives just to give you a little fun (and rob you of your few remaining hours of sleep). Now at last you can meet them.
Quit program: WARNING! Use this button only in the most extreme situations. It leads to an immediate intrusion of reality into your life.

Ha, ha! Hilarious!!! When was the last time you read a manual like this? Not to mention that the manual itself was quite informative.
Today's manuals are 10 pages EULA and then a few pretty pictures of the game interface (5 pages tops) making them more like pamphlets instead of manuals. Certainly little or no helpful info in there at all.

Anyway, I really hope things get going for these guys at gog.com. They really do have some of the all time classics. Not to mention all is DRM free. The only unfortunate detail is that the newest game on stock that I saw was Far Cry. Hopefully this promo will put them on the map and allow them to pose some real competition to the likes of a certain DRM infested publisher that I purposely won't name.

May the gods of commerce allow them to sell 5 mil copies of TW2 and the DRM infested competition a paltry handful only.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Dell U2711

Update: please also view part 2 of my Dell U2711 coverage.

As I already wrote, I was quite set on getting me a new monitor. Not that the old one died on me, but I wanted a bit more resolution and maybe a bit more color goodness. Gaming features would rock too, but as it turns out - there is such a thing as wishing too much...

So off I go and get my mind set for the Dell U2711. Reviews are good, folks are praising it all over the place and whatnot. But the price is a killing 850€, which is a bit high for me. It's not that I can't save up this kind of money, rather that I'm reluctant to spent so much money on one piece of hardware.
However, this is a monitor after all, a piece of HW that is far less likely to go obsolete within a year than my Powercolor Radeon 5870 LCS. Still, a lot of money it is, so I started looking around:
The usual suspects like German eTailers didn't give much joy: the lowest offer was for 750€ so while I might save 100€ on the monitor, I'd spend this money again on the postage :( Same for British, Swiss and Austrian...

It turns out that solution offered itself in the least likely of places: right next-door, in Croatia that is. The monitor costs just about 5000 HRK over there, which is about 680€ (all taxes included). That's about 200€ savings just from looking around a bit. Naturally, I got suspicious because I really didn't expect price to be lower in Croatia. If anything, they are usually a bit more expensive...
So off to forums I went. Turns out, the U2711 on sale in Croatia seems to be some other variant. All monitors have model number U2711b. Many users complained about some non uniform yellow tint in random monitor sections. Impossible to calibrate away, naturally.

So before I decided to take the plunge, I had to make sure the monitor I bought would actually be what I set out to buy: a superb monitor with excellent viewing angles and color reproduction. So I called the Slovenian Dell support and told them exactly what I was about to do. I explained how I bought the monitor outside Slovenia because of price. I also mentioned that the monitor I bought was defective and asked whether I would receive support in Slovenia despite the fact that it wasn't bought here. Note the use of past tense. Anyway, I immediately received replies from two distributors that I can bring the monitor to them and I need the monitor itself and the foreign invoice. That was all. No complications, no fuss.

So off to shop I went and got myself a nice monitor of dreams :)
Naturally, I got a b variant so the issue of yellow tint remained open until the relevant tests would be performed. The included color calibration sheet showed no apparent problems with colors. DeltaE was way below 2 for all but 3 colors and even with those it barely topped 3.
I unpacked as fast as possible, drooling like a waterfall every second of it :D

Here it is, placed in my corner of Zen and peace:
I guess it's immediately noticeable that this monitor is *HUGE*. Yes, it's size warrants the extra emphasis :) Note that from wall to left-side plank there's 70 cm of space. All used up! My old Samsung 215TW looks a midget compared with this beast! I also apologize for image colors, I wasn't exactly playing around with camera white balance ;)

The second issue I had with this monitor was that I had to rearrange the desktop icons completely. The extra 1000 pixels horizontal are simply too much to ignore. Some rearranging was needed so that they no longer cramped in one corner of the new monitor.

There was an unexpected positive side effect as well: the built-in USB hub allowed me to move my mouse charging cable, the Logitech Unifying receiver and the wireless gamepad receiver to the monitor, which reduced the cable clutter a bit.

Immediately after that I went checking for the infamous yellow tint of the b variant. I fired up all the monitor test patterns I could find. I also wanted to run Nokia monitor test, but unfortunately that seems to be a 16 bit app and didn't work on my 64 bit Win7. I promise to make a similar freeware app shortly, just as soon as I get tired of looking at the colors of this beauty :D
Naturally, all my fears were directed to uniform grey and white patterns where any color uniformity problems would be immediately visible. Turns out my vision is definitely bad. Where all those forum users saw yellow tint, all I saw was perfect white, perfect gray. How lucky I am to have bad eyes :)

Additionally, I'm also lucky to see all the vibrant colors and other goodies this excellent monitor has to offer. Compared to my old MVA monitor, the colors are quite a bit better, though not explodingly so. Turns out my old Samsung had excellent colors to begin with and that gamut can only do so much for your colors. The friend who bought the old monitor praised it quite a bit. I also got the confirmation that the old monitor had quite a bit of lag. Turns out lag is much easier to detect when you have multiple monitors at your disposal :) Promise #2: I'll grab an old CRT at work and test the lag as well. Expect an update shortly.

Off to the bad - (bored): yes, I do have one issue with the monitor. Here are the pics. Comment will follow, but I guess the pics will be enough for you to recognise my issue:
From left to right, these are all pictures of Word 2007 and a document in different viewing modes (page size A4):
1. 3 pages side by side, print layout
2. 2 pages side by side, print layout
3. 2 pages side by side, full screen reading preview
4. 1 page, print layout, portrait mode

Just so that there's no misunderstanding: the resolution is high enough for each of these viewing modes to be perfectly readable. And also - this monitor with its stand does not support pivot mode. I'm still waiting for my wall mount arm to arrive which will enable pivot goodness for me. Pivot was one of the reasons I wanted an IPS panel.
This said, there isn't a good layout I can choose to read / edit two pages at one time on this monitor. This was a lot easier on the old monitor (16:10) which fit the 2 pages perfectly on the available screen. I also hoped for pivot to allow me single page reading, but even that one is too high. I guess it never occurred to me to do some simple math before I ordered the monitor :) To be honest, doing the math beforehand would not affect my purchase decision. I wanted 2560 and this was the smallest monitor that provided it. 24" would be better but...

Well, there is one thing this aspect ratio is good for: games!!!
Running older games, the downside is that low res textures really do show on this monitor. One tends to notice that if the rendered object went from 60x60px to 150x150px :)
Newer games like Civ5 or Oblivion (with texture pack mod, naturally) however look gorgeous. Naturally, after firing up Dirt2, I had to turn down AA from 8x to 2x (ouch, that hurt!), but boy, does the game look good.

Every vibrant pixel of it!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Zalman Reserator 2 - final solution

This one was long overdue.
See Solving Zalman Reserator 2 problems and Zalman Reserator 2 (review ?) for background.

Anyway, fixing problems one after the other didn't seem to have much effect. It seemed as though every solution gave way to yet another problem.
It seems just about every moving part on the radiator unit was faulty in some way or another.

Therefore I undertook a general overhaul of the unit.
I did this for a couple of reasons:
1. I like the Reserator as such. I find the design beautiful
2. Buying 3 of these (for passive cooling) would set me back €180, not to mention the trouble I'd have to go through to mount them on the wall behind the monitor.

So I decided to remove the flow indicator, the pump and the quick couplings that started leaking.

Again I had to open the unit, but this time I paid special attention to the flimsy screws as to not ruin them. Naturally even being extremely careful, I managed to totally ruin two of them.
Removal of the flow indicator was easy since I already have done that before and knew exactly what to do with it. I just removed the indicator, but kept the casing so that I don't have a hole in the unit :) The pump posed no problem either. I just unscrewed the block at the bottom that holds it and then dismounted the pump.
Removing the quick couplings from the unit was easy, but the coils inside the coupling / pump block were full of this strange white stuff. This white stuff was very effectively restricting water flow and thus also had to be removed. I guess the original intent of the stuff was to prevent water leaks. It was rather easy to peel off too, so no problem there.

I managed to find quick coupling replacement in form of some hydraulic valves, rated for 100 bar pressure :) But hey, can't look a gift horse in the mouth, can I? Originally I almost gave up on the whole thing and almost went for normal non-detachable couplings since I couldn't find anything on the net. Funny how the stuff was to be found in a store almost next door...

Anyway, here's a pic of the new couplings:
Note that this setup is a lot bigger than the original couplings. Each of these beasts measures some 8 cm in length and is about 2,5 cm thick. But it does the job. I now have non-leaking quick couplings instead of the old leaking ones.
Don't pay too much attention to the color of cooling liquid in the tubes. This is a direct result of using AT Protect UV Green (which is just about the only cooling liquid obtainable in Slovenia) and using a car anti freeze liquid, which I was only able to obtain in red. I used a green AT Protect because at the time I didn't know that the liquid itself doesn't suppress algae growth. I saw a blue anti freeze liquid a few months later, but by then it was already too late...





The water flow is now handled by one single pump, placed inside the computer as it was before. Since the Eheim in the unit was not powerful enough I just figured there was no need to even keep it there any more.

So, for the third time I can say than now I finally have a water cooling setup that I wanted in the first place.
In the mean time I also replaced my 8800 GTS with a Powercolor Radeon HD 5870 LCS which is also getting cooled just fine.

Happy again.

Until the radiator itself starts leaking...

Friday, 30 July 2010

Davek na nepremičnine

No, davek na nepremičnine je končno prišel do osnutka zakona.
0,0xxx% glede na ocenjeno vrednost nepremičnine, pri čemer je seveda davek višji tam, kjer je ocenjena vrednost nepremičnin nižja...
Očitno nam vlada poskuša povedati, da se ne splača vztrajati na periferiji: bolje je, da se vsi skupaj preselimo v prekrasen ljubljanski smog.
Res ne razumem, zakaj ne morejo biti te zadeve pri nas narejene tako, kot se spodobi. Čemu neki služi novi davek, če je tako ali tako samo preimenovano nadomestilo za uporabo stavbnega zemljišča z dodatnimi komplikacijami in administracijo, ki jih prinese obdavčevanje po vrednosti nepremičnin.

Davek na nepremičnine bi moral biti zastavljen kot davek na luksuz:
Ocenjen nek življenjski standard na osebo. Npr: 20m2 + 10m2 na osebo v gospodinjstvu. To je osnova, ki ne bi bila obdavčena.
Česar je gospodinjstvo lastnik nad določenim standardom, je obdavčeno po res znatni stopnji. Na primer 3 - 5%. Oddajanje stanovanj v najem seveda predstavlja izjemo z nižjo stopnjo obdavčenosti.
Tako bi tisti, ki imajo preveč nepremičnin "pridobili" stimulacijo, da svoje prevelike nepremičnine prodajo tistim, ki jih dejansko potrebujejo, s posledičnim nižanjem cen na trgu nepremičnin pa bi si slednji te nepremičnine tudi dejansko lahko privoščili. Res ni smiselno, da nekdo živi sam v mega hiši, premnoge mlade družine pa se stiskajo v eno do dvosobnih stanovanjih.
Če bi želela naša vrla država zadeve še dodatno stimulirati, bi lahko davek oblikovala celo tako, da bi tistim družinam, ki ne dosegajo niti standardne površine npr. subvencionirala kredit za nakup stanovanja.

Šele tak predlog zakona o davku na nepremičnine bi imel nek smisel. Tako kot je, pa....

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Are monitors going anywhere at all?

It wasn't so long ago that computer monitors were far superior to ordinary household TVs. My old trusted Sony CPD-G500, for example could manage 2048x1536@75Hz while at the same time providing excellent color fidelity. For practical reasons I never really used it at it's maximum resolution. I rather used 1600x1200 which was a bit easier on the eyes due to lower DPI. The TV I had at the time managed a pathetic PAL resolution of 720x576@25Hz (50i). It had nice colors, but nowhere near the monitor.
To put it another way, it took me a few years to even have a graphics card that could output the monitor's maximum resolution while TVs only recently moved to 1080p resolution, but broadcasts still snail behind with PAL resolutions.
A few years back (6 I think) I moved to a LCD monitor. I needed the desk space and I also figured display geometry would never again be an issue. So I bought a Samsung 215TW which managed a decent 1680x1050 resolution while still having a decent enough response time to be quite useful for gaming. In the beginning I missed those 150 pixels of vertical resolution, but their lacking wasn't exactly killing me. Since FPS isn't exactly my favourite genre I have no idea about any processing lag, but I can not detect any, so the monitor works just fine for me.
I can't really say that my current monitor is becoming unsatisfactory, but I must admit I would like to have more resolution and I would also like to have 3D. Windows 7 is getting better at handling higher DPI, though it's still nowhere near where it should be in this regard. My water cooled Radeon 5870 can certainly take a bit more resolution though AMD 3D support is still getting nowhere. Additionally I'm also limited by space to max 24 - 27" diagonal. Actually 27" is stretching it a bit - it would barely fit into my corner of zen and peace.
So I went looking for a decent monitor that would give me at least 2560x1600@120Hz, possibly with 3D shutter glasses included.

What a dissappointment!

The only monitors supporting this resolution are 30" in size with a semi-exception of Dell U2711 which has a 2560x1440 resolution (16:9). None of them has 120Hz and none further with 3D shutter glasses included.
I dug a bit more and discovered that the vast majority of monitors on sale today are 1080p.
On top of that, very few are 120Hz, I couldn't even find one that would come with shutter glasses.

What a dissappointment!

So while TVs are pushing 3D today, not to mention 600Hz samples on sale, monitors on the other hand found no progress whatsoever.
When I was buying my 215TW, I decided for it instead of a 1920x1200 model because of price. Today 1920x1200 monitors are just as rare and (almost) just as expensive as then. Not to mention a hint of 120Hz support. Higer resolutions are more or less reserved for 30". None of these supports 120Hz, naturally.
I would expect that by today, I'd easily find a WQUXGA (3840x2400) monitors, maybe not with 120Hz support, but they should be there as a much superior version of today's TVs. After all, not everybody uses their computer just for writing documents and calculating spreadsheets (not that these two wouldn't benefit).
Instead I find that the monitor market has actually DEGRADED to a not-really-impressive 1080p resolution; not even 3D is common place :(

So in my opinion I'm currently stuck with my 215TW or I could marginally go for U2711. At least it ups the DPI to a bit over 100...

But if I could pick, I'd take the following:
24"
3840x2400
120Hz
RGB LED backlit
Color reproduction and lag naturally should be at least average

Now, that would be a monitor worth it's name today

Hell, quit the dreaming: I'd settle for a 2560x1600 120Hz 24" as long as the rest of parameters were satisfactory :(
Please, monitor maker, sir: make a monitor worth it's name so that I can spend some cash...

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Samsung WB5000 (HZ25W) camera review

(Albeit very short, not to mention unprofessional)

OK, for starters I won't go into technical details. You can find those as well as camera shots on Samsung's camera page.

I have taken one single photo of the camera with my old Canon S2 IS, which shows the lens cap (not shown on any of Samsung's images).



Why I bought this camera:
On paper it looks really impressive:
12 megapixels
24x zoom and down to 26mm (equivalent)
A huge 3" display
It's own li-ion batteries (Trust me, having used S2IS for 4 years, this was a HUGE bonus)
Supports all picture formats (4:3, 3:2 and 16:9) out of the box
Records HD movies (720p/30)
Very light (only 400g)
Relatively small for a camera with 24x zoom (116 x 83 x 91mm)

Personal reasons: Since I'm a very poor photographer I usually buy cameras that are capable of forgiving my mistakes with apperture, exposure and similar settings. So I buy cameras with capable optics and fairly powerful processors. However, even this can't save me from utterly sucking at image composition :)

So I took the camera for a spin these last two days since I got it. Sorry, no fine weather pics at the end of this article. Only night shots / overcast diffuse light day ones.
On the other hand, these are the exact conditions for which one such as me would buy such a camera: the shots have to be good even at imperfect light conditions.

But let's go into some more obvious features first:

Design
As I already stated, the camera is quite small for one with such impressive optical capabilities. This also shows on the body design: Most of the camera's size is taken by optical assembly which is very nicely complemented by a top mounted popup flash (no external flash hot shoe though).
I would have liked it better if the lens cap was attached to the body. As it is, it's a matter of when, rather than if, the cap will be lost.

The only thing that stands out of the case a bit awkwardly is the electronic viewfinder, but this is a matter of taste rather than anything else. It can get in the way sometimes like if you're used to putting your camera in the carrying bag lens-up. The viewfinder has a diopter adjustment knob which will be very necessary since it's so small that you need to have your eye very close to it to see clearly. Otherwise the image displayed is clear and bright enough. Switching between main and EVF display is done manually through a dedicated EVF button. There are three display modes in all: minimal (only shows battery level, number of shots left and apperture / shutter parameters if applicable), Normal - shows the above plus major shooting parameter selections and detailed which adds a grid and histogram. Grid modes available are + (screen split horizontally and vertically), 3x3 which divides the screen 4x4, x - diagonal screen split - and 2x2 which divides the screen into 3x3 grid.

The non-slip rubber coated hand grip is designed well and fits the palm very nicely. You will need a bit of thumb dexterity to reach the lower buttons with right thumb though.

At the bottom there's a latch for battery and SD(HC) card compartment. This can be quite annoying since you must close the latch after taking out SD card to copy it to the computer in order to put the camera down again. I think it would be better if the latch was on the right side.

On the left side there's a mini HDMI jack under a cover which serves for battery charging, USB connection to computer and video output (to TV - analogue only supporting NTSC or PAL formats). Don't let the connector format deceive you - this camera does not provide digital connection to the TV.

The menus are simple and easy to understand and use. They are a bit divided though. You can only set flash parameters by pressing the flash button on the case, for example.
There isn't enough options in some cases though. My biggest gripe with this was that date formats only support "/" as separator and clock is only available in 12h format (am, pm), no 24h clock, no sir!

Overall the camera seems to be built well and handles great. You'll have no problem shooting movies or photos for extended periods of time due to its light weight.

Camera shooting modes
The camera features a mode dial with plenty of mode selections, though their actual differences are rather limited:
1. SmartAuto - Everything is selected by camera automatically. You can't even select image format used for capture. Instead, last used image format from one of the programmable modes will be selected.
2. Movie mode - This mode allows you to set movie parameters (resolution, frame rate, effects and sound recording parameters). It is only here you can select movie parameters, no other mode or menu offeres these settings. Otherwise it's useless since there's a dedicated "record" button on the body which starts movie recording in any of the other modes.
Available resolutions are 1280x720, 640x480 and 320x240.
Frame rate selection provides 15, 30 and 60 FPS options with 60 only available for 320x240 resolution.
Audio options include recording, no audio and no audio when zooming (more on this later)
3. Scene mode is the same as Smart Auto except that it allows you to set shooting parameters mode yourself. Provided modes are: Frame guide (precomposed scenes), Portrait, Children (fast moving), Landscape, Macro, Text (scanner replacement), Sunset, Dawn, Backlight (for shooting towards the light source - perfect for my composition abilities), Fireworks and Beach&Snow (super strong lighting conditions)
4. Beauty shot - Especially suited for portrait shooting. Only in this mode do you get some quite nice options for automatic face retouching:
Face tone (brightens faces)
Face retouch (removes face imperfections) - tested on my teenage daughter who has quite severe dermal anomalies, this really works and works great! It takes the camera about 10 seconds to process the image though.
Unfortunately for everything else, this mode is fully automatic as well.
5. Night - One more fully automatic mode. The camera suggests that tripod use is recommended. I have no idea in what way this mode is different to Smart Auto.
6. User 2 - A fully programmable mode. Camera will remember all parameters set. You cannot select any of the previously mentioned exclusive parameters like face retouch though.
7. User 1 - Same as User 2 mode
6. Manual - Also same as both previous modes.
7. Apperture - shutter priority - Again, a completely same mode as the previous three. You can adjust all shooting parameters (except the exclusive ones).
Adjusting Apperture and Shutter arameters is a bit tricky though: It is done by the central round dial, which also serves for display mode selection, flash parameters, macro shooting and timer. By rotating the dial, you increase or decrease the currently selected parameter (either apperture or shutter). It's changing the currently selected parameter where things get interesting: If you just press the dial, nearest of the four basic functions will be activated. You have to press it while rotating the dial. Doing so changes the current parameter though. Oh well, seems it takes a bit of getting used to. After two days of use I wasn't getting much better at this...
8. Programmed mode - In this mode you can modify all shooting parameters except for exclusives, apperture and shutter. The latter two are selected automatically by the camera.

OK, This is about what I had to say on general camera design. Please see the manual (it's downloadable from the samsung site above) for menu contents and more available options.
Let's rather proceed with the evaluation as it went in these last two days. I shall begin with video:

Video shooting
I was really looking forward to the 720p video shooting with this camera. As I'm using such cameras also for movie shooting, rather than a dedicated video camera, I needed this particular function to give me some high quality video. I would have liked an option for 25FPS shooting, but 30 is just as good.
Video format (720p) is as follows:
Video codec: H264 Baseline, level 3.1, 9126 Kbps@29.97FPS
Audio codec: AAC 128Kbps 48KHz stereo (camera has two mics)
Container: MP4

The camera takes just over 1MB per second of 720p video shot. A test video of 25 seconds thus ended up at 28,5MB. I had to transcode it to avi because Blogger won't take mp4, and then Blogger transcoded it again to much lower res :( But the issues below are still visible / audible. Just watch this and you'll see my dissappointment:

video
Exposure sucks big time. Whenever light changes, camera takes ages to adapt. My 4 years old S2 IS does way better than this.
Zooming in/out produces an annoying noise and quite loud at that. Again, a 4 yeard old camera does way better.
Also focus is getting lost all the time. This camera really has a hard time focusing.
And finally: Overall movie quality doesn't look like 720p. It just lacks definition. I mean, the pixels are there, but overall feeling isn't.
Sound seems to be OK though. OK, one gripe: I don't like how it catches my voice from behind. It should focus more on sounds in front of it.

Trust me, I've shot more than this movie and all are about the same. Zooming is more or less out of the question. You either have the servo noise or mute if you set the camera to mute when zooming. Don't know which of these is more annoying. Movies shot in daylight are a bit better visually, provided no zooming is used.

Movies: major disappointment.

Photo shooting
With 12 MP this camera should capture images with great detail without breaking a sweat. And it does, if you put some effort into it.

The camera takes about 3 - 6 MB per JPEG image (super fine) and about 18MB per RAW image. Both at max resolution 4000x3000 (12MP). Camera's internal memory can take 3 JPEGs and not even a single RAW.

Warning: Blogger resized all of the pictures. I didn't even bother to verify EXIF info after that. :(


I started out with some general shots to see how it handles apperture and exposure.
Here's the first and second:

The first picture was taken with SmartAuto mode. Parameters of note: ISO 200, F/2.8, 1/30 sec.
For the second pic I played around with shutter and ISO: ISO 64, f/2.8, 1/640 sec.
My head started hurting already. Is this really so? Can the camera overexpose shots by such a wide margin? I can't even figure out how the first shot isn't all white. I mean, if it took more than 20 times the time at higher ISO sensitivity, how can the second picture not be completely black?


So I stepped on the balcony and took a nice night shot:

Parameters: SmartAuto, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/2 sec. Click on the image, see for yourself: ISO 400 produces serious noise. So much noise in fact that it's pretty much useless.











I took an additional couple of shots to see how the camera takes lighting with / without flash:
The left picture with flash (ISO 64, F/2.8, 1/30sec), the second without (ISO 320, F2.8, 1/10 sec). Obviously, automatic tungsten lighting is not recognized. Still need to select it manually.








Next I took a couple of detail shots to see how the camera handles detail:
Here the camera passed the test. Both of these pictures were taken from more than 1m distance.
All detail is clearly visible and letters easily readable.
This camera can pass for a low res scanner any time.







I went out to town to see how it can handle detail at night:
Both of these were taken at ISO 200. The first has exposure time set at 1/60 sec, the second at 1/30 sec.
Note how even ISO 200 produces quite significant noise. It is clearly visible at 100% zoom on a computer monitor.







Next test was flash range:
I must say: This camera has one insane flash. Its range is enormous for such a small unit.
If you look at right pisture: right border is about 8m away from the house, the lamp under lit window is about 15m away from the camera.
I'm estimating this flash can reach as far as 12 - 13 meters.






The next day I went out and took a few outdoors pictures to see how detail is handled in daylight (albeit poor due to overcast weather):




































I think these images show all the best in this camera. Detail is high, colors represent what I was taking pictures of. I can see no optical anomalies in the pictures taken, either color mismatches nor any noise. The kid on the sled on the second picture was shot with a huge zoom (18x) and was moving quite fast. Still I think the image is clear enough.

However taking some closeups like the grass above was giving me huge problems: the camera had serious issues focusing on my subjects of choice. Especially when I was using zoom (any zoom), the camera display typically showed a very blurry picture which cleared up only when I half pressed the shutter button. Sometimes I couldn't even manage that. Though Samsung clearly states focus distances on the camera product page (link at start of this article), I never thought the issues with that would be so severe. The following two shots demonstrate the problem:
The coca cola bottle is perfectly clear and sharp. It was about 60-70cm away from the camera.
Moving just 20-30cm closer to the beer glass (about 40 cm distance), the camera couldn't manage to auto focus it no matter what I did.
Manual focus was the only solution here.






Conclusion
I had high hopes for this camera, but could find no reviews for it since it's a new item. As it turns out, you will have to work for your images a bit if you want them to be good. The camera can take extremely nice shots, but certain situations are just too much for its optics / firmware.
The camera also sports some nice functions like face retouching and shooting scenarios which are nice for a casual photographer, but such functions are better suited to an ultra compact, not this camera.
Camera likes to use 1/30 sec shutter speed. It will play it safe with this shutter speed for far too long. One can still take pictures at lower ISO settings and much shorter shutter speeds, but that needs manual adjustment. Sensitivity not definable in menus so you'll be stuck with this. The pictures produced are fine, but not great at automatic settings.
When all is said and done, if you like playing around with settings and you have patient family / friends, you will take great photos with this camera, but for point and shoot operation it will have issues, especially indoors.
Movie shooting is completely unacceptable though. Focus, ISO adjustment and most of all - zoom servo noise are all significantly worse than on a much older Canon PowerShot S2 IS. I will go as far as saying that the S2 shots better movies at 640x480 than this camera does at 720p.
I am now returning the camera to the retailer. It's just not worth the money for me. Sorry.

Summary
The good:
  • Nice pictures at ISO <= 100
  • RAW (takes 3 secs to store though)
  • HD movies using H264 + AAC codec
  • Super powerful flash
  • Light
  • Huge screen
  • Easy to use menus
  • 24x zoom
The bad
  • ISO 200 and above introduce significant noise
  • Likes to overexpose (auto modes)
  • Has issues with focusing
  • The bottom SD card slot
  • Likes to use ISO higher than needed
  • No digital TV connection
The ugly
  • Movies extremely poor due to slow ISO / focus adjustments and especially due to servo noise