Saturday, October 6

Hanging with the Avatar

Things get a bit hotter...

This is actually a double-review of two episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, since I managed to not watch episode 3.2 last week. Instead, I watched both The Headband and The Painted Lady tonight, back-to-back. Now I'm kinda regretting it (it's a long wait to 3.4 next week)... maybe I should just gather episodes en masse like I'm doing with anime. Anyways, here's what's happening in Avatar World.
The Headband has Aang and company arriving in the Fire Nation and donning disguises to travel through enemy territory. Predictably, Aang attracts attention despite wearing a headband to cover his arrow, and finds himself smack dab in the middle of a Fire Nation classroom. Soon he's fighting school bullies, getting a new girlfriend and setting up a dance party. Wait a minute... a DANCE PARTY? Yep, even though the freedom of the world is at stake, Aang still has time to get down and boogie. On the other hand, he does raise a good point that it's a fine chance to get into the minds of the next generation of Fire Nation-ites. On the other side of the fence, all is not well with Zuko. Struck with the fear of his newfound life being ruined if the Avatar is, as he suspects, indeed alive, he visits the imprisoned Iroh for some advice. But when Uncle refuses to even look at the Prince, Zuko takes another move that further distances him from the ranks of the good guys...

I didn't expect to like The Headband too much- but despite the weird premise, I enjoyed this second chapter of Book 3. The Gaang's new looks are pretty cool (even though Toph's soleless shoes don't seem consistent throughout), and the characters' interactions are as funny and entertaining as always. The highlights of the episode includes the moments where Aang refers to little tidbits into the past and the dance party itself- Aang and Katara's dance number (them actually doing their katas, I think) was wonderful and quite well-animated. In fact, I'd say this episode is a nice return to quality animation as opposed to the previous episode. Overall, a bit slow-paced but worth watching.

The Painted Lady is a Katara-centric episode, for the most part. The Gaang arrives at a fishing village in dire straights, thanks to pollution from a nearby factory. Katara finds herself unable to let the suffering villagers go without aid, and so the legend of the Painted Lady- a local magical spirit- is revived. Like the Headband before it, the premise seems wild- Katara's impulse to aid some Fire Nation citizens when they should be worried about their present quest seems ridiculous (at least Sokka voices this out more than once). But Katara isn't an ordinary, rational-thinking person. Once again, she shows that she's a hero, probably even more than Aang at this point, and that she's not one to turn her back on someone who needs help.
A little bit of action (one-sided anyway) at the end, some special effects and a fair bit of humor involving a schizophrenic villager and some mud-filled fish round out this episode. Still a 'filler' episode since it's not really about the main quest, The Painted Lady is again an entertaining installment in the series.

For both episode 2 and 3, Aang and Katara got the most exposure. Katara showed off how capable she has become as a waterbender and as a martial artist (hopefully this will continue to be consistent) in her graceful dance with Aang and her performance in The Painted Lady. Unfortunately, Sokka and Toph get relegated a bit to the background- hopefully this will be remedied in the next couple of installments. Next week's episode, Sokka's Master looks to steer the Gaang back on serious matters, as Boomerang Guy tries to make himself more useful by taking up sword lessons. But will he survive his crash course?

Till next time, Avatar Rules!

Friday, October 5

Living the iLife

It's been about a week since I got my Apple iPhone. Since then, I've been through the whole spectrum of emotion, from elation and joy when I first got it, to sheer terror and utter despair when the phone's system went kaput and I was forced to restore it back to a 'LOCKED' state, to the exhausted relief when I say my Globe SIM working again after a tech tinkered with it in Greenhills. But despite all that, I don't regret a thing. Getting this phone has been the most fun I've had in my life as a mobile gadget enthusiast, and despite it being a 'pirate'/rebel/unlocked/open-line/renegade unit, it just makes it all the more fun. Unlocked units have, at this point in time, all the perks- the use of any SIM and network, access to third party apps (free over WiFi), the ability to customize themes and more. As long as there is support for this platform- and it doesn't look like the Rebel Alliance of hackers and Mac enthusiasts will be tiring anytime soon- I'll be fine living like a mobile Jack Sparrow on my Black Pearl iPhone.

I'd say to all of you guys and gals interested in getting an iPhone, ask yourself this question. Can you wait? If you can, maybe it's probably safer to just wait till next year when the phone is released locally as a legit unit, probably under one or both of the big Telcos. There has been scuttlebutt that Globe will be getting the phones, and releasing it under a plan (I've heard talk of 5K plans). There's a chance that the units released here next year may be upgraded models- maybe bigger memory? 3G? Who knows... maybe it will be worth it. At the very least, it will be safe- you can have the use of any services and extras that will be coming with the phone, and if anything goes wrong, you have your warranty to protect yourself.

For now, all there is really is the WOW factor of owning the most hyped-up (even if it does live up to that hype in many ways) mobile gadget ever, the ability to do stuff Apple would never let you do otherwise, mostly for free, under your own terms instead of having to subscribe to any plan or scheme from the big companies. The pitfalls? If something goes wrong, you have to rely on the shop's warranty or your own tech know-how if you're savvy enough. The thing is, YOU yourself can actually unlock phones yourself (given the right conditions) if you have at least a laptop or computer and an internet connection, and the patience to research. Or just have a really techy friend (or someone in the know at PhilMUG.

But if you do want to have a 'pirate' iPhone, you may need to hurry a bit. The latest firmware phones aren't cracked yet, so what is already here is pretty much the only stocks of unlocked or unlockable iPhones you can get. I don't think there's a drought of iPhones- they're still probably readily available, though at some hefty prices. You just have to look for the best deals.

Me, I'm a bit wiser after my early birthpangs with the iPhone, but I seem to have reached a nice cruising level where I am just happy and content and excited for whatever comes next. I see myself staying with my device till a highly upgraded version appears (say, with 30 Gigs of memory, 3G, blah-blah-blah) eventually. For now, I'm still giddy with delight and still having that thrill whenever I send a text, watch a video or listen to a tune. Making new wallpapers is my new hobby. Heh. Anyways, happy as a clam am I. More as things happen, when they happen on the good ship Black Pearl. Later then.

Monday, October 1


Hey, how cool is this? I'm posting this using Safari on my iPhone. Typing is best done with one finger. Unlike the usual touch screen that requires the use of the tip of the fingernail, it's actually the soft, fleshy tip of the finger that works best. Also, it's better to type in English so the auto-correct function actually helps you instead of changing your words at the last minute. Anyway, I reckon with a few more days practice I'll be typing like a pro. Anyway, back to work, I guess.

Yeah, yeah, I got it.

Over the weekend I went out and just got myself the Apple iPhone (the 8GB version, not the discontinued 4GB model). Of course, I'm not alone- quite a few people have availed of the much-hyped device after the thing was unlocked for use with any SIM thanks to hackers extraordinaire that have defied the dictatorial will of the Mac Lords. I've been thinking about it last week every day, and on Saturday I acted on these thoughts. I traded in my 80 Gig iPod, added some cash, and got my iPhone. It was a bit funny to know that I was the first buyer of an iPhone from that particular stall I availed at, and there was a fair bit of commotion as me and sellers alike ooohhed and ahhhed at the phone as we unboxed my specimen. I have to say, once I had the thing in front of my, I was hooked. It looked so much prettier in the flesh than in all the Youtube videos I've been subsisting on online. And darn, it feels so solid and nice in the hand despite it's svelte slimness.
The sellers were inexperienced with setting up the phone, but they did manage to insert my SIM into it, so I wasn't completely left up a creek without a paddle. Still, it took me walking around V-Mall being very self-conscious and fiddling with the phone before I finally managed to make a successful call and be convinced that indeed, I had bought a replacement for my PDA Phone and not a slimmer, smaller-capacity iPod.

Anyway, after getting home my first order of business was, of course, to input my contacts and sync the phone to iTunes on my PC. It actually took most of the night to do the former- I had to do it by hand (at least I was able to get some practice using the virtual keyboard anyway). The rest of the night and early morning hours was spent getting the darn thing to talk to my computer so I could use it's prodigious media powers. It was a pretty chore, since I had to find and install Windows XP Service Pack 2 and then update iTunes to the latest version. Once all that was done though, I was able to sync my iPhone, loading it up with some videos and tunes.

What can I say? The darn thing is gosh-darn gorgeous. Just sitting there, it looks like a sleek slate of obsidian, ringed by silver. It's seamless and smallish-looking (it's a lot smaller than my XDA IIi), with most of the face taken up by the lovely, huge, 3.5 inch screen. It's all about the screen, I have to say, though side by side, in plain real estate my O2's screen is actually bigger... but the iPhone's has better resolution, brightness, colors and contrast. Watching video or even just looking at pics is damn fine on the iPhone's screen. Damn fine indeed. And better yet, unlike regular iPods, you can listen to music or sounds without the need for earphones, so this is indeed a media player you can just whip out in a moment for use.

But of course, even though it's a heavenly media player, is it a great phone? Let me say that it has lots of quirks. It certainly has lots of flaws like the inability to send a text to multiple recipients, no custom ringtones, weak-sounding text alerts and no cut-and-paste functions. But then, I knew all that coming in (I've read pretty much every review online). My likes overweigh all the dislikes and hiccups.

I'm already pretty used to just using my fingers to type, prod and use a touchscreen. I can live without MMS. I really don't need the functions that I can't use (Stocks? Weather? Maps?), and I don't really use PIM or email functions on a mobile. The camera, even though only a still camera, is quite excellent, even in low light situations, and that's more than I can ever say for my previous phone's almost useless camera. And the memory- you can only use about 7.2 Gigs, but that's a lot more than my previous ceiling of 4 Gigs with SD Cards. I don't need or use 3G or EDGE. If I can get the WiFi and Youtube apps to work, that will be a bonus. Most of my content I love to find, encode and sync on the phone myself. I'll miss DIVX and the TCPMP, but the quality of MP4 softens the blow. I'll have to build up a whole new library of videos again, but that's already a hobby of mine so no problem.

All that, and the phone's damn gorgeous.

I'll still be learning how to use the thing, getting used to the idiosyncracies and little cranks in the week ahead most likely. Right now, I'm just having so much fun just playing with the physics-enabled scrolling. I guess I have to get a belt case since just putting it in my pocket is a no-no. But even with the hassles of starting up my new mobile phase, I'm pretty happy- it's been a while since I got really excited about a phone again, so I'm enjoying the rush once more. WOOHOO!!!