Flights of The Electribird

Through Games, Events and Multimedia

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Testing Samsung Galaxy S4 in Lebanon

Today, a smartphone can be as important as a Swiss army knife. Both of them have several features, fit into your pocket and are useful in more ways than I can count. Since I travel a lot, I know exactly how important it is to have everything you need on your person. That’s why I got curious about Samsung’s recent powerhouse, Samsung Galaxy S4, and decided to try it out for size. Luckily, I had to make a trip to Lebanon this year, which is the perfect place to try out any electronic devices you could possibly need on the go due to the destructive summer heat, the annoying power-cuts and the unreliable Internet-connections.

The first thing I noticed about the Samsung Galaxy S4, was how difficult this thing was going to be to carry around. It’s the same size as a medium-sized wallet, which is not a wise thing to carry around in your pocket wherever you go. Sure, the big screen sure is a nifty thing to have if you like to read, play games or watch a movie and you can adjust the phone if you have problems with your eye-sight, but having something this big on your person all the time can be a bit annoying for some people, especially when some of your clothes don’t have pockets that are big enough for wallets to fit into. I had to carry a bag wherever I went and the phone barely fits into my camera bag, which bugs me big time. On occasion, I even had to carry the phone around like a purse. Not cool, especially when you hear from Lebanese citizen about thieves and murderers committing crimes for less…

Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-i9505, a flat giant few pockets can handle.

Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-i9505, a flat giant few pockets can handle…

Since it’s the first time I use Android, it’s no wonder that I had trouble using it at first. It didn’t take me long to get used to using just the touch-screen for everything (I like buttons) and I like how smooth the screen is to the touch and how easy it is to clean before you put a plastic sheet on it to protect it from scratches. Sadly, the other ways to control Samsung Galaxy S4 can’t be praised as highly. The phone is known for being able to use hand- and eye gestures to do certain things. Sadly, I couldn’t get a single one of these features to work. No matter how I waved, stared or held the phone, I couldn’t get a single reaction. Oddly enough, the other people who tested this feature on the very same device I did my tests on had no trouble to get them to work. I have no idea why the phone doesn’t seem to be able to detect me, but at least I saved some battery time when I turned those features off…

Yes, the battery is a dream! Gamers will certainly love the fact that you can play for hours on the Samsung Galaxy S4 without wasting too much power. I played with the phone for about half or a quarter of a day and was shocked to notice that I still had about 55-75% of battery life left afterwards! I could even spend hours reading a book, watch videos, listen to music and use the camera for the entire day and still have power left for tomorrow. In Lebanon, this is perfect, because with all the power-outs, you can’t always count on having enough electricity to recharge your devices, especially during the times when the electricity comes from a nearby generator that isn’t strong enough to handle more than at least 10 types of electronic devices or machinery per household at once with the lights on, including machinery like refrigerators and fans…

As a camera, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is awesome! Most of my photos turned out great and the 3x zoom didn’t mess up the quality of my pictures too much. It’s a shame that the front camera doesn’t have the same quality as the back one, but the results are definitely to my liking! Just take a look at the photos I took from a balcony in the Lebanese countryside outside Baskinta!

This photo was taken with the back camera without zoom.

This photo was taken with the back camera without zoom.

This photo was taken with the back camera with 3x zoom.

This photo was taken with the back camera with 3x zoom.

But the camera is still far from perfect. It takes too long for the autofocus to work sometimes and videos don’t always appear perfect after you’ve moved them to another platform. Still, the quality of both photos and videos are acceptable and I recommend using these features when you just need some snapshots during a simple outing or wish to record a short video of something that’s going on within approx. 50 meters away.

The ability to connect a device to another device should be a common standard today, right? With Samsung Galaxy S4, it’s an annoyance. No matter how I try to connect the phone to my laptop (which is also a Samsung, coincidentally enough), I keep getting a message about how I need a driver for the device, especially when I try to connect by using Bluetooth. This is a big issue, because the phone didn’t come with any driver discs and there’s nothing on Samsung’s website about drivers to download. After several days of research, I found out about Samsung Link, an online service that not only lets you connect the phone to computers, but also store your stuff online so you can access them from any other device you want. Imagine my rage when this thing uploaded stuff from my computer without warning! I know that you can forget about privacy when it comes to anything with Internet-access, but to be forced to use an online service to connect between devices is by far one of the worst ways a product manufacturer can insult their consumers. Everyone can’t connect to the Internet, especially when there’s a power-out that can last over an hour on rare occasions and when the Internet-connection can cost a fortune to some people. I also found out that similar phone-to-computer-connectivity-issues appear with other Android-phones as well, so Samsung can’t take the full blame for this….

I wish I could say that I’ve run out of bad things to mention about the Samsung Galaxy S4, but I’m afraid there’s more. Having a choice to use any soundfile you want as ringtones (especially MP3’s) has been a standard on cellphones since the start of the millennium. With Samsung Galaxy S4, it is possible to do so without a hitch. But what about the other message notification sounds? Can’t those tones be customizable the same way too? Apparently not. For this, I had to use a work-around trick to make it work and due to what appears to be a bug in Android, every other form of message update got the same ringtone because of this. Even when I turn the sound off for the others, the SMS-ringtone can still be heard for every notification the phone receives. The only unaffected sounds where basically the ridiculously quiet alarm and the phonecall ringtone. At least the sound quality is amazing! I could listen to some French audio-lessons or watch videos on the smartphone without worrying about lost sound or weird noises…

So, how did this phone survive Lebanon? Impressively well, I would say. Unlike any other phone I’ve brought with me to any Middle-Eastern country I’ve visited in the past, The Samsung Galaxy S4 survived the trip really well. The heat didn’t affect the firmware or heat up the phone while I had it in the sun for a few minutes or in my pocket, the battery lasted long enough to survive at least 2 days without recharging while using it almost constantly and was pretty handy to have whenever there was a photo-opportunity nearby. But with the power-outs and trouble of getting Internet-access when needed, connecting the phone to a computer can be problematic, especially if you use Bluetooth (it refused to work with any of the computers I tested it on). It took me several tries to get the phone to connect to my laptop without Samsung Link, but it worked on occasion (with the cable only). If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to post any of my photos here, would I?

I hate to be the one to give Samsung Galaxy S4 the score of 3/5. This is truly an awesome phone that has everything the basic traveller could need on the go, even if it is a bit too big, but the phone has too many major flaws. The hand- and eye-gesture features don’t work for everyone, connecting to a computer is a nightmare (especially by Bluetooth) and consumers shouldn’t have to use work-around tricks to set basic things, like customized SMS-ringtones. But fortunately for Samsung, it appears that Android is to blame for some of these flaws, which is why the score didn’t get any lower, but I would still count them as big slips Samsung’s QA-testers should have noticed before release, especially since the company used some of those features as a marketing lure to get people to buy the phone in the first place. But the back camera is very impressive and the fact that the phone can handle the Lebanese summer heat is a major plus!


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Testing Canon PowerShot SX50 HS on Iggy & The Stooges

This month, I’ve been keeping a close eye on good cameras. Finding one that can truly be used as an all-round camera for every occasion is an impossible task and the very best ones cost a fortune for the housing alone. Even the lenses cost more than the average consumer is willing to spend and the prices for those can be worth about 10-20% of the cost for the housing. Then we have the camera restrictions on certain places and events (only cameras without exchangeable lenses can be used in some of the concert halls where I am and flash photography can sometimes annoy people), how fast the camera can take a snapshot of a moving target and how far away you can be when you take that shot. Luckily for me and my very tight budget, I got hold of a cheap camera that does that and more, the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS.

Great camera for rookies!

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, a good all-round camera that’s easy to use and won’t kill your budget.

12,1 MP may seem pretty low compared to most cameras today, since even cellphone cameras are starting to catch up to that number, but the built-in lens with 50x zoom and ability to shoot HD-video makes up for that by a longshot. The fact that I could take photos, zoom in on objects that were extremely far away and shoot a movie at the same time was impressive enough, but not as impressive as how the camera can adapt to the light of the area automatically. I haven’t had the real need for the flash yet because of this, but there are still times when the flash does a better job than the firmware. But how about the situations when a good, fast camera with a proper zoom function is necessary, especially when the flash is a no-no? Luckily, I had just the opportunity to test this when Iggy & The Stooges came to town!

From past experience, I’ve learned the value of showing up several hours early to a concert. That way, you can secure a good spot at the very front of the stage. This is, however, the first time I see them block off the area before a concert. On the upside, this gave me the chance to test the zoom function on the PowerShot SX50 HS.

This could be approx. 100-200 meters from the stage.

The line between the concert area and the first group of people waiting to get in.

From here, I took some snapshots of the stage.

Some zoom may have been used...

The stage and the crowd area.

The text on the drums weren't visible in the camera's LCD-screen.

The stage gear. The zoom didn’t even break a sweat!

Maximum zoom wasn't even used for this shot!

Even the drum kit itself was perfectly visible from where I was standing.

2 hours before the concert, they started letting people into the crowd area. About 10-20 people had already gotten their spots at the front by the time I got mine and some were hanging out further back and in the cafés behind the crowd area. I was surprised to see a familiar face that far away and couldn’t help myself to lower my standards to paparazzi-level.

Can you believe I took this shot when I stood in front of the stage!?

I got a good shot at my favourite guitarist and bass player from the band Solaris, Johan Dedd, at the café. Sorry, Johan.

After an hour’s worth of waiting, the crowd was filling up, making it impossible for anyone at the front to move around. The stench of beer and tobacco was filling the air, which is a bad combination for people who get sick easily from breathing the two. Even the shoving and some chanting from a fan in the distance had already started and it got worse when Iggy Pop hit the stage. But before the concert started, there was a short announcement on stage. A winner at a competition at Hard Rock Café had won a trip to see Hard Rock Calling in London, where Iggy and the Stooges will be attending.

I envy you so much...

Congratulations to the winner of Hard Rock Café’s contest!

After that and some sound checks by the stageworkers, it didn’t take long before The Stooges took their places on stage.

The woman next to me thought he was hot.

Mike Watt accepted the first roars with delight.

Iggy Pop himself took some time for me to spot, because the old man was moving around like a speedy teenager in the middle of the stage. That’s right, people, age is just a number, which is exactly the way it should be!

And of course a stageworker, who failed to hide from my Canon...

The first image of the evening with Iggy Pop and the saxophone player, Steve MacKay.

Due to the settings, the PowerShot SX50 HS took several pictures in a row when I took my photos. This is a feature I was very thankful for, because Iggy Pop sure can move and the shoving and bruising from the eager fans behind and next to me did not do me any favours. But after some getting used to and the help of a very observant security guard, I got some pretty good shots of the evening.

Don't ask me what he was pointing at...

A pointing Iggy Pop.

His pocket looks empty.

Iggy Pop with his hand to the side.

Too bad the camera didn't adapt to the dark fast enough...

Crazy eyes in the dark!

The audience could feel it too, believe me...

Iggy Pop, singing with feeling.

Since this concert is a huge deal, even for the media, the press photographers got let into the front of the stage to take pictures of Iggy Pop.

Thank goodness I took my own...

The press photographers got to pass through the other side of the fence.

I found this to be as useful as it was meaningless, because after the shoving that was required to take the photographers to the front, they had to leave shortly after, missing the rest of the concert. I may not be a press photographer myself, but that’s not the approach I would take. I would rather choose me a good spot and shoot my pictures from there, so I could enjoy the concert too. Well, perhaps they had other obligations… either way, I’m 90 % sure I got home with better shots than these people did and, believe it or not, a nice gentleman wanted to charge me for my photos! I was so honoured, I let him have them for free (the photos were already uploaded here anyway, so the press shouldn’t be a problem).

So did the sunshine...

Eager photographers got some good shots of Iggy Pop.

By now, you’ve probably noticed how the light appears different in some photos. It turns out that the PowerShot SX50 HS doesn’t always adapt to the dark fast enough. I also noticed that the more sky there is in the photo, the darker the photo will become, because the camera thinks we’re in a bright enough location (that’s my guess, anyway). This is not good when you have a fired-up 66-year-old rocker on stage. Luckily, most of the photos can be edited with a good software, but I didn’t want to edit anything to show how well the camera did on the concert. You think you’d notice all the flaws in the rotatable LCD-screen on the camera, but when the camera displays the photos you just took in a row, you get sick of watching what just happened on stage like a buggy replay and just focus on Iggy Pop.

Who doesn't love good equipment?

Iggy Pop keeps his lips close to the microphone.

A lot of people focuses on just the singer during concerts. I can understand that, since the singer is the most visible one. As for me (and the lovely middle-aged woman standing next to me, with a Citroën-decal in a chain in her hand, who had a crush on Mike Watt), the rest of the musicians are worth paying attention to as well.

Too bad I can't show you Asheton's drum solo, it was awesome!

Mike Watt on bass and Scott Asheton on drums.

I've never seen sticks like that before...

James Williamson on guitar and Steve MacKay on… sticks?

But in the end, most of my photos were of Iggy Pop too…

He makes it look cool.

Even the finger-to-the-dimple-pose works for Iggy Pop.

The zoom on the PowerShot SX50 HS is awesome!

Got a good close-up of him too.

Most of the time, Iggy Pop kept himself on the centre and the right side of the stage, but when he eventually came to the left side of the stage, I was able to take better photos when there wasn’t much shoving going on…

After all that moving around, I'm impressed that there was no panting!

With mineral water in hand, Iggy Pop chills down a bit.

… but that didn’t last very long…

I hope he stays sober...

Iggy Pop singing in a relaxed Captain Morgan-pose.

After all, when you have a sitting with one side of the crowd, it is only fair to have a sitting with the other side of the crowd too.

And then it was fair...

Iggy Pop chills down on the other side of the stage.

Then it was time to say thanks and wave goodbye before the encore.

Cheerful as a cheerleader...

Iggy Pop waves happily to the crowd.

It’s always impressive when the artists on stage try to interact with the crowd. Some say something specific to a random person in the audience. Some get close enough to the audience to shake a few hands or more. Iggy & The Stooges took it a step further. They brought a small chunk of about 20-30 people from the audience up on stage.

Very biblical.

Like a messiah, Iggy Pop shines with his fans on stage…

Not even the cudliest fans on stage could stop him!

… without interrupting his singing, like nothing happened.

I personally love seeing this kind of interactions, but I do have to mention the few downsides with this for the sake of people’s safety. When people enter and leave (or move in any direction at all) in the crowd area, things like shoving, bruising, suffocation and choking are unavoidable and sometimes lethal. Since I was standing less than half a meter away from where everyone entered the stage, I got several blows to my back and head and was often pushed towards the fence in front of the stage, which caused me to lose my breath and almost die. Courtesy isn’t always an available trait when you’re high on excitement, alcohol and/or possibly a random drug and people do end up getting hurt. But wait, it gets worse!

This guy sure likes to get close to people.

Iggy Pop visits the audience off the stage.

Yes, inviting people to the stage wasn’t enough. When Iggy Pop came to my side of the audience, things got lethal again. Arms were showing up everywhere, fingers were in my hair, other people’s hair were in my face, elbows hit my head and back and my stomach and chest were being pressed against the fence again. Even the nice woman next to me got hurt (at least emotionally) when she lost her spot to a pair of hyper youngsters, who’s long hair and arms kept bruising me and blocking some of my shots. This bugged me to the core, because I had Iggy Pop right in front of me and couldn’t see enough to plan a good shot at him with the Canon. But then, as I look through the photos on my computer a couple of days later, I discovered that the PowerShot SX50 HS had a few surprises for me.

And none of them were mine.

Hands were stretching out everywhere to reach Iggy Pop.

Don't ask me why a guy is trying to grab his abs...

Even the touching didn’t mess up his singing!

After that, it got harder to get some good photos, because the closest of the youngsters kept jumping on my foot…

Too bad he's not wearing his jacket here...

Iggy Pop mews on in a lion-like fashion.

Odd, I could barely hear them sing...

Iggy Pop directs the audience.

Go, drummer man, go!

The other Stooges had no problem keeping up the pace.

Then Iggy Pop did a move even I recognized.

Is it just me or was he still singing when he did that?

Iggy Pop spins the microphone above his head and the right side of the audience.

For a energetic man, Iggy Pop sure slobbers like a energetic dog. Whenever I saw him take a swig of water, half of it ended up somewhere else. Unlike some gross rockstars, who like to share their bodily fluids, Iggy Pop kept his liquids away from the audience. Good, because the PowerShot SX50 HS isn’t waterproof and spittle would have ruined my shots. As for the water, I thought singers knew better than to drink carbonated water, because it ruins the vocal cords.

He shouldn't be drinking carbonated water during a performance.

Iggy Pop spitting mineral water on stage.

Even cool rockers need bibs sometimes.

Behold the slobber on Iggy Pop’s chin and chest…

Iggy Pop's a real rockhound!

… and more slobber on the other chest.

But spit wasn’t the only thing I spotted on him. From time to time, there was even a smile on his face.

A contageous smile.

Iggy Pop, smiling with open arms.

... and into the camera.

Iggy Pop, smiling towards the left side of the audience…

Eventually, Iggy Pop left the stage to get his jacket. Strange, considering how hot it was that day. But then again, I was wearing a spring jacket in a warm, crowded audience on a summer’s evening, so it’s no wonder that cold was the last thing on my mind…

Or is it cheetah? Can't tell...

Iggy Pop appears in his leopard-coloured leather jacket.

Nice kitty.

Here’s the back of the jacket.

Then he returned to his usual routine.

There must be some nice people there.

Iggy Pop returns to sing to the right side of the audience…

... which I'm very thankful for, because the camera caught it...

… turns to the left side of the audience…

No water this time.

… and spits all over the stage.


Watch the saliva fly!

Even his teeth got busy!

He must have a very good dentist.

The microphone dangles nicely on Iggy Pop’s teeth.

But then the jacket came off and after some more singing, Iggy Pop made his way back down to ground level.

How touching...

Iggy Pop is reaching out to the audience once again.

After that, it didn’t take long before the concert really ended. Too bad I didn’t get a good photo of Scott Asheton’s drum-solo, because he was way too fast for me to shoot…

I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life and some of them had dangerous things involved with the act, like fireworks or a live animal on stage. This concert was by far the most dangerous concert I’ve ever attended and the act was never intended to be dangerous in the first place. Iggy Pop just likes to get close to his audience and I admire him for that and the audience can’t really help themselves when they see their idol within reach. Because of this, I hold no grudges to those in the audience who almost got me killed. As a matter of fact, if the youngsters who were next to me asked me nicely, I’d even send them the photos of them from the concert with a smile on my face!

So, was the concert worth dying for? Well, it definitely earned a nice 4/5. After so many years, Iggy Pop & The Stooges certainly don’t disappoint. The songs rocked, they all had the energy to perform almost constantly for over an hour and Iggy Pop interacted with the audience the best he could. The only problem was that the danger level made your senses focus on other things than the music itself, so you never really got to enjoy everything to its full capacity. Luckily, I got some nice compensation, thanks to the camera.

The smile alone was worth getting trampled and suffocated.

My favourite photo of the evening.

As an amateur hobby photographer, taking shots like this is like a dream come true. Whenever I look at this photo, it’s like Iggy Pop himself wanted it to be for me, even if my memory tells me that this was a lucky shot (he was about to move his head towards the right side of the audience when I took this shot). I love this photo so much, I even edited it to remove some unwanted scenery and put my alias on it.

Best photo of Iggy Pop ever!

On purpose or not, thank you, Iggy Pop!

This photo definitely made my week and the other photos turned out pretty well too after some editing. As for the concert itself? IT ROCKED!

As for the camera, the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is definitely worth a grade of 4/5. If it adapted faster to the darkness of the surroundings and had the capability to handle tougher weather, this camera would have been absolutely perfect for any form of out-door photography, but the last thing it did was disappoint. It helped me take the most amazing shots ever without even knowing it and I didn’t have to stand so close to get some high-quality shots or a good video. If you’re a total rookie at both movie and regular photography, who wants an easy-to-use camera for any occasion, I recommend this camera highly. It’s also MUCH cheaper than the other alternatives.