Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

The perfect laptop

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The laptop I have now is great, except it’s dreadful battery life

I’d quite like to buy a new laptop.

I am going to Hong Kong very soon and it’s a good place to buy tech.

I bought the laptop I currently use there two years ago. I like its portable form factor, touchscreen and excellent keyboard. A nice keyboard is a priority for me, as a writer.

It’s a Lenovo ideapad S210 Touch. It has a Core i3 processor, 4gb RAM, Windows 8.1, and a 500gb HDD. It cost about £325.

I sometimes open a dozen or more tabs in Chrome and occasionally edit photos and video. Its performance is fine and it has not let me down. Only one thing has been its bane. Woeful battery life.

If it’s not plugged in, it now lasts less than an hour on a charge.

I like to work in cafes, travel not infrequently, and sometimes I have to do some urgent copy-editing, and in those circumstances having a laptop where I don’t need to worry about having to find a power socket would be awesome.

My essentials for a laptop are great battery life and a good keyboard. Desirable would be an HD touchscreen, a light and small form, an SD card slot, and an SSD. The excellent placement of the scrolling buttons (I read a lot) are nice details my Lenovo has.

I’ve looked around a lot. And trying to find the perfect match has been nigh on impossible. The Macbook Pro, with its excellent screen and good battery life, is too heavy. The MacBook is very expensive with a disgusting keyboard.

The Macbook Air has good performance, stellar battery life, and the 11-inch is incredibly portable. I just wish the screen was better.

Windows alternatives are the Dell XPS, Lenovo Yoga 900, and the HP Spectre x360.

The HP is my choice from that list. But I am tempted by the Macbook Air 11-inch’s excellent battery life (which doesn’t deteriorate as fast as Windows laptops) and its extreme portability. I’ve also never had an Apple laptop so I am interested in looking over the OS wall. It’s just a crying shame Apple has not deemed to update the screen.

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As we approach 2016 I decided to buy a brand new smartphone — from 2013. Here’s why.

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I got a new phone to replace my old broken phone. I decided to buy exactly the same model. When it was released in September 2013, the LG G2 cost around £468.

In October 2015, you can buy the Apple iPhone 6S, with its “3D Touch”, for £539. Or you could plump for the super sized curved-edge screen (£629) of the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge +.

The two “hottest” phones on the market right now, for these “flagship” pieces of tech, you pay a premium for “killer” features; top-of-the-line processors, screens and cameras, and, admittedly, the best design.

In September 2013, the LG G2 represented the highest end of “high-end” phones. Numerous tech sites proclaimed it as the best Android phone in the world. A year later, some still thought that was the case.

So it’s worth asking whether a great phone in 2013 is a bad phone in 2015.

And it’s worth asking whether you need all those premium features.

The answer to the first question is obviously not. The LG G2 was described as an “absolute speed demon” when it came out; possesses a gorgeous screen that’s a large 5.2 inches in a relatively small body, and a good camera with optical stabilization.

The price I paid for a brand new LG G2 (colour: black; memory: 32GB) in 2015 was a steal. Exactly how much I’ll let you know later.

I bought my first LG G2 in a phone market in Bangkok in the summer of 2014. It was secondhand and in less than perfect condition. This would prove to be its undoing finally when the screen broke. That first secondhand LG cost me around £180. The iPhone 6S costs £539, about 3x the price. But is it three times better?

You may feel that paying that much more is worth it to buy the best of the best; an intangible feeling of product greatness further justified that perhaps by spending more now you bought a phone that will last longer. But that’s millions of dollars of marketing hype speaking through you.

You can’t blame Apple’s or Samsung’s marketing departments for upspeaking their products’s “flagship premium features”. But the fact so-called tech “journalists” go along for the ride too is reprehensible.

Anyway, enough proselytizing.

My new LG G2 was bought for RMB 970, through Taobao.com — China’s eBay. The best phone of 2013 cost me in 2015 £99.

Six things I really like

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My Redwing boots. They are comfortable, weather resistant, and look great.

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My Accurist watch. They’re a British brand producing watches that are tough and reliable, with a strong sense of style and identity. I’ve had this one since my student days. I’m very attached to it. It cost me £35.

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My Canon camera. It’s kind of a perfect camera, for me. It won’t produce as immediately impressive photos as a Sony RX100 or a DSLR. But the S120’s combination of size, speed, and technical ability makes it super easy to take good, usable photos. As a tool, I’ve sold photos from this camera to Al Jazeera and CNN, more than making back what it cost to buy.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 6, 2015 at 7:21 am

Six Dream Gifts For A Freelance Journalist

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These are six things a freelance journalist rarely can afford, and so she or he would love to receive them as gifts. This summer why not treat your friendly freelancer to one of these items, any of which would make him or her very happy.

The Sony A7 II (left) is a full-frame camera like the Nikon D800 which it is pictured next to. A big selling point is its small size compared to DSLRs.

Sony a7R II, £2,063 (body only)

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DSLR vs Point-and-Shoot: a Journalist’s Consideration

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My Canon Powershot S120, and Canon 450D DSLR; the photo was taken with my crummy mobile phone camera.

My Canon Powershot S120, and Canon 450D DSLR; the photo was taken with my crummy mobile phone camera.

Lately I have been using my digital SLR. It’s a Canon 450D (also known as a Digital Rebel XTi). I’ve had my DSLR since 2008 but in the past two years I’ve neglected it, preferring to use my compact point-and-shoot: a Canon Powershot S120.

I dug out the DSLR as I wanted to walk around my neighborhood, shooting. It’s a very different experience. It’s the physical tangibility, that reassuring weight of a DSLR that is, I think, most influential in changing the approach you take to photography.

However, on journalism assignments and on freelance trips — to Burma, to North Korea — I have left behind the DSLR, and only brought my little camera. This is because the agility of the S120 and the ease of taking a usable photo with it is far quicker and more efficient than a DSLR.

Another thing I noticed when I was out and about with the DSLR was that the mere sight of it, the fact I was stopping and using this quite obviously noticeable camera changed my surroundings. People noticed me more, people actively tried to avoid the camera’s glare, and I, in turn, tried to be more conspicuous.

This is perhaps even more important.

If I used my DSLR in North Korea I would’ve taken fewer pictures and fewer photos of sensitive things, and the North Koreans would’ve been more sensitive to my presence. People have an almost instinctive reaction to a big, professional-looking camera far more than they do to a little compact.

Also, the quality produced by my point-and-shoot compared to the photos coming out of the DSLR are not massively different. With a DSLR, you can see more clarity, more cinematic colours, more depth of field, things that contribute to a more “3D” effect in the photo. But looking at photos taken with my S120 on the internet, you barely register the “inferiority”. For evidence see the photo galleries, which I took with the point-and-shoot, here and here.

I’ve sold photos using the S120 and the value of those images are in the fact they tell a story. The camera was inconsequential.

Sometimes I do feel wistful when I see fellow freelancers scoring photo galleries that I know would be difficult to manage with a compact camera. My friend Brent Crane’s photo story for Condé Nast Traveler is a case in point. The 12-picture gallery — ‘China to Pakistan: Road Tripping Across the World’s Highest Border’ — was shot on Brent’s DSLR and the vibrancy and sweep of the landscape shots are quite detailed in the way only the larger sensors found in DSLRs are capable of.

But I still trust in my little Canon compact to deliver the goods and I don’t foresee myself replacing it with a DSLR on journalism assignments.

Top 5 mobile phones for journalists

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Most productive

The stylus helps to frame the Note 4 as a productivity tool

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Note 4 has a large screen, a top-of-the-line processor to handle multitasking, a very capable camera, and, best of all, a multifunctional stylus with features journalists may find very handy.

The phone has two-day battery life and there is the option of expandable storage with a MicroSD card slot.

The larger screen, which is one of the sharpest and most vivid on the market, is an important feature. Web browsing, having multiple windows open (which the phone allows you to move around and resize), and typing out emails or memos, are all made easier when there’s extra screen space. The downside to this is the phone really has to be handled with two hands in use. But few other phones has the ability to act as a very portable computer as the Note 4 does.

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