011Now Android app has been updated

January 12, 2017 by

We have updated 011Now smartphone app for Android phones to the version 3.2. The international calling app works faster now. As usual first calls are on us – try it for free.

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Get it at Google Play http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.a011Now.a011Now

Ukraine Travel Guide

December 28, 2016 by

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Ukraine can be described as a very large and mysterious country, very little known to “outsiders” (read Westerners) despite its huge size, which makes it one of the biggest countries in Europe.

With a land surface of 603,700 square kilometers and a population just shy of 45 million, Ukraine was always associated with its larger than life neighbor, which is Russia. And by larger than life I don’t mean God President Vladimir Putin, but the fact that Russia is the largest country in the world by a wide margin.

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Now, despite its colossal neighbor, Ukraine  stands out on its own right due to its beautiful scenery and cultural diversity, which is hardly a surprise. Thing is, Ukraine in its current form is a weird place, as it was a former member of the USSR and large territories which nowadays comprise Ukraine were taken from the neighboring countries, including Russia, Romania and Poland. Oh, and I almost forgot Crimea, which was given to Ukraine by Khrushchev, the former USSR president 60 years ago, but now it was taken back by Russia.

The idea is that Ukraine is made from what some are calling an unholy alliance of diverse peoples, hence the cultural diversity which is not always a good thing, especially if we’re considering the de-facto civil war in East Ukraine.

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Thing is, Ukraine is a very interesting place, having a reputation of being home for a tough and “manly” people, hardy folk which are formidable by any metrics. Just like in Russia, smiling at a stranger in an Ukrainian city is deemed as a clear sign of madness, however, once you get to know the place and the ice is broken so to speak, you’ll end up falling in love with Ukraine and its people.

As you’re getting accustomed to the folks around, you’ll be surprised to see how warm they are behind their “cold blue eyes”, as they’ll invite you home for a borscht after showing you around and all that jazz.

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Ukraine’s scenery is also tough, and I mean the outdoor life, especially during the winter, when snow covers most of the country and the temperatures plummet. However, except for the harsh winter, the climate of Ukraine is surprisingly mild during the rest of the year.

Considering Ukraine’s verdant and idyllic interior, which is very natural as in unspoiled, this country is the ideal destination for outdoors enthusiasts, i.e. cyclists and hikers.

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Another thing to contemplate, like an additional reason for visiting Ukraine, are the Carpathian Mountains,  spilling over the border with Hungary, Poland and Romania, offering an epic view as they dominate authoritatively the west of the country, while the eastern region and the center of Ukraine is mostly flat plains carpeted with cereals and sunflowers.

The south of Ukraine is very comparable to the Mediterranean climate, and I am talking about the Black Sea coastline, not to mention the Crimean peninsula, which used to be part of Ukraine until recently, making for one of the most interesting traveling destinations in this part of the world.

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Even in heavy winters, the landscape is still flabbergasting, due to the plethora of Soviet era buildings and old churches where you can dive in and take shelter in case of emergency.

The country’s capital and main city is Kiev, a world famous name, founded in the 8th century and displaying a huge variety of architectural styles and buildings. Kiev used to be the capital of Kievan Rus, which was the precursor of the Russian empire, not to mention the modern Russian Federation, which is basically the same thing running under a different public relations policy. I am just kidding, but then again, who knows for sure?

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One of Europe’s oldest cities is also located in Ukraine, and I am talking about Lviv, a magical place where you can imbibe in baroque architecture and also some magnificent pieces from the Renaissance period.

Odessa is best known for the Potemkin Stairway, which is the place where the legendary The Battleship Potemkin movie was filmed, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Ukraine has been recently in the news (in a bad way I mean) due to the civil war involving Russian separatists on the border, but except for Eastern Ukraine, the rest of the country is perfectly safe to visit anytime.

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Nubia Z11, Play Hard, Go Pro!

December 28, 2016 by

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The Nubia Z11 marks the company’s decisive departure from its ZTE roots, i.e. Nubia split from ZTE and started on its own about a year ago, but in this short period of time, this tiny Chinese company managed to achieve a sort of greatness of its own.

And the  Nubia Z11 is the finest example of what I’ve been telling you in the preamble. While ZTE is a relatively obscure company for the Westerners, and obviously the same can be asserted with regard to Nubia, which is definitely obscured by the clouds of Samsung, Apple, Nokia, Motorola and the like, the former is usually fighting a war on the middle Earth.

Of course, if you’ve been watching the Lord of the Rings, or God forbid, you’ve read the book, by middle Earth I mean the mid-range front. What I am trying to tell you is that ZTE is concentrating on building cheap and capable mid-range droids, while the  Nubia Z11 is the definition of a flagship by any metrics.

Boasting solid high-end specs and design, a stylish and sexy exterior and many other refinements, the  Nubia Z11 has all the features for becoming a best seller. However, the sad part of the story is that despite its obvious qualities, the  Nubia Z11 will fail to make the company great. Why?

Well, because that’s how the world works, marketing is 90% of success and branding is everything. But let’s not anticipate.

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To begin with, the  Nubia Z11 comes in a cleverly designed (on two levels) box , in the company’s signature red and black colors. What’s worth mentioning about its content is the premium pair of headphones the  Nubia Z11 comes with and the USB Type C cable, which features a cool mini USB to Type C adapter.

The smartphone is cleverly designed, with the curvy front panel boasting smart optics which simulate an edge to edge screen while the back panel is made from metal. The screen is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 whilst the ARC 2.0 design, besides looking cool it provides some level of shatter protection, featuring a buffering-layer between the chassis metal frame and the screen’s glass.

The overall design of the  Nubia Z11 is minimalist and I mean that in a good way, as this baby reminds me of old school Nokia Lumias or Sony Xperias, which I totally love, though the front looks like an iPhone ripoff.

The chassis is built using Series 6000 aluminum, which is light and sturdy, feels premium and provides excellent grip for your hand.

The display is essentially bezel-less and it looks quite impressive, measuring 5.5 inches and boasting full HD 1080p resolution, with a 403 pixels per inch density.

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Overall, the display quality is above average, wit impressive color accuracy, good contrast and excellent sunlight legibility, considering that what we’re dealing with here is not an AMOLED.

Connectivity wise, the  Nubia Z11 has it all, ranging from 4G LTE on both SIM (yes, it’s a hybrid-dual SIM), VoLTE support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a 3.5 mm headphone jack (the sound quality is impressive due to the audiophile-grade DAC inside the smartphone), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, USB Type C and the whole nine yards.

The battery is a sealed-in 3000 mAh variety which comes with an endurance rating of 76 hours, and that’s quite enough in my view, offering at least 2 days of autonomy on a single charge even if you’re an enthusiastic smartphone aficionado.

The  Nubia Z11 runs on a custom version of Android, the Nubia UI 4.0, which is clean and subtle, works/runs well and all that jazz.

Considering that under the hood you’ll find a cool Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset and an Adreno 530 GPU with 4 GB of RAM, which all they have to take care of is a full HD display instead of a QHD, it’s needless to say that the  Nubia Z11 is a true powerhouse in terms of performance.

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The only thing that keeps it from achieving true greatness is the Nubia 4.o UI, which needs more optimization. The camera is a fairly common 16 MP variety featuring the IMX298 Exmor RS sensor, with OIS and all the bells and whistles expected from a flagship, offering a more than satisfying multimedia experience and 4 K videos, nota bene.

Bottom line, if you don’t care about the branding on your droid, the Nubia Z11 is an excellent choice, i.e. you’ll get high-end quality and features for a low-mid-range price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lebanon Travel Guide

December 27, 2016 by

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Lebanon is a true gem of a traveling destination, being home to beautiful golden beaches, the Mid-East’s most famous party-city and blessed with quite a few World Heritage Sites. Basically, Lebanon has all the ingredients for becoming a hot-spot on any intrepid tourist’s bucket list, making for a classic yet hugely understated traveling destination.

However, the understated part is relatively normal and understandable, considering the country’s troubled past and the current reality which is pretty far from being rosy, to say the least. The thing is that Lebanon is still recovering from its violent civil war which raged into the country for fifteen years, from 1975 to 1990.

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Nowadays, this tiny 10,452 square kilometers country with a 6 million population is affected by its bordering Syrian conflict, which spills refugees across its borders. Not to mention the fact that Bekaa Valley, which is very close to Lebanon is a stronghold of Hezbollah, a militant group supported by Iran. The idea is that caution is required for Lebanon’s visitors.

Nevertheless, Lebanon is today a relatively peaceful country which welcomes visitors from all around the world, even if the peace is somewhat fragile. Beirut, the country’s capital was regarded before the civil war as the Paris of the Middle East and today it makes for a very friendly and warm party town, which is almost sandwiched between the foothills of Lebanon Mountain and the Mediterranean Sea.

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Basically, this beautiful city is located between the sea and the mountains, which makes it the ideal place for starting visiting Lebanon. This bustling city is world renowned for its dramatic coastline, its friendly and welcoming people and, very important for food aficionados, for its delicious cuisine which is arguably the best in the Middle East.

Sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Arabia, Lebanon benefited from the best (and some say from the worst) of both regions. Influences from the West and the East abound and, unlike in other muslim countries, it’s not uncommon to hear DJs competing with the muslim call to prayer in the livelier parts of Beirut.

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The city’s buildings are still marked by the past military conflicts, yet Beirut is a progressive, forward and out of the box thinking capital, where the biggest issue nowadays is not terrorism but traffic congestion.

Truth be told, if you’re a Westerner, crossing the road in Beirut may seem like an extreme sport, at least initially, before getting accustomed with the rules of the land so to speak, or the lack thereof.

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Despite its tiny size, Lebanon harbors no less than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including one of the world’s oldest Phoenician ports, the city of Byblos respectively, together with the ancient remains of Baalbeck, located in a sensitive area, the one I’ve told you previously, the Hezbollah controlled Bekaa Valley, making for one of the most representative examples of Greco-Roman pieces of architecture still standing.

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Other highlights of visiting Lebanon include old and impeccably preserved Christian monasteries in the Holy Valley, because Lebanon, just like Syria and Egypt back in the day, was one of the first Christian countries in the world. After the Islamic expansion, they were conquered and submitted to muslim rule in the 9th and 10th centuries AC.

The country is also renowned world wide for its magnificent cedar forests, as well as for its ancient cities, the likes of Tripoli and Tyr, with the former being home to one of the oldest seaports in the world.

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If all these historical sites are not enough for you, dear reader, you can always go skiing on Mount Lebanon, regardless how weird this may sound for you, as Lebanon is not exactly the most obvious place in the world for hitting the slopes. Regardless, Lebanon is one of those rare places where you can enjoy the sun, beautiful sandy beaches and skiing in just one day, and that’s what makes the country unique.

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Xiaomi Mi 5S Review, Raising the Bar

December 27, 2016 by

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The Xiaomi Mi 5S was released back in April, the (still) current year and truth be told, the smartphone market has changed dramatically since then. While the Xiaomi Mi 5S is the proud successor of the hugely successful 5 series, not to mention the incredibly popular Redmi-mid range lineup, there are some things to consider.

First, the competition in the high end market with regard to smartphones is unprecedented. Second, one should consider the demise of the former king, the Galaxy Note 7, together with the release of the iPhone 7, Google Pixel and the LG V20.

Basically, the flagship realm is a pretty crowded place nowadays and with the Xiaomi Mi 5S, this relatively small company, the underdog of sorts is trying to pick a fight with the big dogs.

What the Xiaomi Mi 5S is doing is to take after where the Xiaomi Mi 5 left off, and yes indeed, these guys did a wonderful job. The 5s really managed to improve the smartphone’s flagship status, in small incremental steps. Well, sort of. For example, the new Xiaomi Mi 5S runs on the high end Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 system on chip, which is the latest and greatest around. The internal storage capacity was upped, while the glass panels, which look cool but they’re very frail were nixed in favor of a full metal jacket-unibody design.

Everything sounds pretty awesome, don’t you think? Let’s take a closer look, right after the break.

The smartphone measures 145.6 x 70.3 x 8.3 millimeters, which is almost identical compared with the Mi 5, but it gained a little bit of weight, standing at 145 grams, i.e. 16 grams more than the previous gen.

Design wise, the Mi  5s looks similar to the 5, having curved sides all around the back panel, a glass front panel, but for the rest of the deal, the company switched to metal, which is great news. I mean, metal instead of glass.

The Mi 5 was really fragile, hence the aluminum unibody of the 5s is awesome for the brand’s aficionados.

The display on the Xiaomi Mi 5s is an IPS variety, a 5.15 inches wide screen with full HD resolution, featuring a 428 pixels per inch density. This is more than respectable, even if there’s no AMOLED around, nor the latest QHD which is all the rage nowadays though it doesn’t make any difference in real life on such a small display. However, full HD vs QHD translates into great news performance wise, so I don’t really mind the lack of quad HD nor the AMOLED screen (or the lack thereof).

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The only problem with this display is that Xiaomi failed (again) to mention if they used any type of glass protection. For example, the Mi 5 was famous for how easy its display got scratched, so I’d suggest you to buy a screen protector ASAP for your Mi 5/5s. Other than that, the display is great, with excellent viewing angles and almost perfect color reproduction, being among the best out there from all points of view (contrast, dynamics, color saturation etc).

The Xiaomi Mi 5s comes with a solid 3200 mAh battery which offers an endurance rating of 84 hours, which sounds great. In the connectivity department, this droid has it all, including LTE Cat.9, USB Type C, Wi-Fi/Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS etc.

The smartphone runs on Android Marshmallow out of the box, with the company’s proprietary UI (MIUI 8) on top, due to the fact that Google services are not accessible (as in banned by the Chinese communist government) in mainland China, so Xiaomi had to refocus its ecosystem away from Google. Don’t worry, international versions of the Mi 5s are shipped with a standard ROM, i.e. Google et al are all working as they are supposed to.

Performance wise, the QsD 821 working together with 3 GB/4 GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU, meaning that everything runs smooth and hassle free, including the latest games or the power-hungry apps. From the hardware point of view, the Xiaomi Mi 5s is a beast, there’s no way around it.

The camera on-board is a 12 MP variety flaunting the latest Sony IMX 378 sensor, with all the bells and whistles possible sans the OIS, unfortunately. In daylight, the camera performs exemplary, both when it comes to stills and videos, but in low lighting conditions, there are better ones out there.

Finally, the Xiaomi Mi 5s has all the characteristics of a flagship and it’s an easy smartphone to recommend, due to its features vs price ratio, where it’s basically unbeatable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portugal Travel Guide

December 27, 2016 by

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Portugal means orange in more than one language and I bet you did not know that! However, besides being maybe the only country in the world named after a delicious fruit, Portugal is a very interesting traveling destination by any metrics.

With a land surface of 92, 345 square kilometers and a population of 10.3 million, Portugal sits on the shores of the Atlantic ocean, or vice-versa, depending upon your system of reference. The country boasts its friendly people, its vibrant and cosmopolitan cities, together with traditional villages and a beautiful scenery.

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Visiting Portugal will make for a memorable experience, as you’ll be flabbergasted by the country’s rolling countryside, its stunning golden beaches with the Atlantic lapping upon its shores, not to mention the abundance of UNESCO World Heritage sites, the likes of the fifteenth century port (impeccably preserved) of Angra do Heroismo or, why not, the prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa.

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Portugal has something to offer for everybody and that’s quite rare in such a small country. Lisbon is the main city and the country’s capital, a lively city with an incredibly energetic night life. Porto (just like the wine, yes indeed) is its vibrant Northern counterpart, the second largest city in Portugal and a true joy to explore and discover.

Both Porto and Lisbon are old-school cities, classic European architecture gems, with still-working trams which are rattling up and down hills, or along promenades, with majestic plazas, narrow and mysterious (even romantic) side streets, bohemian cafes and hip night clubs, alluring boutiques and world class restaurants.

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However, there’s more to see in Portugal than Porto and Lisbon. Thing is, as Portugal was conquered by muslims (Moors) back in the day, just like Spain, parts of Italy etc, the conquerors left behind a number of stunning palaces and mosques. In Portugal’s case, Sintra is the place to visit if you want to admire a former Moorish castle which is nowadays the National Palace. Other sites worth seeing are the dramatic villa of Quinta de Regaleira, not to mention the ancient cities of Guimaraes, Coimbra, Evora and Braga, all boasting their medieval charm and beautiful architecture. Evora is (very unusual) harboring a chapel that was build one hundred percent from human bones, which is very creepy to say the least, but it makes for the ideal place to visit if you’re into horror movies and cool stories to tell to your friends and family.

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For rural aficionados, Portugal will provide an unique opportunity to wander around the country’s ancient vineyards, or to trek the beautiful mountains in search of old stone-made villages, not to mention Portugal’s magnificent shoreline in the south, where you can take full advantage of the warm and sunny weather even now, in December.

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If you’re old and tired, don’t worry, as you can relax your bones in the sun as you drop in on a sleepy sulfur spa, and then, reinvigorated and healthy once again, hop around and enjoy the Pousadas, which makes for an exquisite collection of monasteries and covenants, which were converted into beautiful accommodations for the intrepid tourists.

For outdoors enthusiasts, Portugal has much to offer, and I am not talking about the country’s secluded beaches and imposing cliffs on the coastline. What I mean is that Portugal is the perfect place to visit if you’re into surfing waves, horseback riding, hill hiking, paddling down rivers, diving shipwrecks, or, last but not least, exploring ancient Roman ruins or Moorish castles, between having the time of your life playing golf on some of the world’s best courses.

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Portugal is also sovereign over a couple of offshore islands, the likes of Berlenga and Madeira, not to mention the Azores Archipelago, where you can go look for the elusive and mythical remains of the Atlantis.

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ZTE Axon 7 Review, Cheerful&Cheap Flagship

December 26, 2016 by

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The ZTE Axon 7 is the definition of the best bang for the buck if it ever was one with regards to smartphones. But don’t get me wrong: this baby is by no means cheap looking nor cheap feeling.

Truth is, if you disregard the branding on the shell, the ZTE Axon 7 can easily run along withe the big boys on the market. Basically, this cheap and beautiful droid has all the ingredients of a flagship, sans the hefty price tag.

Are you starting to get the picture just yet?

If not, keep reading, you’re in for the real deal.

The ZTE Axon 7 is built following the philosophy that you should afford a high end smartphone which looks and feels gorgeous without having to put a second mortgage on your house. And who doesn’t agree with that premise?

The end result is nothing short of amazing, as the ZTE Axon 7 is great both externally, as per design/build quality and internally, i.e. the hardware platform/specs/performance.

Another truth to be told is that building a cheap yet highly advanced smartphone is not an easy task. Compromises are unavoidable, yet the ZTE Axon 7 has so few of them, it’s truly remarkable. The only disadvantages are the lack of a removable battery and no back-lighting on the front facing buttons. But that’s about it.

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So, let’s start the show with the hardware overview. The smartphone ships in an elegant box, which is also modest, i.e. it doesn’t look cheap, nor tries to impress. It’s exactly spot-on. The box contains a quick charge 3.0 power adapter, a premium set of headphones, an USB Type C cable, a SIM card ejector tool, an adapter (Type-C to micro USB) and even a silicon case.

Nothing short of amazing, isn’t it?  The Axon measures 151.7 x 75 x 7.9 millimeters and weighs 175 grams, boasting a design which is like a breath of fresh air, as the company managed to pull out a smartphone with a character of its own, both stylish and outlandish.

The Axon 7 looks and feels premium from any angle so to speak, featuring a cool aluminum-made unibody design, with subtle lines which emphasize the company’s attention to detail.

The droid flaunts an excellent 5.5 inches wide AMOLED display of quad HD resolution, which translates into an impressive 538 pixels per inch density. There’s also the hugely popular 2.5 D glass design, making for a gorgeous display if it ever was one.

The ZTE Axon 7 ships with a 3250 mAh lithium-polymer battery which comes with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, boasting a 70 hours of endurance rating, which is nothing short of respectable.

Connectivity wise, it’s worth mentioning the USB Type-C port, the LTE Cat.7, the hybrid nano-SIM slot, the full set of Wi-Fi standards and even the almost extinct 3.5 mm headphone jack. The smartphone comes loaded with an Android fork, i.e. the company’s proprietary MiFavor 4.0 user interface on top of the standard Android OS.

The hardware department is taken care of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 system on chip, which is pretty much the nec plus ultra of today’s high end smartphones, but considering the price range of the ZTE Axon 7, the choice for the QSD 820 is rather amazing.

The GPU is an Adreno 530 powerhouse and truth be told, the performance level offered by the Axon 7 is truly spectacular. In this writer’s opinion, this baby could have fought toe to toe with any other smartphone in the world if it would have ran on pure Android, i.e. sans the relatively poor software optimization (the proprietary UI), the smartphone would have been better.

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The camera is a 20 MP snapper and it uses the hugely popular Samsung Isocell sensor, with the frontal lens made using sapphire crystal in order to prevent scratching. There’s optical image stabilization on board, as well as on sensor phase detection auto-focus and the whole nine yards of a respectable flagship in the photo department. Photo quality is great, minus the Panorama mode, whilst the smartphone is capable of recording 4K video/UHD@30 fps.

Bottom line, ZTE is spot on with its latest Axon 7, which is a meticulously built high end smartphone, with sleek looks and top notch design and hardware. The price is very reasonable to say the least and that concludes today’s review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotland Travel Guide

December 24, 2016 by

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Scotland makes for one of the most iconic regions in the United Kingdom, having a land surface of 78,772 square kilometers and a population of 5.2 million.

Scotland is packed full with romantic lochs (that’s lakes if you don’t speak “Scottish”), sky high epic mountains, cultured cities populated by a fiercely proud people and rugged coastlines, all these features making for Scotland to be a truly incredible traveling destination, if it ever was one.

Every day spent in Scotland will make for a unique experience, whether you’ll be savoring a glass of scotch on the rocks or quaffing smoked salmon, enjoying a single malt in the glens or tracking the Jacobite army at Culloden battlefield, or experiencing the life of blue bloods at Stirling castle, Scotland has much to offer its visitors.

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If you’re a culture buff, you’ll have the time of your life trailing Harry Potter while visiting the genuine Hogwarts Express, or visiting local craft breweries sipping an original Scottish ale during an awesome music festival, or laughing your arse out while attending a stand up comedy at world famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

If you’re an ancient history aficionado, don’t worry, as you can literally travel back in time, some five thousand years ago whilst visiting the burial tombs and neolithic settlements at Orkney, a site listed on UNESCO’s world heritage catalog. Or, why not, immerse your soul into Scotland’s colored past at forts and citadels, the likes of Finlarig or the Eilean Donan Castle.

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Despite its relatively compact “size”, Scotland is the definition of a strong essence kept inside a tiny bottle, if you’re familiar with that saying, and I bet you are lad.

For urban dwellers, Scotland’s largest (and equally famous) cities, i.e.  Glasgow and Edinburgh will provide you with a taste of the old continent, boasting exceptional art galleries, traditional “Scottish” (read English) pubs, though the locals will strongly disagree, innovative restaurants, stylish boutiques, hip hotels and chic cocktail bars, though Scotland is all about scotch for social drinkers. And, why not, maybe a pint of that black stuff, landlord (Guinness if you’re not familiarized with the lingo).

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Beyond its beautiful and vivid cities, Scotland is also harboring delightful abbey towns, remote Highland communities where the Gaelic language is still alive, epic coastal villages, all these places being able to entice travelers with their scenic walks, picturesque buildings and a warm and welcoming people. The only trouble you’ll have in Scotland is the language, as English doesn’t seem to be the lingua franca on these lands.

A crash course in the Scottish dialect will definitely help you with getting around in Scotland, prior to your arrival, if you know what I mean. Scotland is also home for a bunch of eccentric festivals, things like porridge making competitions and classic Highland games, including hammer throwing and caber tossing.

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For outdoors enthusiasts, Scotland is a dream come true, being a place where adrenaline junkies will feel like a Muslim visiting Mecca. You can test your nerves and courage climbing the Glencoe ice falls, go down the rapids in Perthshire or trek along the outstanding views and dramatic glens of West Highland Way.

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If you’re into sightseeing, Scotland is the place where you can admire the elusive wild cat in the world famous Cairngorms National Park, or you may go salmon fishing on the Tweed River, whale watching in Orkneys and finally, tee off at Saint Andrews.

Last but not least, if you feel lucky enough, you may very well seel out Loch Ness’s “Nessie”, the famous and mystical monster-resident which whether it exists or not, it manages to attract tens of thousands of visitors  year after year.

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As per food and drinks, don’t forget Scotland’s famous haggis, porridge, smoked salmon, cullen skink and the country’s most famous export, the scotch whiskey.

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Google Pixel XL, A New Sheriff in Town!

December 23, 2016 by

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Google is widely known as world’s best search engine and recently, the tech giant decided to go all in and provide its fan-base with a smartphone too. You know that Android is yet another Google product, so Google now has a search engine, world’s best, a mobile OS, world’s best and…a new couple of smartphones.

Thing is, Google released two Pixels, but today we’ll talk about the bigger one, the XL version. The vanilla one is called simply Pixel and I’ll write about it in a future article.

Google’s Pixel is the answer to Samsung’s Galaxy line, but the Pixel line is more like Apple’s iPhone so to speak, i.e. both smartphones are high-end devices. Unlike the already nixed Nexus line, which offered an awesome Android experience whilst playing in the best bang for the buck category, the Pixels are hefty pieces of gear, just like iPhones.

Another truth is that the Pixel moniker was first used in a Chromebook and later on an Android running tablet, but now…well, that’s the way of the world. In this writer’s opinion, Nexus was the best moniker for an Android running device, coming directly from a legendary SF novel, Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, or Blade Runner.

Pixel doesn’t inspire much thought, but that’s none of my business. Getting back to our review, what’s up with the Google Pixel XL after all?

Well, to begin with, this droid comes at a hefty price tag and it’s as premium as it gets, both in terms of hardware and craftsmanship.

Software (read Android) is Google’s play-ground, but hardware…well, that’s a novelty for the company. Will they be capable to flex their muscles considering the competition from Apple and Samsung?

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That will be for the market to decide, but I must tell you that the Pixel XL is the most expensive Google smartphone to date. The chassis is built from aerospace grade aluminum alloy, which is all the rage nowadays. Also, there’s a weird glass window on the rear panel, whilst the smartphone offers IP53 certification, which means dust/splash resistance (not proof).

The display is a 5.5 inches wide AMOLED variety of QHD resolution, with an impressive 534 pixels per inch density, featuring 2.5 D/Gorilla Glass 4 protection and 100% NTSC.

The whole show is powered by a Quad Core Kryo system on chip, helped along by an Adreno 530 GPU and 4 GB of RAM. The SoC is Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 821, meaning that the Pixel XL will be able to run all the games and apps smoothly and without effort.

Obviously, the Pixel XL comes preloaded with the last Android, the 7.1 Nougat respectively and it offers 2 years of OS upgrades from its original launching date, along with 3 years of security updates. The main camera is a 12.3 megapixels variety, with an f/2.0 aperture lens. 1.5 µm pixels, dual LED, laser/phase auto-focus, 2160p/1080p video recording capabilities at up to 120 frames per second.

The native storage is 32 GB or 128 GB, non-expandable unfortunately, whilst the secondary selfie camera has a resolution of 8 MP.

The XL is fingerprint ready, it boasts Android Pay, LTE Cat 9/11, NFC, GLONASS, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, USB Type C and a fast charging 3450 mAh battery.

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Now, the question is, why would you buy it after all, considering that it costs $800? Well, to begin with, the smartphone is built actually by HTC. The camera is among the best on the market, you’ll get 2 years of guaranteed updates directly from Google, it’s the best droid currently on the market without a doubt, the build quality is awesome though the aesthetics are a mixed bag, the display is very good but not the best AMOLED out there, the battery life is decent but it could have been better, the Photos app is stellar, it has the best digital assistant on the market, the QSD 821 is very fast but on par with older flagships running on the 820, the selfie snapper is amazing, the main camera features HDR+ which makes it the best out there, the video quality is superb. Oh, and there’s no dual-camera setup, which kind of sucks.

Now, it’s up to you to decide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Czech Republic Travel Guide, Fairy Tale Land

December 7, 2016 by

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The Czech Republic is a relatively small country in the European Union, with a land surface of 78, 866 square kilometers and a population of roughly 10 million. However, strong essences are kept in small bottles, hence the Czech Republic can be best described as a historic jewel located at the heart of Western Europe, boasting its impeccably preserved medieval towns, majestic palaces and castles, top notch spas and beautiful touristic resorts, not to mention the country’s scenic national parks.

Truth be told, despite having a relatively low profile from a globe trotter’s point of view, the Czech Republic has a lot to offer especially if you like beer. Because world’s finest beer is made in the Czech Republic, yes indeed, and I am talking about Budweiser folks. Are you interested just yet?

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Now, the beating heart of the Czech Republic is the culture crammed capital and main city Prague, a unique place which is dubbed as being the city of a thousand spirits, and I am not talking about alcohol again,don’t worry. Prague is home for beautiful cathedrals and churches whilst its cobbled streets, lanes and beautiful bridges dating back to the medieval age are all overshadowed by a castle which looks like it was teleported here from a fairy tale by Disney or something.

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Add to all these a pinch of fine restaurants, ancient monuments, bustling markets and old breweries, not to mention a fine selection of jazz clubs and you’ll understand why visiting Prague will make for an experience to remember.

However, if you’re just a city slicker who doesn’t like to explore the great outdoors, well, you don’t know what you’re missing. The Czech Republic harbors a number of extraordinary attractions for outdoors enthusiasts, just a short drive from Prague actually, and I am talking about the world renowned springs at Karlovy Vary. Or, why not, the humongous Karlstejn, an incredibly beautiful Gothic castle, not to mention Kutna Hora,  the horror church built using human bones. Or, last but not least, Plzen, the city who gave the world pilsner beer.

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The Czech Republic was formerly part of the communist republic of Czechoslovakia but after the Velvet Divorce that took place in 1993, Slovakia and the Czech Republic split up and the latter has emerged way more popular in terms of attracting tourists from all around the world. And its appeal is truly understandable, considering the country’s natural assets, like the epic wine growing county of Monrovia, which boasts its lush rolling hills, being the definition of vineyard country or cities like Olomouc and Brno, where traditional spirits and foods are attracting gourmets even from France, which is the world’s food and wine capital.

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Krkonose boasts its snow capped mountain scenery, not to mention the eerie rock formations you can admire in Cesky Raj, or Sumava National Park’s wild forests and, last but not least, the impeccably preserved medieval town of Cesky Krumlov which is proudly listed on Unesco’s World Heritage Site.

Obviously, the Czech Republic is way more than just the sum of all its natural beauty, cities and incredible sights, being a proud nation with a friendly and forthright people and even if it’s relatively petite as far as countries go, it will leave a strong impression especially if this is the first time you’re travelling to Europe.

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And while natural beauty and the country’s medieval atmosphere are as unique as they get, visiting the Czech Republic is a fine opportunity to enjoy the country’s hearty cuisine and excellent beer. The Czech food is dominated by meat, served with potatoes and bread, sometimes dumplings and lots of sauces. Germany, Hungary and Austria really influenced the Czech cuisine, in a big way actually but that’s a great thing in my view. Specialties include roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut, thick beef stews served with a rich onion base and bread dumplings, deep fried Edam cheese served with fries and tartar sauce, pancake made from baked potato, breadcrumbs, garlic and egg, pot roasted beef tenderloin and veggies served with cream cheese sauce and cranberries, steak tartar seasoned with egg yolk and above all else, everything tastes better with a bottle of Budweiser Budvar, arguably the best beer in the world.

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