Hacking Bangkok Blog

Tech and Living in Thailand's City of Angels

The Hacking Bangkok blog covers I.T. and technology in general, and my experiences working and living in the Kingdom of Thailand. Bangkok has a very long Thai name, which starts with Krung thep - City of Angels.
Bangkok sunset from my bedroom balcony

Friday, December 12, 2008

HTC Touch HD Fondled In Bangkok!

Using her Jedi powers to make me want it...

HTC's new iPhone-sized phone, the Touch HD (for "High Definition") has finally shown up in stores in Bangkok. While not actually HD in the television-sense, it does boast a resolution of 800 x 480 on its monster 3.8" screen. That's both slightly larger than the iPhone's 3.5" screen, and 2.5 times the resolution! Yowza! While not quite as "pixel dense" as the Touch Diamond (which is 640 x 480 but only 2.8"), the Touch HD will let you watch a DVD rip in its full glory, with some horizontal space left over. It also uses the same 528 MHz ARM-based processor as the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro.

The camera (on the back) is 5 megapixels, a nice bump from the 3.2 MP of my Touch Diamond. On the other hand, I end up chopping the size of most of my cam-shots by 50% for the web anyway.

At this particular store, called "Touch", in Central World mall, the Touch HD is selling for the full retail price of 37,400 baht. Then again, they've got the Touch Diamond selling for 27,000 baht, and I only paid 25,500 baht for mine last June (and you can pick one up for 20,000 baht if you wander around MBK for a bit). And, just for comparison, they've got unlocked iPhone 3Gs for 37,000 baht - a premium of 4,000 baht over the haggling-shops of MBK. This store is in a high-end mall, so everything is more expensive than elsewhere.

Speaking of the Touch Diamond - this store also has the new white-backed Touch Diamond version, which looks a lot cooler than I thought it would. But it's only the back that's white - the front is still black (??). I don't get that - but maybe they'll sell just the white back cover for it, so I can fashionably accessorize my phone (NOT!).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Have 3G On My Diamond in Bangkok. Inside the Mall. Which Has WiFi Anway. Nevermind.

I'm not sure what it was that lured convinced me to buy a pre-paid AIS 3G SIM card, but much like the old guy on the right in this photo, I couldn't seem to help myself. In any case, after the leather-clad sales-girls let me use a "demo" sim card in my phone to make sure it worked - including a video-call made to another booth-girl on a different floor - I plunked down my 110 baht, plus 300 baht for 1.5 GB of data (over either EDGE or HSPA) for a pre-paid sim. AIS's 3G service runs on their 900 MHz spectrum, so definitely check with them to make sure your handset will work before signing up (I can confirm that HTC Diamonds do work!).

AIS's prepaid brand is 1-2-call, and the sim-package was sporting a very happy-looking frog wearing a crown. No, I have no idea. Based on the frog's smile, he never leaves Central World though (more on that in a sec). After slipping the sim into my Touch Diamond, and booting up, WinMo helpfully told me that it needed to configure my phone for AIS (I normally use DTAC), after which (this IS Windows) it had to reboot. I had to manually change the "band" selection from "auto" to "WCDMA" for some reason - according to the AIS guy, their mini-cell-tower's software needs to be upgraded.

In keeping with the green animal motif, the plastic card has a picture of a green mouse riding a cheese-mobile. The so-called "Freedom sim" works on AIS's regular GSM network, with all its EDGE mediocrity, wherever 3G isn't up and running yet. That would be practically everywhere. The only 3G coverage is provided by some sort of pico-cells, or mini-cells, in Central World Mall, Siam Paragon (another giant mall), and MBK (the grand-daddy of Bangkok malls), in addition to their original test network in Chiang Mai.

Oh - and the new airport (Suvarnabhumi), which is once again running after recently being the subject of a sit-in by protestors.

The stupid thing about the current state of AIS's mini-cell locations is that all of them have WiFi coverage anyway - True Move offers WiFi (not free) in all of these places, which cost me 250 baht/month on a promotion. I wrote about True recently when checking out a new store/cafe they opened. An AIS employee assured me, though, that the first "real" cell-towers will be upgraded to 3G starting next month, so I'll post back when there's any new info. Until then, though, if your phone has WiFi, you're better off with that.

The low-down on pricing is this: Video calls are 1 baht/minute. Not that therei s anybody to call, except the AIS demo-booth girls. Whether you sign up for a normal post-paid account, or get a pre-paid sim, you need to pick a data plan (since it's a baht per MB if you don't!). All the below are for monthly usage:
  • 100 baht for 500 MB
  • 300 baht for 1.5 GB
  • 500 baht for 2.5 GB
  • 900 baht for 15 GB
  • 1,500 baht for 30 GB
If you're sucking down 30 GB per month, you clearly have a bittorrent problem and should be running that on your DSL at home, but otherwise the prices are not bad! 500 baht (about $14) for 2.5 GB of data is enough for a lot of web-surfing, youtubing, emails and general syncing to Exchange/Zimbra/Gmail or whatever. Google maps is fabulous over 3G, as I discovered in Korea in September. I did a couple of speed-tests using DslReport's "iPhone browser Speed and Latency Test". Given that I'm in Thailand, and the server is likely in the U.S., I was pretty happy with the 491 Kbps and 467 Kbps results in my two tries. It's no 4G WiMax, but it beats EDGE.

So. I don't really want to change phone numbers (no mobile-number-portability-act here!), so sometime in February or March, I'll see what DTAC is up to - if there's less than a 90-day lag before they roll out their service, I'll wait. Otherwise, I'll be back to see the AIS girls!*

*Note - the girl who helped me with the demo admitted she was just hired part-time for this promotion. I asked her if she uses AIS, and she sheepishly admitted that no, she's using DTAC too. LOL.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bangkok's 7-Story Spiral Stairs Using Escalators (take THAT Gizmodo!)

I read Gizmodo pretty often obsessively, and about a week ago they had a brief story (with photos) of a building in Taipei. The 10-story faux "spiral" escalators in Taiwan apparently impressed the Gizmodo editors, so I thought I'd invite them to come check out Central World Plaza shopping mall in Bangkok.

The same basic effect - albeit seven stories instead of 10 - is at the heart of the Bangkok mall's architecture also, and has been for... um... I'm gonna say three years about. Ever since the mega-refurbishment that tripled the size of the already large shopping mecca. So, these are all some shots (taken with my phone-cam, again, sorry!) of my local architecural wonder.

Since it's Christmas time, and even Thailand is not immune from the ever-present Christmas trees, mind-numbing songs about Santa and snow, you can see a gi-normous (fake) tree in the center of the circular (tubular?) space in the middle of the spiral.

I'll post some pics in my next entry of more of Bangkok's wonderfully tacky holiday decorations. Even though I have to enter the mall to do it >>shudder<<.

View from the top - and yes, I should use a real camera for these shots. But a shout-out to Gizmodo for giving me an idea of how to show off some of Thailand's architectural/technological prowess!

Island Wedding - Koh Samui

The weekend before the PAD protestors shut down the two major airports in Bangkok (which are now re-opened, yeah!!!), I flew down to a friend's wedding in Koh Samui. Me being me, I forgot to take a camera along, but luckily the cam in my phone (Touch Diamond) is not too bad in daylight - a "touch" blurry (okay, that was horrible) is all. The ceremony was partly inside, and partly outside (the rain miraculously stopped for the duration of the wedding!)

My friend (Rie) is actually not Thai, she's Japanese/Chinese, and lives in London with her new husband, Tim. So they and their families flew from all over the globe to have the wedding in Samui. Here's a photo of them at the reception, along with Rie's friend Xian (or Chien?), who must be the world's cutest bridesmaid):

And like every good reception, after the newlyweds ride off in a decorated... um.... elephant. Ha! You don't see this at your average wedding:

One of the things that I really love about Thailand is that you can go from being in your high-rise condo watching "Heroes" one day, to watching your newly-married friends trying to ride an elephant on the beach the next. Seriously, this is a great place to live!