SerVme: Restaurant Reservations – Lebanese App of the Week

With almost 30 restaurants in Lebanon already on board, this streamlined, responsive app is the perfect reservation app I’ve used. Today, Lebanon’s fast becoming like the other parts of the world where you can do everything on your mobile through an app. From ordering cabs, to transferring funds, it’s all coming. So, it’s only natural to want to reserve for that date without having to call a 01 number and being put on hold and your name misspelled.

SerVme is a really cool app that has everything you need to decide if you wanna reserve at a restaurant. You can filter by location, cuisine, amenities and price range. It includes places like Mayrig, Batchig, Fred, Urbanista and others. Keep in mind the restaurants listed are ones that normally would take reservations. So, don’t expect to find Malek El Tawouk on the list.

I’ll let the screenshots do the rest of the talking. Download it on Google Play, or the App Store.

Lebanese App of the Week: Tari’ak’s Realtime Traffic

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Traffic is a daily disaster every Lebanese person grows up with. Eventually, we start understanding certain patterns on the routes we take most often. But, other times, we find ourselves venturing to parts we rarely go to, or can’t foresee an accident/tire burning/roadworks episode that causes even more traffic.

Tari’ak is a gorgeously designed, lightweight and fast application that shows you the traffic across Beirut and parts of Lebanon where the data is available. The idea is simple, it uses smartphones as traffic monitors, so, the more users on it, the better the data. The traffic intensity is color-coded, with green being OK, orange being somewhat and red being heavy traffic.

What’s also nice, is that you cans see the entries by street, instead of on the map, to quickly try to figure out an alternative route. I’ve been using it for a few months now, and can safely say I’m super satisfied. It keeps getting better too, with more areas covered and better realtime traffic reports.

Download it on Google Play here, and the the App Store here.

Huawei P6 Review

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Firstly, let’s try to get the name right. It’s very hard to pronounce for most us, and after doing some research, I noticed that the general consensus is is that the “H” is silent, and you should pronounce it “Wow-wee.” So, with that out of they way, let’s get to the review:

Interface

It’s weird. The fact there is no separate app grid where all the apps can be navigated through like Android phones usually do, needs a couple of days to get used to. Personally, I just changed the custom launcher to Nova Launcher, which I’m more used to and it ran seamlessly on the P6. The touched-up UX of the P6 is great though. Visually, it tries to be more iOS-like with standard-square-shaped icons and no separate app grid, but all the perks that make Android my choice are still there, with a drop-down menu that makes everything important a couple of strokes away.

Battery

Battery life is pretty impressive for the “world’s slimmest smartphone”. It lasts a good 10-12 hours with 3G and WiFi on and mid-to-heavy usage. Unfortunately, I used the wrong charger and battery life is somewhat less now, with a full 8 hours of heavy usage after almost two months with the device. So I recommend you always use the charger the manufacturer gives you with the phone.

Camera: Selfie Heaven

With an 8MP main camera, it’s pretty standard with HDR and beauty-face settings, and lots of filters and modes to play with. The real gem is the front-facing secondary camera, which is 5MP: a huge improvement from the standard 1.3MP front-facing cameras on most smartphones. So, Skyping and taking selfies will be a lot more rewarding with the P6. As for the main camera, it’s gorgeous, and here’s a few examples of shots I took with it and edited and posted on my Instagram, and they were absolutely breathtaking.

Processing and Speed

It’s an impressive 1.5GHz quad-core, so it’ll never lag and has never crashed with me, and I am quite the heavy user with dozens of apps running simultaneously while uploading files and casting YouTube videos on my Chromecast, and it still works like a charm. For the price tag, getting such great features is quite the bargain with similar handsets in the 600-700USD mark in Lebanon.

Look and Feel

It’s a pretty sleek and sexy device, with a nice finish and a very slim unibody with a rounded bottom that makes the standard angular smartphone a little customized for this device. The audio jack and power socket are oddly placed, with the audio jack on the bottom left side instead of on the top or bottom of the phone, and the power socket is on the top right, instead of on the bottom center like usual. The audiojack can need some time to get used to, and may be a challenge to put in your pocket, but, it works after you get used to it. It’s elegant and gorgeous overall.

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Storage

With just 4GB of storage, it’s a must to get extra space, and unlike many other smartphones like it, it allows as much extra space as you need. I have a 32GB micro SD card, and installed the apps on it instead of the built-in memory, and still worked like a charm and no lag in speed whatsoever. Transferring apps and files from the phone’s storage to the micro SD card is also super easy and built in, so it’s got that going for it.

General Verdict

I loved this phone. First, it’s proud to say it’s from China, unlike “Designed by X in California” and “assembled in China” somewhere unreadable. I mean, let’s face it, most things are made in China, even the luxury items. Second, for the price of somewhere around 450 USD, it’s definitely a real deal-maker when it comes to flagship-status Android smartphones. Of course, it’s no Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5S, but it definitely is up to par with phones like the S4 and iPhone 5. So, it’s a phone you really should consider if you’re not ready to spend 700-800USD for a smartphone, this is a serious contender for awesome specs and really good deal.

7 BBM Questions Answered

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1- Do I Need To Subscribe to the Blackberry Service?

No, you don’t. BBM used to be a service provided by RIM (the Blackberry company) and you used to get an email too back in the day. Today, it’s a cross-platform application which only needs Internet connection (WiFi or a mobile data connection)

2- Where Do I Download it From?

Last month, it was a “leaked” version, that’s why we had to supply you with links to file sharing websites like 4shared, Zippyshare and Dropbox. Now, it’s finally been officially released on Android and iOS, and here are the download links:

ANDROID  // iOS

3- Why Do I Have to Wait if I Downloaded the App?

If you already had a BBM account (like I did), you just need to sign in. If not, you have to wait for RIM to send you an email since they wanna roll the app out gradually to make sure the servers don’t overload like it did with the leaked version. So, have patience, or try to remember the account you had if you ever carried a BlackBerry before.

4- What’s a BBpin?

The BBpin is sorta like your username, it’s one way others can add you on their BlackBerry Messenger. To access your pin immediately, all you need to do is type: “mypin” and hit space in the app, and it’ll automatically turn into your pin (which is an alphanumeric code that’s a bit hard to remember). Of course, you can also text it to someone, scan their barcode or just search for their email.

5- I Added Someone, But Can’t Talk to Them

Make sure they accepted your request. Unlike Whatsapp, people need to confirm you before you can chat with them. Also, having their number in your contact list doesn’t mean they’ll automatically appear like with Whatsapp. Think of BBM as more private, user-controlled chat platform.

6- What’s S, D and R?

S meant sent, which mean the message was sent from your device to your contact’s

D means the message arrived to your contact, but they haven’t read it/opened the chat

R means that they read your message/opened the chat

This is awesome because you can ignore someones’ message without worrying they’ll see your “last seen”. I’m sure this will make a lot of relationships less stormy =P

7- How Can I Remove the BBM Icon from my Status Bar?

On Android, all you have to do is go to the BBM app, hit settings, and turn off “BBM Connected Icon” (that’s one new thing in the official version)

8- If You’re Cool, Add Me

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Special Thanks to Georges Asmar for his help gathering these FAQs

Samsung Galaxy S4 Review + Video

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I love Androids. They’ve been my main phones for 4 years now, and I’ve carried the S1, S2, Galaxy Note 2 and now carry the S4. The beauty of a Samsung Android is that it combines the cool perks of Samsung hardware with the versatility and customizability of Android. I’ll walk you through the main features and hope you’ll enjoy the video shot by my good friend Carl Halal.

Design

It’s a revamped version of the S3, with almost equal dimensions and very similar shape. The most obvious differences is a larger screen (with arguably the crispest, most vivid resolution on the market now) and slightly less-rounded edges. It’s also extremely light, and has a nice, subtle polka-dot like pattern finishing. The flash is also under the lens, instead of to its side.

All in all, the device looks gorgeous, and even though the polycarbonate unibody might be more appealing to many, I still prefer the ability to pop the hood and remove the battery whenever I want to without using hairpins to open up my SD and SIM card slots.

Camera

I’ll let my Instagram feed show you how magnificent the camera is (first two dozen or so photos for now). It’s fast, has a lot of new Samsung-perk modes in it and the bug that was causing the camera to crash on launch sometimes has been fixed. Turns out the app watchdog, which reboots your machine if an app misbehaves, had a glitch in it, and I’m glad it’s been fixed. What’s nice about the camera is that night photos don’t turn out grainy, but are crisp enough to make the photos pretty to look at instead of a hazy, blurry, uneven one we usually take when out clubbing.

The Perks

galaxy-s4-hidden-featuresI demonstrate most of the cool perks in the S4 in the video below, but I’ll go through them here too fast. The S4 has the hover-finger capability where you just hover your finger over a text message, song or album to preview the contents before actually opening it. The touch screen is also sensitive enough that if you are wearing gloves (not only the smart phone gloves) it’ll work too.

The air-gestures are also cool, and allow you to switch between photos or windows by merely waving in the desired direction in front of the device. Also, if you can’t use your hand to answer, you can just wave to your S4 when you have an incoming call and it’ll answer for you and put it automatically on loudspeaker.

Another fantastic feature is the eye-recognition technology, which if you are looking directly at the device, never powers down the screen, so you don’t have to keep tapping it if you’re reading. Also, if you’re watching a video and look away, it’ll immediately pause and restart when you look at it again.

The drop-down drawer is also awesome, and has most of the features accessible there for you to toggle between them: turning off most of the gestures, connections and screen lock options by just swiping down the drawer and tapping the toggles.

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In Short

I love this device, and think the video will demonstrate a lot of the features you are thinking about. Battery life is impressive and it’ll easily last you a full day with 3G/WiFi on. It also is sturdier than previous devices, I have dropped it 3 times, and all that happened is a chip on the side guard, screen stayed intact and in perfect condition. It’s light, feels good in your hand and never crashes or hiccups (apart from the fixed watchdog glitch). I loved the S4, and I think you’ll love it too and would be happy to let you test out my personal device anytime. I’m also making the shift from mainly written reviews, to mainly video ones. So, lemme know what you thing!

The Fully Electric Nissan Leaf Now Available in Lebanon

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I was the RYMCO Chiyah showroom yesterday with a bunch of other cool people for a few special announcements for Nissan in Lebanon. Before getting to it though, I need to mention that I loved the event set-up and catering, and trust me, I’ve seen a lot to know this one was especially nice.

IMG_20130523_203046The Buddha statues and different tables dedicated to meat lovers, veggie lovers and sushi and everything else lovers, looked brilliant. Honestly though, they had me at the soy sauce droppers planted into the maki pieces, which I found very geek-chic and made me miss my Genetics lab days at AUB!

Anyway, apart from unveiling the new Pathfinder and Sentra, Nissan finally brought the Leaf to Beirut. I saw that car a lot in the US, especially in San Francisco, where places like the Googleplex have dozens of them spread out all over the campus for anyone to use, for much cheaper and a lot more environmentally friendly (since it’s fully electric, not a hybrid).

Now, I’ll beat you to it and crack the jokes we’re all thinking about: how will we charge them when we never have electricity in Lebanon? And, if we do, will it be cheaper than plain old gas given that our electricity bill is astronomical too?

I have some faith though, I hope big malls and venues will have a charging station or two, maybe even gas stations will start incorporating that as well. I’m not sure what the price is yet, but will definitely share when I find out.

LBC’s Kif El Seir Traffic App

unnamedSo, LBC has taken its traffic watch to the next level and released an app called “Kif El Seir” back in March. When I revisited to see how it was going, I was pleased to see hundreds of folks using it and updating it.

Basically, it is a crowd-sourced platform where drivers can post status updates on major routes in Lebanon, especially those going in and out of Beirut and other major cities. This makes it somewhat prone to misinterpretation, after all what is “khabsa” to you, might not be for someone else.

On that note, I like that they’ve used Lebanese lingo to describe it, such as “wsolet” “aw” “khabsa” “fi amal” “meche” and “msakar”.

I would have loved to see the routes highlighted on a map, with colors like green, yellow and red indicating the traffic status. It’d make it easier, especially if you’re not particularly familiar with all the names of the areas you might be passing through. (EDIT: silly me, there is that functionality! I love it, that plus the live feed from the webcams)

I like it though, will definitely use it when I’m in Beirut before getting into my car! What’s sad though, is that the only colors we see are red and orange!

All in all, this truly raises the bar when it comes to app development in Lebanon. Usually, it’s poorly design and practically useless. This one is beautiful, hip and most importantly, extremely useful with multiple channels to deliver information you need on your daily commutes!

Download: Google Play Store and the Apple App Store

Silicon Valley Trip Round-Up

As many of you may already know if you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, I toured several major tech and web companies with Lebanese telecom minister Nicolas Sehanoui and two of his advisors, Karim Kobeissy and Ralph Aoun. The reason I went there was because I won a competition after writing a blog post about “reinventing the world” from Lebanon which was selected by a panel of 4 judges of Lebanese origin in top exec positions at silicon valley.

Here’s what happened at each stop

Cisco and the Internet of Everything

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Cisco is the biggest company the average consumer has never heard about (myself included). However, they’re behind a lot if not most of the networks that connect the world. From VoIP solutions, to integrated systems between usually incompatible components, Cisco wants everything to be connected.

Several Cisco execs including George Akiki, who’s originally Lebanese and very involved in Cisco’s 15-million dollar investments in Beirut gave us a run-down of what they’re up to and where they’re headed. It would take a lot of words and sentences to try and explain what connecting every single device and appliance to the internet would be like. From cars to fridges and even lightbulbs, imagine if everything is connected and smartly coordinates to make life easier. Like red lights turning green if there’s no cross-traffic, or them changing to let an ambulance of fire truck through faster, and while en-route, patient files and history would be pulled up by the paramedics, who in turn update the doctor waiting for them at the ER. Pure heaven, yet unbelievably complex.

Here’s a cool video that illustrates how that would work.

The guys at Cisco also showcased their disaster-response vehicle, which in 15 minutes, can have a disconnected region connected to the world via satellite, 3G, and radio. Doctor trips will also become more and more connected, since most visits to the doctor do not necessitate the patient’s presence, but can happen remotely, with connected devices to measure biometric data like blood pressure and heart rate. This would be awesome for remote areas without access to enough healthcare professionals for example. It would also save you the trips to the waiting room for a 15-minute check-up.

Cisco also explained how since 2006, it planned to invest 15 million dollars in Lebanon, and has already trained and sent back over 100 interns from Lebanon. Oh, and by the way, 2 million dollars of those 15 are still uncommitted, so, if you have the brilliant ideas, especially something within the Beirut Digital District, Cisco might be the investor you’re looking for.

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The Googleplex

This was a dream come true for me. Visiting the legendary Google Campus was surreal, to say the least. Najeeb and Eessam, Googlers of Arab origin, took us on a tour of many of the fabled buildings and then we sat down for a meeting with 3 other originally Lebanese Googlers.

The topics discussed were across-the-board, but the main focus and something I think we can innovate in (and Google agrees) is content on YouTube. With better Internet connection, streaming on YouTube has been steadily growing in Lebanon. The problem though, is intellectual property and rights respect, which is still lax in Lebanon. One really interesting project suggested by the guys at Google was digitizing and uploading Tele Liban’s vast archives of copyrighted material.

I loved this idea because, let’s face it, TL is struggling today. It wasn’t always that bad though, and in its golden days, animated and drama series aired on it were the hottest thing out there. Converting them to a digital format and immortalizing them online would be an amazing project that would help preserve Lebanon’s cultural and artistic heritage, but also give an example of how to successfully shift to YouTube and make shows like Mamnoo3 (which the Googlers are big fans of btw!) hits that’ll captivate the entire nation, Arab World and maybe even the rest of the world.

We also urged Google to come set up shop in Beirut and discussed how we could make the Google News Lebanon edition even more comprehensive and relevant.

LebNet Dinner At the French Club

At the end of a long and fruitful first day, we headed to The French Club in San Francisco. There, some 45 successful Lebanese businessmen and women held a dinner for the occasion of the delegation’s visit and attendees which included success stories such George Harik, one of the founders of Gmail and Elie Khoury, founder and CEO of Woopra, got to ask the minister questions and give their feedback on what they think should happen in Lebanon and how they would like to be part of its future.

This dinner was a fantastic experience to network with everyone there. You’d be surprised how well-connected and extremely successful so many originally Lebanese folks are, and how they appear at times more concerned about Lebanon than us locals! It was a pleasure meeting so many amazing people, and I am especially grateful to have met and become friends with folks like Jessica Semaan, Elie Khoury, Nathalie Issa, George Harik, George Akiki and many, many more folks I hope to stay in touch with and keep you up to date with what they’re up to.

Facebook is just starting

The next morning, we made our way to 1-Hacker Way in Menlo Park to visit Facebook’s campus. I was honestly blown away by how awesome a work space it was. Everything felt real and authentic, as if designed, named and created by the employees themselves, with names of Star Wars-alcohol-inspired areas like “Brewbacca” and “Vader Bombs” and conference rooms named after viral video clips like “Charlie bit me”.

The shared working spaces were nice and gives you the feel of a shared view on where the company is headed, instead of corporate-looking cubicles and offices that split instead of unite employees. One major thing I did notice in our trans-continental conference meeting though, is that Facebook thinks its just starting to do what it intends. You’d find that quite surprising from a social network that has changed the entire world and boasts over 1 billion active users around the globe.

They’re looking to expand slowly and surely, and the MENA region is one of their most exciting sites. They plan on opening up new field offices, and we made the case of why Lebanon could be a perfect spot for them to open in, to which they were really receptive and decided to follow-up on with whoever is in charge in Lebanon.

Another major impression I got from Facebook’s reps, is how important mobile is. A London-based public policy expert explained that in the past, Facebook was a website with a mobile app as an addition, but that today, the focus is on the mobile world and that he feels that shift is already happening, with mobile traffic skyrocketing while web traffic is staying steady. So, if you’re a developer, I’d definitely get into the mobile world and away from the desktop one.

Skype Lunch

After Facebook, we went further into Palo Alto for a business lunch with the President of Skype, Tony Bates, who gave us some very cool numbers and explained where he sees Skype going after its acquisition by Microsoft.

One interesting topic the Mr Bates and I engaged in was how social media was shifting how we interact in our societies, and the fact that Skype adds video and voice to our online interactions, adds the much-needed and craved for facial expressions and body language that we have evolved which are reduced to emoticons and 140 characters these days. He also explained how every day, one billion minutes are spent on Skype and how Skype is already the world’s largest telephony operator.

We also explained how important Skype was to so many Lebanese folks that have friends and family across the world and how we could optimize that by for example, giving free Skype credit to users of Lebanese operators, who in turn will generate revenue from the data being used. So, for example, you might get X amount of free minutes from Skype (to call a phone, not another Skype account that is) every month or with each refill.

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Airbnb

I adore Airbnb. I travel a lot and I do so on a tight budget. Hotels are usually out of the question for me and crashing at friend’s places isn’t always an option. Airbnb is arguably the largest player on the emerging “shared economy”, where folks rent out their personal property or belongings to others for much cheaper, while generating some revenue on the side for them. So, for example, I have an extra room in Beirut. I rent it out for 20$ a night, a far-cry from the 400-something-dollar rooms in some Beirut hotels. I make some money on the side, a tourist gets to stay for a bargain and most importantly for me, the tourist gets to befriend a local, which I have done in several cities across the world.

How awesome would it be to save so much money, stay with amazing hosts that can give you an experience of the area you’re visiting no guidebook or app ever could. In Lebanon, there are 109 properties listed, which I was thrilled about! The shared economy concept is fairly new, but already exponentially growing to a  multi-billion dollar industry. The awesome gals at Airbnb, Molly and Jessica (who’s Lebanese) walked us through the extremely elaborate process that has so many people around the world finding all sorts of accommodation in tens of thousands of cities with a few taps on an app or clicks on a website.

Ways of promoting more Lebanese folks to list their properties on Airbnb were discussed and the rest of the delegation who wasn’t as familiar as I was with the awesome platform, were quite intrigued. Airbnb was arguably the most enlightening visit since so much of its inner workings and models were obscure and new. I will be reviewing Airbnb in-depth soon after interviewing Jessica so that those of you who still haven’t, make sure you use it next time you’re abroad!

PayPal Finally in Egypt, Lebanon is Next

Screen shot 2013-04-22 at 1.36.10 PMSo, look what I found today. It looks like PayPal Egypt is now a reality, and much sooner than rumors we had heard (November 2013). We did hear that Lebanon will get PayPal right after Egypt, so, this means that, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have PayPal sooner than we were hoping. Maybe this summer instead of December?

There’s no “Lebanon” in the list yet, but I’ll keep checking in every few days and let you know as soon as PayPal Lebanon is activated!