Uber, Lyft and Zimride: Cheap and Fun Ways to Get Around in the US

We see a lot of promising startups springing up everywhere. It’s rare to see one actually take off and become a part of our daily days though. Speaking of successful startups, I love going to San Francisco because everything cool and techie gets tested out there first. It’s just a stone’s throw away from most of the big tech and internet companies’ headquarters and the perfect urban setting to test out new apps and services and further develop them before launching them on a wider scale.

Here are 3 apps/services I used in SF and LA over the weekend, maybe it’ll help you save time and money and make some friends if you ever visit, or, better yet, maybe you can develop something like that back home. Some are still new and limited, others are now all over the US and different parts of the world. I hope you find them as useful as I did!

Uber

So, Uber is everywhere now. It’s in dozens of US cities and even places outside the US like London, Paris, Lyon Rome, Milan, Munich, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto and Amsterdam. The idea is you sign up on your iOS or Android device and keep your credit card on file. If you need a taxi, all you do is tset your location and choose what type of car you want sent: plain-old taxi, an UberX car (hybrid, small usually), a black car (classier, spacier) or an SUV (for luggage and big groups I guess).

I tried it in SF and here are the screenshots I took to sort of walk you through the super-simple process. All you do is hop on, sit, get off and once you’re off, it’ll be charged automatically on the app for you to verify and rate.

Lyft

Lyft is the really cool service I discovered thanks to Nick in San Francisco. One thing I hate in SF is how expensive getting around can be, with two separate metro systems and varying metro fares depending on how far you go (unlike the simple 2.5USD fixed rate in New York’s MTA to anywhere in the system, buses included). Also, the BART system closes at 2:00AM, cutting your night short. You can find Lyfts well past that, so even more reason to love it.

Lyft is basically a service that links people looking for a ride with folks that need one, but within a certain region (not cross-country trips). Drivers sign up and get a background check, and they get sent a huge pink, furry mustache they attach to the grills of their cars. Then, all you do is pinpoint your location and request a lyft. In minutes, the driver arrives and you hop in. Drivers are normal people and these are their private cars. Often, they’re young and hip and the conversations are very pleasant.

Once you complete the trip, since this is not technically a taxi and cannot charge fares, Lyft suggests a “donation” amount based on the distance and time. You can of course be an asshole and donate a dollar only, but then, you’ll get blacklisted and no one would wanna pick you up. You can also rate the driver so that you let others know if he or she was bad or unpleasant. Luckily, the 5 times we used Lyft, all our drivers were really sweet and accommodating.

This is epic and the fact it can function is a loophole I hope never gets closed. It’s also really good money on the side if you have a car and some free time. A perfect occasion to use Lyft would be on weekend nights, so you don’t drunk drive and get to go back and forth between the several happening parts of the city cheaply and in a fun way.

Zimride

This is like Lyft but for longer distances and roadtrips. I went down from SF to LA for just 35$ with two very fun people in a very comfortable and scenic ride. Faster and cheaper than a train, more comfortable and faster than a bus and definitely cheaper than a flight. You punch in your route, check who’s offering seats, get in contact and if the driver OKs you, you call up each other, set a meeting point and then it’s roadtrip time!

I loved this because it’s cheap, but more importantly, fun. You get to meet strangers and by the end of the trip become friends. Of course, I did have a wee bit hard time getting a driver which isn’t afraid of a fat, bearded Arab guy, but, after a few attempts, it did work out and I ended up with two new friends in LA.

Update on PayPal Lebanon

Proof: the PayPal guys gave me this, and look which flag was on there too =P

Proof: the PayPal guys gave me this, and look which flag was on there too =P

As Mustapha and Najib have already pointed out, PayPal is coming to Lebanon. I got the chance to hound the two PayPal reps at ArabNet and ask them the Whys and the Whens. Several readers have asked me about that, and I promised to try to find out cause I need and want PayPal as much as you!

The good news is, the reason there’s no PayPal is because of supply-demand and business models and priorities, NOT because Lebanon’s issues with “terrorism” and “money laundering” as sometimes suggested. Of course, the absence of a law that properly regulates and safeguards e-transactions is a hindrance, but the markets cannot wait for Lebanon’s defunct institutions to catch up. After all, if we waited for the government, we wouldn’t have credit cards right now…

So, let the folks at PayPal know that there are lotsa people in Lebanon that want their services. Having PayPal would make online shopping and transactions so much easier and more accessible, allowing the plethora of startups and budding businesses and websites to generate the revenue the deserve and consumers in Lebanon at least part of the luxuries many other nations enjoy when it comes to online shopping and services.

Let them know by commenting on their Facebook page as the rep suggested to me, maybe email them if you have the patience, or just answer “yes” on this poll so the folks working on the Lebanon case can have some numbers to showcase. They did promise that it will be “soon” I asked “months soon or years soon?” he just smiled and said soon. Apparently though, Alfa says that it’s gonna be this year!

IMPORTANT Post from JoeSolutions.net About What Devices to Buy to Use 4G/LTE in Lebanon

 

Joe is an extremely good friend from my AUB days who is a prodigy when it comes to all things techie (mainly Apple products). If you have any problem at all, need to jailbreak, update, unlock, etc. Joe’s your man. He posts very helpful posts all the time, but also is more than happy to answer your specific questions which he may not have tackled in the post. So, head on over to JoeSolutions.net and enjoy some freedom with your Apple products!
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Just a notice for anyone who is buying a 4G capable phone. If you phone is an iPhone 5 please make sure that its the European model (look on the back, the model should be A1429 NOT A1428, A1428 is the USA/Canada model and will not work on the 4G network that will be rolling out hopefully in April). If you are getting a phone other than the iPhone 5, make sure that the 4G/LTE band that the phone supports is Band 3 at frequency 1800 Mhz.

The reason for this is that Apple discovered that 4G networks are not created equally, in the sense that a 4G network must run on a reserved frequency (which costs money obviously to reserve it), so what Apple did is create 2 iPhone 5 models: A1428 and A1429. Model A1428 will work with 4G/LTE networks on band 4 and band 17 and model A1429 will work with 4G/LTE networks on bands 1,3,5,13, and 25. For anyone doubting my claim, please refer to this link from apple: http://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/

Now that you know which model supports which bands, please direct your attention to this link which shows that Lebanon’s 4G/LTE network will use band 3:http://stateofmind13.com/2012/11/17/telecom-mobile-tv-and-lte-4g-in-lebanon/

Don’t believe retailers who tell you that this is just a ploy and that it is not true. I highly doubt that the minister would tweet what he tweeted (check picture) if it were not in fact true.

Moreover, iPhone 5 retailers have been claiming that the new iOS 6.0.2 firmware targeted especially for iPhone 5 fixes this 4G/LTE support issue. This is another hoax for two reasons. First reason is that this update is not just for iPhone 5, it is also for iPad mini, and not just for the 4G model, even the Wifi model, so one would ask why woul a 4G/LTE patch be released for a device that doesn’t even support cellular communication. Second reason is that if you would go to apple’s website and check the changelog for iOS 6.0.2 (a changelog is a file that tells users what is different in this new firmware), you would find that iOS 6.0.2 addresses a potential Wifi issue (a glitch actually that would cause iPhone 5 and iPad mini to disconnect from a Wifi network even when they are in range and already connected to that network).

Sorry for the long post, but I’ve had enough to retailers trying to cheat customers.

Finally, for all who already have an iPhone 5 with model number A1428, it is not the end of the world. The only implication is that you will not be able to connect to 4G networks except in USA and Canada, and that you will be restricted to the 3G networks (which should operate better and faster when 4G rolls out since some users who have a supported 4G/LTE capable phone will move over to 4G lessening the traffic on 3G networks :D )

Source: JoeSolutions.net

2 Apps You Need to Make Your Commute More Enjoyable

I travel a lot. Anyone who follows me on Instagram or Twitter will know I don’t spend too much time in one place. My Foursquare was even kind enough to point out that in the past 6 months, I’ve checked-in to 17 different airports and over 25 different subway and train stations. It’s come to a point where I feel at home most when waiting in airport terminals or waiting for the next train. Naturally, I’ve learned how to help the time go by faster and the trips more enjoyable, and here are a couple apps I think you absolutely need to enjoy your travels or commutes, while learning more and enriching yourself (versus just running away from zombie monkeys and collecting coins)

1- Amazon Kindle

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I love reading just as much as I love writing, but the prospect of carrying a bulky book around is discouraging and the chances I’d actually have it with me when an unexpected opportunity for some reading-time presents itself are very rare. That’s why, perhaps my favorite and most essential app when on-the-go is Amazon’s Kindle.

There are over 1 million books available, with thousands downloadable for free (classics such as Les Miserables for example). What’s beautiful about reading on the Kindle app is that the pages are often much smaller, meaning, you are sort of cheated into reading a lot more than you would with a book (for me at least). And if you’re like me, you love percentages and I absolutely adore seeing the percentage points go up with every reading (versus the read pages getting bulkier in a book).

Another awesome thing is that the Kindle app is cross-platform and syncs beautifully, which means if I was on my Galaxy Note II reading a particular book on the subway, when I open it on my iPad or Nexus 7 at home, it’ll remember where I left off on my Note II. You can also highlight, bookmark and look-up word instantaneously. Other perks include fixing the margins, the text size and arrangement, the background color and brightness to how you feel most comfortable. Personally, I love white text on a black background (saves battery too!) and justified arrangement.

In my subway time, I have finished two books in little over a month (Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevski, and a very interesting forensic psychology book: The Anatomy of Evil). I would’ve never imagined 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there would let you finish entire books in a matter of days. Books are also much cheaper, often less than half the price of a real book, and they all fit in your pocket, forever. So, you might be like “I love the feel of a real book (someone once said smell to me!)” but, if you want to think of convenience, customizability, easy-access and less money to spend on books, then you need to download the Kindle app and start reading.

2- TED

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We’ve all watched and fell in love with a TED talk (or several dozen if you’re like me!). TED talks are awesome for many reasons. For one, they’re given by people who are at the frontier in their fields or at the top of their industries. For two, they have something useful to say or an idea you might not have considered or ever known about were it not for these free TED talks. Thirdly, what I find most important in making TED talks a viable option when you’re flying or on the train (or boat if that’s what you’re into) is that they’re usually between 7 and 20 minutes only, which is very convenient and well under the average time a flight or commute usually needs.

What’s awesome about the TED app is that you can download the talks you’d like to watch or listen to, and watch them offline later when there’s no internet connection meters underground or thousands of meters above it. I have queued many TED talks and you have the choice between audio only, low quality video or HD (in case you’re worried about data caps and storage space, you can go with audio-only, but if you wanna enjoy your IPS 7″ screen, you might wanna get the HD version).

4 Must-Have Android Games

All these games have been downloaded and tested out on my Samsung Galaxy Note II, and battery life lasted well over 4-5 hours nonstop for each game (plus mobile data connection and full sync). Also, no overheating issues were  encountered, even after prolonged use.

1- Contre Jour (5/5)

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I have included this app here before in an iOS game post. It’s finally on Android and I couldn’t be happier. This game is so aesthetically beautiful, meditative and calming that it lands my all-time favorite mobile game. The soundtrack is a mesmerizing, soothing melody which I feel is the core of what makes Contre Jour so fantastic. Having it on mute is just not the same experience at all.

Basically, you need to manipulate the environment around your cyclops ball of goo and collect 3 balls of light and make it safe to the portal. Levels become more and more complex, with ropes, elastic strings, carnivorous plants and other obstacles making Contre Jour an extremely-fun physics-based, puzzle game that is second to none in terms of beauty and seamless execution.

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2- Osmosis (5/5)

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This game is a geek’s wet dream, especially if you’re into the molecular-level universe. You are basically a cell, which is capable of propelling itself in different directions by ejecting a bit of plasma out of it. The point is to devour all other cells. You cannot devour cells larger than you, and every time you propel yourself (to either devour another cell, or avoiding being devoured) you shrink a little because of the plasma you ejected. Every time you devour another cell, you grow in size, making more cells available for you to phage. It’s an extremely fun and challenging game and will have you spending hours on it in its different modes.

It’s also very beautiful and the laws of physics are accurately represented in this microbial world. Definitely a must-have if you’re into more than running forever in search of coins and away from monkeys.

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3- Spirit HD (4/5)

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If you like old-school arcade games, Spirit HD is just that, but a million times better. You are a tiny ghost which has the ability to open portals by going in a full circle at a fast enough speed. Your objective is to suck in all the other “spirits” into your portals, without touching them or being shot/blasted by them. The more spirits you round up in one portal, the higher your score.

It gets really intense with higher levels, and it’ll have you jumping around and moving your finger (or in my case, stylus!) frantically across the screen. My only complaint is that it would be cool to be able to survive longer and make it to higher levels more often. Extra lives are rare and shields are not available. Having them would make the pandemonium all the more enjoyable, instead of just overwhelming at some point.

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4- Plague Inc (4/5)

unnamedI have always been fascinated with infectious diseases and this game was an impressively fun way of gamifying the  epidemiological process and disease evolution. It is an awesome strategy game where you unleash a pathogen on the world, and help it evolve into an epidemic that can infect, and kill, every single human on Earth. For you to evolve it, you need DNA point which appear randomly or when your disease spreads to new countries.

Now, there are clues in the game, for example, if you see on your news ticker that “there is a massive bird migration”, you should immediately evolve the virus or bacterium to be able to be transmitted by avian hosts. If you start it in an arid country, you need to make it heat-resistant. If it starts in a developed country, antibiotic and lab-conditions resistant, etc.

It’s fun, and it’s basically a balance between how effective and fast it spread, versus how effective and fast it kills (kills too much too fast, and cures will be worked on much harder!)

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BangWithFriends: Do the FB Friends You Stalk Want Your Body Too?

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I say this all the time: today, we have no time. Getting to know people like we used to in the olden days, with multiple real-life encounters separated by several days or weeks, is too slow and too much of a risk. What if I spent a month getting close to a girl, and she turns out to be a Creationist? I’d have wasted all that time and effort for nothing!

That’s why Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are a real help in our speed-of-the-Internet age. You can find out a lot about someone (even from how much they keep private). You can see if you’re into the same music, places, has a good beach bod, does duckfaces or not, their philosophy and outlook on life and other things you look for when trying to find that special someone (or friendzoning them).

What Facebook doesn’t tell you is whether they’re attracted to you too, and since many of us don’t have the guts to come out and say it, lots of missed opportunities for hook-ups (or perhaps more meaningful relationships) evade us every day.

Well, BangWithFriends.com has just the answer for that. This, bold (to say the least) service shows you a grid of all your friends (of the opposite if you’re straight. I tried turning “gay” on Facebook, uninstalled and reinstalled it, still only showed me women, more info at the bottom) with a “down to bang” button under their profile pictures. You click the ones you want to get down with, and if they click your photo too, you’re both notified and the creators hope some sexy-time will ensue.

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Now, this is extremely overt sexually and I’m not sure it’ll catch on in Lebanon. It’s fairly private (put “Only Me” on the permissions prompt when you’re connecting your Facebook) and who knows, maybe the boy or girl you’re into, is into you too!

Now, it’s still fairly new and lotsa things are gonna be added and improved. But, it’s already had tens of thousands of downloads on the iOS App Store in less than a week (where’s the Android one, HMM?!)

Here’s what they had to say about, for example, your mom being on that list, and why there’s no sexual orientation feature yet. These guys sure have balls!

“The crowd that we’re looking for is forward and straight about their sexuality.” And straight they are, as the app currently doesn’t take sexual orientation into consideration. But according to the boys, this wasn’t a jab at the LGBT community.
“We’ll be honest with you, we made this in two hours… with a lot of Red Bull and vodka … and it took off on its own,” one of the creators said. “What we’re working on right now is building sexual preferences. I personally am completely towards gay rights. We want to give everyone this awesome access to finding people who want to bang.”

But lack of customized sexual preferences is just one of the problems the team initially encountered. An earlier version of the app didn’t take into account the presence of family members among a user’s Facebook friends, displaying anyone from grandfathers to siblings as potential “bang” buddies. This has since been fixed, and while you can’t be matched with your uncle, the BWF team doesn’t want to limit user’s pairings too much—for example, your relationship status will likely not be taken into consideration. “We’re not too [sic] objective to hooking up with that cute secretary across the office if she has a boyfriend already,” said one creator.

Now, since I wanna save y’all the trouble and embarrassment, I got a friend of mine to try it with me, you know, for scientific research purposes, and here’s an example of the email you get if both of you click “down to bang”

Enjoy and be safe! (maybe get a condom delivered?)

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GSM Arena Quote Samsung Lebanon Page on SIV Launch Date!

I was browsing tech news feeds to see when the SIV would come out, and it was the usual Android rumor here, Android rumor there. But, to my very pleasant surprise, mobile tech powerhouse GSMArena.com has published an article quoting none other than Samsung’s Lebanon branch! How cool is that, that we, are at the forefront of the rumors of one of the most sought-after Android devices of 2013? Who would’ve thought? =P

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link to original article

Noon Keyboard: Type in “MSN Arabic” Get it in Proper Arabic!

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Most of us speak Arabic. Virtually none of us type it though. Heck, even most of our keyboards come with no Arabic letters, and if we do, we look like your grandma on the netbook you bought her for Christmas trying to type her password. This problem though, was solved by Yamli.com, the beautiful search engine that lets you type things like: Ana O7eb Gino’s Blog Kathiran, and get: أنا أحب جينوس بلوغ كثيراً in the field you’re typing in.

Now, imagine my extreme delight at finding out a keyboard for Android was released that utilizes the Yamli API to transliterate “arabic english” into proper Arabic. I discovered it months back while browsing the Google Market (it was called Market back then, not Play =P) and downloaded it for free, and instantly fell in love.

Now, you might ask who types in Arabic, and I tell you, the majority my friends! Maybe it’s hard to gauge in Lebanon, but in the Arab World’s Internet powerhouses like Egypt and KSA, most folks type in Arabic, and most folks have Anrdoids, so this app is gonna go big, and it already has, with tens of thousands of daily active users already.

It needs data connection to crunch out the transliteration, but come on, who doesn’t have 3G these days? Also, its data consumption is minimal, with barely a few hundred kilobytes per month gone (based on my usage at least).

Using Noon is a delight and it might just be what helps us create more Arabic content for the massive Arabic-speaking and reading market who yearns for original content in Arabic, but finds very little to satiate it.

So, download this lovely app and keep it in handy, with a few taps, you can turn your “7” and “3” into a “ح” and “ع” and impress your non-Android friends who would need much longer to type up a reply! Oh, and the cherry on top of all this is that Nader Ayyad, the developer behind Noon, is Lebanese, just like the creators of Yamli Habib Haddad and Imad Jureidini.

Noon on Google Play

An Infographic About the Rise of Android

Even though most iOS fanboys and girls friends of mine are switching to Anrdoid, I see some poor lost souls who still buy iPhones in this day and age. Here are some numbers for the doubters. FYI, this post was prepared on my Samsung Galaxy Note II phone, while on the bus…

ANDROID-MBAsource MBAonline

Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

share-experiencesI’ve carried a lot of Androids in the past 3 years. Everything form the S1, to the Nexus One, HTC Desire, the S2, Galaxy Nexus, HTC One X, the S3, the LG Optimus 4X HD. Each of them was brilliant in its own right and time, but a couple of things always bugged me which bug a lot of other smartphone users. The first, was of course battery life. The second, was somewhat fragile hardware (especially the S2) that had me spending more on the repairs than the actual device!

The Note II fixed those two annoying setbacks of carrying a powerful Android. The battery life is insanely good and it lasts well over a day with moderate usage, a good 18 hours on 3G, GPS and my constant tweeting, instagramming and checking the blog’s stats and comments.

Here’s a breakdown of the main things I loved about the Note II

Size, Look and Feel

The Note II is massive. People like to call it the “Phablet” and Samsung wittily got the giant NBA star LeBron James to do their ads in the US. I honestly adored the 5.5 inch screen because I read a lot of ebooks, manage my email and publish blogposts using the Note II. Browsing the Internet and watching videos and viewing photos is extremely enjoyable with the extra 1.5 inches or so compared to other smartphones currently on the market.

It fits perfectly into standard-sized pockets (at least guys’ jeans and shorts) so don’t worry about it not fitting. It might be a bit wide, but it is remarkably thin for a tablet-phone hybrid (just 0.37 inches thick). The 16:9 display also makes watching videos all the more enjoyable and I sometimes set it up on a table and several friends get to watch the funniest YouTube sensation I stumbled upon.

It’s back cover is plastic, which makes it very light compared to other droids out there, but I would’ve loved to see a polycarbonate shell on Samsung’s newest gift to the techie world. The meche-like designs and patterns though are beautiful and the device overall feels very comfortable and snug in one hand.

One-Handed Operation and Typing

One concern with big droids is that you can’t operate them fully with one thumb. Samsung foresaw this inconvenience and have made several features one-hand friendly. You can toggle on the keyboard for example in single-handed control (which includes a setting for all you lefties out there btw) which makes it pretty easy to handle most things with just one hand.

Given that the Note II is one-hand-friendly, I am a huge fan of real keyboards and touchscreens have never really won me over when it comes to typing. The sheer size of the Note II makes it possible to type with both hands without jumbling up your letters since the buttons are large enough, making it as good as the good old-fashioned real keyboard typing with two thumbs.

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Camera

The camera is beautiful of course since the display is so large and crisp. It might not be the camera with the fastest shutter speed out there, but it’s definitely the best among the Samsung devices. You can shoot bursts, panoramic shots, action shots, add filters, HDR modes and other near settings for particular environments or situations.

The camera experience on the Note II has a few, really neat perks too. You can shoot photos with voice commands like “Shoot” “Capture” or “Cheese” making it easier to take a shot without having to touch your screen as well as taking photos after setting up the camera far way from you without the hassle and rush of setting up timers. Another really awesome perk is that if you’re taking a group shot, the Note II takes several shots of each person’s face and allows you to choose the best one for each in one single photo. Meaning that, if someone had their eyes shut or looked like a mutant in one of the 4-5 face shots it takes, you can choose a better face shot of him or her, thereby ensuring all your friends faces are good enough to share on Facebook (assuming your friends look good of course).

Native Apps and Stylus

Another really cool feature of the Note II is the stylus. It’s a really cool tool when you want to create a note, it allows you to crop a part of your screen (instead of a screenshot of the whole page) and paste it into the S-Note app. The S-note app has dozens of templates you can use depending on what you want to work on, from cool and colorful personal notes, to business ones with tables and graphs and pie charts you can edit and create.

The stylus is also cool because you can hover it over an email or image gallery, and it’ll pop-up a preview of the contents of that email or gallery without you having to open it and go back out if it’s not the one you were looking for. Also, if you’re reading or browsing the web, you simply hover over the top, bottom or sides of the page and it’ll smoothly scroll the page in whatever direction you’re aiming at.

The stylus also allows you to use your own handwriting to type instead of a traditional QWERTY keyboard and it’s pretty easy and fast to use once you get the hang of it.

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Jelly Bean Awesomeness

It comes with Android 4.1.1 and Samsung finally made their TouchWiz UI glitch-free and extremely. It’s the first time I leave the stock UI and launcher instead of downloading a custom one since it blends so seamlessly with the large displays and makes customizing your home page apps and widgets incredibly easy, fast and customizable.

NFC is also really cool on this device and after comparing it with the S3, I found the S-Beam and NFC features on it much faster and streamlined. I’ve collected  total of 4 free songs and 2 free ebooks by merely tapping my Note II on Samsung ads all over the US (new ones every week) which is pretty cool and I hope will be integrated soon into ads in Lebanon (yalla marketing folks, make it happen!)

Conclusion

It’s the perfect Android, and you can double the already more than impressive battery life (new battery being released) making a true tablet contendor in terms of battery life. I highly recommend this phone if you’re a heave phone user for either business or pleasure. Tweeting, emailing, blogging, reading books, watching movies are all a delight on this beautiful piece of tech.