Isolating myself from the world

It’s been awhile where I felt everything around me seems to be noise. Noise of people talking loud, noise of people playing music and video on their phone in the public, noise from buses and trains I ride daily, noise from everywhere, anywhere…

“I had enough!”

That’s exactly my thought, and perhaps is time to look for ways to relief myself from all the noise. Wireless noise cancelling headphone seems to be the only choice to me as they offer great active noise cancellation, passive isolation with over-ear ear cup design, and long lasting battery life that can last me throughout the day.

Few months ago I had been searching high and low for a pair that fits my needs. Beats Studio Wireless 3 seems to be a no brainer choice due to its W1 chip that paired easily with any Apple devices that I owned. I know a lot of people complaint about its sound quality, but I’m actually okay with it. But the comfort and build quality seems really subpar.

Bose offers Quiet Comfort 35 II which is the most comfortable headphone I had ever tested, but it’s sound quality is just… not great, or should I say doesn’t suit my taste. Sony WH-1000XM2 is the closest rival to the Bose, although sound quality and noise cancellation does perform better than the Bose, but it’s not comfortable to wear, especially for people who wear spectacles like me. Other wireless earbud that offers noise cancellation simply has very short battery life for me to even begin to consider them. In the end, I stopped my search and declared that I shall live with the noise pollution… and then came the Sony WH-1000XM3.

Sony WH-1000XM3 was released awhile ago and soon demo unit came in the store. I quickly pay a visit to the nearest shop and gave it a test run. I was generally impressed with the improvement and hence pre-ordered one. Since then, I had been using it almost daily here in the hot and humid tropical country of Singapore, and here’s my humble impression on using this headphone together with my other gears such as iPhone, iPad Pro and iMac.

Disclaimer:

  • I am not audiophile. My daily driver prior to this was Apple’s AirPod.
  • I have not use headphone in long term before as I had never been able to find one that fits me.
  • I spend half of my time working in the office, while another half of my time visiting site and meeting customers.
  • I commute on daily basis via bus and train, walking on the streets and occasionally travelling overseas on plane.

With that aside, let’s dive into my experience of using it. Connectivity is key for wireless headphone, but this headphone only rocks Bluetooth 4.2. Despite that, the connection has been fairly stable and I had not experience much interference and zero drop off. Of course it would be good if Sony includes Bluetooth 5.0 here, oh well. One issue with the headphone is the lack of multi devices support, basically you will need to manually disconnect from one device before you can connect to another one. Hot swapping is not available, hence I am using this headphone on my iPhone only at the moment. A big step down from my AirPod but I think I can live with it for now.

Another important aspect for wireless headphone is battery life, and I can assure you that you need not to worry about it for this headphone. Solid battery life as advertised, perhaps the best in its class. Quick charge via USB C port is also available if you need emergency top up.

The overall build quality of the headphone is very solid and nice. It does look like it will last me for awhile, but the smooth plastic surface on the ear cup can attract quite some fingerprints from my sweaty palm, and I can foresee minor scratches will develop as time goes by. I would much prefer the older design with rough leather-like texture on the ear cup. Another concern is the faux leather headband, not sure how well will it hold up against abrasion in long run. Overall, there isn’t much of plasticky and “screeching” sound when you move it around, which gives an overall more premium and satisfying feel to it.

Currently there isn’t any waterproof feature on this headphone, it would be good to at least have splash proof design as often I will commute in the rain, it’s good to have a peace of mind that my headphone will survive some drizzle. The overall weight of the headphone is okay, of course if Sony can shave another few grams off would be even better.

The fit and comfort is miles ahead of the previous generation. I managed to get a pretty good fit and it doesn’t clamp on my face, ears and spectacles too much until discomfort arise, although I do need to make sure it is put on at the exact sweet spot to avoid adjustment later on. However, in the humid climate of Singapore, I still sweat around the ear-cup area when I’m not using it in air-conditioned environment. I believe Bose has better overall comfort, but this headphone is very closely match indeed. The inner ear cup does heat up a little after long period of use, but it’s not causing discomfort to me. The touch control also work as advertised, and I do not have much problem with it at all.

This headphone is certainly not as portable as the AirPod, but it does allow me to rest it over my neck at times, where AirPod will require me to put them back into the case to avoid dropping them. Being a headphone, it has the bulk that I need to get used to. For instance, I need to be more aware of my surroundings before turning my head around to avoid bumping into something. Also, compared to AirPod, this headphone does not have the feature of auto pause music when you are not wearing it, which I kinda miss.

In terms of audio quality, my first impression was: “Gosh… I finally managed to hear all the notes and rhythm from my song collections!”. Out of the box the audio quality was okay, but after tweaking the equalizer a little, you will get pretty much an amazing sounding headphone for most genres of music. However, that’s not the case for video. There’s latency when watching video, voice will came across a tiny fraction of second delayed from your video. Argh… this is where the AirPod really shine with it’s W1 chip. This headphone support LDAC codec, which is Sony’s high quality music file transfer protocol via bluetooth. But as Apple user, this is meaningless as we can only transmit AAC codec via bluetooth.

And last but not least, the noise cancellation performed superbly. I managed to listen clearly to my music at volume of around 15-20% as opposed to 50-60% when I’m using my AirPod. Thanks to the noise cancellation, most of the noise pollution has been blocked off from my ears. Impressive, or perhaps magical. But just to be clear, it doesn’t completely silent the world around you like you would have imagined, it’s more like suppressing them in order for you to listen to your music. So once noise cancellation is on and music playing… you will hardly hear noise from the outside world. There are a lot of customizations that you can do on the noise cancellation, but I just leave it at maximum cancellation most of the time.

All in all, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is a great pair of wireless noise cancelling headphone that really worth the price. Hopefully I can get used to or work around some of the quirks of this headphone and make full use of it. But honestly, deep in my heart I’m still waiting for technology advancement on noise cancelling earbud. If the day of long battery life, true wireless noise cancelling earbud arrive, I will probably go with that instead of a headphone. Till then.

Goodbye Fujifilm GW690III

Fujigilm GW690III with Kodak Portra 400

“What was all the hype on medium format?”

That’s the question I had awhile ago, and in order to answer it, I got myself the Fujifilm GW690III, a medium format fixed lens camera. It shoot film at 6×9 ratio, probably the largest you can get, completely manual for both focusing and exposure, built like a tank, and works like a charm. I wanted a taste of medium format myself, so instead of buying a digital back with interchangeable lens system, I decided to just keep it simple.

The Fujifilm GW690III was a great medium format camera. But why I decided to sell it? Well, my issue was not too much on the camera itself, but rather on handling of film. As the negative was so huge, it’s hard to get it flatten for a proper scan, and you really need a good scanner to extract the very best bits of it. Hence, I can’t do the negatives justice, and getting them scanned by the lab cost a bomb.

Fujifilm GW690III with Ilford HP5 Plus 400

So is medium format really worth the hassle? Well, it really depends on what you want to use it for. For landscape, hell yes. The amount of details you can extract, the huge print you can enlarge and make, it’s really jaw dropping coming from full frame. The same advantages go to shooting still life products and portraitures. Everything else? Well, I personally don’t see a need but you will be your own judge.

Looking beyond film, currently there were a few high megapixels full frame digital cameras that offer similar advantages at a much lower price point, hence eating into the pie of medium format cameras. However, digital medium format still has some other advantages (such as tonality) that position them better, but that’s a whole different story that I’ll not go through today. All in all, I really enjoyed using this camera and shooting with medium format, but it’s not what I need at the moment. So it’s time to say goodbye and hopefully someone will make better use of it. Till then.

Apple Watch Series 3 (Non-LTE) – My User Experience

After the “heart attack” incident in early January, I decided that I need to have a change in my lifestyle and start tracking my daily activities. I wanted a fitness tracker to assist me and was contemplating between a Fitbit or Apple Watch. After much consideration, I decided to go with the Apple Watch for a few reasons:

  1. I’m already in the ecosystem of Apple and I can assured that I’ll get the necessary support I need when required.
  2. Apple Watch allows you to run apps on it, which most Fitbit (except the newest Ionic perhaps) don’t support such feature.
  3. GPS built in for run tracking. Fitbit do have some trackers that provide GPS built in. For me I just don’t want to carry my phone with me when I go for a workout.
  4. Expansion. Apple Watch is more likely to get future expandability via software update and etc as compared to a Fitbit which probably is as-it-is out-of-the-box.
  5. Accessories are easier to obtain for Apple Watch as opposed to a Fitbit.

I didn’t consider other offerings such as Garmin, Polar and so on for various reasons. I heard a lot of good reviews on the new Apple Watch, and in the end I decided to go with the Series 3 instead of Series 1 for the additional features, performance and battery life. Since I stayed in Singapore and there was no support of e-Sim on Apple Watch at the time of my purchase, I bought the non-LTE version. Though LTE version is currently available on sale, I don’t think I’ll get that even if it’s available during that time.

The watch I bought was the Series 3 Nike+ Edition, Space Grey with 42mm case size. First of all, I’m glad that I managed to get a good fit with the band on my tiny wrist. The sport band is surprisingly comfortable, and I really like the material they used to make the band. It’s very soft, breathable, and very wearable for daily use. Pairing the watch to my phone was easy but the process was kinda lengthy. This was expected as all information was transferred via bluetooth or wifi between both devices. Once done, I made some changes to the watch face and setup some goals and rules for fitness tracking.

My first day with the watch was rather disastrous. I left everything at their default settings, which means all notifications will mirror from my phone to the watch, and all compatible apps from my phone were installed on my watch. I picked it up at 6am or so in the morning, and the watch battery just went flat by 12pm. After tinkering with the settings, I managed to squeeze more juices out from the watch.

Currently, I’m only allowing some apps to mirror their notifications, and I have only installed a few apps on my watch, and the battery can easily last me through 2 days or even 3 if I stretch it further. Not too shabby I would say. For those who have issue with battery life, changing the notification settings alone can save you a ton of battery life. For me, I only allow apps such as Google Maps, some utilities app like calendar, reminder etc to push me notifications. Social media related notifications were all switched off.

I do like the activity app, I have been using it to keep track of my daily activity level and ensure I’m hitting my target as much as possible on daily basis. The heart rate monitor is decent, but I would prefer Apple to allow constant tracking for every 5-10 second or so, just like how Fitbit is doing it. This way, I’ll be able to monitor my heart rate more accurately as I’m having some concerns on my irregular heartbeat. I’m willing to sacrifice some battery life in order to achieve this.

Apple also needs to really work on the apps for the watch. The apps currently available on the app store are just… sad. Most of them are just too similar and some are even pointless to have in the very first place. Hopefully with more users and developers, things will get better in the future. Using the Apple Watch also solved one of my long standing problem… which is using Apple Pay. It’s common for me to run into issue authorising Apple Pay with my finger print on my iPhone because I have sweaty and greasy fingers. With Apple Watch, I just need to double tap and pay. Also, I can now easily control my music without using my phone.

There are some other nifty features that makes the whole “ecosystem experience” that much better, such as automatically unlock my Mac when I’m wearing the watch and using the Mac. I can store some workout songs on my watch and play it while I go for a run, all without the need for me to bring my phone with me. Speaking of not bringing your phone with you, that’s perhaps what Apple has envisioned when adding the LTE function into Apple Watch, but there’s still a long way to go to make it useable.

What else can be improved? Well, first of all, the battery life. Even though I have no issue with battery life at the moment, but to unlock all features and the battery just lasted for half a day is simply… a joke. Besides that, more apps (and useful apps please) should be added to the watch app store, also more nice looking watch face please. Currently the watch faces designed by Apple are just ugly. The future Apple Watch would certainly benefit from additional sensors and features, perhaps measuring body temperature and other vital data? And like what I had mentioned earlier, more frequent heart rate tracking and also a prompt to user when the watch failed to capture the heart rate would be nice.

All in all, I’m happy with what I had spent. Did Apple Watch motivates me to be healthier? Well, yes and no. I do get more conscious in closing the activity ring, reading through the stats collected and so on. I would say it is a good catalyst for me to live healthier. I don’t want to make my spending a waste down the drain at the end of the day. Do I recommend people to buy one? It really depends. Currently smart watches are good in collecting data, sending notification to user from time to time, nudging you, motivating you and so on. But when comes to really running apps on the watch, it’s still a far cry from being useful. You really need to ensure that you will use those features currently available before you make the purchase.

That’s all for now. Till then.

Herschel Little America Bag – My Point of View

My Herschel Little America and matching Anchor sleeve for my iPad Pro

My work bag, which was a Samsonite laptop backpack, was deteriorating. In search of a replacement bag, I figured that it should serve not just as my work bag, but also my go-to daily bag. I have evaluated a few options from Timbuk2, The North Face, The Invisible Backpack and so on, but was ended up purchasing the Herschel Little America Backpack in the end as I managed to get a rather good deal.

I’ve been using the bag on daily basis for work and study, and here are my thoughts about this bag:

  1. It’s a good looking bag, but in terms of practicality, there’re still room for improvement.
  2. The front pocket is a little too small and couldn’t fit much stuff in it. If they can increase the size a little will be good.
  3. The bag as whole needs more pockets for organization purpose.
  4. Appreciate if they can have a quick access pocket near the back for wallets or passport. Also, add some slots for pen or other stuffs in the front pocket.
  5. To access your stuff, you will required to open the top flap all the time to go to your main compartment or laptop compartment. Suggest to have a zipper access from the side of bag to direct access the laptop compartment. Also, another small zipper on the side which allows quick access into the main compartment to reach for small items without the need to open the top flap all the time.
  6. The two stripes look good and offer functionality for adjustment on bag size. However, the stripes of the main compartment will get in your way when you try to open the front pocket. Some redesign is required here.
  7. Redesign the top flap of main cover to have better looking shape even when the bag is empty. Now the bag looks sloppy when it’s not being filled up with stuffs.
  8. Straps for the shoulder has dangling end which may get in the way at times. It would be great if they can find a way to hide the excess straps and tuck it away.

All in all, I still enjoy carrying this backpack, just need to get used to it and adjust some of my habit accordingly. If there’s a chance I’ll try to travel with this bag and see how well it fares. For those who are looking for this bag, if you can live with the downsides mentioned above, I would highly recommend you to get one. Till then.

12 Things About the Apple AirPod

1.Does it drop out of your ears?

Yes and no. My left ear fits very well, but not my right ear. Though, after some adjustments it seems to be able to hold it in for daily use. I survived daily commute of bus and train, squeezing in the crowd, rushing through the shutting gate, climbing up and down the staircase and so on.

2.How does it sounds?

Good. Much better than my expectation. Clarity is there, bass is not too heavy, very balance sound overall, which is what I like from a piece of earphone. However, that sound quality can be appreciated if and only if… you are able to hear what its playing… which brings me to the next point of…

3.How’s the noise isolation?

Poor. Up the volume, that’s all you can do.

4.Does it make you look like an idiot while wearing it?

Yes.

5.How’s the battery life?

So far I would rate it as superb, especially coupled with the dental floss charging case. Easily last me over a week of use per charge. I use it mainly during daily commute listening to songs and sometimes at home when watching videos.

6.But it got no physical buttons?

Yes, after new software update, you can choose what action to be performed when tapping on the left and right AirPod. I set mine to play/pause on the left, next song on the right. Good enough for my use except volume adjustment need to be done via iPhone. How about Siri you ask? You mean you use Siri? Really?

7.Does the call quality sounds good?

It’s okay. Not to say good or bad, but fairly acceptable and that’s about it.

8.Does it drop its wireless and bluetooth connection?

So far I have no issue yet. I saw some early adopters have issue with bluetooth disconnected occasionally, but so far mine was working okay. Seems better than my previous Plantronics BackBeat Go 3, which can get interference from other wireless devices at times and disconnect.

9.You are on your way to become Apple Fanboy?

No. I don’t like everything that Apple produced. The new MacBook Pro sucks. Apple Watch still sucks in everything other than fitness tracking. I enjoy a complete ecosystem for all my gadgets. I was hoping Microsoft Surface Pro and the rumoured Surface Phone will be the saving grace for me to leave Apple, but too bad everything was flushed down into the drain. Goodbye Microsoft. Hello Apple.

10.Should I buy it?

Probably no, unless you are heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem and would like to have the seamless experience across all devices.

11.Then why you bought it?

  • I’m running an iMac at home, iPad Pro on the go, iPhone for everything else. The seamless transition using the same pair of earphone will be a plus point for me.
  • My current wireless earphone, the Plantronics BackBeat Go 3, has a wire connecting both earpieces, and the rattling sound it produced when the wire brushes over my clothes is annoying.
  • Looking at other market offerings and all the reviews, the AirPod is likely to give me less trouble overall, and perhaps the best balance between sound quality, usability, appearance, functionality and so on.
  • It surely isn’t the perfect earphone, but I made my decision after considering and weighing all the options and requirements, pros and cons. Hopefully this will be a right decision for me moving forward.

12.What can be improved?

  • Perhaps Apple should release an in-ear version with better noise isolation and fit. Maybe under the Beats branding as its geared towards a more sporty style.
  • Allow swiping motion for volume adjustment on AirPod.
  • Auto volume adjustment based on ambient noise level. If AirPod will adjust the volume automatically when I’m in crowded and noisy area, it will certainly be brilliant and I no longer need to fiddle with the volume myself.
  • Limited edition or special edition AirPod can milk more cash for Apple in the future.