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The Minton – Post Renovation Four Years On

In a few months, it’ll be four months of our moving into The Minton, and interestingly, there’s still a general feeling that we’re living in a reasonably new apartment unit. I reckon a good part of this is because our Minton home is dressed in happier and chirpily bright tones and colors – compared to our previous Rivervale home that looked old the day we moved in, and positively decrepit when we moved out of!

Still, as with apartment units of this day and age, maintenance issues have been very gradually seeping in. We were initially planning to do a mini-renovation project last year, but that kept getting shelved. Towards the end of last year though, we decided to slowly start replacing and refurbishing various parts of the house through directly engaging individual contractors.

The just over 6 year old Panasonic 46″ Plasma TV in the master room visual image had been degrading for almost a year now. And specifically the appearance of increasingly numerous vertical colored lines that cut across the screen. It started with just one or two vertical red lines – but by year’s end, there were about 34 of those buggers – or thereabouts according to Hannah’s daily count. Time to replace the TV then. Plasma TVs are a rarity these days, and their closest equivalents are OLED TVs – but I couldn’t find one that would fit into our master room’s feature wall. Bummer. We eventually settled for a fairly pricey Sony KD-49X9000E – one of the manufacturer’s top-line non-OLED models. Even notwithstanding that and that its display can’t replicate the very deep blacks that OLEDs and Plasmas can, this new Sony TV produces colors that are ‘good enough’, and comes with all the bells and whistles of a modern Smart/Android-enabled/Internet TV.

The grouting in the toilets, living/dining rooms and kitchen also needed to be refurbished – and it would had been a major undertaking to re-grout these areas. For instance, the furniture in the living and dining rooms will need to be moved, let alone the amount of dust that’ll be kicked up if we fully re-grouted those areas. The grouts in our Minton apartment are wide – that’s not an exaggeration –  and when the grouting is not done properly during the unit development phase, will visibly degrade and decolor over time. On the other hand, that we have wide grouts also mean we’re unlikely ever to encounter issues like this when we get severe weather differences. Still, the master toilet needed urgent grout refurbishment as it’d degraded fastest there, so that got fixed first before Christmas. We’ll be looking into slowly working through the rest of the house over the rest of the year.

The first switch to fail was the heater switch in the master room. Guess it’s a matter of time for these mechanical panels. That got fixed by a handyman.

Heater switch broke.

And finally, the LED downlights. We’ve had issues with the initial batch of downlights from the get-go. 2 years ago, I blogged that 7 of the 18 3-in-1’s we first installed have failed. By last month, 13 of 18 were at various stages of failure – including even the replacement units. All of them suffered from the same fault: one or more of the three colors no longer worked. I was determined to get this fixed once and for all, so went about finding alternative LED downlights to replace the remaining 15 in the house – and absolutely no more 3-in-1’s again. The Philips-branded LEDs are well-regarded, and to my pleasant surprise: the model that could fit into our existing ceiling cut-out was attractively priced at SGD15.90/unit.

There was an island-wide shortage of these specific warm-white colored units though, with the local distributor remarking that new stocks are likely only going to be arriving in April. I got lucky, finding a Lazada reseller that still had just enough stock left, albeit at a slightly higher unit price than the recommended retail price.

Philips 59527 Marcasite 12W LED Downlight (Square) Warm White 3000k. Paid SGD270 for 16 of these, or SGD16.90/unit.

The unit puts out 900 lumen – fairly bright for its size.

Unlike our current downlights, the panel circumference surrounding the emitter is white plastic. Better for us, as the white circumference is indistinguishable from the ceiling when the light is switched on. This particular unit though has a broken mounting clip: our handyman accidentally broke it when he was attempting to mount it, which he later compensated by deducting from the total installation amount.

These new downlights also feature integrated drivers (unlikely the previous ones which had separate driver units), and are somehow even thinner in profile.

All good now though: our engaged handyman has replaced all the downlights with these new ones: and we finally have a home now that’s free of downlight failures!

Dengue and single parenting

One of the real hazards of living on a compact island in a perpetual state of urban renewal, coupled alongside with our infamous tropical humidity, is the risk of fast-forming breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Singapore has seen a number of cases of dengue fever in the last several years, and while most people fully recover from it – the long period of recovery notwithstanding – there have been fatalities from it already before. The dengue ‘hot spots’ move around quite a bit, but they are usually largely centered on the eastern-side of the island. Our general vicinity – the Hougang area – has been a hotspot for several times round since we moved to The Minton. But we got through just fine each time.

We finally lucked out three weeks ago though, with Ling being the first in the family now to have contacted dengue. She’s since recovered. Funnily, and from what we gather, the source of it is unlikely from Hougang – but from the nearby Serangoon area where she works. When she was contacted by the National Environment Agency while warded at Changi General Hospital, Ling advised that she was working in the Serangoon area – and the officer remarked that it was a hotspot with a hundred-odd cases in the general area at that point. Not surprising I guess, since there’s a stretch of construction sites directly facing her workplace.

The general timeline for her looks like this:

Day 1: 30 Jan – started feeling unwell. She was nauseous all day, lost all appetite for food, and was at risk of falling.

Day 6: 4 Feb – warded upon clinic’s advise, and on Sunday morning. The blood platelet count continued sinking for about two days more, and around Day 8 when the fever subsided did it start to rise again.

Day 9: 7 Feb – discharged, and given another week of medical leave to continue recovery at home

It was a four day stay at Hotel CGH, and wanting Ling to have the most comfort and privacy, we opted for the A1-type wards. And during the 9 days or so when Ling was very well and on the bed, it was largely single-parenting at home.

And my random notes from my stretch of single parenting:

The hospital is strict on visitor registration. But once I registered myself as the primary caregiver, I was able to breeze through without having to register again.

Each day began with me getting up earlier than normal to prep both kids for school, drive/walk them out, then head to the hospital, and return home in the late afternoon to bring the kids home, worry about dinner, help Hannah with her homework, wash up Peter, prepare their school bags and meal boxes for the next day, settle them both into bed, and finally household chores.

Peter was inconsolably sobbing over Days 6 to 8 that he wanted mommy to come home. I guess it was a matter of time before he had a meltdown.

Hannah on the other hand aptly demonstrated her age by volunteering to take over household chores. OK, it was just the ones that she’s fascinated with, e.g. watering the gazillion plants @ home.

The kids had a lot of ‘helpful’ suggestions on what they will rather not eat for dinner. Conversely, saying a firm ‘no’ to McDonald’s and Dominos’ pizza is an acquired skill.

Coming out with varied evening activities other than Adventures of Puss in Boots @ Netflix, and ones they won’t fight over, is harder than winning Sudoku expert level.

Trying to find an unused parking lot at CGH is painful. I used to find CGH’s car park layout confusing to no end. Now I know it like the back of my hand haha.

The most important artifacts for my sustenance at CGH are the coffee tumbler and a comfortable pillow.

Two Microsoft Pens for one Surface Pro.

We have several several plant racks in the balcony now to better organize the many potted plants on the front balcony.

It was certainly a learning experience, and I was also especially lucky to have a supportive workplace so that I could take on most days over the six day intensive period, though the workplace laptop accompanied me throughout so that I wouldn’t have a backlog of work to clear when I returned back to work. Dengue fever is really no fun – but I reckon we’re at least better prepared now on what to expect if one of us contacts it next!

Chinese New Year 2018

It’s become our tradition on our blog here to do a short post every Lunar New Year. Like last year, the E-M1 and 12-40mm f2.8 did the heavy lighting for the family shots. And for a change this year, the GX85 coupled with the 45mm f1.8 handled the couple shots.

We still haven’t gotten round to having everyone sit or stand in exactly the same position each year though. But wouldn’t that be an achievement!

Everyone is either taller, or fatter!

Our family picture is a hit and miss every year, and usually more the latter than former. So, it’s a really nice change this year that Peter cooperated to make for an all-round happy photo this year.

Focusing point is a little off in this shot. :(

Things I Cherish About @ The Minton

I think the Government has long realized that Singaporeans are becoming harder to please. I reckon we’re victims of our own success – e.g. considering that our small island’s public branding has been one of efficiency, that we’re the top in the world in X or Y or Z – that, inevitably, when the regional competition catches up or surpasses us, or a service and amenity we expect to run smoothly runs into glitches (*cough*MRT), Singaporeans will just start flipping chairs and tables.

I’ve been observing it on multiple levels, including our home and the community around it. True: that some of the private apartment projects built here of late have had issues, well-reported also in media. As The Minton ages, some of the estate and unit issues are going to get more persistent – e.g. from wear and tear, or that many of us aren’t very good at taking care of public things and amenities.

So, I thought it was a good time to remember and be grateful for the things that do work, and that things aren’t really not all that bad. I posted this on the Minton’s FB group, and it’s below – edited also for better context.

10 Things I Cherish about Living in @ The Minton

1. The Greenery
– The landscaping, especially around Tranquil World, was a key selling point when we were deciding. The overall flora has kept up fairly well, and I’ve also grown used to the fencing used around the compound – a sore point some of us will remember when we first noticed it in 2013. I’m really cheered to see the pictures residents with green fingers post up about interesting plant specimens around the compound!

2. The Fauna
– Especially the many occurrences of butterflies laying offspring on balcony plants, and that we even have resident support groups who share resources and food for the caterpillars to grow into butterflies!

3. The Range of Amenities
– Though I only use the main pool nowadays, I appreciate that there are other facilities in the compound I can make use of if I want to – including the badminton dome, piano room, gym, and a convenience store for us to get binge snack food! I miss the Itailan pizzeria, and Edgy’s Cafe though.

4. The Location
– The closeness to main roads connecting the rest of Singapore, and half a dozen large malls all within 20 minutes driving distance of home e.g. Compass One, Hougang Mall, Hougang 1, Seletar Mall, 1KM, SingPost Center, Punggol Waterway, and many more in the town center just beyond.

5. The Pictureseque Views
– The number of newly wedded couples having their bridal photography shoots @ Minton! And that we have many photography enthusiasts who post pictures of sunrises and sunsets, the lily pond, and full moons!

6. The Car park and Lift lobbies
– It’s always pleasant to return home via an air-conditioned lift lobby situated beside car bays. I appreciate that our car park is fairly roomy, well-lit and ventilated and cooling too. If only all of us would comply with the driving directions though.

7. The Safety
– While we enjoy a relatively high-degree of safety on the island, I appreciate too that the general Lorong Ah Soo surrounding is also free of petty crime. We’re near routine dengue hotspots though, and that’s something we need to continue to be vigilant about.

8. The Sounds of Life
– Our compound is filled with the morning sounds of cascading waterfalls, birds chirping, kids running across the wooden decking of the contemporary bridge, and school buses arriving.

9. The Learning Pianists
– This is a personal blessing for me; I enjoy hearing the sounds of the piano from the many residents who play! But please finish before 9:30PM though.

10. The Neighbors
– Most of all, I appreciate our neighbors, many of whom we now count as friends that we share our lives with. There’s an admirable willingness to share knowledge (e.g. recipes, supplier contacts), help each other out (e.g. caring for our balcony plants when we travel), and just being neighborly (e.g. affirmation) – whether here on this FB group, in-person, or over one of the many WhatsApp groups formed by Minton social groups. We do have our inevitable disagreements, but that’s expected when we commune in shared spaces.

Minton at night in 2013 just before it TOPed.

And there we go. It’s important to be positive about our homes!

Surface Pro (2017) – Part 2

At first glance and at distance, the Surface Pro (2017) doesn’t look different compared to the Surface Pro 3. The new 2-1 hybrid has the same form factor, overall design, and styling. Close-up is when one starts noticing the most obvious difference: smaller screen bezels all round, and therefore allowing for a screen with slightly larger display area: 12.0″ vs 12.3″. The significant differences thereafter are all under the hood and not visible to the naked eye.

The model I picked up was the i5/8GB RAM/256SSD – what many reviewers also note is the sweet spot for price-performance. And after 4 days of fairly intense use, my comments follow. It’s mostly good with a few duhs?!?!.

The larger 12.3″ screen enjoys a beefier resolution of 2736×1824 vs 2160×144 in the SP3. But the latter’s screen was already dense enough at 216ppi. You really can’t see the difference in the higher 267ppi in the SP (2017) unless you have eyes capable of seeing microscopic detail, nor are most people I reckon going to get the additional mileage out of the additional 0.3″ display diagonal. No – the real benefit of the larger screen, for me at least, is that it’s aesthetically pleasing to use a screen that has less thick bezels. The Elite X2 has a similar large 12.3″ screen with length and breadth dimensions similar to the SP (260mm x 173mm) and also identical resolution. But it also uses thicker bezels all round too – making the device’s footprint just that bit larger.

The screen is as bright and contrasty as the SP3’s, with pleasing color renditions for both photos and videos. Not quite like the X1 Carbon: where faces have an odd plasticky look in video playback. However, the new screen still has a very slight yellow tint. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Interestingly, forum discussions from other users do acknowledge this screen’s characteristic, but also attributes our being able to notice it to the fact that many glossy display screens are slightly cool, color temperature-wise, to begin with. So, that’s what we’re normally used to. This color balance can be adjusted, though not by any Intel HD Graphics app. Don’t bother looking for it with an SP out of the box – it’s not installed. You’ll have to adjust color balance using Display Settings => Display Adapter Properties => Color Management => Advanced => Calibrate Display. Yeah, Microsoft has turned something that used to be simple terrifically complex now!

The Surface Pro (2017) line of models was also accompanied by the improved Surface Pen, which is also no longer a standard inclusion – Microsoft claims that most people won’t use the Pen. Which is true enough for me, but Hannah liked drawing on the old SP3, so it seems I’ll have to fork out a bit more money at some point to also pick up this accessory.

My old i5 SP3 had fans that could run up to high-speed and generate audible noise when under load. This i5 version of the new SP is now fanless. Normally, the exclusion of fans is only in notebooks using low performance processors, and certainly not i5’s normally. So, Microsoft has some special design and engineering mojo to have achieved this.

Compared to the SP3, the new Surface Pro (2017) has a larger battery (25% larger compared to SP4) and a more power-efficient processor too. I haven’t completed a full battery usage cycle yet, but the old SP3 could run for about 4.5 hrs with my normal usage patterns. This new SP looks like it’ll last 6-7hrs for me. Not quite at the level of 13+ hrs that Microsoft claims, but it’s still a significant bump.

The Windows sleep mode also seems to work better than the old SP3. Specifically, sending the new SP into sleep – e.g. by closing the type cover – doesn’t seem to consume any significant amount of power. An overnight sleep might drop the battery by about 0.1-0.2% – that’s it. This might be because of OS optimizations with the new hardware under the hood. But the SP3 routinely would sip quite a bit more power than that when in sleep mode.

This is my first laptop with Windows Hello Facial Recognition, and it works well. And like the ultra sensitive and responsive fingerprint sensor on the Huawei Mate 9 from last year, maybe too well even! Basically, the SP’s camera has been configured for near infrared (IR) imaging and recognizes authenticated faces to automatically log into the device. The SP easily registered my face in during setup – spectacles included – and the login process to Windows 10 now is fast and requiring no action on my part. What’s the problem then? It works so fast that it’s harder now to switch user accounts. I’ve set up a safe Windows account for Hannah to use for her homework, and when doing a quick account switch, it has to be her face in front of the SP and not mine – lest the Surface Pro think I’m the one trying to re-login again LOL.

The new model’s kickstand is also different. The old SP3’s kickstand hinge closed shut with a springing ‘snap’ sound, while this new one closes with slightly more resistance and it’s also muffed. I reckon this is because the new SP’s kickstand allows the device to sit flatter and less of an incline. Such will be useful when you’re using the SP in tablet mode.

The Surface Pro (2017) (top) is just a mite thinner and smaller than the Elite X2.

More Trump antics on the daily aggregation from Google News.

The lack of a USB-C port on this spanking new Surface Pro from a technology giant in this day and age is just stupid. I don’t buy Microsoft’s excuse of a lack of informed use of correctly rated USB-C chargers. I can charge my X1 Carbon and also the HP Elite X2 using the same USB-C charger, and can’t do the same because Microsoft thinks users will be confused. Just bullocks.

That said, the  Surface Pro Power Charger does replenish the SP’s battery quickly, and it’s also slightly more compact compared to the SP3’s.

The new version of the Type Cover is functionally the same as Type Cover 4, though there are a few new functions available on the function key row.

The new SP features the same magnesium-painted exterior all around the unit. It’s very nice to look at, smooth to the touch and cooling even when the device is in rest mode. However, the SP3’s similar coating was susceptible to scratches and stains from normal use, and I’m not positive that this new SP won’t also look as dingy and worn on the exterior a year from now. So, a folio wraparound case is on the way from Amazon that’ll hopefully protect the SP from these cosmetic wear and tear.

And lastly. If there was a singularly large issue with this new SP, it’s that my i5 unit has the utterly slow Toshiba SSD installed on it. Some of the reviews online had units with the blazingly fast Samsung PM971 SSD, while others – like mine – ended up with the slower drive. And no, I can’t change it as it’s soldered onto the motherboard. Arrggghh!!!

The X1 Carbon (left) wipes the floor with the new SP (right).

Still, the slow-like-turtle Toshiba SSD aside, I’m glad I picked up this new SP, and it’s a great machine for its asking price. More notes to come later after another extended period of use.

Surface Pro (2017) – Part 1

There was an article in the national media several days ago about the amount of electronic waste that the average Singapore generates: and it’s a pretty significant amount. I reckon that’s one of the consequences of a technologically advanced nation, where devices are used not just in productivity, but also for personal consumption. In the old days, people could be encouraged to try repairing and fixing failed electronic appliances. But this sort of DIY repair and making good is just not practical for a lot of the appliances we use today, what with their compactness, tightly integrated hardware and electronics etc. For instance, technicians are already finding it difficult to open up a closed system like a MacBook or iPad, much less end-users.

I have a lot of preloved technology gadgets at home. But it was only a week ago when I finally resolved to sell off as much as possible what’s still working, and drop off to e-waste recycling bins all the rest that aren’t. And nicely, after about 4 days of selling a half-dozen new/unused/pre-loved electronic items, I accrued a small sum of money from the proceedings to buy the new Surface Pro (2017), a model that was released middle of last year.

Why a new Surface Pro though? I already use two to three laptops at work. My workplace has just given me also a very nifty and decent HP Elite x2 1012 G2 tablet for use, a model that is basically HP’s equivalent take of the Surface Pro, if designed specifically for enterprise use. For my personal machine, the Dell XPS 13 was my daily driver at work for 2.5 years before being replaced by the X1 Carbon last year – and the Dell XPS 13 battery sensor failed promptly thereafter, consigning this ultrabook permanently now to a desktop table where it can only run on A/C power.

But these two workhorse machines have been/are functional machines and not nearly as fun as a Surface Pro is to use. There’s just something alluring about Windows 2-1 hybrid notebooks, with their svelte form factor, stunning screens, support for stylus pens, and also detachable keyboards. I love the Surface Pro 3 I’ve had for 3 years, but choosing the 4GB RAM at the point of purchase was a huge mistake on my part. It ran the pre-installed Windows 8.1 sufficiently well, but struggled after it was bumped up to Windows 10 when Microsoft ran the free-upgrade programme for all users of Windows 7 and 8.x. Whatever notebook I was going to get from this point onwards needs to have at least 8GB RAM.

With about SGD1.6K – including a small flexi-spending incentive given by my workplace to buy technology equipment for use – and after an additional small top-up, I had enough to buy such a spec-ed new Surface Pro (2017). Microsoft – for some unknown reason – doesn’t call their latest iteration of their Surface Pro line of hybrid notebooks the SP5, even though it’s clearly succeeding the SP4 that was released in Oct 2015. The local stores were carrying an attractive promotional bundle this month where the i5/8GB RAM/256SSD + Type Cover (Black) for SGD1,688 – an attractive bargain.

The HP (left) and Microsoft.

Handling notes and usage comments in the next post!

Samsung Gear Sport – Part 2

I had a funny early experience on the first full day of use with the new Samsung Gear Sport. I’d lost track of time while working on documents in the office. Until the new watch suddenly vibrated, announcing that I’d been sitting on my butt for too long – an hour to be exact – and I should get up, and do five torso twists. Don’t know what those are? No worries – the watch helpfully ran an animation to guide me along. And sometime later in the day, I had to head out of my office for a meeting. After getting up, barely 5 steps later, the Gear Sport helpfully piqued “well-done, good to know that you’re off your feet finally to do some exercise!” LOL.

There’s basically my net takeaway of the Samsung Gear Sport. As a smartwatch, it’s not really too different from the Huawei Watch from a functional point of view. But as a health and activity tracker, it sure is zealous in its mission to get its wearers to do simple physical activities all day long.

The Samsung Gear Sport is sold at a recommended retail price tag of SGD449 in stores here. Quite a bit higher than Amazon’s list price of USD275 with frequent price fluctuations, though various stores here also offer bundled discount vouchers and also additional accessories (e.g. straps). I found a Lazada reseller selling it for SGD378/USD284 – a little higher but I get the local warranty. Credit especially to the reseller too who delivered the watch to the door step in less than 24 hours.

And four days after wearing the watch at all times – excepting short 15 minute charge cycles a few times a day to keep the watch juiced up, my comments:

This is my first watch that runs Tizen, and I’m a fan of it now. Samsung’s operating system isn’t as sophisticated as Android’s, but it’s nonetheless looks polished and runs fluidly. I’m not a smartwatch power user, so have no need for the gazillions of Android Wear apps out there. So that the Tizen OS is comparatively less expansive in its range of third-party apps doesn’t bother me.

Samsung Gear’s signature rotating bezel is really helpful, and is my preferred method of scrolling through screen pages and tabs on this watch, rather than via touchscreen. The bezel though only handles scrolling and not actual input for the most part. It would had been perfect if there was a third dedicated watch button that defaults to ‘enter’ or ‘ok’.

The Gear Sport comes with onboard storage for MP3s, so you can play music through a wireless Bluetooth headphones without needing the phone. I didn’t think I was going to use this feature, but after trying it, it’s actually a lot more useful than I thought. I had no difficulties coupling it with two Bluetooth headphones – a SonicGear EarPump Studio V and an Audio-Technica ATH-AR3BT – and I’ll be taking both out in turn for running soon enough. The 4GB capacity is somewhat limited though compared to the kind of storage options you have on smartphones, but it’s still sufficient for most use-cases, excepting 40km marathons!

The watch comes with about a dozen preinstalled watch faces that’s varied in styles, and several offer further customization options. There are also additional free and paid watch faces, and I reckon that the former offers easily enough variety to satisfy most users. So, no need to purchase additional watchfaces before you find a couple that you like.

The battery dipped 3% with brightness set to ‘7’ (of 10), all tracking features on and watch face on (with 15s auto-dimming) after 90 minutes, Bluetooth integration to watch on. So, the Gear Sport should last two days, and more if power-saving features are enabled. That’s also borne out Samsung Gear app’s battery monitor – picture below.

The watch charger replenishes the watch battery wirelessly, and the dock’s base has a fairly deep cavity that helps you easily seat the watch. I recalled reading one report that the charger only works if you connect it to the USB port of a computer, but I had no such difficulties and it’s worked fine with the couple of non-Samsung third party USB chargers I’ve used it with so far.  Other users have also reported that vibration alerts are a little mild, which can potentially make it hard to ‘feel’ incoming alerts. The vibration motor isn’t quite as strong as what you’ll normally get on smartphones, but if you wear the watch close to the wrist, it’s not so bad.

Charging takes a bit more time than the Huawei though even though their batteries are similar in capacity – 300 mAh. A charging test revealed that it takes roughly 15-16 minutes to run the battery up by 10% – which means about 2.5 hours to fully charge the Gear Sport – more than twice the time it takes for the Huawei.

The Samsung Health app has a nice layout, and customizable too. Oddly, I couldn’t get the app to measure heart rate using the watch only and not smartphone. A bug maybe?

Pictures and screen shots!

The Gear Sport supports the National Steps Challenge too!

Securely packaged. The watch silicon strap as supplied has an almost alluring almond scent.

Emptying the box: the watch, a spare strap, a charger (don’t need that), the charging dock, and a quick start-up leaflet.

The rotating bezel looks silver-ish here, but is really a dark grey in color.

Slightly smaller screen and lower resolution than the Huawei Watch, but the Gear Sport uses the same AMOLED display technology. The Samsung Gear app allows customizations for its baked-in watch faces too.

Projected battery life of just over 2 days with all sensors and phone-tethering on, maximum brightness, with display on 15s auto-off. This is with no fiddling on the phone too.

Gotta improve on that sleep efficiency rating!

The Samsung Gear Sport and Huawei Watch.

The Gear Sport really does feel heavier, despite its almost marginal weight difference of 4g.

The Gear Sport as won. This watch face is titled ‘Analog Utility’, comes pre-installed, and allows you to choose different info dials. From top to bottom, it’s displaying Sunrise/Sunset timing, current weather (Singapore has been experiencing a much colder than normal monsoon – brrrr!!), and step counter.

The Samsung Gear Sport would be perfect if the watch battery could run longer than its 2 days longevity in most use-cases, and the watch slightly cheaper than the about SGD370 as sold here. Still, I’m glad I went with this rather than a Garmin offering. Tizen works great, the screen is lovely, and built-in trackers and alerts actually useful and effective in reminding me to get up when I’ve been sitting too long. I’ll do a follow-up post once I use it for running and swimming, so more to come at some point!

Samsung Gear Sport – Part 1 – Decisions

Of all the tech toys I buy, I don’t remember ever having had this much difficulty deciding which smartwatch to get to complement my Huawei Watch! Aside from the sheer proliferation of smart watches out there now – and I didn’t have time to look at the cheap Made-in-China no-name models in my week long survey – many of the main stream models from the well-known manufacturers are widely sold in Singapore. And surprisingly, local prices here weren’t always higher than Amazon. At times, it was competitive, and in a few instances, even slightly lower when compared to pre-Black Friday Amazon prices.

There are three mandatory specifications for the new watch:

It has to be waterproof – since one of this watch’s core use is for me to swim with it.

Activity and health tracking – which means tethering with the smartphone. Decathlon Singapore sells a number of waterproof watches with heart rate sensors and the like, but they are standalone devices.

Supports notifications from the smartphone.

As for nice-to-haves, from the most important ones:

At least 3-4 days battery life. Having to charge the watch everyday, as my Huawei and LG watches required, is simply annoying. This also meant that most watches running Android Wear, alongside all of the Apple Watches would not be in the running.

Supports either contact-less charging, or uses a clip-type charger. I reckon the experience with Huawei’s very fiddling watch charging has made me wary. Aside from that the Huawei watch isn’t waterproof, that charging the watch is a hit and miss affair has significantly limited how much reliable use I can get out from it nowadays.

Form factor. The watches in this group can really be divided into two basic designs: those that look and feel like traditional watches, and those that don’t. I have a preference for the former: on account that while this replacement watch doesn’t need to replace the Huawei watch when I need to wear something nice with formal wear, it just feels strange to wear a rectangle on my wrist.

Screen. A number of watches I looked at – especially from Garmin – make use of transreflective LCD or e-Ink technology for its display: which permits great legibility in strong light. But conversely, the display can also look really dim indoors. This was a very hard call to make, since the other huge payoff of a transreflective LCD is better battery life than watches that make use of AMOLED screens. But I reasoned that I was going to wear this watch much of my awake time, and my day job is indoors. Which meant that a nicer display indoors would be of more importance relatively than how it looks when outdoors.

So many to choose from.

There was a lot of back and forth between models last week, and briefly:

Nokia Steel HR – really nice classic watch design, very affordable and features long battery life – but not waterproof.

Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 and HR – similar features, if different designs and price-points. The Vivoactive 3 has a traditional watch design, but is fairly expensive here. I very nearly went with the Vivoactive HR as Amazon was selling it cheaply, but cancelled just when the store was just about to ship the item. The transreflective LCD screens just didn’t work for me.

AmazFit Pace 2 – haven’t seen this watch series on sale in Singapore, but this just recently released model from Xiaomi’s subsidiary can be bought from overseas stores for cheap and hits all the check-boxes easily. But it has one issue which make this a non-starter: the watch is in Chinese, only. Ugh.

Samsung Gear Sport – this was a late inclusion: meets all the mandatory, and all but one of the desirable specs. The battery can hit 3-4 days yes – but only if you’re disable a good number of its features.

So, no easy decision: but the watch I finally decided to go with was the Samsung Gear Sport:

A review of the watch itself to come soon!

 

Smartwatches

It’s pretty much a given that most electronic gadgets do not hold their value well over time. Whether it’s cameras, laptops or smartphones, these devices basically start depreciating the instant you buy them – bringing about the adage that you only really want to buy these gadgets when you absolutely need them.

Which makes the Huawei Smartwatch pretty special: not only is the phone still in production more than 2.5 years after it was announced, the watch still sells for about the same price as it did: I bought the watch on discount for USD249 – and it’s listed at USD299 @ Amazon today.

On this, I reckon Huawei did something really clever: while they have put out a second version of the phone, their second gen phone is pretty well-differentiated from both a design but also specification point of view from the original Huawei Smartwatch so that the new version doesn’t cannibalize the older model too much.

I’ve had my Huawei Smartwatch now for about 20 months, and it’s been my daily-use device almost exclusively (though see below). Despite newer smartwatches being released – and Apple and also cheap Chinese knock-offs – Huawei’s first-gen offering still remains a real looker, and with an appropriate watch face easily nice enough for use as a a dress watch too.

On the other hand:

Battery life – as with most watches on the Android Wear OS or even Apple Watch – just isn’t very good, and near daily charging is mandatory. The daily juicing also means that the watch doesn’t accompany me out of the country – I already have too many accessories to bring to charge the several powerbanks, still/video/360 camera batteries, tablets and smartphones!

Android Wear 2.0 was announced in Feb 2017, and it’s been quite a mixed bag after it was installed for the Huawei Watch. Notifications were all different, and seemingly inconsistently working.

The watch is water-resistant, not waterproof. That means it can’t be worn when Hannah and I swim every weekend at the Minton pool.

Most seriously though: the charging pins on three chargers – Huawei’s OEM and also two cheap Made in China knockoffs – have degraded over time. From the beginning, it was already a little hard to get a good magnetic lock from watch to dock to start charging, requiring a few tries. Now it’s frustratingly difficult if not outright impossible.

The last bit is a really serious problem – since the watch is essentially unusable if it can’t be charged, and daily.

How the Huawei Watch is getting charged of late – on a good day, that is! At least McDonald’s Curry Sauce sachets are of some use.

Coupled in large part also that the entire of Singapore is ramping up efforts to get people here to live healthy lifestyles, and also providing free health trackers and wristbands. The Health Promotion Board for instance has also setup the National Steps Challenge – which (who would have guessed) I have also signed up for. So, I figured now’s about the time for me to look into getting a smartwatch with robust health and activity tracking and is also waterproof for me to wear when I swim.

So, what options? I checked out the Nokia – no, they’re not (yet) making their own smart watches but bought a company that did so – Steel HR, Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 and HR models, AmazFit Pace, Samsung Gear Sport, LG Watch Sport, Apple Watch 3, Huawei Watch 2, Fitbit Blaze, and the Samsung Gear Fit2. Not all of these are waterproof though.

And after a week of research, I still haven’t quite decided what to go with!

Year in Review – 2017

Another year has almost rocketed right past us. So, time again to do the annual review of things that went well and those that just didn’t. As before, this blog is a fully independent entity and we’re not affiliated to any social media influencer agencies, nor receive any free gadgets/dining experiences/vacations to review. Everything is paid out of our own pocket.

Huawei Mate 9 – Mixed: this phone came out of Ling’s mobile biannual re-contract. The phone was Huawei’s top of the line (at that point), decent build and quite highly spec-ed with a very large battery – but the hyper-sensitive thumbprint scanner resulted in a lot of accidental phone unlocks. Moreover, it’s hard to step down to a FHD LED screen when you’re used to Samsung Notes’ QHD Super Amoled screens. The phone got exchanged for the Samsung Galaxy S8+, which turn right out to be a…

Samsung Galaxy S8+ – Win: … easily. Still not quite the best phone I’ve used (relative experiences at that point, mind you) with the Samsung Note 5 taking that crown still, but the S8+ has come very close to it! The screen is gorgeous, takes 4K 30fps videos, Android 7.0 runs along swimmingly smooth, and the screen to body ratio is as good as it can get at this point. I still prefer my phones to be less curvy around the edges – but oh well. Coupled with the UBeesize rugged underwater case I bought @ Amazon, the S8+ now also doubles-up as an underwater cam too.

Using the S8+ @ The Minton pool.

Panasonic GX85 – Win: the first of three cameras I picked up in 2017, and this one was right at the start of the year. I got the mid-range GX85 at a great price, and it has in-turn won over the bits of trepidation I had about getting a Panasonic m4/3 camera as I’ve only used Olympus m4/3s up to this point. The out of camera picture resolution isn’t quite where my E-M1 or E-PL6 is at, and the color rendition is… different. But the camera counter-punches with reliable AF, silent shutter, handling, and useful trimmings like USB-charging and support for 4K video. I had to send the GX85 for a minor repair in October though when the sensor was – oddly – knocked out of alignment. The unit was still in warranty, so Panasonic fixed it quickly in a week.

Samsung Gear 360 (2017) – Mixed: only on account that I still haven’t quite found frequent use for this novel gadget that was picked up for cheap in time for our June trip to Western Australia this year. The camera takes acceptable stills but the quality of the 360 video is a result still of limited technology implementation at this consumer-level price-point. I reckon it’ll still be at least 1-2 years before 8K 360 cameras reach a price-point that doesn’t hurt as much as it does now, so I’ll try to have get more mileage out of the Gear 360 in 2018.

Lenovo X1 Carbon – Win: the trauma I had with repairing the X1 Carbon when it catastrophically failed 2 weeks after delivery this year in June nearly made me want to throw this notebook out of my level 8 office! Alright – just kidding on that one, but Lenovo’s after sales service was exasperatingly slow to the max, and things only started moving when I insisted my repair request be escalated to management. The notebook after having it replaced now works as it should: lovely keyboard to type on, good battery life, screen that’s easy on the eyes, and very light to hold.

Sirui T024X – Win: this moderately light tripod has come on a long trip out of the country so far, and fared well enough. Tripods are largely considered life-time investments though and not something you really need to upgrade, short of mechanical failures of whatever tripods you’re currently using, or that your general camera equipment has changed to the point that you really don’t need the heavy duty and just plain heavy stuff. Mine was the latter. Since I’d finally sold away all of my old Nikon DSLRs and lenses, I didn’t need the old Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 tripod anymore and wanted something lighter.

Thermomix TM5 – Win: Ling should finally note this one, but judging from the very long list of pastries, Western/Asian cuisine she’s whipped out using this all-in-one kitchen gadget, I reckon the TM5 has been one of our best investments this year. If only it wasn’t this expensive!

Char Siew Chicken using the Thermomix.

iPad Pro 12.9″ – Win: This was a fairly expensive buy but also an example of an acquisition whose actual use went beyond the initial projection. I’d been struggling to display multi-page piano scores for practice on our Yamaha upright since the start of the year. It was either a display size or page-turning issue. The Acrobat Reader app on the iPad Air 2 – which has since experienced a irrecoverable battery failure – could turn pages reliably with finger flicks, but the screen was small. The Surface Pro 3 is of the right display size, but I couldn’t adjust my feet to turn pages using the AirTurn PED. The iPad Pro 12.9″ has finally solved both challenges, and effectively: the large screen and True Tone screen displays music scores with great whites, and page-turning is easy. The iPad Pro has also come become the children’s choice gaming device when they do get some time on it.

Passion10 eScooter – Win: There’s been an awful spate of accidents involving Personal Mobility Devices on our roads, some fatal – and several from inappropriate use of these devices, e.g. e-scooters on our roads where they are not permitted. Our eScooter is used purely as a leisure device, never on roads, and very gingerly on pedestrian pathways even. Both kids enjoy their turns on it, and the device is just big and powerful enough to have both kids and an adult riding short distances on it too.

Scooting around the Marina Bay area.

Guinea Pigs – Win: As a child, my parents strictly forbade my two brothers and myself from owning pets, so Ling quips that I’m reliving my childhood by adopting a Syrian hamster last year, and now two guinea pigs this year. To wit – Rudolf and Danny’s primary caregiver is me, and the kids are only the beneficiaries. The scale of work and costs involved in caring for two male boars is vastly heavier than Stacy the Syrian – our spare +1 room now has huge containers of piggie food, hay, hiding places, pee toilets, bedding material, and – of course – about eight large economy bags of pee pads! Think baby diapers LOL.

Blurb Books Vol. 8 – Lose: I’ve been putting together and printing photo books with Blurb for almost 10 years now, and for our volume this year, finally hit my first very large glitch – misprinted jacket covers. Granted, the misprint was the result entirely of an oversight on my part using their in-house desktop publishing software, but the lack of reasonably priced solutions was unacceptable. Who in his right mind would agree to reprint an entire pricey book of about SGD140 just because its separate jacket cover was misprinted?

Staycation M Hotel – Lose: Objectively-speaking, it didn’t affect our anniversary celebrations as we had a blast everywhere else with checking out places in the central business district that we previously didn’t make time for – including stuffing ourselves at two Keisuke restaurants, and catching the comedy, whoops super-hero film Thor: Ragnarok. But our stay at this hotel itself wasn’t really any good.

Zhiyun Smooth Q Smartphone Gimbal – Mixed: Unlike the Samsung Gear 360, the Smooth Q is pretty good as what it does, judging from the limited time I’ve spent with it so far. Like the Gear 360 though, I haven’t yet found a persistent use-case for it right this moment. Hopefully the next time I do an extended video-recording session, the Smooth Q will prove its chops.

Canon G7X Mark II – Win: after almost three years of back and forth wondering whether I should try a 1″ compact, the G7X Mark II got discounted to a price at a store here that was substantially lower than what Amazon was charging themselves. Hooray for the (very rare) tech bargains we do get here! In very good light and outdoors, the G7X II produces images that are almost indistinguishable from what get out of m4/3s – but in less light than that, the differences become a lot more evident. The camera however focuses briskly, is jammed pack with features – the lack of 4K video support being the largest omission for me – and is more portable than any m4/3s camera I’ve got at this point.

The G7X II has made possible wefie shots like these.

That’s a wrap for 2017, and how fast the year has come and gone!