I’ve a pretty good track record of using Android devices. None of the probably about a dozen Android tablets and smartphones I’ve used in the about last 7 years have failed in a fashion that I haven’t been able to recover from – until the recent weekend that is. The LG G Watch R that Ling bought for my birthday 17 months ago got into a infinite boot loop, and I’ve been stumped on how to restore it back to working state. The failure is apparently common among LG G Watch Rs if Internet tech threads are any indication. And short of returning such units to manufacturer for repair, recovery measures in tech forums have included unlocking the bootloader to flash custom roms to using ice packs to bring down the watch’s internal temperature. None of these solutions have succeeded in coaxing my watch back to life , and it got to the point of utter exasperation that I’m ready to toss the phone down the rubbish chute!

So; looking around for a replacement smart watch and what my options were.

Apple Watch: knocked out of the list real quick. No non-round watches for me. No iPhone to pair it with anyway too.

Asus ZenWatch 2: very affordably priced, but also non-round in form factor.

LG Watch Urbane: The premium version of the LG G Watch R, but after seeing how the Watch R has failed, I’m not inclined to give LG watches another go.

Motorola Moto 360 (2nd Gen): for tech sites, one of the two most highly-regarded Android watches at this moment (the other is the Huawei Watch below). The Gen 2 comes in two sizes and is widely available in Singapore. Unfortunately, the watch while round in form factor also does not make full use of the display area, resulting in what Internet pundits jokingly refer to as a flat-tyre screen. The Gen 2 has two sizes, and my preference was the larger one of 46mm diameter screen. The relatively low resolution used in the screen though was a disappointment; display pixelation was obvious.

Huawei Watch: well-regarded and with stunning looks and premium build. The unit goes for about $450 in Singapore – ouch. But the watch as sold through Amazon exports sales was enjoying a hefty discount of more than a hundred moola savings, with free shipping to boot too.

Samsung Gear S2 Classic: was a real contender. Desirable form factor, chic look, and I didn’t mind that it wasn’t running off Android. Unfortunately, the watch’s retail price is pretty high, and no discounts were offerd on Amazon.

So it was the Huawei watch, and on the way to Singapore. A review to follow soon with comparisons to the LG G Watch R!

LG G Watch R, 2014-2016. R.I.P.

LG G Watch R, 2014-2016. R.I.P.

The Meike MK320F for the Fujifilm cameras arrived yesterday. The Chinese company has an online store, and the MK320 Speedlite is also available through places like Lazada. You’d likely going to get it cheaper off eBay though. There are numerous resellers of this particular flashgun and for different mounts, though the usual caveats and cautions apply when buying anything off eBay. Hmm. I reckon I should do a post soon on the hits/misses I’ve had buying items off eBay over these several years now!

The ordering and delivery from my eBay reseller went without a hitch though, and it took just over a week for it to arrive via registered post, and substantially cheaper than what I’d paid through Lazada resellers or in-store in Singapore. Some early impressions:

The unit comes packed in a tightly-fitted box, with the flash gun protected snugly with molded dense foam. Not quite the norm, and it affords a high degree of protection for the flashgun while in shipping.

Flash gun seems well-constructed with no loose parts. The buttons provide reassuring clicks when pressed. Oddly though, it’s possible to mount the flash gun the wrong way onto the camera’s hotshoe without one realizing it quickly, so some caution is necessary.

The battery compartment snaps open with a light press of the latch. Pretty convenient compared to the usual battery sliding hatch common in other flash guns. My Metz flash gun’s battery slider broke after two years of fairly light use. The MK320 seems better engineered to withstand similar abuse.

Flash recycling time feels somewhat quicker than the Nissin i40 though I suspect it also has to do with the unit permitting shots to be fired even when the flash has not been fully recharged.

The unit permits swiveling 60 degrees left and 90 degrees right. Not as generous as the Nissin i40 which permits 180 degree swiveling – very useful for bounced flash shots where you have to point the camera/flash gun downwards.

No zoom head, so the light angle is fixed. I’m fine with it though since it’s married to the X70 and the latter’s fixed lens anyway.

Like the i40, the MK320’s Sto-fen-styled omnibounce diffuser comes supplied with the flash gun, and while it snaps onto the flash head, isn’t especially tightly fitted. It won’t take much for the diffuser to be knocked off.

The flash output seems a little off when set to TTL, and specifically less than expected. Might be something to do with that the flash control is different from Olympus, which I’m very used to. The i40 also throws out more light at its maximum setting than the MK320 – it’s GN 40 vs GN 32.

Micro-USB charging port is a terrific inclusion, though that it’s intended for a 1A charging. I tried several chargers which exceed that suggested charging current and the batteries felt super-heated after a while.

The instructional manual is in English and riddled with language errors. Not bad enough for you to not understand how to use the unit, but language QC is clearly not on par.

All in, it’s a pretty decent flash gun but I don’t think it surpasses the Nissin i40 in its versatility. That said, the LCD screen and USB charging are very nice touches. One has to keep in mind that the MK320 costs about a third of the i40’s price, and for what I paid, I reckon I can’t complain too much!

Unboxing the unit, and it's as chokeful of goodies as the Nissn i40.

Unboxing the unit, and it’s as full of goodies as the Nissin i40.

Very nifty LCD panel at the rear of the MK320. Pretty unusual inclusion for a flashgun at this price point.

Very nifty LCD panel at the rear of the MK320. Pretty unusual inclusion for a flashgun at this price point.

A micro-USB port for charging... on a flashgun. Amazing!

A micro-USB port for charging… on a flashgun.

The LCD display shows the current charging status, alongside also the green indicator.

The LCD display shows the current charging status, alongside also the green light indicator.

The MK320 sitting atop the X70. Pretty top-heavy and somewhat unbalanced.

The MK320 sitting atop the X70. Pretty top-heavy and somewhat unbalanced.

Light yet powerful flashgun units for my two primary cameras now.

Light yet powerful flashgun units for my two primary cameras now.

The most recent family vacation to Club Med Bintan in December last year turned out to be such a let-down that we’ve sworn off beach resorts for our family holidays for the immediate future. I reckon that the disappointment was made the worse as many Internet bloggers had written glowing paradise-like praise for the place. And that let me to really wonder whether we’d finally gone to the same place or not over the five days! A Minton neighbor was recently quite interested in our blog, and commented that she especially appreciated and would rather follow independent bloggers than those affiliated with influencer agencies or receiving sponsorships and what not, and even withstanding caveats/open declarations/editorial policies. We’d write without having to feel as though we’re obligated to only say favorable things.

That aside and in any case, we have a window this year in June where we could make plans for a longer than the usual five-six day trip we’ve been making do in the last few years. And at that time of the year, the northern hemisphere would be typically warmer than the south, so we decided early on to arrange for an at least eight day trip, and somewhere south. Like the last three trips – to Legoland Malaysia, Koh Phangan, and Bintan – Peter would be with us.  And apart from prevailing climate, we were also mindful of other considerations, including:

Airfare costs

Availability of direct flights

Not too far (we were worried if Peter could handle anything more than 12 hrs in a plane!)

Child and pram-friendly

Self-drive as an option

Cool weather

With these criteria in mind, we really weren’t considering many options – yep, it was going to be Australia. Again.

Truth to tell, I’ve spent so much time in Australia, comparatively, that I’m not sure if I wanted to go there again for a vacation. I reckon if we were planning for a September or December holiday, we’d travel to Taiwan, Japan or Korea instead. And if funds had permitted, to visit our Ang mo bud in Missouri.

Of the several cities in the country, Ling wasn’t so keen on Perth as she’d already been there and didn’t think there was much, city-wise. I concurred – I would know as I lived there for three years! The next two cities which were going to see fairly cool weather was Sydney and Melbourne, and both cities were connected to Singapore by several airlines whose fares were competitively-priced, and they also offered direct flights. The two cities architecture and vibe-wise are different, and they also offer a very slightly different basket of sights off-city. I’ve previously spent a bit of time in both, and my preference was Sydney while Ling’s was Melbourne – and we eventually decided in favor of the latter, and a ten day trip.

At this point, we’ve confirmed our flights – we booked Emirates on a pretty decent deal that was about comparable price-wise to budget offerings after taking on board the additional food and baggage charges, and also our accommodation arrangements. More comments on that to come, alongside of our itinerary in-planning!

melbourne

Melbourne, June 2016.

And some pictures of our kids with the new X70! The camera was configured for shutter speeds of 1/80s and ISO3200 max, and also a mix of program-auto and aperture-priority.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO2000, flashed-fired.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO2000, flashed-fired head-on. The picture is still correctly color balanced though I reckon that the soon to arrive Meike MK320 will allow for a less-noisy ISO setting.

f2.8, 1/30s, ISO3200, no-flash.

f2.8, 1/30s, ISO3200, no-flash. Early weekday morning at about 0620 hrs. Peter does not like sleeping on his bed! Handheld shots like this are easy on the E-M1/E-M5, and tough on the X70 because of its lack of optical stabilization.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO400, no-flash

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO400, no-flash. Peter just after he was disciplined for his usual misbehavior.

f4.0, 1/25s, ISO400, flash-fired.

f4.0, 1/25s, ISO400, flash-fired. It’s amazing how quickly primary school kids are introduced to computer use in school. Hannah has weekly scheduled lab time where the kids do independent learning through an education portal.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO1000, no-flash.

f2.8, 1/80s, ISO1000, no-flash. We’ve been frequenting Toast Box @ Parkway Parade of late, on account that our two kids love the varieties of thick toasts there.

Early impressions of the Fujifilm X70 after about a week of use!

The default color profile coming out of the X70 is subtly different from Olympus m4/3s. Not a scientific test now as I’m not a visual person, but the natural lighting colors do look very slightly more natural, though this is finally really personal preferences. The typical pictures at ISO3200 look less noisy than m4/3s equivalents.

The all-round metallic body feels well-built, cool to touch, and dense. In a nice-touch, the eyelet hooks are also removed as factory-shipped too. That’s always the first things I remove when I get a new m4/3s body.

The Exposure Compensation dial sits at the far right corner. It’s slightly recessed though and quite stiff. Quite helpful in avoiding situations where one accidentally brushes against it and dial in unwanted exposure compensations, as it’s happened a few times with the mode dials on Olympus E-PL bodies now.

The metallic lens cap is internally padded, and fits snugly onto the lens. The lens itself doesn’t have a filter thread, so the dedicated 49mm adapter ring is needed to fit a filter and/or 49mm lens cap.

The menu item layout is more visually appealing than Olympus, though I don’t think the organization is really any less confusing for first users of the Fujifilm system.

Silent shutter option. Nice!

In-camera charging via the micro USB port. Super convenient than having to bring a dedicated charger unit. This feature should be a standard inclusion in all cameras.

And lastly, the X70 offers many of the usual amenities we’ve come to expect from modern cameras – including setting a minimum shutter speed, and lower/upper limits of the ISO setting.

aa

The rear LCD is bright and high-resolution. It’s surrounded by a thick bezel though, so not particularly optimal use of actual possible space.

On the other hand:

AF speed is so-so. It’s not nearly as brisk as Olympus’ m4/3s cameras from the last several years now, and the difference is even more evident in low-light situations.

Non-stabilized lens and no provision for in-body stabilization either. I’ve been spoiled by the Olympus m4/3 camera bodies, and especially the 5-axis in-body stabilization system on my E-M5 and E-M1. Sharp handheld shots of 1/5s are totally possibly on those bodies and just too hard on the X70.

No hot-shoe cover. Had to buy cheapo third party replacements for it.

RAW support isn’t available in Program-Auto mode, while Auto-flash mode is available only in Program-Auto. I figure that’s why it’s called ‘auto’ mode, but it would had been better if these options were available for advanced users as an optional items to enable than to disallow them altogether.

Oddly, image playback takes a bit of time to start-up, though once it’s in playback mode, images do scroll briskly.

The Selector quadrant of buttons don’t offer good key travel and are quite stiff. The E-M5’s selector also had low key travel but buttons weren’t nearly as stiff or mushy.

The Auto mode selector level is close to the master on/off switch. The first couple of days I kept accidentally toggling the auto mode from Aperture priority to full-on auto, instead of powering on/off the camera. That took some getting use to.

The package came with accessories, several of which were high quality original equipment from manufacturer – the lens hood, adapter ring, leather case and strap, and an extra battery. The leather case got put aside as while it provides a better grip hold for the X70, also adds more bulk, and I don’t find its design appealing either. The other four accessories are useful though.

A couple of other accessories are also on order, including a 49mm Hoya Pro 1 Digital filter, which is a few dollars more expensive than the normal Hoya filters but which glass elements are easier to clean. Alongside that, a tempered glass ear LCD protector, and finally also – the Meike MK320 TTL flash gun for the X70, which cost less than half the price for the already bargain bin-priced Nissin i40 I’ve got for m4/3s. A mini-review for the Meike perhaps once I receive the unit in a few weeks.

aaa

The X70’s top panel.

Some pictures of the kids next!

I reckon I’m one of those very lucky hubbies – since I have a wife who chuckles whenever I bring home a new toy! This time round, it’s the Fujifilm X70.

The impetus for this new acquisition started 2 months ago when the Olympus E-PL6 started developing sticky shutter problems. Not sure why since it’s been handled carefully for the almost 3 years I’ve owned it. While the stuck shutter can be rectified by removing the battery and memory card at each occurrence, it’s also caused me to miss key moments where the kids were doing something I wanted to capture.

I’ve previously owned relatively-large sensor compact cameras before. The Panasonic LX7 – which can still take decent pictures in good light; the Panasonic LX100 – which offered a very useful focal length and was fast at the widest angle, but got sold away as I couldn’t live with the odd color casts and also was just too soft around the corners.

For our upcoming Melbourne June 2016 trip, I’ve been eyeing a replacement compact that would accompany the E-M1 and the two f2.8s (12-40mm/40-150mm) coming along for the trip. The compact would need to meet these requirements:

Relatively large sensor of at least 1″.

Bright f2.8 or faster lens.

Flip screen for the family wefie.

Compact, preferably. Pocketable, even better.

Non-interchangeable lens systems. One camera system is enough!

A whole list of models got included – the Sony RX100 series, the Canons G7X and G9X, and a couple of bridge cameras even – the Panasonic FZ1000, Sony RX10 and Canon G3X. The three bridge cameras all start at f2.8 and support up to the minimal focal length I reckon I would shoot at in Melbourne, with the RX10 going way beyond that even. But they are also huge, heavier than the E-M1/12-40mm, and bulkier. The Canon G3X is slightly smaller in body compared to the other two bridge cameras, but misses out on a built-in viewfinder – a key omission that would have made telephoto shots difficult to manage.

The Sony RX100s are compact and fairly pricey, though the oldest of the series still widely sold – the Mark II – is relatively cheap now with in-store discounts. The Canons G7X and G9X are at an affordable price-point and meet most of the basic requirements, but I’ve still have niggling concerns about 1″ sensors using on the Sony RX100s and Canons, and the Canons also reportedly have poor battery life.

A student of mine previously loaned me his Fujifilm X100 some four years ago, and I really liked its amazing colors and center sharpness, though not its general usability and pedestrian AF speeds. The most current version of that series – the Fujifilm X100T – wasn’t in consideration as it was fairly large for a compact, and well-past the price I was prepared to pay for it though a grey import would have saved me a few hundred dollars. And finally, there’s the Sony RX1R II – the full-frame fixed lens compact. A cell group friend owns that, but I would have had to sell my left arm to afford the $4.9K it costs!

So, I was pretty much set on the Canon G7X and was about to pick it up until I stumbled upon the Fujifilm X70 quite by accident while trawling the discussion forums. The key characteristic of the X70 is that it’s, essentially, a shrunk down version of the X100s and going for a lot cheaper than that even. The US street price for the X70 is US$699. The local distributed version here goes for US$800 – which after including GST, shipping charges here, and the bunch of freebies (thrown in for the local bundle, seems priced fairly after all.

The Fujifilm X70!

The Fujifilm X70!

My first impressions of the X70 next!

 

After another week of pretty intensive use of the new Aftershock S17, my summary takeaway is that it’s a machine that’s for the most-part well-worth – and even some part beyond – the very reasonable price paid for it. The machine runs briskly and handles well stuff within my scope of use (daily work productivity, and a bunch of other current 3D video games thrown at it), typing on the keyboard is a real pleasure, and the machine’s brushed metal all-round cover has put up to heavy use well so far. The annoyances I noted in the previous post though – low and weak-sounding output speakers, and a not very bright screen – are still present. The former isn’t a factor if one plugs in headphones and the like, but the latter is something to be really mindful of.

I was big on running computing and 3D benchmarks years ago when I was habitually tearing down my desktop PCs and reassembling new ones a few times each year. Of late though given how long the in-betweens are now when it comes to disassembling PCs (something like once every 2 years only), I rarely run benchmarks to to see how precisely well is a computer performing, outside ballpark intuitive sensing of whether a computer is performing the way it should. So, this post here is really just for fun and not nearly as scientifically conducted as some of the other enthusiast or gearhead sites out there.

Starting off with work/productivity benchmarks, and running the CrystalDiskMark for the Samsung Evo 850 M.2 250GB:

On the Aftershock S17.

On the Aftershock S17.

That’s about – in the ballpark – what the Evo 850 churns. Just for fun, here are the ratings for my other two notebooks that I use everyday.

On the Dell XPS 13.

On the Dell XPS 13 – which uses the Samsung PM851 M.2 256GB SSD.

On the Surface Pro 3.

On the Surface Pro 3.

 

PCMark 8 Home/Free edition.

PCMark 8 Home/Free edition.

For the 3D benchmarks next; Gsync was switched off, everything else – CPU/GPU performance levels left as they are, and benchmark quality settings set to default:

Unigine 4.0.

3DMark

3DMark

I’m not much of a 3D video gamer as I’m particularly susceptible to bouts of nausea. Typically, 5 to 10 minutes in a first or third person perspective setting is sufficient to induce vertigo, give or take a bit more time depending on other perspective aspects – e.g. motion blur, screen reflections, head-bobbing, frame rate etc. Quite a pity, since until very recently, video game design and development was one of my primary areas at work – and some of the most interesting stuff from a technological standpoint at least is typically in games that deploy first and third person perspectives.

So, it was quite a pleasant surprise that somehow, nausea inducement was less immediate when running and experiencing the same games on the Aftershock S17. A game like the critically acclaimed The Witcher 3 had been sitting in my digital shelf for almost 8 months now. 5 minutes of that on my usual desktop PC with a 27″ monitor would normally be enough to force me to lie down for the next couple of hours. But I’ve been able to – finally – get through longer periods of about 30 minutes per seating  on the S17. I’ve been really wondering what’s the reason for it – since the Nvidia GTX960 on the desktop PC can run content as well as the S17’s GTX980m. The only differences I think are the smaller screen on the S17 (17.3″ against 27″) and also that it’s non-reflective. Something to think about!

Getting the Aftershock S17 might seemed like an impulsive decision, but it has really been longer in gestation than just a few weeks. A good part of that lied in that I have been wanting to move my main location of work at home from out of our work room to the dining/living room areas, especially at least in the early evenings. Part of it has to do with that our work room tables aren’t as deep as I like to permit outstretched legs – yes I slouch like a bum when I type away on the PC – but just as importantly I’d like to also keep an eye on our kids in the couple of hours each evening after dinner whey they run around the living and dining areas.

Aftershock as in the local company is just two years old, but they’ve been making news headway in technological enthusiast circles here for being a well-regarded reseller of Clevo notebooks. An Aftershock notebook now won’t be my first Clevo notebook though. One such machine ordered from and shipped to Singapore was the American-based Clevo reseller Sager, and that machine was my workhorse computer over the years I spent on my doctoral degree in Perth. The primary benefits of Clevo notebooks today were the same back then, that they are primarily enthusiast machines that allow for Musings extreme customization and at a price-point that’s often cheaper than equally spec-ed notebooks from mainstream manufacturers. So, a 15″ notebook, 16GB RAM, 6th generation i7, 120GB SSD, and the GTX970m GPU would cost about $2.1K as configured on Aftershock – compared to likely around $2.6K from a mainstream manufacturer.

So, the S17 I configured had these key specs:

i7-6700HQ processor

GTX980M 8GB DDR

17.3 FullHD Wide Gamut display with Gsync

16GB DDR4 RAM

Samsung Evo 850 M.2 250GB SSD

The interesting bits above include that the GTX980M – the fastest mobile-version of Nvidia’s offerings (the desktop variant of the GPU in a laptop notwithstanding) – has 8GB rather than 4 GB RAM embedded as routinely offered by competing notebooks, the GSync screen, and also the Samsung Evo M.2 SSD, one of the fastest SSDs at this fairly bargain price-point. The stock configuration also included a 1TB 2.5″ hard drive that I dropped off for a $50 offset. The notebook was ordered at the recent ITShow event @ Suntec City where there were some minor discounts applied and also a couple of other freebie items thrown in too.

The overall experience of ordering and collecting the S17 was what just about every Aftershock customer has said: quick, painless, and giving off that techno-geek/enthusiast vibe all around. Unlike most manufacturers of notebooks, Clevo notebooks – like Dell’s – are routinely assembled only on the point of ordering, though as my configuration wasn’t too different from their stock S17s, any further-on customization wouldn’t have taken much additional time. So, ordered on Thursday, collected on Sunday 3 days later at Aftershock’s ‘HQ’ office – which was really an industrial-type building along Bendemeer Road. One noteworthy point too: the Aftershock staff from ordering to collection throughout were pretty much all young geek-looking adults who obviously like what they do. Not quite the same typical experience of ordering from more middle-aged salespersons at Courts, Harvey Norman etc whom on more than one occasion I chuckled at their misunderstandings of some aspect of technology or computing.

So, initial thoughts of the S17:

The thing is h e a v y. If you could foist it up to shoulder height, you could conceivably give someone a real concussion if you swung it at someone’s head! The thing is well-built enough for it to be used as a bludgeoning weapon. The S17, sans power brick, weighs 3.1kg – the heaviest notebook I’ve had so far, with the Dell XPS 16 coming in close at 3.05kg.

The footprint of the device is massive. It literally occupies twice the space of the Dell XPS 13.

The power brick is larger than a Samsung Note 5.

I opted out of chassis customization and paint-jobs, going with the default black brushed metal external case. It looks pretty nice and is cool to touch. Some persons have pointed out that the default case is prone to finger-prints, and also nicks and scratches if you don’t take care of the case though. Something to be mindful of.

The wide-gamut GSYNC screen deploys the full HD resolution of 1920×1080. That’s my preferred resolution for monitors at this screen size. The QHD and 4K screens sound nice on paper, but it causes havoc for Windows given how sloppy it handles scaling. And it’s not as though current mobile GPUs can easily run 3D content on 4K resolutions anyway. Viewing angles are pretty good, though I’ve been thoroughly spoiled by the deep contrasts and brightness of the Macbook Pro Retina and Dell XPS 13. Simply put, the S17 matte screen suffices, but it’s not as nearly attractive to use as screens on those two recent notebooks.

Zero bloatware. Not that it would have mattered anyway, because the first thing I did at home was to wipe everything on the notebook and restore to a pristine Windows 10 state, and manually install only drivers and the most important monitoring applications.

The keyboard features good key travel and minimal flex.

Machine responds well under load (so far) with good heat dissipation. The OS updates caused an audible spinning of fans to keep the i7 CPU cool, but it wasn’t loud enough to be annoying. 3D loads also resulted in some minor perceivable warmth on the left side of the keyboard, but the right side remained relatively cool to touch. And the bottom of the chassis was almost cold even – amazing.

The Onkyo speakers are disappointing. While the S17 features the Creative Soundblaster X-Fi sound processing, the speaker output lacks bass and sufficient volume. I was simultaneously refreshing the old Dell XPS 16, and that 5 year old notebook dished out speaker audio that’s leaps ahead of the S17.

The Aftershock S17.

The Aftershock S17.

Beside my Dell XPS 13. Brightness and contrast on the S17 doesn't quite match up to the XPS 13.

Beside my Dell XPS 13. Brightness and contrast on the S17 doesn’t quite match up to the XPS 13.

Twice as large as the XPS 13!

Twice as large as the XPS 13!

Left-side ports: air vents, USB 3.0, HDMI, and two display ports.

Left-side ports: air vents, USB 3.0, HDMI, and two display ports.

Right-side: Kensington-type notebook lock socket, LAN port, SD Card slot, two more USB ports, and the usual audio ports.

Right-side: Kensington-type notebook lock socket, LAN port, SD Card slot, two more USB ports, and the usual audio ports.

The Aftershock logo emblazoned on the brushed aluminum top.

The Aftershock logo emblazoned on the brushed metal top.

The keyboard deck. Some minimal flex experienced, but not nearly enough to be annoying.

The keyboard deck. Some minimal flex experienced, but not nearly enough to be annoying.

The large and heavy power brick.

The large and heavy power brick.

More comments and maybe benchmarks in the next post!

 

Another four years since my 2012 post on notebooks, and the 2008 before that. Right about time to do another update, since there’s been a whole bunch of machines since that point. Here’s what the table looks like now:

Manufacturer Model From To Screen CPU Type OS
1. Toshiba Satellite Pro 1997 2000 12″ Pentium Full-featured Win 95
2. Dell Inspiron 3000 1999 2000 14″ Pentium Full-featured Win 98 SE
3. IBM Thinkpad 240X 2001 2001 10.4″ Pentium III Ultraportable Win 98 SE
4. Toshiba Protege 3000 2001 2002 11.1″ Pentium III Ultraportable Win 98 SE
5. HP Omnibook 500 2002 2004 12.1″ Pentium III Ultraportable Win XP
6. Sager 5650 2003 2005 15″ Pentium IV Full-featured / Gaming Win XP
7. Acer Travelmate 3001 2005 2007 12″ Pentium M Ultraportable Win XP
8. Dell XPS M1210 2007 2008 12″ Core 2 Duo Ultraportable / Gaming Vista
9. IBM Thinkpad T60 2007 2011 14″ Core 2 Duo Full-featured Win XP
10. NEC Versa E6310 2008 2010 14″ Core 2 Duo Full-featured / Gaming Vista
11. MSI Wind U100 2008 2013 10″ Atom Netbook Win XP
12. Apple MacBook Pro 13 2009 2012 13.3″ Core 2 Duo Full-featured iOS
13. Dell Studio XPS 16 2010 16″ i5 m460 Full-featured Win 7
14. Apple MacBook Pro 15 2011 2015 15″ Core 2 Duo Full-featured iOS
15. Samsung N305 2012 11.6″ AMD Dual Core Netbook Win 7
16. Apple MacBook Pro Retina 2012 2015 15″ Quadcore Full-featured iOS
17. Asus Zenbook UX31E 2013 13.3″ i5-2557M Ultrabook Win 7
18. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 2015 12″ i5-4300U Tablet hybrid Windows 8.1
19. Dell XPS 13 2015 13.3″ i7-5500U Full-featured Windows 8.1
20. HP Pavilion 15 p257TX 2015 15.6″ i7-5500U Full-featured Windows 8.1

Entries 17 to 20 are new since the 2012 post. Here’s the reckoning, notes, updates and whatnots for these and others:

  • #11 MSI Wind U100: Traded this in for a refurbished Asus Zenbook UX31E (#17) a couple years ago.
  • #13 Dell Studio XPS 13: Ling used it for a couple of years – the laptop still has an amazing screen and was very fast-performing especially after I did that home upgrade to an SSD. The keyboard however has gone kaput, as is also the power adapter. The notebook is currently now in cold storage. I’ll have to find some time to disassemble and salvage what I can from it later this year.
  • #14 Apple Macbook Pro 15: office notebook that was returned last year.
  • #15 Samsung N305: still going on great and currently used by parents at Lentor , and I recently bumped the OS from Windows 7 to 10.
  • #16 Apple MacBook Pro Retina: Ran great for the first year, had a motherboard failure immediately after the first year of warranty ended, begged for and got a repair waiver, and the laptop continued having issues last year. Finally stabilized it, and had it traded in.
  • #17 Asus  Zenbook UX31E: a fairly lightweight ultrabook with premium build. Bought it at bargain bin refurbished prices. The processor is a little slow though, as is also the SSD that doesn’t run nearly at typical SSD speeds.  I’ll probably sell it away soon.
  • #18 Microsoft Surface Pro 3: great screen and lovely little machine that I use in the bedroom every night, but the 4GB RAM is barely adequate to run Windows 10.
  • #19 Dell XPS 13: my current workhorse laptop. Beautiful screen though with some light bleeding at the screen edges, comfortable typing, though I don’t quite like the carbon fiber wrap.
  • #20 HP Pavilion 15: Ling’s home notebook that was picked up last year too.

I’ve been continuing to keep an eye on the Aftershock notebooks, and they sure look tempting – the more so given their very attractive price points. Perhaps one will be in my purchase radar soon!

I’ve mostly stayed clear of virtual reality headgear, on account that the few I’ve tried in the last couple of years have invariably induced massive bouts of vertigo within minutes. I’ve also found these head mounted gadgets massively discomforting, to say nothing that I’ve not found them to work well with the current prescription spectacles that I wear.

That said; the current hot name in wearable VR devices now is Oculus, and they have a device that has long been in gestation – the Oculus Rift – with the consumer version finally to be available sometime this year. The Oculus Rift is expected to cost a pretty penny and I’m not prepared to throw half a thousand moola on the this. Which is why I was especially intrigued by the recently released Samsung Gear VR – which goes about providing for consumer-level VR experiences at a pretty attractive price-point.

The Gear VR has garnered quite a bit of interest here, and Samsung (Singapore) has spared no expense in marketing their product. The Gear VR is carried widely in the Samsung Experience stores in many places on the island, alongside also in smaller demo areas in the large consumer electronic chains like Best Denki. So, I paid $148 for one such device over the weekend at the Parkway Parade Experience store, and here are my bunch of first comments on it after playing around with it intensively over the last day.

samsungVR-01

The product works as advertised.The product is compatible with the most recent generation of Samsung smartphones, and no other accessory is required for it to start working. Getting it to work with my Samsung Note 5 was also painless. Apart from installing the requisite Oculus/Samsung apps onto, the smartphone easily connected to the headset via the micro USB port, snapped in place onto the two device holders, and I was all set.

The device fits snugly on the head, more so if you also use the head strap. The visor’s cavity is deep enough for my pair of glasses. The front focus adjustment wheel permits you to adjust the optimum eye focusing point, though I found myself having to adjust it each time the visor shifted.

You need a good pair of headphones to complete the experience. The device’s holders do not impede using the headphone jack, so a wireless headphone set isn’t mandatory.

Interesting content. I’ve tried/purchased quite a few of the VR apps/games at this point, and there are some that provides for a really immersive experience. Of particular note are these three:

Jurassic World Apatosaurus – where you come nose to nose with a lumbering dinosaur… that looks very real, even with one as normally jaded with CG as I am. The app is fairly short at just a few minutes, but it’s an amazing couple of minutes.

Ocean Rift – paid app, but there’s a free demo version for one to try out. Each setting has a particular marine wildlife for you to find and interact with, and you can swim about in each setting too. Can take a while for you to find the critter though, and the app doesn’t feature more than one wildlife type in each setting.

Eve: Gunjack – paid app. This VR turret game was one of those that was loaded at the Samsung Gear VR devices at the demo shops, and it’s pretty much the kind of game genre that will sell VR devices like these. It’s visually impressive enough and gameplay is straight forward (i.e. shoot at oncoming alien ships) with increasing tactical challenges as the levels advance.

I’ll write more on other apps along the way. Of the couple of issues I have with the device so far though:

The touchpad on the right side of the device is finicky. The first couple of days’ use will likely see many users accidentally pressing the touchpad.

The thing sucks battery power like no tomorrow. There is a micro USB charging port on the headset itself though which helps heaps, though you won’t want cables dangling from the headset when you’re trying to experience full 360 degree content.

The viewing experience is still somewhat pixelated. Not much of an issue for typical moving visuals, but you can see jagged edges in text displays. If there was ever a need for 4K resolutions on smartphone, here is it!

Below picture says it all. Yeah I know the device is not intended for kids under 13, so we’ve only been letting Hannah try it for a few minutes!

samsungVR-02