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.

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

 

I’m only reminded again how quickly time zooms past when it’s time to do another year-end post summarizing our key purchasing decisions in the year. It only seems last month when I did the 2014 version of this annual post!

Dell XPS 13 – Win: an easy win for this purchase, since it’s become my daily work horse laptop. The laptop still looks as good as it did about a year on with nary a scratch on  the aluminum case. My only two quibbles with the XPS 13 is in the minor light bleed around the edges of its ‘infinity’-styled screen – guess I got a lousy unit upon notebook delivery – and also that I still don’t especially like the carbon fiber palm rests. Would have much preferred if the notebook had used the same aluminum material all round, like in the Macbooks.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – Win: this was picked up at about the same time as the XPS 13, and I’ve ended up using it a lot more at home than I’d thought – so much so that the exterior casing has gotten quite a few nicks. The tablet-notebook hybrid has accompanied us on two vacation trips now, and I recently picked up the new Surface Pro 4 type cover keyboard for it too – an accessory that provides a better speed typing platform than the older type cover. The machine’s 4GB RAM was initially sufficient when the Surface Pro 3 was running Windows 8.1, but ever since the upgrade to Windows 10, performance is noticeably more sluggish now. Note to self: if I get a replacement, get one with 8GB RAM!

Panasonic DMC-LX100 – Mixed: I never quite took to the LX100 the same way as I’ve liked using the older E-PL6, a similar-sized though also functionally very different compact m4/3 sensor camera. The camera is wonderfully featured, but was also finally quite soft in the corners wide-open, and I routinely found it easier to work to get the colors I wanted using RAW images out of the E-PL6 than the LX100. So, the LX100 got sold off a couple of months ago.

Nission i40 Flashgun for m4/3s – Win: much smaller and also more compact than the flashgun it replaced (the Metz 50AF-1). The flash is sturdily built, recharges quicker, and – aside from that Olympus’ TTL doesn’t quite typically throw up exactly the right amount of light as the Nikon speedlight flashguns did – has worked well otherwise. The only minor annoyance: the left real mode dial markings have almost all but faded off. Poor quality imprinting onto the rear dial I guess.

Mazda 3 – Win. We’ve adapted to our new 2015 ride, and have pretty much adjusted to the limitations of the vehicle compared to our old Nissan Latio – basically reduced leg head room spaces, and the absent footbrake. The car purls along with less effort than the Latio, even though the rated engine horsepower is identical. Though oddly, we ended up not using a lot of the vehicle’s nice features, including the sunroof, the Bluetooth connections, nor the built-in GPS maps (really not necessary with Google Maps).

Epson L550 Printer – Win… for the most part. I’ve printed several hundred A4 and 4R-sized photos for family, Hannah and our photo albums. The ink tanks are still more than half-full. Not unexpectedly, how well the print retains colors is dependent on both the photo paper used (Epson papers have worked much better on the L550 than another manufacturer’s!), and also display conditions, e.g. if the printed surface is exposed without protection. Of issues: the printer started making odd mechanical noises during print runs shortly after purchase, and from the sound of it, the print head its roller mechanism is impacting something in the printer’s innards. Aside from the din that makes, it doesn’t impact the print at all and can be solved by simply lifting the document feeder cover altogether by an inch or so. Still annoying nonetheless though.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 – Win. Lovely phone with a stunning build and design. I’ve not typically used phones as personal audio players yet, but tried it out in the recent Club Med trip, and found that the device churns out audio quality that’s every bit as good as the Sony F886 Walkman I’ve been using for more than a year now. One less device to bring around now – hooray!

Philips Slow Juicer – Win. We’ve significantly cut-down on our usage of the Slow Juicer a month back after Ling read that too much juices was leading to sugar overdoses in our diets. Not through any fault of the Juicer of course.

Olympus E-M1 – Win. Handles quite differently compared to the E-M5, and also a much better camera body to use with the 40-150mm f2.8. Got it at a wonderful price point, and supports WIFI tethering too – which eliminates the need for separate remote controllers.

Olympus 12-40mm and 40-150mm f2.8s – Win. The 12-40mm has been heavily used since its purchase. I never quite expected to put the 40-150mm through similarly heavy use, but the recent Club Med Bintan trip proved that wrong. The lens’ responsiveness and handling, alongside how confidently it locked focus even in difficult lighting conditions, has assured that this lens will see a lot more use than the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 I had for the old Nikon DSLR.

Legoland Malaysia – Win. Of the two short vacations we’ve had this year, neither were entirely free from issues, but the Legoland Malaysia one was far less problematic. The room was passable, trips to the theme park a lot of fun – though the cost of the trip wasn’t exactly low.

Club Med Bintan – Lose. This one was the real disappointment of the year, after reading all the praise heaped on the resort in blogsphere, never mind that the Tripadvisor reviews were clearly less forgiving on the resort’s accommodation challenges. At least Hannah enjoyed the trip, and I really appreciated the opportunity to put the E-M1/40-150mm f2.8 through extended use at the nightly concerts, and think I have a much better appreciation of the difficulties in concert photography now.

2016 here we come! :)

 

Hannah has finally finished pre-school and will be progressing onto Primary One next year. She’s been really looking forward to starting in a new environment and meeting new friends and teachers, so much so that every night at bed time she’ll ask us to tell her about her P1 school again. We shared with her too that over time, she’ll be making friends and forgetting old ones – including her pre-school ones. Rather than get emotional about it, she’s resolved to make memories of her old friends, including taking pictures and also inviting them over to our home for play dates this December break.

One such break was just yesterday, and one segment of which saw the kids head over to the Minton waterplay area for fun and activities. Another opportunity to fish out the new 40-150mm f2.8 lens for pictures! The selection below was shot using this lens, with several at maximum focal length (though not always wide-opened), which provided some interesting depth of field levels. The subject distance made possible by the long focal-length enabled non-intrusive pictures – none of the shots below were posed.

X marks the spot I was situated, with many shots taken from across the water play area.

X marks the spot I was situated, with many shots taken from across the water play area.

Intrepid explorers, these two - as they navigate across the wide rope ladders!

Intrepid explorers, these two – as they navigate across the wide rope ladders!

This one's a nearer shot at 60mm (120mm equivalent).

This one’s a nearer shot at 60mm (120mm equivalent).

The shallow end of the kids' waterplay area is safe enough for Peter actually.

The shallow end of the kids’ waterplay area is safe enough for Peter actually.

Though not the deeper end though, which reaches past his belly button. Mommy is just off-camera though.

Though not the deeper end though, which reaches past his belly button. Mommy is just off-camera though.

The next major outing for the lens will be the upcoming Club Med trip, so more to come soon!

The third – and probably last post on our Minton renovation one year on – unless there are more things to say later in the years to come! Previous post here.

Children’s Bedroom double-beds: this was one of the key design features in our renovation project 18 months ago, and while Peter hasn’t moved into the room yet (he still sleeps each night in his cot currently in the Study room), the upper bed here is at least one of his frequent play areas. The invisible grills in the room have given us relative peace of mind since without them, it really wouldn’t take any effort to climb from the upper bed out of the window. The multiple storage bays built into the bedroom have also been really helpful in keep both children’s clothes out of sight too.

+1/Study Room configuration: we’re waiting for Peter to ‘graduate’ from his cot so that he can vacate the +1/Study Room. After which the first thing that’s going in is one of those large bean bags.:)

Decking: we didn’t write about our decking considerations and final decisions made during our 2014 renovation project, but deciding on the basic material type, material color and also vendor to go with was one of the harder renovation decisions we made last year. Briefly, there are two broad types of decking material: natural wood (e.g. ironwood, Chengal, teak) and wood plastic composites, which basically is a synthetic wood type.The considerations we had in mind included:

The amount of direct sunlight that would hit the decking

The amount of rain that will hit the decking during each year end’s monsoon

The kind of furniture and also usage that decking would be put through

How much maintenance we were prepared to keep up with the decking’s outward appearance

How the decking would be installed

Cost (of course)

From anecdotal observations, most people seem to prefer natural wood decking since it doesn’t have that odd artificial look that’s inherent in WPCs – you know, analogous to computer-generated faces against real human faces that we see in the most Terminator film – and with natural wood, you can at least re-sand and varnish periodically and the decking would look like new again. Still, we read and also saw through pictures worrying on either side, and don’t think we could really finally say which material type is better all-round. We finally decided on an Australian-branded decking type sold and installed by a local reseller, on account of the very long warranty the reseller was providing, the overall package price, method of installation (no drilling involved), and also that the method of installation permitted wider than normal gaps. A note on the later: we went with a larger than normal gap of 5mm between planks. It resulted in a somewhat less pleasing look visually, but also provided a much better water drainage system when the inevitable monsoon rain cycle begins.

Gap between deck planks.

Gap between deck planks.

More than 18 months, and the decking has fared pretty well with a few caveats. None of the planks have warped, chipped, broken etc. but there has been surface scratches and plant acid burns into the material as a result of our usage – basically the children’s toy vehicles running forcefully over the decking, and the many potted plants excreting fluids that over time burn into the deck planks. Not enough for the decking to look unsightly at all, but I guess it’s just the nature of the material.

Solar Film: the solar film still looks solidly in place, and we don’t even notice that it’s there anymore. And the apartment interior is still reasonably bright enough for us.

One of those very Singapore-an things to do on weekends is to check out new homes in new apartment projects. There’s been a large number of such new developments in the north-east side of the island. Heck; our old home at The Rivervale at one point saw six such new developments all in eyeshot! Visiting showrooms is a great way to see what apartment developers are up to, but there’s always that little sense of unease when we get tailed by property agents during a visit and routinely have to fake our guest names and contact numbers just so that we don’t get harassed by the agents later on.

A friend at work had just received keys to her new home @ Bartley Residences, a 702 unit project that just TOPed a few months back, and invited us to go by to take a look over the recent weekend. Which we did, and here are some of our quick observations – especially in comparison with our (relatively) new home @ The Minton. Just casual impressions too since our encounter here was just an hour or so visit and exploring the grounds. Not commenting on the finishing and the general workmanship at BR either, since we only visited one unit. But from what I’m hearing, the general quality of that isn’t different from what Minton residents had too at the point of key collections.

Bartley Residences (BR)’s location is a key advantage and more central than that of Minton’s. It sits directly opposite a train station and Maris Stella High School, one of the brand name boys’ schools. The wife quips that even persons who stay under 1 KM will need to ballot just to get their kids in. It’s also just a couple minutes drive away from a CTE connection. Super convenient.

On the flip-side though; the major road that connects to the sideroad leading into the condo is also a major artery that connects residents from the East to the more central areas of Toa Payoh, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and beyond in Bukit Timah. We go by the road occasionally on weekend peak hours, and routinely will hit slow-traffic. I wonder if this bottleneck is gonna be a source of daily frustration for residents trying to get home! The Minton on the other hand isn’t exactly near an MRT station – 12 minutes of brisk walking is involved to get to either Kovan or Serangoon stations – and isn’t near a connection to the expressway either. But it does run beside a fairly major main road, which – fortunately – isn’t congested… yet (?!).

The side-road that leads into the condo is also pretty narrow, with at least one of two sides occupied by landed property. Not in itself a problem, since the condo sits among low density housing, but the narrowness of the side-road might pose challenges. We observed a lot of cars parked on one side of the road – and lots of empty or re-purposed driveways in the private houses. Once the main body of residents move into the condo, the side-road leading in and out of the condo onto the main road might get real crowded.

There are 702 units at Bartley Residences, compared to the 1,145 units @ Minton. The latter can feel crowded sometimes, though that feeling is somewhat alleviated by that the blocks are at least spaced relatively far apart facing-wise.

Tranquil World @ Minton, where our block faces.

The condo sits on a gentle incline which the developer has employed to good effect. We explored the Kid’s splash pool and were wowed by the views the deck offered: a pleasingly far view to Maris Stella High and Bartley Secondary Schools, and well beyond too.

The condo feels cosy, especially in how the pool-facing blocks hug the pool’s circumference, with good use of plants to and greenery to provide a lush garden pool feel to it. The Minton main pool in contrast is more functional and probably has to fit multiple intentions – including pool-side BBQs, the garden awnings, and also for lots of kids running about with pool-side toys.  The BR main pool is also literally right at the door for the patio units, which might be a good or bad thing depending on one’s expectations of privacy. The Rivervale’s poolside patio units had two barrier types – a walkway, and also taller than human height flora – such that pool users would never be able to peer into homes.

The Main Pool @ BR.

The Main Pool @ BR.

Hammocks!

Hammocks @ BR!

I thought that the main pool seemed relatively small for the number of units it has to support, while Minton is at the other extreme with four separate pools – a pretty large main, lap, heated, and children’s – and you can imagine the ruckus on weekends at all four pools. Not really idyllic living anymore LOL.

The general BR compound is beautifully landscaped too, and Ling especially liked the numerous little relaxation corners where residents can hide out and chill. The planted flora/greenery is already of sufficient height to provide a degree of privacy to patio units, unlike the Minton units back in 2014, though by this point now the flora has grown to sufficient heights.

I like the general aesthetics of the blocks. BR’s blocks are a mix of white, browns with embedded design patterns that run along the entire height of blocks. Not quite like Minton’s more industrial look of concrete, steel and glass.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

Structure of steel, glass, wood and stone @ Minton.

No bay windows at BR! Bay windows are awful for already small rooms – a room constraint we had to think very hard to get around @ Minton.

No planter boxes at BR too and hence no wasted space on the balconies.

The developer-supplied washing machine and dryer stack is elegantly tucked and hidden away inside the kitchen. Definitely beats the experience we had squeezing our brains on how to fit our own laundry stack into our yard toilet last year.

There’s a huge tree that sits on one side of the compound, which is a protected specimen that’s hundreds of years old. The tree looks awesomely huge and I felt like a midget standing beneath it. Certainly one of the key highlights of BR. Several blocks surround this tree, and also a further-on view of low-rise houses yonder too. Very serene! And right beside it is a children’s playground with several fixtures – something that’s sorely lacking at Minton. We do get a crochet lawn beside the children’s treehouse – the lawn of which has been re-purposed to a mini-soccer pitch / BBQ extended area / picnic lawn / children’s badminton field / playing catching field / morning Qigong area – and of late, even a drone launch pad.

A dedicated Children's Playground @ BR.

A dedicated Children’s Playground @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree @ BR.

We saw just one vehicle entrance and exit point at BR, compared to the multiple points of vehicular entry/exit @ Minton. Three in the latter! Good in the sense that it spreads things out quite a bit, bad because the access control can be uneven across all points of entrance/egress. The manned main guardhouse and vehicular gantry at BR is also placed exactly where it naturally should be: right at the property’s main entrance.

There’s a picturesque cascading waterfall adjacent to the main pool, and deck chairs that are immersed into the shallow end around the pool too. Very neat! The pool is also surrounded by blocks and quite private, like at The Rivervale. The Minton pools are relatively more exposed.

The rooms in the sample apartment we visited were rather small. In the oft chance that the sample isn’t representative, the apartment sizes reported on other sites are also telling. E.g.: a Bartley Residences 3 bedroom size is ~1,022 sqf compared to Minton’s ~1216 sqf, and the 3+1 configuration (ours) is 1,162 sqf at BR compared to 1,495 sqf at Minton. These aren’t trivial differences in sizes and seem to be the norm for newly built condos. I wonder how much smaller can apartment developers shrink units until they essentially become unlivable! Part of the generous floor area of Minton units though is taken up by those massive balconies in most units here, with the joke being that our front balcony is larger than our bedrooms.

The sliding door-type of wardrobes in each room is also more practical than the swung out wardrobe doors @ Minton, which posed further constraints on the furniture we could fit into the bedrooms.

The final verdict? Hannah liked Bartley Residences, and said “We should come here more often and swim in the pool!”. :)

Hannah approves!

Hannah approves!

 

Ling comments that it’s hard buying tech toys for my birthday every year. Thankfully, it’s easier on my end for her birthdays – on account that, apart from apparel and things that women use (i.e. handbags LOL), there are always new kitchen or home appliances or gizmos out there. And I actually enjoy the learning process involved with finding out about the new home innovations, and comparing between them using the usual spreadsheets.

One home item that Ling mused about early this year was a juicer. We do consume some fruits at home as a family of four on most evenings, but it takes time to wash, and slice/dice them. Moreover, I’m a temperamental fruit eater: there are many fruits I dislike, and I have low tolerances too for fruits that are sour or bland. The juicer is supposed to take care of all that, since when they are mashed and squeezed into pulp and fluids, and mixed into different concoctions, blandness and tastelessness become less of an issue.

There seems to be at least two broad types of fruit juicers: fast juicers that use centrifugal forces to essentially grind fruit pieces into pulp and juice, and slow(er) juices that use pressure. The ‘net is awashed with a lot of material comparing between the two and occasionally trying to separate fact from fiction of both juicers’ advantages. The fast juicers as sold here are also somewhat lower in average pricing than the slow ones, with some premium models in the latter category coming close to or crossing the thousand dollar mark.

Possible hype and unfounded fears aside, I decided to go with the slow juicer early on – if nothing else that I think power-pulverizing by motors does strike me as being very cruel to fruits! There’s a wide range of slow juicer models, with the cheapest ones costing just slightly over a hundred dollars. I wasn’t sure how a juicer would finally fit into the kitchen, since there’s been a couple of big ticket household appliances that turned into white elephants (a certain vacuum cleaner from OSIM or breadmaker machine for example), while other low price items that have turned out to be a lot more useful than we envisioned (e.g. an Electolux handheld vacuum cleaner). Erring on the side of caution this time round again, we went with a fairly cheap slow juicer – the Philips HR1830 that cost slightly more than S$200.

Despite it being Ling’s birthday present, I’ve been the primary user of this new juicer now since its purchase 5 weeks ago now – on account that it’s fun to juice, and everyone gets their Vitamin C fix almost every night. Some comments about the juicer and juicing!

Our concoctions most of the time are what comes out from a pineapple, 3 large oranges, 4 apples, 1 carrot, and 1 celery stick. Enough for everyone to get at least a full relative-sized cup – even Peter. We’ve of course tried many other fruit types at this point, but this particular mixture seems to provide us with a blend that is reasonably tasty without strong flavors in particular directions.

The HR1830 isn’t a heavy duty juicer, or at least not with the daily abuse it gets put through. The machine wobbles, and depending on how hard one nudges (or forces) the cut fruit slices down the main vertical tube, the juicer can shake quite a bit as it tries to slice fruit and drive them through the metallic sieve.

The machine’s not silent. But the motor sound is far less than the din of what you’ll normally hear from a fast juicer.

The juicer is fairly easy to clean too. Disassembling the machine takes just a minute, as also is its assembly, and it’s super easy all round. No really small parts to figure out either. No parts with sharp edges either too. Pretty child friendly!

From what I’ve observed against online notes from other juicer models; the HR1830 does an adequate job at squeezing juice out from pulp, but there are clearly other models that do an even better job at maximizing the amount of juice you can get from the cut fruit.

Soft fruits are easy to juice – up to a point. We tried water melons, but they provided so much liquid volume that it was hard to balance it off with other fruits and to reach an appropriate taste… unless you don’t mind drinking what is essentially gonna taste like melon juice to the max.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Hannah's interpretation of what is really going on.

Hannah’s interpretation of what is really going on.

I can’t believe I’ve gone from talking about photography and cameras in the last post to kitchen juicers now LOL.