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Passion10 Electric Scooter – Part 2

If there’s one thing the government of our little island has done well, it’s maximizing greenery and outdoor areas in already fairly congested areas. Of particular note of course are our island’s interlinked network of Park Connectors,  which has not only become an easy and convenient way for Singaporeans to get to and enjoy the multiple parks and outdoor areas, but has also become a way for people to get to places of work even.

Truth to tell, we haven’t really gone on the connectors much. In fact, our Ang Mo friend has spent more time on them in his almost yearly visits to Singapore than us residents LOL. But now that we’re armed with scooters both electrical and kick-typed, we’ve started exploring the PC Networks just behind our Minton home – and over time, we’ll probably starting driving out to explore the rest of the network.

So, after scootin’ for about 20km on the new Passion10, here are more of our pictures and observations.

The 15.5kg Passion10 e-Scooter. I’m not 100% certain of this, but I think the basic model is also rebranded by other manufacturers and resellers, though Passion Gadget’s S$599 price point for this model is likely among the lowest I’ve seen. It can be lifted by adults, but the handlebar stem is rather slippery. Passion Gadgets sells a fabric-type carrying handle though, so I might have to buy that later.

A round color LCD screen shots that shows different information depending on options you’ve set. The master power button and acceleration lever sits on the right of the screen. The LCD doesn’t seem to let me adjust brightness though, and the default brightness level is too dim for easy viewing when outdoors. The scooter supports a cruising mode too, which sets the scooter to coast along at a constant speed.

Kiddie handle bar, with additional rubber stops add-ons that cost 50 cents each. Hannah wanted pink – No Way Jose LOL. The bar can be adjusted to where the protective plate along the handlebar stem stops, and is just about of right height for Peter. Hannah holds onto the main handle bar. The Kiddie bar though gets into the way of cable management when unfolding the scooter from storage.

Vehicle’s front light. Can be switched off with a dedicated button. I don’t intend to scoot at night, so that this light is included is useful – but finally not of any use for me.

Suspension for the Pneumatic 10″ front tire. Both really do help to cushion (somewhat) potholes and small debris like dead branches on surfaces.

Two thick anti-slip strips pasted on the foot board that really do help in providing additional grip to footwear. They’re pretty hard to clean though. The kickstand is also visible from the picture, and while it bears the scooter’s weight just fine, I would have liked it to be a little sturdier. The scooter’s battery and charging port are situated below the foot board. The sales technician advised that it’s necessary to switch on power to the charger adapter first before connecting it to the scooter port. I haven’t needed to charge the battery from flat to full yet, but that’ll take between 4-6 hrs according to the user guide.

Rear tire and dual light reflectors.

The 20km distance we tried the Passion10 on used up perhaps just about 20% of the battery power according to the LCD indicator. But to be sure, we’d set the throttle to 50% of its maximum torque – a maximum of 11km/h – and didn’t push the engine too hard. Both our kids have had a lot of fun riding the scooter with me so far @ Punggol Park and the park connector behind Minton. We’ve since slightly increased the scooter throttle limit to 60% of its maximum torque, i.e. a limit of 15km/h – which is plenty fast enough already for us –  the limit for foot paths and well below the 25km/h limit for shared paths.

In all, there are better machines than the Passion10 – with longer range, lighter, sturdier, faster, better featured etc. – but none that offered the ideal balance of specifications I preferred, and priced so attractively too. More posts to come soon enough when see start visiting segments of the Park Connector Network!

Passion10 Electric Scooter – Part 1

E-Scooters have been around on our streets for some years now, but it’s only been in the last year or two when they’ve really become common both in heartland areas and even retail stretches like Orchard Road on the island. The government here has been trying very hard to ween citizens off cars and get on public transportation. But buses can only run on so many roads, so Personal Mobility Devices – or PMDs – have become the choice of many as a last-mile transportation solution.

Increasing PMD ridership has introduced a host of challenges though – from competition between pedestrians, cyclists and now PMD users for space on walkways, to riders with death wishes using PMDs on main roads, residential apartments catching fire because of fault battery management systems in the PMD, and tragic and unfortunately fatal accidents involving E-bike users.  The regulatory authorities seem to be inclined to support the use of these devices, but perhaps also recognized that some regulation was necessary. Among the rules of use include device weight limits (20kg), speed limits (25km/h), and finally that they cannot be used on roads. And the Land Transport Authority of Singapore is clearly ready to throw the book at riders who run afoul of rules.

I’ve been quite interested in getting an e-scooter since the start of the year. But a serious purchase exploration kept getting put off – until we bought both our kids kick scooters from Decathlon. So, why not an adult e-scooter now, if not just to create another opportunity for family activity! There are a lot of e-scooter stores on the island, but perhaps just a handful of especially well-known ones. One particular store is Passion Gadgets, who carries a very wide range of scooters, including parallel-imported branded and fairly expensive scooters, and house-brand scooters priced very attractively.

Truth to tell, while this store seems quite well-regarded online and has been around for years now, I was initially still quite hesitant about stores that do parallel imports. Most of that hesitation dissipated after I checked out their retail store and also service center, housed in two separate buildings in close proximity and also a short 7 minute drive from Minton. The staff working at both places were all quite young – I reckon in their early two mid-twenties – very friendly, and were clearly enthusiasts of what they were selling. There must had been at least two dozen persons working at the service center, not just preparing devices for pick-up and repairing scooters sent in for repair, but also working on what seemed like artwork and publicity materials, answering questions on the web site etc. This seemed clearly a very busy business!

Even though this was going to be my first e-scooter, the thought process went through the same methodology like for every toy I buy – i.e. a spreadsheet detailing the different models I was considering, and specifications for each.

Of criteria:

At this point, the scooter’s main purpose is just for family joy rides and not for long-distance traveling. A power mileage of about 25-30KM would be more than sufficient. Likewise, I wouldn’t be carrying the device up and down public transportation, so vehicle  weight wasn’t a key factor. Though I didn’t think I’d want to handle a scooter that was heavier than 18kg!

The scooter’s foot board would need to be large enough for an adult and a child – i.e. space for me/Ling and H or P.

Safety and stability are of utmost importance: which pretty much meant that the scooter would need to use 8.5″ or larger Pneumatic tires, and offer suspension to provide some cushioning over bumps, potholes and small debris.

Cost no more than $1,000. The scooter is really meant to be used just for recreation, and I didn’t want to spend more than that.

The purchasing process @ Passion Gadgets is a little involved. The retail store front-end is a fairly small shop situated at a ground floor for one building. After choosing your model and initial accessories, you go next door to their twin shop to make payment. And finally, the actual scooter is on the fifth level of another building 3 minutes walk away LOL.

One corner of the warehouse that serves as the service center.

Hannah came along to provide advice!

And what we landed up with – the Passion10, and costing S$599.

Continued in the next post!

Thermomix – Stir Frying

Stir-frying veggies using Thermomix requires some getting used to. I did miss the experience of feeling, i.e. sight and smell, the food as it cooks in a wok. I had to trust that the machine can do a good job at ‘spinning’ up the dish. Instead of yielding a spatula, I press a few buttons to stir-fry veggies. How weird is that.

Honestly, I felt like giving up. So unnatural. But I persisted (because it is such a costly kitchen gadget!) Caixin, Kailan, broccoli, cauliflower, apparagus, baby corn, carrots, mushrooms, etc, the list goes on. After 2 months into using Thermomix to do Chinese stir-fry veggies, I’m starting to appreciate this machine’s consistency in producing crisp and evenly cooked greens. It has this sous vide ability to ensure that the veggies are cooked at the correct temperature without burning it. And I don’t have to be physically present to stir the veggies. I’m freed to prepare other dishes, do cleaning up, etc.

Of course, it better does more than just stir-fry veggies! Otherwise, it wouldn’t justify the price. I will try to share bits and pieces of my experiences here especially for friends who might be considering getting one for their family.

Plants Maintenance Day

The thing about having plants in a house like ours is that they are often the last to receive attention as they don’t complain, cry or soil themselves. They can get thirsty and diseased too like us but they suffer in silence. If they die due to neglect, they do so peacefully and ever so quietly. 😢

I planned to pot the rooted fiddle leaf fig stem cutting today. Just give it 15 minutes tops. Easy peasy. Then I saw the overgrown mint plants and decided to trim them back a little. Then I discovered many diseased leaves and started to prune them back severely. ✂️The curry plant next to the mint caught my attention next. They got some fungal attack and so kena snip snip. Oh, the sunflower plants were diseased as well, okay trim! Then I noticed that the rock melon plant went against my wishes to put out more new fruits and killing its first born in the process! Argh. Keeping plants is some work! Salute the farmers, especially those of the olden days!

Overgrown mint plants. They were attacked by some white flies.

Mint kena trimmed back. Botak now. Hee hee.

The amount of plant material removed.

The rock melon plant. Counted at least 6 new fruits! This is suicide.

The first rock melon fruit was aborted by the plant! Sad. Why??!!!

The first true leaf of the coriander!

Fiddle leaf fig potted! Yay.

Food Processing – Part 1

One nice thing about being a Minton resident is in the residents’ social network we’ve built up over the last three years. While not all residents are on the Facebook group yet – many I guess either do not know that there’s a such a group about, or just prefer not to socialize on that platform – the current group is fairly lively, especially after the first couple of attempts earlier on before and shortly after TOP resulted in some degree of unhappiness among group members over one thing or another.

Ling recently met up with a neighbor we knew from the current residents’ Facebook group to learn some baking techniques. She was particularly fascinated with the Thermomix kitchen appliance our neighbor had, and couldn’t stop talking about when she returned home. So, being the Always interested in any technology so that the wife does not have to spend so much time in the kitchen wiping meals up hubbie, I started intently researching and reading up on the different all-in-one food processors out there and what my options were if I wanted to surprise Ling with one such.

And over a five day period, I learned that:

All-in-one food processors were projected to be the rage in 2015 with all manner of manufacturers flooding the home appliance market with their take on it. Then it was 2016, and now 2017, oddly, we’re still just seeing a handful of such machines.

The Thermomix TM5 and its predecessor TM31 has a cult-like following, with a lot of enthusiasts swearing by its versatility and help it provides in the kitchen. The machine is available in Singapore with local support and a showroom too, and the device has a couple of minor functions the other two doesn’t have.

It’s not without its significant critics though. Of the less worrying bits I’ve read: the machine can be loud, has completion alarms that seem to annoy some users, rattles when used in high-speed/turbo mode, has somewhat smaller capacity, and is ridiculously expensive (SGD2,320!). And there’s no transparent lid for you to peer through and see what the machine is doing to your food if you’re into that sort of thing.

And then there are the more disconcerting bits. Firstly, the machine is direct sales only – i.e. it’s not available off-the-shelf at the usual home appliance stores. To buy one, you have to contact a direct salesperson who conducts demos and trials, who will also become your point of support for the device thereafter if you choose to buy from her. I contacted several such Thermomix Advisors based in Singapore. And I have to say, they’ve got well-honed sales pitches. Every one of the Advisors I contacted were very prompt in answering my back/forth queries. One reviewer though has likened this sales arrangement to a pyramid scheme. Of that, I’m not as skeptical as the idea of personalized sales-support is very appealing to me. However, the most worrying bits are that there have been accident reports of the Thermomix TM31 seriously hurting users, and how the Australian distributor handled complaints of the device thereafter. The burn marks suffered by victims shown in the pictures were scary. In fact, the situation got so bad in Australia that customer advocacy groups there called for regulatory authorities to formally investigate what was going on.

The Thermomix TM5. It looks huge!

The new version – the TM5 – has far fewer accidents listed in the Australian media coverage above, though I still had to think very hard if getting a generally well-featured if very expensive machine with top-line support in Singapore is worth even the remote possibility of hurting one of us at home. I even made a (secret) trip down to Thermomix’s showroom @ Starhub Green to ask about this in-person, though I wasn’t entirely persuaded by another staff who popped her head in to address this query while I was there.

Still. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of users of iPhones and Samsung Galaxies – and just because a few exploded/melt/catch-fire doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s an inherent design issue in it (Note 7 notwithstanding LOL), especially against the sheer volume of units the older model has moved. And Thermomix has workarounds that apparently further minimize the already small possibility of accidents happening.

The Magimix Cook Expert depending on the country market can be slightly cheaper or more expensive than the TM5. It looks to be a really interesting option as it one-ups the Thermomix in several areas: aesthetically it looks nicer to me, it runs quieter, and has larger capacity too. A number of reviewers also prefer this device than the Thermomix. From a scan of appliance stores though, the Cook Expert is not available in Singapore. No reply was also received when I queried the local distributor too – which again begs the question; why put up a local distributor site if you’re not gonna respond to public queries.

What that means is that if I choose to go with the Magimix, it’d have to be shipped from abroad. I’d have to pay a hefty import tax, and suffer also the risks of any equipment failure from the lack of local support for it. The item is listed on Amazon-Spain, Amazon-Italy and Amazon-France, but none would ship the item here. I did find an eBay seller based in Italy that would DHL-International Express the thing over, and after the 22% VAT deduction and delivery and import taxes added, the device would end up being SGD1,828 to get here – cheaper than the Thermomix by SGD500. Of the three, the Cook Expert looks to be the best all-rounder with the least potential issues that might annoy – and would be my easy first choice if it wasn’t for the absence of local support.

The Magimix Cook Expert. If this was available in Singapore, it would be easily my first choice without further agonizing.

The Tefal Cuisine Companion from the French company is significantly cheaper than the Thermomix and Magimix, but alas, is also not available in Singapore. Compared to the two competing appliances, the price differential though here is significant: almost a thousand dollars cheaper, and feature-wise, almost as good as the other two. Likewise, I also found another eBay seller based in France who was willing to ship the item over, but was unfamiliar/unable to offer the VAT refund – meaning that the item as purchased before import tax would be about SGD1,557. But after looking even further, I finally found the item sold on both Amazon-Spain and Amazon-Italy, and can be had for just around SGD1,200 including shipping and import taxes with Amazon-Italy providing the fastest delivery option. Hooray for cheap prices! But the cookbook will be in Spanish and Italian! Aggghhh!!!!! Time to learn foreign languages?!

The Tefal Cuisine Companion. For the price of one Thermomix TM5, I could have two of these babies!

So, extremely tough choices, with these three the most popular and talked-about models. Buy the model that is horrendously expensive but with terrific support, the model that is slightly better-featured, slightly better reviewed and slightly cheaper but with zero support, or save a lot of money and buy the cheapest model, but gnash my teeth in despair if we run into problems?

Ah!!!!!

 

Chess with Kids

As parents, we consciously limit our two kids’ exposure to mobile gadgets as much as possible. While both Hannah and Peter do enjoy the occasional time they get on the iPad, neither seem particularly hung up about it when they don’t get that time – though in Hannah’s case at least, I wonder if it’s because her After school care already has such devices for the kids to congregate over already, and she has her fill of them as a result.

In any case, we supplement their free time with other home activities. Ling has a repertoire of gardening and baking projects that Hannah will typically actively join  in, while Peter usually just looks on. Of late too, and possibly in part because her friends’ induction at After School Care, Hannah now plays chess. We’ve been diligently putting time aside every day to play at least one game, normally after dinner. And it’s fascinating to observe how quickly she’s improving with practice. Since Monday, we’ve played about nine games now. And while it’s been eight wins with one stalemate in my favor, over this short period of a week, I increasingly have to work harder each match! She’s mastered most of the types of moves permitted in each chess piece, and can anticipate the most obvious opponent countermoves one to two steps ahead. Though she’s still missing a clear understanding of the relative prowess of chess pieces and what are considered good or bad trades, and also perhaps a sense of long-term strategy. Those I’m sure will come over time with more practice.

H’s starter chess board is the same type I had as a primary school student too: a small 5″x 5″ board with tiny black/white chess pieces with magnet attachments. Cheaply made of plastic that goes for just a few dollars @ Popular Bookstore. And pieces on the 5″ board are too small for my chubby fingers! Now that she’s really getting into the game, I’ve placed an order for two other wooden handcrafted sets. The first is a slightly larger 7″ x 7″ set that’s going for SGD14 @ eBay and shipping from India. The 7″ set should make a world of difference compared to the small dingy 5″x 5″ board we’ve been making do, yet still small enough for Hannah to bring around. The second is a much larger 11″x 11″ that’s a bit more costly at about SGD45, also wooden handcrafted and shipping from Poland. This one we’ll keep at home to play.

Her little chess board follows her even to weekend breakfast at Olivia & Co. Bistro @ Compass One.

Teaching P, just so that she can beat him at it repeatedly. Notice how many pieces she’s taken as White LOL.

Match #9 on Sunday, and try to understand why she lost the game and what to do next time. Cornered her king after wiping out the rest of her pieces.

Another toy that she’s gotten into: Rubric cubes!

It’s certainly fun to reflect on how our kids play the kind of games we used to as children at their age. I wonder what will be next! :)

 

Notebook 2017

Continuing from a post from just over a month ago here. The month of March came and went past without Microsoft making a formal announcement on the highly anticipated successor to the Surface Pro 4. Insider information though revealed that the SP5 was going to largely see an upgrade from its processor to that of the Kaby Lake series, but not much else. Pretty disappointing.

I was also rethinking what my use cases for a new laptop was going to be. For certain, the 2.5 year old Surface Pro 3 isn’t  keeping up anymore to what I use it for (note to self: never ever again buy a Windows laptop that comes with just 4GB RAM), and its general responsiveness seem to worsen with the recent Windows 10 Creators Update.

There were two scenarios. Either the replacement laptop will be for home use, or it will replace the Dell XPS 13 and bring that home to replace the SP3. My preference was for the latter, on account that the 256GB SSD on the XPS 13 was also straining under work use. I use a lot of media files when I teach, with my eyes starting to struggle with screen sizes of 13.3″.

So, with that, my couple of requirements for a work notebook replacement were:

Preferably a 14″ screen or larger for my old ‘Uncle’ eyes

8GB RAM + 512GB SSD, or at least end-user replaceable

USB Type-C support and preferably with Thunderbolt 3 support

Windows 10 Pro

At least 2 years warranty

On this, there are two nice benefits of being an educator. Purchases of personal IT equipment are partially claimable from work, and we also separately get great large discounts with selected notebook manufacturers, especially from Acer, HP, Asus, Apple, and Lenovo. The discounts offered from Acer, HP and Asus are routinely isolated to specific models however numbering usually 4-5 from each manufacturer, while Lenovo and Apple offer educational discounts on most if not all of its notebooks.

After several weeks of the usual reading-up and tabular comparisons,  the choices came down to:

Apple MacBook Pro 13: a factory refurbished configuration of 16GB RAM/512GB SSD is about SGD2.6K, with new units sold through its educational store a few hundred dollars higher. The general build and quality of Apple’s MacBooks continue to be second to none, but I am pretty uncertain of its butterfly-type keyboards on both the 13 and 15s’ even after spending a good amount of try-outs at the various Apple resellers. The number of complaints of spoilt keyboards on these new MacBooks is also unsettling. The non-Touchbar MacBooks comes with just two ports – both Type-C’s – which would have made using all my USB 3.0 Type-A peripherals, including a ton of flash drives, portable drives and hubs, a real nightmare. The Touchbar version is going to stack an additional SGD400 to the asking price. Drivers to make full use of the Touchbar are still absent for Windows 10 too. Finally, adding Apple Care – a must after my old MacBook Pro 15 went bonkers after one year of use – is going to be another SGD300 too. So, tempting as owning a current gen MacBook is, it was just way more than what I was prepared to spend.

Lenovo Yoga 910: the Yoga 910 is rated by many sites to be one of the two best convertible laptops right now – the other is the HP x360 Spectre 13 (see below) – with both machines offering Energizer Bunny-like battery life of > 8 hrs under typical  use, premium builds, and support for USB Type C. Lenovo Singapore educational store is also offering very tempting discounts for this lovely machine: somewhere to the tune of about SGD500 less. And for a comparatively low price of SGD1679, one would get 16GB RAM/256GB SSD with 2 years warranty, with the storage drive being end-user replaceable. The screen is also a healthy 13.9″ size. In comparison, the HP Spectre x360 13 is going for slightly more at SGD2189 for a 8GB RAM/512GB SSD configuration, but with 3 years warranty. Both tempting options!

The x360 Spectre 13 vs Yoga 910.

Lenovo ThinkPad T470s: was also in the final reckoning. There are very few reviews for this just recently released laptop too. None of the usual local computer stores I checked had it on display. The one web site that had the T470s reviewed in detail was clearly impressed with its general build quality and battery life, though the full-HD screen seemed to be a hit and miss affair over its rated screen brightness levels. The laptop also comes with a very welcomed suite of Type A and C ports too – a feature set that is absent on the Yoga 910 and x360. The notebook isn’t actually as light or svelte as the Yoga 910 or x360 though, but its close enough. Unlike either too, the T470s and the X1 Carbon (below) are built for enterprise use. A 16GB RAM/512GB SSD/i5-7300U/WQHD screen configuration is SGD2477 after educational discounts.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: the fifth generation of Leonvo’s top of the line notebook for Enterprise use. The X1 notebooks are basically like the ThinkPad T series: just lighter, smaller, and even better engineered. This model has been widely reviewed, with many sites uniformly praising its build quality and feature set, though not its asking price – it’s Lenovo’s most costly line of notebooks! Lenovo’s educational discount however is significant: for a 16GB RAM/512GB SSD/i5-7300U/FHD configuration was SGD2677.

I’ve always liked ThinkPads, though the current one my workplace gives me is the X230 with its tiny and not elderly friendly 12.5″ screen. After weighing the pros and cons of each, the choices narrowed down to these two ThinkPads: T470s and X1. And several more days of agonizing later, the X1 Carbon it is. Coming in a fortnight (hopefully), with the Dell XPS 13 to come home in a swap. More posts about it to come soon!

The Piano Project – Part 6

There are two things I’m especially grateful my parents did when I was a child: buy us an Apple II computer, and let my two brothers and I learn the piano. Both of these things had immeasurable impacts on what I’ve done since that point. As a direct result of the first – I learned programming as a 12 year old by reading books, programmed my first video game in secondary one, did computing at University, did a PhD centered on video games, and now work in an Information Technology school.

My journey as a result of the second is a little more convoluted: I had piano lessons, experienced a few junctures where I wanted to give up learning, had a wonderful teacher in my later grades who was a much more effective instructor, started listening to classical music, wrote and recorded my own piano music. And now it’s come full-circle – our daughter now also learns the same instrument!

One of the reasons why I wanted the Silent Piano module when looking for our home piano last year came from an interest to record. Like debating: there’s no better way to learn where your mistakes are than listening to your own self performances. There are a couple of ways of recording music on our Yamaha U30BL, each with its own advantages and challenges:

Turning on the Silent Piano module, and recording a piece on MIDI.

Turning on the Silent Piano module, and recording a piece directly via headphone jack.

Using a camcorder LOL.

The first method will only record audio, and using a MIDI sequencer, you’d also be able to correct very minor mistakes in the performance. You’d also get pretty clean audio, no noise, and you can fine-tune the soundscape as you like. Recording via MIDI though is a crazy amount of work though, and while I have a fairly systematic workflow, the process is not something I relish.

I haven’t tried the second method yet. You won’t be able to correct any mistakes and the quality of the sound is entirely dependent on the note samples embedded in the Silent Piano module – which is adequate but not great.

The third method is the most convenient, and as a bonus, I get video to see all my fingering goofs! The acoustics in our living room aren’t really very good, and there’s pretty poor clarity in the lower registers. A better and fourth method would be to record video but use the audio output of the Silent Piano – but I lack sufficiently long audio cables at the moment to run those things about the piano.

So, in the mean time, I’ve been doing some video recordings. Oddly, the Panasonic TM700’s microphone input resulted in heavily muffled audio, while the E-M1 fared somewhat better – though neither methods were producing an ideal audio experience – with limited aural range, reverberations caused by the living room acoustics, creaking from the piano seat, and my next door neighbor moving house LOL.

Brother P-Touch PT-H110 Label Maker

This is one of those little home gadgets that’s a must for those of us who like everything neat and organized (e.g. me!). I’ve been wanting to get one of these at a stationery store. Popular Bookstore has a couple of models from Dymo, Casio and Brother, all at varying price-points of $49.90 and upwards. I’m not running an asset inventory store at home, so figured I really didn’t want to spend much on this – so went with the cheapest handheld model: the Brother P-Touch PT-H110 (what a mouthful LOL).

Commented in the picture captions below.

The label maker, a sample cartridge, user guide, and also a tape accessory guide. The device powers up quickly, and is easy to operate – though you can always leaf through the foldout user guide to see if there are features you’ve missed after exploring the menus on your own.

The back plate is easily pried opened to reveal internals: cavities to hold the tape cartridge, and six AAA batteries. I wished the unit uses AA batteries since I have a lot more AA recharcgeables than I have for AAA ones. The unit can be powered using an AC adapter too, but one such isn’t supplied with the package.

The sample cartridge is the 12mm width type, and is of the black text on white laminate type. It’s sufficient to print perhaps 40-50 labels, and the sample type is great for labeling kitchen containers, computer accessories and cables, and boxes etc. but too large for stationery though. The label catalog lists many other types, including ones to paste on fabrics.

Punching in text to be printed. The key buttons are quite mushy, but you’re not going to be typing essays on this thing anyway. There is no caps lock on the device too, so if you like your labels to shout in all caps, you’ll have to depress the Shift key each time for a capital letter.

After you’ve entered text, the next screen allows you to set the number of copies to print. Press OK and the machine will silently churn the label out.

Pressing the large yellow-green lever on the top right corner will snip the label piece. The unit produces an unnecessarily long tape buffer though, which some reviewers have noted might be because of the cutting mechanism. Or in other words, the unit does waste quite a bit of tape. Part of this can be mitigated by reducing margins, but the wastage cannot be completely eliminated.

Hannah was fascinated with the whole thing, and acted as mommy’s little helper – jotting down everything in the kitchen that could use a label. You can also see the fairly large gap between labels.

A more organized fridge – maybe!

In all, it’s a decent and helpful machine, and cartridge replenishment is easily available at bookstores. The keypad is a little annoying, and the tape waste even more so. But it’s a cheap purchase on the overall still, so I can’t complain too much.

Watching the Surface Pros

Many of us would be hard-pressed not to think of ‘Apple’ if asked to list a prominent technology trendsetter. To be fair, their first and early iPhones, iPads, iPods and MacBooks did turn their respective industries on their heads. Of late though, Apple’s ability to set such trends have come under severe pressure from other tech giants. Apple is no longer regarded as the undisputed market leader on several product fronts. In fact, as far as smartwatches and smartphones are concerned, companies like LG, Huawei and Samsung of late seem to be real innovators, with Apple’s line-up routinely having to play catch-up.

Likewise for laptops. Apple with its late 2016 iterations of MacBooks still steadfastly refuses to provide touchscreen or stylus support in their refreshed lineup while other manufacturers have already gone ahead with it (e.g. Microsoft, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Dell). Though as these things go, if they do eventually put it in, their marketing pitch will likely make it sound like they are the first to do it properly. And don’t even get me started on the USB Type-C only ports which basically forces owners to purchase additional adapters just for them to work on Apple’s new MacBooks.

Of the two laptops I bought two years ago in January 2015 – the Dell XPS 13 and Surface Pro 3 – the Dell remains my main driver at work, and it’s borne up very well without issues of any sort. Not a small feat considering it’s used 11-12 hours a day, brought from place to place, and chucked into my haversack everyday to/fro home. The SP3 however is just that much more enjoyable to use! The first intentions for it last year was largely as a casual machine. But I liked it so much in its first year of use, that the somewhat modest storage and RAM included in it (4GB RAM/128GB SSD) became a quick limiter to all the stuff I was putting it through.

Hannah on the SP3 last year. She looks visibly more baby-face than she is today a year later!

The second year of use evolved, and especially so after getting the Aftershock S17 last April. The SP3’s primary functions now include Hannah using it for homework and to access the suite of learning systems her school puts out, as a musical score display device when I’m on the piano, as our primary laptop when we travel out of the country on vacations, and occasionally at home in the dining room. Of the latter; the S17 just doesn’t offer enough battery juice to run for 2 hours if it gets carted out from the bedroom to the dining room, and its power brick is every literal sense of that word. Oddly too; the SP3 since the middle of last year has been emitting a lot of heat even under fairly low intensity use (e.g. web browsing), and the metallic back plate near the sole USB 3.0 port has very slightly deformed too. Related?

Circled the part where the metallic backplate on my SP3 seems to have very slightly warped.

Microsoft has put out the SP3’s successor – the Surface Pro 4 – more than a year ago now, but the new iteration received mixed feedback at launch. On the up side, the SP4’s display was better on several counts (color, resolution, and even size), but its battery life – according to some Internet reviewers – was poorer than the SP3’s. Even more worryingly was that the SP4 suffered from serious firmware issues. After a series of updates, much of it seems to have finally been resolved, though battery life remains middling.

There are imitators to Microsoft’s trendsetting Surface Pro-type convertibles of course, and they include (with indicative pricing):

Asus Transformer Pro 3: (SGD1898, i5-6200U, 8GB/256GB) larger screen than SP4’s (hooray!!!), but pricey for comparative specifications and more so given SP4’s recent price-drops. And poor battery life.

Acer Switch Alpha 12: (SGD1298, i5-6200U, 8GB/256GB) very attractively priced right now with seasonal discounts, good range of ports, supports USB-C charging, and runs silent. But also poor battery life. Screen smaller than SP4’s.

Lenovo Ideapad Miix 510: (SGD1499, i5-6200U, 8GB/256GB ) good array of ports, but lousy battery life – again.

Samsung TabPro S: (SGD998, M3-6Y30, 4GB/128GB) thin bezels, dirt cheap with seasonal discounts, stunning AMOLED screen, and long battery life. But stuck with entry-level specs of 4GB RAM/128GB SSD and no other options. Awkward tablet/keyboard configuration too.

Huawei MateBook: (SGD1788, 8GB/512GB) thin bezels, lovely form, good pricing, but yucky keyboard and like Samsung’s above – awkward tablet/keyboard configuration. And if that wasn’t enough still, awful battery life to top it off.

HP Spectre x2: (SGD1299, M7-6Y75, 8GB/256GB) amazingly low price now after the list price for this convertible nose-dropped recently. Battery life about where the SP4 is, good screen, LTE support (nice!!) and premium design. Would had been a real alternative, were it not for its smaller than SP4’s screen, thick bezels (yuck), and you have to pay an additional $79 for the stylus. The overall package price would bring it to a whisker under the SP4 below then.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4: SGD1456, i5, 8GB/256GB sans SP4 Typecover as I already have one.

What about the iPad Pro 12.9″? Truth to tell, I’ve been quite tempted by this oversized iPad for months now, and seriously considered picking it up late last year when renewing my mobile broadband plan (I eventually went with an iPad Mini 4 instead). What held me back was that while the iPad Pro 12.9″‘s base unit price is OK, you’ll pay a lot more for the additional keyboard and Apple Pen just so to have it operate like a convertible.

So, it seems that the SP4 for all its flaws remains still the most balanced tablet PC in consideration, followed closely by the Acer Switch Alpha 12 and the HP Spectre x2 from a price-point at least. But with the expected release of the SP5 just around the corner, lots of rumors have come about though Microsoft itself has been quite tight-lipped about what the new machine will feature. My wishlist for it would be for it to:

Offer a 8GB RAM/128GB SSD option. Right now, the SP4 is available as 4GB RAM/128GB SSD and 8GB/256GB SSD configurations – but not in between.

Keep the micro-SD card slot (so that additional storage can be added for cheap.:)

Keep the mini-display port and USB 3.0 port, but also add a USB 3.1 Type-C port that supports power charging

Keep the current physical form factor, so that I can still use back my current Surface Pro 4 Typecover.

But increase the display width. The 12.3″ display on the SP4 is already slightly larger than the SP3’s, but I hope it gets larger still as the screen’s bezels are still fairly thick. I reckon the display can go up to 12.6″ without making the overall unit larger.

Use Intel’s 7th generation Kaby Lake processor. The improvements performance-wise are minor, but the new processors are more power efficient.

And offer better battery life, definitely!

Hopefully something comes up in the next month or two so that it can be considered for our June trip! And if not, the SP4’s recent price drops alongside the educational discount I’d get do make it quite attractive at this point too.