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Kids @ The Minton Pool

One thing about living on an island is that as since we’re completely surrounded by water, it’s practically a life-skill requirement for all of us island-dwellers to learn how to swim! We often brought Hannah as a young girl to our old condo pool, and took a lot of pictures on the now six year old setup: a cheap Canon IXUS HS115 protected with its dedicated underwater casing. This little camera over the years has survived loads of water dunking, beach sand etc. without ever breaking a sweat figuratively, and the little Canon compact camera always emerged unscathed and continued to work perfectly.

If there are limitations to the HS115 with underwater setup:

It shot full HD videos at a fairly pedestrian 24 fps rate that’s closer to film than home video.

It didn’t shoot in RAW – and color sensing was very occasionally off, given the significance presence of blue colors in a typical pool or underwater image.

The camera slightly heated up after extended use – which in itself doesn’t hurt the camera in any way, but it inadvertently caused condensation to build in the air cavity in front of the glass lens elements and housing’s lens protrusion.

Water droplets occasionally retaining on the lens protrusion: resulting in ugly blobs on pictures taken.

With our trip to Phuket coming up shortly, I’ve been looking into replacing this setup for pool and underwater pictures. Despite that dedicated underwater housings – what I’ve been using – are supposedly more reliable than underwater compacts, they are also by their very nature bulky, and also are a hefty additional expense – the HS115’s housing being a rare exception as I bought at a very low price. I did find a fairly cheap third party manufacturer of housings, so kept that in view for the GX7 Mark II.

So – looking at underwater compacts then. Most of the large camera manufacturers – Panasonic, Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Fujifilm – carry their own compact underwater cameras, with many costing at least SGD300 and more. But with the exception of a couple of the higher-tier (i.e. expensive) models, the cameras routinely do not support RAW. More worryingly though was that no matter how highly rated and well-reviewed each model was, there would be a few reviewers @ Amazon who’d comment on water seeping into their units – sometimes eventually, at other times shortly after purchase – typically rendering the camera useless thereafter. And manufacturers apparently do not honor repair warranties for damage from water for their underwater cameras. The irony!

The solution I eventually went with was different: the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is water-resistant (note – not waterproof though!), so why not just couple the phone with a dedicated waterproof case? And the S8+ would offer RAW support, touch-AF and controls, 4K video at 30fps – all the nice trimmings of a full-featured compact camera. And the housing isn’t technically sophisticated since there are far fewer dials or buttons on the S8+. The case just needs to be solidly waterproof. And to begin with, even with some water got in, the S8+ is water-resistant!

UBeesize Transparent Shockproof Underwater Cover for Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus.

After a lot of exploration around competing cases, I found a S8+ case that was well-reviewed @ Amazon, and made by what sounds like an Asian – likely Chinese – company called UBeesize. The small number of negative feedback mentioned its bulkiness – but still way smaller than a dedicated camera housing – and issues of sound echoing when the phone is used, a non-issue as I do not intend to use the phone in the pool. And the case costs just USD22 – so it’s it doesn’t burn the pocket. But being the kiasu person I am, I ordered also an Amazon Basics generic waterproof case.

Both items have arrived, and after the usual extended water test using absorbent material, the UBeesize got taken out for a spin at the pool over the weekend – and the results were wonderful! The case kept the S8+ fully dry, and I had no difficulties triggering pictures and videos (note: touchscreens do not work underwater, so the phone needs to be configured to snap pictures using one of the physical buttons). And the images and videos coming out of the S8+ were pleasing too, though all were taken at fixed focal length.

Pictures!

We don’t bring P to the pool often enough. Lucky though he still takes to it naturally!

Low-angle shot with the S8+ lens just above the waterline.

H providing the necessary horsepower!

And a quick video. The source is 4K 30fps, with YouTube’s usual video compression algorithm applied too. But the short 14 second clip shows pretty decent results.

 

 

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II – Part 2

Usability and handling notes!

As with all digital cameras in general, these imaging devices tend to do better when taking pictures in good light – and the smaller the sensor is, the most pronounced will be the issues of noise in low light photography. So, I’ve not been under any illusions that the new G7X Mark II would be a low light photography wonder.

The G7X starts up quickly, and is ready for pictures about a second after starting-up. There’s the familiar ‘chime’ song played at start-up, but it’s something you can easily disable in Settings – and likewise also the Canon startup logo too.

The camera is jam-packed with features. There are two different auto settings, scenes modes, bracketing, time-lapse, a somewhat configurable shooting info display, Face ID, different C-AF modes, ND filter, ability to set an upper ISO limit and adjust rate of change when in ISO Auto. While the G7X doesn’t support 4K, I appreciate that the camera out of the box supports both NTSC and PAL video systems. Some of the cameras from other manufacturers – including my Panasonic GX85 and also likely the Sony RX100s too – only support PAL for the local models, which in turn fixes video shot to 25fps, or 50fps if the camera happens to support it. I prefer my videos to be in 30fps – so there.

AF is quick though not what I’d call instantaneous. There’s some AF hunting in low-light, more so if I turn off AF-Assist (which I always do). Still, nothing quite as bad as the X70 though whose AF sometimes went forwards, backwards, forwards etc. as if it had a mind of its own LOL.

Muting the camera will not get you totally silent shooting. Triggering the shutter release will still produce a soft and pleasant ‘click’ sound.

The mode and exposure compensation dials are stiff and offer good resistance. One huge problem I keep having on the E-PL6 has been how easily the command mode dial turns – often just by putting or lifting the camera in and out of my messenger bag. Too often, I’ll pull the E-PL6 out of my bag to take a quick shot – only to see that the picture is significantly over/under-exposed because the mode dial has been turned to ‘S(hutter)-Priority’ instead of ‘A(perture)-Priority’ that I normally shoot in. The G7X’s buttons also offer adequate resistance, don’t feel mushy, and put out a muffled ‘click’ sound when depressed.

In several very nice usability touches too, the camera includes a Step/Continuous selector that lets you decide whether you want the control ring to turn smoothly, or with graduated ‘clicks’ to provide a more tactile experience. The ring turns smoothly silently on the RX100s – which of course is important when I’m taking videos: you wouldn’t want clicking sounds to be recorded! However, the clicking feedback is very useful when I’m taking stills. Canon offers both – just amazing. Finally, the G7X has a rubberized handgrip – missing on the RX100s.

I’ve come to realize how convenient is it for my cameras to support in-camera charging, as it really lightens the amount of clutter we have to haul on vacations. Charging using the micro USB port on the G7X is a little fiddly. Not in that the micro USB port is loose or anything like that, but the port seems just a mite larger than a typical micro USB connector. Not a deal breaker, but it’s a little annoying to have to jiggle the connector until the camera detects the appropriate connection for charging to begin.

In case the connector fails at some point, Canon includes a separate AC battery charger – something that the RX100s do not. Cheapskake Sony and hooray for Canon!

The G7X is about 4mm wider than the RX100 V, and very slightly taller.

The mode and exposure compensation dials offer adequate resistance. While this isn’t to say it can never happen, I’m far less likely  to accidentally change dial settings on the G7X compared to some of my other cameras.

The buttons situated on the back panel a clicky – nice – but the control dial doesn’t offer a lot of travel. Coupled with the fact that the dial is small – not much space on this compact camera to begin with – turning the dial is a little fiddly.

The HDMI and micro USB ports. The left eye socket is situated very close to both ports’ dust flap, so if you have a wrist strap with a metallic ring, the ring might interfere with your use of the dust flap. My particular G7X’s micro USB port also seems very slightly larger than the half-dozen micro USB male connectors I’ve tried plugging it into.

The G7x uses the NB-13L battery, rated at 1250mAh. It’s a pretty small battery, with a CIPA rating of 265 shots.

Next post on pictures!

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II – Part 1

I’ve always found taking pictures with the smartphone fiddly. They’re pocketable yes – but the lack of a handholding grip makes holding the phone to take any sort of a picture a routinely nervous experience. So, over the last half-dozen years or so, I’ve had a few dalliances with small non-interchangeable lens compact cameras – including the Panasonics LX7 and LX100, and the Fujifilm X70. The use cases for these acquisitions were quite specific: a berms-pocket-friendly camera when my messenger bag isn’t with me, and for family wefies. Of the three, two have been sold away: the LX100 had great specs and handled well – but wasn’t particularly compact, and there was an obvious image softness and also color rendering that I couldn’t get past. And the LX100 couldn’t be used for wefies for its lack of a flip-up or articulating screen. The X70 was compact, but perhaps because of the larger APS-C sensor and the shallow depth of field, it was routinely hard to get all four of us in sharp focus, unless the lens was stopped down significantly.

Many industry observers have reported on the gradual demise of the small sensor compact camera segment, in large part because the imaging you get from it is now matched – and in specific aspects even surpassed – by the current generation smartphones.

There is one holdout segment though: and it’s the one inch sensor compacts. I’ve long kept a close eye on developments and models here, and been tempted to get one for years now. Sony especially has been particularly aggressive with its RX cameras, with the almost yearly iteration of its very popular RX100 series of 1″ compacts. And Panasonic has also just got onto the bandwagon too last year with its aggressively priced LX10. In the last several years though, there was always one issue or another about these models that made me hesitant about picking one up. Whether it’s the asking price – the  relatively new Sony RX100 Mark V comes with an eye-watering SGD1399 RRP price tag – or a specification that disappoints, e.g. battery life, AF or optics.

Our upcoming Phuket trip though made me quicken any purchase decision I might be making: on account that unlike our Western Australia trip in June this year, I didn’t think I’d want to prop my E-M1 on a tripod in a busy street just for a picture of the four of us. Moreover, it’d be icing on the cake if I could find something which had an equivalent underwater casing that won’t cost a bomb. Y’know, if we’re kayaking in Phang Nga bay and a rogue wave hits us haha.

As it is now, the leading 1″ sensor compact models are the Sony RX100 Marks III to V – which other manufacturer still puts on shelves three iterations of their current line LOL – the Canon G9X and G7X Marks II, and the Panasonic LX10. Of these six models, the G9X is the smallest sized and very attractively priced at about SGD600. But the lack of a flip-up screen meant it was knocked right out of consideration. The RX100s also have a small electronic viewfinder, but do not support touchscreen AF. So, after a lot of price comparisons and hunting around – including from pre-loved resales – the summary of it was:

The almost 3.5 year old RX100 Mark III model is the equivalent of the G7X Mark II and LX10, price-wise.

I found a camera store that was selling the RX100 Mark V with significant discounts: at just SGD1,145. This model is top of the line in almost every single regard – imaging, AF, burst mode, 4K stabilization etc. – but the electronic wizardry takes its toll on its already small battery. This RX100 will run out of juice faster than all its predecessors.

The LX10 is about SGD820 and almost the equivalent of the Mark V. But there were a few odd videos I saw on YouTube that showed the camera having issues video focusing. Also, there were no affordable underwater casings for it.

The G7X Mark II was released about 1.5 years ago and Canon is expected to issue an update to it sometime early next year – maybe. The camera is very slightly larger than the diminutive RX100s, and has a cheap third party underwater casing for it. Its’ AF, imaging and optics are pretty good – if not quite where the RX100 is.

And when it finally came down to it, I went for the G7X Mark II over the weekend – largely on account of the price I got it for: SGD699 or USD513 – significantly lower than Singapore’s recommended retail price of SGD799 and even Amazon’s listed price of USD679. Of the three contending models, the G7X was the cheapest. And to think of it: a year and a half ago I was about to buy the G7X Mark I already – but changed my mind to X70 at the last minute. So, this is like coming back full-circle.

First pictures!

The Canon G7X Mark II. It was a close call between this or the Sony RX100 Mark III. The G7X Mark II won out largely on cost and that it’s widely regarded to be an easier camera to hold and use.

With lens fully extended to 100mm. The aperture drop-off at maximum focal length isn’t too severe either – at f2.8.

The camera is also very slightly chunkier than the RX100 cameras, but benefits from it – especially in the rubberized grip. The RX100s lack these, which makes dropping the camera a real risk, unless you’re mindful enough to always wrist-loop it.

The 3″ rear screen can look cluttered but the usual Info button can disable the info elements.

More notes on the usability next!

Zhiyun Smooth Q Smartphone Gimbal – Part 1

Many imaging devices of both the still type (e.g. cameras, smartphones) and video (e.g. camcorders, smartphones too LOL) like to claim that they are stabilized, and feature mechanisms and technologies to reduce if not eliminate what’s commonly known as ‘camera shake’. Olympus of course has the very nifty five-axis optical stabilization technology that the company has continue to improve over its micro four-thirds cameras. For instance, their current top of the line model – the E-M1 Mark II – is able to fairly easily obtain sharp five-second exposures. And this fellow here was even able to hit 20 seconds!

Reducing shake seems also quite different between both types of imaging devices, and I reckon it’s harder when it comes to recording video than still images. The old Panasonic TM700 I’ve owned for almost 7.5 years now – and still working perfectly albeit that it’s covered now with all manner of dings and scratches – has superb optical stabilization for video. But it doesn’t do 4K resolution. All the videos we took in our last vacation were in 4K, and the Huawei Mate 9 was clearly struggling to stabilize the video footage. I reckon trying to reduce shake on crazy high-resolution videos require lots of sophisticated machinery that simply won’t fit into a smartphone form factor.

So and looking around. Apparently, there are fairly straight-forward gadgets that work on more or less the same premise and lets one capture stable videos on smartphones: you mount your smartphone on a three-axis electronic gimbal that tries to sense and buffer your most extreme wrist movements. The solutions have come from quite a few manufacturers – including crowdfunded projects – and typically cost several hundreds of dollars. The most expensive, and maybe also the one which is most effective in its job, is the DJI OSMO – and it costs a whopping SGD430. That’s a crazy amount of money to spend on a handphone accessory. Albeit a very useful one, but no way I’m going to pay for that kind of money.

Most other gimbals cost SGD250 and more too, but I found one from a Chinese manufacturer which costs substantially less – the Zhiyun Smooth-Q, and I picked it up for SGD178. The manufacturer also makes a number of other gimbals, and the general consensus among reviewers in my pre-decision fact-finding is that:

It’s crazy cheap.

It’s reasonably well-built for the cheap price, but slightly lacking the premium build in some of the very pricey devices.

It offers nearly all the features – e.g. object tracking, silent operation – you want in top-line devices, and even more impressive considering its very low asking price.

Some of the user documentation and interfaces might be in Chinese, but it can be forgiven because of it’s dirt-cheap price.

Have I already said that it’s crazy cheap?!

So, a few hours of watching YouTube reviews later, I picked one up from Lazada SG – and it was delivered in two working days after placing the order. A comment about this particular e-commerce company too: I’ve made a number of orders from this site for more than a year now, and am quite impressed with its reliability and speed of delivery.

Comes in a box that’s about as long as the device.

Opening the box reveals the gimbal, a user guide, a micro USB cable, and a carry strap. The carry case reminds me of a miniature guitar bag LOL.

The gimbal itself. Measures about 28cm from head to toe when set in a compact posture.

The phone-clamp. Perfect for smaller phones, and it just about barely fit the Samsung S8+ – sans case.

To be continued in a next post!

Home Recording – Part 2

Coming out a crash course on home recording equipment, the basic outlay seemed to be:

Microphones: two basic types are dynamic, and condenser – with the former more suitable for low-frequency audio signals  (e.g. drums), and latter for higher-frequency audio (e.g. piano). Condenser microphones can be several orders more expensive and in the thousands of dollars range though, but I found Amazon selling pretty decent large diaphragm condensers for USD70 each – the Samson C01. And these weren’t run of the mill ones either, but well-regarded and fairly well-reviewed too.

Microphone cables: these can cost a bit too, but I went with the cheapest that could be delivered to Singapore through expedited and free shipping – at USD7 each. Hooray for cheap Amazon house-brand stuff! Had to make sure that the connector ends were of the correct type with the microphone and audio interface unit though.

Microphone stands: again, not willing to spend a lot on this. The cheapest decent stands – I needed two of them – was available on Amazon: the Samson MK-10 Boom Stand with a very attractive price-tag of USD20 @ Amazon, but the item would not ship with free expedited international shipping. Even Amazon’s slightly cheaper house-brand required shipping fees. Boo! Fortunately, Lazada lists local resellers who carry this item, so two were picked up at SGD40 apiece.

Audio interface: another item I had to read up about as a total noob. Basically, this is a electronic box that interfaces between the computer’s digital audio software and the recording equipment, and the best (i.e. most expensive) ones permit large numbers of audio inputs of multiple types. These can cost several hundred USDs. And as I was just trying out home recording, I got lucky again finding one – the U-Phoria UMC202HD – that was rated highly, and from Behringer, a German audio equipment manufacturer, that cost USD60. Perhaps as a testament to how popular this particular model is, I pretty much bought the last available unit on Amazon – as immediately after ordering it, the item went out of stock – with the next availability at 4-6 months as reported by Amazon.

Digital Audio Workstation: is really just a fancy name for the application software that takes care of the editing and post-processing parts of an audio recording. The professional versions can run to thousands of moola, so I went with the open-source and very free equivalent: Audacity, the widely-praised digital audio editor that I’ve been using for about ten years now after getting introduced to it as part of work.

And since I’ll still be recording video that I’ll merge the new audio layer into, I dug up my old copy of Adobe Premiere Elements and have to start learning how to use it.

Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD. It’s a pretty compact box, attractively styled, and seems quite well-built.

Two low-latency audio inputs, equipped with MIDAS designed Mic Preamplifiers with +48 V phantom power. The general feeling among enthusiasts is that this unit offers a crazy good feature set at a rock-bottom price.

The Samson C01 Condenser microphone comes pack in a plastic carry case and protected by dense foam.

The mic has a 19mm large diaphragm, and is driven by the 48v phantom power coming out of the audio interface. I did an early test of it on our piano, and it has a pretty wide audio pick-up pattern. That is both good – and bad LOL.

Two Amazon Basics microphone cables, and the two Samson MK-10 Boom Stands that was purchased separately from Lazada SG.

Audacity sound editor – so very free!

All in, the expenditure was about SGD377 – quite a bit lower than what I’d earlier resigned to spending during the initial exploration phase. With two of the key items – namely the microphones and audio interface – high-quality models even!

Home Recording – Part 1

One of my life-long ambitions has always been to do a proper studio recording of pieces I play on the piano. There’s been sporadic occasions over the years where I’ve attempted to do variations of that. For example, using a Korg keyboard work station to record my piano compositions in the early to mid ’90s and then using sampled notes from a Steinway & Sons Grand Piano to render the MIDI files to CD-quality audio recordings. And more recently, HD video recordings using the E-M1 – which I’m still not yet brave enough to make public on YouTube LOL.

I’ve never been fully satisfied with either method. Recording via MIDI format results in pristine audio quality, but the approach always felt a little unauthentic. You’re essentially recording computer data that gets next mapped via instrument samples, then finally rendered to an actual audio recording. The benefit of a MIDI approach though is that you can fix note errors and dynamic issues before mapping.

Recording via camcorders and digital cameras is closer to a studio recording – but the built-in microphones in these camera devices are usually second fiddle to imaging. These devices are first and foremost imaging devices not sound-recorders! The camera microphones do not offer good dynamic range, pick up all kinds of odd noises, and most significant, do not present a proper stereophonic experience.

So, earlier this year I resolved to get round to trying the real deal: I’ll find out and learn what is necessary and how to do home studio recordings. This is of course a highly specialised and professional industry, and those beautiful and warm-sounding acoustic piano recordings we hear are the intentional results of a whole host of contributing factors: including the performance of the artiste, the ambiance in the recording venue, the equipment setup, and the sound engineering.

The initial survey was pretty intimidating and learning curve very steep: a lot of the learning material both text and videos, and even equipment documentation seem to be written for persons who’re already familiar with the domain of professional-standard recording. I wasn’t ready to throw a lot of money into this thing either – professional level condenser microphones can easily cost thousands each – but I found very well-regarded branded equipment that were at entry-level prices, and was lucky enough that Amazon was able to ship them here too using free international shipping. More on that in the next post.

Freshly arrived kewl lewt from Amazon and Lazada SG.

There’s a last method too: using digital pianos, or acoustic pianos with silent piano modules – like the Yamaha U30BL upright we have at home. The U30BL’s module though hasn’t quite resulted in the kind of audio fidelity that I need, so in case this simple home recording studio setup still doesn’t work well, I’ll have to either revisit recording using the U30BL’s silent piano module, or think very hard about getting a digital piano – if we can find space at home for it to begin with!

iPad Pro 12.9 (2017)

While the stunning form factor and premium design language are traits no longer exclusively in Apple’s purview, Apple fans will still have us believe that the Cupertino super company creates products that never fail, or at least are more reliable than everyone else’s.

That might indeed be true from a general sampling perspective, but that has – simply – not been my personal experience of Apple devices. I’ve had, at this point, owned about just over three dozen Windows/Android devices across the years, and the only two devices I can recall that catastrophically failed with no warning was an Acer Travelmate 3001 from a decade ago, and – very recently – the Lenovo X1 Carbon.

Compare that to the about nine Apple devices I’ve had: three have failed:

MacBook Pro 13″ – selected keys failed just after 18 months.

MacBook Pro 15″ – catastrophically failed just after the one year warranty period ended. And even after repair, continued to fail – to the point that even when it was discovered that the source of persistent failure seemed to had been a fault of a faulty batch of hardware, Apple refused to replace my laptop unit or repair at their cost.

Apple iPad Air 2 – started failing 3 days ago. Specifically, the tablet seems to be running on full 100% load all the time, with the battery draining from full to zero in 6 hours even when set to standby mode. My guess is that the Touch sensor has failed in a way that might be causing the tablet’s Mainboard to get stuck in a continuous detection loop. So, even when the Air 2 is in standby mode, the tablet is still running on full processing, causing the battery to drain at top speed and also for thermals to rocket. Factory resetting has not done a thing either.

3 out of 9 devices – not a good rate at all. And none of these three have ever been mistreated.

Barring the couple of trips out of the country, the most recent one being the trip to Western Australian, the iPad Air 2 had been largely used at home to display music scores when I’m on the piano. Or put in another way, with the Air 2 failing, I needed a replacement. I’ve blogged previously about the relatively small display canvas on this iPad when compared to the typical A4 score sheet sizes, and figured this was just about as good an opportunity to look into the iPad Pro 12.9″ tablets.

iPads 12.9, 9.7 and 7.9.

Comments and observations from one purchase of the iPad Pro 12.9″ 64GB:

The tablet was first released in 2015, with a recent 2017 refresh from just a few months back. The older model is available at Apple’s refurbished store about 20% cheaper. But the 2017 upgraded model features a couple of significant upgrades, two of which are particularly important for my usage profile: the Pro Motion 120 Hz display, and also that the screen is brighter and displays obviously richer colors.

The larger 12.9″ display canvas really helps. I was squinting all these months using the Air 2’s 9.7″ display!

The tablet is really heavy. This is not something you’ll want to hold on one hand for long.

iOS 10 is not optimized for the large screen. The 5×4 grid of icons looks silly on the 12.9″ screen, what with all the unused space between icons. Hopefully this will change with the upcoming iOS 11.

The 10 hour-rated battery life seems slightly conservative. I was on the piano for about 90 minutes Sunday yesterday, and battery dropped from 100% to about 88%.

The iPad Pro 12.9″ is pretty expensive though, even for the cheapest model with cellular data support, and with the educational discount I got. Still, it’s a device that I use for the piano and thus necessary expense. And the convenience of being able to carry around dozens of piano score books everywhere cannot be understated. Hopefully this one lasts longer than the Air 2!

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!

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus – Part 2

And after a week of using the S8+, more comments on it!

We use our smartphones to tell the time a lot, and the S8+’s Always-On Display (AOD) to show that is incredibly useful. Despite Samsung’s promise that there is only minimal battery consumption by enabling AOD, the battery does seem to drain noticeably quicker though. The AOD themes all also seem to always include the battery percentage as a fixed information item, so if you’re one of those persons who get into a fit every time the percentage level drops an additional bit, then the AOD might actually be annoying.

The battery drains about 2-3% overnight without AOD, and twice that when it’s enabled. The power consumption without AOD is roughly about equal to the Mate 9’s overnight drain, but still higher than the Mi Max which routinely drops just about 1%.

There are several drop, bending, freezing and even Coke (?!) tests comparing the S8+ and iPhones on YouTube, which while – admittedly – is fun to see how well these top-line phones can withstand well extraordinary abuse, can also be incredibly painful to watch thousand dollar phones get, well, basically destroyed!

The curved screen also makes it very hard for tempered glass screen protectors to be pasted onto it without experiencing a range of issues – whether it’s inadvertent edge bubbles or loss of touch sensitivity – with The Verge having a good write-up about the difficulties here.

The phone is also water-resistant up till 1.5m for 30 minutes. So, according to specifications at least, this phone can survive a drop into a shallow puddle of water too. Not that I’m ever going to try that sort of test, but it’s nice to know that the phone will very likely easily live with rain.

The S8+’s navigation bar occupies the bottom bit of the tall screen, but – ingeniously – can also be set to auto-hide, like Windows’ taskbar, and brought back up with a flick of the thumb. This means that applications can use the full 6.2″ screen if need be. Like other phones with onscreen buttons, the ‘back’ and ‘recent’ buttons can be swapped. It’s also possible to unlock the phone by long-depressing the ‘home’ button, and in a very nice touch, the sensitivity of this button can also be adjusted.

There’s a dedicated button on the S8+’s left side to start-up Bixby, and the button cannot be natively disabled or remapped to do something else without relying on third party apps – and no guarantee if Samsung will not implement low-level changes to disable those customizing apps. Some reviewers have reported that they’ve frequently accidentally pressed that button and starting up Bixby when they do not intend to. It was indeed an annoyance in the first day or two of my use, but I’ve since gotten used to gripping the phone somewhat less tightly in my hand, just so that I don’t accidentally trigger Bixby.

The speaker and audio jack volume levels are adequate but aren’t particularly high. So, if you like music blasted out loud through your head/earphones in noisy environments, you’d need either a separate personal amplifier or a third party app to drive up phone volumes.

The S8+ is USB Type-C, and charges up quickly via cable, and it also charges as expected using a Samsung wireless charging pad and also Xpower’s wireless charger, albeit more slowly.

News cards on Bixby, Samsung’s personal voice assistant. Attractive visual layout.

Though Bixby Vision clearly still needs a lot more work! It thought the Microsoft Mouse I’m using is anything but LOL.

More in Part 3 later!