My follow-up post to the SP3 and XPS13 after having put both through two and one weeks of respective use.

My initial intentions for both devices were to leave the SP3 at home and for the XPS13 to be the workhorse replacement to replace the now kaput-ed Macbook Pro. Funnily, both devices are now getting trafficked to work everyday in my haversack. The XPS13 is the heavy duty work machine, even if the keyboard and touchpad isn’t as nice to use or that the overall unit isn’t as lighting quick  compared to the MBP – but the SP3 is just so much fun to use. I’ve always enjoyed scribbling on the Samsung Note 3, and the SP3 takes it to a whole new level with a more natural-sized pen and larger canvas to work with. It’s also become a diagramming tool I use for teaching, and also to take copious notes during meetings.

And Hannah loves drawing on the SP3. Quite a welcomed change for us parents, because she’d normally just draw them on pieces of art paper and leave them lying around the house!

Hannah's creation on Microsoft's Fresh Paint app!

Hannah’s creation on Microsoft’s Fresh Paint app!

Battery-life wise on the XPS13 – it’s nowhere near Dell’s initial claim of 12 hours at January 2015’s CES, not at least if you intend to do use the XPS13 for anything apart from just keeping a static screen on with minimal brightness. Using the XPS13 to do a slightly-over two hour class that used Powerpoint that also included several high-resolution videos, set on near maximum brightness with Wifi + Bluetooh on, the XPS13 showed about 65% battery life remaining. Plenty enough more to run for quite a bit longer. In such usage, I’ll put the XPS13’s battery life to about 5.5-6 hours. The SP3 seems to run for about the same length of time too.

Mobility-wise; both devices are in the same ballpark weight though I feel less nervous carrying the SP3. The latter’s type-covers provides a nice friction grip when it’s hand-carried or cradled underneath my arm, while the XPS13’s aluminum body is so smooth that I fear it falling off my hands. The SP3’s exterior is also very cool and pleasant to the touch – pretty much like the Macbook’s unibody exterior.

The mini-Display port sits on different sides of both machines too. It’s the right side for the SP3, and left for the XPS13. This is a very individual thing, but all my secondary displays at work and home are always on the right-side of the principal machine. So, in my case, the SP3’s mini-Display port is a more natural orientation to the secondary display than the XPS13 – which requires the display cable to run behind the machine’s width, and hence a little messier.

The near bezel-ess display on the XPS13 is just lovely, and you’ll be continuing to marvel at the engineering feat to make it possible. That said (and apart from the light-leakage there), it also requires a bit more effort to swipe on the right-side to bring up Windows Charms. The screen also presents significantly more reflective glare than the MBP – and it doesn’t help that the maximum brightness isn’t that high to begin with. The SP3’s display is less striking, and the screen’s thicker bezel makes it look unappealing. The very slightly odd tint on the screen there too has been improved somewhat after reading a post on Surface Forums.net on how to correct that color idiosyncrasy. The screen still doesn’t produce whites as pure as that of the MBP or XPS13, but it’s an improvement now.

Both the typecover and the XPS13’s keyboard are backilt – particularly useful in the SP3’s case, since the unit is used a lot in dim bedroom light.

I have mixed feelings about the XPS13’s weaved-patterned palm rest. It’s scratch-resistant and looks premium, but I prefer the metallic-alloy feel off the MBPs, or the rougher-textured rests off the SP3. Minor thing though. As for the keyboards on both; the SP3 provides a more tactile if noisier experience, while the XPS13 is very quiet but also mushy. Given a choice, I prefer the former.

The XPS13's palmrest.

The XPS13’s palmrest.

SP3's.

SP3’s.

That’s it for the week-usage notes. More to come – maybe!

 

The Dell XPS 13 (2015) finally arrived yesterday afternoon – 2 days after the initial projected delivery date. I’m not absolutely certain of the reason for the delay in assembly, but from what I’m reading on online forums about others around the world who’ve also been waiting for their units that deliveries of the new XPS for many would only be starting from next week onwards. Not pleasing at all, though to Dell’s credit they expedited the delivery of the new notebook from Shanghai (?) to Malaysia and then finally to Singapore, even if it took three emails and phone-calls to get that.

From the get-go, it’s obvious that Dell has pull out all stops to present the new XPS 13 as a premium, luxury product. The cardboard delivery box was oversized but in-it was compacted foam to cushion a much smaller XPS box. The box is just slightly larger than the notebook, with the power adapter and cord packed separately in the delivery box.

After 2 days and loading up a whole bunch of stuff onto the XPS and doing some light productivity work on it – my notes on the Dell XPS13-9343. I went with the upper tier option of the i7-5500U, 8 GB RAM and Samsung 256 GB M1 SSD, and QHD+ infinity touch-screen.

The exterior aluminum chassis is great and tough-enough, though if you depress it hard, it’ll still exhibit just the slightest flex. In other words, not as rigid as the Macbook Pros. Interestingly, the aluminum cover on my Asus UX31E is even tougher still compared to the MBP.

The entire unit is lovey, and you’ll feel you’ve purchased a high quality product – despite its relatively modest asking prices for the base configurations (the upper tier configuration e.g. what I got is very slightly less so). Size-wise; the Dell XPS 13 has a slightly larger footprint-wise than the Surface Pro 3, and when the latter has the typecover on, the thicknesses are about the same. Weight-wise, the XPS is heavier but still easily light-enough to be carried around without feeling its weight.

The accompanying power adapter and cord is about the same size as the SP3’s – i.e. tiny! Slightly heavier than the SP3’s but nothing like the usual large power bricks and adapters in other notebooks. I’ll probably be picking up a second adapter for use in the office.

The screen seems brighter than my SP3 and with truer whites – the SP3 in contrast displays an odd very slightly yellowish tint outside the highest brightness levels. Unfortunately, my unit also showed visible light leakage along the left and right sides of the screen. Not sure if I should kick up a fuss about it – it’s visible enough under normal use if I consciously look for it. No issues at all on the Dell XPS 13’s viewing angles, and I think this screen’s on-par quality wise with my MBP Retina.

The carbon fiber layer on the keyboard rest feels svelte, but I would have preferred it to be made of the same alloy as the rest of the chassis.

The Dell XPS 13’s touchpad is large and works well-enough, though it’s still not as velvety smooth nor responsive as the MBP’s. I read that Microsoft is trying hard to rein in the widely varying trackpad implementations from notebook manufacturers, and Dell has been working with them on the XPS 13’s – but from the latter, there is still a long way to go.

The keyboard is… adequate. The key travel is good and provides sufficient feedback, but the the keys themselves also present slightly more resistance than what I like. The Macbooks still set the gold standard when it comes to great keyboards, and funnily, despite the SP3’s noisy clackety type cover, my typing speed is quicker on it than on this Dell. Oh well – something to get used to.

Under normal use (e.g. office productivity, browsing), the XPS 13 stays silent and the fan doesn’t kick in, and even if it does, it’s not audible. But downloading updates and running intensive 3D content on it, it will, with the notebook bottom heating up quite a bit.

The widely-reported 10+ hour of spectacular battery life seems obtainable only if you’re just letting it sit pretty, browsing and not doing serious work on it. I haven’t given it the full battery run-down, but I suspect it’ll still run for a minimal of 5 hours or more of actual productive work before cashing out.

Battery charging using the supplied AC adapter seems brisk. Not scientific, but it took less than 2 hours to get from 10% battery remaining to about 90%.

The right USB 3.0 port sits a little too close to the SD Card slot. Not a biggie, but it means if you’ve got a USB device hooked up to that side, extracting a SD Card out from that slot will require a bit of finger-jiggling.

On the overall, I’m pretty happy with it – barring the light-leak annoyances (gonna think about this), and that the keyboard/touchpad combo on Macbook Pros are still ahead of this new Dell. More notes might come after I’ve given it more use!

 

Unboxing the Dell XPS.

The Dell XPS 13 (2015).

The Dell XPS 13 (2015).

The power adapter and cord. Small!

The power adapter and cord. Small!

Footprint-wise, the Dell XPS is just very slightly wider than the SP3

Footprint-wise, the Dell XPS is just very slightly wider than the SP3

Measuring the thickness of the two notebooks.

Measuring the thickness of the two notebooks.

Glowing light just below the lid shows that that the AC is charging the battery.

Glowing light just below the lid shows that that the AC is charging the battery.

The near bezeless display of the XPS 13 makes the SP3 look fat!

The near bezeless display of the XPS 13 makes the SP3 look fat!

It seems that my new Dell XPS 13 (2015) will take longer to get delivered now. Several days ago, the online status of the unit inexplicably changed backwards from “Work in Progress” to “Order Received” – the latter state of which is what you get right after you place an order. A call to Dell’s customer care and after being routed through different persons a little revealed that parts shortage was holding up the processing of the Dell XPS, and the customer service offer explained quite bluntly that the delivery of the order might get delayed.

This is the fourth Dell I’ve ordered and the first time an order has got delayed. Even less pleasing was that the officer did not seem to care that delays like these are inconveniencing the customer. The order status reverted back to “Work in Progress” shortly after the call, but I’m not confident if the notebook now is gonna get here in the next 2 days now.

Back to "Work in progress".

Back to “Work in Progress”.

Still, the SP3 has settled nicely into my bring-everywhere Windows 8.1 device. I was initially worried that the soft svelte type cover would pick up all kinds of dust, hair and skin pieces and what not. And it still just might, given the texture of the cover, but dang – the material does feel beautiful to touch.

I picked up the Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Bluetooth mouse alongside the SP3 too. The mouse I normally use (and for years now) is the very affordable Microsoft Mobile Mouse 1000 which connects using a tiny USB dongle, but I could ill afford using the SP3’s one USB port for the mouse. The Sculpt Comfort is quite a bit larger and heavier than the Mobile Mouse, but its buttons and ridged scroll wheel are even nicer and quieter.

The Sculpt Comfort. A little larger and heavier than the mouse I'm used to.

The Sculpt Comfort. A little larger and heavier than the mouse I’m used to.

I needed more than just one USB port too, given the number of devices that get connected to my work notebooks. The SP3 also has its own dedicated docking station that’s sold by Microsoft for a hefty S$288. The station is well-reviewed online and seems worth the expense if the SP3’s your primary workhorse computer at work. But it’s just not in my case, since the SP3 is gonna be used mostly at home once the XPS 13 finally arrives at some point. So, over the weekend, I scouted around intently for a universal docking station that would have:

At least four USB ports, at least two of which would be USB 3.0;

A Gigabit Ethernet port;

Not burn the bank if I bought it.

There are lots of USB 3.0 hubs feature four ports out there, but many of them draw power only from the connecting USB port, and simply don’t offer enough juice to drive older devices, multiple connected devices, or devices with heavier power draws (e.g. optical drives). That basically meant that the USB hub or docking station would need to be independently powered by AC. A check online of models carried by the Sim Lim Square shops revealed that very few sell universal docking stations, apart from the Toshiba Dynadock v3.0 that was cheap enough but didn’t have the Ethernet port.

Expanding the search online turned up a lot of models (which again begs the question: why aren’t these devices available in Singapore?!), of which the Plugable UD-3000 Universal Docking Station seemed to meet my needs, though it didn’t include a built-in SD Card slot – which would had been really helpful. Amazon UK was offering the version of the Station that would be immediately compatible with our local power sockets, but it also cost a lot more than the Amazon US version, and not mentioning the fact that I would have had to go through a parcel forwarder to get it here.

So, the US version of the Station it was, ordered through Amazon – and hopefully to arrive in a fortnight’s time. A review of the device to come then.:)

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 arrived at our door-step WEDS yesterday evening. Pretty quick. The Microsoft point of distribution was in Shenzhen China. The order was placed on Sunday evening, processed the following afternoon by DHL, picked-up by the courier company the next afternoon on TUES, and arrived in Singapore proper just before noon time yesterday. A quick call to DHL customer service got me the delivery time I wanted – evening since we would be out of home until then – and the item arrived on the dot.

surfacepro3-delivery

Alongside the main Surface Pro 3 (short formed to this post to just SP3) unit was also a tempered glass screen protector. I figured that the latter was a must-have, given the fact that I intended to use the stylus a lot with the tablet/ultrabook/hybrid thingie, and also that the packaged Surface Type Cover’s keys would be coming into close contact with the display screen each time the keyboard flap was closed. There were of course cheaper films available for screen protections, but I’ve always found those things pretty difficult for amateurs like myself to apply, while tempered glass protectors are just so much easier to lay on the screen and achieve a seamless fit on the screen.

Random impressions after about a day of use of the SP3 and also Windows 8.1.

The build quality of the SP3 is attractive, and its matte-styled back case won’t be picking up finger-prints. It doesn’t quite provide the same premium feel as say the aluminum Unibody case you find on Macbooks, but it’s still decent.

The screen provides decent viewing angles and brightness levels that’s good for normal indoor use, though outdoor use would be a real challenge. There’s some obvious light-bleeding and unevenness when the screen is blacked out and thus mildly depressing, though once the Windows desktop boots up, it’s no longer a visible issue.

My i5 4GB RAM unit is the entry-level i5 unit and adequate for browsing and most office productivity work. Trying out a couple of flash-based 3D content though clearly was gonna push the unit, as there as some noticeable lag where the integrated Intel Integrated HD 4400 graphics unit was trying very hard to cope, alongside the semi-limited amount of working RAM.

No problems balancing on my legs in a seating posture the SP3 with the kick-stand extended and typing on the the type cover. Typing on the latter isn’t the most stable platform to while balancing it on legs, as the entire contraption jiggles a little as you type away.

The high-resolution screen is indeed helpful but also challenging when hooked up to external monitors. My workplace monitor is a Dell 27″ that produces lovely colors but also at a relatively low 1920×1080 resolution. The final text scaling factor I used to balance between avoiding overly small fonts on the SP3 and not overly large fonts on the much larger monitor was 135%.

The device’s power connection plug is just a tad loose. Not enough for it to fall off on its own thankfully, but stronger magnets between the power plug and the device would have provided for assurances that a good power connection has been made.

The i5 and i7 units according to reviews seem to have challenges in easy heat dissipation. I haven’t stretched my own SP3 unit very much at this juncture, but the unit’s fan kicked in – quite audibly – while downloading and processing the whole bunch of software and firmware updates when it was first hooked up online.

And as for Windows 8.1 – ugh. I dislike it, and spent the better part of an hour trying as hard as I could to make Windows look and work like Windows 7! My biggest peeve is the need to integrate the SP3’s account login to my Microsoft account just so that I can get Onedrive to work properly.

A call to Dell to find out the status of my order of the XPS 13 revealed that parts shortage at the assembly plant meant that there might be some delays to my actually receiving the notebook. Gah. Hopefully not too long, but in the worse case, at least there’s the SP3 that I can use now.:)

The SP3 with red Type Cover.

The SP3 with red Type Cover.

 

It wasn’t easy deciding on my Macbook Pro Retina replacement, on account that no matter what I might think of the general reliability of their MBPs, they do produce lovely machines (externally at least), decent specifications, and as an educator, I would also enjoy some nice discounts on Apple products.

As in many other gadgets and toys I buy, the proverbial spreadsheets got created listing the various models in consideration along price, configuration, dimensions, weight, hardware included, warranty etc. It was a bit more tricky this time round as I was also opened to smaller form factor devices as workhorse notebook replacements. For the last couple of years, I’ve picked up large screen monitors as a secondary display for work, so while the size and quality of the primary display (on the notebook) are still important, it’s no longer as critical for work use as it once was.

Other considerations included:

Storage type. I scrupulously avoided notebook options that did not offer SSDs as their primary storage medium. Interestingly, a lot of mainstream notebooks, including very svelte business replacement types, are still including harddrives in their default configurations. A couple do not even allow for SSD options as drive replacements.

Display resolution. Windows 7 has serious issues providing different display resolutions and text sizing if you use more than one monitor at a time. Windows 8 does slightly better, but not by much. A lot of notebook manufacturers are on the craze to provide very high display resolutions of 4K, but that kind of resolution is pointless on small screens.

RAM. I used to get quite hung up on having gobs of RAM in previous notebook purchases, but looking at my pattern of use, I determined that 8GB was going to be sufficient this time round (the Macbook Pro Retina had 16GB).

GPU. A couple of machines I shortlisted were true desktop replacements offering high-performance graphics processors. A fast graphics component is pretty useful and I do need something that can run 3D content reasonably well for work. But high-performance graphics processors would invariably mean a minimal size of the notebook, and I had to take on board my new found interest in…

Portability. The MBP is light for its class of usage, but I was genuinely interested also in the convertible notebook types this time round. Basically, something that can also be used tablet style if possible, and better still, stylus functionality too.

So, after about a week of searching, the shortlist of notebooks narrowed down to a few models:

HP Omen. Beautiful build, lovely screen, desktop-replacement. Not quite so portable, and fairly expensive. There was a demo unit at an electronics store at Serangoon Nex, and I liked what I tried out.

Aftershock S15. Top-end specifications, super-configurable, very cheap for its specifications, desktop-replacement. On the other hand, the build for the unit isn’t quite so premium compared to the HP Omen or MBP.

Lenovo Yoga Pro 3. Very light and ultrabook-like, and able to (somewhat) operate as a heavy tablet. Lovely screen, reasonable bundled warranty. Somewhat short battery life for its type though. No stylus feature too.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Tablet-ultrabook hybrid. Very portable, and with a digitizer screen supporting stylus input. Reasonably priced for its base-model but gets more expensive once you add in the must-have accessories for it to be really functional. Tough to be a real desktop replacement in view of its small screen.

After a week of fact-finding, reading and exploration, I leaned towards the Yoga Pro and Surface Pro, and finally decided to go with the Yoga. Funnily though and just when I was about to commit to its purchase, I stumbled upon a just announced Dell ultrabook – and specifically a refreshed model from its XPS 13 line. The XPS 13 (2015) seemed to be priced cheaper than the Yoga Pro for about equivalent specifications, and had a couple of additional benefits to boot: ridiculously long battery life, very small form factor while retaining a reasonably-sized class-leading screen, great build – but it couldn’t be used as a tablet.

Still, that was the one I ended up finally ordering a week ago – the XPS 13 (2015) with its 4K screen, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, fitted with a two year complete care package (learned my lesson from the MBP experience!).

The story doesn’t here though. Because of how much I wanted Windows tablet and stylus functionality, a couple of days after putting in an order for the XPS, I made a second purchase – an entry model for the Surface Pro 3 as a portable Windows device. My first in years after going full-board on Android and iOS mobile devices.

The new Dell XPS 13 (2015) with a near bezel-ess display.

The new Dell XPS 13 (2015) with a near bezel-ess display.

The Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, widely on display everywhere in local electronic stores.

Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, widely on display everywhere in local electronic stores.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and the included stylus.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and the included stylus.

More notes to come on either and both machine – when they actually do arrive!

 

As (bad) luck would have it, barely two days after writing my year-end notes of 2014, the Macbook Pro Retina – my daily-use computer at work – started failing spectacularly.

The machine is just a shade under 2.5 years old, and had previously gone through a major repair job when the notebook failed barely just a year after purchase. In that instance, the unit required a motherboard replacement, a job that typically costs more than a thousand moola in repair and replacement charges. As the notebook then was barely just out of its one year warranty – after some begging/pleading, Apple consented to replace the motherboard out of goodwill and without charge.

Skip ahead by another year and a half, and the machine is failing again. I’ve lost count of the number of times the Macbook simply refused to start, or just flat-lined BSODed (blue-screen-of-death for the non-tech persons). After a lot of fault-finding involving disk wipes, re-installation of operating system, different driver versions, many visits to Boot Camp, my educated guess was that the fault laid in the failing graphics processing unit component. Basically, the notebook runs fine, but the component providing graphics acceleration is kaput.

Now, that might not seem like a serious thing; but failure of that component not only means no graphics acceleration (i.e. anything on the web using video acceleration, Youtube videos, runs like a dog now) and Windows display refreshes are maddeningly slow – all disabilities I can live with. But the one I couldn’t go without was the corresponding loss of external video projection – something that’s integral at work. Basically, the Macbook Pro cannot project onto an external screen.

To be fair, as lovely as the exterior chassis and the build of the Macbook Pros are, my particular unit has had numerous oddities. The screen display as I found out was from a particular batch of monitors that suffered from temporary screen ghosting. And for some reason, the notebook often ran hot even when doing routine work. And I’d neglected to purchase Apple’s Complete Care package.

In comparison; the more than 4 year old Dell XPS 16 is still for the most part working fine. Who would have believed it!

In summary; no more Macbook Pros for me, or at least not without also forking out the additional money for Complete Care. More in the next post!

 

Another year, and time for my annual year-end post on our big decisions of 2014 – what went well and what didn’t!

Choice of Interior Designer – Win: Our renovation project took a good part of all our free time in the first four months of the year, and it was a tough decision shortlisting from 13 IDs we checked out to 2, and then finally deciding on who to go with. Our renovation project was of course a culmination of many activities – the main renovation, the individual furnishing items, choice of decorations, the other subcontractors we enlisted to do other parts of the house etc. On the overall and briefly; our renovation project went on balance very well, though 8 months into the fact, we’re starting to regret our choice of LED lights. Oh well – lesson learned.

Selling The Rivervale – Win: Another tough and significant decision we made this year; whether to sell away or rent out our old Rivervale home, and which estate agent to go with. We’re still not absolutely certain that selling our old home was the best financial decision long-term, but we did benefit from a great estate agent who was accessible, and got us a selling price that we were comfortable, and an easy and fast sales transaction to boot too.

Koh Phangan and Santhiya – Mix: Peter’s first vacation out, and the entire experienced gave us mixed feelings. The resort was nice enough and holiday unrushed and quite laid back. But it was also a pretty expensive holiday and the overall resort package wasn’t matching to the premium price charged for the stay, Peter wasn’t on his best behavior, and both the men of the household fell ill.

iPad Mini Retina – Win: The first of two iPads I picked up during the year. This was to replace the Google Nexus 7 – whose screen I had to squint at from deteriorating eyesight. The tablet is perfect in size, pocketable though screen wise it’s not quite up to what the Air 2 below is capable of. I’m still figuring out which will be my go-to tablet long-term; this one or the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 – Win: Came with a mobile broadband bundle I signed up for late in the year. Lovely screen, quick performance, thin and light if almost also a little fragile; but if only the form factor was just a little smaller. This one can’t fit into my bermuda pockets!

Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom – Win: I picked this portable Bluetooth speaker at the start of the year for use during my classes, given the number of videos I use for teaching purposes. The speaker is stylish, loud, has a battery that charges quickly and runs forever – though ironically, the speaker doesn’t pair very well Bluetooth-wise with my Macbook Pro, and I end up using the old analog 3.5mm audio jack LOL.

Sony Walkman NWZ-F886 and Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear – Win: The audio quality of the Walkman isn’t as warm as the Cowon it replaced, but the pair is now my music companion whenever I’m on the treadmill.

Novita 611-I Air Purifier – Lose: We bought this for the impending haze, and it turned out to be a white elephant when the haze didn’t return much for this year.

2015 ought to be an interesting year; since our mobile phone plans are both up for renewal (new smartphones in other words), the Panasonic TM700 Camcorder will be five years old and approaching end-of-life, and the Macbook Pro Retina will be three years old – the typical point where notebooks in general start getting wonky!

And for my 43rd BD, the wife got me this:

LG G Watch R - what a mouthful LOL.

LG G Watch R – what a mouthful LOL.

And I like it.:) Ling every year has a lot of difficulties thinking of the right gadget/toy to buy for me. There were two memorable BD presents mishaps of this type, including an expensive electronic shaver that shredded my chin and turned it into a bloody mess, and an Android Transformer tablet that was gimped because it was a Wifi-only model. But she really did a lot of homework before deciding on this year’s: and the present was perfect! I never had an interest in the early Android-based smartwatches, e.g. those in the Samsung Gear S series, as they were invariably clunky, not of the right form-factor, and/or offered poor battery life.

The LG G Watch R is LG’s most recent attempt at an Android smartwatch, and in my evaluation, they have got it more right than its competitors. For instance:

Round and flat form. The Samsung Gear watches were rectangle-ish, and while stylish as dress-watches, just weren’t the right shape for me.

Better battery life than many of its current competitors, and probably on account of its OLED technology that makes for not just a nicely saturated display, but also more power-saving.

As Ling accounts it though, this watch was extremely difficult to find and even buy here in Singapore. Very few shops carried it, and the couple of ones that did were located in inconvenient locations, especially considering that she had to buy the watch in relative secrecy and with two kids in tow.

Now, if only the watch was a little more water-resistant, it’d be a full replacement for a crusty old Casio swimmer-capable watch that I normally wear. As it is, this new LG watch will probably have to stay at home in our upcoming Koh Phangan vacation later this weekend.

 

Ever since picking up the iPad mini Retina in June this year, my mobile data usage has shot up significantly, and each month at about its fourth week, I start having to put very close attention and ensure that I don’t bust the data limit given in my current mobile phone plan.Case in point: a couple of weeks ago while at Hannah’s K1 concert, I browsed for about an hour or so while waiting for her class’ turn on stage – and within that period, chalked up almost 200MB of data usage. And mind you, these were just browsing through the bunch of hobbyist discussion forums I follow. I guess it’s a sign of how much I’ve been using the 7.9 inch tablet on the go.

That got me started thinking seriously about subscribing to a dedicated mobile broadband plan. I was fairly certain what the upper limit of my usage was. But there aren’t that many providers of such services here in Singapore, and in Singtel and M1’s case, their pricing tiers and bundled mobile data are roughly in the same ballpark. Starhub provides a bit more data along its price tiers, but that increased data limit loses its luster as their package with tablet device deals seemed a little higher than its competitors. Since a new tablet was going to come with the subscription plan I was interested in, the big decision to make was which tablet. My preference was to go with an approximately 8 inch tablet again, but:

Samsung Galaxy S 8.4: regarded as one of the best ~8 inch Android-based tablets currently available. Slim, light, gorgeous screen and a decent processor. The discounts going with the bundled package though weren’t particularly attractive against what you’d pay on retail. And while magazine reviews reported on its long battery life, actual user reports were less sanguine.

Galaxy Nexus 9: which was released at just about this time. Unfortunately, none of the telcos offered this tablet alongside its packages – possibly at least on account that the LTE versions of it weren’t available yet.

iPad mini 3: Apple’s update to the Mini Retina I’ve already got, but from all counts, is a very minor bump with its addition of Touch ID.

iPad Air 2: Slimmer, more powerful version of the iPad Air from last year.

The new iPad mini 3 was dropped from consideration quickly: I really didn’t want another mini that was nearly identical to the one I’ve already got, specs wise. The decision came down to the Galaxy S 8.4 or the iPad Air 2. The latter package offered attractive discounts against what I’d pay on retail, but the price of a package with the 64GB model was still pretty hefty. And as the app stores go, as ardent an Android fan I am, the reality remains that tablet apps generally just run and look better on iPads than Android tablets.

iPad Air 2 Gold Edition

iPad Air 2 Gold Edition

So, the iPad Air 2 it was. And having used it for a week now:

Screen’s good, and the color gamut is quite different from that of the iPad mini Retina, and also the iPad 4.

The iPad Air 2’s processor is reportedly loads faster than the previous iPad generations. In normal use, things do feel just a tad more responsive, but the difference isn’t large enough to startle.

The device is thin. In fact, so thin that you’ll want to protect the tablet quickly with a good case! My first iPad slowly broke down after Ling accidentally stepped on it years ago. This new iPad will probably just break in two if the same happened.

Touch ID took some configuring, but once properly setup, has worked very well. Loads more convenient to unlock the tablet now.

Battery power does indeed seem to expend itself quicker than the mini or iPad 4.

All in, the iPad Air 2 is quicker, smoother, and more pleasing to use. Just a pity on the shorter battery life and also form factor – if only this device came in an 8.4 inch size!

 

One of the main reasons why I started moving in 2010 to the micro four-thirds system was the general sizing of the camera bodies and lenses. Basically, the removal of the reflex mirror found in traditional (D)SLRs meant that camera bodies could be made smaller, and the smaller imaging sensor also meant that lenses didn’t need to be quite so big to cover a larger sensor. Things have changed quite a bit since then, since we now have full-frame mirrorless camera systems, and debate continues to rage among enthusiasts and loyalists of different camera systems on the merits and disadvantages of different systems. For the moment though, the truisms that still apply are, that generally micro four-third systems compared to full-frame systems…

Occupy less mass/weight

Lenses cost slightly less than the full-frame equivalents (thought not always)

Handle low light images less well

What has also changed is the emergence of larger sensor compact cameras too. The initial wave of models weren’t very good – they tended to be bulky, slow, and using batteries that didn’t give quite the same life as micro four-third systems. That has also been changing too, which brings me to this post: that I’ve been revisiting the most recent and upcoming range of large sensor compact cameras and exploring if this is the right time now to get one. I still have the almost two year old Panasonic LX7 which I bought for cheap during a crazy discounted offer on Amazon, and several of those wide-perspective shots of The Minton development in progress were taken on that little compact. But the camera has never been a low-light wonder. Heck; there’s a perceptible loss of detail even at the lower ISO settings already.

The bunch of models I’ve been keeping my eye on include:

Sony RX100 III

This compact features a 1″ sensor that reviewers have raved about, is in its third iteration already, and Sony managed to squeeze in a small viewfinder to it even. I’ve been playing with a demo set at the Sony showroom @ Nex. The compact feels solidly made, and the rear LCD screen is sharp, bright and colorful. The viewfinder though is a little clunky in actual operation (one has to first pop it up, then pull it towards oneself for it to work). The camera is available now but also dreadfully expensive at USD899. Ouch.

Canon G7 X

This yet-to-be released compact looks like Canon’s answer to Sony’s RX100 above. The upcoming compact uses a 1″ sensor, shoots as wide as the Sony but also offers a slightly further zoom at 100mm compared to Sony’s 70mm. Interesting. The CIPA rated battery life is worrying though at just 210 shots, compared to the 300+ shots that the Sony can muster. The expected retail price is substantially lower than Sony’s too at USD699.

Panasonic LX100

Of the bunch of large sensor compact cameras, this is the one I’m most interested in. Unlike the Canon and Sony models above, this fellow uses a nearly m4/3-sized sensor, a max aperture range of f1.7 to f2.8, built-in electronic viewfinder, and a reasonable battery life rated at 330 shots by CIPA at the moment. And as a bonus, it offers 4K video recording too. The general feeling among enthusiasts is that this is the one compact that could give the equivalent large aperture and pricey lenses in the m4/3s system a good run for the money, since the sensor is almost to m4/3s and max aperture is right there too at f1.7 to f2.8. Ticks all the boxes, excepting size – it’s larger than the above two models, which significantly reduces the space advantage in comparison to my E-PL6. This forthcoming compact is priced similarly to the Sony at USD899.

Panasonic GM5

This one isn’t a large sensor compact, but an interchangeable lens camera of the same breed as the line of m4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. I included this forthcoming model here only because it’s a baby-sized camera that allows you to leverage on the full range of m4/3 lenses. The second iteration of this camera also improves on a bunch of things off the first generation: including a viewfinder and a hot-shoe! Size-wise, it’s about the same as the already diminutive RX100, and is expected to be pegged at the same asking price as the LX100 – USD899.

All very tempting. Gonna be hard to decide which of these four if I eventually find myself deciding to pick up one of these at the end of this year!