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Tag Archives: techlust

It’s been two years and a bit so it was time for a new phone. Although my OPT was showing it’s age, it wasn’t pressing that I update. The usual problems had starting occurring; most notably the beginning loss of battery life, and slowness (especially since I use my S8+ half the time while travelling). But there hasn’t been much hardware advancement that required me to upgrade.

While choosing a phone to upgrade too, I looked around a bit but settled on the 5T. While it has gotten a lot of excellent reviews (great phone for price), what made me buy it is that it is the only major phone on the market that has dual SIM support and community (if I ever need it). I think the only other option was a Huawei which is difficult to buy. I looked at a lot of flagship phones (S8, Pixel2, Essential, etc) and even if they were great, their lack of dual SIM eliminated them as choices.

One advantage of the 5T over the OPT is that both SIMs can be active – meaning you can call out or receive calls on both SIMs at once (on 3G). This was a problem I had previously so I’m glad that it is fixed. Everything else that is relatively important is good enough (camera, Android OS, hardware, etc).

One thing that irks me (although not a fault with OnePlus) is that while the new phone has a NFC, I can’t use Android Pay because I OEM unlocked the bootloader.

I have a pair of IconX, which in theory are a great idea. A pair of earbuds only (no hardware to connect between the earbuds) that act as a bluetooth headset or an mp3 player. They’re kind of like the Apple AirPods, except they were available (and cheaper) before AirPods were released or announced.

I received my pair “for free” because I had some credit to spend as part of my employer’s year end gift. I was on the fence about spending it on this (+ some other stuff) because there were some negative reviews centered around:

  • Limited battery life: I think it was rated at 1-2 hours over BT and 3-4 hours on standalone
  • Mono sound on standalone: Some reviewers/users didn’t follow instructions and copy their music to both ear buds to enable stereo sound

In the end, I persisted and got the IconX.

I think the battery life limitation is fine, because you receive a case which doubles as a battery pack. You have to use the case anyways to store the earbuds (more on that later). The earbuds are supposed to last a few hours on standalone, which is more than enough for a commute.

Since I don’t have to commute, I haven’t been using the IconX frequently, but lately I have had some opportunity to try them out. Sadly, every time I try to use them, I hit some sort of problem.

  1. I setup the earbuds in standalone mode and tried them out. I listened for about 10 minutes and then took them off as they kept playing the same song over and over! It turns out that you can’t organize your music in folders as it will only play music from the root folder (and I only had a single song there).
  2. I tried controlling my music, but the control mechanism (single, double, tripe clicks, and up/down swipes) is finicky. Either the tactile pickup is laggy or the timing is off. It just doesn’t feel natural to control it, and often I go to the next track when I try and pause/resume music
  3. I fixed my music and the next time I tried it out, there were no batteries. I guess that even though the earbuds are in the case, they are still on/consume battery. So standby mode basically drained the batteries and I couldn’t use them. I learned my lesson and now keep them on the charger until I need them.
  4. After charging the batteries, I used it again in standalone mode. It worked well for awhile, but then complained and ran out of batteries after half an hour! It turns out that even though they are operating in standalone mode; if your paired BT device is nearby, it will maintain an active connection to it. Whoops
  5. Next time, I removed the pairing from my phone and used the earbuds in standalone mode again. My phone kept popping up a message saying that the earbuds wanted to pair – every time you dismiss it, it comes back after a few seconds. It turns out that the earbuds will try and pair for 3 minutes after they are removed from the case. I don’ think there’s a fix for this so it’s just annoying
  6. Finally, I was able to use it for awhile, but then in some instances, the earbuds get out of sync and the audio is off by a few 100 microseconds! I guess there’s an easy fix – you just remove the earbud from your ear and put it back in.
  7. Oh and pause/resume doesn’t work correctly. After you resume playback, it always starts at the beginning of the song rather than where you stopped. That’s also annoying

I’m disappointed that there are a lot of fundamental problems that make this frustrating to use. It’s too bad, because I like the idea. I guess I will have to go back to carrying an mp3 player and wired headphones.

I’ve had a VR headset (Gear VR) for awhile now (a few weeks? a month?), but it turns out that I never blogged about it. I don’t use it all the time, but it’s still a neat piece of technology to play around with. First, I should say that I’m not very confident in VR being an entirely new industry at the level of mobile phone or a TV. I think VR is a niche that will succeed (very well) in a couple of targeted areas (like movies) but it will never reach a level of general usage. Maybe VR::TV == tablet::smartphone?

I haven’t tried a cardboard or Virtual Boy before. The closest thing I’ve tried to VR is one of those amusement park rides where you’re in an enclosed environment with TVs all around you. The initial experience with VR is pretty great, because you are immersed and you can turn your head around to look in 360° (can’t really walk around the environment). It was fun to look at photos, videos and even play some games.

However, once you get past the initial novel factor, there is not much to do. It’s a hassle to put on the headset (especially since I have to take the phone from charger into headset, and remove glasses) and there’s nothing compelling about using VR right now. It’s analogous to channel surfing – there are so many better and more engaging things to do nowadays. Some of the videos are great and take you to places you’ve never been to (or will ever go to) but there’s nothing that keeps you coming back. Same for games, there are a couple of fun arcade-type things (I haven’t paid $$ for any real game) but nothing that has enough of a story arc to keep me coming back.

I guess I’ll give this another year or two and see what the industry is like at that point.

Since my N5 isn’t working well, I’ve considered buying a new phone. Strangely, there aren’t a lot of compelling choices. Here’s what I looked at:

  • Nexus 6 – It’s expensive ($750+tax+shipping in Canada) and I wasn’t enthusiastic about it when it was released (doesn’t seem to use its large size well). Also all the problems I have with my N5 would still exist on the N6 AND it would be more expensive to replace if there were issues.
  • Moto X 2014 – It’s pretty hard to get in the frequency band that I want (I have to buy it from Wind, but it seems like they are OOS in a lot of places). Also, it feels like I’m not improving on my N5 as the technology seems about the same.
  • OnePlus One – This is probably the best option as the screen is larger than the N5 (but not N6 size), it’s relatively open, and relatively cheap. Although with the exchange rate, the 64GB version would set me back $500CDN after shipping.
  • Random Chinese model – The first problem is that it won’t work with my carrier. The second is that I would lose all the benefits of being close to Google/AOSP and getting quick updates. I’m not sure I’m ready to give that up yet.

Ever since I returned my Fitbit Force, I kind of missed having it. Sure it enabled me to wear a watch again, but I never really did. So I’ve been thinking about getting another fitness tracker for awhile.

I ended up buying a new Fitbit Flex, which is the old model prior to the Force. I debated awhile, because I was also very keen on getting the Xiaomi fitness band that was announced in August. It retails (in China) for only $13 – shipped to Canada would cost about $30 total, which is still less than a third of the cost of a Flex.

In the end, I decided on the Fitbit. 2 reasons:

  1. I was able to buy it on double sale. From a regular price of $99, there was a 25% F&F sale at SportChek, and then another 10% newsletter signup coupon. It ended up costing $67 instead of $100.
  2. Since I already had a Force, I already had data in the FitBit system and getting another FitBit device would contribute to that (instead of starting over)

One thing that weighed on my mind though, was that FitBit had already announced that they would replace the Force with something better! Should I wait for that? I decided no, and I think I did the right thing. Now, the rumors are that FitBit will release the Charge and Charge HR. I’m kind of interested in having a heart rate monitor in my fitness band, but certainly not at a cost of $220!

Even though I learned the scientific principle behind it as part of my university education, being able to wirelessly charge a device still feels like magic. So I have been pretty excited that the last few Nexus devices support the Qi standard and can be charged wirelessly. I had considered buying the official Google Qi charger because of the magic, but when I thought about it more, it really is spending $50 for the convenience of not plugging in your phone every night.

So I waited until Qi chargers started appearing cheap on the Chinese sites. They have had them for awhile, but it was only in the last few months that they’ve fallen to around the $10 mark. So far I’ve bought 4 Qi chargers and my experience has not been that great.

The first one I bought was on a slant, so that it could work like a dock for your phone when it was charging. I thought it might make my phone more useful as a clock (or at least use the daydream mode). I knew that it would not magnetically hold my phone (like the official charger), but use some sort of anti-slip material. It turns out that anti-slip material was a form of glue/tape that eventually loses its grip. Since the position really matters (and affects energy transfer), this ended up in the garbage quickly.

Next I bought one that was like a hockey puck. This worked fairly well for awhile and I used it as a bedside charger. But the positioning of the phone started making a difference after awhile. Some mornings I would wake up and my phone would only have been charged slightly (annoying) or not at all (useless). Most nights it would be ok – but because it is possibly unreliable, I can’t trust it. I suppose I should have just spent the money on the magnetic one, but I didn’t because I wanted a couple of chargers.

I got a rectangular pad with a larger footprint (similar size to a phablet) for my desk and that has worked fairly well. I find it more useful than plugging my phone in, not because I’m too lazy to plug my phone in there, but because it prevents my phone from being recognized in ADB when I don’t want to deploy apps to it. This has been my most successful use of a Qi adapter.

Finally, I got another puck shaped one and put it in the living room in case I needed to charge my phone there. This again worked for awhile (although I didn’t use it too much) until it decided to burn out or otherwise not function any more. Again it became useless.

I won’t even get in the fact that Qi charging is not 100% efficient and is thus slower than actually plugging the phone in. But ignoring that, my experience with Qi has been much less than magical.

A few weeks ago, I happened on some news that said that there was a voluntary recall on the Fitbit Force. It turns out that retailers had stopped selling the Force as well too. I have a Force so I was curious why this was happening, and it was quite easy to find out. Basically, 1.7% of people reported skin irritation (although the number might be higher as not everyone reports problems). I didn’t get the problem and was debating whether to return it.

In the end I figure I will return it (still waiting for my return kit). Although it’s an interesting toy, and it’s interesting to know my activity and sleep patterns; I am not enamoured enough with it that I desperately need it. It’s not every day that you can try out a product and then return it for a full refund, so that in itself is a solid reason (and I can put the money towards the next model).

Wearing a Fitbit also bothers me a bit because now that it is on my wrist, I can’t wear a watch! In fact I was dreaming of a better FitBit device which would latch on the frame of your glasses. It would be unobtrusive and would go where ever you go (I guess it wouldn’t track sleep that well).

I think the person who will miss my Force the most is Apollo, he loves being able to turn the OLED on and watching it animate off.

I am using a Fitbit Force nowadays as part of a focus on quantified self for work, but of course the data that it records is also interesting to me. It is a strange device if you think about it, because it’s really a glorified pedometer. If you truly wanted a pedometer, you could buy one for a couple of bucks at the dollar store. The Force will set you back $130.

From a tech POV, it’s novel because there aren’t many devices that are similar (but there are other players in this market too). It’s a piece of wearable tech that is beneficial and not too expensive. It packs a 7-day battery, OLED screen, vibration mechanism, pedometer, altimeter, NFC and bluetooth radio into the rubber wristband. I decided to get the Force over the previous model (Flex) because the Force had a clock display, and in general, a more detailed display (you can see actual counts instead of just a relative-to-goal indicator)

However, most of the tech is auxiliary, and the primary function is that of a pedometer. The hardware itself is not necessarily worth the 30x or 50x price difference between a dollar store version, but there is also substantial software around it. The Force syncs wirelessly with your device and uploads your data to your online dashboard. You can set goals, see your progress, and track your behaviour across days, weeks and months. I think that’s interesting and perhaps worth the premium.

I bought my Nexus 4 in December 2012, and as per my upgrade cycle plan, I was due to upgrade in April 2014. Well that didn’t happen because I just bought the Nexus 5 when it was announced at the end of last month.

In actuality, I bought 2 Nexus 4s, and have been having a lot of trouble with them (due to LG’s hardware design). I shattered the front screen of my first Nexus 4 (my fault) and had to get it replaced. The replacement took a longtime and I don’t think it was the same type of screen (Super AMOLED or whatever) as the colour reproduction seems a bit dark. In the meantime, I had bought another Nexus 4 and had started using that one, so there was no need to use my fixed one (since I would have to move my settings over and what not). My first N4 became a test device (and I installed Paranoid Android on it just to see what the hype was about).

I used my N4#2 for awhile but had a freak accident one day. This one was definitely not my fault. I plugged the phone into the USB cable for charging, and the back glass started cracking over a period of a few minutes. Eventually the entire back was cracked. Aside for some worrisome prickling, I guess I could’ve continued using the phone – except one of the cracks was over the camera lens glass which refracted the light in a funny manner if there was a point of light within the frame.

I lived with this for about four months, but at the same time was looking to see what I would buy next. I liked the MotoX but the off contract price was too expensive. The Nexus5 was reasonably priced (albeit not having any wow/cool factor) so I ended up with that. I actually missed the announcement window by 35 minutes but there were still white backed 32GBs randomly appearing in stock. I wanted a white-backed one, but didn’t really need more than 16GB. But having gone through the inventory scarcity the last time, I just picked that version up. It actually shipped very quickly (estimated Nov 8 but shipped on Nov 2)!

My current desktop computer (with upgrades) was purchased to replace my previous desktop computer which had been chugging along for 7 years ago. It has now been chugging along for almost 6 years itself, which means it sounds like I should get a new desktop in the next year. Rather than wait, I pre-emptively bought a new desktop now.

I’ve been having a couple of issues with my current desktop – although I think they stem from the same root cause. Almost ever since I bought this computer, the front USB ports had a problem. They would occasionally short when plugging in something and cause my other USB devices (even those plugged in the back) to freeze (basically I have to reboot since neither my mouse nor keyboard would work anymore). I couldn’t just simply reboot though, I had to disconnect the power cord and wait 10s (for some capacitor to dissipate probably). Recently, when the front USB port doesn’t short, it occasionally corrupts the data being transferred (such as photos from my camera). I’ve resorted to copying photos from SD onto my laptop, and then transferring over network to my desktop – that’s a pain. Finally, I’ve been getting BSODs every once in awhile (although that could just be because I’m using my computer more).

So I jumped a year and bought a new computer now when Dell was having a sale. Here are the primary specs:

  • Intel Haswell i7-4770 (8M Cache, up to 3.9Ghz)
  • 24GB RAM (DDR3 1600Mhz)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti 1GB GDDR5
  • 2TB 7200RPM + 256GB SSD
  • Blue-ray combo drive (writes CD/DVD)
  • Win8 Professional

This came out to $1799.99 – $450 in discounts, which is a shade over $1500 after tax. There were actually a couple of promotions on at the same time. Prior to this promotion, I was looking at two bundles at $1599 and $1499. The $1499 bundle was the same as the above, except only had 16GB of RAM (I don’t think the extra 8GB will be of any benefit). The $1599 one was a student offer, which included a 24″ monitor and a $100 e-coupon on top of the $1499 bundle. If I didn’t find any other sales, I would have probably gotten the $1599 package; but I didn’t really need another 24″ monitor. With this package, I saved another $100 (there was a $50 coupon that would have applied anywhere).

I was in need of a laptop and after looking around, decided on a Samsung Series9 Ultrabook. I had first seen it maybe a year ago, and liked it as it ran Windows, and was thiner/lighter than a MacBook Air. I ended up picking up the 13.3″ mid-2012 revision that runs Windows 8 with 256SSD and 4GB RAM on an i5. I was also looking at the 15″ i7 with 8GB RAM which was only $250 more, but after seeing it in store, decided it was too big for my purposes. The 13.3″ is quite a nice form factor – the screen is not too small and the footprint is not too big.

The hardware design is nice, everything is solid but light. I had heard bad comments about the keyboard, but I found it to be OK for actual typing. The one gripe I had is the placement of the Enter button, which isn’t as horizontal (like an underscore) that I’m used to; rather it’s like a mirrored lowercase R, so I end up hitting the key on the left of Enter whenever I want a line break. Although I tried a bunch of other ultrabooks and their chiclet keyboard layouts are the same.

This is my first computer with Windows 8, and unsurprisingly, I ignored the Metro theme and popped back into the desktop as soon as I booted up. I don’t really understand how the Metro theme works and it’s been a frustrating experience so far. I had to manually uninstall each app I don’t want (there were many preloaded) and I can’t figure out how to restart the machine short of logging off and then hitting restart!

I have this techlust for Android gadgets frequently, and I blame the Chinese market for its cheapness – both its price and build. This has caused me to buy a 7″ tablet which wasn’t actually very usable but a kinda fun hacking exercise for a few months. Then I bought a larger 10″ tablet which is still quite servicable and an adequate HTPC replacement (but not really a great living room computer).

Since that purchase, I have been lurking on some Chinese sites looking at phones. Apparently phablets (large phones that are almost 7″ tablet size – think Galaxy Notes) are quite popular in Asia, so Asian manufacturers make lots of them. There are a lot of Samsung clones (S3 or Notes) that look pretty similar (from online screenshots at least) and are sub $200 delivered. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one?

Then there are the “high industrial design quality” phones that have been designed and sold to the Chinese market. If you follow tech blogs, you may recognize some of the manufacturers like Xiaomi or Meizu. I was actually seriously thinking of buying the Jiayu G3 because it’s a 4.5″ Android 4.0 phone for ~$200! Although you must be aware that the Chinese phones are not pentaband and won’t work with the WIND frequency range, so my justification would be that I would use this phone as my “American” phone when I’m in the States.

Strangely but luckily, all this techlust for Android devices disappated after I received my Nexus4. I guess I just wanted good hardware at a good price, and the Chinese way was the easy way to do it (although you don’t always get good stuff).

When the Kobo Mini, I’ll admit that I was intrigued. An even smaller, more portable, and cheaper eReader than the Touch, with the same UI. It surely would fit in my pants pocket now (the front ones I mean). I waited until it was out and poked around the net for some of the reviews, well mostly the pictures. It sure was small, but I was a bit put off by the enormous bezel. I’m sure it takes up half the surface area.

So I held off purchasing one. Then the Christmas season came around it was dirt cheap. $50 on Black Friday (in Canada), and $50 with a interchangable back cover. Or if you bought a Kobo Arc (for $200), you could get a Mini for free! Nevertheless, I was able to exert my willpower and prevent myself from impulse buying one as a toy.

After this “fire sale” I finally caught a glimpse of one in the wild. It sure IS small. In fact, it’s so small that it’s about the size of my phone now (just fatter). The screen fit about a single paragraph of text, although perhaps if the leading was changed you might fit two! I don’t think a long battery life is worth carrying around another device like that on a day-to-day basis, and I’m happy with a thin 6″ eReader for travelling.

After a long process, I finally received my Nexus 4 this week. Once I heard that the N4 was released (in a press conference cancelled by Hurricane Sandy), I knew that I was going to buy it (perhaps related to this cycle). I patiently waited till the release date on November 13, with my heart intent on the 8GB version (it’s cheaper and I don’t need that much space anyways). I knew it was going to be popular and so was going to employ my ticket-buying skills & strategy; basically buy it right when it was released.

Well I would do that provided I wasn’t asleep at the time. No one knew when it was going to be released, some said 0h EST, some said 0h PST (3AM EST), some said 9AM EST, some said 9AM PST. It turned out to be 9AM PST which was noon for me. I had been keeping an eye on forums throughout the morning to find out the time, and had checked around 11:30AM in preparation. It turns out that they started selling it a few minutes after I checked, and I didn’t realize until I checked the forums at 11:40. By then, the phones weren’t sold out yet but I could only get as far adding an 8GB to my cart – when I tried to pay I would get an error (and I had prepared by entering all my info into Google Wallet beforehand!)

I had just experienced an event that was shared amongst a lot of other nerds around the world. Google had underestimated the popularity of a cheap phone that had top-of-the-line specifics, both in terms of inventory and their purchasing system. You might say that I was lucky though, because many who had successful orders would end up waiting several weeks to receive their phones as Google dealt with stock issues.

Finally in December, I received an email that N4s were instock and to be sold to Canada in under 2 hours. Using the skills I practiced the last time around, I was able to buy one! I still ran into several errors, and couldn’t buy one for five minutes, but at least I got my order through eventually. Fortunately, the restricted sales to one per account and had a moving shipping window to handle their stock (I ended up in the 1-2 week window).

After a 2 week wait, I received the phone and the first thing I did was to unlock the bootloader and flash CWM recovery. I suppose I should have powered the phone on first because when I tried that afterwards, it ended up hanging on the boot animation. If you run into this problem, to get back into business, you’ll need to wipe the cache and dalvik cache before rebooting.

While the upgrade cycle for my computer has decreased from a 3 year to 7-10 year cycle, the savings in the wallet has gone to a new upgrade cycle – the cellphone upgrade cycle. A lot of people in Canada still have cellphone contracts that subsidize their cellphone upgrade cycle so they only have to pay ~$100 per upgrade, but I prefer saving ~$30 on my cellphone plan every month and buy my phones outright. That means while others can upgrade year or 1.5 years, I am more flexible; but of course I have to pay more money.

My upgrade cycle started when I bought my Nokia E71 in August 2009 (used, $300). I ended up using that for almost exactly a year until I switched to my first Android phone – that one cost $150. Since $150 is half of $300, that phone should last me for about half a year (8 months actually), which it did until I bought a Nexus S in April 2011 for almost $500.

Following that logic, I should use have used the Nexus S for a year and 8 months, which means I’m due for an upgrade in December 2012 – which is just about now. Fortunately, there is an upgrade target, which is the Nexus 4 that just came out. It’ll cost me about $400 which means, according to my new schedule, I won’t need to upgrade my phone until about oh April 2014?

I had a netbook in the living room for a few years, not as a HTPC but just to have a second screen so I could do other things, look up stuff or just have a second screen while the TV is in use. Earlier this year, I replaced that with a ($150 10.1″ Chinese, but quite serviceable) tablet. It had one killer feature (HDMI out) that my netbook didn’t have, plus everyone is always saying how a tablet is better to than a laptop in the living room.

After doing this for half a year, I can definitively say that my quality of life has decreased because of this change. The tablet is too sluggish, and the UI too clunky to look up stuff quickly – and it’s not an issue with Android/Chinese-brand stuff either; I work with iPads so I am familiar with their UI and speed. I don’t bother looking up stuff in the living room anymore, I go back to my desktop.

So that tablet experiment fizzled rather quickly.

But I’m hopeful that the Chromebooks will change things. It is cheap ($250), light (2.5 pounds), and thin. It’s a tablet with a keyboard and mouse. Hopefully it will revive my living room computer.

I bought my Nikon SLR back in Oct 2006, 6 years ago. It was used and had 22,000 actuations on the shutter. The D50 shutter is rated for 50,000 actuations and I’m in the 46,000s now so it may be nearing the end of its life.

But it has fallen apart in other ways, the leather trim on the side has fallen off in the past (and “fixed” with super glue), and there are a lot of minute particles in the prism. Nothing that prevents it from actually working yet, but it feels a bit old.

I had thought about upgrading for years, but the time was never right and the need was never there. The upgrade path would have been the D90 when it was available, but I never ended up buying one. Then the D90 was superseded by the D7000 2 years ago but I didn’t buy that then either. Now, the D7000 is near the end of its life (it is rumored that its successor will be announced soon), and I finally decided to buy a D7000 to upgrade my camera!

It seems like a silly time to upgrade, but I think camera cycles are different than other electronics. When the D7000 replacement comes out, there will be a price premium on it for several months, before it settles down into its normal price range. Waiting for 1) the replacement, and 2) the price settling, might take 6 months or more. Plus, I noticed that the D7000 prices (body only of course) have dropped by 30% over the last little while so that I could get it for sub-$1000 tax in. That price threshold was a psychological barrier for me, which was finally overcome.

In reality, the D7000 is a tangential upgrade which I don’t really need (short of my D50 truly falling apart). There are only a couple of things which I see immediate use for:

  • Better noise processing and image sensor technology
  • More than the 5 AF points that the D50 has
  • Fast continuous shooting
  • Better high ISO performance

The last two points are the most important to me right now. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of Apollo indoors, and am already at the ISO 1600 limit of the D50 while still getting some blurry shots. Having these features will help and it’s worth getting “last year’s model” rather than waiting 6 months or more.

The BB Playbook firesale saga is still on. When it came out, it was a somewhat reasonable $500 (or something like that) given that many tablets (i.e., iPad) were around that price. But then the prices started sinking like a cannonball – $250, $200, $150, how low can it go?? This weekend we have it at $118 at Walmart and $99 at Staples.

It’s so low, that I want to buy one. You might think that is a natural response, but I received a free one awhile ago (for submitting a BB app) and then promptly gave it away. Yet, I feel like I need to take advantage of the Staples’ price on the Playbook and buy one – it’s 80% off!

I guess my instinct is that I don’t expect the Playbook to get any cheaper – although I’ve seen Chinese 7″ tablets with last generation (or maybe 2 generation old) technology go for USD$60 shipped. But at that point, I think RIM would be taking a total loss on it in order to convince retailers to sell the Playbook.

I ended up getting a Kobo Touch last week as per my itch. It was $100 – $15 coupon from Staples so a total of $85 + tax, or $50 less than my Kindle. Not only is it cheaper, I think it is superior:

  1. The design is better
    I can attribute this mainly to one reason – it uses book covers to represent books! I’m not sure why the Kindle doesn’t do this because they are perfectly capable of displaying pictures. This is a much natural and attractive way to browse through your books – it feels like you’re in a book store. The Kobo Touch is also (obviously) touch screen, but I don’t count that as an advantage because that technology wasn’t available when the Kindle was released.
  2. Form factor
    The Kobo is slighty less wide, much shorter but a little bit thicker. But aside from that, the details are better – the bezel is thinner and it fits better in my pocket because it’s shorter. I don’t notice that it’s thicker though. The lack of a keyboard makes a huge difference in terms of size.
  3. It tracks stats
    I like the Reading Life concept which tracks your reading progress because I’m a data freak. The Awards are ok (i.e., badges) but I hope that new ones are added automatically in the future.

It’s not a perfect device (maybe more on that later), and it loses several features that a Kindle has:

  • Keyboard (this device is for consumption, not creation)
  • mp3 support
  • Text-to-speech support
  • Amazon store (or any store really) integration
  • .mobi support
  • Twitter integration

But I don’t mind as none of these are must-have features; the advantage in size and price trumps them all!

I have an ebook reader and I hardly read on it (or books in general), yet I am itching to buy another ereader. If that’s not techlust, then I don’t know what is!

Well actually I have good (and justifiable to me) reasons why I should buy another one. The Kindle3 that I have is great and all, but it has a keyboard which makes it longer (and thus bigger) than it needs to me. It’s a bit too big, although it still fits into a coat pocket. The problem is that I don’t always bring a coat with me, and in fact I would love to get (another) one which fits into my jeans.

I don’t think my phone satisfies my need because if I read for say an hour on it, then I’m draining the batter too much – which has a strong negative impact if I actually need it. I also don’t want a 7″ tablet because it’s too bulky and heavy.

So instead, I’m looking at the Kobo Touch and the new, cheapest Kindle. They both go for around $100 and are smaller/lighter than my current Kindle3. I actually like the Kobo Touch because its firmware/software is more appealing – it has achievements and statistics! Both are also around $100 too so I won’t feel too bad when I inadvertently sit on it.

Today I was thinking of assembling together a Home Theatre PC. I’ve avoided trying to do this for a long time because my XBOX actually serves this purpose quite well; I can stream media from my PC on to my TV. But I’m looking for more flexibility so that I can transfer arbitrary media and run Windows programs on my TV.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of lower power, slim devices available now and you don’t have to build them yourself. The ones I were looking at are kits that come with a case, motherboard and processor. All that you have to add is some RAM ($30-$40) and a 2.5″ HD ($130?). Unfortunately, this pushes the price to almost $400.

That’s still a bit expensive unfortunately, especially for a device that may not work as expected. Particularly, I’m worried about 1080p playback on a low power CPU. I don’t want to spend $400 for stuttering.

I bought a new camera this month! It’s been a long time since I got my dSLR and I have a few problems with it recently; the leather has started peeling and one time my mirror locked up mysteriously. So I went out and bought a different camera.

Well my dSLR is still serviceable so instead I bought a camera that was more compact. I got a Panasonic GF2 (“last year’s model”) pancake kit which has a 14mm (28mm effective) lens. It was relatively cheap being $400 with a free battery. The GF2 is a micro four thirds camera, which means it is almost a SLR (missing the mirror and the sensor is not as big) but in a smaller body. In fact, it’s really only as big as some of the more prosumer point & shoots – almost pocketable. Yet it retains all the advanced SLR level features, plus it does 1080p, stereo sound recording.

The drawbacks are supposedly that the focus is slower (doesn’t use phase to focus), the (minimum) depth of field is larger and the noise performance is poorer. I haven’t experimented too much yet, but I do notice all three drawbacks (as well as the fourth – its a prime lens).

But I think it works for a specific usage, as a walkaround camera. I am tired of bringing my SLR around on vacation, although I love having the flexibility of the 18-50mm range with fixed f/2.8. This camera seems like a good balance and much easier to carry around. Now I just need to put it to the test.

I bought an Android tablet this year, way back in January which actually feels like a few years ago! This was back when there was only the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab (7″ version) and people didn’t carry around tablets to record video or take photos. Which when you think about is ancient – kind of when people only had cellphones that were in BLACK AND WHITE!

Anyways I played around with mine, and performance/usability aside, it ended up in a dark corner where useless electronics go to die (hello Flip video recorder). Even when the iPad first came out, I didn’t understand what use cases a tablet would satisfy – yes I could see some specific areas which would benefit from a tablet, such as in the kitchen or as a clipboard, but I think a kid would be happier with a 7″ Nintendo DS instead of a tablet.

With a tablet handy, I’m able to say in situations – hey I could use my tablet for this! But in actuality, the opportunity where that comes up is low. For example

  • Hey I just got an addictive Android game, I could play it on my bigger screen tablet instead of my phone!” Except then I would need to carry my tablet around the house and around outside all the time so that I could continue my game on-the-go. Instead, I just play on my phone which is actually with me in and out of the house.
  • Hey I can bring my tablet on vacation and store all my itineraries or surf the web with it” Except that for me, weight and bulk is a premium while travelling and since I already have my phone then carrying a tablet is redundant
  • Hey we can sit around and play multiplayer games on the same tablet!” My 7″ is too small, and I’m skeptical that you won’t end up bumping heads even if it’s 10″. Plus, I think it falls under “playing cards” and you’d get kicked out of BBT places/library/etc
  • I can use it as a lightweight computer on the couch to look for things or type emails.” My REAL netbook and phone just laughed at their less-abled and redundant friend
  • I can read books or articles on the larger screen.” The tablet’s screen and ~10 hour battery life doesn’t hold a candle to my Kindle’s e-ink, form factor, and month long battery life.
  • I can watch movies on a 7″ screen!” While sitting on the couch in front of a TV?
  • I can buy a $150 dock/keyboard for my tablet and use it like a netbook” Which I’ve seen from the ASUS Transformer. The total ends up being around $500? How much are netbooks nowadays? $200?

I begin to wonder whether device makers have realized that maybe there isn’t such a great market for tablets. With HP’s $100/$150 fire sale of their TouchPad and recent news that you could get a BB PlayBook at 50% off in the States; could these be warning signs?

I don’t see tablets dying, I just don’t see why everyone must have a tablet (whereas everyone should have a computer or cellphone). In fact, I have one strong use case which a tablet would be the best device for, and that is to show photos. I’d like to be able to drop in a SD card and then hand the tablet off to someone who wanted to browse photos from a trip.

I think that Amazon had intentions for the Kindle to be the iPod of the book industry, and to lock in consumers to buying (e-)books from Amazon. I don’t think it has been as successful in dominating the competition as the iPod, but I feel it is leading the pack against other e-readers like the Nook, Kobo, Sony’s e-reader and other no name brands.

There are actually a lot of similarities between the Kindle and iPod. There is a huge company backing it, there are “locked” purchases that can only be played on the device (although they both support other open industry standards), there is a rabid and cult following etc. Here’s one more – I waited a few generations and bought one. I waited until the 4th generation to buy an iPod and I’ve waited until the 3rd generation before buying a Kindle.

The first thing I should say about buying a Kindle is I don’t read books! It seems a bit stupid to buy a Kindle then, but here are my reasons:

  • Instapaper integration
  • It’s light, its battery lasts a month, and the charger is the same as Android phones – great travelling accessory.
  • E-Ink is cool!
  • It’s not too expensive – $139

While I don’t read books (regularly, I should say, since I will probably read more books with a Kindle – at least initially) I read a lot online. So a major selling feature is to be able to punt the articles I want to read onto something that I can actually read around the house or out & about. The Kindle does this, while being user friendly.

Through all of December, I was itching to get an 7″ Android tablet. I was excited about it and trying to find a good reason to get one (I still don’t have a good one), but held off because I’m mature enough to recognize that my enthusiasm was just because it was the new hotness.

I researched a bit, and waited a few days. Eventually I decided that paying sub-$100 USD for an Android tablet, even if it sucks, is worth it. It would be fun to hack around with it (and try not to brick it upgrading the firmware). I intended to order one from China, but as I read about it more and more, I decided that I should pay a bit more for better specs (and more reputable dealers).

I decided to wait until I left for vacation to place the order, because shipping from China usually takes about a month, and at least I could be having fun on vacation instead of waiting in anticipation for my order. I decided to order from some random factory in Shenzhen and gave them ~$150USD, including shipping, hoping that I wouldn’t get scammed.

In the end it turned out ok. My tablet arrived in something like 5 days via UPS which meant I should have just bought it before I left on vacation (and brought it with me!) The tablet seems to work as advertised. I didn’t end up taking unboxing photos due to laziness, but it is a bit thicker and heavier than I thought; lacks a micro-USB connector (instead has normal USB and mini-USB), has no camera and a messed up battery reporting meter; but it is relatively stable, has a G-sensor, relatively responsive via touch, and has decent battery life. I’m not sure whether I would be willing to pay an extra $200 for a better quality tablet.