The Review


BlackBerry Passport

Ok so I belong to a tiny (and shrinking) niche group of people preferring a physical keyboard to a touch screen – for typing on their mobile device. It’s probably because I have fat short fingers. Maybe it’s also because I am tired of using the back key to correct errors when typing on pure touch screen devices. Or having someone message me back asking what the F I meant after I press send.

This entire review/commentary on my six+ months experience using the BlackBerry Passport 10 is done on the device itself completed over a couple of days of morning trips on the subway while listening to music being played on the same device aired via Bluetooth. I wrote using Evernote.

Let’s start with the good news:

  1. Working with a physical keyboard is a welcome relief and having a slightly intelligent auto-correct/suggest software is a blessing. In all my years using different mobile phones, I find the BlackBerry’s auto-correct to be one of the best.
  2. The battery life is way better than my experience with Samsung Galaxy S2, Google Nexus 3, Sony Xperia, HTC, Nokia, Microsoft, LG and pretty much every pure touch screen smartphone out in the market. The only thing beating this is my old BlackBerry 9900 which lasts at least 3 days per charge and even though it’s ancient – I still use it as my Hotspot and telephone when on overseas trips. With the Passport I can average 1.5-2 days without charging. Enough said?
  3. The 4-inch square screen, I admit, took getting used to but I now find reading and responding to emails and messages or typing something long like this review very much so like working on a desktop or laptop: way better than typing on even an iPad or Microsoft Surface without the physical keyboard. Because it is a square screen there is no point for horizontal or landscape reading mode.
  4. The micro USB port for charging is a good choice in that it’s easy to find a spare USB cable around or even borrow one when I forget to take one with me. With my iPad or my wife’s phone – good luck with that.

And now the stuff I wish were better:

  1. When it comes to accessorizing your devices hands down to Apple and Samsung but I know it’s an economics story: the more people buying a device/model the greater the likelihood third parties will create accessories for it. Alas with the BLACKBERRY no longer the cool brand it once was, finding a case or a screen shield is like playing hide and seek (more hide at physical stores). So if you decide to own a Blackberry be prepared to be a simpleton. There is a silverlining: people will know you are using a Blackberry because your phone is naked in all its glory.
  2. Mobile apps: like Microsoft Windows phone mobile there are few native BlackBerry apps out in the web compared to Android and IOS. BlackBerry did finally create an Android runtime that runs on top of BlackBerry 10 OS but you lose some of the bells and whistles of the original Android app and in some cases, when the app regular calls out to Google Services the app belts out these annoying and random notifications. Yes you can now run many familiar Android apps – just that not all features are available and sometimes the apps will crash or thinks it’s crashing.
  3. Pocket-ability if there ever is such a word is also a bummer for men who like to wear tight jeans. The 4-inch frame is simply too big making it difficult to shove the phone into your front pocket much less take it out. And watch our when you sit. Forget the backpocket unless you are in the market to get a new phone.
  4. I know that I shouldn’t expect much from the camera. The front facing is 2MB and the rear camera is 13MP. To be honest, the in-built camera software is at times slow to auto-focus and it took awhile for me to get used to taking square photos.
  5. The physical keyboard which I love also took some getting used to because of its layout.

There are ways to get around the limited BlackBerry apps. BlackBerry included an Android runtime program into the OS. This means that you can, with a bit of work, get most of the Android apps you love. There are several options out there including sideloading, installing Snap or read up on Simon Sage’s how to install Android app to a BlackBerry. Installing the Amazon app store or 1Mobile Market app store – both have apps that work on BlackBerry most of the time.

A caveat when installing unpatched Android apps, if the app accesses Google Services, you will get an annoying pop-up saying the app can’t work because you don’t have Google Services. At the moment about 60 percent of the apps I am using on the BlackBerry Passport 10 are Android apps. So I’m happy.

Enough said?

Here are a few other screenshots.

One of the most useful gadget for me is a pair of headsets. Whether commuting to and from work or traveling overseas, my headset let’s me listen to music or watch a video.

But when you commute or travel it doesn’t take very long to realize that wires are a nuisance because tangles are part of the penalty of good sound. The thinner the cable the greater the tangles and the frustrations that come with it.

Then there is the noise when traveling on subway trains, buses, trams, ferry boats and cars. Let’s not forget that people create just as much noise – on trains, in elevators, in the office, etc.

My first answer to this was the BOSE Quietcomfort headset. Very nice noise reduction feature, comfortable over the ear headset. Despite the rather thin cable, it was reasonably compact for travel. Only things I didn’t like were the cable and the synthetic leatherette covered earmuffs which crumble over time. Replacements were darn expensive when you consider what these are made of.

Then I opted for a Plantronics Backbeat wireless headset because I realized quickly that I wanted to wear a headset for when I am in the gym or at the sports grounds. The freedom of no wires came with a sacrifice: the design of the in-ear headset was such that noise was barely reduced. At subways and buses I often have to cup an ear to hear the music. In-ears are marketed with noise isolation features but for my purpose and daily situations this feature is all but useless.

I spent the better half of a year searching for s suitable wireless headset with active noise canceling. Had a look at models from Beats by Dre, Sony, Panasonic, Sennheiser, BOSE, and B&O to name a few.

Then I saw a pair of Parrot headsets.

The metal frame was wrapped in synthetic leather, the ear muffs covered my ears entirely, it came with wireless (BlueTooth) and active noise-canceling feature. I had a choice of colors (tired of black and afraid of white). The stainless steel frame gave the impression it would last long enough. Did I mention that it had a removable battery pack and, perhaps the coolest feature of all is touch sensitive controls for play, pause, stop, skip forward, and skip backwards. It detects incoming calls and pauses music to allow for the call to take place.

It uses a standard micro USB port for charging, takes about 2-3 hours to fully charge. When charging a light above the power switch blinks a slow pale red color. When fully charged it turns white.The Parrot headset comes with a cable to connect the headset to the audio output of any device for when Bluetooth is not allowed, like inside an airplane.Some oddities in the design. The power button is on the right ear piece. It is facing the back so when the headset is worn you use your thumb to power it on and off.

There is also a sensor on the right ear piece which detects when the headset is removed and pauses the music. When worn it resumes the music automatically.Perhaps the biggest deviation in the design of the Parrot headset is its dependence on software. This is likely the first in a generation of headphones that depend on software for its operation.

The Parrot Pik 2.0 software let’s you customize the noise canceling feature from zero to maximum, change the equalizer setting to one of 6 preset settings or to your specific liking, and also controls the surround sound effect. It also comes with 5 presets based on the preferences of 5 artists: Clara Moto, Rone, Andrew Watt, La Roux and The Magnificent.

My 2 biggest gripes about the Parrot is battery and short arms. The manufacturer rates battery life at 6 hours but in my experience it’s more around 4 hours of continuous play. I suspect it also has to do with the volume, equalizer settings and whether you have it on maximum noise cancellation.

The arms are short making this very tight fit for people like me with big round heads.

As I said this is likely the first generation of headsets to software to enhance the listening experience. I have no complaints there. The headset that I bought is second generation already and I have seen ads for the third generation.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Just be warned. It can be expensive unless you are used to buying brands like Sennheiser, Shure, etc.

 

I have been using a Microsoft Surface 3 for about three months now. Its arrival comes on the heels of my disuse of two tablet devices I’ve owned for sometime now: Nexus 7 (first gen) and iPad 2. Both I barely use for other than the occasional surfing the web. I don’t even use them for reading ebooks.

My Nexus 7 was great for its portability but it had 2 flaws: a cold boot takes over 25 seconds to start (a mystery never resolved). What annoys me is that I have to hold the power button for nearly half a minute counting and praying my finger doesn’t slip else I would have to restart the process again. The other flaw is that operating system (OS) upgrades have resulted in deteriorating performance to the point where even just to key in the password is painfully slow as the device isn’t responsive at all. Imagine driving a Tesla at 5 km per hour. Granted I’ve not had a chance to drive a Tesla but I swear walking would be faster.

The other tablet I have is an iPad 2. Yes, it’s old but when you consider that the only applications I ever use it for are web browsing, Evernote and watching videos on YouTube – I don’t think these activities warrant a hardware upgrade. I am sure the folks at Apple will disagree. I don’t even sync it to my laptop anymore because if I did it would take me all night and part of the next day to update the photos (no video, no music, not even apps). Truth be told since upgrading to IOS 8, the feel-good experience just isn’t there. The one good news is the iPad 2 performs better than my Nexus 7 even after I’ve upgraded it to IOS 9, Apple’s latest IOS.

Anyway, on to the Microsoft Surface 3. Before this machine I was looking to upgrade from both Nexus 7 and iPad. But I was weary with the so called latest and greatest. The secret to Apple’s innovation is the experience. Apple made sure of this by keeping everything in-house: from product design, hardware and software. It didn’t license the hardware design to others. It opted to keep everything to itself. Yes it outsourced manufacturing, distribution and parts of retailing, but for the most part when you order an Apple product – it is all Apple. It kept a few apps in-house but third party apps and accessories were allowed to thrive in the Apple ecosystem.

As I said Apple’s winning formula is experience. So if you are into content consumption – music, video, reading digital books and surfing the web – then Apple is good enough for the job. More recently, the company made, what I think is, a wise decision not to tither its customers too tightly to iTunes when upgrading the device’s content so kudos to Apple for waking up to the reality that we can’t be all slaves to iTunes.

The one area that Apple failed to monopolize is productivity. For people like me, who just want our Microsoft office suites – mostly Word and Excel, with some PowerPoint – we still need a way to bring us back to a Windows environment. Hence Macbook users rely on Parallels Desktop to make this possible. A friend was asking me if I’d consider buying a Macbook Air/Pro. I declined reasoning I’d have to buy Parallels Desktop and Microsoft software to use on the Macbook. WTF?

I have a colleague at work who swears by Apple and I get a lot of flak from him for using Microsoft Windows and Office. I tend to just ignore his rants about Microsoft’s security vulnerability issues. Of course he is all tight lip about IOS and Mac OSX vulnerabilities.

Anyway I have digressed enough. The reason for this blog post is to give you my experience with the Microsoft Surface 3. Before I got this loaner from Microsoft, they had me try out the Surface Pro 3. I wasn’t too thrilled about the Surface Pro 3 because (1) it got hot relatively quickly; (2) it wasn’t significantly lighter than my Lenovo Thinkpad X250 work laptop; and (3) the much venerated Surface detachable keyboard isn’t a novelty to me. I had an old HP Tablet PC T1100 – which despite its heft was cutting edge at the time – circa 2003. It featured a detachable keyboard that turned heads every time I took it out to work. The website I help build – www.enterpriseinnovation.net – was partly built from my writings, research and postings using the TC1100. So I give credit to HP for a very good machine.

Anyway back to the Surface 3.

Learning curve

To be honest the Surface 3 is not the lightest tablet in the market today. It took getting used to opening the kickstand. The physical design is boxy with edges that make it standout in a market of tablets that follow the iPhone/iPad concept of rounded curves.

The power/sleep and the volume buttons sit in the same area – upper left corner in landscape mode. Because of this I often mistakenly press the power/sleep button when I want to press the volume rocker switch. This is more a nuisance than anything else.

I noticed that when the keyboard is magnetized to the bezel of the Surface, it is difficult to reach the Windows button on the lower left corner. But this should not be a problem as long as I remember that there is another Windows button on the center-right side of the bezel (landscape mode).

Takes getting used to

I flip between the Surface 3 and my work laptop – the X250. The problem with this is that I get used to the combination of touch screen with trackpad on the Surface, so much that I end up most times inadvertently touching the screen on the X250 when I need to reach a particular point in the screen.

Putting the screen on something akin to sleep is not a good idea as it still consumes power and you end up getting surprised with a low battery indicator. Always best to shut it down.

Other observations

The Surface 3 uses an Intel Atom processor which means that it is not advisable to use this machine to do video editing. Video playback and some not-so-graphics-intensive games should have no difficulty running on this machine. Yes, you can still multi-task unlike the iPad (and iPhone) where most applications are in suspend mode when you shift to another app. On the Surface 3, you can copy files, watch a video and read emails concurrently – really!

Biggest gripe

For a tablet the Surface has a short battery life of a little over 5 hours. For a tablet this is bordering heresy. The supplied charger is rated at 2.5A so charging via your phone’s charger will be a very slow experience.

When the keyboard is elevated (i.e., sticking to the side of the tablet), it makes a hollow clacking sound. So when I am on a flat surface I try to put the keyboard flat on the table. It makes for a better typing experience – just feels more solid.

I used to think that as I age I would prefer to use a computer with a bigger screen, and for the most part I do. But you lose out in portability as you get bigger. Sure it looks nice from the outside but imagine carrying a 12” (or bigger), 1.37 pound tablet around all day and it won’t be long before you begin to feel the weight of it in your wrist, your hand, your arm, and your back. To be fair this the same complain I have carrying my iPad 2 around. At some point reading a book on the iPad or watching a video while holding the slab starts to take toll on the wrist.

Overall experience

I’ve grown accustomed to the Surface 3 being my weekend computing companion because there is just so much you can do on your mobile phone – granted I am using a BlackBerry Passport with its 4 inch square display – I love reading emails on it. I rarely take out the X250 at home – mostly when I need a file or I need to edit a video. Just about everything else I can do on the Surface.

What I need now is a way to remotely access the X250 from the office using the Surface 3 and I am a happy commuter.

Is the Surface 3 worth the price? Microsoft sells it online for HK$3,888 for the basic unit with 128GB storage. Its half the price of the Apple iPad Air 2 albeit you sacrifice the so-called cool, mystique that Apple shrouds its devices with.

Microsoft chose the path of all around productivity with its Surface and this is what you need to remember when comparing the two brands.

The iPad Air is, hands down, the sexy device to show around. It’s great for content consumption and a little bit of content creation – just a little. The Surface is the everyday workhorse. It may be ugly compared to the iPad Air but it just gets the work that. For me that is what I need.

Apple recently released the Apple iPad Pro – what I refer to as the Surface Pro-clone. I think Apple is realizing that people really need to work and the MacBook Air is too under powered for serious work while the Macbook Pro is too heavy to carry around – seriously! As for the iPad Air? Really you have to ask?

My daughter heard this comment:

“Why don’t you buy the iPad Pro? Sure it’s useless and expensive. But its cool!”

Enough said!

Microsoft Surface 3

The Sony DSC-RX1 is the first point-and-shoot camera with a full-frame sensor, a 24.3 megapixel Exmor CMOS – the same one found in the company’s top of the line, DSLR – the Sony Alpha a99 (rrp HK$35,900 with a 24-70mm f2.4 lens). To produce full HF video recording and doll out up to ISO 102,400 sensitivity, the RX1 uses a new Bionz processor.

Deceptive is what would best describe the Sony DSC-RX1. It is about the size of many conventional compact digicams. It has a large bright screen but is not touch (which appears to be the craze these days). It has a tiny flash that retracts with the press of a button (like the Canon G 1X). It doesn’t support interchangeable lenses (again going against the grain of today’s digicams).

When I took it out of the box of the first time, I thought it resembled an all-black Leica X2 camera with a large lens. Like most Leica cameras, the simplicity of the design belied the capabilities of the little camera.

BUILD

At 508 grams with lens cap, battery, SD card and strap, it is still 43g lighter than my Canon G 1X. The body feels very sturdy. It is also at least 20% more compact making it a better day-to-day companion than my G 1X. You know you have a quality product with this camera. It is sufficiently heavy requiring two handed shooting (like most DSLR) but sufficiently compact and light to fit into a small bag or hung from the shoulder or neck without causing any long-term injury. The right side of the camera body is coated with what feels like rubber or leather, giving you the added security when gripping the RX1.

I didn’t read the spec of the RX1 the first time around so when I lifted it off the box, I started looking for the mechanism to detach the body from the lens. I was confused to find no such option. Apparently part of the fixed, 25mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lens is built deep into the body of the camera. Sony claims this enables the camera to give the best possible optical quality.

WHAT I LIKE

Judging from the rrp of HK$23,990, the RX1 is aimed at professional photographers or people with money to burn. The Carl Zeiss Sonnar T offers a f/22-f/2 stop aperture control dial at the base of the lens. There is an ingenious switch around the center of the lens that allows you to switch from a standard 35mm lens camera into a 20-35cm macro lens. Finally, lightly depressing the shutter button and turning the outermost ring of the lens, will activate the Focus Peaking feature to aid in manual focusing (two options: Direct Manual Focus and Manual Focus).

A quick read of the manual (yes you need to if you want to use some of the magic of digital photography) shows that you can customize majority of the buttons of the camera.

For the money you pay for this camera, image quality should be first rate and the RX1 does not disappoint. I found it easy to create images with depth of field without having to fiddle with the camera beyond “auto” mode. Auto-focus is way better on the RX1 than on my G 1X and when light is really in short supply you can always override the auto focus feature and go manual.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

One of the features I love about my old Nexus 3 smartphone is the camera’s panorama mode – there is simply nothing quite like it if you want a simple way to shoot. The RX1 uses “Sweep Panorama” which I found difficult to use – at times it tell me I am moving too fast, other times I am too slow. Make up your mind RX1!

The RX1 shares a common problem as my Canon G 1X – poor battery life. The RX1 will last about 2 hours with moderate use. Sony slipped here big time since you’d expect photographers to be out and about during the day and having access to a wall socket is not always possible. You’d be wise to carry one of those portable battery-backed chargers if you plan to carry the RX1 around all day. Alternatively, if you carry a portable battery charger, this may solve the battery issue problem. I do love what Sony did here by providing a standard micro-USB port so you can also charge the RX1 from your laptop.

A small and trivial thing I don’t like with the RX1 is the removable lens cover which can easily be lost or misplaced. It happened to me a couple of times today when I was shooting around the house. Very scary since I don’t own this camera. It’s a very solid lens cover but would it have hurt Sony to include a small hole to string it to the body or the case of the camera?

CONCLUSION

In the age of multi-purpose, all-in-one digital cameras, the RX1 is a refreshing return to simplicity without sacrificing in what is really the core purpose of all cameras – making good quality photos.

So why would anyone want to fork out HK$23,990 (suggested retail price in Hong Kong) for a retro-looking camera? That’s like asking if there is a market for Leica cameras. If people are willing to pay HK$50,000 for a Leica, the Sony RX1 priced at half that of a Leica but comparable capability sounds like a bargain.

TECHNICAL SPECS

Image Sensor
Image Sensor 35mm full-frame (35.8mm × 23.9mm) Exmor CMOS Sensor, aspect ratio 3:2
Number of Pixels [Effective] Approx. 24.3 megapixels
[Gross] Approx. 24.7 megapixels
Lens
Lens Type Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* (8 elements in 7 groups (3 aspherical elements including AA lens)
Focal Length
(35mm equivalent)
f=35mm
[Still image 3:2] f=35mm
[Still image 16:9] f=37mm
[Movie 16:9] f=44mm (SteadyShot On), f=37mm (SteadyShot Off)
[Movie 4:3] f=48mm (SteadyShot On), f=45mm (SteadyShot Off)
F-number (maximum aperture) F2
Focal Range
(From the front of the lens)
AF approx. 30cm to infinity (Normal mode), approx. 20cm to 35cm (Macro mode)
Camera
Imaging Processor “BIONZ”
Total Zoom Magnification Clear Image Zoom (still image): 2x
Digital Zoom (still image): 24M approx. 4x / 10M approx. 6.1x / 4.6M approx. 9.1x
Movie: Approx. 4x
Main Function
Focus Type Contrast-detection AF
Focus Mode Single-shot AF (AF)* / Direct Manual Focus (DMF) / Manual Focus (MF)
*Functions as Auto Focus (AF-S) in still picture shooting and as Auto Focus (AF-C) in video shooting
Focus Area Multi point AF (25 points) / Center weighted AF / Flexible spot / Flexible spot (tracking focus) / Flexible spot (face tracking)
Light Metering Mode Multi segment / Centre weighted / Spot
Aperture F2-22 (9 blades Iris diaphragm)
Shutter Speed Program Auto(30”-1/4000*), Aperture Priority(30”-1/4000*), Shutter Priority(30”-1/4000*), Manual Exposure(Bulb, 30”-1/4000*)
*Maximum speed at F5.6 or greater aperture value.
Maximum speed at F2.0 is 1/2000.
ISO Sensitivity (Still Image) ISO 100-25600 (1/3 EV step, expandable to ISO 50/64/80)
Auto: ISO 100-25600, selectable with upper / lower limit
Multi Frame NR: Auto (ISO 100-25600, selectable with upper / lower limit), 100-102400 (1EV step)
ISO Sensitivity (Movie) ISO 100-6400 equivalent (1/3 EV step)
Auto: ISO 100-3200 equivalent
Exposure Compensation +/- 3.0EV, 1 / 3EV step
SteadyShot Electronic type (for movie)
White Balance Auto / Daylight / Shade / Cloudy / Incandescent / Fluor (Warm White) / Fluor (Cool White) / Fluor (Day White) / Fluor (Daylight) / Flash / C. Temp. / C.Filter / Custom
Shooting Mode (Still Image) Program Auto (Program shift available), Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, MR (Memory Recall) 1 / 2 / 3, Movie, Sweep shooting, Scene Selection, Intelligent Auto
Scene Selection Portrait / Landscape / Sports / Sunset / Night Portrait / Night Scene / Hand-held Twilight
Panorama Sweep Panorama
Creativity Style Standard / Vivid / Neutral / Clear / Deep / Light / Portrait / Landscape / Sunset / Night Scene / Autumn Leaves / Black & White / Sepia
Picture Effect Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterisation, Retro Photo, Soft High-key, Partial Colour, High Contrast Monochrome, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, Illustration
Still Image: Number of Recorded Pixels(Image Size) [3:2]
L: 24M (6000 x 4000)
M: 10M (3936 x 2624)
S: 4.6M (2640 x1760)
[16:9]
L: 20M (6000 x 3376)
M: 8.7M (3936 x 2216)
S: 3.9M (2640 x 1488)
[Sweep Panorama]
Standard (3872 x 2160/8192 x 1856)
Wide (5536 x 2160/12416 x 1856)
Dynamic Range Function Off, Dynamic Range Optimizer (Auto/Level), Auto High Dynamic Range: Auto exposure difference, Exposure difference level (1.0-6.0EV, 1.0 EV step)
Flash Mode Auto / Fill-flash / Slow Sync / Rear Sync / Off / Wireless
Guide No. 6 (in meters at ISO 100)
Flash Range ISO Auto 0.75m to 21.7m / ISO 25600 up to 43.4m
Continuous Shooting Speed (Maximum) Speed Priority Continuous mode: Approx.5 fps,
Continuous mode: Approx. 2.5 fps (AF-S)
Image Control Creative Style, Quality (RAW/RAW&JPEG/Extra fine/Fine/Standard), Long Exposure NR (On/Off), High ISO NR (Normal/Low/off), Multi Frame NR
Monitor & Viewfinder
LCD 7.5cm (3.0 type) (4:3) / 1,229,000 dots / Xtra Fine / TFT LCD
Brightness Control: Auto / Manual (5 steps) / Sunny Weather mod
Recording
Recording Media
* w/ Adaptor (not supplied)
Memory Stick Duo,
Memory Stick PRO Duo,
Memory Stick PRO Duo (High Speed),
Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo,
Memory Stick Micro*,
Memory Stick Micro (Mark2)*,
SD Memory Card,
SDHC Memory Card,
SDXC Memory Card,
microSD Memory Card*,
microSDHC Memory Card*
Recording File Format Still Image: JPEG, RAW (Sony ARW 2.3 format),
Movie: AVCHD Ver.2.0, MP4
Movie Recording Mode AVCHD: 28M PS (1920×1080, 50p), 24M FX (1920×1080, 50i), 17M FH (1920×1080, 50i), 24M FX (1920×1080, 25p), 17M FH (1920×1080, 25p)
MP4: 12M (1440×1080), 3M VGA (640×480)
Interface
Interface Micro USB, Hi-Speed USB (USB2.0), Micro HDMI, Microphone jack, Multi Interface Shoe
Normal
Battery NP – BX1 (supplied)
USB Charge/USB Power Supply: Yes (supplied AC Adaptor)
Dimension (W x H x D) 113.3 x 65.4 x 69.6mm
Weight Approx. 482g (Battery and Memory Stick Duo included)
Approx. 453g (Body only)
Print Exif Print, PRINT Image Matching (PIM3)
PlayMemories Home Yes
Others Smart Teleconverter (approx. 1.4x / 2x), Face Detection, Face Registration, Smile Shutter, Quick Navi, Grid Line, Digital Level Gauge (pitch and roll), Exposure Bracketing, White Balance Bracketing, DRO Bracketing, Flash Bracketing, Peaking, MF Assist, Auto Portrait Framing

PHOTO GALLERY

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I have a collection of headset mostly because I like to listen to music and audio books as well as watch videos any chance I can find a small window of alone time. Over the years, I’ve been able to amass different brands of headset looking for that brand that meets my personal preferences: lightweight and portable, good sound isolation, and most of all  not overly expensive.

My current brand of headsets at home include a Sennheiser, Bose, Beats and AudioTechnic. I was recently offered a chance to try out the Sony MDR-1R. Sony markets the MDR-1R as “prestigious” family of premium headsets. There are three models in the Sony Store. The unit I have is the entry model priced at HK$1,880.
The Sony MDR-1R over-ear headphones speak volume about what’s important to the target audince for this series of headset: size, fit and comfort. The MDR-1R is light but has a very sturdy feel. It speaks of premium quality. One of the things I dislike about my Bose Quiet Comfort 3 headset if the skull-pinching after just an hour of use.
The earcups are mounted with three-dimensional flex. It takes a little bit of getting used to but once you find the sweet spot (fit), you are hooked.
Included in the box is a carry pouch and two serrated, non-tangle cables. One includes a remote for use with iPhones. The shorter length cable fits most other devices.
In the weeklong test of the MDR-1R, these have traveled with me on the MTR, on trams, buses and just plain walking around town. When indoors (even with the TV blaring my favorite program) listening with the MDR-1R is heaven. The cups provide some isolation sufficient to create the illusion that you alone in your very own theater listening to your favorite music tracks or watching a video with surround sound.I am not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination. However I do enjoy good music and my pet peeve are headsets that can block out outside noise, including human chatter in an enclosed area. Unfortunately I suspect all headphones are designed this way to keep the user from accidentally getting run over by a passing motorist.
WHAT I LIKE
I love the experience of using the MDR-1R indoors. It feels like I am in a sound-proof room where all I can hear is the music I am listening to or the video I am watching – nothing else. I love not feeling like my head is stuck between the jaws of a bench vice. The feel of the soft leather is difficult to put into words.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
My single biggest gripe about the Sony MDR-1R is its inability to block external noise when used outside of the quiet comfort of your room. These are not your walkabout headsets.
CONCLUSION
At HK$1,880 suggested retail price, the Sony MDR-1R is priced to compete against the fashion-driven Beats headset overpriced headset. Without a doubt the MDR-1R bested the Beats headset IMHO. There is sufficient detail (clarity) in the sound quality using your standard iPod or portable music device. If you want a heavier base, more thudding in your head, consider using one of those portable amplifiers.
For my money, the Sony MDR-1R is comparable value to many of today’s mid to high headphones. These are comfortable, stylish and a great addition to your home entertainment system or when you just want to quietly listen to your favorite music.
PHOTO GALLERY

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TECHNICAL SPEC
Type
Headphone Type Closed, dynamic
Power
Power Handling Capacity 1500 mW (IEC*)
Audio
Driver Unit 40 mm, dome type (HD, OFC Voice Coil)
Impedance 24 Ω at 1 kHz
Sensitivity (dB/mW) 105 dB/mW
Frequency Response (Hz) 4 Hz – 80,000 Hz
General
Mass (g) Approx. 240 g (without cord)
Supplied Accessories Inline remote and microphone cord for iPod/iPhone/iPad (1.2 m cord, using PCOCC, Four-conductor gold plated L-shaped stereo mini plug) (1)**
Carrying pouch (1)
Operating Instructions (1)
Remark
Remarks
** Not compatible with all iPod/iPhone/iPad models.
I  got a chance to play with the Sony Xperia Tablet S for the weekend. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review since the Tablet S. This is the second generation of tablets from Sony aimed at breaking into the market dominated by Apple and Samsung.

The Tablet S sports a skinned Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, Tegra 3 quad-core SoC, and a 9.4 inch 1280×800 IPS LCD screen (the same panel used in the first-gen Tablet S) that is surrounded by a big, glossy black bezel. The Tablet S can be ordered in 16 or 32GB built-in storage with WiFi or 3G=WiFi. It has a SD card slot as well for those who feel 32GB isn’t enough.

This second gen Tablet S that I am testing still has the folded-over magazine shape although this time around it is more subtle (239.8 x 174.4 x 8.8mm). The magazine-like fold extends only a quarter into the back. In the middle of this “fold” is a 8-megapixel camera (no flash) and an IR blaster. On one end of the short rectangular back panel are located the power button and volume rocker. Across the other side is the 3.5mm audio jack next to the SD card reader which is hidden behind a silver coated plastic cover. At the bottom is a pair of speakers flanking the multi-port dock.

One final observation, when viewed from the other end there is a semblance to the iPad 2 or the new iPad.

WHAT I LIKE

The Tablet S continues the Sony tradition of being easy on the eyes and a droll magnet. It has very good contrast making for a pleasant experience looking at pictures, reminiscent of the experience you’d get from one of Sony’s Bravia TVs. Another plus I want to highlight are the speakers. By far the Tablet S is great for listening to  music or audiobooks or watching a movie. I don’t need a pair of headsets or plug in an external speaker. The speakers produce crisp clear sound – a very welcome change from the current crop of tablets (include the iPad) and even against some of the larger notebook computers.

I normally do not like it when a manufacturer skins the Android OS in their attempt to “add” value and differentiation to their device. This is one instance where the changes Sony has incorporated are sufficiently minimalistic that they truly add value without masking some of the inherently strong features of the base operating system. Kudos to Sony for taking this path.
Sony learned from Samsung creating small apps (pop-up widgets) that let you easily launch any number of commonly used apps including a calculator, clipping tool, memo, voice recorder, timer and a browser. For the socially addicted, SocialLife is a very interesting app that seems to have taken a lesson from FLIP.
Sony must have recognized that tablets are meant to be shared. It has integrated a feature called Guest Mode which allows another user to have access to the same device without being privy to your personal messages, etc. This is a great tool that will enable temporary “guests” to use the device without forcing the original owner to logout from all of his or her favorite programs or even exit those same programs. This is a great example of virtualization at work.
The Tablet S is the first Android smart device I’ve had the pleasure of using for extended periods – longer than 8 hours without recharging. Despite the large screen and loud speakers, you can literally several movies on the Tablet S without needing a recharge. Great job Sony!

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The proprietary multi-port dock is concealed under a removable cover which you can easily lose. Being proprietary means you have to use the supplied cable to charge or connect the device. The Tablet S supports HD video but the hardware didn’t come with a HDMI port. Instead you need to buy a special adapter that connect a HDMI appliance like a 3D TV to the Tablet S via the multi-port connector.
All vendors have a natural inclination to add their own special brand of software applications into their device. The Tablet S comes preinstalled with software and services like Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, PlayMemories, Walkman, Reader by Sony, and Sony Select. Most require a service, some paid. Sony, of course, is not forcing you to use these apps and services but because they come pre-installed and are integrated into the “skinned” Android, you can’t get rid of the apps.
CONCLUSION
Despite the skinning of ICS, the Tablet S is a fast tablet. Despite the added “skin” it performs better than most tablets I’ve had the pleasure of using. At a suggested retail price of HK$3,288 for a 16GB WiFi only model, it is not much more expensive than the 7″ Nexus 7 from Google/Asus (yes the Nexus is more expensive in Hong Kong than it is in the US – complain to Google please!). Sony did well not to alter the Google UI. The “Sociallife” software is a great addition (IMHO) to the stack of Sony apps that come pre-installed on the Tablet S.

I usually end these reviews asking myself “would I buy this device” for my personal use. If I favored a 9″ screen (with its added weight and portability issues), I would consider the Tablet S over the iPad anytime (since it is no secret that I don’t like iTunes and the slavery – aka vendor lock-in – it promotes). Would I prefer the Sony Tablet S over a Samsung Tab 2 10? Probably! How about a Samsung Note 10.1? I need to think about that harder? Let me get back to you on that.

TECHNICAL SPEC

Model SGPT121HK (Wi-Fi model)
Operating  System Android™  4.0
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 Mobile Processor | with 4‐PLUS ‐1™ Quad Core ARM® Cortex™-A9 CPU 1.4 GHz *1 *2
Display 9.4″ wide (WXGA: 1280 x 800) TFT Color LCD*3
Memory 1 GB*4
Storage 16 GB*5
Interface Multi Port Multi  Port x 1*6
Headphone  Jack Stereo  mini jack x 1 (works  as a monaural microphone jack)
Wireless  LAN Wireless  LAN Specification IEEE  802.11a/b/g/n (WPA2 Supported)*7
Wireless  LAN Data Rate Maximum transmission speed: 150 Mbps, Maximum receipt speed: 150 Mbps*8
Wireless WAN Wireless WAN Function No
GPS Yes
Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth® standard Ver. 3.0*9
Supported  Profile A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HID, SPP, OPP
Sensor Accelerometer  (3-axis accelerometer), Gyro, Digital Compass, Ambient Light Sensor
IR  Remote control function Yes  (Supports Multi Function, Learning Function (Pre-loaded remote control code))
Expansion  Slots Memory  Card Slot SD  memory card x 1  (Supports  SD,  SDHC, SDHC UHS-I)
Speaker Built-in  stereo speakers
Microphone Built-in  monaural microphone
Camera Front  Camera HD  web camera (Resolution: 1296 x 808, Effective Pixels: 1 Mega pixels)
Rear  Camera HD  camera (Resolution: 3264 x 2448, Effective Pixels: 8 Mega pixels)
Supplied  Accessories AC  adapter (SGPAC5V6), Power Cord
Battery  Life (Approx.)*11 *12 Battery Built-in  rechargeable battery pack*10
Browsing  web with Wi-Fi 10.0  hours
Browsing  web with 3G NIL
Playing  video 12.0 hours
Battery Charging Time 5.5 hours*13
Size  (Approx. ) Dimensions (W x H x D) 239.8  x 8.8 – 11.85 x 174.4 mm
Weight 570 g

OTHER SITE REVIEWS

TechRadar (http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/tablets/sony-xperia-tablet-s-1093685/review/2#articleContent)

Slashgear (http://www.slashgear.com/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review-12260425/)

The Verge (http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/24/3333106/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review)

PHOTO GALLERY

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Who does not dream of owning a personal computer (PC) that you can go anywhere with you and do just about anything you can with it. Let’s not kid ourselves here. The iPad and its Android and Windows siblings can only do so much. And unless you got an app that can do serious business work, you do need a PC that can do the odd video editing and all the document – word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and database what if scenarios. And again to be fair to Apple and gang, the tablet device ain’t cut for that kind of job

Unfortunately for geriatrics like me, lugging around a 2kg laptop and its accessories like battery charger, pointing device, DVD drive, external HDD and yes that travel-battered bag, can easily get you 6 kgs of arthritis-inducing pain very quickly down the line.

Enter ultrabooks – a new category of lightweight but powerful (aka better than the iPad and siblings) devices that can do just about anything a conventional laptop can do at price points reminiscent of top end netbooks. This review is about the Dell XPS 13 – a late entry by Dell in the fast becoming competitive category. According to Intel, ultrabooks are sub-US$1,000 computers that are lightweight (1.4 kg or less), 1.77 cm thin, offer decent performance (vs Apple Macbook Air) have sufficient charge to last five hours, comes with a SSD, and a 13” screen.

The Dell XPS 13 just makes it into the ultrabook category with it 13.3” screen, 1.4kg weight and measures 7mm at its thinnest and 18mm at its thickest. It flaunts a minimalist design that is representative of current industrial design trends for laptops. To be honest I am impressed with Dell’s approach to the design of the XPS 13. It is reminiscent of the Dell XPS 14z minus the bulk and heft that the XPS 14z suffers from. Dell purposely designed the XPS 13 for the corporate user with its Trusted Platform Module for BitLocker Data. Where the XPS 13 fails is in the pricing category – at least in Hong Kong where it retails for US$1,666. Of course Intel isn’t really policing vendors particularly vendors who buy its processors and chipsets.

The professional look starts with the machined aluminum outer shell Dell markets as Elemental Silver Aluminum. The underbelly is made of carbon fiber Underneath is a fiberglass while the jet black interior feels like a soft rubber surface. There are no ugly stickers anywhere on this ultrabook. The hinge is a nicely weighted and extends the quality-feel that comes as you caress the cold metal surface. The XPS 13 continues the tradition found on the 14z with its edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass panel. It also has a glass multi-gesture touchpad with integrated mouse buttons. The XPS 13 ships with isolation-style keyboards (aka Chiclet keys) proved comfortable when typing – although you need time to get used to the key positions. Like other ultrabooks, the keys are shallow but to its credit Dell made the keys slightly curved and backlit.

The test unit I receive came with an Intel core™ i7-2637M processor (yes, 2011 Sandy Bridge processor – sooo 2011), with 4GB RAM and 256GB SSD. Like most ultrabooks, the XPS 13 uses the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics processor. As long as you don’t use this laptop for processor intensive graphics application, the XPS 13 should do most of what you’ve come to expect from a standard laptop.

The XPS 13 comes with one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. If you want to connect the XPS 13 to an external monitor, you better have an adaptor because this laptop comes with a mini DisplayPort. Like other ultrabooks, the only way to connect the XPS 13 is via built-in 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth.

I almost forgot – the XPS 13 comes with a backlit keyboard.

WHAT I LIKE

One of the things l liked about the XPS 13 is its use of edge-to-edge screen – near zero bezel – creating the illusion of a smaller laptop comparable to a 12 or even 11 inch laptops. Apart from that there is nothing special about its 1366 x 768 pixel resolution and support for 720p high-definition videos playback.

With the exception of the very classy unibody (dare we day inspired by the Apple’s MacBook Pro and Macbook Air) design the only other feature I love about the XPS 13 is the charger. It is tiny compared to every Dell laptop I’ve ever had the pleasure of using or owning. In fact the XPS 14z I have at home comes with a brick that gets so hot you can use it to warm your sandwich (I tried that and it works).

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

It’s difficult to find something not to like with the XPS 13. If I have to be critical of the XPS 13 then I only have a few quibbles about the XPS 13 is the battery life. As with a lot of Dell laptops, battery life is disappointing – to say the least. I can’t for the like of me figure out why vendors overstate the battery life. What is their benchmark for declaring 5 hours of battery life? Everything, backlight, keyboard light, GPU, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc is off? Come Dell be honest when stating the battery life.

Finally, and for many consumers, the reason for buying an ultrabook is price. Yes, you get a reasonably powerful laptop with the ultrabooks compared to the netbook, but part of the allure of the ultrabook is the price. Intel set the suggested price point for an ultrabook at US$1,000. The low-end Dell XPS 13 comes with an online sticker of HK$12,999 while the top-end configuration ships for HK$14,999. At prices like this, the XPS series wants to price itself in the category of Sony or Apple.

CONCLUSION

Most vendors and sales people will tell you how light their laptops are. Ask them to show you the external charger and see how fast that brick turns into hot coal. Fortunately the XPS 13 doesn’t come with a “killer brick” charger although it does get warm relatively quickly.

UPDATED TECHNICAL SPEC (with Ivy Bridge Processor)

  • Windows® 7 Professional SP1 64bit Multi-Language(Traditional/Simplified Chinese/English )
  • 3nd generation Intel® Core™ i5-3317M processor (3M Cache, up to 2.6 GHz with TPM)
  • Microsoft® Office trial
  • McAfee® Security Center promo – 15 Months Version
  • 1-Year Premier Service with 1-year Accidental Damage Services and Oncall Subscription
  • 1 Year Dell Online Backup 2GB
  • 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 1333MHz Memory
  • Backlit English Keyboard
  • Intel® HD Graphics 3000
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6230 with Bluetooth v3.0+HS
  • System Document(ENG/TCHI/SCHI/JPN/KOR)
  • 47 WHr 6-Cell Battery
  • Elemental Silver Aluminum and 13.3″ Hi-Def (720p) True Life (1366×768) WLED Display with 1.3MP Webcam

PRODUCT PHOTOS

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