Initial Review – Creative SoundBlaster Roar Pro

Introduction

Today I got myself the Creative Soundblaster Roar Pro after much consideration. I wanted a small speaker system that sound really good, support both bluetooth and wired connection so that I can use it with my PC and my Apple devices.

It’s selling at SG$349 in retail but that was not what I paid as it was on promotion and I got it for SG$199, which I thought was a steal.

Unboxing

On first look, the black on white box looks great.

But upon opening up the box, the first thing I felt was, “Oh, this thing look cheap.” The accessories weren’t packed as neatly as I would like. It is definitely not that ecologically friendly with the heavy use of plastic to pack the cables and the manuals. Then there is the eye sore of the product manuals. Red on white but the product box is black and the product is black. Where is that consistency?

I guess I’m spoilt by Apple since the internals of their boxes are always so well designed and done. Even their manuals, which I know most people don’t read, are at least consistent with the overall theme. Apple do make you feel like you are opening up a great product and that is important to the overall user experience.

The box came with a charging adapter, a USB cable for you to connect the speaker to a computer, a AUX cable to connect to another Roar Pro or audio device. The charging adapter also come with two different kind of plugs that you can swap depending on your power socket. In Singapore, we will use the three-pin plug.

And here is the actual product.

Other than the rows of buttons and switches at the back, the overall speaker is pretty clean and well-built. The black matches well with my desktop setup of mostly black and grey. On the top where the main function buttons are, I would prefer the use of touch buttons instead of physical button. Nonetheless, they don’t detract much from the overall design.

Performance and Experience

I’m no audiophile but I know enough about the various sound range and the type of sound I enjoy listening to. I can tell if there’s crackling caused by the driver’s inability to transform the input signal to sound, if certain sound is muffled, not crisp and clear or if there is an overlap.

I always prefer a good mid-range and bass. To test, I played a few songs like Monody by The Fat Rat, Fountain and Hunting for Pearls from the album BLUE by iamamiwhoami, and Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons. The Roar Pro with its 2.5 inch mid/bass driver located at the center and pointing up definitely delivers on that front. The mid range is crisp and the bass has enough dynamic range that it doesn’t sound muffled or too low. I suspect the two passive drivers on the side has been well-tuned to help with the bass reproduction.

The high range on the other hand seems rather ok but then I don’t listen to music that has a lot of that because how they hurt my ears and give me a headache. My predominant genre is electronic and pop. And they definitely have higher ratio of bass and mid-range compared to maybe classical music or symphony.

The pairing process with iPhone or Mac is pretty easy but not as easy as AirPods. You will have to power on the device, press and hold the bluetooth button for 3 seconds and see the LED light beside it flash. After that, go into the iPhone’s bluetooth setting or Mac OS’s bluetooth preferences and click connect.

It doesn’t take long for the connection to be established. Once it’s done, you can start playing music off it.

Conclusion

I have not start exploring playing games with it and when I do, I will update again. There are a few things that I have yet try. One of them is the use of the other functionality like playing music straight from an SD card. Another would be connecting it to another Roar Pro to via the AUX IN port for MegaStereo.

Yet, I really enjoy the sound coming out from this speaker and I couldn’t tell the difference from a SONOS Play 3 based on trial play in store. For the price of SG$199, I think it’s really good though the packaging could be better.

5 Things I Love About iPhone X

iPhone X is now my primary phone since Jan 27 and I have since put my iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 Plus into storage. I got the 256GB version of iPhone X for $2249 and that was inclusive of Apple Care.

Although it’s expensive, I still feel that it’s valued for money.

Here are five things that I love about the iPhone X.

Face ID

Using Touch ID to unlock your phone with it is pretty convenient, compared to typing in your passcode, especially when your passcode is more than 6 characters long. However, Touch ID doesn’t really work when your fingers are wet. It’s particularly irritating if you are suffering from hyperhidrosis because your fingers are wet most of the time. I spent half of the time unlocking my phone using my passcode. Face ID changes the way phone is unlocked.

With Face ID, I just need to glance at it when the display is on and swipe up. It works correctly like 98% of the time. The times it doesn’t work is when I didn’t put the phone far enough for the camera to detect my face correctly. All you need to do is to cancel the passcode screen, reposition the iPhone, and swipe up again. And it will work again.

Super Retina HD and OLED Display

Apple made the OLED Super Retina HD display way better than the competition. The OLED used made blacks really black. When you play games like Inside, you actually feel like you are in a dystopian world because of the OLED display. Combined with the Super Retina HD, everything looks crisp and sharp.

With the wide color gamut, colors from videos and games are just popping out and looks great. It just made the whole viewing experiences much better than iPhone 7 Plus.

Overall Design

The all screen design with the thin bezels immerses you into whatever you are viewing. The way it follows the edge of the phone, joining up to the highly polished stainless steal band which then transit to a glass back made everything look really seamless. It is almost like the whole device is one solid thing.

And the controversial notch on top of the phone? It was one of the most unique and striking feature of the phone. It made the phone easily identifiable. In someway, it looks like the phone has very nice looking horns. I love just how original it was.

Size

At 14.36cm tall and 7.09cm wide, iPhone X is smaller than iPhone 7 Plus at 15.82cm tall and 7.79cm wide. It is much easier to hold and with it’s all screen design, screen estate is not compromise. You still get to see as much content as you can on a iPhone 7 Plus.

On the other hand, iPhone 7 or even iPhone 8 is way too small. The bezels and the home button take up much of the screen real estate and make webpages, images and videos too small for comfortable viewing.

Speakers

iPhone X has better sounding speakers than iPhone 7 Plus. With the volume bar set at center, it’s is louder. The sound are crispier and the bass is more perceivable. Even at a 75%, the sounds produced don’t crackle.

Bonus: Performance

With its new A11 Bionic chip, the phone is snappy and doesn’t have noticeable slowdown when watching videos, or playing games, and listening to music.

Switching between apps when multitasking also doesn’t feel slow and could keep up with me, enabling a more productive day.

Apple Magic Mouse 2 Review

It’s been more than a year since I last got the Apple Magic Mouse 2. I got it because I wanted a unified experience. It went into storage for a few months before coming out from storage again because I decided to give it another chance after using Razer DeathAdder Elite mouse for nearly a year.

Usability

I put the mouse in storage was due to its poor ergonomics. The mouse is too low and won’t be comfortable for someone to use if they grip their mouse like how one would when playing first-person shooter games. That’s how I use my mouse and didn’t know any other way.

The other issue was its capacitive touch surface. The mouse tends to send a whole bunch of signal to the computer that could cause the computer to perform a variety of unintended actions. For example, zooming on a webpage that you are reading, or having the context menu show up even though you performed a left click. If you are someone with sweaty hands, the mouse will also not respond very well.

Pricing

The price is another aspect of the mouse some of you may find fault with. For S$118, you could get a decent mice from a reputable company like the G603 gaming mouse from Logitech. Microsoft also makes equally functional and comfortable mice that cost much less like the Microsoft Modern Mouse or the Sculpt Comfort Mouse

Power

The mouse on a single full charge can last you anywhere between four weeks to six weeks depending on how often you use it. That’s a good thing. The charging method is a little unconventional and if you have the iPhone charging dock from Apple, it could make life easier. And when the mouse is on charge, you can’t use it but the charging time isn’t that long. A single charge of fifteen minutes allow you to use the mouse for at few hours.

On the topic of power, mouse like the Sculpt Comfort Mouse from Microsoft last about three weeks on two AA batteries. The only issue is you have to carry batteries with you. Gaming wireless mice are a whole different thing because of the high-powered lasers and won’t last longer than a week before needing a charge.

Overall design and size

The other good thing is its simplistic design and remains functional. If having a unified aesthetic is important to you, this mouse is for you because it matches very well with grey MacBook Pro or iMac. If you are using the new 2016 or 2017 MacBook Pro and have them in Space Grey, the mouse may look a little out of place. Gaming mice with good ergonomic don’t look that nice in my opinion.

Lastly, magic mouse 2 is small, smaller than some of the mouse I have used. That could be a saving grace too since it will fit nicely in a small carry case or even your laptop carrying pouch. But it is also not a good thing for those with bigger hands. In my case, it’s alright.

How I use it?

I have also since learned a new way to use the mouse and that’s by gripping it with my thumb and pinkie finger and the rest of the fingers rest on top.

IMG_6258

It’s surprisingly useable once you got use to the new way of holding your mouse. After you are comfortable with the new way, you can easily switch to using gestures if you enable them for your Mac or back to treating it like a normal mouse.

If you are using a MacBook Pro like me, the mouse is only useful if you want finer control like dragging stuff around in a document. If you are using a iMac, it’s the mouse that you get right out of the box. So you don’t really have much of a choice unless you decided to buy a different mouse.

Conclusion

You either hate or like it. To make any decision, you have to actually use it. But if you got it and discover that you don’t like it, you would have wasted your money. So it’s a catch-22 situation. So the general advice is this: get wireless mouse from Logitech, Razer or even Microsoft. Most bluetooth mouse should work fine with the Mac just fine.

But if you don’t mind spending the money, are willing to learn a new way to use the mouse and like the overall design of the mouse, then you should give Magic Mouse 2 a chance.

Journal #251 – Chilling rainy Sunday with life review

If I really have to list something useful that I did today, I can probably count them with one hand.

The first most useful thing was writing an blog entry about “Why I buy Apple products as a minimalist”, which I publish here and here.

The second most useful thing was me going for a quick 30 or so mins run at around 4.30pm and earlier in the day, I went and did twenty push-ups, split into two sets of ten.

The third most useful thing? For most people, I don’t think they will call it useful but for me, it’s probably is. I went to watch two more episodes of Dark on Netflix. I actually spent more effort to absorb in the scenes, looked at the expressions of the characters, their behaviors and actions, and start thinking about how I would create the show, scene or characters as a writer. It’s important to train yourself to think like a writer when you are consuming content produced by other people. To me, it is part and parcel of getting inspirations and understand how to get people to consume the content you create.

Other than that, I spent the other part of the day playing Sky Force: Reloaded on my iPhone and iPad Pro so that I can collect enough stars to upgrade my plane. That I definitely won’t call useful but it’s part of my desire to just chill.

I also went to get the Designed by Apple in California book out from the cabinet and start browsing through the pages. As I was browsing through, I spent some time understanding the designs and appreciating them all. It turns out I really found joy in going through the pictures and thinking about the story behind those designs. It’s so much easier to understand the context given that I have read Jony Ive’s biography and is still in the process of reading Steve Jobs’s biography. The process of going through the designs also got me feeling nostalgic as I started thinking about my days in secondary school when I was studying Design and Technology.

Thinking back, I do have some inclination for the design and technology subject in general. I understood the technical stuff rather easily but not so much of the society aspect or aesthetic. For my Singapore-Cambridge GCE Ordinary Level D&T project, the end product was average but I managed to score slightly above average compared to my peers because of my strength in the theory part and orthographic projection. One year earlier, I actually did very well for N-Level examination. If I remember correctly, I actually scored an ‘A’ due to the end product, theory and the drawings. It was actually a useful end product with a pretty good design.

So you see, when it comes to creating things, you will fumble and tumble from time to time. The only difference is how much effort you put and how much desire you have to achieve mastery and greatness.

Back then, I wasn’t sure if I could find a decent job if I went to do product design and I did find an inclination towards writing and interest in programming. So after my O-level examinations, I went with something that has practical uses given the economic situation and culture of Singapore. That was why I chose information technology for my Diploma and subsequently Computer Science for my degree.

Now if I were to do it all over again with what I know now, I will probably put in extra effort on my writing and have it run concurrently to my software development career so that I have more choices. But there is no point in regretting this because it’s a fact that I wasn’t mature or self-aware enough back then. So what I can do now is to forge a new path with the experiences and knowledge that I have gained. It’s never too late. I have already took the steps to improve my writing skills by applying and going for courses, keep writing, and learning from other writers.

So stop your bullshitting about being too old, feel tired or lazy studying, and complain about the fact that you are sick your current, meaningless job yet want to change career or do something more meaningful. Start creating the plan and taking the necessary actions or be quiet about your current life and apply gratitude.

Apple AirPods Review (2 Weeks Later)

I have been using the AirPods for 2 weeks now. I brought it out with me on runs, when I go to work, when I watch movies and tv series on my MacBook and Apple TV.

So far, I have enjoyed using it though there were several times when the AirPods didn’t automatically pair and connect with my devices. Before I noticed it, I had already played music out from those device and they were blasting away from the inbuilt speakers, be it whether it’s the iPad Pro or iPhone 7 Plus that I have. It can get both annoying and embarrassing.

Other than that, the battery life is great and I hadn’t really found the need to charge that often. It’s something that I don’t have with the ATH-Sport4. I like the convenience and is definitely a good thing.

In terms of sound quality, it’s acceptable for me with its bass and mid-range reproduction. The music that I listens to have more bass and mid-range, so all good for me.

The lack of wires of any sort is both a good and bad thing. The lack of wires is good because it’s more convenient and I don’t have to worry about them getting entangle with people around me or things that I carry. It is also bad because there is nothing guaranteeing it remain secure on person and not flying off when it comes off my ears due to some kind of accident.

The AirPods are also comfortable to wear and my ears don’t feel stuffed or cramped. But that also meant that there isn’t any decent noise-cancellation. I generally hate to have to listen to environment sounds like trains chugging along, people talking or other people’s music. But that’s the kind of trade-off you have to live with. I do hope Apple release a better version of this AirPod with active noise cancellation. I believe the technology is already here for that.

Lastly, there is an occasional issue where there are crackling noises as I was using it. I suspect it could be both software and physical. By physical, I mean there are interfering signal around me like someone else’s bluetooth or radio transmitting information. I don’t know whether it is technically feasible to mitigate that, especially if it is a physical limitation of wireless technology. We are technically surrounded by electromagnetic waves ranging from microwave to light and possibly x-ray. So that’s another thing to live with.

Overall, I truly believe in a wireless future as Apple touted when they introduced the AirPods. I finally have a good wireless earphones that I feel great about, is convenient for me to use, long battery life, and has good sounds. This accessory has shown that if a company actually cares about making the world best products, cares deeply about how a user will use a product, anything can be achieved.

AIR+ Smart Mask with Micro-Ventilator Review

To deal with air pollution like cigarette smokes and vehicle exhausts, I bought the AIR+ Smart Mask with Micro-Ventilator from Watsons.

The mask is made by Innosparks, an ST Engineering Open Lab and is certified N95.

The main mask comes in a pack of three for a price of $7.90.

The micro-ventilator cost $25.90 and is necessary for effective use of the mask.

I wore the mask out when I in a non air-conditioned area like outdoors and it was helpful in a way. It was able to filter out a vast majority of the smell from second-hand smoke and vehicle exhausts. I think it has also filtered out the bigger particles associated with second-hand smoke. Overall, I didn’t feel particularly sick from walking outside and breathing in the air.

But note that I said “vast majority”. That’s because my nose is so sensitive that I was able to smell certain residual smell especially if I walked past an area which had second-hand smoke lingering around. If I’m not wrong, it’s benzene cause it’s the same smell from poorly filtered car exhaust.

During my use, the ventilator is helpful to expel moist, carbon dioxide, and heat from the inside of the mask. Without the ventilator, it actually does get difficult to breathe and very uncomfortable. The area around your mouth would most probably be covered in sweat or water vapor. It’s actually very disgusting if you think about it. I think that’s the case when you use other type of N95 mask like those from 3M, which I have never used but can pretty much extrapolate from my experience with this.

So, if you are looking for a good mask to deal with the environmental aerial toxins and smell associated with living in a dense city and you have a very sensitive nose, this mask is a pretty good investment.

Apple AirPods Review (Second Day) – Running

I took the AirPods out for a run today to see how well it works.

For once, I actually felt good going for a run with earphones because there are no wires of any sort lingering around my shoulders or neck. My previous ATH-Sport4 Earphones has pretty stiff cables that tend to get in the way when I turn or tilt my head. With the AirPods, it felt freer.

While running, I tend to change the tracks when the music being played isn’t matching my mood or tempo at the moment in time. Since I wear the Apple Watch series 2 out during my runs, I do try to switch tracks from it but the whole process isn’t smooth. To switch track via the watch, I need to bring it into view, switch app to the music player, change track before switching back to the running app so that I know how far and my pacing.

With the ATH-Sport4, there is a fast forward button that doubles as the change track button, so I will reach up and change track from there. But the buttons are behind my ears due to the way I wear it and there is a need to hold the button for roughly three-seconds before the track is changed. It’s not very ideal but it’s better.

The AirPods improved on the whole experience of track change process. Since it relies on accelerometer to detect double tapping, the primary way of interaction with the AirPods, it’s faster. Secondly, it doesn’t feel awkward.

As I go further on my run, the AirPods didn’t feel perfect enough. Due to the shape of my ears, combined with the shock and vibration that went through your body as you run, they got pretty lose. The situation was made worse by sweat. Every decameters or so, I had to shove the AirPods back into my ears to prevent them from flying out.

External noise cancellation is practically non-existent and I could hear the sound of vehicles around me, people talking, etc. But I suppose it’s not that big of an issue.

I suppose I will give it a try a few more times before deciding if I want to go back to using the ATH-Sport4 for my runs.

Apple AirPods Review (First Day)

Ever since the AirPods was announced by Apple back in 2016, I always wanted it but wasn’t sure if it would fit my use cases. I know people have qualms about the design but I don’t. I have been using earphones from Audio-technica because of their decent balance between bass, mid, treble, and price. The earphones that I owned also have decent noise cancellation and doesn’t fall out of my ears. Due to the shape of my ears, most earphones do fall out if I swing or shake my head hard enough.

So today, 25 November 2017, I decided to buy the AirPods and give it a try. I do have a wireless earphone from Audio-Technica and it’s the Ath-Sport4 model.

I bought that because I wanted a non-wired version that I can wear when I go for runs. I didn’t want the cables to dangle and interfere with my arm movements.

The Ath-Sport4 was a decent earphone for its price. The pain point that I have with it was the short battery life of three hours. I had to be very sure that I charged it full before I leave the house. I encountered a couple of times where my earphone ran out of battery while I was outside and couldn’t charge it. Not a very good experience for me.

The AirPods set me back by SG$238. Rather expensive but I suppose that’s the price that I pay for convenience. You see, I invest so much money into Apple because of their privacy stance, great products, the premium feel, and convenience. Due to the well optimize software and hardware and the tight integration, everything was as seamless as possible. It makes my life better. It reduces decision or mental fatigue.

Let me digress a bit.

Think about it. How often have your Windows PC and your myriad of devices gave you headaches because of difference in operating system, software support, connectivity, etc.?

Back to the review.

Let’s go with some pictures of the box and the actual device. I took this chance to practice taking photos of products.

Front of the box. The plastic wrapping is still on it.

Side of the box.

Back of the box.

Took off the plastic wrapping and unboxed it.

Removed the box containing the booklets and manuals reveal the actual device.

It look so much smaller than I thought and really does look like a dental floss box that I have. I love the minimalistic, white design.

I love how the top opens and snaps back. It felt so intuitive and remind me of those boxes carrying gums or sweets.

Taking it out of the box and opening the cap reveals two of the earphones. They do look kind of cute and fun, reminding me of some kind of sauropods emerging of their eggs.

Taking the earphones out, they look really weird but interesting. Fun in a way and the design is pretty minimalistic too. Love it.

So I took the earphones for a spin, pairing it with my iPhone 7 Plus and listening to some music.

I got to say, I actually like the bass and the mid-range. I don’t really listen to music with high treble and so I don’t think it will affect me that much. Generally, I like bass music.

I also paired it with my MacBook Pro and watched Netflix with it. It was decent but Netflix has this issue where the audio volume is actually softer when you are using the browser to watch shows.

The next few things I tried with the earphone was with iTunes and YouTube. So far I really love the sounds produced by the earphones.

There is another use case that I need to test and that’s running. I will update again once I test them out. For now, I don’t know whether they will fall out while I’m running. If they do, I may have to fall back to using the ATH-Sport4 when I go for runs and I won’t consider $238 that well-spent anymore.

Movie Review #1 – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Please note that there may be some spoilers.

I went to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle with my friends on Sept 23, 2017 at Shaw Lido. It came out in Singapore on the Sept 21. This is my quick review of the show.

Some background first. I watched the first movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service, when it came out in 2014. I loved the first show due to its over-the-top action sequence with the occasional comedic scenes. The funniest scenes were always when Samuel L. Jackson is on. In that movie, we saw Eggsy, portrayed by Taron Egerton, grew from an anti-social youth to become a respected young man capable of dishing out heavy punishment on the bad guys.

In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, we saw Eggsy as a mature agent, able to fight off his enemies with relative ease. And when he’s not fighting or on the job, he was able to maintain a cover of a young adult who has a girlfriend, hanging out with his friends in his house.

About quarter way of the show, we get to see the Kingsman wiped out except for a few survivors — Eggsy and Merlin were the only those survivors.

From then on, the movie was about the remaining Kingsmen working with Statesman, the American counterpart to stop the villain, Poppy Adams, portrayed by Julianne Moore. She’s pretty good at portraying her character’s eccentricities.

Elton John stars in the movie too as a captive and generally serve to replace Samuel L. Jackson in the sense that his scenes were rather funny.

The action scenes were like the first, over-the-top yet maintaining some sense of believability. It’s generally a fun movie. During certain parts of the show, the CGI was pretty obvious. I’m not sure if it was intentional or what. Generally CGI in most Hollywood shows have a certain polish till the point where you almost couldn’t tell the difference between real and fake.

I give the movie 4/5 stars.

Daily Journal – Jun 30, 2017

This is my 90th journal.

I don’t really want to talk about work today. So I will skip that. Instead, I will focus on reviewing ramen.

My friend opened a ramen stall at Yue Hua Foodcourt at 108 Depot Road. The stall is called Tsubame Ramen. You can check out the Facebook page here.

As this is a store in a food court where the highest costing ramen is around SG$6, I’m not expecting restaurant standard.

For a start, the broth is especially important in a bowl of ramen and then follow by the noodles.

I ordered the King Shoyu Ramen, which is one of the signature dish. Here it is.

Being a Shoyu Ramen, I’m expecting the broth to carry a salty taste. It delivered but not to the point where you need to gulp down tons of water. But it’s still pretty salty (I mean if I can taste it, it’s pretty salty), therefore it is not for everyone.

As explained by my friend, it cost money to make a thick broth that’s rich in flavour. So she tried to find a decent balance between cost and quality. I applaud her effort. 4/5 for the broth.

Next is the noodle. At the start, the noodle is rather tough to chew. Considering that I have some issue with my jaw caused by previous d wisdom tooth extraction, I had some rather difficult time. However, after a while soaking in the broth, the noodle softened. Only then, I find it enjoyable. My friend explained to me that because the noodle can become extremely soft when left in the broth for too long and if she cook it any longer. Therefore, she only cooked it for a few seconds. It is to ensure the quality for people ordering ramen to go and don’t eat it immediately. 4/5 for the noodle.

For SG$6, there are four pieces of braised pork belly that is well cooked. However, as I’m someone who prefer a stronger tasting braised pork belly, I didn’t find it exceptional. I personally prefer the braised pork belly from Menya Sanji Ramen located at Orchid Hotel along 1 Trans Link. But then, Menya Sanji Ramen cost up to $15 including GST. So 3.5/5 for the pork bellies. The lava egg was a good attempt but for that kind of price, you can’t really complain. 3.5/5 for the lava egg.

If you do live around Depot Road or if you are in the area, do pay Tsubame Ramen a visit.

Here I conclude my journal for today.