Android Pay Singapore – How To Set Up and Use

After being available in the US for quite some time, Android Pay finally made its Asian debut last week, starting with Singapore due to the country’s being among the most mature, if not the most, when it comes to technological advancements and infrastructure. Seeing that Apple Pay and Samsung Pay made their moves  earlier, there’s no better time to than now for Google to go full blast with their mobile contactless payment offerings in Asia.

Participating Banks at Launch

Most of the major banks in Singapore sign on as launch partners for Android Pay in Singapore – namely DBS, POSB, UOB, OCBC and Standard Chartered. Simply put, if you’re in Singapore and have an Android device with OS 4.4 KitKat and higher, chances are you can straightaway start using Android Pay on your phone.

This is also a crucial opportunity for innovation and capturing new target segments for these banks as there has not been any notable “innovations” coming out of financial institutions in this region, if ever. If you do a quick search on Google for “Android Pay Singapore”, you can see the likes of OCBC, POSB competing aggressively in the SEM and SEO spaces respectively with rebates, promotions, offers, etc specifically relating to the use of Android Pay in Singapore.

How To Set Up and Use

Setting up and using Android Pay is as easy as 1, 2, 3… literally, as I can sum up the steps required in 3. If you’re lazy to go back and watch the video I embedded at the beginning of this post, here you go:

1. Install, Enable or Update Android Pay on your Android Phone (any phone will work as long as you have OS 4.4 KitKat and above). Play Store Link for Android Pay

2. Launch Android Pay app on your phone and add your credit/debit card (just like you would on any payment app, such as PayPal). So far, DBS, POSB, OCBC and Standard Chartered cards will work. For more details, check with your card providers for benefits, uses, etc.

3. Tap and Pay at the Paywave terminals across hundreds of retailers islandwide.

Participating Retailers at Launch

Android Pay SG Retailers at launch

Android Pay SG Retailers at launch

As I posted on Instagram earlier today, it’s just a matter of time more and more retailers sign up and Android Pay can be widely used all across Singapore. As for how long it would take, it’s a matter of how quickly Google and merchants figure out the-chicken-or-the-egg issue of whether users need to see more participating merchants first to start using or whether merchants need to see more users first in order to integrate. With the crazy amount of campaigning going on? My money is on the adoption rate to be fast – I mean banks are already understanding the importance and preparing their offerings for it; now we just need a lot of retailers to understand that vision of the future and adapt.

Android Pay Sequence

How to install Android N Beta – Pixel C, Nexus 6P, Nexus 6, Nexus 5X

Fresh off the exciting Google I/O 2016, Android N Beta Program is now open for anyone and everyone who owns a compatible Nexus device. It’s very straightforward to enrol your device into the program and get OTA updates overtime until the stable version is released.

Step 1: Go to Settings and ensure you have done a Backup

In my experience, nothing went wrong and all my data have been retained after I installed and booted up Android N Beta (also known as Developer Preview 3). But just in case. Or in general, you’re not advised to install on your main advice at all.

Step 2: Sign up your device for Android N Beta Program with the link below

Android Beta Program Signup Link

Simply click on the above link on your eligible Nexus device (Pixel C, Nexus 6P, Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, etc.) and you’ll be led to the program login page where you need to login with your Google credentials and enrol your device.

Once you’re done enrolling your device. You will receive an OTA that is between 900 MB and 1.2 GB (depending on your device) to download and install. The download process does take quite a while (even on my Gigabit WiFi), so you might want to make sure you have ample time to do this.

Should you install Android N Beta?

If you are adventurous and if you are fine with certain apps showing you errors from time to time, by all means go ahead and do it. The performance is way more snappy and you can tell the main difference when you’re installing the app and launching it for the first time. However, in the video you’ll see that the NBA app on my Pixel C keeps crashing every time I try to stream a live game, so if you rely on league pass on your main device heavily, I’d advise you to hold off on upgrading to Android N Beta just yet until they sort out all the quirks.

Lastly, the split-screen mode works better than I expected (although there were some bugs with YouTube during my testing yesterday) and because of this it absolutely makes my Pixel C the best buy of 2016 so far. What do you think? Feel free to reach out to me via commenting or @richxiong across the web. Stay tuned for more updates on Android N.

Google Pixel C – Unboxing and Quick Look in Singapore

Google Pixel C is possibly the best Android tablet your money can buy on the market right now, and it’s going to cost you. Starting at 499 USD for its base model (32 GB, thanks goodness), one might wonder whom is the target audience for Google’s latest attempt at hardware.

Don’t get me wrong – Pixel C is absolutely gorgeous with topnotch specs internally and features a great industrial design in an anodized aluminum unibody enclosure. Why then did I sound as if the device couldn’t quite justify for its asking price? The software, but I’ll get to that in my full review since I’ve only had this device for 4 days.

With the Pixel C developer discount that is 25% off (available for anyone who claims to be one apparently), Google Pixel C suddenly looks like a steal for anyone contemplating back and forth due to the price factor. After requesting for my discount, the email came through within 8 hours that looks something like the below:

Developer discount 25% off

Developer discount 25% off

Since the country I live in (Singapore) doesn’t have access to Google Store just yet, I had to resort to using my secondary Gmail address that doesn’t have all of location history on my main Android phone, and a VPN provider such as TunnelBear available on any device you can think of; the service works great and comes with free 500 MB++ for first-time browsing. I then would have to use a shipping forwarder to get Pixel C shipped to Singapore. The whole process took about 1.5 week, which is really fast considering the main holdup was with putting it on the plane flying from the States back to SG. And the damage? About 508 SGD (~375 USD) + 55 SGD or so for shipping (~40 USD).

Pixel C is a steal at this price point

Pixel C is an absolute steal at this price

Alright, that’s about it for the background and quick unboxing of Google Pixel C in Singapore. Stay tuned for more updates on device performance, my use cases, comparisons with my previous device, iPad Mini Retina, and a full review. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and bookmark this site for more updates.

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LX100 Unboxing [with camera samples]

This is a quick unboxing video/post highlighting my first sizable investment into cameras. In the name of taking my content production hobby a tad more seriously, I recently invested in a decently powerful compact camera in Lumix LX100 from Panasonic. The retail price is going for around S$ 950 on Lazada (with local warranty), but you could roam around Funan to get a better price almost certainly.

The key reasons I buy this camera are:

1) I want to take much better quality photos for use on my blog/instagram/twitter. Smartphone photography is cool and everything but when you have a dedicated camera (albeit a compact one with no interchangeable lens) with a much more powerful sensor and lens, you can definitely learn to take the image quality to the next level.

2) As I try to move into YouTube starting in 2016, a lightweight camera that shoots videos at 4K resolution would be a mandatory requirement for me. At this price point, I could have gotten an entry-level DSLR but I am not looking for a lot in my first camera purchase, so there you go.

Camera Samples

3D Touch on Instagram for Android

 

Instagram is bringing back 3D Touch to their Android app after a brief appearance and disappearance back in early December 2015. Instagram believes that it’s meaningful and beneficial to bring the 3D Touch feature to Android even though 99% of the Android phones out there don’t have pressure-sensitive touch screen.

In a nutshell? This is just a glorified long press on Android as of now, but a very exciting development since 3D touch is bound to become more prevalent in 2016 and beyond!

You do need the latest version of Instagram in order to enjoy this limited feature on Android right now. Go to Play Store and upgrade your Instagram to 7.13.1 and have fun with the peek and pop.

Nexus 6P Review – Top 6 Reasons That Make 6P A Winner

6P Unboxed

Image Gallery

Huawei and Lazada teamed up to launch Nexus 6P in Singapore

Unlike previous years when I had to buy the Nexus phones from the US and shipped via a third-party provider, Huawei has made arrangements this year to launch it in Singapore with Lazada as the partner platform of choice. I managed to snatch one up when the preorder opened on 2nd November and the phone arrived on 21st November.

Preorder price for Nexus 6P 64 GB started at SGD 899, with 128 GB going at SGD 999. Huawei doesn’t sell any 32 GB variant in Singapore, so you may have to opt to buy from the US if you really want to save some costs. While I went with a 64 GB version, 128 GB version is a really good deal as you get twice the storage for just 100 dollars more.

Buy Nexus 6P in Singapore from Lazada

Buy Nexus 6P in Singapore from Lazada

1. No Compromise on Hardware

The biggest noticeable difference of the flagship Nexus device this year is the full aluminum unibody design, at a smaller footprint than the beast of a phone last year in Motorola’s Nexus 6. I decided to rock a dbrand skin because I like how the vinyl skin helps with the grip and I don’t want to ever drop this gorgeous piece of device.

Nexus 6P with dbrand carbon fiber skin

When it comes to hardware specs, Nexus 6P can be best summed up as the no-nonsense and no-compromise Nexus device.

Dimensions159.3 x 77.8 x 7.3 mm (6.27 x 3.06 x 0.29 in)
Weight178 g (6.28 oz)
Screen5.7 inches AMOLED Capacitive
Resolution1440 x 2560 pixels (~518 ppi pixel density)
Operating SystemAndroid OS, v6.0 (Marshmallow)
Storage32/64/128 GB
ChipsetQualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810
CPUQuad-core 1.55 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A57
GPUAdreno 430
RAM3 GB
Main Camera12.3 MP, f/2.0, laser autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
Bluetoothv4.2, A2DP, LE
BatteryNon-removable Li-Po 3450 mAh battery

Basically, any high-end specification you would expect from a flagship device can be found in Nexus 6P and it is priced way lower than other devices featuring the same specs.

2. Stock Android and First In Line to Get New Features

Keeping up with the annual tradition, Nexus 6P is the first device to be launched with Android 6.0, also known as Marshmallow. Visually and functionally, Android Marshmallow is very similar to Lollipop – with the only difference of being a much more polished version with all the bugs crushed and battery life massively improved. And I believe that’s what more than any Android enthusiast can hope for.

Less than a month in, I’ve already received the security update for December 2015, which also features improvements in how Bluetooth audio is handled, LTE radio and a bunch of other updates – you should be able to read more from the changelog. You will also be the first in line to get Android updates globally. Even though they are pushed out in batches and you might have to wait, flashing a factory image is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Highlight Feature – Now On Tap

Now On Top Testing

Now On Top Testing

Now On Top Contextual Searches

Now On Top Contextual Searches

3. Amazing Fingerprint Scanner

Nexus imprint and visor

Most smartphone makers have stepped up their game when it comes to fingerprint scanning technology and implementation, but Huawei is especially known for their super fast and accurate technology. Nexus 6P’s fingerprint scanner, also known as Nexus Imprint, is ridiculously fast and because it’s located at the back right where index fingers would naturally rest, the user experience is second to none. With Android Pay and biometric authentication becoming increasingly prevalent, Nexus 6P is definitely future-proof for the foreseeable future.

Crazy fast and easy process

Crazy fast and easy process

4. Gorgeous qHD Display and Dual Front-Facing Speakers

Nexus 6P reportedly features the same latest generation Samsung Galaxy Note 5’s display at 2560 x 1440 resolution, which translates to 518 pixels per inch (ppi). This ppi is higher than that of Nexus 6 due to Nexus 6P’s display measuring at 5.7 inches, compared to 5.96 on Nexus 6.

6P’s Gorgeous qHD Display

The front-facing speakers on Huawei’s Nexus 6P are also clear and crisp even at full blast, but one thing to note is that the bottom grill sounds noticeably softer than the top grill. Other users have also reported this finding, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me in any way.

5. All-Day Battery Life

Other than Samsung Galaxy Note 4, 5 and OnePlus One that I personally used before, Nexus 6P has one of the longest lasting batteries in any Android device. This is due to two main things – 1) Android 6.0 Marshmallow’s feature ‘Doze’, which makes the device much more power-efficient at standby and 2) Nexus 6P’s featuring a 3,450 mAh battery.

Because of Doze, I would now lose at most 2 – 3% overnight on standby as things refresh more slowly and less frequently when the device is in rest mode. The screen-on time is consistently between 3.5 hours to 4.5 hours depending on how heavy my usage is.

All-Day Battery

All-Day Battery

Screen on time

Screen on time

Some of the use cases below for your reference:

  • Brightness at 70% (no auto-brightness enabled)
  • Bluetooth on most of the day connected to Moto 360 and Jaybird X2 during commutes
  • Video consumption: YouTube or MX Player between 30 – 40 mins a day
  • Spotify offline playback during commutes with Jaybird X2 bluetooth earbuds
  • Location Setting at High Accuracy
  • Always connected to the internet – Wifi 40% of the time, LTE 60% of the time.

6. Camera Performance

Finally a Nexus device with a decent camera! In fact, a decent camera is rather an understatement because Nexus 6P’s camera is right up there with the top flagship smartphone cameras out there. DXO Mark ranks Nexus 6P at number 3 overall in camera performance, just behind Sony Xperia Z5 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge by a small margin of difference.

Sample shot with 6P in a good lighting condition

Sample shot with 6P in a good lighting condition

In day to day uses, I am fully confident that Nexus 6P will churn out really solid photos with great color accuracy, sharpness and focus. I can’t say the same about the previous Nexus devices I had used. You can check out the multiple comparison videos and camera samples from Nexus 6P below to find out more:

http://www.droid-life.com/2015/10/19/nexus-6p-camera-review-and-sample-bonanza/

Jaybird X2 – The Best Bluetooth Earbuds In The World Get Even Better

Very similar unboxing experience for the X2.

Very similar unboxing experience for the X2.

This review should be a pretty straightforward affair, since I already did a review on Jaybird Bluebuds X more than a year back. And I’ve raved about how versatile, fun and amazing it is to use Jaybird Bluebuds X over the last one and a half year. It lives up to its advertising messages in every single way – best option for workout earbuds, 8 hours of battery life, lifetime warranty against sweat, etc.

On paper, it would seem as if this refresh was merely a design overhaul as Jaybird X2 comes with 5 color options, named appropriately Midnight, Storm, Alpha, Ice and Fire, whereas the original Bluebuds X launched with just black and white color options (they later added a “Camo” color). I picked up the Fire color option, which I think is really cool and eye-catching.

But there may be more to the X2 than meets the eye, so what exactly are the changes?

Unboxing/Product Shots

1. Material Choice and Color Options

Perhaps one of the biggest noticeable changes to the Jaybird X2 from the original Bluebuds X is the soft-touch finish used in not only the earbuds, but also the ear fins and the carrying case (more on that later). The original Bluebuds X has a glossy finish on the earbuds; while that doesn’t usually have any negative impact on the fit in the ears, one thing I did notice over the last one and a half year is that I began to see chipped paint on some portions of the earbuds, mostly near the ring around ear fins. It’s probably mainly due to the fact that I had used Bluebuds X for workouts all the time. No longer an issue on the X2.

Matte coating all over the X2 - no more slipping and chipped paint.

Matte coating all over the X2 – no more slippery issue and chipped paint.

While we’re on the topic of “slippery”, the X2 earbuds now also feature a small bump to secure the ear fins in place (the original Bluebuds X didn’t have anything to secure the ear fins) – this is a very nice design consideration.

On the color front, I’ve already briefly covered the color options – X2 comes with 5 color options, which you can find out more on Jaybird’s website.

2. Carrying Case

The choice of material or design in the carrying case actually doesn’t matter to me at all because I am usually out and about with the Bluebuds X either in my ears or hanging around my neck. But for what it’s worth, Jaybird X2 comes with a much sleeker carrying case that is much easier to open (for me) as well. Instead of the glossy black clam shell design found in the Bluebuds X, X2’s carrying case has a soft-touch rubbery feel all over and all you need to do is to pop the top cover off to open it.

Soft touch... Soft touch everywhere...

Soft touch… Soft touch everywhere…

You actually don't need these on the go.

You actually don’t need these on the go.

3. Improved Ear Fins

These are such small changes (albeit very important) over the original Bluebuds X’s ear fins that I don’t have much to write about it. The original earfins in the Bluebuds X were already some of the best ear cushions out there in any sports earbuds but Jaybird just outdid themselves with improved ear fins that have thicker tips and feel much more solid and grippy in the ears.

X2's Ear Fins - much more solid and grippy with thicker tips.

X2’s Ear Fins – much more solid and grippy with thicker tips.

4. Bespoke Comply Foam Tips for Jaybird X2

For the original Bluebuds X, I did use Comply foam tips before but the options aren’t exactly flexible since they were additional paid accessories (the options for Bluebuds X costed about 20 SGD when I purchased), which are also compatible with a lot of other earbuds. Comply fans will especially love this inclusion. According to Jaybird, these are made precisely for X2 and thus a perfect fit is guaranteed.

On that note, the choice of using either silicon tips or foam tips is entirely a matter of personal choice. Similar to the case of different people’s having different ear shapes/sizes, what feels like a perfect fit to me may not feel like a perfect fit to you. Personally, I’ve been using the medium silicon tips since the Bluebuds X’s time, so naturally I’ve retained the choice on my X2.

 

Source - Jaybird's official website.

Source – Jaybird’s official website.

5. Connectivity, Features and Battery Life

As I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, most of the features on paper are exactly the same for Jaybird Bluebuds X and X2, with a couple of exceptions. The impedance is still coming in at 16 Ohms. Pressure sensitivity is still the same as 103 dB. Frequency response still ranges between 20 – 20,000 Hz. Bluetooth version is still 2.1; Jaybird claims that newer versions offer no benefits for headphones as BLE, Bluetooth Low Energy, is not adequate for streaming high bandwidth stereo music, so… there’s that.

On the battery front, I’ve no issue believing Jaybird’s claim of lasting up to 8 hours of music playback; in my experience with Bluebuds X for 1.5 year and with X2 for a few weeks, I normally get between 7 – 8.5 hours (in estimation) of music playback on my Nexus 6. Despite Jaybird X2’s featuring a slightly bigger battery (100 mAh vs 83 mAh) and presumably much better drivers, in the real world usage there’s no discernible difference in the sound quality and battery life departments. So, the approach here is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” A much bigger battery would make a difference for sure but I don’t want any increase in the size and 8-hour battery life is in fact better than any Bluetooth earbuds I’ve personally tried or read about before.

Awesome mobile music experience.

Awesome mobile music experience.

It’s a no-brainer to get the X2 in a heartbeat if you have never owned any Bluetooth earbuds before and are considering one (with the budget in mind of course – these retail at 180 USD on Jaybird’s official site). The big question here is – is it worth it to upgrade from Jaybird Bluebuds X? Honestly, not really. If you already own a pair of Bluebuds X and love them, I don’t see any strong reason to grab the X2, unless you really want the new color options and the matte coating.

For me personally, it’s all about the return on investment and the overall experience of using a brand’s product. I had used Jaybird Bluebuds X and totally loved them for almost 2 years. When my Bluebuds X broke a month ago, Jaybird set me up with an RMA immediately with no questions asked – this is the kind of customer service and brand experience that made me decide to support their X2 upgrade. Hope you enjoyed this post and feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss more about this product (or what happened to my Bluebuds X and how hassle-free the RMA process was).

How One Plus Drops The Ball With OnePlus 2

2016 Flagship Killer? LOL, more like a flagship wannabe that kills itself before 2016.

2016 Flagship Killer? LOL, more like a flagship wannabe that kills itself before 2016.

Android Police recently released a long, super well-written editorial post titled “If OnePlus Will Basically Just Lie With Marketing Slogans, We Have No Reason To Respect Them”. This is one of the key reasons I scroll through Android Police on a daily basis for content consumption. Straight up, no nonsense and most important of all logical presentation of all the facts.

<rant>

Sure, OnePlus was quite an intriguing company when it first came out (it still is, in a way). Hell, I even excitedly bought a OnePlus One (now, that review looks ironic next to this post), only to discover a few weeks later then that the touch screen was absolute crap – OnePlus is still arguing it’s a software issue. But if a company has to take one year to completely fix a “simple software issue”, how is it never settling? That’s settling a fuck lot because you can’t even type correctly with that lousy piece of touch screen.

When I saw all the hype leading up to OnePlus 2 launch and the specs sheet when it came out, it’s laughable at best and ridiculous at worst. We can literally see so many compromises everywhere on the specs sheet that it’s not even in my consideration to give it another shot. Despite my terrible experience with the One, I was willing to keep an open mind. But nah, not anymore.

  • 1080p display (and you want to be future-proof?)
  • No NFC
  • Base model at 16 GB/3 GB RAM (but you heavily hype up your 4 GB RAM?)
  • Oxygen OS… welp, yeah it’s really clean. But we don’t know how fast they can update in the future.

It’s simple – when companies can offer you flagship-like specs (note: I am not calling them flagship devices) in a relatively much much cheaper and rather well-designed phone, the manufacturers gotta cut corner somewhere. In Nexus 5, there’s the power button rattling issue; I know it’s not for everyone but there’s a large enough community of people who faced that issue. Just do a Google search. In OnePlus One – obviously the touch screen (the forum thread for One’s touchscreen issues is 302 pages deep as of this writing). Would OnePlus learn the lessons and fix all issues with the 2? *shrugs* only time will tell but I won’t be finding it out first-hand.

</rant>

So, what phone would I buy next?

If Nexus refreshes disappoint, this is it for the next year.

If Nexus refreshes disappoint, this is it for the next year.

I am currently using a Nexus 6, so I am definitely waiting for the Nexus refreshes to see if they spark anything. Though if you ask me, it seems like the only #NeverSettle devices in the recent years are Moto X and Moto G series? At least I haven’t heard many complaints about them except that their battery life is subpar due to using < 3,000 mAh battery inside. But with Android M’s upcoming power management feature, Doze, and with Moto X Style featuring 3,000 mAh battery, I think I am willing to let go of my Nexus 6, to downgrade from 5.9 inch to 5.7 inch with much better specs and camera. I believe the feel in the hand will be much more solid as well, since I am already getting used to the 5.9-inch form factor.

[Update]: OnePlus recently posted that there are already a million people on the reservation list for invites to buy the 2. I don’t know if the 2 might actually still turn out to be a “success”, but I am definitely not buying it, though I am one of the million who signed up.

What It Takes To Get A High-Fidelity Audio Setup

Eargasm comes at all shapes and sizes.

Eargasm comes from headphones of all shapes and sizes.

Just a few years ago, I was one of those who would just plug whatever earpieces that come with the purchase of their phones into their phones/laptops/desktops/tablets or whatever else to listen to music. My journey to becoming an audiophile I am today started when my cousin bought me a pair of Sennheiser earbuds (a CX 300 if I am not wrong) just a little under 5 years ago. Back then my knowledge on audio quality was very limited but one thing I started to notice was that after listening to music on the Sennheiser earbuds, I found myself being unable to go back any of those earbuds that came with Samsung/Motorola/Apple smartphones anymore.

Fast forward to today, I have a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x (check out my review of the M50x here), Sennheiser Urbanite On-Ear (for listening on mobile devices) and my go-to daily driver pair – Sennheiser HD8 DJ, which I use with Objective 2 + ODAC Digital to Analog converter/amplifier combo for daily music listening at my desk while working. I also carry around Jaybird Bluebuds X with me all the time for wireless listening on the go. With a Sennheiser HD 650 shipment on the way within the next week, I believe my quest for high-fidelity audio setup is complete (at least for this year).

What Is A Hi-Fi Audio Pipeline Made Up Of?

Headphones, however, are just one of the three main parts that make up a high quality audio setup. In a so-called “Hi-Fi audio pipeline”, all three parts play an equally important role in determining how your music will sound like:

  1. The Sound Card
  2. The Headphones
  3. The Music Files

1. The Sound Card

Sound cards can be found in every connected device that we use today – be it mobile phones, laptops, iPods, tablets, to name a few. The main function of a sound card in these connected devices is to transform the digital audio signal (coming from mp3, flac, the likes) to analog before the sound can be outputted to the headphones through the audio jack.

Because 90% of the population is not audiophile by any means, the choice of sound card by various manufacturers tends to lean towards the mediocre to low quality side. This is also the main reason you get marginally (or sometimes drastically) different sound qualities from one device to another when you plug the same headphones/earbuds in. For example, I used to use a Macbook at work, which works just fine with my ATH-M50x without any external DAC attached to my laptop. But since I switched to a Windows machine for work-related purposes, attaching a DAC is a MUST no matter what kind of headphones I am using.

Highly recommend this to any budding audiophile.

Highly recommend this to any budding audiophile.

My current audio setup is the Objective 2 + ODAC DAC and Amplifier combo from Mayflower Electronics. Coming from an entry-level Fiio DAC/amp, O2 + ODAC is really quite a big step-up both in terms of price point and sound quality. At US$ 270 (S$ 370), it’s not exactly a cheap option, but if you do intend to pursue a perfect audio setup that you’re going to enjoy day in and day out, I believe O2 + ODAC will be more than worth it in the long run. For starters, it’s very very well-built and at its price point, O2 + ODAC offers a no-nonsense approach to a hi-fidelity audio setup all packaged into a rather small and portable DAC/amp combo unit. You can read the story about the origin of Objective 2 and ODAC here.

The bottom line here? The maximum price you’re willing to pay for your headphones should be around the same price point you should be paying for your DAC/amp unit. In my case, my go-to headphones cost in the range of US$ 250 – 400 and Objective 2 ODAC unit costs about US$ 270.

2. The Headphones

In choosing the perfect headphones, I could go on and on about which stats to look out for, but I’d prefer to take a more practical consumer approach on this, since everyone’s taste of music is different and what’s nice to me may very well sound like rubbish to you.

I came to the choices of headphones I have today by doing super extensive listening tests at the major headphones concept stores in Singapore. I believe that is the most accurate way of determining what kind of sound signature, sound stage you would like to enjoy in your headphones.

One thing to note here is that if you’ve already decided to buy a DAC/amp unit (no matter entry-level or professional grade), you would be better off looking out for headphones that have > 100 ohms impedance to benefit from the higher amplification volume, which also means adding clarity and details to the sound at reasonable listening levels. Low-impedance headphones require little power to drive and thus only work well with weak amplification devices (think smartphones, portable music players, etc).

Sennheiser HD8 DJ

Sennheiser HD8 DJ with 95 ohms impedance

3. The Music Files

The music files that you listen to also play a determining role in whether or not you’ll get maximum return on your investments on the previous 2 items. The highest quality music files you can get are CD-quality, also known as lossless, which means you’ve to either rip the CDs for the music files or you’re going to have to download FLAC files to enjoy lossless quality.

Tidal Streaming Hifi option

Still keeping this subscription for that sweet option.

Lossy mp3 files that are available in most streaming services today offer up to the maximum of 320 kbps (lossless FLAC files come in at 1,411 kbps). Now the question is, can you tell the difference between 320 kbps and 1,411 kbps music files? I’ve answered that in my Tidal blog post, so be sure to check it out as well. The bottom line here is to go for lossless 1,411 kbps files as and when it’s possible for you. Otherwise, I am pretty much making do with Spotify’s 320 kbps on most days, due to the better convenience and music collection.

5 Things To Note Before Implementing Rel=”Alternate” Hreflang On Your (Client’s) Multilingual Website

 

Hreflang In a Nutshell

Hreflang In a Nutshell

If you’re used to multitasking and need a refresher on what Hreflang is/does (or if you’re completely new to the concept), please help yourself with the following video from Google before we get started:

A little background – I began working in the digital advertising industry fresh out of college in the late 2013. For the better part of my first year working in our digital agency, I focused most of my attention to mastering everything I could about the technical/content/data sides of SEO.

I consider myself rather lucky to have had the opportunity of working with a wide range of client accounts and projects that have SEO elements. Among them is our agency’s largest SEO account, in which the client’s website has about 10 different languages available in sub-directory folders. Naturally, the very first step to international SEO is in setting up multi-language websites the right way – one element of which is getting Hreflang implementation right.

Whether you’re working at the client side or agency side, I suggest you first get into your full researcher mode (if you haven’t already) about the topic of hreflang, as I am going to focus the following points mostly on my experience getting the hreflang implemented on a large multi-language website that has tens of thousands of URLs and close to a dozen languages.

Recommended Readings If You’re New:

1. Managing Stakeholders’ Expectations (Clients, Bosses, Subordinates)

Manage expectations, they say...

Manage expectations, they say…

In fact, this point is applicable to most SEO tactics that you’re going to implement for your clients because the right way to position Search Engine Optimization from the get-go is to make sure everyone who works with you understands that it is about influencing how a website appears in search engine result pages (SERPs).

Often times, your client contacts could get confused with the much more “control” marketers have over SERP appearances in Google Adwords. I’ve personally had experience with prospective clients who have very little understanding of how SEO works and likes to assume SEO professionals have control over how Google displays organic search results. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial that we’re constantly educating them and getting them up to speed with the latest developments in SEO land.

If you look at the examples found in the Moz’s post, you’d realize that no matter how perfect your implementation is, there are always chances that you might not achieve the most ideal results, which is why it’s very important to make sure that all stakeholders are on the same page about the possibility of not getting it right at once.

The fun of implementing SEO is really the spirit of experimentation and continuously refining until you achieve your goals. Just make sure no one is gonna go crazy if you didn’t get it right the first time around.

2. XML Sitemap or HTTP Header / Meta Tag

Assuming you’ve read through all there is to know about Hreflang, it’s time to look at which method to go with. In order to help decide which way to go, you need to first thoroughly understand your client’s website, server and CMS architecture; of course you or your team should have all these information from the onboarding and the SEO site audit. For example, certain CMS might have either proprietary or third-party plugins that are capable of handling hreflang seamlessly and in such instances, all you gotta do is to communicate with the developers and check in the Webmasters Tool afterwards.

Joomla's Hreflang Solution

Joomla’s Hreflang Solution (Source: TemplateMonster.com)

Personally, I am a fan of XML Sitemap route since it’s very straightforward, whereas for HTTP header implementation, unless you’ve a CMS plugin to play around with, you’d need to make sure the meta tags are dynamic (example below) in order for the hreflang to work properly.

Something the developers need to know if you're going the Meta Tag route.

Something the developers need to know if you’re going the Meta Tag route.

The thing about HTTP Header – if you use NerdyData as mentioned in the Moz’s post to search for hreflang, you’d notice there are quite a large number of international websites using HTTP header implementation. However, it’s important to note that most of these websites are either social media sites or sites that require a user account to function (it makes sense to use HTTP header since you only need one page to be non-English search engine friendly).

Music Radar's Hreflang Example

Music Radar’s Hreflang Example

3. Which Sitemap Creator or Generator To Use

Say you’ve decided to go with the XML Sitemap route like I did, you first need to understand the current XML Sitemap structure on the site – whether it’s auto-generated by the CMS or the XML file is uploaded to the server’s root folder directly.

If your XML Sitemap is auto-generated by CMS and there’s no easy way to turn it off, I am afraid you’d need to explore all possibilities with the developers or go back to considering HTTP header method described in section 2 above.

In my client’s case, the .xml file is uploaded directly to the server’s root, so all I need to do is to communicate with my client contact what Hreflang does and what I am going to do with the website’s current XML Sitemap. I’ll try to describe the process in as many details as possible below:

Note: Step 1 and 2 were necessary in my case because my client already had a whitelist of URLs saved properly in the existing XML Sitemap file. If you intend to start from scratch, you could use Screamingfrog or Moz or any of the crawler tools to extract all the URLs of the website and go straight to Step 3.

Step 1 – The first thing I did was saving a copy of the XML Sitemap from the client’s website for backup and restoration purposes, in case things don’t work out. This is always important before you make any changes. Just go to www.example.com/sitemap.xml, and Ctrl+S to save the xml document.
Step 2 – Once I had the copy of the Sitemap, I opened it up in my Notepad++, copied all the URLs and pasted them into an Excel spreadsheet. Yes, the formatting will look weird but the point is to have a list of all URLs you want to include.
Step 3 – Filter, sort or do whatever you need to segment out the multiple variants of the main URLs in different columns. Your spreadsheet should have the final format as below:

Excel - SEO's BFF

Excel = SEO’s BFF

Step 4 – Keep only one worksheet in that file and save it as .csv file. The Media Flow’s Hreflang Tool is really handy in generating Hreflang XML Sitemaps and I use it all the time. As you can see on the website, the file format that’s required to work with the tool is exactly as I described in the previous step.

Note: What if the website has sections/sub-directories that do not have other language variants, you ask? Well, fret not and carry on with generating your Hreflang Sitemap with The Media Flow’s tool using multilingual subdirectory URLs ONLY.

Step 5 – For the rest of the URLs with no matching multilingual URLs, just make sure you keep them back in the old format without Hreflang value – I use Notepad++ and Excel to sort through my URLs. If you’re starting from scratch as I mentioned at the beginning of this section, you may want to first generate a normal Sitemap using one of those online XML Sitemap tools, filter out all language subdirectory URLs, keeping only the URLs that have no other variants and save the file as sitemap1.xml or anything you wish really.

4. Organize Sitemaps Using Sitemap Index

If you did follow my instructions in the previous section, now you either end up with one XML Sitemap file with Hreflang value or TWO XML Sitemap files – one with Hreflang value and one without.

All you need to do is to upload both files to the server’s root, submit in Google’s Webmasters Tool and wait 24-48 hours for them to refresh.

However, if the website you’re working with is huge and you could use a little sitemap management with Sitemap Index that lists all the XML Sitemaps. There are many ways you can go about doing this – in my case, I only keep to two XML Sitemaps at the end, so the Sitemap Index file looks kinda like this:

Sitemap Index

Sitemap Index (for illustration)

You could name your Sitemap files anything you want of course. So, the upload process is WithoutHreflang.xml, WithHreflang.xml and then Sitemap.xml. Afterwards, you need to double check your Robots.txt file to make sure it’s listing the Sitemap Index file – in my case Sitemap.xml. And then, it’s about submitting in Google’s Webmasters Tool.

Another reason to consider using Sitemap Index is that your Hreflang Sitemap file is not going to render in a normal structured format seen commonly in most XML Sitemaps. My speculation is that it has to do with the xhtml namespace you need to declare in order to build a Sitemap that supports Hreflang – xmlns:xhtml=”http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml”. So, it’s absolutely normal if your final product ends up rendering like this in browser:

If that's your main file, some clients may not like the rendering - one more reason for Sitemap Index.

If that’s your main file, some clients may not like the rendering – one more reason for Sitemap Index.

More about Sitemap Index – https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/75712?hl=en.

Additional note: if the website you’re working with has multiple sections with a ton of content in each of them, you may also consider breaking your Sitemap files by sections, for example, www.example.com/1 and all variants of it can be in one sitemap and www.example.com/2 and all variants of it can be in another. This is completely optional though, unless you’ve more than 50,000 URLs in your Sitemap or the file is larger than 50 MB, in which case it’s mandatory that you break your Sitemaps up by sections.

Oh, don't you love quick answers...

Oh, don’t you love quick answers…

5. Check in Google’s Webmasters Tool and Troubleshoot

As I mentioned, it could take anywhere from 24 – 48 hours or even longer in some cases for your Hreflang in Sitemaps to be picked up by Google, so take it easy for a couple of days after submitting your fresh new Hreflang Sitemaps in Google’s Webmasters Tool.

After you’ve gone through the implementation, this part isn’t going to be so much of a headache, as it’s just a matter of regularly monitoring and checking into the health of your URLs, just like you would as an SEO analyst/executive/manager any other day.

In the midst of sorting these out...

In the midst of sorting these out…

This is my first attempt at writing about a topic that is very pervasive among the SEO communities everywhere and yet every now and then I’ve seen a lot of fellow SEOs struggling to get started on the Hreflang implementation. I am not saying my implementation was perfect – in fact, there is still a long long way to go before I can get all these errors sorted out. It’s imperative to keep monitoring and testing to influence the correct sub-directories eventually showing up in respective search engine markets. Regardless, I feel that it’d be beneficial to share my experience so that we can all learn. Please feel free to reach out to me at richxiong@gmail.com or on Twitter @richxiong if you’ve any questions about Hreflang, any feedback on this post or if you want to talk about SEO in general. Cheers!