CategoryReview

Tidal Hi-Fi: A Real Treat For Audiophiles, At Least For Now

Whenever there's an audio-related review in the works.....

Whenever there’s an audio-related review in the works…..

I first came to know about Tidal streaming service back in early January 2015. It was around the time they started receiving some initial press coverage with the offering of lossless tracks in FLAC format at 1,411 kbps. I didn’t sign up for it back then after reading a handful of reviews about the music collection it had. Also, I didn’t think it’s worth paying 20$ when I was (and still am) super happy with what Spotify Premium has to offer.

For a few months following that initial awareness, Tidal had been on my mind but there just weren’t enough incentives to sign up for it. And the press sort of faded from there… until recently – Tidal or more specifically the Swedish streaming company Aspiro has made some crazy waves dominating most of my Flipboard and Twitter feeds with the Tidal relaunch press conference by Jay Z and (15 superstar) friends.

The Fad?

First Impressions

If you know me, you know I am very much against flashy advertising, celebrity endorsements and fluffy presentations; this can be backed up with the amount of hatred I have for Beats products. But I am also getting so deep into this Hi-Fi audio game that I am turning into an audiophile – which means Tidal Hi-Fi’s offering appeals greatly to me – 1,411 kbps lossless streaming. I couldn’t care less about the standard 320 kbps offering at 10$ a month, since I have already had Spotify Premium for more than a year now.

320 kbps vs 1,411 kbps: Can You Tell The Difference?

The short answer is “duh”. But it largely depends on who you are and what your audio setup is. If you’re one of the people who have been commenting about how the offering of Hi-Fi streaming is just a gimmick and that you can’t tell any difference, do check out the video below on what it means to get the high quality audio setup – the video explains how everything in the audio ‘pipeline’ has to be optimized to enjoy high-fidelity music playback – that includes the audio files, the source (sound card or DAC) and finally the headphones or speakers. If you’re testing out Tidal Hi-Fi with your crappy Apple or Samsung earbuds that comes with the phone purchase, do yourself a favor and cancel your subscription once the trial ends.

Coming back to the review of Tidal Hi-Fi, I am just going to do a simple one based on my personal experience with it for the last 72 hours. Also, do note that every part of my experience with Tidal is relative to that of Spotify, since we can all agree that the latter is the undisputed leader in the music streaming game today.

The Good

Tidal Streaming Hifi option

Yeah, that’s the audiophile-approved streaming option.

Aside from the fact that Tidal Hi-Fi offers lossless FLAC audio files at 1,411 kbps, the music collection itself is not so bad to start with. 25 million songs in the collection as a young company, compared to Spotify’s supposed 30 million is quite impressive.

I listen predominantly to Electronic Dance Music (EDM), with occasional switching to Hip Hop, R&B and Top 40 tracks. I use Sennheiser HD8 DJ and Audio Technica ATH-M50X with Fiio Alpen E17 DAC/amp combo for all my desktop playback at home and office. For mobile playback, I switch among Sennheiser Urbanite On-Ear, Momentum In-Ear and Jaybird Bluebuds X for listening on my OnePlus One.

Sennheiser HD8 DJ with Fiio Alpen E17

Sennheiser HD8 DJ with Fiio Alpen E17

Having that out of the way, as I mentioned in my tweet, I am totally blown away by the sound quality of Tidal’s Hi-Fi streaming. While listening through the Tidal web player on my desktop using my Sennheiser HD 8 with Fiio DAC/amp combo, there’s a very distinct added clarity throughout the frequency spectrum; I was comparing various genres of tracks side by side with my Spotify Premium, which only offers up to 320 kbps.

With a decent headphones + DAC/amp, you’re going to notice much deeper lows (clean-sounding bass that packs a lot more punch) and distortion-free vocals that are naturally very clear even at a high volume level.

On mobile, the difference in sound quality between 320 kbps and lossless becomes rather marginal as lower-impedance earpieces/headphones will not provide as many details of the sound for you to notice any discernible difference, except unless you plug your mobile phone into a USB OTG cable and route the sound through a DAC, which would totally defeat the purpose of going “mobile”.

Do note that the kind of music I listen to and the kind of setup I have highly skew towards bassy sound signature, although I don’t use any software equalizer or boost the bass on my DAC artificially. Regardless of the type of music, however, the distinction in the quality of sound is quite obviously there; Tidal Hi-Fi simply sounds way better than anything I’ve listened to on my Spotify Premium.

The Bad

As a young player trying to make a mark in the hyper-competitive music streaming market, Tidal does spark a lot of doubts in my mind about its value proposition and its long-term sustainability. For all the audiophiles out there hunting for FLAC music files without having to spend an arm and a leg, Tidal Hi-Fi is a legit choice as 20$ in monthly subscription fee is more than worth it in my opinion.

I wouldn’t have high hopes that Tidal as a service can survive the test of time and competition; don’t take my words for it. What Jay Z mentioned about paying artists more would only make sense if the “said artists” can strike out deals with their record labels on getting paid more – because music labels are the ones taking a large chunk of money away from the artists, not Spotify.

Spotify isn’t doing a poor job paying artists; it’s opened up a whole new avenue for music to be heard and appreciated around the world. Sure, you can criticize about their ad-supported free streaming option, but my point is this – when it comes down to reach, user experience and eventually converting users, Tidal is not remotely anywhere near what Spotify can offer, and I don’t foresee that changing in the near future.

Final Verdict: So Should I Still Sign Up For Tidal?

The context of the tweet is purely from the standpoint of getting the most out of Tidal Hi-Fi, if you do intend to sign up. If I’ve to pick some weaknesses of Tidal Hi-Fi at this stage:

  1. the music collection is not as updated and/or comprehensive as compared to Spotify.
  2. the available public playlists are quite terrible as of now.
  3. the user experience has a ton of room for improvement (the search function, the listing of tracks, the discovery features and so on).

Asides from these, the mindset I am adopting for Tidal Hi-Fi – enjoy it while it lasts. Otherwise, I’d have to go back to foobar2000 with manually curated FLAC music collection as my default lossless playback solution.

Pre-Tidal Lossless Solution - foobar2000 + manual flac curation

Pre-Tidal Lossless Solution – foobar2000 + manual flac curation

Audio Technica ATH-M50x BL Review

Early last month, after waiting 2 months for the limited edition color to restock and 1 more month of contemplating whether it would really fit most of my day-to-day use cases, I finally decided to pick up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x Limited Edition cans. In a nutshell, these are branded as “professional monitoring headphones” but whether you’re a professional or casual user, there’s very little or nothing you can complain about these sub-200$ cans. Except, unless you’re fixated on a certain brand whose selling points are looks, heavy bass and *coughs* celebrity endorsement…..

ATH-M50X Limited Edition Box

The Technical Bits

Before I proceed any further with the review, I would like to make a note that I don’t intend to make this post a traditional product review, in which impedance, highs, lows, mids, frequency response are thrown around here and there. Instead, I would make it more of a point of “Top 5 Reasons to Buy ATH-M50x”, but let’s get all the technical bits out of the way first.

Type Closed-back dynamic
Driver Diameter 45 mm
Magnet Neodymium
Frequency Response 15 – 28,000 Hz
Sensitivity 99 dB
Impedance 38 ohms
Weight 285 g (10 oz), without cable and connector
Cable Choices All Detachable: 1.2 m – 3.0 m coiled cable, 3.0 m straight cable and 1.2 m straight cable
Accessories Soft carrying pouch (color matching), 0.25 in adapter for use with amplifiers

What’s In The Box / Product Shots


Top 5 Reasons to Buy ATH-M50x

As I mentioned, I don’t want this post to be an overdose of technical bits detailing stuff most readers probably don’t care about. So, here goes the top 5 reasons to pick up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x if you intend to spend a considerable amount of money in return of excellent sound quality and listening experience.

1. Value

Value, value for money, return on investment, bang for the buck, wherever you’re from and whatever you want to call it, Audio Technica ATH-M50x has an incredible ratio of value for money. I said “incredible” because for 189 USD on Amazon (about 240 SGD), the quality of sound and value you get is on par, if not better than, a horde of headphones priced way higher than M50x.

Now, just to put it out there, I was willing to go as high as 350 USD for my headphone purchase so when I talk about value, I am not constraint by price during my research process. For perspectives, I had tested more than half a dozen headphones (including Sennheiser HD 25, Sennheiser Momentum, Shure SRH840, Bose Quiet Comfort 15) and none made me go “wow, that’s really impressive for the price point”.

2. Sound Quality

This point is actually the most important factor, for me personally, in deciding which headphones to purchase. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x has a very balanced rich sound, with highs that are really crisp, mids that are really stable and lows that are deep, non-distorted. When it comes to the bass department, I wouldn’t really recommend this pair to any kind of basshead because while the bass is really tight on the M50x, it ain’t exactly the type of thumping, booming bass that some bassheads are really into (yes, pick up a pair of Beats for those).

Oops, Dr. Dre using..... ATH-M50?

Oops, Dr. Dre using….. ATH-M50?

Also, because the “M” in M50x stands for “Monitoring”, bass is not exactly the top priority in making this product stand out. I don’t monitor audio for recording or anything like that but from listening to various genres of music (from EDM, hip hop, R&B to rock), I will firmly say that one can likely never fault M50x for any sound quality issue; I’ve received the same sentiments from both my audiophile and non-audiophile friends.

3. Design and Build Quality

The idea of good design always comes with a high level of subjectivity, so let’s just say the bottom line is M50x are great from more of a utilitarian standpoint than an aesthetic one. The sturdy industrial design and build make M50x a very durable pair.

ATH-M50X Limited Edition Blue

4. Flexibility

When it comes to flexibility of the headphones, I believe I have not seen a more flexible pair. For starters, the cables come in three different lengths, types and they’re all detachable. Simple lock and twist mechanism keeps the cable fixed in place when you want to listen to music. DJs and studio professionals will also be glad to know that M50x has 90-degree rotating or swiveling earcups that will go any direction you want them to, so you can easily go into one-ear listening mode when you’re monitoring audio or mixing beats. In addition, the earcups can face down when you leave them on the table or rest neatly on your chest when you wear them around your neck.

5. Comfort and Isolation

The earcup cushions are really soft and comfortable even for an extended period of listening. The earcups also provide a very good passive noise isolation as they seal really well (although they don’t have active noise cancellation as found in Bose Quiet Comfort 15). But because they seal really well, these earcups tend to get warm after a couple of hours of listening – worse if you live in tropical areas… like Singapore. For my use cases in the comfort of my room or in office where air conditioning is available, these are quite comfortable for prolonged periods of listening.

ATH-M50X Folded

Conclusion

I may have been very biased throughout the entire review for the M50x because these have provided such satisfying audio experience for me since I picked them up. The only cons I can really pinpoint would be that they’re not Beats by Dre, so don’t expect thumping bass and crazy eye-catching design, and they’re a tad larger and heavier than most headphones in the same league, so they may not be the best fit for your mobile use cases, although they still sound great without an amplifier on mobile devices. If you’re seriously contemplating to pick up a pair of M50x and need further convincing, check out the review by MKBHD below and also go to your nearest headphone store to give it a try extensively.

 

Jaybird Bluebuds X Review – The Best Bluetooth Earbuds Will Cost You – Dearly

Update (Sept 2015): Meet Jaybird X2 – A Worthy Upgrade To The World’s Best Bluetooth Earbuds.

I started getting into the audio game (side of the geek culture) only mid last year; by “audio game”, I mean paying much more attention to the details, balance and richness of the sound of music I listen to. For the better part of the last few years, I had been using Sennheiser CX200 earbuds and then I picked up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-CKS77X earbuds, both of which produce incredible sound quality and decent noise-cancellation.

I first came to know Jaybird Bluebuds X after watching MKBHD’s Top 5 best headphones under 200$. Now, note that my first bluetooth headset/headphone experience was with Motorola S305, the crap that came with the purchase of Motorola Milestone XT; the sound quality was totally underwhelming and it was designed so badly that it started to cause discomfort to ears within an hour of listening. That’s also when I got the idea that bluetooth cannot possibly deliver what wired headphones can. Though I was not fixated on that idea, I had never really given any fair chance to bluetooth headphones whenever I did research on audio equipment.

Jaybird Bluebuds X paired with Nexus 5 playing Waiting for the Night by Armin Van Buuren

Nexus 5 and Bluebuds X

But I was intrigued, very much intrigued, by the Bluebuds X. It looks so small, lightweight and it’s positioned as one of the best, if not the best, sports headphones. I have a rather mobile lifestyle and I can’t go through a day without music, so it seems as though the earbuds were screaming at me to give them a try. After reading half a dozen of raving reviews on the Bluebuds X, I was pretty much sold. Being an impulsive buyer that I am, I placed an order on Apple Store.

And it arrived the next day…

Jaybird Bluebuds X box, held in hand

Sleek Packaging is a Plus

 What’s In The Box

Content of Jaybird Bluebuds X's box

It’s both amusing and confusing, I know

User Manual – Who still reads those?

A pair of Bluebuds X

Travel Pouch – a sleek black box that has a strap inside to hold the USB cable and the Bluebuds X if you’re patient enough to fit them both in.

USB Cable – the cable is really portable and I really love the design. But it’s very short, so you’ve to keep it close to your laptop while charging. I think it’s obvious that you’re not supposed to use it while it’s charging, but I am not sure if they make the cable so short to ensure that? *shrugs*

Jaybird Bluebuds X USB Charging cable

USB Charging Cable

Jaybird Bluebuds X USB charging

Yes, that’s where the battery is. Mind-blown.

Canal Tip – as with most earbuds, they come in 3 different sizes; I am going to refer to them as L, M and S. These might not be the most comfortable tips. You may want to check out  Comply Foam Tips, which are already confirmed by Jaybird as compatible.

Secure Fit – unlike most earbuds, you can’t get a great fit with Bluebuds X by just pushing the tips into your ears. These apparently patented secure fit wings are crucial in what kind of sound quality you’ll get. Serious.

Cable Groove – 3 cable grooves are provided to shorten the cable. Under-ear option needs no shortening, but if you choose over-ear fit option, which is a very tight fit option for some serious workout, then you would need these. Watch the How To video by Jaybird on X-Fit + Bluebuds X. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it right the first few times. Hell, it took me over 10 days to finally get the best fit. Will elaborate more later.

Features and Specs

Visit Jaybird Bluebuds X Product’s page for detailed specs. I want to focus this review on sound quality and fit.

Sound Quality and Fitting

As I mentioned previously, it took me more than a week to finally discover what the best fit and setting are for Bluebuds X. I’ve been using it predominantly to listen to music on my Nexus 5 with PowerAMP player. I started using the Bluebuds X with the medium tips and medium wings. For the first couple days, I tried both under-ear and over-ear fit options but I got very frustrated when I just couldn’t get the sound quality claimed by professional reviewers.

Then I read on one of the blogs that if you constantly have to push those tips in, you should probably try a size bigger. So I did, and it sounded relatively better for a period of time, until it started to hurt my ears. Apparently, my ears fit perfectly with the medium tips, but that I just haven’t found the best way to wear them. Using the large tips gives a marginally improved sound quality because they seal much better than those medium tips, but the drawback is that I’ve to push the tips in with a bit of force to get the fit, which is probably not the right way to go.

After about 5 or 6 days with the large tips, I went back to medium tips. Only this time, I started to obsess less with pushing it all the way in, but more with using the secure fit to really seal the buds in. And that’s how I got the best fit, after some trial and error for over a week. Once you get the perfect fit for the ears, the sound quality is phenomenal. Bluetooth with SHIFT Technology definitely steps up the audio quality in bluetooth headphones. The sound is crisp, with really deep, rich bass. The sound isolation is also superb with a great fit as they seal really well.

What about the battery life? 

From fully charged to hearing Jenna’s “Battery Low” voice prompt, I would say I get an estimated 7 – 8 hours of battery life, which is very close to what Jaybird claims. It can be a bit frustrating if you don’t use Bluebuds X with iOS devices as you have no idea what battery percentage it is at. You can only check the battery percentage on iOS devices for Bluebuds X.

Does it live up to the sports headphones positioning? 

Jaybird Bluebuds X - assembled

My choice – medium tips and medium secure fit

After I settled on the perfect fit, I have also started using Bluebuds X for my workouts. I do a little bit of dancing for my cardio and HIIT sets as conditioning. I wear Bluebuds X for all my workout purposes. Sometimes, it does wiggle a bit when you’re moving too much, too fast, or both. Maybe over-ear fit option would minimize wiggling out, but since I can never figure out the best fit for that option and that I don’t want flat hair at the back of my head, I am okay with under-ear option with a bit of wiggling. I guess it’s inevitable that it’ll move a bit when you’re working out, but note that it gets really bad when you sweat a lot on your forehead and it starts going into your ears (while doing crunches).

Conclusion

Overall, there are very few negative things I could say about Bluebuds X because I am still very much in love with those after finding the perfect fit. Now, I cannot leave house without those. They are just so portable and deliver phenomenal sound quality for bluetooth headphones that they’re definitely my go-to earbuds for all purposes. The price tag may be a tad on the higher end though – the white one is retailing on Amazon at 140 USD now. But if you are going to spend some serious money on bluetooth music experience or if you’re looking for the perfect pair of headphones for your workouts, I can’t recommend Bluebuds X enough.

Microsoft Windows 8 Review on Lenovo Thinkpad E430

After using a dual-boot setup of Windows 7 and Ubuntu on my previous machine for over 3 years, I almost adamantly believed that Windows 8 upgrade is one thing that is unlikely to appeal to me, given the fact that there have been mixed reviews and that I am not particularly a fan of Metro UI in the first place. Much less on a laptop, seriously?

I bought a new laptop last week (Thinkpad E430) and the OCD in me started having some serious first-world dilemma as to whether or not spending 18$ for a Windows 8 upgrade would add value to my productivity. For what it’s worth, 18$ sounds like a heck of a bargain for a full version of Windows OS, right? Well, the truth is Windows 7 had served my computing needs fully well in the past three years that I couldn’t see how much more value Windows 8 could bring. Besides, about 40% of my computing time was spent on Ubuntu. So it is kind of like unless I need to use Windows-only software, Live Writer (arguably the best blogging tool), Microsoft Office or gaming, I prefer using Ubuntu for everything else, merely for the fact that I like Unix-based OS better and that I love doing tasks with command lines in Linux, but that’s the story for another time before I further digress.

After reading some thorough reviews on Windows 8, I am convinced that faster boot time and more decent battery life alone bring enough value for the money I am going to spend. So here comes the setup:

Windows Upgrade AssistantI used the Windows Upgrade Assistant to purchase and download a copy of Windows 8 iso file (if you purchased a new Windows 7 PC between 2 June 2012 and 31 January 2013, you are eligible for the 18$ upgrade offer, more details here) and the process is a pain in the butt (literally if you were to sit down throughout the process). Because of slow download servers, it took me close to 5 hours to download the iso file alone; there goes my sleep.

The Setup

Thinkpad E430 comes with 500 GB HDD and 16 GB mSATA SSD. While the SSD is available for use as a boot device, it is actually intended for use as a SSD caching storage with Intel’s Smart Response Technology because obviously 16 GB is not even close to hold a full-fledged Windows installation. Check out how to set up SSD caching if you’re interested; it would supposedly increase the read/write speed of your HDD and improve performance in some apps. I wouldn’t be using this SSD for Windows 8 at all since I’ve decided to boot and run Ubuntu 12.04 on it.

After a grueling 7 hours of waiting, watching Breaking Bad, reading, taking nap, Windows 8 was finally ready to boot.

This is the first screen you’d be greeted with when the installation is done. After which, it asks you to sign in to your Windows Live account to keep data and settings backed up and synced across devices (assuming you have more than one Windows 8 machine and/or you use a Windows Phone device). Now all setup is done and it’s time to dive into the good, the bad and the ugly.

Metro, Metro, Metro

Remember that viral video where Steve Ballmer went crazy on stage screaming “Metro Metro Metro”? Well, let me refresh your memory.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc7HPmPQV9E]

Yes, as awkward and silly as he sounded, he was dead serious about slapping Metro into any user interface possible.

I am not a big fan of Metro UI (far from it) but I will try to be objective here. While the convenience of navigation is primarily meant for touch-screen devices, it is not THAT bad if you really try to work your way around it. For example, scrolling with a mouse could almost replicate the experience you would have swiping it with your finger, albeit a tad slow. Using the PgUp and PgDn buttons on your keyboard will quickly swipe the entire page left and right respectively as well.

While it is clear that on a Windows tablet, all the apps will launch and run on the Metro UI, the same is not true about the Desktop UI. From the screenshot below, I would naturally think that the “Apps” on the left are Metro apps meaning they will open right inside the Metro UI without re-routing you into the Desktop UI, but no that’s not the case there; clicking on Windows Live Messenger will launch the software inside the Desktop UI just as you would see on Windows 7.

However, clicking on Chrome icon would open the Metro version of Chrome, meaning it would take up the full screen and you won’t see anything else until you dock or close the app. But Chrome is supposed to run within the Desktop UI; at least that is how I would want it to, provided I installed it inside the Desktop UI. So there is definitely some confusion here. Of course, it could also be a matter of configuration but this post is supposed to be about my “first impressions” – I have only tested it extensively for about a total of 4 hours so far.

Desktop UI

You can enter the Desktop UI by clicking the Desktop tile on the Metro UI (see two pictures ago, first tile). When Windows 8 boots up, it will mainly show Metro UI, then you have to click Desktop first to sort of “activate” the Desktop UI. From then on, you can switch between the two UIs by just clicking the “Windows” key on your keyboard, the one that’s supposed to bring up Start Menu in Windows 7. More on that later. Asides from some minor UI tweaks, Desktop UI is almost identical to what you see on Windows 7 minus the Start Menu and some minor tweaks:

Start Menu is Gone and That’s Not Such A Bad Thing

If there is just one gripe you would hear from users’ reviews of Windows 8, the elimination of Start Menu has to be the most common one. Not only the button is gone, but the classic Start Menu is also completely replaced by Metro UI. The start icon as you could see above is only brought up when you hover the mouse over to that vicinity and clicking that would bring you to, you bet, THE METRO UI. I know a lot of people have loved and missed the classic Start Menu but in my opinion this is not a poorly thought out UX consideration from Microsoft. If anything, it makes things as easy as, if not easier than, using the Start Menu. For instance, my use cases for Start Menu would be quite limited – accessing Control Panel quickly or the quick search bar. The search bar is the bomb. Yes I do miss it but guess what? On the Metro UI itself, if you start typing, the universal search is activated. Say I want to go to “msconfig” to change boot-up settings. All I need to do is to click the “Windows” button on my keyboard and type “msconfig” and voila I would get there in no time. See what I mean –

So all it took me to get there was 1. click windows button 2. type msconfig 3. click enter and that is the exact same step I would take if I were using Windows 7’s Start Menu. See my point? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But of course, you and I may well have very different use cases so if you want Start Menu replacements to bring back the familiarity of Windows 7, do check out these 6 alternative third-party Start Menu replacements for Windows 8.

Multi-tasking

I am sure many of Windows 7 users would be familiar with the Aero Snap feature from Windows 7 as demonstrated above. In addition to the good old Aero Snap (which snaps two windows to occupy 50% of the screen respectively by dragging the windows to the extreme left and right), there is another multitasking feature related to Metro UI, which I believe is simply called “Snap”.

What Snap does is basically creating kind of a dock to insert your Metro app in while working in your other window. The dock occupies 1/3 of the entire screen and the rest is filled up by  either your Metro app or Desktop app. To activate “Snap”, you just need to hover your mouse over to the top left of the screen to bring up the multi-window menu.

From here, all you need to do is to dock any of the Metro apps that are currently open the the left or right side of the screen to create the multitasking screen I mentioned earlier on. 1/3 and 2/3 split.

On the left I had Chrome Metro app running, and on the right was my Windows Live Writer from my Desktop UI. It is a quite neat feature but in terms of productivity, I can barely foresee how this is much better than the Aero Snap from Windows 7, but we’ll see. There might just be use cases I have yet to discover that would perfectly utilize this feature.

Charms Bar

Charms Bar is sort of like a quick setting menu in the sense that they dock 5 icons that are deemed useful on the right for quick access, namely universal search, share, start (Metro UI), connected devices and PC settings. You can bring up Charms Bar by moving your mouse to the top right corner of the screen. So there are only two corner gestures here – top left for multitasking, top right for Charms Bar. As simple as that.

Battery Life and Performance

It could be the placebo talking but the performance seems slightly faster than on Windows 7 inside the Desktop UI. As for the Metro apps, launching them could take up to 1-2 seconds depending on how big the app is or how much data it holds. I am also not exactly fond of the flip motion while launching  each app. Still, about 80-90% of the time, I am on Desktop UI.

The battery life is something that is much more quantifiable than the performance. After a couple of charge cycles, the battery lasts for about 5.5 hours on the 62 WH 6-cell battery before it reaches 5%. Use cases – Wifi constantly on with web browsing on Chrome, Live Writer, MS Excel and occasional YouTube viewing (a total of up to 30 mins). I got about 4.5 – 5 hours on Windows 7 with about the similar setup, usage and softwares installed.

Windows Store

Last but definitely not least, it’s the Windows Store. IMHO, a hybrid Tablet/Desktop UI on a device with full mouse and keyboard capabilities is quite unnecessary and redundant, really. My laptop is not a touch-screen device and I certainly do not foresee myself wandering around in the Metro UI much or visiting this Windows Store for apps. If I want to use Path or Instagram or whatever, the best experience is to use them on my Android phone or maybe a tablet in future.

I’d probably be more frustrated navigating around the Metro UI than benefitted from the value that it brings, if any. To add insult to injury, if the low popularity of Windows Phone devices and the lack of support from big-name developers are of any indication, Metro UI isn’t exactly moving forward. And finally for an OS known for enterprise stability, compatibility and productivity, I am not exactly sure where this hybrid system is going, honestly. Most of the times I might just end up using the Desktop UI to get the job done.

Filpboard (1.8.4) for Android APK

[UPDATE]: Flipboard is now officially available in the Google Play Store. Link here.

With the release of Samsung Galaxy S III last week, Flipboard is supposedly available ONLY on S III for a limited amount of time (I am sorry, but exclusivity doesn’t work in the world of Android). No doubt the apk file has been seen floating around the net earlier on and I would like to share with fellow Android users.

I know you can’t wait to get the APK. Get it now HERE.

The app runs buttery smooth on my Samsung Galaxy W running ICS. It’s about time I uninstall Pulse, Feedly, and Google Currents from my phone. I’ve long been a big fan of Flipboard since I got to try it on my cousin’s iPad and iPhone. Imagine how much the download count will explode once it hits the Play Store! 😉

Meanwhile, have fun flipping!

Screenshots:

Welcome Page

Awesome UI design

Pick your favorite categories of news

More customization

Enjoy!

Source: TechCrunchXDA Forum

Google Drive is now live!

After being much anticipated, Google Drive has finally gone live. It completely replaces Google Docs and the free version comes with 5 GB, but you can increase up to 16 TB for $799.99/month (whaaat). Other price plans include 25 GB for 2.49/month, 100 GB for $4.99/month and 1 TB for 49.99/month.

It doesn’t compete directly with Dropbox (at least in terms of features), as many might have thought before the launch. Web-based, real-time documents editing is one area in which Dropbox falls short, or so maybe Google Drive is going after Evernote or more appropriately Microsoft’s SkyDrive? I am still a huge fan of Google Docs, and at the same time I love my free Dropbox account, which is pumped up to 16 GB through multiple referrals (using hacks of course). Currently, for day-to-day operations, Dropbox is used to sync all the important documents/files I would need to use on-the-go daily on both my laptop and my smartphone. Google Docs Drive is used mainly for collaborating with other people, and for the rest of the files (music, photos, videos, ebooks, miscellaneous stuff etc.), they are backed up nicely in my 50-GB Box account.

Maybe it’s time for me to abandon some of the cloud services which I’ve signed up for but do not really use on a daily basis, such as SugarSync (8 GB), Ubuntu One (5 GB; comes with each Ubuntu installation)…..

Download links: 

Google Drive for desktop: https://tools.google.com/dlpage/drive/index.html

Google Drive for Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.docs&utm_source=free&utm_medium=plus&utm_campaign=social

Read It Later has a makeover, now re-branded as Pocket [Android app]

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Formerly known as Read It Later or ReadItLater, Pocket is a service that allows you to save articles from either your mobile device or your laptop for easy access later on. It syncs perfectly across all devices, and can be considered “Dropbox for online articles’ links.” I’ve tried out various similar services in the past and eventually ended up sticking to Read It Later, I mean Pocket for its maximum functionality. Many friends of mine choose Readability over Pocket for the better designed UI, which I particularly don’t like because it is simply a port-over UI from its iOS counterpart, instead of optimizing for Ice-Cream Sandwich (ICS) or for a generic Android UI.

This new version of Pocket (Download here on Google Play) is a combination of beauty and functionality, I must say. And it’s optimized for ICS, which is just icing on the cake for me who is obsessed with Android 4.0 ICS at the moment.

Website: http://getpocket.com/

Main Page – articles list

ICS Optimization – On-screen “settings” button

Settings page

Perfect synchronization on the web

How to Bump files from your smartphone to your laptop

I’ve gotta admit I am very lazy to reach out to my USB cable every time I want to transfer something from my Android phone to my laptop. Plus we have to connect USB, navigate, copy and safely remove every time, which makes me choose a wireless transfer service more often than not.

Of course, there is no denying that Dropbox is the one I use the most because of the convenience of perfect sync across all devices, and the ability to retrieve the files anywhere as long as there is an internet connection. I probably won’t be talking about how Dropbox works on Android because it is as easy as 1, 2, 3 and it is implemented system wide in the Android OS.

Bump

I’ve recently come across a website called Bump Beta (you HAVE TO allow the site to track your location in order for Bump to work) which allows you to bump your files from your Android/iPhone to your computer. It is very easy to use and definitely becoming one of my favourites.

First install Bump on your phone.

Then choose the file(s) you want to “bump” from your Gallery or File Manager (I use ES File Explorer) and select Bump in your sharing options.

Then you’ll be led to a screen where you can confirm your selections aka ready-to-bump screen.

After you confirm your selection, open the Bump Beta website on your browser and lightly bump your phone onto the Spacebar of your keyboard. You will be prompted on your phone to either confirm your connection with your PC or Mac, after which the photo(s) you’ve selected to bump will appear in your browser and you can just drag and drop them onto your desktop or folders to save them.

AirDroid

AirDroid is another impressive app that allows you to manage and control your Android phone (including files transfer, texting, viewing photos) over-the-air right within your browser. First download AirDroid to your Android phone and launch it afterwards.

You will be given a browser address to enter which is http://192.168.1.126:8888 (bookmark it so you don’t have to manually enter each time), and a password to enter. And that’s it; you can now browse your phone from your browser. This could be very convenient if you text a lot and would like to do it on laptop; I wish though that they would have more support for more apps such as Whatsapp, Path etc. when they got out of Beta.

Note: Both AirDroid and Bump require you to have the same network connection on both your Android device and laptop.

There are a bunch of other file transfer protocols out there but for the time being, I am sticking with Dropbox and Bump for daily usage.

Cyanogenmod 9 (CM9) Review on Samsung Galaxy W – GT-I8150

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After dumping my beloved HTC Wildfire, which had served me well for over a year and 3 months, I got myself decent, mid-tier yet powerful Samsung Galaxy W(onder), GT-I8150. Since I knew I would definitely root the device and installed custom ROMs on it, I didn’t mind that it is a single-core processer phone, but with 1.4Ghz Scorpion, it would be more than powerful enough to fulfill my day-to-day use cases (I don’t intend to play graphics-intensive games or for that matter, I rarely ever play games on anything, mobile/desktop, at all).

Without much digression, let’s jump straight into the review. Cyanogenmod has been my choice of ROM ever since I rooted my first Android phone, so there’re no complaints about it this time around as well. Considering myself a seasoned Android user, I admit the changes in Android 4.0 are HUGE, in positive ways of course, and I did take some time to explore every part of the OS and was hooked to it for hours. The all around performance of my device has sky-rocketed upon flashing the ROM; you gotta see it for yourself if your device has CM9 support. If you are also a Galaxy W user, the ROM is available here.

Additional links: Root Guide, Installing ClockworkMod Recovery.

Note: I won’t be showing any Antutu or Quadrant benchmarks because benchmarking doesn’t give you realistic performance ratings of a device, and you know what, there would be no benchmarks at all in this review. I would focus more on the user experience under the real-world usage, which is what matters more anyway.

Device Specs

Name: Samsung Galaxy Wonder, GT-I8150

Screen Resolution: 480 x 800 (252 ppi density) on a 3.7” Gorilla-glass screen

CPU: 1.4 GHz Scorpion

GPU: Adreno 205

Storage: 1.7 GB Internal, with MicroSD expandable up to 64 GB.

More info on GSM Arena website.

The Launcher

The stock launcher on ICS is easily the best I’ve ever used (including all 3rd party launchers). Previously I was a big fan of Go Launcher as it offers the best combination of flexibility, functionality and looks; honestly I was thinking of installing Go Launcher after installing the ICS but after an hour of use on the stock launcher, I didn’t see the need to do so. The most noticeable difference is that every time a new app is installed a shortcut of the app will be created on the home screen that you are on or any available space on 1 of the 5 home screens; yes just like in iOS but well whatever works is great. Dragging an app icon onto another to create a folder is also implemented in ICS.

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Apps and Widgets

Pinning widgets onto the home screens has become an all-new business now that long-pressing on an empty space on a home screen would only bring up the options to set wallpapers. Widgets are integrated into the app drawer under a different tab, which doesn’t make pinning any easier or more difficult than it already was in the earlier versions of Android. You just need to drag the widget onto the home screen (like you would with apps) and edit the settings afterwards from there.

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Widgets implemented right within the App Drawer

Data Usage chart in the built-in Settings

The inclusion of “Data Usage” section in the native ICS settings would probably make the most popular data-monitoring app with impressive features, Onavo, lose future Android users who just need a simple overview of how much data is used. I have 12 GB of bundled data with my mobile plan each month and I have barely ever gone over 4 GB mark, so this is a non-issue for me.

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Performance, Battery Life, Memory management and more Screenshots

Being unable to connect to the camera has been a known bug for many of the CM9 builds, so it will definitely be fixed in the Beta release very soon enough. The overall performance of the device is so impressive that I am willing to live with this alpha build since the Beta release is just around the corner after the bug fixes. The memory management has been much better on ICS too as the device never has a single freeze or blank screen due to the overuse of 512 MB RAM. Depending on whether I have time over the weekends, I would probably put up a video tour of the current CM9 build I have on my Galaxy W (if the new release hasn’t already come out by then).

Battery life is one area which concerns most, if not all, smartphone users as people can’t stop putting down their power-hungry mobile devices on a day-to-day basis. I will not say it lasts for 10 hours or 15 hours or anything like that because 10 hours on moderate to heavy usage is considered impressive and 10 hours on minimal usage is considered pathetic. To give you a more realistic estimation, I will show a rough breakdown of how much I used my phone on any regular day. My phone left the charger at 9 am in the morning; throughout the day, I played music for about 2 hours with equalizer-enabled PowerAMP player with 3G up and running. Moderate usage of Twitter, Google+, Path, Instagram, Feedly, Whatsapp, Gmail throughout the day and towards the end of the day, I did some heavy web browsing on Chrome Beta, loading one article after another from my Twitter feed, and at 8 pm (after 11 hours of moderate to heavy usage), the battery was at 22%. Nothing spectacular but it’s more than good enough for someone who previously had trouble going through a day without looking for wall plugs at around lunch time.

More screenshots

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In-Folder View

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Notification Center with Widget Buttons

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ICS Settings

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Performance Settings: built-in Frequency Scaling

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Recent Apps (one swipe to close any recent apps)

Stock Apps

Many native Google/stock apps also get a makeover to better suit the ICS user interface. In fact, more and more third-party apps are also switching to ICS-inspired interface, as I believe Android is going for the approach of being more user-friendly.

Native SMS UI

Calendar

ICS Browser’s tabbed browsing (swipe to close tab)

Revamped Gmail UI with much easier controls

UPDATE (14th August 2012): After several iterations of improvements, Alpha 7 is up! (check out the video here). Stable, fast and camera is working perfectly well.