Kindle Oasis two-week impressions

Two weeks ago I bought the 2019 version of Kindle Oasis, Amazon’s flagship kindle. I decided to replace my 2016 Kindle Paperwhite when the battery life of the old device started deteriorating badly. I went all out and bought the Oasis.

The Kindle Oasis is the most expensive electronic book reader in the Kindle lineup. I was initially hesitant to get the flagship model, but in the end decided to give it a try. Upon receiving it, I was pleasantly surprised how slim the package was. This makes sense when it comes to shipping. It is always beneficial to delivery items to consumers in flat boxes to save space.

The first thing that I realised when I held the Kindle Oasis in my hands was how hefty the device feels. It’s really solid, none of the lightweight, plasticky feel that you get in lower end models. The back of the Kindle Oasis is made of aluminium, with a glass screen at the front. All these premium material used in the making of the Kindle Oasis most probably added to the heft and weight that I felt the moment I held it in my hands.

The Kindle Oasis has a thicker side and a thinner side. The thinner side is really slim. It makes the device pretty sexy. However, after using the device for about two weeks now (far surpassing my reading goals so far this year by a whopping 7 books), I can’t say that I am a fan of the unequal thickness of the device. I can understand why they made it such, most likely to make the experience of holding the Kindle a little more ergonomic, but I don’t find that to be the case. To me, it just limits the may ways I could hold my Kindle in a variety of different situations. A uniform back would be my preferred design choice.

What I do like about the Kindle Oasis (and most probably the single biggest factor in choosing the Oasis over the ordinary Paperwhite) is the addition of the physical page turning buttons. Although all Kindle models have touch screen ability, the page turning buttons makes the reading experience so much better for me. There are two page turning buttons, one of turn the page forward and another to turn the page backward. I reverse those buttons as I prefer to turn the page forward using the lower button rather than the higher button. That way, I can hold the kindle at a lower position as compared to having to stretch my fingers just to be able to turn the page using the upper button. All in all, the page buttons are by the far the best feature in the Kindle Oasis.

The Kindle Oasis also features the ability to change the temperature of the backlight to something warmer. I have no strong preference on whether to read in cool or warm light, but having the feature is a welcome addition. In the end, my reading lights are a couple of shades warmer than usual, and over time I tend to find reading on the Kindle Oasis with warmer lights a little more pleasant to the eyes, especially when reading in dark places or at night. The Kindle Oasis also allows readers to set the time to gradually change the colour temperature throughout the day. The Kindle Oasis also features auto-adjust brightness that detects ambient light and changes the intensity of the backlight accordingly. Again, I don’t find this feature particularly useful for me as I am totally fine reading whether in bright or dark environments with a fixed level of backlight brightness. What I do appreciate is that the backlight can be much brighter than the lower Kindle models and that there are more LEDs serving as backlights for a more uniform illumination of the entire screen area.

Apart from the physical buttons feature which I love from the Kindle Oasis, it also features a slightly bigger screen. It’s not much bigger by a wide margin (otherwise holding the device to read would be cumbersome) but enough to display more text horizontally which to me, makes for a slightly better reading experience.

So far, I am really enjoying the device a lot. The solid feel of the device and the physical page turning buttons is a welcome addition which makes my reading experience far more enjoyable. Although one downside is the cost. I just feel that the price could be lower, given that, everything else equal, the Kindle Oasis and Paperwhite have the same pixel density and overall, both devices will no doubt give you a good reading experience.

Apple Watch S5: Some thoughts

It’s been a couple of weeks wearing my new Apple Watch Series 5 and I have some thoughts about it.

Performance

First off, the performance on this watch is a pretty big upgrade from the series 3. While there was nothing to complain about in terms of overall performance, the series 5 is a much snappier watch. Apps load much faster, you see less of the spinning dots denoting that the app is loading or fetching data, and switching from one watch face to another resulted in less lag overall. You just don’t realise how much faster the series 5 watch is until you compared it against the series 3.

Same size, bigger screen, gorgeous new watch faces.

The series 5 watch has a bigger screen, but retaining the same size overall. This resulted in narrower bezels. The amount of usable screen now almost touches the edge of the watch. With a bigger screen, everything else is larger and more prominent. Typing my passcode to unlock my phone is much more accurate and the digital buttons are much bigger. With a bigger screen, you get a whole range of new watch faces that a series 3 user just isn’t able to enjoy. The new watch faces can now cram in more information then ever before. Now, you can have a really crowded watch face showing all sorts of information and data or you can have a simple but stunning watch face that really draws you in, thanks to the bigger screen.

Slightly thinner profile, more glass on the back.

The back of the watch which contains the sensors for detecting your hear rate now has a bigger glass surface. Because of that, the back of the watch feels more premium. It is also slightly flatter than the series 3, making a larger contact to your wrist. Overall the watch has a slightly thinner profile that the series 3, which is much appreciated.

Superb battery life (if you switch off the Always-On-Display)

The battery life on the series 5 is superb, much better than the series 3, which in itself is already great based on my usage. Wearing the series 3 watch from 9am to 9pm, I can easily get it down to 65 to 70% battery life. Plenty of room to spare. With the series 5, I can get it slightly better, 70% to 75% battery life left after wearing the whole day.

However it comes with a caveat. Based on my experience, if you want to have the best battery life you can possibly get out of the watch, then you should turn off the always-on-display feature. While the option to have a display that is switched on permanently is nice, I find that after a week, this feature is kinda overrated and that I would prefer having a longer battery life than the ability to have my watch’s display to be always switched on. Eventually, I switch off the AOD so that I don’t have battery anxiety on my watch, especially when I am about to wear it from dawn till dusk, while squeezing in an hour of workout at the end of the day.

Noticeably louder speakers

The speakers in this tiny little package is a noticeable upgrade to the series 3 watch. The volume emitted by the series 5 watch is much louder and more solid. Using Siri on the watch, I noticed the voice to be louder and words to be more clearly enunciated.

Overall a better experience

Overall, I am glad to make the upgrade. I was afraid that the new features that comes with the series 5 will not bring up meaningful upgrades for someone who already owned a series 3 watch. However, I underestimated how much I enjoyed using the new watch faces, cramming more info in it and looking at it every now and then. The AOD feature is overrated in my opinion but I can see its usefulness in certain situations and it is good to have the option whenever you need it. I have yet to use the ECG feature and the noise alert feature extensively so I can’t really make a comment on those two features yet.

So I bought the AirPods… again

The last time I bought the AirPods, I returned it after a week. I bought it when it first launched in Singapore. It was cool, but new back then. Not many people had it at first and I wasn’t really into the idea of having a white earpiece dangling from both sides of my ears despite being technologically superior compared to other wireless earpieces out there on the market at the time.

But I returned it not because of its unfamiliarity in its use and how it looks on me. Somehow, the fit wasn’t just that fantastic. I have known that my ears aren’t exactly symmetrically and that is exactly the problem. One side is a poorer fit than the other, or that was how I perceived it to be. I love the sound. It could have been better for the price I was paying for, but you get tons of great technology packed into such a small device. But the less than stellar fit, which led to listening my songs with one side every slightly softer due to its poor fit led me to return the product after a week of use.

Fast forward today and I got myself the updated version of the AirPods. I bought it in New York, just as I was vacationing there and just when it was announced that the new AirPods were just about to make its way to consumers hands.

I must be crazy for me to buy the new AirPods when it is exactly the same in every shape and dimension as the older generation. The only truly welcoming feature is wireless charging of the AirPods case, which I can live without.

So I bought it and tried it on and strangely the fit was much better. Not perfect, but better. For some reason, both sides managed to fit in my ears better without slight variances in sound quality due to its overall fit.

The new AirPods costs more than the first generation one, mainly due to the wireless charging capabilities, but it is still relatively cheaper than buying one in Singapore. Since it has been a few years since the first AirPods were released, this thing has become quite ubiquitous and commonly used among the New Yorker elite. It has become and accepted device to wear in public that it has become part of every day device for more urbanites not just in New York, but around the world as well.

This time I have no regrets buying it and have no intention of ever returning it. The size and portability of the AirPods is a great thing to have despite the fact that many audio competitors are offering better sound at a cheaper price. But what they don’t have is the technological know-how to cram so many things into such a small device.

Rami Malek’s performance in Bohemian Rhapsody is astounding.

I always knew Rami Malek was special when he acted as Eliot in Mr Robot. There was something about him that truly made him shine as an actor. That intense, vibe you get when you observe him.

His role and portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody absolutely blew me away. He practically lives and breathes Freddie Mercury while producing this film. The intensity in his effort to get the role right was just sheer inspirational. I am very sure that it was definitely not an easy role for Rami Malek to take on in his entire career in acting.

The movie was good, not the best biopic I have seen. The pacing was good with a good amount of humour mixed in. But the highlight of the movie was not about Freddie Mercury himself, but the entire ensemble of cast playing their roles to breathe life to Freddie Mercury and his struggles from nobody to international fame. And along the way, classic hits from Queen was played, lifting the entire film up, ratcheting up the wow factor in terms of visuals and sound. To listen to his classics on the big screen, with huge speakers in the cinema was a sweet auditory experience.

The film is at times sad, in him coming to terms on his sexuality, his inner demons against the band, his ego and addiction to fame. But at its heart, it is his music that transcended everything else. At the end of the day, it is about how his music inspired a generation (or two) of people around the world to deal with loss, regret, to celebrate life, to learn to how love and even forgive.

If Rami Malek doesn’t get a Best Actor Award at the Oscars, then I simply don’t know who will.

Fans of Queen must definitely head to the cinemas and check this film out.

Orbi WiFi System (RBK50) AC3000

The Consumer Electronics Expo happened this weekend at Suntec and I had the time and opportunity to take a look at what latest gadgets are on offer. I have been a MyRepublic broadband user for 2 years now and it is almost due for a re-contract. I have had ZERO issues with MyRepublic. No unexpected downtimes, or technical broadband glitches during the two years I have been with them. I find their service extremely reliable and stable, offering blazingly fast speeds of 1gbps of throughput that I originally subscribed for.

MyRepublic offered the Asus RT-AC88U router when I first subscribed with them 2 years ago. It was a monster of a router. But over time, as more and more wifi enabled devices were slowly introduced into the household over the years, I can feel the strain the router is having from trying to support all these new devices. Recently, I added always-on, smart devices like the Nanoleaf Aurora, and the LIFX bulbs in my room. The Asus router, while powerful, wasn’t able to reach far enough to my room to get a stable connection with my smart devices. Even the mining rig in the other room, closer to the router were getting dropped connections from the internet every now and then. Then, the 4K TV came along. Situated at one corner of my room, further away from the router, I couldn’t get a minimum of 50mbps of wifi speeds to stream 4K content from Netflix reliably. I had to resort to getting a wifi extender, leading to more headaches such as differing SSIDs, and more cables to deal with. All in all, the Wifi setup in my house was a patchwork of 2.4ghz and 5ghz networks from both the router and the wireless extender.

434793-netgear-orbi-high-performance-ac3000-tri-band-wi-fi-system-rbk50

That’s when I told myself; enough is enough. I am tired of having to deal with dropped connections, slow WiFi speeds and my smart devices having to reconnect to my weak WiFi signals so that I can control them remotely on my iPhone app. It’s time to upgrade my WiFi network.

In comes the Netgear Orbi RBK50 AC3000. I bought at CEE for S$488. It comes with one router and one satellite. It is a tri-band WiFi system consisting of 2, 5ghz band (1733mbps and 866mbps)  and a single 2.4ghz band (400mbps), for a total of 3 bands. Long story short: I am blown away by its WiFi performance.

Setting up is extremely easy. A quick start-up guide is available in the package. Simply connect the router to your broadband modem, and then place your satellite somewhere central in your house. Switch both on and while a couple of minutes for the router to connect to the internet and for the satellite to sync with the router. Once the LED lights at the top of the device go off, you are good to go. The satellite LED will light up blue, showing that the connection to the router is good and everything is ok. Set up is done through the Netgear Orbi app with step by step instructions to set the whole thing up. One thing I appreciate about the router and satellite is that both of them comes pre-synced right out of the box, meaning that the satellite, once it finds the router will work almost immediately.

The router comes with 3 ethernet ports (the 4th is to the internet) while the satellite comes with 4 ethernet ports. The router can connect up to 3 other satellites, vastly increasing your WiFi range if you have a huge house with multiple levels. With the recent firmware update, the Orbi RBK50 now performs like a true WiFi mesh network, allowing satellites to communicate with each other, much like daisy chaining, rather than just directly to the router, like a hub-and-spoke configuration.

So how does it perform? Out of this world! Imagine this: I live in a 5-room flat. My household has 2 smart TVs, a PS4, a NAS, 2 Macbook Pros, 1 iMac, 2 Windows PC, 3 iPhones, an iPad, a WiFi enabled speaker, an array of smart lightbulbs from LIFX and a panel of Nanoleaf Aurora. And the Orbi just connects with them seamlessly! All those dropped connections? Gone. WiFi signal is strong everywhere in the wrong. My room is the furthest away from the living room, where the router is. I placed the satellite in my room and directly connect my gaming PC via ethernet. Remember I have a 1gbps broadband subscription. My room is at least 10 meters away from the router. With a direct connection to the satellite my broadband speed is below:

speedtest

It’s insane. Remember, this is over wifi, router to satellite, and then satellite to PC via ethernet. My previous set-up, WiFi to the old Asus router (my gaming rig has onboard WiFi with an antenna sticking out from the back of the PC), couldn’t even get half as fast as to what I am getting now.

This is WiFi speed on my Macbook Pro at the same spot where my gaming PC is:

macbook speedtest.jpeg

I have never gotten such speeds before over WiFi. The Orbi performed beyond what I expected. The secret lies with the availability of the third band, the 5ghz 1733mbps channel that serves as a backhaul channel used for the router and satellite to communicate and transmit data. I think this is one of the few mesh WiFi systems with a backhaul WiFi infrastructure dedicated for use exclusively between the router and the satellites. The advantage of having this backhaul WiFi infrastructure is that when transmitting data from the router to your devices via a satellite, the data is transmitted using that special WiFi channel and not the wifi channel used between your devices and the satellites or router. This frees up bandwidth, allowing maximum WiFi performance between your devices and the satellites or router. The Orbi router and satellites actually contain 6 dedicated WiFi antennae just for the backhaul WiFi, and 2 WiFi antennae for both the 2.4ghz and 5ghz band. And because this is a mesh WiFi network, your devices will be optimally connected to either the router or satellite depending on where you are in the house.

Overall, I am happy with my purchase. This is by far the best WiFi system I have ever owned. Easy to set up, seamless connection and able to hand so many simultaneous connections at one go. Those looking for a good mesh WiFi system should seriously consider the Netgear Orbi.

3 Months with my iPad Mini

3 months in, and there are only a handful of apps that I use regularly whenever i am using the iPad mini.The top few most used app are  the Kindle app for reading all my favourite e-books, The New Yorker app, for reading my favourite weekly magazine, the National Geographic app to the Nat Geo in its digital format, fully interactive and content rich and Clipboard for all my daily news feeds.

Of course, those are not the only apps that are installed on my iPad mini. But the ones mentioned here are the ones I used most regularly. And nothing can be more true when people say that tablets are mainly used as a physical medium for consumption, rather than productivity. Do I blog on the iPad mini? Rarely. Do I take pictures and post them on social media using the iPad mini? Almost never. Do I create spreadsheets and word documents on the iPad mini? Nope. And so, after 3 months of using the device, my style of usage is one of consumption, rather than that of  creation and productivity. I still feel that a PC desktop or a laptop is still the main mode of content creation. Like right now, drafting this post that you are reading. I am writing a rough draft of this post on Evernote. I can make changes to it easily, basic markup functionalities are present that would help me finalise my draft before posting on the blog. With the iPad mini, it is difficult for me. Not entirely impossible, but it can be done so much faster and more efficiently with a proper keyboard, especially when you are required to type long passages. Typing on a tablet is quite tedious in my opinion and it is more suited for short sentences, phrases, or shout-outs on social media.

I don’t play games on a tablet. Tablet games do not interest me. I find most of them shallow and unimpressive. They are simply games that captures your short attention spans and just feeds off of it, creating a craving that just shorten your attention span even further. And they can be a waste of time. I would rather read an article on the web, continue reading on my e-book where I left off, or learn something new reading National Geographic than play mindless games. I would love to subscribe to more magazines like Wired, The Economist or Scientific American, but I have only so many hours in a day where I can spend time reading. It would be waste if I were to subscribe to it and not read it at the end. So I have to be selective in what I read. The books that interest me, the articles that captivates me and the stories that captures my imagination.

Apple Music vs Spotify. My Personal Take

It’s been close to a month since I started using Apple Music, Apple’s newest streaming service, out to compete directly with Spotify. As a Spotify user for 6 months prior to Apple Music’s launch, there are distinct differences between the two services.

Personally, I think Apple Music has a better music collection available for streaming. I can’t say this definitively, but I have encountered time and time again, where artists’ latest album releases are simply not yet available on Spotify. Of course, the most coveted artist, Taylor Swift, made her entire music collection only available on Apple Music. Third Eye Blind’s latest, Dopamine doesn’t seem to be available on Spotify as with a number of movie soundtrack, compilations, acoustic albums and other more obscure titles.

Spotify’s playlist sharing feature is not available on Apple Music. I love the way how Spotify allows you to share playlists with others and it is quite amazing to discover them. Apple focuses on curated playlist, created by real human beings, people, who are passionate about music. They are essentially professional people working in the music industry, who knows how to compile music together to created playlist based on theme, genre, or era. Personally, I am going to side with Spotify playlist sharing feature, which, while may be flawed, because you might encounter empty playlists, makes discovering weird and wonderful playlists fun.

Spotify allows you to go to the artist’s page or album list, when listening to any music. Apple music app does not have this feature, which makes it frustrating sometimes. For example, if I encounter a new artist from one of Apple’s Curated Playlist, there is just no way to go to the artist’s page and see all the songs he or she has ever produced. Instead, I would have to tap on the search bar and then do a search. This makes music exploration a little less intuitive. I do like the curated playlist however, but I am sure, given time, more playlists would be created for users in the coming months, offering a diverse range of preferences for different users with wildly different tastes.

Apple music is just not snappy enough, especially browsing from one song to the next. Unlike Spotify, there is a noticeable lag or buffer when skipping from one song to the next, either from a playlist (assuming none of them were downloaded for offline listening) or from an album, or from the iTunes chart list. Spotify is really snappy, skipping songs is much faster, with less buffering needed to start the music playing. This buffering lag, is made worse if you have a bad connection. I know this because from where I use my pc at home, my wifi hotspot is pretty far away, and I usually get less than ideal wifi connection. Try streaming music through Apple Music with a 3G connection. It is just a pain to use sometimes. Spotify on the other hand is still usable most times and I do not encounter long buffering lags even with a bad connection. Spotify app on the iOS is even more impressive with the tap and hold feature. This allows you to preview song snippets in your playlist without interrupting your current music being played. This just shows the robustness of Spotify in their buffering technology.

On a more personal note, (and this is a deal breaker for me when it comes to which service I would ultimate subscribe to) I have problems streaming music from the Apple Music app when I’m on my workplace’s wifi network. After having checked with my IT department to get clearance and advice on how to allow data to pass through the company’s wifi router, their refuse to do it due to security issues. Even my workplace’s mac connected to an ethernet connection simply wouldn’t allow packets of data coming from Apple Music’s server to go through. As such, I cannot use Apple Music to listen to my favorite songs via Wifi. I am not willing to burn through my 4G data just by listening to music. Spotify work perfectly fine on either platform, and that unfortunately becomes the biggest deciding factor.

So ultimately, given my personal experiences, which service would I choose? I have 2 months left to my Apple Music subscription, thanks to the 3 month free subscription upon signing up. But once that is up, I think I will revert to Spotify. Sorry Apple Music, I think you are just not ready for primetime yet. While your music collection is impressive, I can live without a song or two in my playlist. What I ultimately value more in a such services, is the robustness of the app or software used for streaming. And, I can stream while at work via wifi. Spotify wins in this regard.