Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Future of Us - possibly the best SG50 product

2015 has been a year of unabashedly lavish indulgence for the Singaporean psyche. In stunningly predictable fashion, the populace made #SimiSaiAlsoSG50 a running joke before the first quarter of the year was over. With the year now drawing to quite the comfortable close, I'd say the Singaporean public, in particular those connected on the interwebs, is very much done with SG50. But ohhh dear friends, Singapore's not done with you just yet. Oh no, sir. No ma'am. December sees a final burst of activity to close the Golden Jubilee of our independence (if you've ever observed or analysed the pyrotechnic sequences of our National Day or New Year celebrations, you'll know what I mean).

Chief amongst these activities is the Future of Us exhibition, happening from 1 December 2015 till 8 March 2016 at Gardens by the Bay (just across from MBS, near the Meadow). According to its website description, "‘The Future of Us’ exhibition is an immersive and multi-sensory experience that offers a glimpse into the possibilities of how Singaporeans can live, work, play, care and learn in the future. ... It is the capstone event to round up Singapore’s SG50 year of celebrations." Tickets are free, but need to be pre-booked on the website, and collected before entry into the exhibition.

The Future of Us presents a forward-looking message of hope. Within its expansive (and logically, expensive) omnitheatrette, fancy projection mapping and literal sandcastles in the air of what the future could be, a singular message constantly rings clear.

The future may bring technology even sci-fi movies couldn't dream up. It may well hold possibilities that most of us would scoff at today. The future is as limitless as They say, but They always to neglect to mention one factor - you and I, the people piloting the future.

We who brought automobiles about. We who brought computers into our lives. We who have made smartphones as ubiquitous as day and night. Just as our evolving demands shape the development of technology and the world around us, so will our hopes, dreams and aspirations drive our future. We didn't become a global powerhouse within half-a-century by merely sitting about, so there's no reason why we should do so and expect to continue leading air-conditioned lives.

The future is up to us.

With all the hysteria of the year's celebrations, and no thanks to the countless brands who dived at this opportunity to show us just how bad their marketing can possibly get, such messages have sorely been lacking the government's overarching rhetoric. And that is not to say that there is no place for over-the-top celebrations and unbridled glee. We've come this far and we sure as hell deserve a party. Few other sovereign nations can claim as unique a milestone as its 50th year of independence, in such a time in the world's history as 2015. But even if it comes at the tail end of this year to remember, I'm glad to see that we have not neglected the biggest message that needs to be heard - that if not for its people, Singapore is nothing. Nothing at all.

The Future of Us, under the hand of creative director Gene Tan, has brought this message home like no amount of fireworks can.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tech Review: Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

TL;DR - if you aren't insanely particular about audio reproduction, and are instead more interested in not breaking your back or your baggage allowance, get the Roar 2.

A year ago I went on what David Attenborough might have described as a frenzy, technolusting after a product I only had theoretical knowledge about, eagerly awaiting the day I would be able to queue up (short one, because obviously I was one of the first), fling dolla dolla bills at the poor staff behind the counter, and dance out of the convention hall with my new-found (still theoretical) love into strawberry fields forever.

I did so, minus the swag bits (because civilization, guys), and went home with the Creative Sound Blaster Roar. And for once, the hype did not disappoint. It performed as it said it would, and astounded as it promised it would.

Courtesy of the awesomely hospitable Creative team, I got a chance to learn more about the Roar 2, and take a review unit home for further testing.

"20% smaller, 10% lighter, 100% sexier" is the tagline they've come up for the Roar 2 - I have my subjective reservations about the 100% sexier bit, but I still think the phrase makes brilliant sense from a marketing perspective. Creative basically said that they looked to shave as much external material and components without changing any of the core internal components that have contributed to the original device's jaw-dropping audio quality. For those considering the Roar for the first time, those internals are a bi-amplifier system separately driving two higher-range drivers, and one woofer with two passive bass radiators on either side that amplify and throw lower frequencies outwards, along with aptX and AAC Bluetooth audio codecs to ensure the best possible wireless sound.

Before I go on, Creative has made it clear, both to me and within their press and marketing materials, that the Roar 2 is not an upgrade, or a Gen-2 product, it is an alternative choice for customers in line with feedback asking for something even more compact, and lighter. Keep that in mind as you read through the rest of this review and assess which is better for you, the Roar 2 or the Roar Classic.

Shaving as much of the chassis off meant sizing down with as little compromise to the product's now famous audio quality. I suppose it is natural that the first thing to go were the metal grills protecting the bass radiators on either side. This along with the reduced overall size does mean that there is less room within the speaker for the bass to resonate, but more on how that affects overall sound later. Creative assures me that the now exposed radiators have been suitably reinforced, and indeed the metal plates are made of beautifully machined aluminum surrounded by a springy flexibie rubber that feels it can take some accidental impact. If it is your thing, the radiators now visibly pulsate to tangibly mesmerize you with almost-holographic Creative logos. Like so:

Other external enhancements: I love that the front buttons are now tactile bumps, instead of being flush with the surface. So much easier for you to deal with your speaker without looking at it, because there should be plenty more important things to do in a party, or indeed, for visually impaired people to use the device. The MicroSD card playback and voice record buttons sets at the back remain the same, but they have removed the alarm button out (I love bells and whistles but that was a vuvuzela right there if you know what I mean) and moved the Roar button to the back, which now functions to cycle between regular, Tera Bass and Roar audio modes. There is also now a switch between USB Audio and Mass Storage modes, to cut out the problem of cranky computers not recognizing your Roar's MicroSD as a storage device. This switch makes it clear what you intend to do - use it as audio output or manage your MicroSD card. Ports remain the same - MicroSD slot, MicroUSB, USB out for charging your device (the Roar uses a 6000mAh Li-ion battery), Aux In and DC In.

If you've read this far, you're interested in the crux of the matter: just how does a sized down Roar perform aurally?

 Maintaining the same innards as its predecessor means that the Roar 2 essentially can handle just about any genre of music you throw at it - classical, opera (not the same), hard rock, jazz, musicals, live recordings, funk, classic rock, electronic, dance. Those are just what I have in my library, and if tests are anything to go by, the list goes on. Nuances that you would think to forgo in a portable speaker surprise you by showing up anyway - the squeak of fretting on guitars, shadow beats on cymbals and drums, breathy harmonics on a flute. These are the marks of solidly crafted mid-high frequency drivers.

The bass continues to be a pleasure to indulge in, and now have throbbing aluminum plates to boot. The massive bass drops in Jamiroquai's Tallulah and Giorgio Moroder's 74 Is the New 24 did prove to be a little beyond the speaker's capabilities, but for one with dimensions similar to that of a paperback novel, the fact that it managed to reproduce half of those drops already speaks volumes (heheh volumes, geddit).

Roar 2 speaker configuration

A key difference between the Roar Classic, as they are calling it, and the Roar 2, is that the two mid-high speakers now accompany the low-mid woofer in firing upwards, as opposed to the front-firing configuration in the Roar Classic.

Roar 1/Classic speaker configuration

This crucial change makes for several things: with the Roar 2's configuration, you are now able to either lie the speaker down for coffee table-type use, or sit up for more directional, party-type use. This, Creative says, is in line with user feedback which requested this flexibility. When told this I nodded with a smile, guiltily wondering how many times I made my Roar Classic sit up, completely forgetting that the two more important speakers were firing right into solid wood or stone. Honestly, it still sounded good, which is why I never had enough cause to doubt I was using it wrongly, if I even did so in the first place.

The down side to this that, from a strictly audio perspective, you do not get the best-of-both-worlds configuration that the Roar Classic offers, firing mid/high frequencies forward while throwing low/mid frequencies upwards and sideways, where it would have more space to resonate. But hey, if you wanted something that can produce great audio at both low and high volumes, with audible bass, wherever the hell it fires as long as you hear it, then get the Roar 2, because it will be less of a strain on your luggage space, or your shoulder if you are hand-carrying it. If you know that you will be using this speaker for evening tunes before bed as much as you will be using them on travel, then get the Roar Classic, because you will most likely appreciate the more carefully projected soundstage the Classic offers.

If you already have the Roar Classic, I wouldn't advise purchasing the Roar 2, unless you have a family member whom you can pass the Classic to - remember, it is not an upgrade, it is an alternative choice for customers.

The original Creative Sound Blaster Roar is available at the IT Show 2015 at Suntec Convention Center Hall 601 for S$198, and the Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2 available in limited quantities for S$249 in black or white, bundled with a really sexy neoprene carrying case. If you are going to pick either products up there, ask for the discount vouchers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tech Review: Bowers & Wilkins T7 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Bowers & Wilkins, generally known as purveyors of hi-fi (seriously hi-fi) products with equally high aesthetics to match, entered the portable Bluetooth speaker foray last November, with the introduction of the T7 Bluetooth speaker. Featuring and proudly displaying the company's first commercial application of its honeycomb-structured Micro Matrix technology for greater cabinet support, the aptX-capable speaker uses two 50mm drivers with patent-pending force-cancelling high-output bass radiators (all them hyphened phrases... someone hold me please), supported by DSP and DAC modules, and high quality Class D amplifiers (you know... whatever they mean).

Designed with B&W's signature minimalism, the slim yet solid rectangular block features no more than a power button and battery level indicator on the right, volume, play/pause and Bluetooth connection buttons on top, and discreet charging, auxiliary input and Micro USB ports, along with a reboot button.

Battery life is impressive. I only charged it once, mistakenly as it turns out, since the battery was already almost full. And being the cluttered anti-minimalist that I am I fiddled about for a good 5 minutes before discovering the power button, along with the battery level indicator. Since then, I have used the speaker in approximately 5 half hour sessions at rather high volume, and have not had to charge the speaker. Its specifications boast up to 18 hours of battery life "at normal listening levels".

So let's get down to what this review really is about - does the T7 live up to the grand legacy of its older siblings? Yes, but not without its caveats.

The bottom line - sound is great. Said audio drivers were not developed and chosen lightly, and they throw sound far and forward quite commendably. Sound is clean and crisp, great across the board, but especially fantastic for jazz, be it quartet, big band or electric-style. Stereo separation is almost non-existent, but I've come to not expect that in a portable speaker anymore, except perhaps the X-mini Max (feel free to surprise me though).

My biggest problem with it? The lack of bass. The sleek and compact design ultimately took its toll on low-frequency resonance, and as far as I'm concerned anyway, the otherwise fantastic sound quality just makes the absence of bass even more apparent.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon a solution before completely writing the device off. While there is insufficient bass resonance, the speaker does still have good acoustic throw, and that applies to bass too. By setting it on my window ledge, I inadvertently turned the recessed space framing the ledge into a massive bass cabinet. If you have purchased the speaker and are fretting about this, find yourself a window ledge, cubby hole, or shelf measuring ideally 1 meter across diagonally - the squarer the space the better. Place your T7 approximately 40cm away from the wall of the space, step 2-3 meters back, and hear the difference for yourself. And if you are considering the T7, keep this in mind before cashing in. Alternatively if you aren't fussy about bass, and who am I to judge, even though I already am, then why not. Go right ahead.

The T7 is available now for S$590 at authorised dealers.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Alienware Area-51 Desktop & Alienware 13 Laptop debut at SITEX 2014

Alienware has brought the legendary Area-51 gaming desktop back in style, with a bold new form factor, and showcased their newest gaming laptop, the Alienware 13.

Alienware Area-51
Driven by Intel's latest six- or eight-core Haswell-E Core i7 K-series factory-overclocked processors, the Area-51 allows customers to configure the ultimate gaming machine, with options for up to:
  • triple AMD, triple NVIDIA or dual NVIDIA Titan Z graphics cards
  • 32GB Quad Channel DDR4 RAM
  • 512GB SSD with additional 4TB HDD storage
  • Killer Gigabit Ethernet
  • Wireless-AC
  • and... Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit (Hisham asked if there were options to downgrade to Win 7. "Not at the moment", they said)
This state-of-the-art pyramid will set you back S$3999 (dual GPU) or S$4999 (NVIDIA Titan), and can scale up or down depending on configuration options.

Alienware 13
The newest laptop in the Alienware's arsenal features a design refresh that, let's be honest, responds to the community's sentiment. The sharp aerospace-inspired designs have been well-received, but the bottom line is that the chassis is still way too thick and bulky to go up against competitors. I'm happy to say that the design language has been retained, within a much slimmer, and waaay sexier chassis, measuring 1-inch thin and starting at 4.5 pounds in weight. The screen comes in FHD by default, and Alienware offers options for up to QHD resolution, and touchscreen (in case you want to play Angry Birds in glorious 4K).
In addition to this, beginning with the Alienware 13, all new Alienware products will feature a special dedicated PCI Express-based port for the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, which houses full-length, dual-height graphics cards with up to 375W of power, and provides 4 powered USB 3.0 ports for easy connection of peripherals. The Amplifier aims to give users the choice of desktop graphics card from either AMD or NVIDIA, to work alongside their Alienware laptop. Great solution for a performance boost at home, while retaining portability on the move.
The Alienware 13 begins at $1,999, and the Alienware Graphics Amplifier retails for S$418.99 (card not included I assume).

If you want to check these new products out for yourself, Alienware is at SITEX 2014, Expo Hall 5.

Tech Review: Lomography Petzval Art Lens

When asked to review the Lomography Petzval Art Lens, I quite quickly said yes, without too much thought about what would be in store for me. I've toyed (hurhur geddit) around with Lomo products before, and as a digital photographer accustomed to minimal chromatic abberations, tack-sharp images, clearly-distinguishable bokeh and other clinical perfections achievable with the single click of a button in Lightroom, even my most twisted frame of mind had trouble making me let go of the fact that I have all but lost precious control of my aperture, shutter speed, focus and ISO.

For the record I still feel comfortable with a manual SLR. But Lomography's artistic concept is quite a different ball game, oftentimes leaning heavily on the highly forgiving nature of photographic film to capture otherwise ruined shots (and celebrating said near-destruction as art).


In the past year, Lomography has turned its focus towards engaging the digital photography market, with the Micro Four-Thirds Experimental Lens Kit for mirrorless systems, the upcoming New Russar+ for L39 and M mounts, and the Petzval lens for Canon and Nikon DSLR systems. This represents a slight change, or at least deviation, in direction for them, aiming to make unique, optically idiosyncratic lenses available to digital shooters instead of drawing them back to good ol' analogue photography..

 At a focal length of 85mm (often considered the most flattering focal length for portraiture) and a maximum aperture value of f/2.2, let's be clear about one thing - the Petzval lens isn't your typical plaything from Lomography. Without the luxuries of electronic apertures, auto-focus or even focus confirmation, users in my opinion will require adequate experience in aperture management and a keen eye to lock focus optically while capturing moments. If you don't already have a full frame DSLR body, I would recommend thinking about that first before spending on this lens. APS-C cameras will result in focal lengths of 127.5mm or 136mm (Nikon/Canon respectively) and unless you somehow feel comfortable working within that range, I imagine it will be quite the nightmare to operate snappily. I also believe full-frame cameras will more effectively bring out the unique optical features of this lens. While it isn't impossible to use this lens for street photography (by which I mean un-posed pictures), it will definitely be a heck of a greater challenge to use day-to-day than the more conventional 35mm or 50mm lengths.

Aperture size is controlled by a series of old-school-looking brass plates that frame the aperture hole nicely in the center of the lens. The plates start from the lens' maximum aperture of f/2.2, then move up to the conventional value of f/2.8, through to f/16 in 1-stop increments. After you get used to operating the lens, there's something quite therapeutic about palming an aperture plate (or two, if you're awesome like that), to have options on hand without having to fish out and sort through the whole carabiner of plates everytime you wish to switch. In my sessions with the lens I've alternated between f/2.8 and f/4, and f/4 and f/5.6. As far as my limited time with the lens could show, these were ideal aperture values that brought out the best of the lens. I also had the chance to mess around with the Petzval Special Aperture Plates, which feature unusual shapes that will show up in your background's bokeh. Great for concept stuff, but perhaps not for everyday use, in my opinion.

If an image shot with the Petzval were to be immediately recognized, it would perhaps be because of its swirling, arcing bokeh patterns and soft, misty feel, which I expect would usually prove a source of anguish and despair to aforementioned digital photographers, but otherwise has a rather dreamy and artistic effect to it. This is where aperture comes into play - too wide and the bokeh smudges into a huge singular blur; too small and the bokeh closes down, minimizing the swirly effect. On sunny days, on-focus images shot at f/5.6 onwards are guaranteed to produce painfully sharp shots. Indoors where more light input is required and larger apertures are in place, the focal sweet spot becomes paper-thin and misty images are not uncommon (or it could be my unsteady hands. YMMV~).


As far as the lens itself fares, it lives up to its inclusion under the Lomography brand: a slightly unpredictable, not-always-easy-to-use lens that you'd do well to just go on a journey with, and discover a new dimension of photography with. But perhaps the golden question boils down to this: is your photographic journey worth S$998 for a large, heavy, manual lens?

Wait, how much?!
 Yep. S$2 short of a whole grand. That's the price you will pay for a Petzval. As a photographer not naturally inclined towards portraiture, this frankly isn't a lens that I would consider purchasing. I always recommend my readers to try the product in question for themselves - I am after all just a single point of view. Failing that opportunity to do so, the most telling question I would say you should ask yourself is be your natural affinity towards portraiture. As with all things analogue, the lens will make you slow down and consider the value of your shot before taking it. After all, you will be quite obviously crouching or bending, trying to get the focus right. This exercise will very likely bring about a more thought-out shooting process, slowly improving the effectiveness of your photos.

So how much is your photography worth?
View the rest of my published shots at my Facebook album.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Drive Behind Pangdemonium

When thinking about digital storage in relation to performing arts, we usually gravitate towards filmmakers and musicians, they being the ones having to record numerous drafts and snippets and footage and clips as they work towards a final piece, often in uncompressed data formats that require obscene amounts of storage capacity.

Thespians aren't the first performers that come to mind when considering the horrors of a perpetual digital storage crisis. As an art form that is brought to the audience in real life and real time, the world of theatre, traditionally at least, requires far less storage than their counterparts. It's hard to say in this day and age that there is zero requirement for storage in theatre, where sound effects and soundtracks often support shows, and video embellishments and interactivity are increasingly commonplace and complex.

Local theatre company Pangdemonium was founded in 2009 by actor Adrian Pang and wife Tracie. Following the success of "Fat Pig" and "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice", the latest play to undergo Pangdemonium's treatment is "Frozen". No, something much darker than a princess with ice-making powers.

I had the opportunity to learn more from the man himself, Adrian, about how technology has changed us as a society, and how it has affected him and the company.

First of all Adrian, what would you say Pangdemonium stands for?
Pangdemonium stands for theatre that is not only entertaining, but also enriching, enlightening, and empowering; we believe in theatre that is aspirational and inspirational, passionate and compassionate, and impacts on audiences viscerally, intellectually, emotionally.

As you see it, is technology today stripping away what it means to be human, or does it in fact help reveal more of the human condition?
Technology certainly is keeping people apart, especially when people are together. You only have to observe friends or families in public, for proof that people have forgotten how to truly be together. Even in the theatre or the cinema, many individuals feel the compulsion to disengage from what they have paid to experience, in order to check up on what is happening on the outside. Which, by the way, is bloody rude, not only to the actors on stage, but also to the other members of the audience. If someone ever does so when I'm on stage I WILL MAKE SURE THEY STOP.

In fact your latest play Frozen deals very much with the human condition. What do you ultimately want your viewers to take home from that?
Three things:
  1. that we all have a responsibility as a community to protect all children from abuse in all its forms;
  2. crime and punishment, justice and retribution, redemption and forgiveness - forget everything you think you know, because Frozen will test you and make you re-evaluate your beliefs, and even get into heated arguments about them; 
  3. there does not need to be singing and dancing, fancy costumes and moving sets, for it to be a great night at the theatre.
Hand on heart, how much time do you spend on your gadgets? Are they a big part of your life? And what can’t you live without?I am a bit of a tech moron, so my gadget needs are very basic. I probably would have trouble with an electric toothbrush. But having said that, I cannot live without my laptop. In fact, I have a love-hate affair with it.

That said, you work with Western Digital for your storage needs for Pangdemonium; what do you use and can you tell us how does it fit into your workflow?
I am constantly working on some kind of writing - whether it's composing copy for publicity collateral, scripting, content for production programmes, etc - which takes up a lot of time, because there's always updating, editing and re-writing to do. I actually secretly love it! And having WD for my storage needs has been a real blessing and huge help to me, because I know that WD always has my back: speed, volume, security, reliability - for a borderline OCD writer like me, it's a perfect writing companion!

Pangdemonium uses a mix of portable and desktop hard disk drives from Western Digital, with the My Cloud EX4 storage server at the heart of their operations. As the company's central drive, it provides secure remote data access to employees wherever they are, as long as they have an Internet connection, and automatically backs up all computers and devices. This increased accessibility to the latest and most updated information has given the team more time to prepare for each production, instead of constantly having to housekeep their shared drive, and added assurance of data safety, with its backup measures.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Adobe Creative Cloud 2014: Keeping up to date without breaking your bank

This is part of my on-going review series for Adobe Creative Cloud 2014, of which I was given a complimentary one-year subscription.

When Adobe CC was first announced last year, many weren't sure where to place their opinions. A good many (such as I, initially) made calculations to see the difference between Creative Suite and Creative Cloud, and quite quickly realised that you the S$792 you will fork out over a year for a complete Adobe CC subscription will never compare to the thousands of dollars you would have to spend on any previous CS Master Collection. And perhaps why that wasn't so immediately apparent was because, and I'm sure many of my readers would already know this in... more than one way, Adobe products are amongst the most pirated software in the world. Adobe hopes to mitigate that with the availability of Creative Cloud.

I won't claim that Creative Cloud can or will shut piracy down. Neither does Adobe, and quite prudently so. That would have been disappointingly naive. Instead, much like music and Spotify, or videos and YouTube, it feels like Adobe is looking to make their very desirable offerings more affordable through technologies that weren't available before, with value adds to the greater ecosystem that will complete the user experience. In doing so, they hope, as do I, that more users will appreciate the benefits of paying a reasonable monthly price to have access to the latest updates and features. There will I'm sure be those who have built enough of a personal ecosystem around their Creative Suite apps that they will feel no impetus at all to move to the Creative Cloud, just because they've been doing fine the last 5 years. Obvious legalities aside, it's hard to blame them, given Adobe's pre-CC pricing model.

I should qualify at this point, to conclude the pre-amble, that I don't think Adobe's previous prices were unreasonable. Premium, perhaps, but given the almost unfathomable amount of features and possiblities built in to Photoshop, to name just their most popular product, they are qualified to ask that sort of money for it. What it was though, was simply unreachable, and adding to that the fact that most users probably use no more than the most common 5-10% of its capabilities - advanced users perhaps stretching that figure to 50% - it is near impossible to justify paying in excess of a thousand dollars for the program.

One year and lots of aggressive marketing later, the Creative Cloud apps have undergone major refreshes, both inwardly and outwardly, as they move into their second year of service with Creative Cloud 2014. One of the greatest advantages of CC is its update cycle. I've had my subscription for no more than 3 months, and in this time I have already been bugged 3-4 times by the CC manager app to download and install updates. Along with that there is also the rather obvious matter of choice. Anytime you decide you don't require a service anymore, you'll be able to drop it within 30 days of your decision, depending on the plan you selected, keeping sunk costs to a minimum. What's not to like?

As a photographer who also dabbles in abit of video and audio production from time to time, I primarily use Lightroom and Photoshop, along with Premiere Pro and Audition once in awhile. As my main tool, Lightroom can today still be purchased and function on its own as a One-Time License, for which I'm grateful. Subscribing to Lightroom through CC, however, unlocks Lightroom Mobile on the iPad, allowing you to sort your photos and do rudimentary edits (exposure, contrast, color/B&W, etc) on the go. This is great for the mid level professionals who have back to back schedules but don't necessarily have a team yet to hand the processing and editing to, post-shoot. CC subscriptions also allows users to use companion mobile apps like Photoshop Mix and Adobe Sketch with Photoshop CC, or Adobe Premiere Clip with Premiere Pro CC, powerful and accurate tools to help you capture those creative brain farts wherever you are.

At this point I need to shout about Adobe's incredible subscription plan for photographers. Keeping in mind that a single app subscription, ie. an ala carte selection, is S$26/month, the Photographers plan gives you the latest versions of Lightroom, Lightroom Mobile, Photoshop CC and Photoshop Mix - basically the complete set of desktop and mobile tools available from Adobe that a photographer will need to function - for S$13/month. If you haven't already done the math, that is half the price of 1 app for 2 apps and their mobile companions. Even if you find zero use and interest for Lightroom, you would have to be frighteningly stupid not to take up this deal.

CC apps, I have noticed, also boot up faster than its predecessors, probably due to tightened code. This is surely a welcome change for efficiency maniacs (come on, say it loud and proud) or those like me who want to execute an idea snappily, before the inspired processes or creativity slips our minds. Yes, it's a thing. It happens. No, you don't have to be old and forgetful to experience this.

Because Photoshop is to me a secondary tool that I only use for more complicated operations like image stitching, image stacking or HDR blending, I haven't had much opportunity to explore the great new features of Photoshop CC 2014, like automatic searches and downloads of missing fonts from the Typekit library, new blur motion effects and focus masking.

There will be more in-depth articles on that and the other apps I use, so stay tuned to this space!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

LifeTrak R450 Activity Tracker

The advent of smart watches have been followed by a slow but large wave of fitness trackers such as FitBit and the JawBone UP (these two being the more premium and well-known models). This in turn was more quickly followed up with by combination devices that monitor your physical activity alongside remote smartphone notifications, conveniently delivering to you the latest in your digital and online activities. The LifeTrak Brite R450 is fitness tracking company LifeTrak USA's latest flagship product, first launched towards the end of September and now available here in Singapore.


In addition to basic activity tracking, the R450 boasts some pretty impressive (-sounding, at least) features:

  • ECG-accurate heartrate monitoring that allows for more personalized calorie-burn information
  • light exposure levels, particularly the blue wavelength, which is said to affect mood, energy levels, and quality of rest
  • nap/sleep management, waking you up at an optimal time when you are not in deep sleep so that you are properly refreshed
  • enhanced step filtering and dynamic distance calibration (basically no more pedometer cheating like you did by rattling your Digimon)
The R450 also helps keep a check on your fitness goals (totally need this...), and lets you know when you have fallen behind or accomplished your goals, to keep you on trak (teehee). It syncs with the LifeTrak smartphone app to save longer term data for deeper insights. It supports 8 types of smartphone notifications, including IM, SMS, reminders and notifications from major apps.

At this point the R450 is compatible with iOS devices (click link to product page in first paragraph for detailed product compatibility), but the website as well as the distributor here confirms that the company is hard at work to expand compatibility to Android devices by the end of the year. Data can only be fed to the LifeTrak app right now, but "development is underway to get it integrated with Apple Health Kit and the Android equivalent". Which is tres bien. The watch uses a coin cell battery, avoiding the need to charge every other day (press release claims up to 6 months, which I think is quite impressive considering the stuff it purports to do), but neither is it self-recharging, so half-yearly battery replacements will be necessary if you choose to get this watch.

Lastly, the R450 is waterproof up to 30m, so basically having it with you 24/7, in the shower and while you swim, will be no issue. The only advice given is to try as much as possible to avoid pressing the device's buttons while underwater.

The LifeTrak Brite R450 is now available for S$179 at Axtro Sports, Challenger, Courts and Perfect Watch at Sim Lim Square. As I type, a test unit is on its way over, so stay tuned for the full review!


Friday, October 24, 2014

Let your ears be loved with Sennheiser Urbanite

Following a successful run (I think, certainly looks so at the surface but I haven't been following that closely) with their Momentum series of stylish headphones, Sennheiser looks to capture the increasingly discerning youth market (read: #richkidsofsingapore) by following up with the Urbanite range of street-friendly headphones.

As with the Momentum series, the series consists of two main models - an on-ear version and an over-ear version. Each model then has removable remote control cables (1.2m) suited to either Apple or Android devices. These cables will also be available separately, shortly after the range's availability date of 28 October 2014, along with a universal version with slider-controlled volume (ie. analog, not electronic).

Unlike the Momentum series, which is predominantly dressed in leather, the Urbanite range sports denim and canvas fabrics, complemented with highly flexible and durable stainless steel and aluminum parts to travel with you all day. And what's a fashion-oriented line of products without a range of colors? The Urbanite XL (top) and Urbanite (below) don't exactly come in bright, eye-shredding shades, but its options will quite easily coordinate with your wardrobe (this coming from a self-professed fashion dunce, so if you can't even manage to complement light and dark against each other properly then just get yourself the black model and be done with it). It must be mentioned that the earpads are made of velvety material, which makes for a very comfortable rest, but absorbs sweat like a sponge. I foresee this may will cause some awkward moments in the longer run.

Ok, first impressions of the audio quality. I used to shy away from products claiming "extra bass", because no matter how marketing spins it, the sound almost always ends up muddier than a Muk after it's had a dip in the Ganges. I was very pleased, therefore, to note that Sennheiser has not sacrificed its legacy of pristine audio in favor of style. While I unfortunately neglected to check if the drivers for both products were different, the XL/over-ear version definitely provided accurate, tight bass lines, whether you are listening to defined beats in techno or rock, or wider, further-reaching rumbles and pulses in musicals and classical music. Mids are richly defined, and highs rarely, if ever, turn exceedingly sharp. With a smaller circumference, the Urbanite/on-ear version pipied out a more concentrated projection of sound. For me, this seemed to bring about a more packed-in bass that didn't resonate as well as that of the XL. Similarly, while its high-fidelity was quite apparent, the mids and bass felt like commuters jostling onto an already crowded train platform during peak hour, unable to reach their full aural potential. Fellow bloggers who attended the event with me opined otherwise though, so as I always recommend to anyone who asks me about audio, that's my opinion, but try it out for yourself to be sure. I can give you my point of view but I can never hear on your behalf.

The Urbanite (on-ear) will retail for S$269, and the Urbanite XL (over-ear) will retail for S$339. They will be available from 28 October 2014 onwards at the Sennheiser Concept Store at Marina Square (try it out here!) and authorised retailers.

With the range's focus on street style, Sennheiser in Singapore has partnered with "a local independent, multi-label company", SUP Clothing at Haji Lane (I mean, where else right?), to launch the line, by identifying and engaging with fashion-forward people, who will receive the chance to win fully styled outfits along with Urbanite headphones.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tech Review: Logitech X300 and X100 Mobile Wireless Speakers

When I requested to try out the Logitech X300 portable speakers, and got myself the X100 speakers to go along with it as well, part of me wondered if I had dug myself a hole.

Logitech is best known for its practical, nothing fancy (apart from color options lol), value-for-money products. But as far as recollective comparisons go, I mostly had higher-end portable speakers or small speaker set ups as reference, such as the Creative Roar. Would I be able to make a fair comparison across two different product tiers?

In a strange way, therefore, I eagerly unboxed the product when I received it and tested it out.

I would like to say I did my worst to it in testing, but the truth is that there is nothing really to test beyond its intended function. True to its principles, the portable Bluetooth speaker was... a portable Bluetooth speaker. It's functions were made clear on the product itself, that it would do nothing more, but nothing less that what it promised either. There weren't any fancy USB ports for charging smartphones, or alarm systems, or custom docks, or other fairy dust. And that was alright in its own way, because I hardly needed to read the instruction manual to get myself set up and running with the device.

Let's get to the crux of it, and I'll tell it like it is. There is no bass. Perhaps some indication of a bass beat, but nothing more to lend conventional foundation to your music. But being straightforward as it is, I imagine Logitech must have weight the options with cost effectiveness as a priority.

 Now what would does the X300 offer? Mainly, stereo speakers that are angled to maximize stereo effect and reach. For all the quality boasted (rightfully) by Creative and Bose and its peers, stereo separation is something hardly addressed, and very often a weakness of portable speakers priced in excess of S$300. In a party or picnic setting, when you mainly want to have some background music running to add to the mood, I would argue that reach would be way more of a priority than tight, noticeable bass response. And that is what the X300 aims to deliver. Nothing more, but nothing less. It must be said that crackling was observed, but minimum and only at levels so high that one either would find uncomfortable for background music, or ignore because the party was louder anyway.

The X100 is even more utilitarian, sporting only a single large speaker to blare out your music. I used the included cord to fasten the speaker to a bicycle on a long-distance ride with my friends, and had the Best of Queen accompany us for the ride. Again, it was apparent that the speaker's job was done without the need for clear bass. The cord fastened very tightly, to the point where I had some trouble removing it at the end of the ride, but I would really much rather it got stuck than unfastened itself halfway while I was going down a path at 15km/h. Although knock on wood, if that really happened, both the X300 and X100 are encased in rubber finishes that I believe will provide a degree of protection from unintentional shocks.

At the end of the day, the Logitech X300 (S$99) and the Logitech X100 (S$69) mobile wireless speakers present a very viable no-frills option for those of you out there who aren't fussy about the quality of their music on-the-go, and just want a simple device to spice up your outings and gatherings. They say you get what you pay for, and with Logitech, every cent is worth its money.

No more, no less.