Tuesday, October 21, 2014

iPad Air 2 good, iPad mini 3 pathetic

Late last year, I chose a Google Nexus 7, the 2013, revised version.  Why?  The iPad mini didn't really meet my needs.  It was too wide to be held in one of my hands, and it wasn't very powerful, but it was really expensive.  Now that the newer version is out, last year's model has been dropped by US$100, and it's still not a bargain.  However, the newer version isn't worth an extra US$100.  People are better off buying last year's model for less.

Why does it seem that Apple are trying to push the iPad Air 2, even more than they were trying to push the iPad Air?  That's my only explanation for the relative crapiness of the iPad mini.  It makes the current iPad Air look a relative bargain.  I'm even considering an iPad Air 2 for me.

Another problem for the iPad mini is the iPhone 6 Plus.  It is big enough, and its resolution is brilliant for the size.  It also has strong processing power.  Except for the size, it seems a great choice.  I was interested in the LG G2 and Nexus 5 last year about this time but they were so large that I thought twice about them, despite the power.

I'm sure Apple will do well enough, especially with the iPad Air 2 but who will buy the newest iPad mini?

OS X Mavericks now, Yosemite later

I've had OS X Mavericks for a week or so.  Since Mac OS X, I've taken it a bit more slowly with my updates, upgrades.

When I went from 10.2.x to 10.3.0, things went awry.  It took until 10.3.4 until most everything worked again.  It seemed with every release, it took until 10.x.4 until it was stable enough for all that I did, so I waited, even though I had used the beta test versions for testing and programming purposes.

When Avie Tevanian left Apple, Mac OS X seemed to become even more sloppy.  I still have a PowerBook G4 on 10.5.8 and it really could have used some bug fixes.  Thankfully, they produced a number of security updates since then, and some of those helped stability.

Since 10.6.8, Apple provided (Mac) OS X on less and less media until it was only available for installation over a network connection.  When I got my mid-2012 MacBook Pro, it got 10.8.0, which required updates while connected to the internet.

So, I bought a new version of Phase One's Capture One version 8.  The only problem was that the software didn't work on 10.8.x and I didn't see anything about the system requirements ahead of the purchase, which seemed odd for them.  Obviously, I wanted the new version of the raw development software so much that I was not thinking as well as I should have.

Having spent the money, I needed the update to OS X 10.9.x.  The nearest Apple Store was okay with installing the update for me.  If there was physical media, I would have installed it myself.  Actually, I was expecting to occupy a corner of the Genius Bar with their internal network connected to my computer and I would install the update myself.  They had a local installation image of the update and they used that.

They managed to e-mail me when they finished the update, but they didn't use the phone number they confirmed three times.  Since they had my computer and I expected a phone call, I didn't check my e-mail.  I returned to the store about 45 minutes before the store would close, just hoping that they had finished.

Long story, long, I've updated and my computer is still working.  Mavericks is slightly better than Mountain Lion, so I feel okay about the changes.  I'm not finding any interesting or odd behavior.  I'm glad I did the update when I did, so that I wasn't forced to Yosemite.  The only Yosemite I want close right now is the national park.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Panasonic GM1 vs GM5

I was looking at the Panasonic GM1 within the last two weeks.  It is an interesting camera body, having the power of the micro Four-Thirds in the smallest possible body.  With an adapter, it can even use various lenses, and for me, my current Four-Thirds mount lenses.

GM1 with Four-Thirds Leica 25mm f/1.4
GM1 with Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7

I stopped myself from buying it, just because the GM5 was rumored to be released soon.  Today, they made that announcement and the GM5 should be available in November.  I'm even more interested because it is an improved model, which includes a hot shoe and an EVF.

Why is this important?  I live in a very sunny part of California and using the rear display works fine in a store but not necessarily during a very sunny day.  Trying to see my smartphone or tablet display is nearly impossible, though I've become very good at taking photos using muscle memory.  Even if the EVF has the rainbow/tearing effect that plagues the GX7 for some people, it's better than not having an EVF at all.

The lack of a tiny built-in/inbuilt flash to make room for the EVF is okay, since they've included a hot shoe, so that you can now use the included flash or another, more high-powered model.  The GM1 has no such ability to use an external flash unit.

Being able to take 1080/60p video is a worthy enhancement, though I haven't seen anything about 25p or 50p.  Those in PAL areas may be disappointed.  It's possible the press releases I've seen were tailored for each country.

Of course, the GM5 kit is more expensive than the GM1 kit--US$899.99 vs $759.99, I believe was the price I was quoted at the store.  (I have no desire for the 12-32mm lens but the pre-orders seem to be stuck with it.  There are still no Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 kits.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thank you, Nikon, for the D750!

If it's not everything you think it should be, you probably don't understand reality.

This was a good surprise (and makes me think less about the D400 and D7100).  A reasonable resolution from the sensor, plus good low light performance (technically, so far to ISO 12800 within the suggested range), and an auto focus unit that goes almost as low as the Panasonic GH3/GH4, to EV-3 gives this camera body a lot of appeal for a reasonably low price.

You can say that Sony has something smaller and cheaper, but if you want great performance, you don't go to Sony.  I'm not saying that the Nikon D600 or D610 are great but it seems that we'll get great performance from the D750 that sports photographers would love--something that didn't quite make it all the way into the D800/D810.

The Expeed 4 processor seems to help quite a lot.  It's showing up everywhere now, and it feels as though Nikon has smacked Canon up one side and down the other, even as a replacement for the 7D is around the corner.

Is US$2299.99 a huge price?  I don't think so when you compare what else is available, even if you just look at Nikon's products.

I wonder if the use of polycarbonate will compromise the weather-proofing of the D750 body.  It's certainly a possibility for damage during a drop.  The light weight should be useful, though, as long as the balance with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is still good.

Why is this important?  That would be my main combination.  I'm betting for a lot of those with the D700, it's an easy switch.  Handling the file size will be the real problem, going from 12 MP to 24 MP should be a bit troubling but no more than going from 6.x MP to 12 MP, right?

I'm guessing that the pre-orders are going to be excessive.

(Oh, I've seen some comments that seem as though Nikon has done a terrible thing--that the D750 cannot be the replacement for the D700, emotionally or otherwise.  If I look at camera bodies as more than tools, I would have to say that the Olympus OM-1N was the best 135 Format film camera body ever created.  It was good, but I don't believe that it was the best.  Life goes on.  We'll survive the changes.)

Update 2014.10.15: I handled a D750 at Best Buy yesterday.  It was not as heavy or large as I expected.  That said, you'll probably find it heavy and large.  I still like my dSLRs.  It felt as though it would be well balanced with any 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, though they had something of a normal zoom mounted that brought up the price another US$700.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sprint is still amusing me instead of amazing me

Since I moved to a rural area of California along I-5 and SR 99, I haven't seen more success in a great network experience than I had at the last place.

In fact, Sprint doesn't even have a store here, though they have 3 kiosks in malls about 15 miles from here.  The local Sprint reseller is next to SR 99 and is on the edge of LTE and a large roaming area.  The fact that I'm on another edge of those area is frustrating.  My bedroom has LTE near the street and 3G toward the back of the apartment complex and the phone searches for service in the middle.

Truth be told, Verizon is not really great here, so I'm not getting any real satisfaction on the computer or tablet.  It's just less worse.

Occasionally, I'll send a tweet to @sprintcare.  Recently, I asked @sprintcare why their reseller didn't get good coverage (there is a roaming hole near the shopping area), and I was told that the majority of the 95336 area was in the Fair rating.  It is, but that is Sprint's rating for "Virtually unusable".  Using Yelp to Check-in often results in a time-out after 3-4 minutes.

He completely ignored the large roaming area in town and told me to go check their AIRAVE device.  The last time I looked, it was not a portable device that I could take with me.  It also required a wired internet connection, which they were unwilling to provide the last time they pushed me toward the option.

Tell me why it is my responsibility to fix their network problems by paying more to use a device to work around their shortcomings.  I'd really like to know.

That said, I can see the LTE signal becoming stronger.  In recent days, it's working in the living room.  LTE works fine in the San Francisco Bay Area in most places.  I have hope.  They're just not working as quickly as I expected.  It's already September and many places are not working with LTE as they should be.

I need more patience but this is something that is stretched far too thin since say, 2008.

Apple didn't bring Elvis back, either

Another Apple announcement--nothing to report, really.  Yes, I'm kidding.

I've already seen the fanatics on both sides hammering out comments.  Geez!

I suspected that unless the company brought back Elvis, there was nothing really important, and the company would go out of business in short order.  It's an obvious conclusion, isn't it?

I'm glad to see a number of phone choices with realistic storage sizes.  (It's odd that my 32 GB iPhone 4S was enough but not my 32 GB iPhone 5c.)  Double the storage is good, especially since the world has changed.

The fingerprint scanner will be available for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.  That's a good thing because they're introducing a rather comprehensive payment system and payments can be done with a touch of your thumb.

Do the new phone sizes (4.7 and 5.5 inch) change things?  They will make a difference for those people who think bigger is better without being able to discern much of anything else.  Of course, for people with huge hands, the 5.5 inch model will be helpful.  The bigger model's 1920x1080 resolution ticks another box as it meets full HD resolution.

The operating efficiency enhancements are more important and they've switched to more powerful and more capable processors, switched to larger batteries, and you may get better battery life in your real world experience.  Of course, a lot of your battery life depends on your carrier, and how much you use those new, bigger displays.

I'm a bit enamoured of the LG G3's display but of course, not with the battery life.  Samsung has also been showing its best components with little regard to real life usage but they do have great displays.

My only question is whether a bigger phone will suit me?  I remember looking at the HTC One (M7) and thinking that it was too large, along with its Android competition.  I was so close to buying one of those or the LG G2 and I wanted something smaller.

I'll be looking forward to iOS 8 at some point, but I doubt I'll be an early victim, errr, adopter.  Too often Apple doesn't finish their thoughts and leaves users hanging.

Is anyone interested in the Apple Watch?  I wish that I was.  It is interesting, but starting at US$349, I won't be buying one.  Do I wear a watch now?  No, so it would be something new for me to take off and forget somewhere.  I have a load of watches I have not worn since 2004, so it would take a very good reason for me to wear one.

The user interface looks incredible and I think they've got good ideas in there, unlike the other brands--something Samsung will want to borrow.  (Even if you don't like Apple, it's obvious that Samsung has used products from Apple, Nokia, Motorola, BlackBerry and others as design templates for many products, coming close to verbatim copies in many cases.)

I've seen people who are crazy about watches, and I know for a fact that shopping channels like ShopNBC have special programming just about watches.  There are customers out there.

I've been wondering how Apple will collapse not just health-oriented watches and monitors business but the industry of runners' watches.  I could see the company buying Polar and other smaller companies in the business.

The only real surprise I got was the lack of iPad replacements.  Update: Late October launch event?

Oh, and what's not a product but a change in the way we'll all do business is Apple Pay.  Strange to think about it but it may finally put to rest checks, cards, and even cash within 20 years.  Apple has a way of putting together procedures to make life easier.  I'm not saying that it will be perfect and it will take a few generations of devices before it's into everyone's wallet, but it has a good chance of making payments easier.

There need to be a lot of things in place before I would trust it, but I say that about everything.  I'm not trusting of current physical cards and procedures.  I want to sign for purchases of $10 or more--not $50 or more.

Of course, the government will have to do some research because Apple is claiming some counter fee that card issuers should pay it for sales going through their system.  It should be interesting.

Update 2014.09.19: The iPhone lines are being satisfied all over the world.  I can't imagine how or why people would switch so often.   Would I pay the ETF (early termination fee) to get a newer phone?  It had better wash dishes and cook for me, if I'm going to pay extra.  They cost enough with or without subsidies.  I know both sides of the story, and yes, if we didn't have contracts but could get similar service without it, I would pay the full price for a phone.  Standing in line for a new phone that hasn't been tested by millions of people yet?  No, thanks.

iOS arrived the day before my birthday this week.  I'm interested but considering the typical flaws, I would rather wait until version 8.1 but considering how long it took them to get to 7.1, I might turn blue in the face holding my breath.  We'll see how many security issues are outstanding in 7.x.

Oh, and if you're on the iPhone 4S, you might want to wait--there may be issues, as there were with iOS 7 and iPhone 4.

Monday, September 1, 2014

4K, 3D TV on the way (okay, it's here and working)

This was a very weird decision to make.

Months ago, I traded my 3D TV and Blu-Ray player for some help in getting things to the garage from other levels of my house.  I knew that the heavy TV panel on the flimsy pedestal would end up in millions of pixel-sized pieces at the other end of the journey, so I did the best thing.

I've been looking for a TV to replace it.  If the 3D craze had gone better, it wouldn't have been a big search.  Of course, had I not chosen an LG 3D TV in November 2011, I wouldn't be looking for one now.  I found enough movies that I liked in 3D that I wanted to see them in 3D again.

So, I started to search, starting with the same Blu-Ray player/3D TV combo deal.   Nothing was available.  Many of the TVs just weren't available and various web sites would produce links that went to whatever models were available, none of which had any 3D capability.

So, I noticed that all of the 4K TV models had 3D capabilities, until recently, that is.  I tried various models at Best Buy, where I was shown a Sony 1080p TV in their Magnolia Home Theater department, which was very good.  The price was somewhat high, but given the area, I could understand.  Recently, I went to try the 3D effect.  The heavy, active 3D glasses caused some kind of odd feeling in my nose as they sat there.  Perhaps, it was like getting a buzzing in your ear.  It wasn't exactly a vibration but maybe an electromagnetic resonance that was uncomfortable.

The 3D effect was rather good but within a few minutes, I couldn't wear the glasses any longer.

I was told the only alternatives were LG and Vizio.  I had reasonable luck with the bargain LG TV but I continue to hear how people have wildly variable experiences with Vizio.  So, I was thrilled when someone showed me a 49 inch class (class? Just say that it's 48.5 inches) LG 4K 3D TV (LG 49UB8500) at $1499.99.  Yes, that is not cheap, but it was a small difference from the 1080p Sony TV.  It's actually the same as my first 41 inch rear projection TV I bought in 1994 at Macy's.

I've seen several 1080p movies played on it and it's obvious that they're pixelated here and there, but no more so than on other 4K TVs I've seen--or for that matter, 1080p TVs.

There are two big deals for me--substantial processing power and passive 3D glasses.

Obviously, with the ability to decode 4K content, it will do just fine with 1080p and 1080p 3D content, and that's plenty.  Do I expect 4K to hit it big?  No, not in the least.  I expect that 8K will have the major content re-work behind it.

I heard that DirecTV is planning to deliver (some) 4K content any time now, but whether I want to pay extra for that (if there is an extra fee), is unlikely.  I'm finally making the switch to 1080p/1080i content, since I started with them in December 2008.

In any case, I got an extra $100 off because of the Labor Day weekend sales.  I wanted to buy through the same store in NYC that sells me cameras but their sale went off earlier than expected, probably because of the East Coast/West Coast time difference, and I had to wait a bit to transfer money.  Having a 6% points coupon would have been good, along with the $100 discount.  In any case, Best Buy is getting my money and they have free delivery, which will probably come from one of the local stores where I viewed the TV.

The only thing really left to do (for the TV itself) is to get an upscaling 4K Blu-Ray player some time in the future, especially if the current one just doesn't do the job.  I need a sound system and haven't decided on anything.  Being in an apartment has changed my options a bit and having a 900 watt system is probably not as good an idea as it was.

Update 2014.09.05: The TV was delivered between 3:30 and 5:30, as promised.  With free delivery, there was no setup.  That left the assembly to me. The box was strapped and the reason for it became quickly apparent.  The box wasn't much.  There was a small stand with the styrofoam holding the panel and the outer box that had no bottom.

There was a box reminiscent of something Apple would do with various adapters, the remote control and batteries, as well as instruction manuals and some screws for the assembly.

The assembly took a little work and was best handled by two people.  I had my buddy keep the panel upside down, while I secured the stand to the panel.  It wasn't exactly difficult and why do these stands never seem substantial?

Once finished, the TV required a brief setup and found my internet connection.  For such a TV, it shouldn't be a surprise that it had built-in WiFi.  This also has webOS as a base, using their Magic Remote as a pointer.  Getting anything done with the pointer is an exercise in frustration.  However, the TV looks good, has a tiny bezel, and the image quality even from DVDs is quite good.  I haven't checked too much about screen dimensions--4:3 seems to cover everything but 16:9 has a letterbox setup.

I noticed that my 16 MP JPEG photo files were displayed just fine using a rear USB port.  One of the three ports seemed to be USB 3.0 compatible.  There are ports, with cabling adapters, for composite and component video.  My old HDD/DVD recorder works well with it.  I supposed it will be a while until I adjust but the image quality is quite good and even the 3D was quite good.  Only the extremely cheap 3D glasses (cheaper than those from the cheapo 2011 set I had) let it down a bit.

Update 2014.09.06: Went to Best Buy to retrieve the Sony upscaling 4K Blu-Ray player, which was on sale for US$149.99.  It feels incredibly cheap, but it's a bit bigger than the 1080p model.  The remote control is exactly the same.  It works well enough.  I'm waiting for Yamaha or someone else to provide something amazing for more money, but I think it won't matter much.  I just wish I could enhance the firmware.  It keeps requesting a USB drive in back to keep information about Blu-Ray discs--their way of cutting costs to keep the price low, whereas other units I've had kept the information internally.

Update 2014.09.19: I need more and better sound.  I've been looking at sound bars and I'm just not sure.  Certainly the US$300 sound bars aren't going to give me much better sound, if any, than the TV already gives me.

Best Buy sales people push Jamo, which is owned my Harman International, which own Harman-Kardon, JBL, Infinity, and more.  Is $799.99 too much?  I'm not sure.  They also talked about Sonos, which makes a lot of portable music speakers.  It was $100 cheaper but seemed to lack the subwoofer, and I found the subwoofer later for an equal amount, which could make a comparable Sonos sound bar system as much as Bose.  I even had a convincing Bose Cinemate 1SR demonstration, but Bose stores are quiet.  That sound bar system was US$1499.99, which is probably not the highest you'd find

Update 2014.10.09: I changed my mind about the sound bar and DirecTV is working now.  I was ready to buy the Jamo sound bar and no Best Buy location seemed to have them.  They had a big drop in price on the Cinemate 1SR to US$1099.99 and I was ready to go for that, but they also didn't have those.

I was really thinking about buying a Yamaha receiver and buying a set of Infinity speakers, along with my Bose center channel speaker which is really thin.  Then, I noticed a premium Yamaha sound bar for US$999.99.  Of course, I kept looking and at $1499.99 and $1799.99, the capabilities and power became much better.  The top end model, the YSP-4300 had all of the DSP sound modes I wanted, claimed to deliver 7.1 sound (as did the YSP-3300), but also had FM radio and a USB connection for devices, just like my previous Yamaha receiver.

The only problem with a sound bar--like many central channel speakers--is finding a place for it.  Either it blocks the TV or it won't fit on the shelf.  Currently, I'm looking at buying a large piece of heavy, sturdy glass to lay under the TV that will extend past the ends of the top shelf of the TV stand in order to hold the sound bar comfortably.

As far as DirecTV is concerned, the HD video quality is generally amazing though many channels still don't have HD broadcasts.  I haven't seen anything about 4K video, but then, that will probably be as great as the 3D video that has come and gone.