Sunday, December 29, 2013

Olympus E-M1, camera of the year?

I'm a bit surprised to see so much love given to the E-M1, or for that matter, to any Olympus product.  It's been years since the company has been shown more than people's backsides.

Even DPReview has changed greatly in their treatment of Olympus.  There was a time when Olympus wouldn't even send them a camera to review because the response from DPReview was usually so negative.

There have been a load of interesting camera bodies lately including the FujiFilm X-E2, the Sony A7/A7R, the Pentax K-3, and the Nikon D610.

To me, the E-M1 is good enough to represent the beginning of the end of the SLR.

Yes, I said that.  Even though I didn't find it appropriate for me, it has a number of great attributes that put it into direct opposition to dSLRs.

  • Excellent viewfinder
  • Quick response
  • Good size with great balance for native lenses
  • Excellent auto focus and auto exposure
  • Good controls
  • It doesn't get in the way
  • Super Control Panel

I've complained loads about electronic viewfinders, and I complain loads when I have to use my GH3's viewfinder with sunglasses.  There was no problem with the E-M1 EVF.  It just worked for me.

The camera body was responsive, and even waking from sleep wasn't horribly long.  I learned a long time ago to power on the camera and let it go to sleep until needed.  Olympus understands this and provides a quick waking cycle, once again, unlike my GH3.

While many people have embraced the diminutive size of most micro Four-Thirds equipment, I don't care for it.  The GH3 is a reasonable size, especially considering the fully-articulated rear display and external controls.  The E-M1 is close to that, and even longer native lenses are just fine.  It is also sufficient for Olympus' HG line of lenses and some of the SHG line though too small for the largest of them.

My use of auto focus is minimal and I don't want the scatter pattern of multiple AF points to ruin my shots.  Using a touch panel to select an AF point is different, and is the probably the greatest thing that mirror-less system cameras bring to the table.  Both auto focus and auto exposure were quick and accurate, although I didn't try to focus in the dark which is something the latest Panasonic bodies do so well, down to EV -4.

The controls were fairly good.  Unfortunately, during my time with the E-M1, I got a body that had the exposure compensation quite a bit away from flat, and it took a while to figure out how to change it.  Exposure compensation should have its own external control that is marked, so there is no guesswork.  I hope that the mushy shutter release has been resolved.  I couldn't get a half-press to confirm auto exposure or auto focus and took a photo each time I attempted the half-press.

While I understand that picking up a new camera body and just shooting may not give you the best photos, it should not take loads of time to acclimate yourself to getting those photos.  Do I care where the power switch is?  Yes, but only twice.  Controls like auto focus, bracketing, and exposure compensation should be front and center.   If I had the time to mess during photography, I'd be a landscape photographer using medium format.

That said, I was able to use the camera right away.  It wasn't confusing, past the exposure compensation, and it felt like an extension of my body, much like the E-1 did.

So, why am I not buying one of these, and waiting to see the replacement?

  • Single flash memory card slot
  • Rear display not fully-articulated
  • Small battery and therefore, small, uncomfortable grip
  • So-so implementation of auto focus for Four-Thirds lenses

For Olympus' pushing the E-M1 as a professional alternative, and the E-5 successor, it isn't quite there.  It lacks what made the E-5 a good decision for me, to switch from the E-1, rather than to switch camps to buy the Nikon D300/D300s.

They feel that they know their customers, and while the camera has been a success, it's not a good successor to the E-5.  Of course, those few of us to still be using Olympus' big glass should have switched to another brand years ago.  The company missed an opportunity, though, to meet in the middle, going too small, and not really understanding the E-1/E-3/E-5 customers.

Still, the E-M1 is a great alternative to anyone considering a camera body in the US$1000 - US$2000 range.  It only takes a look at the dSLRs in the range and FujiFilm's rangefinder-style alternatives to realize how good the E-M1 is.  Sony's 135 format A7 is priced nicely and offers a lot, but what happens if they let it languish, as they've done with their NEX-system?  What I've read about the A7 is that it's not easy to use, which seems to be a typical Sony problem.  They've taken an electronics company's view on cameras, and I'm really shocked that Panasonic got over that.  I never thought that I'd be using a Panasonic camera--ever--but it doesn't work like a rice cooker or a phone.  The GH3 works like a camera built for photographers.  I just wish that Olympus had put a bit more into the E-M1, so that it felt as comfortable as the GH3, and had the video capabilities.

Update 2014.03.13: I expect that the FujiFilm X-T1 will be the camera of the year for 2014, even though the Nikon D4s is extremely good.  However, we're just into the third month of the year and there will be many more.  I expect that the Panasonic GH4 will be my camera of the year, but it probably isn't going to be a popular choice for a hobbyist because it's more of a professional tool.  It's larger than the E-M1 or X-T1, though it's tiny compared to the D4s.  If the GH4 is like my GH3 but without the flaws and with better video and stills, it's definitely a good choice for me.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

FujiFilm 10-24mm f/4.0 lens, a reason to switch camps?

There are occasions where I need wide angle photography and given that I'm using Four-Thirds and micro Four-Thirds at the moment,  wide angle photography is limited to 14mm at the moment with native lenses.  Something more might be achieved with one of the wider-faster adapters, but it seems that it would be less of a compromise to just buy into a new system.

The widest native lenses are the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4.0 or the Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 but I'm not sure if I want to dig deeper into micro Four-Thirds.  There are the Olympus 9-18mm lenses but I'm not really sure about the optics and f/4.0-5.6 tends to be darker quickly.  The Olympus 7-14mm is the only one that really fits, as I can use it on my Four-Thirds bodies as well as micro Four-Thirds bodies and it is weather-sealed, but then, maybe I don't really need such a feature.

This new FujiFilm 10-24mm f/4.0 lens seems appealing, especially with the X-E2 (or X-T1) body.  (The X-Pro1 could use an update, don't you think?)

FujiFilm 10-24mm f/4.0

If the image quality is a match for the sensor, it should be a potent combination, more than a match for a dSLR using a same-sized sensor.  How big does a 135 format lens have to be to cover 15-36mm at a constant f/4.0?  Will a filter size of 67mm cover it?  It's not likely.

The FujiFilm lens has to be slightly larger than the Panasonic 7-14mm and it's definitely heavier at 410 grams over the 300 grams for the Panasonic lens.  I wanted to compare by filter size but the Panasonic lens, like the Olympus lens has a convex front element and therefore, doesn't allow filters.  The filter size of the 10-24mm lens is 72mm, which seems large for an f/4.0 lens, but it really is (ultra-)wide at 10mm.  The Olympus lens is substantially heavier at 780 grams but the image quality is what you'd expect for a premium, weather-sealed lens.  Strangely, the Olympus lens seems to have been removed from the company's web site.

Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4.0
Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0
The built-in lens hood is both brilliant and frustrating because the whole front of both lenses precludes the use of filters, and there is no rear drop-in slot.  Why Panasonic chose to duplicate the lens in such detail is beyond me, except that at 7mm, you need to take rather extreme measures to counteract distortion.  Unfortunately, they duplicated the lens without the weather-sealing.  The lack of weather-seals would also be a problem for me with the FujiFilm lens.  I might do better to buy a cheaper dSLR and wide angle lens for as little as I might use it.

FujiFilm, with their great sensor are breaking boundaries again.  I liked what they were doing when they were still doing dSLRs in Nikon bodies.  However, at those speeds, the dSLRs were better in the studio than out in the world where speed would be an issue.  They seem to be finding themselves right now, as Olympus and Panasonic did with their first few generations of mirror-less system cameras.  Once FujiFilm finds their way, I suspect that Samsung and Sony won't have a chance in the APS-C market.  If FujiFilm would put together a dSLR-shaped model, it would likely boost sales and cut into Panasonic's market, also, except for video.

In any case, the 10-24mm f/4.0 isn't due until March and I doubt we'll see any previews until just before it's ready, so it will be difficult to judge the image quality.  I'm looking forward to it.

Update 2014.01.06: FujiFilm's 56mm f/1.2 lens has been announced with a price of US$999.99 and that's also compelling, if the lens is great.  The company seems to be building a great reason to switch, and in a short time, is ahead of Sony, Samsung, Nikon, Canon, and Pentax in mirror-less offerings.

Update 2014.01.15: The company has brought out some new grips and DPReview has taken a look at them here.  They look a bit ridiculous, as they don't fit into the design smoothly, but I'm sure they do the job, as well as take a chunk from your wallet.

Update 2014.01.31 Happy Chinese (Lunar) New Year! I've been looking at the X-T1 and, while it's rather small, I think I could live with the X-T1 and three lenses, for quite a while:

18-135mm, 16-55mm f/2.8, and 50-140mm f/2.8

  • XF 16-55mm f/2.8 OIS
  • XF 50-140mm f/2.8 OIS
  • XF 10-24mm f/4.0 OIS

(I couldn't care less about the 18-135mm in the photo.  It's over 4x zoom and that's more than I will use.  Why?  Image quality will suffer.)

Of course, these are rather expensive and in sports photography, the 50-140mm f/2.8 is the only one that will bring me money.  My serious question is: Will FujiFilm continue or will it be as it was with Olympus?  Olympus was brilliant in 2003 with the E-1 and the great lenses were coming quickly.  There was quite a following, and then, Nikon and Canon became good with digital photography and Olympus slowed.  Ten years later, I'm thinking about options, even though the equipment works quite well still.

I suppose I could eliminate the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at first and continue to use my current equipment (especially the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8) for a normal view.  Still, I don't believe any of these lenses are available until later in the year, so it's not a real concern yet--just thinking.

Update 2014.02.12: I just saw something about Olympus producing a micro Four-Thirds 7-14mm f/2.8 lens, expected in 2015.  That has a lot of possibilities, and it's certainly a low light opportunist, compared to the current f/4.0 lenses, including the 10-24mm f/4.0 from FujiFilm.  If it will be priced at US$999.99 (the Four-Thirds f/4.0 lens is US$1799.99, a bargain of sorts), it will make me more indecisive about where I'm going.  Having a 135 format effective 14mm available at f/2.8 (over 15mm at f/4.0) says a lot about getting the shot, even in dim lighting.  We still have to take into account how well each sensor and processor handle the image quality at higher sensitivities.  Minimizing electronic and electrical noise from the image path is most important to ensure a clean image.  Obviously, the X-Trans II sensor has the edge, but Olympus has achieved quite a lot of success, despite the hurdles of the sensor size.  I wonder how different the image quality would be if the FujiFilm sensor had 24.x MP, so that the pixel density would be roughly equal.

Update 2014.03.03: I've really been thinking about the X-T1 body quite a bit, mainly because of the 16-55mm f/2.8 and 50-140mm f/2.8 weather-sealed lenses.  I held the X-T1 body and found it to be sturdy but a little small, similar to the Olympus E-M1.  Of course, the X-T1 has no need to mount huge lenses, as the E-M1 may, since there is no Four-Thirds equivalent, and the Pentax K-mount lenses for the Fujica AZ-1 from the late 1970s are likely in short supply, though there is no official adapter anyway.

The drawbacks of the X-T1 for someone like me, photographing sports, may be too much.  Since the initial announcements, Olympus and Panasonic have really given me too many solutions.  The GH4 has doubled the GH3's burst rate to 12 frames per second and 7.2 frames per second in tracking mode.  If a familiar, comfortable Panasonic body is much better, why not stick with it, especially when Olympus is bringing great lenses, even without image stabilization?

Update 2014.03.05: I was looking at this article about photos of the real FujiFilm weather-sealed lenses.  I could see that the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens seems to have a 77mm filter size and the 50-140mm f/2.8 seems to have a 67mm filter size.   I'm surprised that the 50-140mm isn't bigger round the barrel.  Both my 14-35mm f/2.0 and my 35-100mm f/2.0 have the 77mm filter size and, while they're heavy, they're manageable on a dSLR the size of the Nikon D7100, the E-5.  I wonder what sort of balance (or imbalance) will be there with these lenses and the X-T1 since it's more the size of the E-M1.  I found it a bit too small, similar to how I feel about the E-M1.

Update 2014.03.31: Reviews have been very positive for the 10-24mm lens.  I'm not surprised.  I still wish that it was weather-sealed, since you could be photographing a landscape and it might start to rain.  Use an umbrella?  What's that?  I've never, ever used an umbrella for photography, especially since I don't have three hands.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Map this, Nokia

I just saw where Nokia has pulled their Here maps app from the iOS app store.

When approached for a comment, a Nokia spokesperson sent The Indian Express an official statement. It read, "We have made the decision to remove our HERE Maps app from the Apple App Store because recent changes to iOS 7 harm the user experience. iPhone users can continue to use the mobile web version of HERE Maps under, offering them core location needs, such as search, routing, orientation, transit information and more, all completely free of charge.

I tried it as an alternative to Telenav's GPS app that I was using, and it was missing a lot of information related to...maps, plus it didn't seem to work with my contacts.  It was requiring me to pull off the road each time, copy and paste the address, and wait and wait, and that just didn't work for me.

The app came at a time when Apple was replacing Google's backend with Tom Tom's data and their own data-economical interface.  Everyone knows how smoothly that transition went.  After years of Google holding back, waiting for Apple to use every Google mobile service, Apple said "No more!" and went their own way.

Tom Tom's data is still flawed, but with so much input, it's become better, although it's still confused in dense city driving, and my iPhone's compass sometimes calls "interference".  I was using Telenav's GPS app (Telenav switched from Navteq data to Tom Tom) in Fort Lee, NJ a bit off course, and it immediately told me to turn around.  That was its favorite command to anywhere I was going, even with the feature phone versions.  After two years of premium upgrades, I let it go.  I downloaded their Scout app recently, even though I never understood the difference between the applications.  They seemed to give you everything for free with Scout, whereas they wanted you to pay for voice-guided navigation with the GPS app.  After so many years of having their products with success, I'm not completely giving up, even though it's of minimal use.

Thanks to Yelp, I use Apple's Maps application much more and it's generally good, although it has been confused at times, like all the rest--the worst of the mess is far behind us.

I use Waze quite a lot, especially on long trips.  Going to California, it was my companion.  It still asks if I'm seeing a slowdown when I'm sitting at a red light, so I type "red light" in the comment and tap Send.  Whether they take note or not, I don't know.  Nothing seems to change, even after months.  I don't have access to add stoplights through their map editor at this point.  It's good to see where accidents are and when there are hazards on the road.  Scout apparently has the ability to report such problems also.

I'm less enamored of Google's Maps application--or maybe of their maps.  While they're mostly fine, they can be off a bit for whatever reason.  Again, a good reason to carry more than one app.  I didn't use their maps on the road except for the year that I had an Android-based phone.  I don't remember Telenav having an app for Android.  That was a very difficult year with a lot of misdirection.  I saw my review of Google's app the other day and it wasn't complimentary.  However, I've used the app on iOS a few times recently and it seems okay.

Update 2014.02.18: I tried to use Telenav's Scout the way I have used Waze--driving and reporting.  It doesn't seem to work that way.  I could report while navigation was engaged but not otherwise.  It's probably a new user problem, but knowing Telenav, I wonder.  I did a search for a business and it couldn't find it.  When I checked on arrival, it knew that it was there, and that I was there.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What technology impressed me in 2013?

I'm usually skeptical of new and improved products.  Marketing people tend to gush wildly about how something insignificant is wonderful and miss when some small change has a huge impact, positive or negative.

It's been a crazy kind of year with odd things happening at all levels.  I didn't expect all the political stupidity, chest-thumping, etc.  I replaced a car and a water heater, added a camera system, and tried yet-to-be-released equipment.  I also drove over 7500 miles in two trips and never bought a drop of gasoline but drove more miles locally.

What I've listed here aren't the only things that impressed me, but those that had a significant impact on me.  I could add any number of other items that were interesting but had no substantial importance for me.


Diesel fuel seems a good alternative to gasoline and hybrid vehicles.  The use of fuel might not be minimal but you don't have to worry about a number of batteries that will need to be replaced and recycled carefully.  The price of the fuel can be a bit high, and there was one point where the price of gasoline was higher than the price of diesel--a situation I had not seen since the early 1980s when diesel-powered cars and non-commercial trucks were few.  The changes to diesel engines have been many but none more significant than the changes to glow plugs.  Way back when, I remember that people had to wait 20-30 minutes for the glow plugs to heat before they could start the engine.  In frozen climates, that would be an eternity of sorts.  Now, you step inside, start the engine, and go.  It has a bit of that diesel sound from the inside but not much.  However, people walking along the road seem to notice it.

Going from a 1999 Golf GLS powered by gasoline to a 2012 Golf TDI proved simpler than expected, even though I should have bought the manual transmission model.  This was my fifth VW and after the 1999 and all its mechanical and electrical messes, I didn't think I'd have another.  This 2012 is all grown up.  It's not just the +10 mpg over the old car but the fully independent rear suspension, heated seats, and so on, but the way it all fits, it's as though it's not an economy car any longer.

Photographically, I was busy.  I was photographing swimming, basketball, and wrestling in winter, and switching to baseball, softball, and track during the spring.

In order to handle swimming better, I added an Olympus ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 lens and an Olympus ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 lens for various other situations.  These are the heaviest lenses I've used on a daily basis but the image quality of Olympus' Super High Grade line lenses are impressive.

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens

Seeing Sigma announce the 18-35mm f/1.8 lens shocked me a bit.  Sigma has its moments, but most of those moments aren't positive.  Usually when I see good feedback about their products, I think that the user doesn't have high standards for image quality.  However, for a few lenses (50-500mm, 105mm macro, 150mm macro), they've done well for a while.  They've become better lately, but I'm still not convinced enough to buy anything.  The threat of a color cast or back focusing keep me away.

The 18-35mm f/1.8 has received a lot of praise from outlets I trust.  The range of the focal length is somewhat small, even as I find the Olympus ZD 14-35mm f/2.0's range limited.  Of course, the further from 12mm you are, the easier it is to create optical magic without making the lens overly big or heavy.  As I recall, the lens isn't weather-sealed, so that saves weight and complexity and cost.  The lens is about 30% of the price of the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0.  Is the image quality as good?  I haven't tried it, and those who have apparently haven't tried the Olympus lens.  In any case, it was a bold move from Sigma.

I've been searching for a way to extend my wide angle possibilities and the 14mm (times 2 magnification factor) isn't all that wide at an effective 135 format 28mm.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens

I was invited to an event to use the new Olympus E-M1.  Since I've been an Olympus dSLR user since 2004 with the E-1, the E-M1 was meant to help me transition to micro Four-Thirds.  At the event, they had the yet-to-be-released 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens.  (When a company uses the word professional or otherwise labels any equipment in that way, I laugh.)  I've tried a few micro Four-Thirds lenses since February and I've found most of them to be craptacular, compared to Four-Thirds lenses, especially for the price.  A few exceptions, such as the 75mm f/1.8, 12mm f/2.0, and 45mm f/1.8 seem to be quite good, but not particularly suitable for me, as I require zoom lenses for sport.  So, when I was able to use the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, I felt comfortable.  It fit between my ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 and the ZD 14-35mm f/2.0, in price and image quality.  This is the first zoom lens for micro Four-Thirds for which I have no reservations, and it's on my list to buy.

Olympus E-M1

When I first handled the E-M1, I was upset.  Olympus didn't produce another dSLR but that was half-expected by me.  The company, after the E-1 was released in 2003, had done some odd things, and it took until 2007 for them to release a replacement flagship dSLR.  They were planning to have something out in 2005, along with the original 14-35mm design (that never made it) but just couldn't get it done.  In 2007, they gave us a great-for-2005 dSLR, and in 2010, a great-for-2007 dSLR replaced it.

The E-M1 wasn't a surprise.  However, it wasn't exactly a replacement for the E-5.  While the electronic viewfinder is 99.9% as good as the optical viewfinder on the E-5, the rest of the camera body doesn't seem quite right.  It's smaller than even the E-1 and even slightly less than the Panasonic GH3.  The rear display panel cannot be hidden or otherwise protected, and it's not fully articulated.  The grip was small and angular, being built around a small battery.  Given that there are two powered displays, I'd expect the battery to be much larger.  The BLM-1/BLM-5 is not huge, and should have been used.  The grip was uncomfortable to me with my Four-Thirds lenses (being that they're heavier and larger, and optically better!), and there is more of an imbalance than with the Panasonic GH3 or Olympus E-1.

For the typical micro Four-Thirds equipment user, it seems too large.  For the professional using the Nikon D800 or Canon 5DMkIII, it seems really small and incredibly light.  It wasn't right for me, because the support for my current lenses wasn't good enough, and there aren't enough great, native zoom lenses yet.  Many people will find it exceptional, as the reviewers have.  However, I photograph sports, and I don't have time to think about the camera--I need to use it.  Maybe, next time.

Ricoh Pentax K-3

More to my liking was the Pentax K-3.  I've been looking for a replacement for the Nikon D300/D300s, and Nikon aren't making one, nor is Canon.  I'm not convinced that the D610 is enough of a camera body to do what the D300 did well.  While the technical appeal of 135 format is there, not much else is, especially for sports.  So, here is Ricoh, a brand of screwy products, who bought Pentax, a brand of great but inconsistent products, with a new APS-C sized dSLR.

On paper, the K-3 seems to be everything one would need to replace their D300, save lens compatibility.  It has a large buffer for raw images, blazing speed, a high density sensor with the 1.5x magnification compared to 135 format, and supposedly very good video.  (Right now, it has to be a paper comparison.  I've yet to find a store handling the product.)

It's much more than the Nikon D7100, Canon 70D, or Olympus E-M1.  I've been thinking, and thinking, and thinking about it.  In the meantime, there have been the typical weird Pentax-ish issues that may never be fixed.  There is also the lack of a fully-articulated rear display, which makes it less useful.  There are also some image anomalies that could keep it from being amazing, even though it has a lot of detail available, due to its lack of anti-aliasing filter.  You can however, sidestep moirĂ© patterns by turning on the fake anti-aliasing filter functionality using the Shake Reduction technology.  If Ricoh-Pentax can provide firmware fixes, this could turn into a camera body that will wipe out everything else from US$1000 to US$2000 and revitalize Pentax.  It's everything that the mythical Nikon D400 should have been.

Panasonic GM1

This micro micro Four-Thirds camera body has been the kind of thing people had wanted, but didn't dare to dream.  It's so small, it's too small to use the typical lenses easily without the additional grip.  For those of us who end up using our phone camera as a substitute for a high quality camera, this may cause a lot of people to re-think what they're doing, in order to get higher image quality.

At the moment, the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is good but not great.  There are plenty of other lenses without the size advantage.  The 12-32mm lens makes the camera pocket-able.  This body has major appeal for me over the Panasonic GF6, G6, or GX7 because it is truly small.

Sony A7/A7R

Sony took poor, old, lackluster Minolta and turned its technology into something better, even better than average sometime.  When they brought out a mirror-less system camera line to compete with Panasonic in their age-old war, they didn't have much.  Unfortunately, they haven't made much progress either.  There are more lenses, but not many more.  They haven't kept pace with Panasonic and Olympus, and their slightly better image quality isn't appealing enough if you can't get the shot you want.

Enter the Alpha 7/Alpha 7R duo with 135 format sized sensors.  Is it a gimmick or is it a system?  They announced several FE-mount (instead of E-mount) lenses along with both bodies, so it's way ahead of Sony's NEX system in fulfilling hopes from the start.

However, this will likely appeal to Sony fanatics only, as the rest of their equipment has.  That's unfortunate, as there is a chance that Sony won't mess this up, and they'll produce something that everyone would like to use.  There is a chance.

Google Nexus 7

Having had two of the 2012 Nexus 7 tablets, and having returned them within 14 days, I was uncomfortable with the idea of buying the new one.  I wanted a tablet, to be sure, but I didn't want a mess, and that was exactly what the 2012 model was.  Also, when Apple introduced their iPad mini for 2013, it was underwhelming and they raised the price.  Sure they used their latest 64-bit A7/M7 processors but having a lower color gamut display, higher density or not, wasn't worthy of a price increase.

I approached the Nexus 7 with caution.  I tried it at several stores.  There was no surge-pause-surge-pause as with the 2012 model.  There were even covers available.  It felt like a grown-up product.

I've used it quite a lot in the short time that I've had it.  It isn't quite a replacement for my laptop computer, but it is filling that void where a bigger display is helpful to get more information faster.  It's as good as the 2012 model was bad.  The only thing I'm missing is the grippy back from the older model.  I was interested in the EVGA Tegra Note 7 tablet, but nervous about nVidia's ability to provide a smooth processor experience, and not just raw power when it was ready.

Google Nexus 5 and LG G2

How could I think about tablets without thinking about the Nexus 5 and the G2.  They're big and powerful, and of course, they're directly related.  Had Apple not appealed to me with the iPhone 5c, I'd likely have the G2 now.  They're impressive phones with impressive displays, and they G2 has a bigger battery than the Nexus 5, so battery life on Android (with its "elegant multi-tasking") isn't as much of a problem.  I still liked the feel of the LG Optimus G over the G2 but I was nervous about the operating system updates for a year old phone.

Motorola Moto G

Motorola, as a subsidiary of Google, has started to impress.  It's been quite a while since the StarTac or RAZR hit the market and shocked everyone.  The various models Motorola has made over the years have been good but yawn worthy, and the company's software enhancements have made the phones more difficult to use, which is typical for Android-based phones from anyone but Google.

So, when the Moto X arrived earlier, I didn't think much about it.  It was a little better than average, but it seemed more like a phone for 2012 with options to customize the outside so you wouldn't think about the inside.

However, when they introduced the Moto G, it was priced like something for cost-conscious countries, but it worked almost like a premium phone, except when you bought it.  Less is more.

Apple A7/M7 processor combination

Apple has been surprising people for a while.  They bought a couple of chip design companies and it seemed as though they were going to design their own PowerPC processors for their computers because Motorola just couldn't handle it.

Instead, they've been working on processors for mobile devices, and extracting a lot of performance and battery life from what seemed to be unexciting processors.  The latest A7 processor with its 64-bit capabilities seems ready to handle almost anything.  Paired with the M7 motion processor keeps battery life good, while still being powerful.

What's more, they shocked the processor market with the 64-bit-ness.

Right now, the software to take advantage of the power is not quite there, and things have been a bit screwy, but this is typical of some new technology, don't you think?  I was uncomfortable enough to avoid buying the iPhone 5s to get the tried-and-true technology within the iPhone 5c.

What will impress me in 2014?

 I wonder about what will come.

I'm waiting on three micro Four-Thirds lenses.  Panasonic's 42.5mm f/1.2 and the Leica/Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 will be out, as well as Olympus' 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO (laugh with me at the "PRO" designation, please!) lens.

I expect that FujiFilm will replace the X-Pro1 and X-M1.  Whether they will provide their lens-specific enhancements (as with the X-E2) for the X-M2 will be anyone's guess.  The new 10-24mm f/4.0 lens specifically mentions the X-E2 in information I've seen.  That should be a great lens, especially if Fuji can diminish low light noise, since it's not an f/2.8 lens.

I'm waiting for a D7200 from Nikon, not that it's on the way, but since the D5300 is out and the Canon 70D and Pentax K-3 have arrived, Nikon need to push forward.  If nothing else, they could increase the depth of the frame buffer for raw images and call it the D7150, though that sounds more like a computer model.

Hopefully, Apple will correct their ridiculous issues with the iPad mini and put great displays in them, instead of the mediocre but denser displays that they're using.  I wasn't about to pay more for a lousy display.  I thought that they should buy Sharp and take control, but they don't want to have anything to do with manufacturing since they closed down the PowerMac factories years ago.

So, I have no idea what will impress me but I have some hopes for the year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SteamOS looks interesting as an alternative to game consoles

Valve, the people behind games such as Portal, Team Fortress, and Half-Life have been working on their own alternative game console with SteamOS, a Linux distribution of their own, built on Debian.

I don't play much on Steam, but the Half-Life and Portal series have been entertaining.  I've seen people who seem to have every game Steam hosts, which would be quite a few.

I like the idea of SteamOS because the major problem of getting everything working correctly is compatibility.  Using a game console, it's fairly easy to have all the software working to a software specification and leave that specification alone.  Using Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux, you can't be sure if things match.  Even though Mac OS X runs on a smaller set of machines, there are a number of graphics cards and processors and operating system versions that make life (and compatibility) difficult.

If someone would build an interface layer onto an operating system and that would always be reliable, it would solve a lot of compatibility issues.  Supposedly, there is an abstraction layer on most operating systems, but to get more speed, system developers allow a way around it.

Can Valve and SteamOS diminish compatibility problems?  I hope so.  I would buy or build a compatible box in order to just play the games.

Yes, you can build your own, as Valve are giving guidelines on how to do it.  Read this Ars Technica article here.

The Debian Linux distribution is probably the most stable for the desktop.  It's used as a base for Ubuntu and other distributions, and now, for SteamOS.  Why wouldn't they use Ubuntu, which is acknowledged as a good desktop distribution for newcomers?  They probably don't want to have to work around all the changes Canonical are making to remove XWindows (thank goodness!) and the slow progress of Unity as a desktop environment.

Apparently, 300 people are beta-testing SteamOS boxes that Valve sent to them.  It should be interesting to see how well everything works.  When I last looked at the Steam store, they didn't seem to have that many games for Linux, as with Mac OS X.  However, if they've used their Source interfaces between the operating system and the games, they should instantly have the same few games that they made Mac OS X compatible.

Will it really affect the latest Xbox or PlayStation boxes?  I doubt the change will be noticeable, until they can show momentum for SteamOS.  It might be interesting to see Nintendo migrate their games to SteamOS as an alternative, since Wii U isn't really powerful enough to drive sales.  (Talk about a missed opportunity!  I've got a Wii sitting there, ready to be replaced, and the only thing I'll really get is HDMI compatibility and the ability to buy some US$59.99 games on an underpowered-for-2013 machine.)

The Steam Play Anywhere policy will allow those with Steam games to use them on their Steam box without an extra cost, I'm sure.  That's good for everyone because the negative part of moving to a new system is buying new games or new versions of games you already have.

SteamOS sounds like a winner.

Update 2014.04.10: It seems as though this is on the back burner.  Since xbox One and PlayStation 4 have made it big, I haven't heard much about a Steam Box, except that the controller has been revised with the removal of the display.

I'm a bit steamed about the Wii U and so are Nintendo apparently because they can't decide what to do.  Obviously, the Mario and Luigi brothers haven't driven sales as much as they would have liked.  It's difficult to believe that the company would barely outdo last generation consoles and try to continue relying on previous back stories to keep them in the spot light.  Had they provided enough power to be considered halfway between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, they might have been much more successful.

Even if Japanese life has something to do with their choices, they can't expect that the rest of the world will approve.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sprint LTE: +70 = 300 markets

Sprint has officially announced another 70 markets for LTE here.

I'm not sure why Salem, Ohio (or most of the new markets) is important.  I see plenty of tourist destinations, so maybe the Sprint executives are making certain that they have adequate service where they travel.  At this point, I suspect adequate is all they'll get.

While trying to use 3G anywhere near the local shopping centers, all I got was the digital equivalent of static.  What was normally lousy data service was reduced to a lack of service.  For all the data capacity upgrades they've implemented in the past 1.5 years, they still need to increase capacity (probably) 4 times to handle a heavy load.

When LTE is available,  and customers find that LTE is faster, they'll buy devices to match, and use the extra speed to capacity, and we'll be back at merely adequate service again, but this time on LTE.  Maybe, it will return 3G performance to something reasonable--or maybe, it will exceed LTE's performance, given that a lot of the abusers will not be using 3G/EVDO.  I could swear when I've been at several businesses, we had procedures for capacity planning.  Why Sprint is unable to do this well is beyond me.  Surely, using income from data plans and data options (US$10 smart phone fee, anyone?  That should have gone directly to capacity upgrades.) would help fund maintenance and upgrades.  For all the concern about hiring talent at the top levels, the U.S.A. doesn't seem to be concerned about properly operating a business, but only concerned about extracting the most money.

Of course, Sprint could increase the price of their plans but that would likely push so many customers away that they'd be out of the postpaid business in short time.

Regardless, I'm happy to see that they're making progress, filling that map, although Verizon will surely use the same (green?) map from the first half of 2013 to accentuate their differences.  Verizon know that the other three have made quite a bit of progress in the second half of 2013, but that doesn't encourage customers to switch.

Update 2014.01.03: I am continually impressed with the company's progress in this area.  They have apparently spread LTE to all sorts of tiny (30-100 people) towns such as Fort Recovery, OH and Arcanum, OH while completely missing the boat with small cities.  I even noticed that they have data speed upgrades (read LTE, from my experience in other such marked areas, although in Indiana it seems to be that they're putting in old equipment to move the area from 1xRTT to EVDO, probably Rev. 0) in open areas without an associated town of any kind.  I certainly hope that they're working on this town because service was unusable during holiday shopping and it hasn't recovered much, as though most of the capacity is gone.  It's too bad that the technician isn't forced to use the service.  If he was, the work might be a bit more thoughtful toward the customers' needs.  (I'm currently trying to save this blog entry--after 7 tries, it's still not able to be saved.)

Update 2014.01.21: I got a text message from Sprint today:

I'm actually somewhat hopeful that things are changing, even though bandwidth seems severely constrained at the moment.  On Monday, I was in the small city of Eaton, OH using their LTE, which has yet to be announced.  Instead of the 7 Mbps I was receiving previously, I only got 2.48 Mbps, and there was a hole where 3G/EVDO showed up and that wasn't there previously.  It almost looked as if they'd re-deployed equipment already.

The creep of LTE starts to engulf small towns

Of course, the text message I received says to me that out of 4 towers in town--there should be at least 5 but they've ignored a large area south of town--should be equipped but I'm not exactly convinced.  I was expecting everything from the noted area on the coverage map east to the Ohio state line to be covered, but that may be more hope than reality.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

iPhone 5c cases: Otterbox Defender vs Ballistic SG MAXX

Bottom line: I'm using a Ballistic SG MAXX with an Invisible Shield screen protector.

Since I got my iPhone 5c, it's been inside an Otterbox Defender case.  I didn't even have a chance to handle it at the store.  This is much the same situation I had with my iPhone 4s, until such time as I needed to wash the case.

The big difference between the two Otterbox Defender cases was the fit.  Where the iPhone 4s case was sloppy, the 5c case was taut, and vice versa.  There was one huge problem: the fit of the screen protector.  It didn't fit against the surface of the display, so that there were two presses--one press against the screen protector and another as the screen protector contacted the display.  It made for poor touch screen performance because you wouldn't actually end up pressing precisely where you intended.

There seem to be hundreds of reviews on about the screen protector, and I was told by the salesperson at the Sprint store that three of his customers simply cut away the screen protector.  However, on a US$49.99 product that should have been designed correctly, I wasn't about to damage it intentionally.  There is something about being first to market with your product, but if being first brings you hate mail because of an incorrect design, why not wait?

So, I bought a Ballstic SG MAXX (apparently renamed to Tough Jacket Maxx) for my iPhone 5c.  Apparently, the Hard Core case is not available for this device.  Amidst the Christmas buying and shipping season, I waited a few days for this case to arrive from the Miami, Florida area, normally an 24 hour drive for me.

It arrived in a fairly big box with only the case in a Ziploc-type bag with the paperwork inside it.  There was no packing.  There were no instructions but there was a "Ballistic" sticker that I could use along with my Apple stickers.

Getting the phone out of the Defender case was the big deal.  I suspect no one at Otterbox considered that one would remove it, ever.  Taking away the rubbery silicone layer isn't difficult.  Being careful avoids damage, of course.  Removing the hard shell is the painful part.  As with the 4s case, looking from the back, you release the clips on the left and right sides.  Replacing the 4s case clip on top is a !@#$ tiny piece of plastic which acts as a retainer on the 5c case.  It's impossible to grasp, and I couldn't seem to make it collapse by pressing on it.  Somehow, with a little force, I managed to release it.  At that point, you tilt the back and remove it (as with the 4s case), and remove the phone from the front piece.

The SG MAXX case was quite different.  The rubbery silicone fits on the phone first, along with the somewhat rigid screen protector, which is a separate, loose piece.  You then add the hard shell, and work with the silicone piece to make sure everything is covered properly.  It can be placed in the holster at this point.  There was an included graphic on the interior of the holster depicting another product, but reminding you to face the display inward to avoid damage.

It works quite well, although the screen protector gives a sparkly, matte look to the display.  However, as a thin sheet, it can be removed easily and something else, such as Invisible Shield can be put in place instead.  Having been out into the world to use the phone and case, I've noticed something odd.  It doesn't want to stay in the holster all that securely.  Maybe, it's something I've done and it's wider than it should be.  I'll keep working on it.  Update 2013.12.29: That didn't take long to annoy.  The fit of the screen protector is not quite right, and changes the more you mess with the case.  I finally removed it and bought an Invisible Shield protector for another US$14.95, which means that I've spent over US$100 on two cases and one screen protector.  Grrrrr.

For those trying to impress people with your Apple-ness, the logo on the back is not visible with the Ballistic SG MAXX case.  With the Defender case, it wasn't centered properly, but it was visible.  My take is that it's better not to show it.  If people think that they can steal something to sell it later, they will try.  Besides, it's just a phone, and it's not worth your life.

I'm not quite sure whether I'm going to try to return the Otterbox Defender to the point of sale or request an RMA to send it to them for a warranty exchange.  They really need to know what's wrong with it, although I suspect that they know quite well, and have re-designed the case after getting an iPhone 5c.

Update 2014.06.12: This morning, the little flap over the Lightning connecter port broke.  I guess it shouldn't be totally unexpected.  I have to move it out of the way frequently, and the phone goes into the holster and that goes into the pocket a lot.  Will I notice a difference in protection?  Probably, I won't.  The rest of the case, both hard and soft parts seem to be okay.

Update 2014.08.24: A month or so ago, I was in a mall and someone selling cases was pushy and told me that Otterbox had glass as their latest screen protector.  Recently, Invisible Shield also has a glass version.  Certainly, it would be helpful for maximum display clarity.  My Ballistic SG MAXX case continues to be fine, even after dropping it a few more times.

Update 2014.12.13: I've switched to the iPhone 6, and I refused to buy another Otterbox Defender, since it was so difficult to remove.  All the Sprint kiosk had otherwise, was a Griffin case that said it had been tested to 3 feet.  About a week later, I found some Best Buy-only Ballistic brand cases at, you guessed it, Best Buy.  I bought the Tungsten Tough for $39.99.  It mostly seems like the SG MAXX/Tough Jacket Maxx without the holster clip, but it has an aluminum plate on the back, as though it is hiding that it is a Ballistic product.

Update 2016.11.16: I've got an iPhone 7 and a pair of Ballistic cases of it.  Read more here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sprint + T-Mobile = ?

If this was being rumored 6 months later and the majority of the U.S.A. will have had LTE available through Sprint, I would be more open to this.

If both companies were working toward VoLTE (Voice over LTE) in the near future, I'd be more positive about it.

I know that Deutsche Telekom wants to sell their stake in T-Mobile U.S.A. but if the combined company will be fighting a plan to move all customers to GSM or CDMA technologies, forget it.  GSM is older than CDMA, and much less secure, regardless of being deployed in many countries.  CDMA can do concurrent voice and data, but Sprint doesn't seem to be able to deploy the technology consistently, so it's not useful.

Why Dish Network isn't buying T-Mobile U.S.A. is a good question.  They tried to buy ClearWire while Sprint was trying to buy it.

The only reason I can fathom that Sprint has to buy T-Mobile is from the executive view--post paid subscribers.  The combined company would have fewer subscribers than AT&T or Verizon but come fairly close.  However, as executives don't think often, they would be missing the pain of making people switch--something that should be a very strong memory from the 2006 merger with Nextel and their incompatible network, which was just decommissioned this June.

Given all the crap of the last 7 years where Sprint went from a data powerhouse to a powerhouse of shortages, why would anyone want to chance repeating that?

As a long time Sprint subscriber, I don't want to repeat the mess because VoLTE is too far away, and I'm not switching to GSM, and I'm sure that T-Mobile subscribers aren't switching to CDMA, and T-Mobile already has the MetroPCS conversion underway.

Leave things alone until 2016, Sprint and T-Mobile, and I'm okay with it, but right now, no thanks.

Update 2014.01.03: I've heard very little about this since the initial rumors.  Softbank/Son Masayoshi is interested in expanding in the U.S.A.  Having two brands and their customers would certainly be a sizable presence.  Making the rest of it work would be difficult.  I'd hate to see Dish Network buy T-Mobile, though.  AT&T/SBC seem to be putting pressure on T-Mobile with a new incentive plan.  Those who left AT&T/SBC for T-Mobile probably won't return unless prices are reduced and contracts are ended, though.  AT&T/SBC seem like the perfect 1950s type of company.  They do everything but innovate--confuse, intimidate, complain.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why is the United States Postal Service so messed up?

I ordered a new Ballstic SG MAXX case for my iPhone 5c.  I'm still finding the Otterbox Defender case with its sizable gap between the display and the screen protector to be a problem.

The "Processed at USPS Origin Sort Facility" was the first item to show up.  Just today, the other two were added, even though the Electronic Shipping Info Received" should have been the first thing, and the "Accepted at USPS Origin Sort Facility" would have happened before the "Processed at USPS Origin Sort Facility" activity.

It seems that the government are using the haphazard method that UPS uses.  FedEx never seems to have any problem, and packages can even arrive early without extra cost.

Considering that they already had the package last night, shouldn't it already be en route to me, rather than likely sitting in the facility still?  Maybe, it is, and they just haven't updated its activities.

I wonder how much damage is involved with USPS, UPS, and FedEx.  I know that UPS hires many part-time workers and I've heard stories of flinging boxes when people are bored.  I've heard plenty about USPS workers who are too busy to be bothered by work.  Is it only the people behind FedEx who care?  I've never had a problem with them--the extra money always seems worth it.

Shipping during the holidays is crazy, because so many people are doing it.  I'm sure the local post office is crowded during their open hours.  Gift cards may be the majority of the gifts, but even those are usually sent.

 As of the 13th, things started to change again, though there never was a departure activity from Florida.
It seems odd to me that they delivered the package on the 14th, even though it was just a day later than expected.  I've never seen them wait so late to put a package on the route to be delivered.  Usually, it should be on the route before 6:30, but perhaps, the logged activity was done separately from the physical activity.  However, being that it was Saturday and the holidays, maybe they have a more lenient schedule, especially with the bad weather lately.

By the way, isn't it odd that England's Royal Mail delivers the post and the United States Postal Service delivers the mail?

Also, beware of companies "helping" you to submit a change of address.  It's free, and some will show up in a web search ahead of the USPS, and they charge.

Update 2013.12.16: Saw the USPS TV advertisement with "up to 11 scans" and thought "in which order?" after having this experience.  They may be more modern, but they still have too many Sand Crabs.

Update 2013.12.18: Amazing that UPS, usually problematic for me, can move when necessary.  I have a package from with 3-5 day shipping, arriving the next day.

Of course, had this not been the holiday season, it would have been sitting in one of their depots for 4 days, until they felt like delivering it.

Update 2013.12.29: I guess UPS really messed up.  So many packages scheduled to arrive before Christmas day just didn't make it.  When I was watching the news video, I was somewhat shocked that UPS had zero problem with letting their workers damage packages while they were being filmed.  It just didn't seem that anyone cared, which is probably UPS' biggest problem.

Update 2016.05.01: I've got to say that I'm sadly amused again.  I ordered a couple of items on Sunday and they were said to be shipped late Monday.  Naturally, it takes a while for the information to be available to the receiver of the package.

On Wednesday, I left a message for the seller that the USPS did not acknowledge the tracking number at all.  On Thursday, the seller's status showed "Completed" rather than "Shipped" and I thought that there was a mix up.  Friday morning, there was a knock at the door and the packaged had been delivered.

3 Day = 1 Day of activity?

When I checked, the tracking information was available, but apparently, it was all done when the package arrived at the local post office.  No scans had been done prior to its arrival.

The new AT&T/SBC can't afford to be in business

I find the new AT&T/SBC rather rude, obnoxious, and downright ugly, but other than that, they're wonderful.

Randall Stephenson, the CEO of the new AT&T/SBC, seems unhappy to have customers, especially those with smart phones.  Speaking at a conference, he told the audience how the carriers could no longer afford to give large subsidies.

I fully expect that the company would hold onto Early Termination Fees, which the carriers have been using as a hedge against someone not finishing their contract.  Of course, if you get a US$599.99 phone at US$199.99 and your ETF is only $350, they might be losing something, depending on when you would cancel your contract.  It's more likely that they're gaining money because people will be happy with their phone for several months to a year, and as new models are released, they want to switch to the new one.

Randall Stephenson has a habit of attacking the company's smart phone users.  First with an attack on iPhone users after the company got an exclusive, and they were in no shape to provide 3G data services because their network was far behind the times and didn't even provide decent 2G data services.  Those users who paid $599 for the original iPhone (later refunded part of it when Apple announced a price drop, and people complained loudly), were dragging down the company's profit by requiring an upgrade to their network.

When Android users stepped on board, Mr. Stephenson once again complained about the expenditures.

Surely, if the company doesn't want to be in business, they should stop.  If the stress of his US$22 million per year, or whatever it is currently, is too much for his delicate sensibilities, he should take up basket weaving.

When AT&T Wireless was still in business, they seemed to be on the up-and-up, but SBC/Cingular/The New AT&T seems to deceive wherever possible and doesn't like their customers.

They make fun of their customers in the advertising and complain about them quite often.  They boast network statistics that aren't always accurate or precise.  "More Bars in More Places" comes to mind, or the bit about the most 4G coverage, when they had increased the speed of their 3G services and had no LTE.

I've witnessed their "More Bars in More Places" when I lived in the Orlando, Florida area.  My first phone call was dropped 6 times in 10 minutes with 3 towers visible from my house.  In June of 2012, I went to the trouble of trying a 4G mobile hotspot from AT&T first.  I bought a refurbished model from their web site, and the three days it was in shipment, they charged me for data usage and typical expenses.

When I activated the mobile hotspot, it required an update, which was not free to be downloaded.  How it left the warehouse or refurbishment without the update, I have no idea.  Customer service was pleasant enough about the situation and had some difficulty removing the charges, but they fixed things for me.  Nowhere in my area did they have LTE nor did they have their enhanced HSPA+ and their almost unused 3G data service was about the same speed as my current Sprint service was, even though it was loaded with 3G customers and AT&T wasn't.

I ended up cancelling, returning and running away as quickly as possible.  They continued to charge me various fees after the fact, and I called repeatedly to remind them that I no longer had the device.

So, if the customers are too much for the company to bear, should they charge the customers more--more for their phone (initially), more for their service, more for their ETF?

I suspect T-Mobile (in metropolitan areas) will have more business than they can handle, but they're willing.  Verizon will pick up customers who don't mind the inconvenience of switching between voice and data for the time being.  Sprint might even get some customers looking for unlimited data and a superior LTE experience, once Spark (tri-band LTE) is fully functional.

I must congratulate AT&T on being able to keep customers, while disliking them and abusing them.

At to that, this article on AT&T eliminating a technology, and trying to push up prices to any wholesale customer looking for the internet backend (backhaul) to support their retail internet data services.

It's funny to me that BellSouth (before SBC/the New AT&T absorbed them) was charging me a "recovery" fee for universal access--sharing their lines--when they resisted any sharing of their lines.

I'm thinking that the only thing that BellSouth ever did for me, before they were absorbed by SBC, was to offer me faster DSL service for the same price.  They were charging $37.95 per month for 1.5 Mbps, which was an unlikely speed.  Some time one year later, someone called to get me to buy a higher speed, and during the discussion, they told me that they could lower the price by $5.00, to the new price (which should have occurred automatically, don't you think?) or to double the speed to 3.0 Mbps down.  Of course, I went for the 3.0 Mbps.  Funny though, that in November 2006, I started to tether my Sprint phone and found that tethering was faster than BellSouth's 3.0 Mbps DSL.

I guess the new AT&T is just having a tough time, and they're trying to pass it on to everyone else.

Here's something else: They've been selling phone records to the CIA.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Don't the people at Google know where Malaysia is?

Recently, a lot of site visits are coming from Malaysia.  However, when I look at the little map Google presents, it shows Singapore instead.

You can see the little dark spot between China and Australia.  That's not Malaysia, as Malaysia exists partly on the continent and partly on the island of Borneo, an island it shares with Indonesia.

I realize that a lot of people don't look outside their own country for anything, but given that Google maps everything, they should be a bit more aware of the rest of the world.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Will a Chinese company's smartphone be your next?

CNBC was mentioning the other day that they believe Chinese smartphone makers will start making inroads with markets outside China.  South America is supposedly a growing area of sales for them.

Xiaomi, ZTE, BLU, Oppo, Huawei, and others are out there, although I've only handled BLU and ZTE equipment so far.  Oppo is known for its higher end DVD and Blu-Ray players, along with some odd-named phones like Find.

A lot of these phones use MediaTek processors, which I've been lead to believe were so terrible that the phones were unusable, but that was not my experience. A BLU Studio phablet I used early in the year was good and much cheaper than the unlocked version of the Samsung phablet (bigger than a phone, smaller than a tablet) it was copying.
Having had experience with the LG Optimus One variant Optimus S, it's just a matter of finding the correct storage/RAM/processor combination.  I know that companies have to work from a cost standpoint, but how much does a bad report (or millions of them) cost?

As has been my experience, developing a product only using a checklist doesn't produce a product people really want to use.  You have to make it work smoothly, and assure that the rough edges aren't there, or at least, they don't annoy.  Right now, I'm still annoyed by both iOS and Android.  I'd like to see Firefox OS but being in its infancy, I know that I couldn't be happy, unless I lowered my expectations of what a phone should be.  Phones based on Firefox OS are being sold in countries that are especially price conscious.

Of course, if you're in a price sensitive area, a checklist may be all that's necessary.  Having the luxury of luxury may not be possible, nor would be taking the time to sort the phone's software properly.  I have my doubts about whether Apple or Google properly test their software, so maybe, it doesn't matter how much the operating system is worth if no one cares to do the job correctly.

Along with BLU products, I've handled a couple ZTE products and use one of them for two weeks.  They were sufficient and just as capable as similar devices, but with a lower quality build, unlike BLU products.

At this moment, the only Chinese brand I've seen on the market, Haier, has been selling refrigerators, although they make a variety of products.

I know that other products are coming.  I doubt I'll be on the leading edge for them.  I eat Korean food, but I've barely warmed to Korean electronics.  I'm trusting of food from Taiwan and Hong Kong, but not Mainland China.  Of course, a lot of products I have were likely made in Mainland China, under the supervision of a company elsewhere in the world.  I have no doubt that, like the Japanese factories of the 1950s, that China's current labor force will become better.

It took quite a while for Japanese products to be great, and similarly as long for South Korea's products.  It will be a while for China's products, even though they're making products every day for people all over the world.  Twenty or thirty years into the future, we'll likely see plenty of Chinese names in regular use outside of China.

Update 2014.01.29: According to the numbers this week, Xiaomi has been doing a number on Samsung in China.  Samsung is probably feeling a lot of pressure in the midrange, especially since that's where this Chinese makers' phones reside and where Apple's iPhone 5c is placed, since it's finally on the world's largest carrier, which happens to be in China.

Chinese companies are still trying to market their phones in the U.S.A. but the government is skeptical about their governmental ties and isn't likely to approve any of them for purchase, and they clearly don't want the networking equipment installed anywhere.  Of course, who would spy on the American people besides the NSA?  :-D  The Chinese government seems skeptical of using Cisco products in China, conversely.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

At the Apple Store, connected by their Ethernet, I couldn't make a Mac App purchase

I regularly criticize the people behind the Mac App Store.  I call them all sorts of names because simple things don't work and if you ask for help, the support people know almost nothing and handle almost nothing.  For a company whose service is supposedly a high point in the industry, the company should be fixing this weak point.

e.g., I had a situation where the Twitter and Typist applications could not be downloaded.  Other applications could be downloaded within the same time frame, but (only) those two downloads would not happen for anything.  System software updates were fine.  I was told that my connection was the problem.

So, yesterday, I was at the Kenwood Towne Center mall, at the Apple Store to buy AppleCare for my almost 1 year old refurbished MacBook Pro.  While I was there, I talked about buying Final Cut Pro, and the associate went to some lengths to get me an Ethernet cable and a direct connection to their intranet, so that I could buy and download it.

I had not updated my debit card's information.  The Mac App Store looped and looped and looped, as I furiously attempted to update the information again and again.  I finally disconnected, put things away, and left the store.  I never saw that associate again, so I couldn't thank him once more.  Once I was home hours later, I was able to fix the information.

Seeing MacRumors earlier, there appears to be a widespread issue:

Apple is such a mix of great design, haphazard testing, and a don't-care attitude.  That they're ahead of the rest of the industry suggests that we should all feel sad that things are that pathetic.  I noticed that a lot of my co-workers in various software development assignments weren't disciplined, and the code they wrote was sloppy in the extreme.  You would think that Apple, Google, and Microsoft would have the best design, coding, and testing procedures in the business, but none of them do.  A smaller company like Adobe should be better, but they're even worse.  At least, when John Warnock was there, they seemed to care about more than money.

In any case, Apple missed a sale, although I doubt they're crying about that.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

2012 Refurbished MacBook Pro, One Year Later

It's difficult to believe that it's been a year since I ordered this MacBook Pro.  After three years of daily use, my 2009 MacBook was showing its age and lack of capacity.  Today, I bought an AppleCare extended warranty, just in case.

My main photo raw development software, Phase One Capture One 7, was pushing the system.  6 GB of RAM just didn't seem to be enough, and it would grind away at the hard drive swapping processes' information, leaving me with a few Megabytes of free working memory.  The 750 GB 7200 rpm hard drive was still too slow to really do a great job when I handed it a basketball game with 1000 photos.  The transfer of images over USB 2.0 didn't help.

I'd been watching the refurbished machines for a while.  I choose refurbished machines from Apple because they've been through a bit of trouble and repaired and checked again.  The prior two machines (late 2004 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 and 2009 2.13 GHz MacBook worked quite well as my main machine, and they still work well), so buying another refurbished machine was the best way to go.  I didn't mind the savings, either.

I really wanted the 15.4 inch display but with the 1680x1050 resolution and anti-glare display.  I missed buying the PowerBook with the 1440x960 display to save a bit, and with photo resolution becoming larger all the time, I could use a denser monitor.  However, finding the higher resolution and anti-glare property at the same time was difficult, and the extra cash made me think twice.  Still, it has the nVidia GeForce GT 650M, which is used by OpenCL to aid in computational math, a feature than Capture One Pro 7 uses.

As my photo processing was taking 3-4 times as long, I decided on a 2.6 GHz i7 MacBook Pro with the typical 1440x900 resolution and the glossy display.  Inexplicably, the company chooses to use a 5400 rpm drive, and 750 GB or not, it's not fast enough for work or games, really.

The day after I ordered it, I placed an order with OtherWorld Computing for two 8 GB RAM sticks.  They were "only" about US$100.  Contrast this to 1993 when I bought a 72 pin SIMM with 32 MB of RAM (for the Quadra/LC/Performa 475/476) for $1040, or 3 rebuilt 16 KB Atari RAM cards (for the Atari 800) for $108 in 1983.  16 GB was the most the model would support and I wasn't going to be held back by the hard drive speed.

Apple managed to push me from Snow Leopard on the MacBook to Mountain Lion on the new MacBook Pro.  It was very, very broken, and it was a pain in the ass because I had to download it all over again to put it on another drive, a 750 GB 7200 rpm drive that I'd been using in the MacBook.  Thankfully, I was able to use the connection of a repair shop that was convenient, as I was familiarizing them with Apple technology.

When I'd got the thing running correctly, I noticed that my batch processing of photos was driving the machine to over 100 degrees C, with all four processor cores running, along with the extra 4 virtual cores.  It's still close to that but under 100 degrees C these days.

After a month or two, I changed to a 480 GB SSD, which fixed a lot of the speed problems.  Not only was photo processing much quicker, but games were loading reasonably well, and even Valve's games weren't stuck with "LOADING" long enough for me to get a drink.

Seeing the recent, new Retina-only models made me think that I'd bought the correct machine for me.  I still need an optical drive.  The nVidia 650M is strong enough for me, at the moment.  Being forced into OS X Mavericks/10.9 doesn't seem like a good idea, enhanced battery life or not.  Thin may be in, but Apple's machines become hot too easily.  This one is indicating 40 degrees C and it's actually chilly to the touch.

I'm hoping to get 3-4 years out of it before I need to buy another machine.  By then, photo resolution may have increased again, depending on the ability to miniaturize, and I'll need a stronger machine.  I might even be on 10.9.x by then, because I know that they won't have fixed 10.8.x further.  Maybe, they'll have the Mac App Store fixed by then.

I wonder if we'll even have typical laptop computers by then, or whether they'll mostly be hybrid tablets with keyboards at that point.  In any case, I'll be sticking to a slightly older, 100% guaranteed to be refurbished machine, and I'll be happy with it because it will work well.  Hopefully, this one will still be happy by then.

If you're wondering, I'm still using the 2004/2005 PowerBook G4 and the 2009 MacBook.  They work just fine but they're not exceptionally powerful for photo processing.

Update 2015.08.15: It's getting close to three years that I've had this computer.  It's still what I use daily.  It's been through a lot, including having flipped into the air and it landed upside down on the floor.  It's more several months since then, and it's fine.

In November 2014, I had the closest Apple Store update it to OS X 10.9.5 and it has been reasonable.  I need to have it updated to 10.10.5 now that it is available.

Making videos with it, it seems to struggle a bit.  I looked for a computer running Windows, but they were running about the same amount of money for similar resolutions and power.

I gave away the 2009 MacBook to someone who had helped me set up my apartment but it wasn't extremely powerful with those nVidia graphics.

I keep looking at the recent MacBook Pro models and I have to go with a Retina model to get something current.  They're not easy to customize after the sale.  It's better since they've been out a while, and OWC has had time to figure out some options.  It still seems a guessing game as to what Apple will do next.  The latest 15.x inch MacBook Pro models haven't had a good CPU upgrade for a while.  Since the Back-to-School sale is in progress, updates should be out soon.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Microsoft is advertising for Google, by accident: Chromebooks

I was watching a Microsoft advertisement a bit ago, belittling Google Chromebooks for not having Windows or Microsoft Office.  I think it was a huge mistake.

Why would it be a mistake since Microsoft makes their money from Windows and Office?  The general public didn't know anything about Chromebooks previously.

If Google has bought TV advertising time, I haven't seen any results of it.  So, here we are with ridiculous advertising berating Chromebooks (You're not going to get to Hollywood with that!) simply because they don't have Microsoft products on them.

It might start people thinking.  (I know it's a long shot but it could happen.)  I tried to give away a computer with Ubuntu on it.  The person I was asking said that people "needed" Windows.  When I asked further, they didn't play games.  I'm just not sure what's so necessary about Windows, if you're doing e-mail, writing a document of some sort, or browsing the web.  A five year old machine running a Linux-based distribution should be able to do that just fine--without Windows.

Microsoft has been diminished in so many ways.  While Windows 7 signalled an upswing in software quality, finally, they haven't had much success since then.  Windows 8.1 should be the operating system all current Windows users (with capable machines) should be using, but I don't see that happening so quickly.  Their tablets' prices had to be cut drastically, and the company initiated some acerbic advertising against Apple to help them.  It's not necessarily witless but I can't see that it's helping.  Having Nokia in their pocket has stemmed their losses in Windows Phone operating system, as Samsung and HTC recoil.

If schools would accept Linux-based operating systems, instead of Windows, Microsoft might lose its grip forever.  Competition is always a good thing, though Monopoly should only be a game.  Now that Microsoft has informed us about Google Chromebooks, they might have people asking "Why, Windows?"

Sales to Stores

Apparently, quite a few Chromebooks are making their ways into stores, even if they aren't making it into people's hands.   When I saw the article on MacRumors, i had to take a look at the comments because the fanatics can often be so ridiculous, and so they were:

One person actually made sense about recommending a computer for the person who mostly does web browsing and e-mail.  It is difficult to recommend a US$1000 computer for that when a US$300 Chromebook will work nearly as well for those things, and you don't have to worry about Windows malware, either.  Is the US$999 MacBook Air a well-designed computer, similarly priced to computers based on Intel's Ultrabook classification?  Absolutely.  It even has a slight graphics hardware boost over them.  Could a high school or university student simply wanting to do work do well with a Chromebook?  Absolutely.

Update 2014.02.07: I saw another Microsoft advertisement targeting Chromebooks, though they didn't show one this time, which is smarter for them.  They discussed how you couldn't load MS Office.  Seriously, though, that's a plus to me.  By now, we should have intermediate (non-proprietary) file formats that don't require Microsoft at all.   There was an Open Document Format, as I recall, but can it be forced to be the standard output, so that it can used in schools and offices without having to jump through hoops?

A lot of the reason people are using Microsoft products in schools is because Microsoft gave the schools so many free licenses to "freeze out" any other software supplier.  It's a good deal, but isn't it underhanded, and shouldn't it be against the law?  If it's a gift, should there be strings attached?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday/Holiday Shopping 2013

I'm weird.  I like to shop.  I like to compare deals and I like a real bargain.  I also like to share fake bargains, in order to help other people from making mistakes because fraud is illegal but being sleazy is not and stores who are merely sleazy need to be smacked.

Here are some guidelines:
  • For devices with displays, ask for the resolution 800x480 (1024x600?  It depends on the price.) is not reasonable for a 7 inch display but 1280x800 should be the minimum.
  • Dual-core processors can mean almost anything.  Intel Pentium Dual-Core, Celeron Dual-Core and AMD E- processors are the low end.  Look for Intel Core i3 or AMD A- processors at minimum.
  • Computer monitors with IPS displays will look better than most.  What good is a monitor that doesn't display the scene correctly?
  • Don't buy tablet bundles from HSN, QVC, or ShopNBC/ShopHQ.  You can do better by getting the accessories yourself, and you'll save money.
  • Research what you want because you may find better deals in your town than the deals online.  You never know where to look unless you're prepared.  Micro Center, Big Lots, and Tuesday Morning often have good deals.  Ross, Marshalls,  and TJ Maxx sometimes have good deals, but use cash, not a card because they have all had problems with hackers.

When I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I could visit 4 different malls along the Blue Route/I-476, on Black Friday.  Sometime, I got great deals, and other times, I just got pizza and a drink.  There are times when it's better to window shop.

These days, I rarely go outside on Black Friday because it's so cold here and people are so crazy for deals that they'll trample or beat each other.  It's too important to be good to each other.  Stuff is just stuff.  You can't replace people.

Due to my water heater problems, I didn't go out on Thanksgiving or Black Friday.  (It's difficult to clean up properly without at least warm water.)  The plumber who was taking care of the water heater told me that he and his daughter went to the local Walmart last night (Thanksgiving Day) and they had many police officers there, and he spoke to one who said that it had been crazy.  I'm all for good deals, but seriously, are they that important?  I expect the news tonight will be full of tramplings and fights to get that cheap item.

I saw HSN and one of the other shopping channels charging an extra $300 for iPad Air and accessories in a bundle.   One of them was also attempting to sell a 4th generation iPod touch bundle.  That would be 2 generations from the current iPod touch models.  You can do better, especially by getting a refurbished product on the Apple Store web site.

News outlets keep reminding us that 30% is the magic discount where retailers can still make money.  That said, prices may reflect a bigger discount but that's because the retail price will shift to suit the circumstances on occasion (H.H. Gregg) or be set higher at the beginning (Best Buy).  You have to check a lot for deals.  Kohl's will present cardholders with a 30% coupon, so you end up with a virtual 70% discount, but they obviously can't afford to do that unless their prices are high enough to account for such a discount.  The doorbusters are the only products where any company is willing to lose money, to get you to buy other things.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What kind of equipment bags do you use?

It's an awful responsibility to hold equipment that could be worth several thousand dollars, isn't it?

Is a cheap bag worth using when it might not protect the equipment you're storing in it?

Once upon a time, I bought a used camera and I didn't much care because I knew that it already had problems.  I put it in a school type backpack with a beach towel and it was fine.  Eventually, the problems grew and it became parts.  Whether the problems were complicated by my lack of a proper bag or whether they were complicated by a lack of maintenance, I'll never know.  Had I sent it to be repaired after buying it, it might still be working.  Camera bodies from the 1970s were rather fragile, like watches of that same time period.

In 2003 or 2004 when I was switching to digital equipment, I bought a Crumpler Farmers Doubler bag.  At US$140, if I remember correctly, it was quite expensive compared to the US$50 bags that I could find in almost any store.  However, those bags lacked padding and the separators weren't strong enough.

I learned quickly that when the bag fell 12 inches, everything was still fine.  Of course, with a computer  in sleep mode in the bag, any fall wasn't good for the hard drive.  Mind you, my equipment was a bit more rugged than most, except for the computer.  Now that we have SSDs, even a computer can handle a small fall inside the backpack.

For years, I've been carrying 3-4 lenses and a camera body in the backpack, along with batteries, filter adapter rings, etc.

When I got a second camera body for the format, I needed more space, so I bought another Crumpler bag--a 7 Million Dollar Home.  Crumpler has the most interesting names for their products.  Currently, I have 5 lenses, 2 bodies, a couple of filters, and a partridge in a pear tree in the bag.  Well, maybe the bird and the tree were a bit of an exaggeration but I can fit a lot into the bag, so that it can be heavy at times.  There is no room for a computer, but I can put smaller reflectors/diffusers in it.

Two bags and I have most everything, including a shoulder ache, but they are evenly matched unless I wear the backpack properly.  When the backpack is fully loaded with the computer, my car wants me to put a seat belt on it.  Riding my bike with the backpack can be interesting, especially with a strong wind.

Crumpler Farmers Doubler and 7 Million Dollar Home
I also bought a camera strap, the Convenient Disgrace, which matches the 7 Million Dollar Home a bit too well in the photo.  It's ventilated and has a wider spread than the typical camera strap, so even though I hate straps, I sometimes have to use them, when I have two bodies out at the same time.

I also have another backpack for camera and computer, but I'm not exactly sure what to do with it.  It's a Lowe Pro 250 AW.  It uses openings on the side, instead of the front or top.  I finally used it the other day to transport my laptop computer and tablet, although I'm still trying to configure it for my photographic equipment.  Thankfully, I got a huge discount--US$51.99 instead of US$129.99, because the blue/black was discontinued.  Update 2014.02.01: I finally used this for the Panasonic GH3, Olympus MMF-3 Four-Thirds adapter, Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, and Olympus ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5.  Given the recent Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 breakage, I was concerned about the MMF-3 breaking, since it seems to be so very hollow, and it doesn't really feel as though there is a lot of metal that went into it.  Given that the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 is so heavy, having the combination fully assembled in the bag, and horizontally-oriented, I'm not sure it's worth the risk of using, even though it's convenient.  Perhaps, the GH3 and the new Olympus 25mm f/1.8 would be fine, or my old Olympus IS-20DLX film camera, which was a Zoom Lens Reflex, as they called it, where the lens cannot be typically dismounted.

I've been thinking about my smaller equipment--the micro Four-Thirds pieces.  While they're on one side of the 7 Million Dollar Home, it would be nice to have a small bag to carry those and my Google Nexus 7 tablet.  I found this Manfrotto bag that I thought would be reasonable, especially at the current price at Best Buy.

Is it a rough-and-tough kind of bag?  No.  I have to care for it more than my Crumpler bags.  It's water-resistant, though, and seems to be well-equipped.  The only real problem I have is that it's completely black.  Summer sunshine could make it difficult.

It seems that there are a wide variety of bags for tablets but not so many that also handle photographic equipment.  I was impressed with Thule cases for tablets and computers.  They're the same people who made my bike rack for my car.  Their cases seem designed with the same consideration as luggage, rather than a thin neoprene case.  Still, you can't just throw glass and expect it to survive.  Packing a tablet in a suitcase, you might guess that anything would happen, though.

If Crumpler had stores everywhere, it might make my search easier.  I'm really thrilled with the ability of their products to coddle my computer and photographic equipment.

Update 2013.11.27: My dead water heater will consume any extra money I have at the moment, as it's better to have warm or hot water than to have more equipment and frozen pipes, which I may have anyway by the time I can get a replacement.

Update 2015.10.26: The other day I added a ThinkTank Airport Commuter bag.  It retails at over US$200, which is quite a lot for me, though given the price of the Crumpler bags I have, adjusted for time, it might not be so much.   I needed a bag that could hold all of my micro Four-Thirds equipment at once, and hold a computer and various cables and adapters.  This bag does it all, and it makes all that small, lightweight equipment seem heavy in the process of holding it all.

I wanted another Crumpler bag but they pulled out of the U.S. market a while back and it hasn't been easy to find one.