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.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The 2013 Google Nexus 7 as the best tablet for the majority

(Yes, the title is stupid.  It's the second stupid title, and I can't think of anything that explains how I feel about my current Nexus 7.)

Would it be ridiculous to buy another Nexus 7 after having two of the 2012 versions and returning them?  I thought so.

Clearly, time has changed nearly everything.

Gone is the Tegra 3 with its multiple personality disorder, thankfully.  The surge, pause, surge, pause rhythm is a thing of the past, for me.

Can someone with a 32 GB iPhone 5c, packed to the gills, get along with only 16 GB in a tablet?  Yes, with Android it's definitely possible.  According to the Storage statistics, I have 8.42 GB available still.  I have very little of anything but applications (and their data) on it.

Is the graphics performance acceptable?  Absolutely.  I'm running Galaxy on Fire 2 HD (my 5th version (?), including the Tegra version), and it's quite good.

Is the display better than acceptable?  Absolutely.  I can't say that there was ever a problem with the 2012 models but this one is quite clear, although the Japanese and Chinese typography could be better.  If I can read the iPhone's 4 inch (1136x640) display clearly, why shouldn't a 7 inch (1920x1200) display be even better?  Maybe, I've missed a setting.

What hasn't changed?  Asus is still the company in charge of the hardware, and Google is firmly in charge of the software and firmware.  There is no flash memory slot of any sort still.  Google is counting on Google Drive for those things.  I have Google Drive, Evernote, and Dropbox on it, but I could add Ubuntu One and Microsoft's SkyDrive (being renamed in the UK) for more cloud storage. has another of those, backed by their own storage that has become rather popular.

The build is better.  There is no creaking or flex that I have noticed.  I miss the previous texture on the back, but this one will do.  This device has two cameras, so you can look a bit silly taking photos or video with your tablet.  The buttons feel quite good.  Someone actually researched it, it seems.  The micro USB port seems to have remained in what I consider the upside down position compared to the devices I've had.

Being that I got it for US$199.99, instead of US$229.99, I feel it's even better, as that took care of an extended warranty including accidental damage.  The official travel case was US$19.99 at Micro Center, where I bought everything else.

Getting started with any device is a pain.  Nothing is ready to go.  Thankfully, I have Google Chrome on my laptop computers and I've allowed Google to sync my bookmarks, etc.  After I connected the account on the tablet, things were set in motion, and it was fairly quick to connect the dots for me.

However, the updates took a lot of time, and it's yet to update the operating system to Android version 4.4 (Kit Kat), so that will take some time.  Downloading my formerly-used applications also took some time and setup.  I also have been reconsidering passwords on accounts.  Having been a "victim" of the Adobe, Ubuntu forums, and MacRumors forums hackings, I have changed passwords here and there, though I've left those three since I am not using that combination anywhere else now and I'm not active on those three.  I should change the Adobe bits, as I will have something to do with them eventually.

In any case, it's probably not wise to have passwords easily at hand with an Android-based device.  They're still too vulnerable.  The Bitdefender software is quite good and gives you a fair evaluation of the possibility of privacy problems.  I'm at 61% with Twitter, Evernote, Google+, Yelp, and others.  Very few applications are clean, and when you connect to the internet, you should consider all of your data publicly-available and work backward to secure it.

I'm not trying to scare anyone.  100% internet security is not possible, so all you can do is help your situation.  Even though things are better on iOS, they're not nearly perfect, either, and you have to deal with third party applications anyway.  Be safe!

The Bitdefender application makes good use of the tablet display, even though it has the "Designed for Phone" label.  It seems to be the exception, although more developers are working toward the goal.  Update 2013.12.08: I've spent the US9.95 for the premium status within the app.  The company has done good work, and while I'm not sure they can save me from every situation, they can use the money as a vote toward enhancements.

If you can't tell, I'm pleased with the tablet.  I'd like to take it out and use it some place in public to see how portable it really feels.  Too many times, I've gone to a restaurant and I've left the computer in the car because it's just too much.  Even a 10 inch tablet seems too much, but this is about big enough to fit on the tray, alongside your meal, as would a book.

Update 2013.11.26: Kit Kat (Android version 4.4) was downloaded overnight.  I'm not noticing any real difference.  Of course, this tablet has plenty of storage and RAM, so what might be improved on a lower end device, squeezed for resources, might not be so noticeable here.

One incredibly good thing, and I don't know whether it's part of 4.3 or 4.4, is the ability to have multiple users on the device.  Just like with the laptop computer, I'd like to keep my photographic business separate from my monkey/personal business.  (No, I don't trade in monkeys, but that would be a barrel of fun.)

Update 2013.11.27: It's been about 1 week, and I think that Asus and Google have really hit the mark on this one.  The only better tablet at this point would possibly be the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX but reports I've read would suggest that it would have a lesser life for upgrades, and of course, you have to deal with Amazon's way of doing things.

Update 2013.12.08: The tablet continues to work smoothly, although there seems to be a continual stream of updates, something I remember with my previous encounters with Android.  It could be a good thing when dealing with security issues, but for other issues or enhancements, it might be too much.  Since this tablet is WiFi only, I might be putting my mobile hotspot account at risk, since I'm limited to 12 GB per month.  I got a warning a few days before the end of the last period when I'd crossed 9 GB after just getting the tablet and doing updates and downloads.

Update 2013.03.24: It's been about four months now.  I'm amused that if I leave the tablet off the charger overnight, it has half the charge in the morning, even with WiFi completely off.  If I take it with me when I'm driving 50 miles or more, the battery seems to be depleted quite a lot the next time I try to use it.  Checking the battery usage, it seems to be "normal" Android business.

Otherwise, nothing much has changed.  There seem to be a steady stream of updates, many times from the same developers, every other day.  There is something to be said for waiting 1 week on non-critical updates, especially if your update causes the problems.

Google seems to be more concerned with loading extra crap over the bugs instead of fixing the bugs first and then, adding new features.  They're not much worse than Apple, but I suspect that they only do minimal, very directed testing inside their development environment.  Apple never seems to test on a bad internet connection, so anything that doesn't work perfectly is a result of someone's connection.

Re-booting seems a must, on either platform.  Despite all the elegant multitasking, Android doesn't seem to be any better at handling real life.  It feels as though it will be another 20 years before these devices feel stable enough to be like watches or appliances.  For that matter, I've had computers since 1981 and the new ones don't seem all that stable over the old ones.

Update 2015.04.27: It seems to be dead as far as Google is concerned.  They've apparently stopped selling it on their site.

Update 2015.08.15: Now with Android version 5.1.1, you'd think that the tablet would perform better than ever, and it doesn't.  Maybe, you have to start off with a clean tablet every few months with Android.  This is Google's brand on the tablet--why is it not exemplary?

They're not replacing it apparently.  Tablet sales are way down overall.  Phablet sales are up.  I use my iPhone 6 almost all the day, and I didn't even power on the Nexus 7 for a couple of months.  Sad, isn't it?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fixing the 2013 iPad mini price problem

Those who have read about my reaction to the higher than expected price for the 2013 iPad mini, or those who have talked to me about it, may be able to sense how ridiculous I felt for waiting for the updated tablet as I saw the announcement.  While the display density increased greatly and the performance is much, much, much better, the display quality is lacking, and the price is rather high when you consider the size and the display quality.

As an alternative, I thought about waiting for a refurbished unit or buying a refurbished iPad Air or 4th generation full sized iPad.

Last week, I looked a bit and thought about every opportunity to make the wrong decision.  This week, I went out to take a look at several tablets, including the following:

  • Amazon Fire HDX
  • Barnes & Noble Nook HD+
  • EVGA Tegra Note 7
  • 2013 Google Nexus 7
  • Lenovo IdeaTab/IdeaPad
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7

First, Windows RT was low on my list.  I have a good feeling about Android and iOS.  There may come a day when I warm to Windows RT but that was not today.  Being comfortable is a great thing, and knowing that Google and Apple are willing to update their products within a certain range of time gives me a good feeling.  I'm still uncomfortable with all of the WP7 phones that were pushed to extinction by Microsoft.

Second, the display had to be better than average.  You can have a high density display that looks terrible, just ask 2013 iPad mini (Retina) owners.  That display covers only something like 66% of the sRGB gamut, which is quite low, especially when the cost of the whole product jumped US$70.  I need to be able to read Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and legal-ese--that fine print you can't normally see clearly.  Western languages are fairly easy to read on most displays.  We used to use a 7x9 print matrix to printer western characters in the 1980s.  If not for Japanese and Chinese, we may never have pushed past that "spray painting" type of printing.

Amazon has done a great job with their tablets in order to sell media.  Each tablet is a winner.  I'm even thrilled with their execution of the walled garden to take care of the customer experience.  I could live with it, much the way I live with Apple's way.  No fuss, no muss.

Barnes & Noble is leaving the hardware business.  They have exceptional prices on their equipment.  Their largest tablet was US$179, which had an 8 inch display.  However, while I was listening to the Barnes & Noble people having trouble with the tablet they were using to show someone, I was concerned that there were issues other than the speed of the internet connection.  1 + 1 = 2, does it not?  Being twice as nervous is not good.

EVGA Tegra Note 7 looks like a good tablet at a good price.  However, I can't get the notion out of my head that an nVidia Tegra processor is going to be a problem again, as it was with the 2012 Google Nexus 7.

Once bitten, twice shy?  Given that I had two of the 2012 Google Nexus 7 models, and wasn't happy with either, I had cause to be concerned.  However, a lot of the same concerns were boldly announced in reviews for the 2012 model and were not to be found in the 2013 models.  I tried the 2013 model at a couple of stores and found it to be strong and quick with a better than average display.  The number one item to Google's favor was that they would provide system updates faithfully where the others might not, especially for the bargain tablets.

Speaking of bargain tablets, I saw a couple of Lenovo IdeaTab (Android, right?) tablets at discount at Best Buy.  One was US$119, like one of those cheapo tablets that never gets an update and you wonder where the company went with your money three months later.  Lenovo does a great job with premium products, but I rarely hear great things about their bargains.

Samsung, oh, Samsung, how you make me wish you'd stayed just a component supplier.  You provided everyone with great components and let them do the user experience work and it was a great combination.  Then, you decided that you could make more money by competing with them, and you developed the whole product, except that you always shortchange on the development.  You leave bugs in the software, and the user experience is less than ideal.  Your checklist formula is great for you but it's not great for the consumer.

After all that, I ended up with a 16 GB 2013 Google Nexus 7 at a US$30 discount.  I bought a US$20 travel case and the US$30 protection plan that was reduced in price because of the discount on the tablet.  It still came to quite a bit but the difference between everything I bought and the price of an Apple iPad mini was still over US$125.

I hope my experience is good.  Android 4.3 is on the device (and supposedly 4.4 is getting to everyone slowly).  It's been doing a lot of updates, as you could expect from a new product.  It's still amazing to me how many things are not really good on a tablet.  It's been 3 years since my Android-based phone and Android 2.2, so what's the problem?  Why are they having to code individual fixes for several devices instead of providing one application for tablets and another for phones?  Google has recently implemented "Designed for phones" to let tablet owners know that an application won't utilize the extra space so well.  Wasn't it CEO Eric Schmidt who said that they didn't need separate layouts for tablets and phones?

I look forward to finding what works well.  As I use a certain filling station chain for diesel fuel, I've accumulated quite a few points and used 10,000 of those points to buy a US$10 Google Play gift card.  It's not a lot but it should get me started without emptying my wallet of real money.

I wonder how many others are thinking similarly.  Apple have opened a huge hole between them and the less expensive competition.  Will people buy the iPad mini?  Undoubtedly, there will be many buying it.  The iOS ecosystem is wonderful.  The Android ecosystem is coming along, but I'm still seeing far too many copyright violations where people use well-known characters in copies of their games.  However, they are fewer than in 2011.  If Google can abstract the hardware well enough that a developer can develop for two layouts, instead of focusing on hundreds of individual devices, the software problem will vanish.  Since Ubuntu and Firefox are new names to mobile devices, it gives Google incentive to fix their problems NOW.  Oh well, my tablet is working well, so far.  Hopefully, it stays that way.

I hope Apple is as happy with my solution as I am.

Update 2015.04.08: There are rumors about the iPad mini 4.  Nothing has really been said about the processor, and that is what has to be the best to generate real excitement and sales.

Now, the tablet market is fairly stagnant.  My 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet hasn't been replaced by Google yet.  It could probably use a stronger processor, but I suspect that they're trying to make up for losses they took on the front end that made it such a great bargain.  Apple seems to be making their money all along.

I really believe that for a tablet to be portable, it needs to be 7-8 inches diagonally across the display.  I've seen plenty of people trying to take photos of video with ~10 inch tablets and it's just silly, especially when you consider the cameras are not very good.

nVidia Shield is the only really new tablet but it's rather special purpose.  Samsung continues to update their tablets and generate new model names and numbers, but is anyone buying them or do they only get them for free, as part of a data plan?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Who will buy the Samsung Galaxy NX camera?

I've read recently that the Galaxy NX camera is available in the U.S.A. for about US$1600.

Make no mistake, I'm not a fan of Samsung products.  I think the company leaves a lot to be desired in the operation of their products.  It's as though they have a checklist of features and as soon as they add a feature, working correctly or not, they check that line as completed.

They've become better since Google takes care of the backend of a lot of their products.  Without Android, they'd be as craptacular as they were the last time I owned one of their products.  They had indicated a desire to do things on their own with Bada but that failed, although it's probably being fed some money to keep the project alive.  From my viewpoint, they're just trying to keep the overall business in line with Sony and Panasonic and of course, to crush LG at home.

I've seen in the past that a few people went with their re-branding of Pentax dSLRs to make their own GX line.  They did okay because Pentax gave them some base code and the hardware.  There wasn't much to go wrong with doing some tweaks.  When I would say something about the GX line, someone would raucously defend their purchase, as if it was a life-or-death situation.  I've recently seen the same thing with their NX line.

NX--like Sony's NEX--they couldn't even come up with a series name on their own it seems.  However, they went on their own because Pentax wasn't going to mirror-less system cameras yet.  They filled out their mighty checklist and added features one-by-one until they had the perfect specification for a camera.  It's not that unusual in the electronics industry, and even related more specifically to computers and tablets, it's not unusual.  Sony obviously works from a checklist.

Samsung has created NX-series cameras in several generations, but they don't have much in the way of sales compared to Olympus, Panasonic, or Sony.  I'm guessing that the majority of their buyers have Samsung phones, tablets, and phablets like the Galaxy Note series.

That makes the Galaxy NX camera all the more appealing to that group.  They can use the connectivity in the camera to avoid depleting the battery life on their phones, tablets, and phablets.

However, is US$1600 too dear for the ability to take a photo and massage it using some Android-based app and upload it using another app?  Is it so convenient that the extra cost doesn't matter?  I've recently seen the NX300 for US$700-$800, which seems consistent with other brands with more lenses and accessories.  It's odd to think that Sony's NEX line has more support, given that they have churned out body after body but still have few lenses.  The only mirror-less system camera with fewer lenses is the Canon EOS-M with two lenses.

The only thing that would make this situation more strange would be for LG to make an alliance with a camera maker and start producing an Android-based camera of its own.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Is Live View a waste on a dSLR?

Ever since the Olympus E-330, Panasonic DMC-L1, and Leica Digilux 3 introduced Live View to the world of photography, I've wondered about using it.

In November 2011, I got an Olympus E-5, which has Live View and video recording.  I played with each, but never did much with them.  In February 2013 when I got a Panasonic DMC-GH3, I had a camera body similarly equipped with Live View and (much enhanced) video recording.  Still, I'd yet to do more than test Live View.

In some cases, like the Nikon D7100, D300s, and Canon 70D, the rear display is rather firmly attached, so you can't slide, tilt, or turn it away from the body.  In cases like this, I've heard Live View called "Tripod Mode".  To me, the words "live" and "tripod" don't really seem to work with each other in photography.  Those still life portraits are so...still.

It was only when I was at an Olympus photo walk event with the E-M1 that I really considered Live View valuable.

At one intersection in downtown Indianapolis, there is a flying saucer-like underside covering the intersection, making it a bit claustrophobic.  I could just take a snapshot, but it made more sense to me to get closer to the ground.  I released the rear display and folded it down until it was facing upward.  As I held the camera a few inches from the pavement/sidewalk, between the obstacles, I was able to get a clear shot of the whatever-it-is.  It enabled me to do things I could not normally do.

E-M1 Live View Straight from the Camera JPEG

E-5 through the optical viewfinder, converted from raw file
Since mirror-less system cameras all use Live View and nothing else, the technology has become much better.  Lenses are designed for it, and speeding up the interaction between the image sensor helps to speed auto focus.  As the sensor is always going, the various companies are learning about heat dissipation to reduce the effects of photographic noise.

When I was at a Panasonic-sponsored event recently, an older gentleman showed me his Panasonic DMC-L1 and it was interesting but part of a different time.  Those ideas certainly changed everything, and we wouldn't likely have mirror-less system cameras today without them.

I still haven't a great use for Live View on the Olympus E-5, but now, that I've actually used Live View, I certainly have an appreciation for it, and will realize that I don't have to walk away from certain photos to get them comfortably.

Panasonic GH3, Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

Here is another, more recent photo using Live View and the articulated rear display of my Panasonic GH3 this time.  I switched from the EVF to the rear display, held the camera body at a rather extreme angle, twisted the rear display angle for easy viewing, while kneeling comfortably, rather than lying on the ground, photographing it upside down.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

OK Google vs. Siri

In the late 1990s, I used my Mac Clone with Mac OS 8.5 and PlainTalk to dial the modem, get my e-mail, start my web browser, and keep me current without touching a keyboard or mouse each morning.

It seems as though we've gone backwards since Mac OS X and while I have a built-in microphone, I don't use it much.

Then came Siri, with all the canned advertising requests.  It seemed that Siri worked beautifully, if you asked it the correct questions.  As the service became available in Japanese, I tried it both in English and Japanese.  At the time, I thought that Mac OS 8.5 did a better job.

A few times, I've used OK Google with the Google app to show me relevant information and it's not always okay, but it usually understands me and finds what I want.

I was concerned about tornadoes tonight, as the sirens were screaming for a couple of minutes.  Siri didn't know where I was and wanted me to access privacy settings.  I re-stated the request with a zip code.  It told me that it didn't look as though there would be tornadoes today.  Oops, that wasn't what I wanted to know.

The question wasn't that difficult but I suppose it could have been slightly vague.  However, OK Google had given me results for several news articles related to the area a few minutes earlier.

I also asked both for the location of San Jose State University and I got various information from OK Google, and again I got "I don't know where you are." as Siri pointed me to privacy settings again.

I could understand if it had trouble with names, but I saw the text and it had written "San Jose State University" just fine.  Then, it cleared the display and told me about privacy settings.

I disabled Siri again.  I might try it in Japanese again.  There might not be as much confusion, except that I'm not in Japan now.  I just tried OK Google in Japanese.  You must tap the microphone icon, as the "OK Google" phrase does not seem to work, but the results were as impressive as they are in English.

Update 2013.11.26: I saw an announcement today that Honda/Acura have added Siri Eyes-Free to certain models, as Chevrolet did earlier.  I hope those users have more luck than I did.  It's certainly an interesting idea.  My 2012 VW Golf TDI has phone-related voice commands but I don't have navigation as part of the car, so I would imagine that would enhance the experience quite a lot.  Buick's voice control over music seems as childish as their advertising but it might be useful.  I sometimes wish Apple would implement voice search but it would have to deal with multiple languages and they're not ready for that.

Update 2013.12.08: I've been using voice search a bit on the Nexus 7 tablet.  Apple said that Siri required the iPhone 4s' special noise reduction chip and that the iPhone 4, with its more primitive technology from the same company couldn't do the job correctly.  Why is it then, that all these Android-based devices work so well?  I doubt Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro processor has such technology nor did my (now ancient) LG Optimus S.  Of course, Apple wants you to ditch the old and buy the new, but it's probably not just about the money, Apple's developers probably can't get things to work correctly.  There are occasions where OK Google doesn't work with certain names, even when I'm quite crisp with my enunciation.  However, it seems to work better some days with UK English selected instead of US English--my accent drifts quite a lot.  Using UK English tends to get results from the other side of the ocean, which isn't always helpful.

Update 2013.12.17: I've tried to use the new Chrome plug-in for searching by voice.  I couldn't stop laughing at the horrid results.  It rarely got any of the words correct, and I was using it on a rather powerful MacBook Pro with a 2.6 GHz i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and an SSD.  Imagine the results for a lower end machine with a 5400 rpm hard drive.

Yelp is doing better

As negative/realistic as I have been in the past, Yelp has been making some positive improvements to their site and their mobile app.

The best thing I've seen is that they've been giving business updates more of a priority, and they're also sending e-mail concerning the results.  Several times, I've received positive notice that the changes were made, such as hours or phone numbers, within a day.  On the other hand, I'm still seeing a duplicate for Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, OH but I won't notify them a third time.

When searching in the app, I'm more likely to get the results I need, close to where I am.  I still think it's odd how I'll search for Target and I'll receive a list of them, most further away that I've already reviewed or regularly visit, but the one where I am is fairly far down the line.  It's better but still odd that it doesn't appear at the top.

Obviously, the app was changed to allow full reviews without making a computer necessary.  We've come a long way with mobile devices, so it's less difficult to churn out a full review now.  However, I see a lot that were obviously written in the dark with salsa all over the display.

The "Something's a bit funky with Yelp" message is cute when my connection isn't good, but it's usually not Yelp's fault.  The "Yelp is down for maintenance" message is annoying though.  You'd think it would be down for maintenance in the middle of the local (it's not night at the same time everywhere) night, not in the middle of the local day.  Everyone takes care of business when they can, though.  They might not have anyone working at night.  At least, it's not like Twitter where my primary account was hacked 3 times in 4 days and I ended up deleting it, just to stop the problem.

I'm still weirded out by the "Hold on, Tiger" messages when I'm out shopping and the app thinks I'm going too quickly, when there is someone in the Cincinnati area who apparently doesn't actually visit most of her check-ins--she drives past a place to stay on top.  Many times, I'll be leaving a place and I may still not be able to do the check-in.  Yes, it's not a competition, but it's easier to remember where I forgot something, if I have a path in Yelp.

I've seen a huge, weird issue.  One of my Yelp friends suddenly had all of his reviews hidden by the filter.  They all seem to be legitimate reviews, and he enjoys writing the reviews, but it's frustrating that every one of them is hidden now.  I've randomly checked my own, and haven't found any hidden but I currently have 677 reviews, so it's difficult to know which could be hidden.

The last thing is a bug concerning the Useful, Funny, Cool votes.  Certain reviews are sorted so that they're in the middle of a group of reviews with "Useful 3", but that isn't attached to that certain review.  By the positioning, it's apparently counted as "Useful 3" but just doesn't display it.

I like using Yelp.  No service is perfect, and I don't expect perfection.  Four Square allows check-in offers,.  Trip Advisor allows you to review, but nothing really has that combination that Yelp has.  If things become less weird, I suspect that more people would trust it.  Right now, you need a grain of salt from time to time.

It looks as though I won't be Elite for 2014.  Whether the Cincinnati Elite page is messed up or they're excluding me for some reason, I don't know, but when I use the "Nominate someone" form, as I believe I did last year (and there is nothing else to use), it says that I'm already Elite.  Oh, well.

Never mind that.  It looks as though the web page had not been updated for several days after the e-mail was sent.

Update 2014.03.17: Happy St. Patrick's (Padraig's?) Day!

I'm continually amused by the data changes at Yelp.  I went to a home-style restaurant and looked at the address which still had the wrong U.S. highway--7 instead of the correct 27.  When I made a correction--again--the "moved" the restaurant to a new listing with the correct address.   It's mind-boggling.

They still have a duplicate for Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, Ohio (and I'm not mentioning it for fear of another snarky e-mail), but the new listing for Dick's Sporting Goods in the Dayton Mall was removed, while the old one still exists.  You'd think that they'd want to clear out the duplicates so they'd have room for the legitimate locations.

I'm Elite again, though the Cincinnati Community Manager has ignored my existence for whatever reason.  I have yet to go to an event, but it's cheaper for them if I don't, correct?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Anyone excited about Tegra Note 7?

This tablet is interesting but I'm not sure what to make of it.

It's just under $200, has a resolution of 1280x800, like the 2012 Google Nexus 7 but has the nVidia Tegra 4 processor, and uses a stylus.

It only has 16 GB of storage, which is not surprising at this price, but has a microSD slot for an additional 32 GB of removable storage that can certainly be used for music, photos, and video.

All-in-all, it looks like an enhanced version of last year's Nexus 7 tablet that had the rather problematic Tegra 3 processor.

Mind you, I liked the Nexus 7 when it worked well but that wasn't all that often, unfortunately.  Android 4.x has come a long way compared to version 2.x.  The performance was like a car speeding out of control with the brakes applied, released, applied, released.

There is no question about linking it to an HDMI-driven device such as a TV.  The output is there.

My only question is whether operating system updates will be continually available for a couple of years.  Since it's an EVGA product, not a Google product, will it have good backing, or will this be a one-off product that might be considered a mistake for the company?  Will nVidia provide support?

There are a few answers out there, but until it arrives and we see what happens, I'm a bit cautious.  It's slightly less expensive (US$30) than the 2013 Google Nexus 7 16 GB tablet, although that doesn't come with a stylus or a microSD slot.  However, support could prove invaluable.

I hope that nVidia has worked out the problems with their previous processor, which is another reason to be cautious.  When I tried the 2013 Nexus 7 the other day, it worked smoothly, unlike last year's version.

Still, a tablet that is made to use a stylus but doesn't force you to use it would be great, especially with the prices of the Samsung Note series.  Even more, if the tablet really is oriented toward gaming, it could be less problematic than an Ouya or nVidia Shield gaming system.

I'm not holding my breath.

Update 2013.11.21: I didn't hold my breath and I bought a 2013 Google Nexus 7 at a US$30 discount, which brought it to the same price as the Tegra Note 7, without the uncomfortable worries about whether another Tegra processor combination would be a flop.

Update 2014.01.17: At CES, nVidia described their Tegra K1 as something totally different from the previous Tegra SoC parts, basically implying that it was a winner, which means that the Tegra 4 and earlier SoC parts were losers.  Of course, the latest and greatest is always supposed to be the best, but while there are still products on the market, should you imply anything about problems that might be in the Tegra Note 7 or nVidia Shield products because of their SoC?

Update 2014.12.25: I wonder if they've sold more than a few thousand.  I don't hear anything about it now.  I half expected that Google would have introduced a replacement for the 2013 Nexus 7 tablet that I bought last year.  The Tegra Note 7 seemed a huge deal, and nothing seemed to happen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

DPReview's most-clicked

For years, I've seen a list of DPReview's most clicked cameras.  They have always included some mix of Canon and Nikon equipment, as though each faction will not let the other win.

On occasion, you will see Pentax or Olympus or Fuji or Sony sneak into the top list, and then, promptly be forced to the bottom and then, off the list entirely for a while.  Sometime, they return, as when a preview turns into a review.

Amusingly, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 ended up their camera of the year in 2012, as to say to the Canikon crowd, "We've had enough of you!"  Still, the most-clicked list has continued to have both Canon and Nikon equipment, until November 6th, when I saw this:

I'm not saying that it means a lot, but it is a surprising departure, and the list has not had a single Canon camera on it for several days.  You have to wonder if the whole lot of them are at some Canon-sponsored event and can't be bothered to visit DPReview now.

Update: the whole situation is slowly going back to normal with a few Canon products on the list.  I wonder if they somehow stopped counting the Canon products or banned them from the list due to "stuffing the ballot box" type of behaviour.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I bought an iPhone 5c (over the LG G2) and stayed with my carrier, Sprint

There is always hope, but sometime, it's almost minimal.  That's how things are today.

Friday, I went back to the local Sprint store and traded my iPhone 4S for an iPhone 5c.  Everyone working at the store was wearing an LG G2 t-shirt.  I really thought about buying a G2 or the Google Nexus 5.  I wasn't 100% sure about either for various reasons.  They're both big.  The Nexus 5 didn't have Otterbox or similar brand cases, and it only came in a 16 GB capacity.  The G2 had 32 GB capacity but I was uncertain about operating system updates and the various complaints against the interface, even though it has the Sprint ID crap on top of the Sprint version--something I know that didn't get in the way too much.

You can call me cheap but the iPhone 5c fits my conservative feeling about technology.  I've already read too much about weirdness with the iPhone 5s, as I read about troubles with the iPhone 5 when it was new, and I generally don't go for the first of Apple's trial runs because I've paid painfully for being first.

The iPhone 5c is slightly more technically than the iPhone 5, in a newer design.  It has 2 bands for LTE, rather than 1.  If Sprint were deploying all 3 bands soon, and LTE was my main goal, then the G2 or Nexus 5 would have been better choices.  However, the 1900 MHz and 2500 MHz bands will do, with the 800 MHz band coming later.  The Sierra Wireless/Netgear mobile hotspot I have only does 1900 MHz for LTE and 2500 MHz for WiMAX, and only 1900 MHz for EVDO.  By the time I get my next phone, everything will be settled.

Still, US199.99 for the 32 GB iPhone 5c and a trade-in value of $143 for my iPhone 4S, made a difference of $56.99, which is a cheap price to switch a generation (or two, if you look at the timing).  Of course, I had to buy another AppleCare+ plan for $99.00 but that's not bad, and then, a cable with a Lightning connector.  It wasn't cheap, but for the quality, it wasn't expensive really.  Monoprice would have a better deal, but I didn't order it ahead of time and deals at Target or Best Buy were worse than Sprint.  I ended up giving all of my extra iPhone 4S accessories to a friend who still has his.  At some point, Lightning cables and accessories will become common, and therefore, inexpensive.

The only thing that doesn't seem a great deal is the Ottberbox Defender case for US$49.99.  Of course, it's changed for the new form.  What seemed sloppy in the iPhone 4S case is taut and what was taut in that case is now loose.  The screen protector is no longer hard plastic and there is a gap, so you must press the plastic against the display.  Does this protect it better?  I don't think so because dust can enter through the opening for the Home button and the speaker/front camera opening.  Oddly, the porthole for the Apple logo is not correctly placed.

The fit of the case is so much better overall and the Lighning port cover doesn't close accidentally as did the cover for the 30 pin connector.  The case is gray and white, so that seems a bit more appealing (at the moment) than the older, black-only case.  In fact, Otterbox has several color combinations available by special order.  I doubt retailers will carry them all.  (Update 2014.01.05: I've changed to the Ballistic SG MAXX, which has apparently been renamed Hard Jacket Maxx or something like that, plus added an Invisible Shield screen protector because the Defender screen protector made it difficult to work the phone.)

As far as usage goes, the phone feels faster, as it should stepping from the A5 processor to the A6 processor.  It would have been nice to get the A6x but it probably generates too much heat in a small package.  Besides, the cost was likely too much to add it and price the phone were it is.

I had a chance on Saturday to gauge LTE, when I was at a Panasonic photo/video workshop at a camera store in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.  I was recently at that store for a product introduction for Olympus, and LTE wasn't healthy.  At 0.75 Mbps, I found it mostly useless.  Sprintcare advised me that two towers were down and putting strain on single tower.  Saturday, a couple of months later, I got 1.0 Mbps, which certainly doesn't even look like 5 Mbps or 10, 15, 20, or 25 Mbps that this technology is supposed to allow.  Obviously, the buildout is still in its infancy.

Further into the suburbs, I got not quite 3 Mbps, and there were gaps in coverage along the way.  When I was in Greenwood Park mall, one end switched all the way down to 1xRTT (thankfully not the circle since iOS 7 but it's labeled 1x), but near the Sprint kiosk, there was LTE available, not that it worked very well, but it was present.

I was told to expect LTE here in 6 months.  Given my 60+ mile drive home, I have no doubt that it will be deployed along I-70, as it went quite a way, covering several small towns along the interstate highway.  It stopped in the middle of nowhere, not at an intersection along the highway, which seemed odd to me, but I'm not a communications planner.  With about 38 more miles to get to the town where I am now, it looks like progress is actually happening in a very backward area that only got 3G service in early 2009.

When I was outside Cincinnati today, in the Springdale area, I noticed the LTE indicator on the phone.  Cincinnati is not an announced area, as far as I know, and the WiMAX there is more overloaded than the 3G service, so it was surprising to see the results.

As for the increased resolution, there is room for an extra row of icons and using my backup from the iPhone 4S, it looks a bit lonely toward the bottom.  I wish that they would let me expand the favorite apps at the bottom into two rows.  It's not as though it's a hardship, but it could be more convenient.  Apple is learning, but learning so slowly that the rest of us need a class on patience.

I'm sure someone out there thinks that I'm ridiculously stupid for staying with a CDMA phone.  Here is my reasoning: There was a demonstration of how you could use a $15 phone and a little bit of knowledge to fake a GSM tower and listen to conversations.  It's not that I make a lot of conversations, secretive or otherwise, but it's ridiculous to open yourself up when you give that credit card number over the phone and a third party is listening.

They call CDMA old, but GSM goes back to the 1980s--further than CDMA really.  I'm excited about VoLTE--voice over LTE technology, where we can give up both GSM and CDMA but it's going to be later in the decade.

Update 2013.11.26: Two weeks have passed already?  The phone has proven itself.  LTE, where available, works well.  I don't see that the phone can fix communications problems but at least, it's not making them worse, as it seemed to be with the iPhone 4S or the LG Optimus S.  Perhaps, Qualcomm is better now or it's just that the antenna configuration is much better.  I'm holding the phone the same way as always.  For a moment yesterday, I was thinking of my Sanyo PM-8200 with the pull-out antenna.  That phone had amazing sound but flip phones could be thicker then.  Having a phone that sounded better than a landline phone was incredible at that time.  It was only when I got to the premium Samsung A900 that my expectations went down.

I was going to say that my problem with compass interference had completely gone away, but I can only say that it's minimized.  I haven't seen the actual message about compass interference, but I find that the map is looking the wrong way occasionally.

I haven't seen anything terrible, which is both great and expected of what is mostly a 1 year old phone with some enhancements.  When iOS 7 is more mature, I expect that it will be as good as a phone can be.

My 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet will fill my need for Android.

Update 2013.12.06: My pro rata bill came and that's always a time for panic as it is big.  The bill was almost exactly the same, except for the US$36.00 activation fee and AppleCare+ for US$99.00, and of course, there was additional tax because of those two.  It's a bit more (~US$60+) than my bill from two years ago when I got the iPhone 4s when they started charging the smart phone premium data fee but I don't recall much about the changes.

Service has been unhappy and great in alternating cycles.  LTE is still months away, though it works in the small town of Eaton in Ohio about 12 miles away, though no longer in the Cincinnati area.  It would be great to have a really good response from the devices, although the iPhone 5c generally works better than the mobile hotspot.  How any carrier buys products to work with their supplied connections, and they don't really work together well, I will never understand.  All the carriers seem to have the same problems and it's never their fault, just like the cable company.

Update 2014.01.05: I am definitely not pleased with service lately.  It's likely because of holiday shopping and ongoing upgrade work, but service at  home is unusable at times.  I don't mean that it's pathetically slow.  I mean that it's time to shut off the phone slow because nothing is getting data.  The mobile hotspot is worse for whatever reason.  Checking the website shows me that cows and horses about 6 miles east of here have LTE service and it's arriving from all sides, but when tiny towns have the service and a town of 35,000 doesn't, it makes me wonder what the priorities are.  The phone is great however and hasn't disappointed at all.

Update 2014.03.26: After spending several months with the latest version of Android (4.4.2) and recently updating the iPhone 5c to iOS 7.1, I couldn't be more pleased that I didn't get an Android-based phone.  There is always something just a little bit off about Android.  Thankfully, the tablet isn't bad as its 2012 counterpart was.  I like the 2013 Nexus 7, and it's a much better piece of hardware than the iPad mini but it would be good if Google fixed the operating system, so it wasn't a pig and the battery wasn't half depleted if I leave it off the charger all night.

The iPhone 5c has recently taken up mobile hotspot duties and it works well enough, but there seem to be some flaws in the functionality in iOS 7.1.  Otherwise, the phone is quite good, which should be expected since it is a warmed-over iPhone 5 with dual band LTE.  LTE works quite well, and I've seen over 12 Mbps with it.  However, at home, I'm still struggling with service.  I suspect the technician is the same one who couldn't get 3G/EVDO working on schedule, and can't keep the network working consistently either.

I'm no longer using the Otterbox Defender case.  I switched to a Ballistic SG MAXX case, tossed the screen protector, and bought an Invisible Shield screen protector.   It was a lot of money, but not wasted.

Update 2014.11.26: It's been over a year with the iPhone 5c and it's still a good phone.  Thankfully, the rather broken iOS 7.x has been replaced with the somewhat broken iOS 8.1.1 finally.  I think Sprint is still my biggest hurdle, but I don't see good alternatives.  My service is only really bad at home.

Given that I'm using the SG MAXX case (and they've changed the name of that model), there have been no destructive drops.  I'm pleased that the case is both strong and that I can remove it easily.

If there is one odd problem with the phone, it's something that seems to have happened recently.  Syncing with the computer has become flaky.  I switched from the long, Sprint-supplied cable to the original, short Apple-supplied cable and it is more reliable, but not 100%.

However, part of the problem could be that I upgraded to OS X 10.9.5 about the same time as I upgraded the phone to iOS 8.1.  It could also be that my MacBook Pro is often in the backpack with me, but that shouldn't loosen just the USB ports.  I'd expect that it would loosen practically everything.

32GB seems not to be quite enough, possibly because the apps are arriving in 32-bit/64-bit combos with enhanced artwork for the upgraded resolutions for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.  I have a little bit over 16 GB of music (256 Kbps mp3 encoding), so the rest of the storage is related to apps.  Asphalt 8 and Galaxy on Fire 2 (HD) take a lot of storage for data.

In any case, I'm still pleased with the iPhone 5c.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

vampirestat and 7secretsearch re-directing traffic to me?

Oh, dear.  I don't know who these people are, and I probably don't want to ask too many questions.  It looks as though my blog is meeting success with about 800 more pageviews in the monthly period, but of course, people aren't reading that much.  Still, it's amusing that the monthly pageviews only two weeks ago were threatening to fall below 1000 and now, they're hovering around 2100.  They've recently exceeded 2600.  However, it's sad to see the daily page views at nearly 200 and yet, there are probably only 10 people actually reading something.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but maybe you'll find something interesting, unless of course, you were looking for pornography since my blog isn't about that.

To everyone else: I hope that my words help you make better decisions on the equipment I'm discussing (amongst myself, ha!).  I think a lot of things over and over, trying to find the truth out of the bias toward something or the other.  Yes, I am a bit biased, but only toward getting the right thing.  I do not want to spend money in the wrong places.

I was always amused by someone advising a person by first telling them that their last decision was completely wrong.  It really sets someone up to believe that their next decision could be wrong also, even though that's what the person advising wants you to buy.

Life continues.  Find success!

14 days until end of mobile phone contract (solved and switched)

It's been a very long time since I wasn't on a contract with my mobile phone provider.  At that time, I had a Motorola StarTac, which served me really well, and I got the phone at a huge discount, considering it cost me $9.99.  These phones had been something like US$3000 when they first arrived on the scene.

Since then, I've gone through a number of phones, as technology changed, especially with the 3G data access.  I ended up wanting a fast phone, and then, I wanted to be able to tether it to the computer, so I would have internet access anywhere.  As I progressed and started to send text messages, I wanted a full keyboard.  Lastly, I wanted a smart phone, and then, I wanted one that worked well.

That brings me to today, 14 days away from the end of my contract.

While there is not much wrong with my current phone, I would prefer to have dual-band LTE (compared to 3G only) capabilities, and some extra performance wouldn't hurt.

The choices are:

  • Apple iPhone 5c
  • Apple iPhone 5s
  • LG G2
  • Google Nexus 5

I was told yesterday that Sprint should have LTE capabilities in town in 6 months, as was told to this person by the network technician who services the towers.  Considering that it took the company over 2 years from when I was using 3G elsewhere, that's not bad, if it turns out to be true.

Apple only support two bands at this time.  I'm not fully versed in LTE bands, but I gather than the phones support 1900 MHz and 2500 MHz, since those are the earlier bands Sprint will have everywhere they have LTE.  They started with 1900 MHz, but Clearwire (which they acquired) has held the 2500 MHz frequency and has outfitted for LTE there.  As Sprint de-commissions iDEN at 800 MHz, LTE penetration into buildings will become much easier.

The LG G2 and Google Nexus 5 support all three bands.  I'm a bit skeptical about any Android-based phones, given the developers' abilities to support so many different configurations.  I've seen loads of requests from users wanting a certain game or application to run on their phones, which isn't unreasonable.  That makes me nervous, though.  Google is supposedly addressing the problem with fragmentation through their software design, but it's not there yet.  As I've said in the past, Android version 4.0 was a good place to start a production operating system.

The Nexus 5 would be the easy choice.  It will get the latest, greatest version of Android and related apps.  However, the Sprint version is 16 GB only, and as Android has been increasingly porky, it might seem constrained at some point.  Certainly, anyone who used the 8 GB version of the 2012 Nexus 7 tablet can confirm that it didn't have enough storage to be entirely useful.  That leaves the LG G2, which is rather big, but has the 32 GB of storage and 17 hour battery.

I've had three LG phones, an LG TV, and an LG 3D Blu-Ray player.  They seem to leave a lot undone, although the feature phones were less buggy than Samsung's.  The Blu-Ray player freezes far too often, and the TV isn't always working correctly.  Now, they weren't premium devices, and I don't expect them to give the highest resolution output or the best sound but I expect them to work without having to be unplugged.  Still, the LG G2 is hardly an economical device, and I would expect that it will work well, as long as they've worked out their touch screen threshold.  I really don't feel like stabbing the display to get it to respond.  However, the full HD display may be worth it.

I'm inclined to go with the iPhone 5c, as it's fairly economical, and there are Otterbox (and Ballistic) cases for it, although I would have to order a Ballistic case or anything other than the very standard Otterbox Defender.  Thankfully, the cases are thinner than the case for the iPhone 4S.  The Defender on the iPhone 4S is uncomfortable at times.  The phone itself has the polycarbonate shell over a steel infrastructure, not unlike my 2009 MacBook.  The big question is: How outdated will it be in November 2015?  Will I want a higher resolution display?  ($200 for the phone + $50 for the case + $100 for AppleCare+ and then, there is additional tax and the activation fee, but it's probably still cheaper that way rather than the "helpful" finance the phone plan.

The iPhone 5s has the greater enhancements; unfortunately, they are giving the greater growing pains.  The 64-bit-ness of the processor is apparently causing some problems with the way things work.  I think I'll wait for the next one or two.  I wasn't ready for the iPhone 5 for the same reason--growing pains.

I know that I should just wait to see what happens with the network, but I probably won't do that.  I even looked at going with a prepaid feature phone to save money and then, I would use the current iPhone 4S with the mobile hotspot.  I doubt I'd last long with the inconvenience of that arrangement.  I'd probably find my 12 GB limit limiting.

If I wait until the contract has been finished, will Sprint be more pliable?  Would they offer me the cradle for my mobile hotspot as an incentive to stay?  I know that it sounds selfish, but I've seen people walk away with accounts requiring minimal payments, phone upgrades, and more.  The best I've ever been offered by the company was to buy a phone early at full price, and I'd been a subscriber for 8 years at the time.  They always seemed to appreciate new customers more, even after they introduced their "New for You" campaign.

Update 2013.11.08: 2 years remaining on contract now.  I traded my iPhone 4S for a iPhone 5c, giving me a credit of US$143.  I bought an Otterbox Defender case, which was an extra $49.99 and suffers from a poor design compared to the case for the 4S, which I kept, as they wouldn't give me anything extra.  AppleCare+ is still $99.00 for two years.  I also bought a 6 ft. Lightning cable since they're difficult to find.  I had checked several stores before buying the phone but only Best Buy had short, expensive cables.  $24.99 for 6 feet isn't as good as Monoprice's $12.98 but this seems a bit more sturdy.

It took a while to move 2200+ songs and 130 apps from my computer to the new phone, but it was simple.  iTunes asked if I wanted to use the current backup, so then, it was just a matter of waiting for it to finish, and then, to download the operating system update.

The Otterbox Defender case fits better around the phone but the transparent sheet in the front is not tight or close enough to the display, plus the porthole for the Apple logo, silly as it is, is in the wrong place.  I still don't see the reason to flaunt that you own an Apple product, but whatever.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nikon Df, more retro in a bigger but smaller package

While I'm not exactly surprised by Nikon's announcement, I'm pleased to see that they've put together a 1970s-style camera body.

When I was selling the Nikon F2, we had a Nikkormat body, which was their less expensive, smaller brand.  It was easily usable without the crane and tripod.  Compared to the Olympus OM-1N, it was still quite heavy.

When I first got a dSLR in 2004, I wondered why they couldn't do something in the same size as the 1970s bodies.  It seemed ridiculous to have a smaller sensor (APS-C or Four-Thirds) in a body larger than 135 format.  Then, I mounted a longer, bigger lens and realized how much more comfortable these dSLRs were.  The grip kept them from being slippery, too.  Using a 4x telephoto zoom, and relaxing and holding everything with only fingertips on the grip says a lot of progress has been made.

So, Nikon brought a camera to market that looks very much like the 1970s, adding a couple of LCDs and a lot of automatic features.  The price is up there, but not outrageous for what you get.  At roughly US$2750, you get their top of the line 135 format/FX sensor.  (If you think higher pixel density leads to better image quality, you need to think again.)  Combine that with the D610's auto focus unit, a single card slot, and all the dials you can handle, and you've got a great casual shooter than wipes Sony's A7/A7R duo right off the camera shop floor, except for size, of course.

No, it's not likely that the same people are going to be driven to Sony and Nikon bodies, or anything with the retro look.  I suspect a lot of people in their 70s will buy the Nikon Df, if for nothing than nostalgia, as they probably have an old Nikon body in the closet.

Why do I damn the Df with the word "casual"?  You'll see that the first time you mount the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to it without a tripod handy.  It's the same reason I call most of the micro Four-Thirds bodies casual--you'll need to take more care if you want to work handheld with an unbalanced pairing of body and lens.  Thankfully, Fuji has been thoughtful with their X-series bodies and only provided an adapter for Leica M-mount lenses, which are small lenses.  In the 1970s, it wasn't a huge problem because there weren't so many huge lenses, unless you were using Medium Format.

If you fit into that category where you take the time to take the shot, I suspect that you'll be richly rewarded by some very amazing image quality with the best lenses.  If you dig the bottom of the barrel and come out with a 40 year old Sigma lens, you'll wonder why there was any fuss about the Nikon Df.  Using high quality lenses with it will make you admire the D4 even more.

Thinking back a bit to the D610 announcement, I see where it makes more sense now that the update came about the same time as the Df, especially with the update to the Expeed 3 processor and faster burst rate.

Update 2013.11.11: Saturday, I was at a local camera store for a workshop, and I was discussing something later and I noticed a couple of the film bodies from the 1970s and 1980s, and they brought back a sense of nostalgia, having sold such equipment in my past.  Unfortunately, most who spent US$500 aren't as likely to spend US$2750 for nostalgia, I expect.

Update 2013.11.24: Reading What Digital Camera's impressions made me smile when they said that the camera body was larger than expected, even though it's the smallest Nikon FX body.  Nikon built huge camera bodies way back when.  It was only after Olympus started to take business away that they responded with smaller bodies.  The article was suggesting that the balance wasn't very good with zoom lenses.  They should go back to the 1970s when none of the camera bodies had much of a grip at all.  If you wanted stability, you bought a tripod.

Update 2014.12.18: I wonder if Nikon has sold more than a few thousand of these bodies.  I don't see much about this body any longer.  I suppose Nikon enthusiasts and professional photographers from the 1970s bought quite a few of them and that buying spree was over quickly.  What value can you place on nostalgia?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Android usage shows upgrades, switch; BlackBerry on the ropes

I noticed that this chart still shows quite a few Android users in versions 2.3.3 - 2.3.7 (API 10, was it?) but 2.3 - 2.3.2 are gone.

Just to see the progress, here is the final calendar quarter of 2013.

It makes me think that the LG Optimus One and Optimus 2 are still around in many variants since those had so little storage that they couldn't be updated.  They were also not very powerful, but they were inexpensive and people who could only afford a feature phone could suddenly afford a smart phone.

Notice that Honeycomb, version 3.2 is still there.  Apparently, there were quite a few US$100 tablets that couldn't be upgraded but are still in use.

Update 2013.11.27: I've read recently that they re-worked Kit Kat to be less demanding of resources, i.e. to get rid of the reason phones are still using Gingerbread/version 2.3.x.  It isn't likely to put Kit Kat on LG Optimus One variants but possibly the Optimus 2, which is still being sold.

I also saw today where the deal for BlackBerry/RIM fell apart and there doesn't seem to be a saviour of the company.  That drove a sell-off of the stock, sending the price down about 20% lower.  They also replaced the CEO.  (I suspect that they'll be saying that choosing him was an error in Heinsight.  Yes, that's mine, and stop groaning.)

I would think that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are looking to buy the remains of the company when it's too far gone to save.

Google doesn't care about real-time execution since it chose a Java-related runtime architecture, but Apple could really use something a bit better and BlackBerry owns the QNX operating system, which was always quite a stunner with its fast (operating system) message passing system.  Anything to fix the performance issues in the Darwin/(Mac) OS X kernel would be good.  (Sure, it's easy to make the slop less apparent with faster processing but it's still sloppy.)

Apparently, the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has been downloaded quite a lot, but people don't know what to do with it once they have it.  Duh.  You should be able to contact someone on CNBC as they're saying that "You'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands."  That's CrackBerry, and most of the users have been gone since about 2009 when they realized there were alternatives.

It'll be sad to see them gone from the market.  I wish they had taken Apple's entry into the mobile phone space seriously.  Obviously, Nokia had a similar take on being unbeatable and it cost them plenty.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sprint is more worried about their executives than their customers

I keep hearing about the wonderful improvements to Sprint's network.  They're happening everywhere, but apparently, where I go.

Sprint made a big deal about having LTE available for the Super Bowl last year.  This summer, I was on Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis with the Tri-Fi mobile hotspot and my computer trying to do some work before an event.  0.75 Mbps (or 1.0 Mbps on 2013.11.09) on LTE didn't seem quite right, even by pathetic standards.  I was told by the @sprintcare team that two towers were having problems and that the third tower in the area was being stressed more than usual.  It's possible.

As I've said in the past, putting one tower in a town and saying that you have coverage is not the same as having useful coverage, but I know that Verizon does that.  Seeing someone with a phone showing "4G LTE" taking two minutes to switch to 3G (EVDO) to actually do the work is sadly amusing.

No one has really good coverage right now, so it's all about who doesn't have the worst coverage.

I was thinking to myself "Why can't Sprint handle their current customers' needs now?"  I decided to take a look at the site and check on 3 metropolitan areas.

  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Overland Park, Kansas
  • San Jose, California

I'm near Cincinnati and WiMAX (4G) is just as overloaded as EVDO (3G) is.  I've yet to see any LTE (4G LTE)  coverage (that changed with my 2013.11.13 visit), but I don't always take my mobile hotspot with me.

Overland Park is where Sprint's headquarters are.  It's in the Kansas City metro area.  The KC metro area is about the same size (~2.3 million people) as the Cincinnati metro area, so I thought that it would be a good comparison.

San Jose is the third largest city in California with just under 1 million people.  It's in the San Francisco Bay Area, but at the furthest south point.  WiMAX is present and worked reasonably well for the first 6 hours of my 3 day stay there.  It was supposedly repaired before I left, but wasn't working correctly, so perhaps, the problem is that the technicians can't be bothered to test.

I must be confused.  If the KC metro area is no bigger than the Cincinnati metro area (and Overland Park isn't that much of the metro area), why are they receiving roughly 4 times the enhancements?  They're even receiving more than San Jose, California, which has about 4 times the population.

The only thing I can reason is that the executives complain about their inconvenience and plan around themselves.  I can't imagine any other logical explanation because I would think that they would want to convince people who aren't Sprint employees to go with their service, especially when Sprint employees get a discount (100%?) for service, unlike typical customers.  It also seems that with the recent addition of 70 new LTE locations that many were planned as vacation destinations for Sprint executives.

I had learned in the past that they had no way to gauge data performance.  I suspect that they're just not collecting any information, so that they can't be blamed for what they don't know.  Having worked with internal networks at various companies, there are tools for Quality of Service (QoS), so I find it difficult to believe that the major carriers aren't using similar tools on their data networks, except to escape blame.

Oh, and by the way, marketing has created a new boasting area to talk about their plans for tri-band LTE:

I'm with a lot of the comments that say "I'll believe it when I see it." but they talk about 2014 and 2015.  2014 isn't that far off, but I have a feeling that I won't be seeing LTE at home until 2016 at the rate they're going.  Whether it will be reliable or not is another matter.  I don't consider any data communications technology sufficient if it struggles to get my e-mail, although I've been told several times by Sprint support (not customer service) that if sometime during a 24 hour period the data rates are within their advertised numbers, they are acceptable rates.

Update 2013.11.11: I had recent conversations with local Sprint employees and ended up extending my relationship with the company by buying a new iPhone 5c.  They said, according to the local network technician, this area will have LTE about 6 months from now.   Whether it will be working (well) or not is another matter.  Returning from Indianapolis the other day, I noticed that the phone was showing LTE for all but about the last 38 miles of my drive, so it seems they're working their way across the state.

Update 2013.11.13: I was in the Springdale area, just outside Cincinnati and was surprised to find LTE. told me that it reached a little over 10 Mbps at the peak, and settled on 7 Mbps.  That's good, but as with my experience with WiMAX being overloaded in the area, they're going to need a lot of capacity.

Springdale, Ohio

Update 2013.11.26: I was in Eaton, Ohio today.  It's a town just big enough by state law to be designated a city.  LTE was working there but has not been officially announced yet.  My previous experience is that the town had 3G data service prior to where I am now, since Sprint had bought the area's wireline business, apparently.  Verizon had bought the service in this town.  In any case, it seems that LTE is closing from all sides and it's going to be pleasant until everyone moves over to LTE.

Eaton, Ohio
 I really love the Sprint Zone app.  It's so precise with the Free Memory figure.  Additionally, the Data Connection is hard-coded to show 3G no matter whether 1xRTT is there (even roaming), or LTE is the current connection.  It doesn't matter how many times I've mentioned it to them.  It's like the Sprint vanity page saying that connections are in Megabytes per second, rather than Megabits per second.

3G connection while LTE or 1xRTT is active...hmm
Update 2013.12.27: I was able to use Sprint's LTE in the Dayton, Ohio area today.  It was less than spectacular, but the availability hasn't been announced yet.  Since they don't actually provide much coverage when they announce an area, I don't think it will be good for a while anyway.  Indianapolis, Indiana was announced quite a while ago, and it's consistent with what a good EVDO connection should be.

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 that wasn't there previously.  It almost looked as if they'd re-deployed equipment already.

LTE is finding its way into every area

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.

Update 2014.12.02: It's been a bit over a year and the company has made some progress toward their LTE buildout.  That's a good thing, but they're still failing.  They're still far too interested in helping themselves than helping their paying customers.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, my phone usually works on LTE and generally works well.  There are still some really ugly problems but they are fewer than I'd seen in other parts of the country.  Being that I live about 75 miles from San Jose, there are more ugly problems the further away from California's third largest city.  Surprisingly, I had very good service in San Francisco itself, which is a tough city to cover.  Since WiMAX has been decommissioned, along with Nextel's iDEN network, Sprint has two more frequency bands to use.

However, the numbers of the changes to towers--their "upgrades"--still show too much activity around their headquarters, compared to taking care of their paying customers.  I would assume that Sprint employees don't pay a lot for service, so why are the rest of us paying to help them when many of us are still dealing with poor service?

I've noticed that they're not interested in showing us where LTE is being deployed any longer.  The only press releases I've seen lately as concerned with telling the story that they have good service in individual cities.

Why am I on 1xRTT so often if LTE is everywhere?

Where is the roaming zone now?

In my own town, I noticed that they hid a large roaming zone from customers' view, even though service is often unusable.  Apparently, the @sprintcare people were not informed, so they kept telling me about the roaming zone, only stopping when I showed them the coverage map I could see.