Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lenovo ThinkPad 8: 8.3-inch Windows Tablet Review

Small-screen Windows tablet is catching on. I recall one of the first 8-inch Windows tablets available was Acer W3. At S$500+, it was a tempting offer, but I wondered how usable can such a small-screen full-fledged Windows device be.

Thanks to StarHub Community, I have finally got a chance to review a small-screen tablet - Lenovo ThinkPad 8.


Specification

Display: 8.3" WUXGA 1920x1200 (16:10) IPS LED Backlight, Asahi Dragontrail glass, supports 10-finger Multi-Touch Screen
Camera: 2MP/8MP w/flash
Processor: Intel Baytrail-T Quad Core Z3770 (up to 2.4Ghz, 2MB L2)
Chipset: Intel Valleyview-T SOC
Graphics: Intel HD GFx
Memory: 2GB PC3-8500 DDR3
Storage: 64GB eMMC, 48GB usable
Dimensions: 132mm x 224.3mm x 8.8mm
Weight (WWAN): 439g
Battery: 8 hrs (20.5Wh)
Connectivity: 802.11abgn, WiDi Support, 4G LTE, 3G HSPA, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports: micro USB 3.0, micro HDMI, microSD, micro SIM
Retail Price: from S$999. Review configuration costs S$1199 from StarHub

When it comes to ThinkPad-branded products, Lenovo spares no effort to throw in top configuration for best possible performance. Though the price tag seems high, it costs not much more than a top-end Android tablet.



My experience with the ThinkPad 8 during the course of the review has been largely positive. Startup and shutdown times are blazing fast, within 12 seconds for cold boot. The full-HD resolution IPS screen keeps the display crisp and sharp even with small fonts. I always appreciate the pre-installed ThinkPad apps that help to keep the system in good condition. The Solution Center app comes with several wholesome functions like hardware diagnostics, backup, security, driver updates. Minutes after I turned on the ThinkPad 8 for the first time, the Solution Center has everything updated.

Windows 8 Modern mode finally made sense in a small-screen. Using the calculator, browsing music tracks, or playing games, you won't feel overwhelmed. More importantly, it does not put a strain on your hand.

On the flipside, the Desktop mode becomes harder to use as you struggle to tap the right on-screen buttons with your stubby finger. I tried Lightroom and the ThinkPad 8 struggles to process the images on the Intel Atom processor. Despite, it is possible to run it, and that is the beauty of ThinkPad 8.

To ease the pain, you could use external input devices like keyboard and mouse. Though there is only one micro USB 3.0 port, you can get a USB hub and converter and plug any USB device. So, if you're on the move and want to edit your photos from your DSLR, just plug it in and transfer photos easily. The ThinkPad 8 can even power up a 3.5-inch portable harddisk!



Other connectors include: micro HDMI port, which you can do multi-screen just like any Windows device; microSD card slot, to expand the storage; microSIM card slot, for mobile connectivity.

The camera quality is mediocre, but it does have a useful feature to capture multiple sequential images in the temporary buffer which you could choose the best moment from if you review the image immediately after the shoot. You won't be able to select best moments from previously-shot images.

I would also wish the volume and power buttons aren't placed so close, causing me to accidentally press the power button instead of adjusting volume. Speaking of accidental, during sleep mode, pressing the Windows soft-button will wake up the screen, which I thought is not a good thing. But it would not be an issue if you get the QuickShot Cover to protect the display. When you flip open the cover, the tablet wakes itself automatically. You can also activate the camera when flipping the corner flap to reveal the lens.

Battery-wise, the ThinkPad 8 can be charged by 2A USB charger, which is convenient. A full charge takes about 3-4 hours and the tablet lasts 8-10 hours continuous use, depending on how much processing power was drawn. It is recommended that for extended rest periods, you should shut down the tablet instead of just switching off the screen, as the latter will still run background processes. I did encounter the unit heating up in my bag due to some unknown system processes running in the background.


Summary: Small and Empowering


How useful is the ThinkPad 8? It all depends on your purpose. The ThinkPad 8's 8.3-inch display is perfect to use in Modern mode as it is lighter than the 10-incher to hold with one hand. It's also great to be able to use the full Windows on the go - Windows consumers have come a long way from bulky computers, and subsequent mobile devices have always been trying to mimic the capabilities of Windows for ultimate versatility. Now with ThinkPad 8, it's all possible without any constraints. While the processor may be too slow for time-critical media-editing work, it can get the work done if you have the patience.

Would I get it? Not for now, because I still prefer to use my Windows primarily in the desktop mode, with more powerful configuration, and a comfortable keyboard to get things done. If you are like me, I recommend checking out ThinkPad Yoga.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4 of 5

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Sony SBH80 Wireless Stereo Bluetooth Headset

Sony is one of the few consumer brands whose products always delight me. Like how it builds external speakers onto a pair of headphones so that you can listen to music even when wearing it around the neck (NWZ-WH505). Or the camera in the shape of a lens barrel that you can clip to a smartphone.



The SBH80 is one of these products with radical and unique design.

SBH80 Technical Specifications

Driver: Dynamic
Driver Size: 5.8mm
Frequency Range: 10 - 20000 Hz
Sensitivity - 100.5dB SPL/mW at 1kHz
Imedance: 15 ohm
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0, NFC, Multipoint connectivity
Codec: HD Voice, aptX
Battery capacity: 125mAh
Battery Life: 9hrs talk, 6hrs stream, 430hrs standby
Weight: 15.8g


Spec-wise, SBH80 is just another wireless Bluetooth headset. But check out the design: Sony placed all the electronics and weight on the curved neckband. Extending out from the hard plastic unit are contoured memory metal arms that lightly bends along the sides of the neck. 2 sets of beautifully embossed hardware buttons lay symmetrically on both sides of the headset. The left buttons for music control and the right buttons for volume and call answer. Thinner cables continue out of the in-line controls and end at the 2 earbuds that are small and weighs close to nothing.



Audio

Sound-wise, it has a consumer-friendly audio characteristics: bright treble, subdued midrange, firm bass. While I could feel the strong kick-bass pumping in my ears, the bass notes are generally weak in sustaining the low registers.

The aptX codec really does wonders: when I was listening from a smartphone without aptX codec, I could hear the usual Bluetooth audio distortion. Using an aptX-supported smartphone, the audio is clean as if from a wired source. Noise isolation is effective, as are most in-ear headsets.

Workout

The SBH80 is perfect for running, as the weight keeps the unit rested around your neck, so the cables do not move at all. The earbuds are so small and light, you won't feel any discomfort of the headset rocking around the neck. Obviously you can't do sit ups with it, as the unit would slip to the back. Don't worry about sweat or water as the unit is splash-proof.



Work In

The SBH80 is also great for daily use. With the main unit at the back, the earbuds remain equally balanced around your neck, unlike other stereo headsets where it tend to slide to one side when you only wear one earbud. The neckband vibrates when there are incoming calls, so you won't have to worry about missing calls in noisy environment. The SBH80 supports HD Voice so call quality via StarHub Mobile (which supports HD Voice) is spectacular. I do worry about the fragile cord linking to the earbuds, as there are risks of detachment during the busy commute.


Battery Life

I am very impressed with the battery life. I left the unit on without turning it off, I answered a few calls, listened about 3 hours of music, and it lasted 4 days. I do find the lack of voice prompts a little frustrating, as I sometimes do not know whether the unit is on or off. Then I read from the manual that to check the battery level, press the power button once and the LED will blink. So if the unit is off, the unit LED will not light up when power button is pressed once.

Another minor drawback is on storing the headset. Unlike other conventional headsets, you cannot roll the SBH80 into a compact unit.




Overall Verdict: Like!

The Sony SBH80 is a uniquely designed headset to achieve maximum comfort for daily wear and workouts. I enjoy wearing it with me whole day as the neckband keeps the unit from sliding off my neck. I like that it vibrates when there are incoming calls, and that I can use either earbud to talk as there are mics on both sides. I like that there are multiple buttons to manage calls and tracks instead of having to use same buttons for multiple actions. I also like the battery life which lasts me almost a week without charge. Audio quality should please most consumers though the bass is not as big and warm as some might prefer.

The Sony SBH80 is retailing in Singapore for S$158, available at Sony Style, Sony Centres, most good audio and electronics stores.



Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4.5 of 5

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Must-Have Android App #3: My Data Manager - Best Data Monitor App

I have been puzzled with my high monthly data usage, and the stock Android "Data Usage" summary does not appear to be accurate. After installing this app, I finally realise which apps are the culprit and what time they are consuming data. The app breaks down my data usage based on apps, by the hour, day, and month, filtered by connection type (Mobile, WiFi, Roaming). To manage your monthly usage, you can configure your data plan so that the app displays your remaining data quota and remaining days from the pulldown notification panel.

How do I know the app is accurate? I compared the app statistics to the data usage details from my mobile service provider app, My StarHub.


Download Link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mobidia.android.mdm&hl=en-GB

Saturday, July 12, 2014

LG G3: Smartphone Review

Last week, I walked past a colleague, Sonny, and spotted him using the LG G3. The conversation went something like this.

"Did you review the LG G3?"
"No, I haven't."
"You should. It is the best Android phone experience I've had."

With that challenge, I requested for an LG G3 smartphone via StarHub Community for a review.




LG G3 Key Specifications

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 801 (2.5GHz Quad-Core)
Display: 5.5-inch Quad HD IPS, (2560 x 1440, 538ppi)
Memory: 16/32GB eMMC ROM / 2/3GB DDR3 RAM / microSD slot (up to 128GB)
Camera: Rear 13.0MP with OIS+ and Laser Auto Focus / Front 2.1MP
Battery: 3,000mAh (removable)
Operating System: Android 4.4.2 KitKat
Size: 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9mm
Weight: 150g
Network: 4G / LTE (Cat4) / HSPA+ 42.2 Mbps (3G), GSM
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, BT 4.0 LE, NFC, A-GPS/Glonass, USB 2.0
Color: Metallic Black, Silk White, and Shine Gold (Moon Violet and Burgundy Red available at a later date)

At a Glance

The LG G3 is a 5.5-inch quad-HD (2560x1440) smartphone, the highest pixel density by far. Its curved rear is glossed metallic-brushed plastic. The display maxes out to the side bezel to give maximum coverage without feeling too large to handle with a single hand. I would prefer it to be slightly narrower, but it's nothing I cannot handle.



The power and volume buttons as located at the back, just like every other latest LG smartphones, but you actually do not need to access them much, since turning on the screen is simply double-tapping on the screen. Similarly, turning off the screen can be done by double-tapping on the home screen. Adjusting volume can also be done via the pull-down notification panel.

The 3.5mm jack and micro USB port is at the bottom. A small IR-blaster and 2nd mic can be spotted at the top. Disappointedly, the mono speaker is located at the rear, which means I lose a fair bit of audio when watching videos. Nothing beats HTC front-facing stereo speakers.



The rear battery cover can be removed to reveal the innards where you insert the micro SIM card, micro SD card, and the replaceable 3000mAh battery which is a favourite for heavy phone users where they can buy additional batteries to last a day, though I find it unnecessary for my kind of use.


Simplifying Camera Shooting Experience

Knowing that camera is a big part of smartphone owners, LG G3 has sought improvement on the camera shooting experience. The 13MP optical image stablized camera has a laser auto focus, supposedly to improve AF speed in low light situations. Personally, I don't observe any benefit in focusing with laser. It does not appear to focus any faster than other smartphones, but I think it does help in achieving accurate focus at low light. The camera actively auto-focuses whenever you reframe, and the screen displays the AF points like a DSLR.

The camera interface is clean and simple, and there aren't any advanced features like EV, ISO, shutter speed adjustments, or user scene modes like fireworks or beach, except Dual (front and back camera), Panorama, Magic Focus and Auto. You can either shoot with the usual shutter button (default) or you can remove all buttons on-screen and fire the shutter by tapping the screen.

A very useful feature has got to be the gesture initiated countdown capture via the 2.1MP front camera. Just raise your hand, wait for the camera to identify it with a bracket, then close your hand into a fist, then the countdown will start. You can also easily adjust the level of skin-smoothening effect before taking a selfie.

HDR is automatically enabled by default, and the camera will capture in HDR when it detects a scene with high contrast details. Capturing a HDR image requires a little more time to save the image so you need to wait a while before taking the next shot (the shutter button will be greyed out during this time).

Doing burst shot is simply press and hold the shutter button, up to a maximum of 99 shots. You can do burst shots using either the front or rear camera.

G3 also has a Magic Focus mode where you can adjust focus after a shot. However, you can only adjust immediately after each shot. If you exit, you will not be able to re-select your focus area.

In terms of camera quality, I find the G3 images are very much improved. There was no hint of any muddiness (water painting effect) as observed in earlier models. Even under low light, the camera is able to capture sufficient image details and noise reduction is also well-controlled without looking overdone.

I think most consumers will find the revamped camera app very useful and simplifies shooting , but advanced photographers might find the features lacking for manual controls.


Knock Code

My favourite feature that LG introduced across their latest smartphones is Knock On, where you can wake up the phone by tapping the screen. Similary, you can turn off the screen by tapping the home screen. On G3, it has been enhanced to support Knock Code. So, on top of the existing Android unlock options, you can unlock by tapping 3-8 tap combination within a 2x2 area. The good thing is that you can immediately tap your Knock Code to unlock from standby, while other unlock methods require you to turn on the screen.



Edit Home Keys

Another feature unique to LG is the ability to customise the home button layout. On G3, I can add another 2 keys next to the existing 3-buttons and re-arrange the buttons in any way I want.



New GUI

The G3 is the first LG smartphone that introduces a refreshed GUI, adopting circular icons inspired by LG's own logo. LG's answer to a Google Now-like personal assistant feature is Smart Notice, which prompts tips, suggestions and recommendations based on user behaviour, phone usage patterns and location. I like that LG G3 allows more apps icons - up to 5x5 - to be inserted on a single home screen.



Customise Keyboard

While it is easy to install and use third party keyboard apps, I always prefer pre-installed apps for their native support. G3 keyboard includes additional number row so that you don't need to switch layouts. You can also adjust the height of the keyboard and customise 2 keys next to the space bar to define your commonly used punctuation.



Content Lock

LG G3 has content lock built into the Gallery app, so you can lock and hide photos and videos to prevent casual view. Again, while you may easily get this feature via third party file manager apps, it is always better to get these features natively.

Music App

LG G3 music app has an additional feature that is rare among stock music apps: it can adjust pitch and tempo (speed) of the song! I thought this is a really fun feature and great for karaoke or learners of new songs.


Most Recent Apps

LG G3 has implemented the most recent app view in a different way from stock Android.
The most recent apps are displayed on top rather than at the bottom, so it requires some getting used to. But I like that you can adjust the thumbnail size of the list to display by 3x3 or 2x2 or single row list, via pinch and zoom.

Q-Slide

This is LG's answer to Samsung's floating window. LG is better as you can fade out the app to the background while continuing to interact with the main screen.

Dual Window

Again, LG's version to Samsung's Multi-Window. The G3 offers no change since the earlier LG smartphones, which is a little disappointing. There are so much potential that LG could improve on this, just like what Samsung has done.




The Not-So-Good

LG G3 has quite a load of unique features as mentioned above, many of which I have experienced while reviewing earlier LG smartphone models like Optimus G, G Flex. While I have high regards for these features, there are some characteristics of the G3 which I do not quite enjoy as much as before, and I have to say these opinions are very personal, and I struggle to understand why I feel this way. This is unlike other smartphone reviews where the opinions are somewhat more objective.

First off, the LG G3 bears strong resemblance to Samsung Galaxy series. If you are a Samsung UI lover, then G3 will be an instant love. But for me, I find the Samsung TouchWiz UI is dated, and the recent cosmetic fix does not attract me any much more.



The G3 has the same shortcut menu in the pulldown notification window, has multi-window and pop-up apps (QSlide) albeit different implementation, same bright colour themes, same lightweight materials, same ability to remove back casing and replaceable battery.

The G3 even has the same UI lag as Samsung. Tap the home button and it takes a heartbeat for G3 to close and revert to the home screen. When fading out the QSlide apps, there is an initial retard. Sliding the apps to minimise to the sides also appears to lag. I don't recall getting such lag when reviewing the LG G Flex. Overall, there was no immediacy that iPhone or HTC One users come to enjoy.

And about the QHD screen, while the colour reproduction appears good, I do not find any visible advantages of spec-ing a 2560x1440 display on a 5.5-inch screen against a normal 1920x1080 HD display. The display sharpness, even if present, appears to be exaggerated by the graphics processor. After all, there aren't many native QHD content, so the G3 ends up having to extrapolate the content. I suppose this over-sharpening effect could be fixed in subsequent firmware updates.



As for the keyboard, I am underwhelmed that it does not offer next word prediction. On top of that, word prediction comes out to be slow: prediction words only appear after you pause keying. Fortunately, you can always replace the keyboard with third party alternatives.

To nitpick further, LG continues to place the speaker at the rear. I think it's time all the phone manufacturers spend some effort to try to move the speaker to the front. Sony has made the move on Z2 following HTC footsteps, and it is the logical placement.


Final Thoughts

I like the LG G3's lightweight. I like the Knock Code. I like the customisable home buttons. I like the ability to add more app icons per home screen page. I like the higher camera pixel and less-contrasty more post-processing friendly images. I like the simplified camera app. The QSlide and Dual Window feature, while useful, is limited to a few pre-installed apps.

But I find myself drawn back to my HTC Sense UI, which is less laggy, more responsive, has cleaner modern UI design, better front-facing speakers, and a build quality that your hand will love.




The 16GB retails for S$868, while the 32GB retails for S$928. All local telcos offer subsidised prices with mobile line contract.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4 of 5

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Must-Have Android App #2: QuickPic - Photo Gallery App

This app replaces the Gallery app on your Android device. Despite an old app, it is still being updated regularly. The reason for liking this app is the speed of loading the images. You will find your image in this app if you forget which folder you store under (unless the folder is marked with ".nomedia"). The installation file size is less than 1MB, there are no ads, no bloat features, making the interface simple and direct. You can sort the display, manage the images (edit, copy, delete, etc.). It also has a built-in image editor, viewer and video player.

Download link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.alensw.PicFolder&hl=en-GB

Monday, July 07, 2014

Sound BlasterAxx AXX200: Multi-Function Wireless Speaker

Before Creative Technologies created the Sound Blaster ROAR, there was the Creative AXX series. The latest AXX200 wowed the portable wireless audio industry with a bag full of features equivalent to a swiss-army knife. There are so many features that I better list them down here in case I miss out any of them.


What is AXX200?


  • A wireless Bluetooth speaker (BT 3.0, aptX, AAC)
  • A wired AUX line-in table speaker
  • A USB audio device (SB-Axx1 quad-core audio processor)
  • A standalone MP3 player (WAV, MP3, WMA)
  • A megaphone with voice morphing
  • A karaoke mic
  • An audio recorder (mic, line-in, Bluetooth, teleconversation)
  • A teleconferencing system
  • A portable 5200mAh 1-amp battery pack
  • An emergency siren


The price? A promo price of S$199!


The Design

The AXX200 is a hexagonal cylinder stand with a slopped top. I quite like that it's not round like UE Boom so that I can actually lie it to the side without rolling around. The speaker is protected by metal grille while the rear is furnished with glossy plastic. Controlling the speaker is via the top panel which is touch-enabled with lighted icon displays. The rear panel is covered with hardware buttons, port tube, microSD card slot, USB port, audio jacks. The main microphone is at the top. Wireless pairing is made easy with NFC, and at the lower speaker panel, you can spot a 3-LED battery indicator.


The Sound

The primary purpose of getting a portable speaker like AXX200 is the speaker function, so let me cover this first. For most of the Bluetooth speakers in the market, you would have been constrained by whatever sound quality the hardware delivers. For the AXX200, what you hear is not what you only can get. The audio is driven by SBX Pro Studio: when the audio processor is disabled, the speaker produces sound devoid of bass. Once SBX is enabled, you get a more pompous kick bass, and boost in volume. For modern genre music, treble quality is clear and not overly crisp. Music comes out clear without audible wireless compression or distortion. When playing classical piano genre music, I enjoy the overall warm sound. You won't be able to get the awesomely natural subwoofer like the Bose Soundlink series, as the AXX200 audio balance is more towards treble. You can really feel the AXX200 is trying its best to force out some low registers, and it is certainly better than a lot of portable speakers at this price range.


Sound Blaster Central App

The magic comes when you manipulate the AXX200 using Windows or smartphone apps. For this review, I used an Android OS. With the Sound Blaster Central app, you can adjust the audio output and make full use of the SB Axx-1 hardware audio processor. With it, I am able to tweak the output to suit my listening preference. I personally like to turn off "Surround" mode to get a tighter sound, and boost the bass level to balance the treble, though it still will not give you the satisfying oomph.



Naturally, the app comes with preset audio profiles for music, movies, and gaming, to save you the hassle of manually adjusting the sound quality. The AXX200 also comes with CrystalVoice voice-enhancing profiles that you can use for your teleconferencing purposes. My family had a fun time messing up with our voices with Voice FX function, which morphes our voices almost instantly. On the AXX200, you can choose 8 FX, and via a smartphone app SB Voice FX, you can select another 9. There is a noticeable lag when speaking through the microphone.



The best feature of the app is that you can control the AXX200 remotely. Every single button on the AXX200 can be remotely controlled via the app, so I can adjust the AXX200 without ever going near it. This includes all the rear buttons like playback, record, and the top touch buttons like volume, mute.


Everything Else

As a speaker, you can enjoy the AXX200 either via Bluetooth or 3.5mm connector. It supports 2 simultaneous Bluetooth connections, so you can stream audio from one device and do tele-conversation on another.

As a USB audio device, you can connect the AXX200 via USB to your computer. After detecting the hardware, you can make use of the high-quality audio hardware on the speaker to play audio of your computer. You can also plug in headphones on the AXX200 to enjoy audio privately. If your computer has crappy sound card, the AXX200 will really help.

As an MP3 player, just plug a microSD card into the slot and the AXX200 will scan for music files and play them. Seeking songs may be a challenge, so I usually pre-select a list of tracks for playback.

As a megaphone, you can amplify your voice during events, or apply Voice FX to alter your voice for fun.

As an audio recorder, you can record any audio sound that goes into the AXX200, including microphone, music via Bluetooth or line-in, tele-conversation, or a combination of all, e.g. karaoke. However, the recording is not in CD-quality.

As a teleconferencing system, you can hold a group teleconversation and get clear voice and speaker quality.

As a portable battery pack, you can charge your 2600mAh device twice.


The Bad Points

For the AXX200, I am not impressed with the battery indicator. The 3-button indicator is so unnoticeable that you will never realise if the AXX200 is running low on battery. In fact, the device just dies suddenly without any visible or audible warning. The touch volume control is also merciless such that if I were to change the volume level drastically, the output will change instantaneously. It would be nice if the speaker fades up or down, giving me enough time to react to the sudden volume changes. The AXX200 is also not exactly rugged, though the package comes with a cloth bag for travel protection.


Conclusion

In my opinion, the star of the AXX200 is actually not just the speaker itself, but the collective functions of a single product. The AXX200 audio quality is within expectations, with clear trebles and hardworking bass. However, there is no other wireless portable speaker that comes with a huge list of premium functions at that insanely affordable price. I do hope the AXX200 sells just as spectacular as the ROAR SR20, because it deserves to be successful. The AXX200 is low-priced not because it is inferior, but because Creative wants all consumers to be able to own quality audio products without paying through the nose.


Get the AXX200 from Creative Store at S$199 (usual S$375, while promotion last).


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4.5 of 5

Saturday, July 05, 2014

2-Layer Authentication Increasingly Implemented Online

Recently, I found that 2-factor authentication is increasingly in use by popular online sites. Sites like Twitter, Yahoo and Dropbox have already implemented simple 2-layer authentication via SMS. I applaud the move as it adds further layers to prevent hacking. Just a few years ago, only banks are doing such thing for their own protection. While email authentication has been around for decades, it was found not to be as secured, especially when the hacker is highly likely to be hacking into the very email account that delivers the authentication codes.

In my memory, the first online site that implements a comprehensive mandatory 2-layer authentication was Microsoft Live. Before anyone else, Microsoft Live already mandates this feature and with additional options. You can define as many emails or phone to receive the authentication. Instead of automatically sending to your single authentication device, it first asks you to select the device, and enter the full device information. So if you select your mobile number, you need to enter your number. You can also print recovery code in case you cannot receive authentication codes, e.g. when traveling.

Norton is one of the few anti-virus companies to implement 2-layer authentication. It also supports software token where you install an app on your PC which generates a random code whenever you needed to authenticate.

To balance the need for constant validation, some sites offer consumers to mark devices as trusted or safe, so that when you use devices, you will not be asked for 2-layer verification. Another check is location-based. When the site detects that a login was made from an unfamiliar location (made possible by checking the IP), it triggers the 2nd authentication. Most of us would not know of this location-based check until we travel to another country, which I found while vacationing in Australia recently.

While most online sites do not mandate 2-layer authentication, it is highly recommended that you activate it for your own protection. It is noted that financial institutions mandate the 2-factor authentication, mainly to protect the institutions from fraud which they are partially liable. Recently, my retiree-dad tried to purchase tickets online using his credit card but was prompted for a OTP (one-time password) which he did not have. So I told him to call the bank to sign up so that he can engage in online transactions.

Nevertheless, such security measures are only good to ward off off-location hackers. If hackers get hold of your 2nd-layer authentication devices or your hardcopy backup codes, they could still hack into your accounts. But for hackers to do that to you, you are either some big shot or you have some valuable data that is worth the trouble.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Samsung Dream Exchange: Submit and Win


From 1 Jul to 8 Aug 2014, if you are dreaming of using a Samsung product to fulfil your personal goals, ambitions, ideas, desires, and whatever you can dream of, Samsung could make your dream come true.

But first, you have to share you dream. In 125 characters. Visit http://www.dreamexchange.com/ , type your dream, and submit. And wait for good news.

You can only submit ONE dream a day, so if you want to increase your chances to make your dreams come true, just submit every day.



If your dream is shortlisted, you will be asked to elaborate your dream. 10 winners will be selected weekly. Samsung will award a total of 50 dreamers with the Samsung products that help them fulfil the dreams.

I rarely blog about contest, but what I like about this contest is that it is so easy to submit your dream. Once you visit the website, you can immediately enter your dream. During submission, you will be asked to link to either your Twitter or your Facebook account. Once you do, Samsung verifies your identity and then you can keep track of all your posted dreams under "My Page".

Samsung is a great brand to champion this initiative, because Samsung has a hand in so many product lines: mobile devices, displays, audio-video entertainment, cameras, computers, memory storage, printers, home appliances.

A tip to increase the chances of winning: your dream should make an impact to others. Just check out the 4 advocates and their dreams. So, if you dream of taking better pictures with NX30, or monitor your health with Samsung Galaxy S5, try harder, and dream bigger.


My Must-Have Android App #1: ColorNote - Simple and Effective Note App

I have been using ColorNote since I started using Android devices 4 years ago. ColorNote is a simple note-taking tool that is very popular. Like a notepad, you can tag each note with a colour code. My favourite feature is the ability to add widgets that look like notepads to the homescreen. You can also sync all your notes across your Android devices when you backup online which uses AES encryption standard.

I use ColorNote primarily to create disposable task lists which I do not need to keep, as opposed to other note-taking apps like Evernote where you keep track and store long-term information. It does not take up much space - only less than 1MB to install - making ColorNote a great app for your smartphone.

Download link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.socialnmobile.dictapps.notepad.color.note

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Creative Aurvana Live!2: Over-the-ear Headset Review

The Creative Aurvana Live! 2 is the second incarnation of the Aurvana Live! series and the first pair of Creative headphones I have reviewed. In fact, I was rather keen to get one during the recent PC Show due to its attractive show-price. But being very particular about my audio purchase, I decided to hold back until I get a chance to review.

While the box labelled "Premium Headset", I was surprised that the overall product is made of low-density plastic. I was also surprised to see an analogue in-line slider to control volume, which experience tells me could oxidise over time and cause audio crackles. Fortunately, the cable is detachable and easily replaceable. The earcups are large enough to cover my entire ears, alleviating pressure on them. The headband size is adequate without feeling too tight. Just like most over-the-ear headphones, noise isolation is inadequate, but the advantage is a more naturally spacious aural experience with larger speakers compared to in-ear.



And naturally spacious indeed. When playing electronic pop tracks, the instrumentation and vocals are comfortably spaced out. Bass is impactful but similarly roomy, so you can feel the sub-woofer but without the unpleasantly tight and heavy feel (some listeners might prefer that though). Treble is warm and does not sound over sparkling, which is great for loud volume listening. Midrange is well-balanced against the highs and lows.

Thank goodness for built-in mic, I can listen to music and answer phone calls without fumbling. And the cables are flat and non-tangle, though I'd wish Creative included a second longer cable for home studio use.



Compared to the B&O Play Beoplay H6 headset I reviewed recently, the Live!2 is warmer, drives more bass, less sparkling treble, and a tighter soundstage. Compared to Sony MDR-Z1000, the Live!2 has more bass, less midrange, and a wider soundstage. Among the 3, the Live!2 build quality is the lowest, but so is the price. Yet, audio quality is the most suitable for modern genres thanks to a bigger bass presence. Beoplay H6 is a darling for classical, instrumentals, vocals and jazz, the Sony Z1000 has a flatter response with distinct midrange and tight sounds.

If you prefer a little more bass for your headphones, the Aurvana Live!2 will be a splendid joy to listen to. Treble-lovers should go for Beoplay H6. With a big broad bass sound and a clear-enough treble over a spacious soundstaging, the Aurvana Live!2 delivers consumer-friendly audio with irresistible value.

Specs:
  • 40mm Bio-Cellulose Drivers
  • 10-30,000 Hz
  • 32 ohms
  • 255g

The Creative Aurvana Live!2 is currently on offer at the Creative Online Store for S$129.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 3.5 of 5

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III: Review

After getting thoroughly impressed with the Bose SoundLink Mini, and somewhat underwhelmed by the SoundDock Series 3, I took in the SoundLink 3 and gave it an audition.

In short: thumbs up!



The battery-powered portable SoundLink 3 houses four neodymium transducers and dual-opposing passive radiators, allowing the music to be impressively loud. It delivers the same awesome sonic capabilities as the Mini. Design-wise, it also follows closely to the Mini, with the same set of 6 buttons, though the Mini has a more solid aluminium frame.


The major differences: size, volume, and price. The larger SoundLink 3 fills the room with great fidelity across all frequencies, including the elusive subwoofer. I really like how the SoundLink 3 plays back audio without any loss of details over the air, even in quiet passages. This larger version may not be that suitable for near-range listening as the bass may be too overpowering.

If you really need portable speakers to fill up your living room with huge bass effortlessly, the SoundLink 3 would be an excellent choice. If you are on a budget and still want to enjoy the amazing Bose audio technology, the SoundLink Mini would still deliver, except its volume-limiting constraint. Compared to Creative Sound Blaster Roar, the Bose SoundLink series produces a more professional-sounding audio, but the Roar has better value and pumps far better bass than most other branded speakers.



Specs:
  • 1.36kg
  • 127 x 254 x 51mm (HxWxD)
  • 14 hours listening
  • Bluetooth 3.0, A2DP
  • Stores 6 paired devices


The SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III retails for S$499 in Singapore, and is available at the Atlas Experience Showroom for your audition.



Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4 of 5

Monday, June 23, 2014

Plantronics BackBeat FIT: Headset Review

I am. Now. Jogging. Trying. To review. The Plantronics Backbeat FIT. Using. Speech. Recognition.

No way.

(8 hours later)

Ok, I am now seated comfortably in a cafe, in a better position to describe my experience of the Backbeat FIT.


Outlook and Design

The Backbeat FIT is built for active lifestyle, from the sweat-proof coating, the bright blue reflective colour to the thick integrated ear loop and band. While the overall design seems generic, Plantronics manage to build all the necessary voice and music button controls on the 2 ear speakers. On the right ear speaker, there is a small plastic button to turn on-off the headset, and a larger round button to answer-end call. On the left ear speaker, there is the same small plastic button to adjust volume, and a larger round button to play-pause-select the music.



When removing the headset from the packaging, I noticed that the silicone eartips labelled "L" and "R" were incorrectly swapped, which confused me initially as I attempted to wear the headset. I then proceeded to remove the eartips and make the swap. I thought it was a good opportunity to try other eartip sizes but was surprised to find that there aren't any other eartip sizes.



The packaging includes a smartphone armband that fits iPhones, so I can't use it with HTC One M8. Reverse it and the armband doubles as a case to store the headset.


Fit and Use

With only a single-size eartips, I proceeded to wear it for my workout. The Backbeat FIT stays on my ears, no issue with that. But when I used it for jogging, I found that the headset moves slightly with every stride I took, partly because the cable that goes behind the neck moves up and down while jogging. The result is that the audio wavers a little. Imagine pressing and releasing the earphones against your ear, that's how it sounds. In addition, I could hear the loose plastic button sounds as I jogged. Granted, I got less aware of these annoyances as I jogged longer.



The other annoyance of using the Backbeat FIT is that whenever I try to press the headset closer to my ears for a closer fit, I would inadvertently press the large control buttons. But I suppose you would be more careful as you get accustomed to using the headset.

Audio Quality

The Backbeat FIT pumps out audio with a bass bias and veiled treble, but otherwise the audio details are rather decent. The eartip is designed not to have noise isolation in order for you to be more aware of the environment during jogs.



Conclusion

The Plantronics Backbeat FIT appears to have great design elements, but upon actual use, several usage flaws surface. Your experience may vary since individuals have different fit, but one thing is for sure: not providing various eartip sizes is a big issue, more so when the eartips are actually proprietary.


Specs:
  • Bluetooth 3.0, A2DP, AVRCP
  • P2i sweat proof coating
  • 13mm dynamic drivers
  • Frequency response: 50-20,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 105dB/mW @ 1kHz
  • 24g
  • Includes 2-in-1 armband/carrying case, fits iPhone

BackBeat FIT will be available in two vibrant colors, Lime Burst and Electric Blue, with a recommended retail price S$219, available from July 2014 in Lime Burst (Green) and Electric Blue.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 2.5 of 5

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mi Headphones: Best Overall Value Earphones Ever!

Mi Headphones (special IF 2014 edition) are set to impress from the moment you receive the item. Comes packaging in a black velvet soft case, removing the inside contents reveal a paper box which opens up in 4 sides to reveal the plastic-cased product housed in a rubber holder. Beneath it lay earbuds in 3 sizes in dedicated holders. The inner paper box contains brief user instructions. Such meticulous packaging puts most of the expensive earphones in shame.



The impression does not stop there. Mi Headphones sound just as good as it looks. Bass presence is huge, treble is sparkling and has no lack of audio details. Sounds too good to be true? The mids are to the thin side, and the treble, while brilliant, does not sound as polished as the more expensive competitors.



But make no mistake. This pair of earphones is not out to win the hearts of serious audiophiles. Listening the pop chart tunes is a lot more satisfying than the recent Beoplay H3 I reviewed. In comparison, Mi Headphone has
- heavier bass
- thinner mids
- brighter treble, better presence
- wider soundstaging
- modern genre lovers will prefer Mi over H3.
- classical genre wise, Mi over-emphasised bass might not bode well.


Interestingly, my wife prefers the H3 over the Mi. She explained that the vocals on the Mi sounded thin while the H3 sounded fuller. Her observation is pretty accurate: the H3 has brighter mids.

If you are still hesitating about whether to get the Mi Headphones, I'd say: don't waste your time thinking. Just get one, provided you could even get it. Mi Singapore only releases the headphones for sale once a while on their website. It would be the best S$20 you will ever spend on a pair of earphones, if not for the above-average audio quality, then for the premium design and build quality. There will always be a better pair of earphones, but probably none that costs S$20 and looks as stunning as Mi Headphones.


Weight: 12g
Wire length: 1.2m
Sensitivity: 93dB
Impedance: 16 ohm
Frequency: 20 - 20,000 Hz



Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4.8 of 5

Thursday, June 05, 2014

ASUS USB-Powered LED Monitor MB168B+

Ever since the mass adoption of tablets, people like me have been trying to use tablets as a multi-monitor setup with severe constraints. For instance, running remote desktop app to extend the desktop display. Many resort to simpler workarounds like segregating applications on different devices, e.g. using laptop for work, tablet for web brower, checking emails and social updates.

The biggest benefit of using a tablet as a secondary display is portability. For dual monitor lovers like myself, it is hard for me to be productive with only a single monitor. So when I am on the go with a compact laptop, my productivity suffers due to the small screen.



USB-powered LED monitors are already available in the retail market but not common. ASUS is the first big-brand to launch it commercially. Already available in U.S. since late-2013, the MB168 is now available in Singapore from 5 Jun at the PC Show.

ASUS MB168B+ Specs
Display size: 15.6" LED backlit
Resolution: 1920x1080
Colours: 262,144
Brightness: 260cd/m2
Contrast ratio: 600:1
Response time: 11ms (gray to gray)
Inputs: USB 3.0 for video and power (USB 2.0 compatible)
Accessories: USB cable, smart case
Size: 379 x 236 x 8mm
Weight: 800g
Recommended Retail Price: S$319
Warranty: 2 Years Carry-In

The ASUB MB168B+ is the lightest and slimmest USB-powered display. For people who needs multi display on the go, this would be a god-send. What benefits would a portable display bring?


Multi-display

If your laptop display is too small, the MB168B+ will extend the display for more productivity. Why not a bigger laptop then? That's because you would still want your laptop to be light and portable at times, e.g. cafe. So getting a separate portable display makes perfect sense.

Clean Setup

Don't you hate the thick power cables and display cables, the bulky display stand, making it a hassle to move the display around when you needed? The MB168B+ has a clean setup, just one cable to plug to your computer, and a stand that doubles as the carry case. Set up your second monitor quickly just like your laptop, and pack it aside when you are done.

Auto-Rotate

The MB168B+ has the added feature of auto-rotate function. Just switch from landscape to portrait mode any time and the screen display updates in a snap. This is great when you wanted to switch different orientation without fiddling with the display settings.

Dedicated Graphics Hardware

The MB168B+ features EzLink technology which basically runs on a dedicated graphics hardware, so that you can practically connect up to 5 MB168B+ monitors at the same time regardless of your computer's graphics capability.

Limited Capabilities

It is not fair to expect a USB-powered portable display to deliver top-spec display performance, so you won't get the desired brightness nor gaming-grade refresh rate. But I doubt these users would need a portable display.



The MB168B+ is now available in Singapore. Looking forward for a review unit so that I can provide a more practical insight.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Beoplay H3: Earphones Review


Last Saturday afternoon, I sat myself in The Connoisseur Concerto, also known as TCC, at Robertson Quay Singapore, with my wife seated opposite me. Just like any other occasions when composing my review, I propped the Samsung Galaxy Note PRO on a tablet stand, placed the separate Bluetooth keyboard on my lap, and dished out the classy B&O (Bang and Olufsen) Beoplay H3 case from my bag. As I unwound the earphones from the case, my wife's eye gleamed, and "requested" to have them for her listening. OK, I did not manage to sink in to the H3 this time round, but fortunately I had my Jabra Rox Wireless to keep my ears occupied.




The Beoplay H3 earphone units are created from a single aluminum block, carefully detailed with ventilation holes, and angled speaker driver. After reviewing several "heavyweight" earphones and bluetooth headsets, the H3 feels refreshingly small and lightweight. The silicone earbuds (4 sizes) have a unique matt coat unlike most other earbuds, and somehow improves comfort and allows ease of inserting and removing. The cables are one of the thinnest I have seen, giving an impression of fragility which only time will tell. The in-line music controls, similar to the Beoplay H6, comes across as cheap with flimsy click buttons.




How does the H3 sound? There is something about the H3 that makes it sound not that spectacular. It's bass has sufficient presence (better than H6) but not huge, it's treble is adequate though not as sparkling as H6. Unfortunately, the H3 fails to tame the mid-highs, which results in some listening irritation, for instance, the ringing of Kenny G's saxophone at loud passages, cymbal clashes. Even vocal sibilence sound too prominent instead of thinly light. Soundstaging for the H3 is close (closer than H6) but not too tight. I pretty much enjoy the sound separation, with good audio details.

The review of Beoplay H3 again highlights that audio sound opinions are subjective. In my case, my wife likes it while I detailed some flaws. Just like our eyes, our ears are highly subjective, especially when you try to compare different headphones at the same time. The Beoplay H3, on its own, sounds fine, overall sound is not that exciting. I certainly enjoy listening to the Jabra Rox Wireless a lot more. Nevertheless, nothing beats auditioning one yourself at retail stores.



Beoplay H3 Specs
Driver: 10.8mm
Impedance: 18 ohms
Weight: 16g
Frequency: 20 - 16,000 Hz
Cord: 1.2m
Suggested Retail Price in Singapore: S$328
Availability: Apple Stores (EpiCentre, Infinite, iStudio, Nubox & Polaris), Challenger (Musica), Courts, ConnectIT, Gadget World, Harvey Norman, Jaben, Newstead, Sprint-Cass (Changi Airport T1, T2 & T3), Stereo & Swee Lee



Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 3 of 5