Review #67: Sony WF-H800 (h.ear) Truly Wireless Headphones ★★★★✯

 The one that got away

When one thinks of Sony True Wireless earbuds, it usually sways towards its flagship devices. As I had made this purchase a couple of months ago, at that time it was the WF-1000XM3, since superseded by the XM4. Sony being Sony, there are even more intuitive alphanumeric codes that comprise the product range. There is the WF-XB700 for those who adore the Extra Bass that comes with the poorer audio quality at the lower price range and then there is the WF-SP800N for those who still can't afford the flagship device but crave ANC, again at the expense of sound quality.

At the time of purchase, I was not interested at all in Sony's range of TWS buds. The XM3 did pique my interest but the size, weight was a huge deterrent in addition to the fact that I am not much of a fan of active noise cancellation. And then came the WF-H800.

You can't blame me for not being aware of this as it seems that it had a limited release only in Asia. Moreover, in India, it is exclusive to Flipkart and only available in black which unfortunately also reduces a lot of the fanfare associated with this model as it is available in pretty interesting shades. But then, you take it as it comes.

At this point, I should introduce the reason for going for a new pair of TWS buds. If you can recollect, you would know that I had posted quite a glowing review of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ after 4 months of ownership. Turns out it takes even more time to form an informed opinion. Even now, I would give it a 4 out of 5, specifically based on the lower price it is selling for presently. However, it was close to a year of ownership that I had enough of the device. 

The most egregious of the issues with the Buds+ was the fact that one of the buds simply chose to play dead. After a few months of ownership, the left buds started draining much faster than the right to the point where it would reach near-zero while the other one was at around 40%. Slight differences in battery life in terms of pairing and usage is acceptable but this one was anything but slight. This came to a head one day when the left bud simply refused to work and appeared disconnected within the app. Dropping it into the case simply lit up the LED as green indicating it was completely charged. It was only after rummaging through the Samsung forums that I came to know of the solution which was to keep dropping the dead bud into the case till it started kicking again with 1% charge. Samsung's tryst with software is nothing new but yet again, it indicates a lack of finish. This battery issue was coupled with the already irritating ambient noise pickup during calls, poor Bluetooth range and the poor fit which resulted in the buds popping out while walking.

Long story short, I was looking for a new set of buds that first and foremost were light and had a good fit. I didn't know how the H800 would fare when I purchased it but the weight figure was where I placed my trust. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed. If there is anything I adore about these buds, it would be the weight and fit. It is just about as perfect as it can get. Of course, this came at the expense of not having an IP rating (which didn't make it any worse than the Buds+) and the ambient noise feature. I do miss the latter to an extent but it is not a deal breaker because my outdoor ventures with the buds have reduced considerably over the past year and at the same time, wearing these buds outdoors is no different from the wired and neck buds I used in the past when walking on the street. As long as you keep the volume down outdoors, which you should, it doesn't really matter as the ambient noise seeping through is enough to have a complete awareness of the surroundings.

The other headline feature missing from these buds is of course ANC. As I mentioned previously, I am not a fan of it and generally don't need it either. One thing that the H800 does well is turn up to 11 and it absolutely annihilates any ambient noise. I am absolutely at ease with the passive noise isolation that this thing provides.

Besides the fit, the H800 has a few other things going its way with the design. The first one is the inclusion of sensors to auto-pause on removal. This is mighty convenient to quickly get into any conversation that requires your attention and then proceed from where you left off as soon as you are done with the distraction. This feature is often left out at the lower price range and it is good to see it included. The other feature, which I initially thought of as a price-saving measure, but which completely changed my outlook was the inclusion of physical buttons. The Buds+ had the capacitive touch pads which were a nuisance on multiple occasions, mainly when lying down, as head movements would engage the controls inadvertently, not to say you had to push the buds into the ear for the controls. You could lock the controls but then that required management from within the app. On the other hand, I couldn't love the physical buttons enough. They are springy, never miss a touch and also work with non-conductive gloves. The downward location also means that there is little risk of dislocating the buds or conversely pushing them further into the ear. The button customization is a bit limited but does its job with my favoured approach being to assign playback control to the right and volume control to the left.

The other part of the hardware is the case. The case is certainly quite compact but at the same time holds just one complete charge of the buds. It is thoughtfully rounded which indicates that it is to be kept in the pocket rather than the table which is quite practical. On the whole, a total of 16 hours of usage is not a bad price to pay for the all-around lightness and compactness. Also, the case has a red LED indicating the charging process which switches off when fully charged. Unlike the Buds+, the LED indicators for the buds are present on the buds itself which also assists with the pairing process, so yet again, a thoughtful inclusion.

Before moving to the sound, a word on the range. After the struggles with the Buds+, I was pleasantly surprised with the range I could get with the H800. The app has a setting to prioritize sound quality or connectivity. I, of course, always prioritize sound quality but even then it has twice the range of the Buds+ and I can use it across two rooms which is all I can ask for when moving around the house. All in all, the connectivity is extremely solid. It doesn't have multipoint connectivity but switching between iOS, Android and Windows has been anything but difficult as it just requires the device to be selected from the list of paired devices.

And now, for something different. I am of course, speaking of the sound quality. This is where the H800 differentiates itself from the other cheaper options as it doesn't compromise on the sound quality like the others. It makes little sense to compare it directly with the XM3 as it is certainly not XM3 without ANC. But at the same time, it has a distinct sound signature while retaining the quality. By that, I am implying that the sound is clear, full with good separation that makes everything sound really great, certainly better than the Buds+ I used before. Thankfully, the app also includes an equalizer that can be synced with the cloud across devices. Tuning may differ but you can see mine below. It indicates how I perceive the sound to be. While this one doesn't have the "Extra Bass" tagline associated with it, it is still quite punchy for me and hence I have set it flat whereas I feel more of the energy of the song when I raise the mids. The treble is quite strong too but not as overpowering as the bass in my perspective. Overall, it is quite likely that you will love the sound signature out of the box.

It also comes with the other bells and whistles that Sony offers in its higher end devices like DSEE HX and 360 Reality Audio. The former might be useful for upscaling the audio but I have my music encoded to AAC on my mobile devices at the setting used by iOS and thus I feel it adds nothing to the music but at the same time I save battery life by keeping it off. Speaking of AAC, that is the only codec supported along with the default SBC. Works a treat with iOS. Android users might be a bit miffed but quite a bit of the blame has to go to Android's AAC support, though I don't have any issues in using it with my Android tablet. The latter is more of a novelty and the included demo sounds great while the ear shape analysis is quite easy to conduct. However, with limited support by third-party services, it is unlikely that this feature will be of much use, especially considering that Dolby Atmos is more mainstream.

Amidst the discussion on sound quality, usually the microphone quality gets left behind. This one doesn't set the cats amongst the pigeons in any way. It doesn't belie any expectations either. It is what I would "call" on-par with its competitors. The third microphone on the Buds+ just made life more difficult by teleporting me to the middle of the street even when I was at my home. In that respect, the H800 simply presents a broken form of me, something that would fail voice recognition tests but will probably work with humans desperate to hear my voice.

To conclude, it is a bit unfortunate that this pair of buds is lost between the more mainstream options. It probably didn't help that Sony priced this on par with the XM3 at launch. However, I purchased it for the equivalent of $90 when the XM3 was priced at double of that. In such a scenario, it presents a great proposition if you are someone focused on audio quality at the expense of features like ANC and ambient noise. At the same time, Sony does a great job with the connectivity as well as the firmware/software which is often overlooked when making a purchase. At the end of it all, it's a Sony.


Review #66: 6 months with Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e ★★★★★

 


Foreword:

The original review was written back in October, about a month after purchase and I have kept it as-is since it still rings true. However, over the past 6 months, with the Covid restrictions, I ended up using my tablet a lot more than my phone and I am still amazed by the value this tablet presents. Probably, that is the reason that Samsung didn't push the tablet hard enough and it is difficult to purchase one in favour of S6 Lite or the S7.

The aspect ratio and colour gamut of the screen lends itself really well to watching videos on it which happens to be a primary use case. However, I will admit that I use the tablet a lot more for reading rather than watching stuff and for that the narrowness of the tablet is an impediment. However, it still does the job and all the reading apps work really well on it, so I cannot complain too much as I knew it was going to be a compromise between watching and reading stuff on the tablet.

Also, I had the opportunity to try Lineage OS on this tablet and did so recently as well with the release of Lineage OS 18.1. While it does the job, the open-source OS still has issues when using proprietary blobs and this is most evident when using the speakers. LOS simply kills the speakers which is a USP for this device. Additionally, the HDMI output on LOS leaves much to be desired in terms of quality and speed. 

In fact, I found Samsung DeX to be surprisingly usable as a desktop interface. My laptop is overkill for simply reading stuff and the tablet with DeX ends up being a great laptop alternative when browsing the web. I have it paired with my Logitech K780 keyboard and MX Anywhere 2S mouse, both of which work really well with the resized desktop apps on DeX. This is not something I thought I would use, but having used it, I prefer having it as an option.

Speaking of DeX, I find that the One UI actually adds value to this tablet through the addition of features like the side bar and slow/limited battery charging options which are genuinely useful. Unfortunately, it comes with a lot of cruft as well, especially due to Knox and as a result I usually go about debloating the OS after every update. But that is for another post as I would like to share how I go about the same.

Lastly, a word about the Spigen Fold cover that I use with this tablet. While it was relatively costly, I found that it has held up really well with all the abuse and the stand aspect of it still works well. It also slots in snugly within the channel on my K780, making typing a chore-free experience on the tablet. In short, Samsung's book cover isn't really a necessity for its exaggerated price tag.

And that's a wrap as far as this device is concerned. It is also good that Samsung has included this device in its new update strategy, so at least security updates can be expected over a 4-year time period since its release. New releases will be less forthcoming but Android 11 is expected to be released for this device in June 2021 and to be frank, I don't think it will matter much as I don't expect One UI to change much, which happens to be the primary differentiator now considering that Android has matured as a platform. Thus, if you can grab hold of one, then by all means go for it, if it fits your budget and use case.

Original Review:

Does it make sense to get a tablet, and an Android one at that? This is a very loaded question and the answer, as always, is that it depends.

I only ever had one tablet before and that was the iPad 3. Back then, the iPad certainly offered a lot more in terms of screen estate, resolution and app experience that you couldn't get on a phone. However, once the novelty wore off, I couldn't really find much use for it apart from reading magazines. It remained stowed away for years until recently when I found that it still works reasonably well (with wonky battery life) and promptly turned it in to a living room clock with weather and news (for which if you are interested, it only consumes 6 Watt).

However, during the lockdown, I found myself using screens a lot more and when unwinding, it usually didn't make sense to take a laptop to bed or to watch or read something on a phone screen. This got me interested in getting a tablet again but I wasn't going to go gung-ho about it and spend a fortune. As a result, I couldn't see myself getting the Galaxy Tab S6 or S7 since it was going to be overkill for my use case.

My use case, if that interests you, was to have something that I could hold easily while in bed and also use for daily reading of newspapers and much more. In short, nothing requiring heavy processing like games. This naturally eliminated the need to have a flagship processor or a refresh rate of over 60 Hz. To be frank, I use a OnePlus 7T with a 90 Hz display and find statements like "can't go back to 60 Hz' to be grossly exaggerated. It may make a difference in games but it is certainly not a deal-breaker as far as scrolling the interface is concerned.

Essentially, among the current mass-market devices, only the S6 Lite and the recently launched iPad 8th Gen fell in to the frame of things. Both of these were priced lower than this device but the S5e offered something that the others didn't. This was of course the great 2K OLED screen along with the 4-speaker setup tuned by AKG. And there you have it, the two features that made this tablet. I would assume some people would have quibbles about the middling Snapdragon 670 and 4 GB RAM, but frankly, they don't matter for reading or watching stuff on the tablet. That is also the reason I am not going to post benchmarks or comment about the camera quality. Every device category is not supposed to be judged by the same metric, but rather by the use case and in this instance, the S5e is not only fit for the purpose, but exceeds it for the price.

In conclusion, if you need a tablet to do something that you cannot do on a phone or a PC, then the S5e is bang for your buck and I wouldn't recommend anything else. True, it wouldn't match up to tablet apps on iOS but I use an iPhone for the iOS benefits and this tablet is there to be tinkered with, and tinker with it you can. It pays to not have all your eggs in one basket, though Apple would suggest otherwise. If you believe that everything has its purpose, then the S5e truly serves as a great tablet for its price and use case.


Musing #66: Hey Siri Google


Siri has never been good to me. I have seldom been able to get it to do what I want it to. For a time, since its inception, it was revolutionary. However, whereas intelligence develops with time from its infancy, this hasn't quite been the case with this artificial intelligence. On the contrary, it seems to have suffered cognitive impairment over time.

Review #53: Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro (with iOS) ★★★⯪☆

Update #4 (Oct 31, 2018):  I have come to realise that my previous optimism was unwarranted. iOS 12, as a matter of fact, still doesn't support the GF2 Pro.

My previous GF2 Pro detection on 12.0.1 came about on account of the device being already paired on iOS 11 prior to the update. However, unpairing the device caused it to no longer be detected on 12.0.1. Worst still, nothing has changed after the update to iOS 12.1.

Since iOS 11.4.1 is no longer signed by Apple, this means that my GF2 Pro is left to operate as a standalone device till the time either companies decide to do something about it, which going by the recent turn of events, might be never.

Edit: Turns out that it may be more of a Samsung software issue more than anything else. A full reset is usually a last resort and even when that didn't result in the device being detected, it seemed all was lost. However, resetting the Gear Fit2 Pro while also reinstalling the Gear Fit app did the trick as the new device setup finally popped up on the app, following which it is working as usual.

The issue seems to be a mixture of buggy Samsung software and the manner in which iOS operates. As always, it for the consumer to bear the brunt of this unholy alliance.

Musing #56: My First Smartwatch Face (McWatchFace)


The watch face has registered an average of 100 downloads a day since it was published, despite the fact that I have not publicised it anywhere else. It is simply through discovery on the Galaxy App Store and I am humbled by its popularity.

A smart life deserves a smartwatch, or perhaps it is smarter to be without one. Setting wisdom aside, I purchased my first one earlier this week - Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro. By being 1/3rd as expensive as a WiFi-only Series 3 Apple Watch, it won my wallet, if not my heart. I will reserve judgement on the device for the review, which isn't likely to materialise until I have used it extensively.

This post, then, is about a watch face, to be precise, my first creation of it. Kudos to Samsung for making available an easy-to-use designer, utilising which I was able to create the watch face in hours and survive the royal wedding. Having not found what I was looking for, I decided to create one for myself. The focus in this case was on information density and making the most of the colours on the AMOLED display without straining the battery life excessively.


The result is a crowded watch face that includes all the details that I could wish for. Besides the inclusion of all the fitness information, the icons for weather, music, settings, calendar, step count, floors and heart rate are all tapable with the date redirecting to the 'Today' view.


I was also inclined to keep the display "always-on" and hence chose a minimalist approach for this scenario. It fulfils the purpose of telling time while making it possible to keep an eye on the ever-draining battery. As per the analysis available within the designer, the current on pixel ratio is 1.5% with the minimum being below 1%.

I will mostly publish this watch face in the Samsung Galaxy App Store in the coming week, so be on the lookout for that. On the other hand, if you have some suggestions for future watch faces, then don't hesitate to leave a comment.

(Originally published on May 19, 2018)

Update #1 (May 20, 2018): The higher than expected battery drain in the "always on" mode over the past few hours made me investigate the possibilities of reducing the power consumption while still retaining this mode. A little bit of digging brought up this article which indicates that the next best thing to black is green. Effecting this change for the "always on" mode produces the following result:


The maximum 'Current on Pixel Ratio' is now 1/3rd (there's that ratio again!) of the original one. In fact due to the usage of green, this ratio now remains more or less constant and drops to 0.4% on certain occasions. Finally, I am not open to compromising the "Active" mode too much for power saving, but I have demoted the white to "seconds" which should help a bit.


Update #2 (May 22, 2018): A few more tweaks and optimisations went in to the watch face over the past couple of days and I assume that it can't get any denser than this. With the audience of one being satisfied, I have submitted the watch face to the 'Samsung Galaxy Apps' store and hope that it makes its way through to countless others. For now, I shall leave you with a cover image.

Update #3 (May 24, 2018): The watch face has been approved and is now available on the Samsung Galaxy App store. As an homage to Boaty McBoatface, I have named it as McWatchFace, so you know how to find it.

Update #4 (June 2, 2018): v1.0.2 was published earlier this week and it introduced the option of choosing the 'Distance Unit' besides squashing some bugs. I had started off with the intent of having a single watch face but a bug in Gear Watch Designer prevented me from implementing the 12/24H toggle. Moreover, since the toggle is dependent on the phone, it might be a good idea to have separate watch faces. I might revisit this idea later but for now I suppose I could move towards experimenting with the other features available in GWD.

Update #5 (June 10, 2018): v1.0.3 ushers in animation, starting with the weather icon. I have also published a YouTube video depicting the features of the watch face, as of this version.


Yours truly has also presented own self with a 'signature edition', remarkably named 'MyWatchFace'. Unfortunately, there is no means for user customisation, so this one remains in my sole possession.


Update #6 (June 12, 2018): Samsung seems to have a really inconsistent policy. While v1.0.3 of the 12-Hour version was published without any issues, the similar 24-hour variant was rejected for not supporting Chinese and Arabic.

It would  make sense if the issue was replicable but the emulator as well as my Gear Fit2 Pro show the date just fine in all languages including Chinese and Arabic. It should be mentioned that the language on the Gear Fit2 Pro mirrors that of the phone, so testing the languages implies changing the  primary language of the phone which gets ridiculous real fast.

So, to take the ridiculousness up a notch, I have submitted the same file once again as one can't resolve an issue that doesn't exist. May be I will catch a break and the watch face will pass through as-is or otherwise some minor tweak might be in order.

Update #7 (June 14, 2018): Unsurprisingly, the watch face was published as submitted and with that I have decided to bring the development of this watch face to an end. Hopefully, I will have time further down the line to create other unique watch faces, in which case they should eventually end up at the Galaxy App Store.

Review #52: Tale of three (make that five) 3-in-1 cables


Cables are like humans, more than one can imagine. Looks can be deceiving and it is what's inside that matters. However, one can only perceive what one can see and hence the truth lies largely concealed. Thankfully, that is where the similarities end since marketing buzzwords like "gold plated", "tinned copper", "braided nylon" wouldn't really work well as complements for humans.

My tryst for the holy grail of cables started some time back when I started off with the Flome 3-in-1 cable, which, for the record, left me thoroughly disappointed. I have resigned myself to the fact that as long as reputable brands don't get in to the game, the possibility of expecting the ultimate phone charging cable to come from no-name brands in China is as large as catching the unicorn at the end of the rainbow. However, that hasn't deterred me from trying.

Since my last look at charging cables, I have added a couple more 3-in-1 cables, one from Baseus and another from "Fake Mi". The Baseus brand has proliferated quite a bit and I had my first go at it when I purchased a tempered glass for my iPhone. As it turned out, the mention of glass for the product was an euphemism but even then, the brand gets full marks for design and half for deception. I had a good experience with Mi's 2-in-1 cable which I had received with the Mi Power Bank Pro and although there is no mention of a 3-in-1 cable on Mi China's website, I went along for the ride by placing an order for the "Fake Mi" 3-in-1 cable. In this case, it was better to judge the cable by its cover since the package was branded as "Zaofeng" but the product could easily pass off  as an official Mi one.

Along with these three "the last cable you will ever need" cables, I have roped in two "not so in name but in function" pseudo 3-in-1 cables in the form of the Mi 2-in-1 and the EasyAcc Micro USB cable. In case you are confused, then don't be, as technically any Micro USB cable can be used as a Lightning or Type-C cable with the help of adapters. Sure, you don't get the official certifications, but it can get the job done as far as charging is concerned. In this case, the adapters came from the cannibalisation of other cables. After all, all's fair in love, war and charging.

Here's the fate of the contenders after being put through the trial with an Anker PowerPort 4 charger.


It is easy to draw some quick observations/conclusions from the above.

  • As expected, none of the 3-in-1 cables are up to much good, though the Baseus one seems to be the best of the lot. The finest option yet, as far as charging goes, is to get a good quality Micro USB cable and then use adapters to switch between devices.
  • The adapter quality can affect charging as can be seen by the performance difference of the Lightning one between Flome and Zaofeng. They are available for a few cents and can be jerry-rigged to function like a 3-in-1, though I presume at some point someone will release adapters with clasps. Cannibalisation from existing cables is always an option.
  • It is not a co-incidence that the shorter cables are usually the best. You should get a cable that is only as long as you need it to be. As I had mentioned previously, the longer they are, the easier they fail.
  • While not visible in the table above, the iPhone current draw was markedly different from the Mi devices. While the Mi devices charged flat out at the same current level irrespective of usage, the iPhone switched between 0.9-1.7A  depending on how the device was being utilised. I could draw the maximum current only by recording in 4K. This indicates that the iPhone maintains a preset charging rate for the battery while utilising additional current draw from the charger for on-screen activity. I guess these benefits come through the utilisation of much more expensive power management ICs.

Review #51: Amazon Fire TV (Gen 3 - 4K HDR) ★★★★☆


Normally, whenever I get a new device, the instinct is to analyse it in depth. Unfortunately, certain constraints prevent me from doing so with the Fire TV 4K, primary of them being that I have no 4K display devices at present. However, a lot of thought had gone in to purchasing this device for a 1080p non-HDR TV, even though it is not officially available in India. So, I would like to share these thoughts along with the experience of setting it up so as to get the most out of it. Thus, this article will straddle the line between a tutorial and a review, but I have decided to classify it as the latter since this article, while being instructional, is still appraising the product.

Musing #48: Impact of Spectre/Meltdown patch (With Intel's March Microcode Update)


Spectre and Meltdown have been all over the news in the past few days. While the seriousness of the bug cannot be understated, the speculation on the performance impact of the patch, especially on older processors, has been particularly worrisome. Google and Intel have put forth some assurances, but the end result is yet to be seen.

As my desktop is equipped with the generations-old i5-3470, I have to brace for whatever performance degradation comes with the patch. Unfortunately, with ASRock having released the last BIOS update for my motherboard in 2013, one can only hope to receive an official update. For the time being, the only option is to rely on Microsoft's Windows 10 patch which only partially mitigates this issue.

Even then, it offers a first glimpse at the performance that has to be scarified in lieu of security. Intel has stated that the impact will vary based on the task and hence there is no easy way to determine the impact of the patch. I went with Cinebench R15 and CrystalDiskMark to quickly capture the impact on some everyday tasks.

As can be seen in the screenshot below, the performance impact seems to be quite significant with the post-patch score being nearly 7% lower. This is by all means a huge impact and cannot be disregarded.

Musing #50: Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music


Amazon launched its Music service in India earlier this week, so I thought I'd do a quick comparison of it with the other streaming services I have been using, Apple Music and Spotify. Before any one brings it up, I have trialled all the other music streaming services available locally in India (Gaana, Wynk, Saavn, Hungama) at one point or another and found them to disappointing in terms of quality and catalogue. Even Google Music didn't offer much to dislodge Apple when it launched in India, though it hit the mark with its pricing.

I didn't term this article as a review, since it isn't one. Since majority of my listening is done on the iPhone, now with my RHA MA650, Apple Music happens to be my preferred option. It offers the best integration with iOS (e.g. Siri) and has the best quality when streaming over Bluetooth. Spotify complements Apple Music really well with its cross-platform compatibility, track discovery and catalogue. On the other hand, I wouldn't really pay for Amazon Music if it existed as a separate subscription service but as yet another Prime membership perk, it is totally worth it.

I have briefly covered the features of each service in the table below along with the availability of various tracks at the time of writing this article. It should give a good idea of what each platform has to offer.


Review #50: RHA MA650 Wireless Earphones ★★★★☆

When wireless doesn't mean getting less! 


Bluetooth headsets have always been a matter of convenience for me rather than a technological evolution over wired headsets. For a long time, I preferred to use wired headsets whenever possible and took recourse to Bluetooth headsets when on the move. However, the abysmal performance of Bluetooth plug-in headsets like SBH54 and the Fiio BTR1 left me extremely disappointed and finally set me on course to finding a standalone wireless earphone.

Tutorial #19: Optimally managing photos and videos on iOS


Apple’s anaemic storage options (specifically at the lowest tier) have been a running joke for a majority of the iPhone’s existence. I was at the receiving end of Apple’s largesse with the entry-level iPhone 7 switching to 32 GB which was further enhanced to 64 GB with the iPhone 8. Even with these storage options, one can easily fill it up with content other than captured photos and videos. Also, it is not a sound idea to have all your files stored locally on the device, irrespective of its storage capacity.

Apple provides a few options to mitigate the storage issues resulting from ever larger multimedia content. These are as follows:

1. The default option that most may take recourse to is the iCloud Photo Library. However, Apple provides a meagre 5 GB of storage for starters and as is typical of the company, you are expected to pay more to use this option practically. It only makes sense to go with Apple’s cloud if you live on it through other devices in the Apple ecosystem, like the Mac or iPad. The more important thing to note here is that by default Apple syncs your local photo library with the iCloud one, so you can end up permanently deleting your photos from the device as well as the cloud if you are not paying attention.

2. With the release of iOS 11, Apple introduced the high-efficiency formats, HEVC for videos and HEIF for images, that significantly reduce the file size on modern iDevices. The down side to this is that compatibility for this format is still not standard across platforms and devices. Most notably, the HEIF format is not yet natively supported by Windows. Even within Apple’s ecosystem, sharing the images or videos with older devices necessitates a conversion which takes up time as well as processing power on the mobile device.

3. Lastly, iOS also provides an ‘Optimize Storage’ option that keeps a lower quality version of the image on the phone for immediate viewing purpose while retrieving the full quality image from iCloud. This helps in dealing with storage issues but yet again results in the usage of additional time and data.

Luckily for iOS users, there are several third-party options available that allow one to back-up and retrieve photos and videos without having to pay or worry about running out of storage. After using quite a few options, I have shortlisted two well-known ones that together offer an unbeatable 1-2 combination. They are Flickr and Google Photos.

Before starting out, I would recommend that you go to Camera > Formats and select the ‘Most Compatible’ option which uses JPEG/H.264 instead of HEIF/HEVC. This ensures that the images are available for use without any conversion and accessible on all platforms. It will, of course, take up additional space but since we are offloading most of the stuff on to the cloud anyway, storage isn’t a constraint. On the other hand, data usage can be a constraint if you are limited to a cellular network, but the solution here ensures that even that eventuality is covered. As for the ‘Optimize Storage’ option, you can leave it enabled as iOS always provides the full quality image to any other app that requests it.

Our primary solution to the image storage problem is Flickr. One can argue that Flickr has seen better days and the Yahoo hacks might have left a few people dishevelled. Many photographers might have a preference for 500px as well, but that doesn’t take anything away from Flickr as far as our use case is concerned. Assuming that Oath (Verizon) wouldn’t bring about any drastic storage policy changes, Flickr offers the best value proposition for free users. The 1000 GB of storage space is unprecedented and the photography focus of the site is much better for image/photo management compared to a paid, storage-only option like OneDrive.

While Flickr has moved some of its tools like the desktop ‘Uploadr’ under the Pro banner, the iOS app is unaffected. It is capable of syncing with the iOS Photo Library and more importantly, uploading the original image to the cloud. It does not however support the HEIF format as is evident when you try to upload these images over the website. On iOS however, the images in the Photo Library are still uploaded after conversion to JPEG. Hence, I have previously recommended the usage of the ‘Most Compatible’ option to prevent unnecessary conversions. Unfortunately, Flickr doesn’t allow the segregation between photos and videos when uploading over a cellular connection and hence I would recommend syncing only over WiFi, unless you have an uncapped cellular connection.

The sidekick to our protagonist Flickr is Google Photos. On its own, Google Photos is an awesome product. However, ‘original quality’ images and videos are limited to the storage available on Google Drive for non-Pixel users, which in most cases is 15 GB. Luckily, Google offers an unlimited ‘High Quality’ option, which one should note, significantly compresses the image. However, thanks to clever use of algorithms and machine learning, the effects are not visible on most devices unless the image is blown up significantly.

As a secondary backup solution, Google Photos offers some distinct advantages. Firstly, it caches lower quality variants of all the images so that the entire library is accessible even when you are offline. Secondly, it offers smaller-sized files on account of the compression and resolution limitations of 16 MP/1080p, which is useful when accessing or sharing something over a cellular connection on social media. Thirdly, it allows photos and videos to be synced separately over WiFi and cellular connections, so that images can be synced immediately while larger videos can be uploaded later over WiFi. Fourthly, once images are backed up, they can be easily deleted from the device (and iCloud) using the ‘Free up space’ option. However, for this, you should ensure that the original images are first uploaded to Flickr. Lastly, the machine-learning powered search is really useful in unearthing hidden images and recreating past memories.

Thus, the combination of Flickr and Google Photos ensures that you have all your images and videos backed up regularly with redundancy and available on demand. While Flickr provides the long-term, original quality storage; Google Photos complements it with smaller-sized, optimized content for on-the-go consumption. It completely cuts off iCloud from the picture and ensures that you more storage available on your device for things that you need and use far more regularly.

Review #45: Mi A1 (Updated with Oreo impressions) ★★★★☆

An A1 Choice


The Android One programme was launched in 2014 with the intention of being the entry point for budget conscious users. Perhaps it was the choice of hardware or OEMs that ultimately made it a stillborn venture. On the other end of the spectrum, the Pixel hasn't quite turned out to be the iPhone killer that Google might have envisaged. However, Google isn't one to take things lying down and hence we now have the reinvigorated Android One programme. This time Google has taken a much more hands-off approach, with this being no more than a branding exercise and the entire onus of the device specification as well as updates following squarely on the shoulders of the OEM.

For an OEM like Xiaomi that is well entrenched in MIUI, it certainly came as a surprise when it was mentioned as the first partner of the new avatar of Android One. At the same time, it seemed a logical choice considering the stranglehold that various Mi devices now have at the budget segment of the market. I had already "upgraded" the Redmi Note 3 of one of my family members to LineageOS to make the device more usable and while getting another Mi device, it was a toss-up between getting a Redmi Note 4 and flashing it with LineageOS or getting the Mi A1 with stock android on board. Ultimately, the novelty of the dual camera setup as well as a manufacturer supported implementation of stock Android justified the premium.

While the review is focussed on the Mi A1, I found it a good idea to compare it with the other phones I have at my disposal which is the Redmi Note 3 and the iPhone 7. The Note 3 should be a good comparison coming from the same stable but based on a year-old higher performance chipset while the iPhone 7 acts like a good benchmark.

Musing #43: Some cables are more equal than others

Purchasing cables online is a tricky proposition. This is the reason why I have a USB voltage/current tester in my possession to ascertain a cable's mettle. I normally restrict myself to Amazon fulfilled orders so that I can return a cable should it be deemed to be unworthy of its price. However, the more esoteric products from China are rarely available locally and even if they are, the mark-up in pricing is absolutely astounding. Going by the reviews, it seems most are unaware of the source of these products.

Review #47: Walnutt Flexible Bumper Case (iPhone) ★★★☆☆



A bump in the road!
A bumper case is a sweet compromise between using the phone as manufactured and sheathing it in a figurative armour. The RhinoShield CrashGuard has done well in this space and while price is a genuine concern when purchasing it in India, it also has its fair share of issues with its width, buttons and removal. Far cry from that is the 'Walnutt' bumper case. Going by the different brands and prices this case is sold under, it seems to be a generic case, rather than one from a specific company.

Review #46: Fiio BTR1 (Bluetooth Amplifier with AK4376 DAC) ★★★☆☆ (Updated!)

A small device with big sound on a budget.
The removal of the headphone jack on phones is a recent phenomenon but I have been dilly-dallying with clip-on, stereo Bluetooth headsets for quite some time. The excuse for doing so was convenience, at the expense of sound quality. Without putting so much as a thought, I went with Sony in those days and hence my initial experience revolved around the MW-600 and SBH54. However, while the MW-600 was a solid device for its time, the SBH54 was a huge disappointment. Hence, Sony was never in consideration for my next device.

With the iPhone 7 being my primary device, I gave some thought to using a lightning connector device prior to considering other Bluetooth choices. The 1More Triple Driver was certainly at the top of the list but the price premium for the lightning version put it beyond the price range I was looking at. Another option was to go for a 3.5mm adapter and the i1 turned out to be the most prominent among the limited options available, but it didn't take much to understand that it didn't really offer a better value proposition compared to Apple's adapter. However, it was this visit to the Fiio site for the i1 that put me on course to the BTR1.

Review #44: Amazon Fire TV Stick (2nd generation) ★★★☆☆

Fire Play with Me - A comprehesive review of the 2nd generation Fire TV Stick
When Amazon priced the 2nd generation Fire TV Stick at ₹2999 for Prime Day, it took a lot of self-restraint on my part to not purchase it instinctively. I had a few good reasons for not doing so, they being:

1. My TV itself is capable of DLNA streaming courtesy of Samsung AllShare and has the Netflix app on it, even as others might not be so useful
2. A first-gen Chromecast attached to one of the HDMI ports since the time of its US release, taking care of all the remote streaming needs
3. A Raspberry Pi 2 running LibreElec (and Batocera) to take care of Kodi and retro gaming needs
4. Lastly, a Windows tablet capable of streaming every possible content either through Chromecast, Plex or HDMI

Since I have a DLNA as well as Samba server running on my router allied with a USB 3.0 external hard disk, these disparate solutions, while being less than ideal, fulfilled every local and web streaming need I had. It also meant that the Fire TV Stick had a very small niche to fill - that of even lazier consumption and hence didn't justify the price or the need. However, as you might have already guessed, something changed for this review to exist.

I had been on a trekking trip recently and it warranted that I forego of any unnecessary weight. That meant that my trustworthy Windows tablet didn't find a place in my backpack. However, on the off chance that the hotel had a reliable net connection, I carried the Chromecast with me. Luckily, the hotel did have a stable 10 Mbps connection without AP isolation which was both a boon and a course. While it meant that I could use my Chromecast freely, it also meant that everyone else on the hotel network could as well. Chromecast might make for a great party device but unfortunately a poor personal entertainment one as I had other guests interrupting my viewing out of curiosity or the ignorant hope of viewing their mobile content on their room's TV. This particular incident made a very good use case for the Fire TV Stick over the Chromecast and eventually led me to purchase one.

Of course, I wouldn't have purchased it for the listed price and the fact that it wasn't listed at the Prime day sale price of ₹2999 during the September and early October sales made the decision difficult. However, the eventual impact of purchasing this device was ₹2200 courtesy of the ₹499 cashback on the ₹3499 sale price and a ₹450 cashback for using Amazon Pay coupled with the fact that the Amazon Pay balance I used was discounted by 10% on accord of an earlier top-up offer (3499 - 499 - 450 - 350 = 2200). With the device in hand, I went on my merry way of testing it in every way I could.

Out of the box:

The Fire TV Stick aptly comes in a fiery orange box which lists some of the apps offered on the platform. My unit, purchased in early October 2017, was imported in September and manufactured in August. The inner packaging, to go along with the fire theme, was in charred black and pretty compact. It contained the Voice remote, 2 Amazonbasics AAA batteries, HDMI extender, 5V/1A charger, 5-feet MicroUSB cable and of course the Fire TV Stick (not counting the manual and information pamphlets).

In the hand:



The Stick is definitely larger than any pen drive you might have ever seen but still fits in the palm of my hand. However, as you can see in the image, it is much larger than the first-generation Chromecast, so you need to ensure that you have significant clearance at the back (or side) of your TV. It weighs in at 31g on my scale, so it shouldn't be stressing any HDMI ports while sticking out of them.

Starting it up:

As I have mentioned previously, the package comes with a 5V/1A charger and hence I initially decided to use the USB port of the same specification available at the back of my TV. However, the AFTV Stick was quick to show an 'Unsupported USB Port' message. While I am sure that I could have used the device off the USB port, I decided to plug in the charger anyway. Since the AFTV stick has 802.11ac MIMO WiFi support, it is dual band and catches the 5 GHz signal reasonably well, when compared to my iPhone. I was expecting the device to be already associated with my account like my Kindle was on first login, but that was not the case here. Curiously, the device was registered as my 2nd Fire TV Stick and I suppose it was so as I had previously paid for and then subsequently cancelled an order of the Fire TV Stick.

The OS:

It shouldn't be a surprise that the entire Fire TV OS revolved around Amazon Prime Video. In fact, that is the only app that the device comes installed with. Others like Hotstar and Netflix are added to your account in the cloud but the download has to be initiated manually. The usable storage capacity is displayed as 5.94 GB which isn't much, especially if you are considering using the video download options for offline viewing. Out of the box, the OS version was 5.2.4.2 and the Fire TV Home version (which I presume refers to the interface) was 5.7.3-20. The immediately available update changed the OS version to 5.2.6.0 and the Home version to 6.0.0.0-264. However, the underlying Android version is 5.1.1 and coupled with the 1GB of RAM made things a bit interesting as described below. Irrespective of the update, the look remained the same and consisted of the Home, Movies, TV Shows, Apps and Settings tabs.

Apps and Interface:

As I have mentioned previously, the AFTV interface revolves prominently around Prime Video. The Home tab displays the recently used apps first, followed by the installed ones and then a whole bunch of rows specific to different genres of Prime Video. Similarly, the Movies and TV Shows tabs are completely dedicated to Prime Video. The Apps tab is where you would go to explore the entire app collection while the Settings tab includes the myriad of options that Android usually offers pertaining to display, sound, connectivity, accessibility and developer options.

Fire TV's use of Android implies easy availability of streaming apps as long as they aren't tied to Google Play services. Hence, most of the third-party apps work just fine. The available apps are those available on the Indian Amazon Appstore and hence one can take a look at the options available prior to making a purchase. However, as depicted on the box and in the ads, it covers most of the prominent Indian streaming services including Hotstar, Voot, Eros Now, Gaana and Jio TV. Additionally, TV news apps like NDTV, Times Now, India Today are available along with some international ones. However, most noticeable is the lack of an official YouTube app. The Youtube.com app present on the Home screen is just the mobile website running on Chromium. As a result, it is sluggish and the quality barely exceeds 480p which can be a major deal breaker for some.

An integral part of the user experience is the use of the remote and its accompanying voice control. The remote's controls are pretty well done for navigation purposes, including the use of the playback controls to directly execute some options as against having to scroll to them. The controls work fine within the apps as well which is a big plus. Unlike other streaming devices like the Nvidia Shield which oddly include only navigation controls, the AFTV remote makes efficient use of the playback controls which is most evident when using Prime Video. The Voice control also does a good job of recognising the context of search and pops up relevant suggestions when it is unavailable to exactly determine the term being spoken. At the time of writing this review though Alexa hasn't still been enable for the AFTV Stick though I can't imagine it is too far off considering the launch of the Echo devices.

If you happen to lose or break the remote, then Amazon has already provided apps for Android and iOS which are software clones of the remote. They also contain added features like a keyboard which makes typing passwords, codes, searches must easier and the replacement Voice Remote at ₹1999 a redundant purchase. Alternately, the AFTV Stick supports HDMI-CEC, so if your TV supports it, the TV remote does a good job of navigating through the interface.

Tinkering: 

One of the true tests for any media streaming device is to see how well it handles Kodi. Since Kodi isn't officially available on the Amazon App Store, it has to be sideloaded. Luckily, Amazon has kept the ADB and Unknown Sources installation options easily accessible and that implies easy sideloading of most Android apps. I say most since apps that rely solely on the Google Play framework will not work at all. Luckily, this list is not that expansive and to a large extent includes apps from the Google stable.

The most common option to sideload apps that you will come across the web is to use the Downloader app from AFTVnews. However, this app isn't officially available on the Indian Amazon store and while there are ways to get it on board the AFTV Stick, I found the most convenient option to be the Apps2Fire app. It allows one to directly install or upload the file to the AFTV Stick. I found the install option to be a bit whimsical as it failed on multiple occasions with exceptions since it used ADB, but the uploaded APK files could be installed just fine by using ES Explorer on the device itself. In case of Kodi, my Android device, as most these days, was running the 64-bit version of Kodi from the Google Play store and the same couldn't be directly installed on the AFTV Stick since it only supports the 32-bit version. I was able to get AirPlay working on the device as well using Air Receiver but it worked well mostly for music. Screen mirroring wasn't of such great quality even at High settings and video failed to mirror completely.

The remote works remarkably well with Kodi, though that might not be the case with other sideloaded apps. Since a lot of the apps are made only for touch, I would recommend sideloading the 'Mouse Toggle' app first as it enables a mouse pointer within these apps and thus makes them accessible. Thus, I have to recommend the use of a Bluetooth mouse when using most sideloaded apps though a Bluetooth keyboard may not be as essential on account of the mobile apps.

Performance:


Before giving my subjective opinion on the performance of the device, I decided to benchmark it using Geekbench 4. For a device that essentially has the same hardware as my Galaxy S3 did 5 years ago with its low-end 1.3 GHz Mediatek MT8127 quad-core Cortex-A53 processor and Mali450 MP4 GPU, I wasn't expecting much. True to form, the CPU scored only 432 and 1072 in the single and multi-core tests respectively while the GPU scored 778 in the Compute test. For reference, my iPhone 7 had scored 3460, 5890 and 12740 in these tests previously.

Benchmarks don't determine real life performance, so I don't pay much attention to them. However, in case of the AFTV Stick, the performance (or lack thereof) is perceptible during regular usage. Of course, if your main usage is limited to only using the Prime Video or Netflix app, you wouldn't notice much as the interface is quite fluid in those cases. However, running a number of apps, especially sideloaded ones like Kodi and returning to the Home screen had an immense impact on the performance of the device. On occasions it took over 10 seconds to load the Home screen, presumably because the device was repeatedly running out of its lowly 1 GB RAM while running Android Lollipop. On one occasion, the device even rebooted, unable to cope with the demands of multiple app switching. This kind of performance issues are also evident when navigating the interface after starting an app installation. For the price point, it may be difficult to fault the device but that doesn't change the fact that that device is a bit underpowered for its interface.

Interface aside, the main concern is whether the device is able to playback efficiently. Since this is only a Full HD device and not a 4K one, it doesn't need to support H.265/HEVC content over the web since most of the HD and Full HD content is in H.264. Hence, it is no surprise that all the streaming services work fine on the device even at 1080p60. The playback interface can be a bit sluggish at times but not observably so. However, my local library does contain quite a bit of H.265 content and since the product page lists H.265 support, I decided to have a go at it using VLC and Kodi. As it turns out, H.265 support is quite limited. I started with two 10-bit HEVC videos encoded with the Main profile at 1.5 Mbps and 900 Kbps bit rate and both failed to play. While VLC was at least able to playback the audio, Kodi simply hung up. Things were far better when dealing with lower quality HEVC videos as 8-bit, 720p ones at around 800 Kbps worked just fine. On the audio side, it supports 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus support and up to 7.1 HDMI audio pass-through which is as much as you can expect for Full HD viewing.

Conclusion:

The Fire TV Stick is a good if not unremarkable piece of hardware for its price, especially during the sale, for what it offers. If you don't happen to have a Smart TV or a Chromecast, then I would recommend picking this one up immediately since it adds the most effective means of consuming the Prime Video membership. Without Prime, this device doesn't make much sense.

On the other hand, the compromises made to bring the device down to this price are quite evident. The interface can struggle at times, even going to the extent of rebooting the device under heavy load. The archaic Android version doesn't help as well though Amazon does a good job of hiding it under their Fire OS skin. However, on the first day itself, I had repeated issues of the TV switching on due to HDMI-CEC activation on the AFTV Stick even though no one was anywhere near the remote.

The compromises on hardware as well as software front don't do much to ruin the experience if you are living within the immediate ecosystem that Amazon presents you with. In fact, for its discounted price, it is a better option that Chromecast through Miracast mirroring on the AFTV Stick isn't quite as intuitive or stable. Android TV isn't much of an option since none of the devices are officially available, though it has the advantage of access to the Google Play store and the official YouTube app. The Mi Box costs nearly twice as much, isn't much more powerful but offers 4K support while the affordability of the Nvidia Shield is questionable. Apple TV on the other hand makes little sense in India without official support and exorbitant pricing.

So, what's my final opinion on the device? After much thought, I have decided to return the Fire TV Stick because it is difficult for me to live with the compromises compared to the benefits. Having said that, I would be more amenable to getting the 4K Fire TV dongle if it is released later in India and competitively priced since it is going to be future proof and the slightly higher firepower in terms of the higher clocked processor and 2 GB RAM is bound to help. I can't imagine everyone else wanting to pay a higher price, especially if a 4K TV purchase is nowhere on the horizon and for those I would recommend the 2nd generation as a great home entertainment device.

Musing #41: iPhone X - The new generation 5C

Every "expert" worth his/her salt has formed an opinion on the iPhone X by now, so why should this armchair expert be left behind? You will have to go back only 4 years to the iPhone 5C (remember that?) to find an instance where Apple generated a lot of divided opinions over a new product. On the face of it, it would seem preposterous to compare the 5C to the X considering how the two were positioned and yet, strategically, it is not too different.

I would be upfront about the fact that it would be sad to see Apple succeed with the iPhone X. This is coming from an iPhone 7 user. In case you are wondering, I absolutely miss the headphone jack. The Lightning EarPods suffer from poor fit and low volume. The adapter is one ugly umbilical cord having the same volume issues. I hate having to charge (and pair) my Bluetooth headset. To add to the misery, there are no real (read, value for money) alternatives available as far as Lightning connector earphones are concerned. In short, I feel like a doofus in having spent a small fortune in affirming Apple's opinion about the headphone jack. At the same time, I absolutely love the solid-state Home "button" coupled with the Taptic engine and the stereo speakers. My major focus was on security and privacy which could have been served with any iOS device but it was certainly worth getting the iPhone 7 over the 6S.

So, why ought the X not succeed? Simply because it will set a new benchmark for the pricing of smartphones. The price certainly doesn't justify the features you are getting over the 7 or 8 or the Plus variants, but it would indicate the customer's willingness to accede to Apple's pricing experiment. Yes, the X is pretty much an experimental product in the same vein as the 5C. Why else would Apple need to accompany it with a "safe" incremental option? It is because Apple is unsure whether it is heading in to the right direction. It is no longer a Jobsian case of "customers don't know what they want" but rather a case of "Apple doesn't know what the customers want". The "new" iPad was a case of Apple bowing to the consumers and embracing the X will be subverting to that cause.

Pricing issues aside, the X doesn't really follow Apple's vision of simplification. It certainly does so from the hardware perspective but it is trying to make up for it using software, resulting in the most grotesque of usability issues. The 7 certainly was a step in the wrong direction but the X is in an altogether different league. The fingers continue to be the primary means of interaction with the iPhone and hence having Face ID precede that step doesn't make things any easier or faster. Apple made it a point to emphasize, using probability, that the face is far more unique than fingerprints. Yet, I can't help think of nefarious ways in which I could surreptitiously use an acquaintance's face to unlock the device. Identical twins and law enforcement would perhaps have it easier compared to Touch ID. Similarly, swiping up to unlock or stopping midway to access the app switcher or bringing down the control centre from the top right are convoluted mechanisms that are not Apple-esque. I can see Face ID being much more useful when the user interface completely shifts to gaze tracking, but right now it is an impediment. Apple has tried to compensate for it by utilising the TrueDepth camera for Animojis, AR and selfie portraits, but they are pure gimmicks to indulge the user who has already bought in to the X. Personally, I was impressed by Portrait Lighting but that isn't exclusive to the X, though it might do a better job with the f/2.4 aperture telephoto lens.

The irony is that the major appeal of the X can be attributed to Samsung's OLED display, apart from the notch for which Apple can claim full credit. One can only imagine that describing the features of the new display must have been killing Apple from the inside as against showering praise on the Apple-designed components. There is no denying that this is the first edition device of a larger strategic roadmap. In that sense, it bears semblance to the first iPhone. It is not meant to have the features that would logically make life easier for Face ID users. Instead, these "revolutionary" updates will "magically" appear at a later date in forthcoming iOS devices which, as per my gut feeling, won't go beyond X as far as nomenclature is concerned. After all, it seems that tech companies are obsessed by the 'X' factor, going by the erstwhile Mac OS X and the current Windows 10. Thus, in more ways than one, the X is the new avatar of the 5C, but I specifically hope for it to be closest to it in sales. The world at large will of course have other ideas and we may have to resign ourselves to the power of the masses, even if it leads down an abyss.

Review #43: The One Device


As a technology enthusiast, there was no escaping this book. I refer to technology rather than a company because I have never been an ardent Apple or Google fan, having only recently switched from Android to iOS. At the same, it wasn't a case of eagerness to read the book as it was the fact that I was bombarded with references to the book wherever I went, be it on podcasts or tech sites. Hence, I was able to put the book further down my reading list until I finally came across it a few days back.

Going by the book's name and the timing of its release, it would be valid to presume that it has the blessings of Apple and would offer candid insights from the who’s who of the iPhone team. However, as the book makes it clear upfront, Apple's veil of secrecy extends to the extent that no current (and some former) employee can share their story on the record. Hence, the book instead relies on the recounting by other industry stalwarts as well as anonymous Apple sources. This kind of anonymity can impact the credibility of some of the stories but in this case, it can't be helped and it certainly seems to fit the narrative. The other aspect is that one may be beguiled in to thinking that the book would only be focussed on the immediate story of the device's inception, however that is thankfully left to the eponymous last chapter of the book. As a result, the book is able to tell a much more holistic story than would have been possible if it had been focussed on the device alone.

As soon as you start reading the book, it becomes evident that the author is extending a thread from Steve Jobs' biography with his allusion to the "lone inventor" and the author admits to as much. While being repetitive, it is essential to do so because one must see past the mist of Steve Jobs to understand the significantly substantial efforts put in by thousands of others. In fact, the hard headedness of Steve meant that others had to put in far more onerous efforts to help him see the light of the day, only for him to take all the credit. At the same time, Steve paved the highway to success that few other leaders can, bogged down by the immense bureaucracy within the company.

The initial chapters of the book make it amply clear than the iPhone was a significant evolution than the revolution it was proclaimed to be. Another case of standing on the shoulders of giants. This is essentially the premise of the book as it unearths the origins of all that made the iPhone possible. It is humbling to think that century-old satire rather than science fiction accurately portrayed the state of affairs in the 21st century. Even then, the patent arts littered throughout the book indicate how ideas have to wait for years in order for technology to catch up and portray them as revolutionary.

A couple of topics that have always been associated with Apple and the iPhone are conflict mining and the state of working conditions in factories. Both these aspects are covered in detail in the chapters "Minephones", "Lion Batteries" and "Designed in California, Made in China". It is in a way mortifying to think of the people, especially children, whose livelihood depends on cheating death daily to ship the materials for the iPhone. The book is even replete with an adventure in Foxconn City, a humbling insight in to the human price of the iPhone. Of course, Apple has taken steps to ensure better working conditions but that doesn't help those who continue to work in abject conditions for other manufacturers, especially Chinese ones that have less regard for human rights.

As much as users may be pedantic over the iPhone's appearance, it is heartening to see the same level of attention being shown to its components by the author. Hence, the later chapters focus on the origins of Gorilla Glass, multi touch, image stabilization, sensors, processors, antenna, Siri and security enclave. This makes for an interesting read and again emphasizes the notion that the iPhone was more evolutionary than revolutionary as it managed to reap the benefits of miniaturization over the decades and integrate them in a rather appealing package. At the same time, it seems that the author tries a bit too hard in associating modern technology with erstwhile relics like the volvelle because it fits the narrative from his perspective. The book also captures the once prolific jailbreaking scene which has since slowed to a crawl with incremental feature and security updates in iOS. Nonetheless, it was great to hear from the various personalities involved in it as my exposure was simply limited to running the tools bearing their name.

As I have glossed over previously, those expecting an origin story of the iPhone, ought to find solace in the last chapter of the book. Of course, the build up to it is scattered across the chapters, without which you wouldn't be able to identify the characters involved. However, the emphasis once again is on the sacrifice of the unsung heroes involved in the creation of the device. While the sufferings of the designers in US might not have been at the same level as those involved in mining and assembly, there isn't denying the fact that the one device has claimed its fair share of victims along the way.

Reflecting on the book, it is apparent it was meant to be a reference on the iPhone and not so much about an iPhone. It is historic in context and therefore will stand the test of time as an accurate reflection of the iPhone's legacy on its 10th anniversary, much more than Apple's pretentious photo book. However, the book is by no means a page turner and could have benefited significantly from being tauter. While a good story has certainly been told, it hasn't been done in a particularly engaging manner. Still. this is a recommended read for anyone interested in technology and smartphones, rather than just the iPhone.

Sundry #9: Memes for the win!

I just came across an article on How-To Geek which happens to be just a sponsored giveaway for WinX MediaTrans. I am not one to not avail of a free offer, especially when it doesn't involve sharing any details and hence I went ahead with the download. It is a version specific giveaway without update support, so I am not sure how long I would have it installed but it is good to have nonetheless.

Not that I have an axe to grind against iTunes, but having an alternative that allows easy transfer of ringtones and other files is a big plus for me. However, it seems that is not the case with the creators of MediaTrans who are running an iTunes-mocking meme contest. In the spirit of the giveaway, I decided to create some of my own.

This happens to be the first time that I am creating a meme, not considering the awkward use of PowerPoint. Hence, it was a case of pick up and use whatever comes first. On the basis of Google search results and site accessibility, I flipped over to imgflip and decided to caption three of the images that caught my eye on the homepage. with the first pertinent thoughts that entered my mind.


Although I am absolutely indifferent to the contest, I hope that I captured the spirit of meme creation. Irrespective of everything else, these were 5 minutes well spent on a Saturday.

Update: Turns out I won!