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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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Sony WH-1000MX2

So, Sony’s WH-1000MX2 successor the WH-1000MX3 was released yesterday. As usual there’s plenty of reviews praising it and how it could dethrone the Bose QC-35 II and how it’s slightly better than the already good WH-1000MX2, etc etc etc.

I think I will skip the WH-1000MX3. Unless the geek in me succumbs to some crazy desire to buy it even though I dislike the WH-1000MX2 – I hope that never happens!

I am in the enviable (to me at least) position of owning the Sennheiser PXC 550, the Bose QC-35 II, and the Sony WH-1000MX2. No, I didn’t buy all of these together … I am not that rich! The purchases happened over the course of a year or two through some patient waiting for deals to come up for these headsets. I started off with the Sennheiser PXC 550 because the Bose QC-35 and the Sony MDR-1000X were both expensive and I was able to get the PXC 550 on a deal from Amazon UK during Christmas/ New Year. I love the PXC 550. They have a lot of the features I want. Excellent mic quality, the ability to simultaneously pair with 2 devices, comfortable to use, touch controls, the ability to connect a computer via USB cable (in addition to the Bluetooth pairing with other devices), a headphone cable that comes with a mic so that you can use the headset with mic too even if its power is dead and you have to connect to a computer/ phone. Plenty of good features, and the noise cancelling’s good too.

Speaking of noise cancelling, I don’t understand all these reviews that say any of these three headphones offer amazing noise cancelling … the reviewer can’t hear the city noise, airplane rumbles above, etc. I use them in the metro and bus and yes they noise cancel a lot but it’s not absolute silence. Maybe it’s because I listen to a lot of audiobooks and so am more perceptive to the noise around me, but I can easily hear announcements and people talking around me (not all the people, but at least the louder ones) even with noise cancelling turned to a max. In fact, for me the noise cancelling of these headphones is on par with a good pair of in-ear earphones as long as they fit in snugly (e.g. the Beats X in my case).

Anyways, back to the Sony WH-1000MX2. About a year and more after buying the PXC 550 I bought the WH-1000MX2 coz they too were on some deal. Initially I was very enthusiastic about these headphones. I mean pretty much every reviews praises them and raves about how awesome they are and totally dethrones the Bose QC 35 … and they don’t even mention the PXC 550 (and if they do it is in passing) because the comparison is almost always between Sony and Bose. The WH-1000MX2 doesn’t dual pair, nor does its cable come with mic nor can it connect to your computer via USB, but its app has a lot of (gimmicky?) features like customizing the noise cancelling based on the environment, and some equalizer settings etc. Like I said, initially I was very enthusiastic about these and started using the WH-1000MX2 a lot more. I even took it on some long trips because of how awesome it is supposed to be on-flight etc. Yup, it’s great and all that … and maybe (just maybe) it’s noise cancelling is a tad better than the PXC 550, but boy is it uncomfortable! I put it on my head, it’s like there’s this big block stuck on it. My head feels heavy. The band is like a clasp around my ears, on my head. The thing feels huge. Forget wearing it on a long distance flight … I must have worn mine for an hour at most before my ears began hurting and I had to take a break. And since then I have an aversion to the WH-1000MX2 so much so that I barely use it nowadays. In fact, just today I thought I’d try it again because it’s been a while … but nope, 15 mins was all I could manage wearing it! I absolutely do not like the WH-1000MX2 due to their size and heaviness. I get a headache pretty soon after wearing it (my head is still aching from the past 15 mins of wearing these).

That’s not to say the PXC 550 is all perfect in terms of wearing comfort. It’s not, but it is nowhere as bad as the WH-1000 MX2. Nowadays I get a headache after an hour maybe of wearing it in the metro (and in fact I have stopped taking it on my commute and switched to the Beats X) but I think it’s more psychological coz these headaches began after using the WH-1000MX2. I think my head somehow reacts negatively to the PXC 550 too coz of the WH-1000MX2. They are not as heavy of big, but yes they are tighter and more snug than the Bose QC 35 II.

And thus we come to the Bose QC 35 II. I got these earlier this year. I waited patiently for a deal, but surprisingly Bose headphones don’t seem to go on deals! Finally I purchased one on a 6-month installment. And am I glad I did that! Of all the three headphones, the Bose QC 35 II is the best in terms of comfort and fit. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten tired wearing it (I hope I don’t jinx it now!), and not only that I love their app and Bluetooth pairing. The QC 35 II, like the PXC 550, can pair to two devices. But unlike the PXC 550 it seems to be smarter. With the PXC 550 say I was paired to my two phones and listening to music on the first one. If I were to open the second phone now, and it was not in a vibration mode, because the phone makes a click sound when it is unlocked the PXC 550 turns its focus to the second phone. In a few seconds it realizes nothing more is happening, but that is a silly irritation to my flow. Later on if the second phone makes any sort of noise, the PXC 550 again focuses on that. In contrast the Bose doesn’t do any of these. It will continue playing music from the first one until I actually start playing some music from the second one (or I get a call on it). That said, I think the Bose is able to pull this off because it does (maybe) low energy Bluetooth pairing with the non-active device. I feel this because I have noticed that occasionally it drops the second device (I wont see the Bose connected to the second device in its status bar) until I push the button on the Bose to make it pair with all devices or until I unlock the phone and then it reconnects. It’s not a big deal and the few times this doesn’t work outweighs the convenience of it not messing things up like the PXC 550 does.

Oh, and the Bose app. Wonderful! The PXC 550 has the most useless app of the lot. (The Sony one is gimmicky like I said above). Not only does the Bose app provide regular firmware updates to the headphones it also makes pairing with more than 2 devices a breeze. I am able to disconnect a device from the app itself, thus putting the headphones into pairing mode and then connect to it from another device. So convenient! If only other headphone manufactures too would put their app to good use like this.

If the Bose QC 35 II has one thing against it, it’s the thing that it disconnects from all devices after a timeout (5 mins by default I think). So if I am listening to something and pause the music for a while, it will disconnect after 5 mins. Of course I can push a button to make it pair again, but often one tends to forget that. For now I bumped up the timeout to 20 mins so it’s not a big deal. However, I noticed that when I have the Bose paired with my laptop over Bluetooth and I am using it for calls via Lync on Citrix, even though the Bose is active it seems to think it is not being used and so after the timeout period it just disconnects. Crazy! Thankfully that is not a frequent thing I do so I don’t really care much for it.

Anyways, to conclude. Sony WH-1000MX2 sucks, and I don’t buy all these reviews that praise the WH-1000MX3 like it’s some amazing thing that will dethrone all other noise cancelling headphones. Nothing beats the Bose QC 35 II my book currently.

New MacBook Air

So I finally dipped my feet into the Mac ecosystem and bought myself a MacBook Air. Yes, I know it’s 3 years old but what the heck – it was the cheapest Mac I could buy! Went for the 8GB/ 256GB i5 version as that’s the one I found on a deal with our local online shopping provider. Might have gone with a different spec if I decided to go with the version available officially with Apple but a) that had a UK English keyboard and b) the same model there was about 33% more expensive so if I were to get a better spec’d one I’d be spending a lot lot more (bringing the costs up to the MacBook range). 

One thing about MacBook purchases though – it isn’t easy. I mean, with an iPhone. you only have to choose along the color & size, and then pick the capacity you want. But with Macs I have to worry about size, CPU (i5 or i7), RAM, and storage; and each choices ups the price by so much! And more than the price the choices just exhaust. It’s the paradox of choice concept (I’ve read the book) and the feeling is similar to Windows laptops where there’s so many choices and you just get bogged down trying to pick what you want and eventually let go of the idea itself. Which is what I had done here (let go of the idea) until my wife suggested this MacBook Air model that was on a deal and I thought what the heck and just purchased it. My focus here is to get something that will get me a toehold in the Mac ecosystem and probably settling on price as a criteria than anything else was what was needed. 

Oh, and the MacBook Air is the only one with a decent set of ports. Yikes! All the other MacBooks have just USB-C ports so there’s the additional cost of dongles and the hassle of having to carry them around. If it wasn’t for the dongles and the fact that the MacBook has a 2nd generation butterfly keyboard which is known for problems (which is fixed in the MacBook Pro’s 3rd generation keyboard) I might have gone for the MacBook. It has more colors too. 

Anyways, back to the MacBook Air. I’ve had it for less than a day now so these are just initial thoughts. 

  • I love the keyboard and size. There’s a lot of room for the hand, and the keys feel good to type on. It’s a very “lapable” laptop. 
  • I thought I’d be put off by the 1440×900 screen as I am so used to full HD nowadays and when I had recently tried using a 1440×900 external monitor I didn’t like it at all, but no I don’t mind this screen. Yes I notice the difference but I don’t mind it. 
  • I like the feel of the OS. I had various people tell me it is complicated and unintuitive etc. but I don’t see that. I love the two finger way of scrolling up and down pages and going back and forward, and the three finger way of moving across apps. That feels very intuitive and much better than having a touch screen. There’s a lot more gestures but I am yet to get the hang of that. I tried to memorize those initially but then figured I’ll pick them up as I go. I think I know the main ones that I am interested in at least. 
  • It’s a jarring experience going to the App Store and seeing all the prices! Boy. It’s like the pre-iPhone days when software used to be expensive. Pretty much everything is US$10 and above, and if something is free it is bound to have a in-add purchase. Even the same app which for iPhone & iPad is (say) US$5 would be US$50 or above here! I imagine it is because the code base is different and so there’s more effort? I don’t know. That’s something I am having trouble getting my head around. The Windows OS store apps are much cheaper (but yeah there aren’t many). Anyways, the App Store is like a trip back in time to expensive software. I don’t think I’ll be buying much apps. Or I hope I won’t be buying much apps – it is not a sustainable option. 
  • The laptop came with MacOS High Sierra 10.13.1 and I couldn’t update to the latest 10.13.6 via the App Store. I downloaded it and tried to upgrade manually, but that failed saying the volume doesn’t meet some pre-requisites. I downloaded 10.13.2 and 10.13.3 and was able to upgrade to them manually, but 10.13.4 fails with the same error. That’s when I came across the macOS Recovery options, especially the Internet Recovery option which you get to by pressing Option-Command (⌘)-R (instead of just Command (⌘)-R for regular recovery). Internet Recovery actually connects to the Internet (it prompts you for Wi-Fi details etc) and can download the latest version and do a fresh install. When I tried this it complained my disk was still being encrypted and so it cannot upgrade. Am guessing that is why the update previously failed so I’ll wait for the encryption to finish and try again. That is so cool though, being able to connect to the Internet and do a recovery! Windows recovery options are nothing compared to this. Even the Recovery screen has a good GUI etc. (of course, that’s easy for Apple to do as it controls the hardware; versus Microsoft which can’t cater for every single display where Windows might be installed on). 
    • Update: After encryption completed I was able to install 10.13.4 successfully. I tried to just to 10.13.6 directly but that failed. I realized that these updates are deltas so I’ll just have to install 10.13.5 and then 10.13.6. Tried that and now my system is finally up to date. Yay! Pity MacOS doesn’t do cumulative updates. 
  • What else? The Finder is good, the uniform way in which each app shows a menubar where you can go and find its options etc. is good. I love the UI as expected for its consistency and sleekness. I also loved how I could just click on the Apple icon and go to “About this Mac” to quickly find its OS version, free storage etc. I don’t know why I liked that, but I found it incredibly thoughtful of Apple to present this information via this option. 
  • There’s still (obviously) a lot to pick up. Keyboard shortcuts and gestures etc. 
  • Oh, forgot. Installing apps from outside the App Store is cute in the way you download the DMG file and then (in most cases) just drag and drop the application to the Applications folder. I remember reading somewhere that in the Mac each application is sandboxed to its own hierarchy or something so it’s not like Windows or Linux where everything just writes to a common place and there’s dependencies and DLL hell etc. 
  • I love how the MacOS restores all my previously open apps after a reboot/ shutdown. It’s just the other day I was wishing Windows could do something similar (my laptop crashed and I had to restore all my Windows) and it was pleasant to see the MacOS do exactly this whenever I’d reboot. Such a user friendly and useful thing to do!

More later!

New AirPods

So I finally purchased a pair of Apple AirPods. There was a deal going on and I got a good additional 20% as there was an offer on my credit card.

  • I can’t control the volume with it (except using Siri).
  • I have to choose between whether I want to be able to pause the music via double tap or go to previous or next tracks. I can customize the double tap on either side AirPod so I only have two choices really.
  • Good thing though is that I can pause by removing either of the AirPods.
  • The fit is good too. I expected it to fall out as Apple EarPods have never fit me; but no, this one stays. Good job!
  • Audio quality is ok as expected. No large sound stage. No bass (I don’t mind that). Good for podcasts and audiobooks which is my use case.
  • The lack of much controls customization irks me though. No other vendor would have been able to get away with that in my opinion.
  • Update after using it for a day: I love the fact that I can use it just one AirPod at a time. That’s super handy. That alone plus the small size and that it’s light and that it fits in my ear and I barely notice it makes it a very useful gadget.

Lovin’ iPhone portrait mode

I started using a work provided iPhone 8 recently, side by side to my personal iPhone 7 Plus. I opted for a golden iPhone 8 and I love that look on the glass back. In terms of prettiness I so much prefer the iPhone 8 to the 7 Plus. It’s a much less finger print magnet too. I think it’s my fingers – they sweat – so the back of the iPhone 7 Plus gets all sweaty after a while of use. But no such issues with the iPhone 8.

I don’t think I’ll ever buy a personal non Plus size phone though. I don’t use the portrait mode much but I miss the dual lens on the Plus when I take pics with the iPhone 8. And the size of the Plus is convenient for typing and watching movies. I notice that I tend to use the iPhone 8 more as a phone or checking work emails or browsing something which quickly, but long term I prefer the iPhone 7 Plus for the size.

Here’s a nice (personal opinion!) pic I took with the iPhone 7 Plus in portrait mode now. That’s what prompted this post.

In other news I have purchased a TORRO case for the iPhone 7 Plus. They look so good! It was an impulse purchase and I hope to get it tomorrow.

TIL: DisplayPort is cool and can support multiple monitors

I’ve always seen the DisplayPort and mini-DisplayPort ports on desktops and laptops but never paid much attention to them. I end up using the DVI or HDMI ports usually and DisplayPort was always that “inconvenient” port for which I’d need an adapter – like DisplayPort to DVI or HDMI. Today I learnt that DisplayPort has very high throughput and that DisplayPort 1.2 and above (we are currently on 1.4) supports something called Multi Stream Transport which lets you hook up more than 1 monitor to a single port using a hub like this. That is so amazing! So I no longer have to fuss about with extra graphics cards just to get an extra DVI / HDMI port. All I have to do is buy one of these hubs and I am set. Nice!

Bose SoundSport Wireless

I had got myself a pair of Beats Wireless X some weeks back. I am not a Beats fan per se, but I bought these as they come with the W1 chip and I was curious. They were decently priced too. 

I loved these for the fit and sound quality. I didn’t expect much in terms of sound but it was great (I was listening to the score of Flash vs Arrow while trying these and it was amazing). I think the sound was great also due to the fit. They went deep into my ears and were snug. Nice!

I didn’t like them for their length. It was not bad but a tad shorter would have been preferred. I wouldn’t have minded if the neckband wasn’t really a neckband but just a part of the overall cable. More flexible/ foldable etc I mean. I wasn’t a fan of the carrying pouch it came with, but I got the hang of it after reading the manuals and watching some YouTube videos. What I absolutely hated was the powering on and pairing part – it was always a hit and miss pressing the power button and waiting for it to pair. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. (So much for the W1!)

Unfortunately these earphones broke after a week of use (maybe even less). I had worn them out for a walk and also for a visit to my daughter’s swimming classes. Both times the environment was humid and I had sweated a lot – I figure that’s what broke it. The next day I noticed they ran out of battery even though I had charged the previous day, and then when I tried charging again I saw that they weren’t charging at all. Apparently it’s a known issue, and the only fix is a replacement. I sent it back to the shop but they couldn’t replace it and thus refunded me. 

Boo. 

Using the Beats spoilt me though so I Googled for a good pair of Bluetooth in ear headphones and came across the Bose SoundSport Wireless via What Hi-Fi. Ordered online and got these today. Here’s some first impressions. 

Their fit isn’t as snug as the Beats but it is something. It’s solid. One wouldn’t think these will fit in so strongly (and these aren’t my first Bose headphones with their special Stay Hear tips) but they do. I tried pulling them out via a few tugs and they didn’t budge. Nice!

Since the fit isn’t snug though a lot of background noise comes in. That spoils the listening experience if you are outside and it’s noisy. They are less noise isolating than most of my cheaper in ear headphones. I wish it was better. 

The sound signature is amazing. That’s one area where again Bose is different but good. It’s very “clean”. Nothing extra/ punchy. Feels very pure. Not sure if such words make sense in this context but that’s what I feel like. I have noticed these with other Bose headphones too. I wouldn’t say I am always a fan of these as I prefer my Sennheiser’s over Bose for instance, but that’s just coz I prefer the Sennheiser sound signature and I know in my head that the Bose signature is unique and has its place. I don’t dislike the sound signature as I might of other brands. 

As is fashion the headphones come with an app too. And unlike the Beats and many other Bluetooth headphones you can pair two phones at the same time (note: same time – simultaneously). That’s convenient for a chap like me who has two phones. 

Anthromorphizing

So. Previously I had my OnePlus 3T and iPhone 6 paired with the Sennheiser PXC 550. Whenever I’d connect the headphones would announce the OnePlus 3T as “phone 1” and iPhone as “phone 2” as that’s the order I had initially paired them in. 

Ever since I paired the iPhone 7 Plus though the headphones announce both phones as “phone 1”. I find that funny coz I imagine it must be confusing to the headphones to have two phones that are both “phone 1” and in my mind it’s as though the iPhone 7 Plus is trying to be a dominant partner and say “no, I too must be phone 1! period!” :)

Just an example of how we try and assign human attributes to gadgets and other things. I find it funny that I am attributing some “nature” to the phone. This is not the only one though. I find that the iPhone 7 Plus gets along better with the OnePlus 3T and Sennheisers. If I have music playing from the OnePlus 3T and I turn on the iPhone 6 it would “claim” the channel so to say by blocking out the OnePlus 3T. The latter would continue playing but nothing comes out of the Sennheisers any more. The iPhone 7 Plus on the other hand is better. It too takes over but 1) pauses the OnePlus 3T and 2) if I am not playing any audio it gives control back to OnePlus 3T and resumes playing music. Again there’s some techie reason for this I am sure, but in my mind I attribute qualities like the iPhone 7 Plus gets along better or whatever. 

Anyhoo. That’s all! :)

Connect a Pebble to two devices

I wish I had known this earlier. Would have saved me some money and hassle. 

I have a Pebble Time (I love it! Sucks that they went out of business). I used to have it connected to my iPhone but found that it drains more battery. So I started using it with my Android and found that to be a better match. Especially since I use my Android for listening to music and there are Pebble apps like MusicBoss that make it so much easier to control music on the Android via Pebble. I still wanted something just to get notifications from iPhone and had played around with devices like the Microsoft Band and later even having a second Pebble just for the iPhone (so I had a Pebble on each hand :p). 

I got rid of all that (the Band broke, the Pebble’s outdated) so now I am back to one Pebble and two phones. Randomly Googling on whether I can hook up both to the same Pebble brought me to some Reddit posts that explained it’s possible. 

In my excitement I didn’t save the links but the idea is simple. First you pair the Pebble with your iPhone (if its already paired with Android, no problemo just turn off Bluetooth on the Android for a while). Go through the motions and you’ll see Pebble and iPhone are connected via Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE (Low Energy). Now pair the Pebble with Android (or turn on Android Bluetooth if previously turned off as above). Android will pair via Bluetooth. At the same time the iPhone will stay connected via Bluetooth LE. 

Turns out Pebble uses Bluetooth for data transfer and control (and optionally notifications) – which is what I want with Android anyways! – and Bluetooth LE if available for notifications – which is what I want from iPhone. So it’s a win-win situation. 

I tested by calling both devices and in either case the Pebble too buzzed. Nice!

Pir Jalani

Before I get busy with my day, I wanted to quickly give a shoutout to this video – Pir Jalani, from Coke Studio (Clinton Cerejo and Mangey ‘Manga’ Khan; music by Clinton Cerejo). It’s a fusion song – a traditional composition featuring lyrics in some Indian language I don’t know as well as Hindi. That’s what I have been on listening since day-before yesterday night when I first discovered it. I love the mix of the raw singing of Mangey Khan with the softer singing of Clinton Cerejo and the music – which is are sort of opposite to the raw singing and yet complements it and the two get along together very well. The song starts off in a very traditional way but quickly develops layers and becomes something else altogether! Loved it! (I especially loved the trombones and trumpets – totally didn’t expect that!)

Coke Studio has some good songs. Here’s a few off the top of my head (note: I have updated this list since my original posting):

  • Bismillah (Kailash Kher, Munawar Masoom; music by Salim-Sulaiman) – such an amazing pious song!
  • Piya Se Naina (Sona Mohapatra; music by Ram Sampath) – a peppy number.
  • Aigiri Nandini (Padma Shri Aruna Sairam, Sona Mohapatra; music by Ram Sampath) – two contrasting styles, singers, voices – what more to say!
  • Madari (Vishal Dadlani, Sonu Kakkar; music by Clinton Cerejo) – a powerful song; both Vishal Dadlani & Sonu Kakkar shine with their voice through this song.
  • Ambwa Taley (Javed Bashir, Humera Channa) – I don’t think I can even describe what I feel about this song; the singing is so strong and touching.
  • Aao Balma (Padmabhushan Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Murtuza Mustafa, Qadir Mustafa, Rabbani Mustafa, Hasan Mustafa, Faiz Mustafa; music by A.R. Rahman) – I discovered this early morning one day when I was woken up as I was on-call at work and couldn’t go to sleep after that; listening to this just blew my mind and I think I spent the whole day and the next few listening to this on loop.
  • Saathi Salaam (Sawan Khan Manganiyar, Clinton Cerejo; music by Clinton Cerejo) – another good song.
  • Naariyan (Shalmali Kholgade, Karthik, Amit Trivedi; music by Amit Trivedi) – an upbeat number, different to the rest; less Indian sounding. One thing about Amit Trivedi is that you can expect various sounds, different instruments, and he manages to mix them all together. Fun lyrics too, this one!
  • Rabba (Amit Trivedi, Tochi Raina, Jaggi; music by Amit Trivedi) – I wasn’t so hot about this song initially but it slowly catches on to you. 

One thing I noticed (an obvious observation, but I wanted to mention anyways) is how the headphones I use seems to enhance the music. My favorite way of listening to such music is via the Sennheiser HD 558. These are probably my favorite headphones – not practical to carry around or even use with others around – but they are super comfortable and open-backed (which is why I can’t use it with others around as it lets the music out and also lets in sound from outside; but this enhances the sound quality I think) and they just add “something” to the music. It’s like it lets the music/ the instruments “free” – gives them more space, so to say, a wider feeling … difficult to describe. It adds something to the whole experience. 

Apart from this I also listen to music via the Sennheiser PXC 550 which I previously mentioned, Bragi Dash, Bose SoundSport, and SoundMagic E10 & E10S (mostly E10S). The order in which I mentioned is the order in which I rank their music quality. It is not a huge difference, but I always notice a difference between these headphones. Each has its pros and cons which is why I use them, so I don’t judge their sound quality difference against them – but until a few years ago (which is when I started noticing this and began investing in good headphones) I wouldn’t have imagined headphones to make that much of a difference (and even now, like I said, it’s not a huge difference – it’s subtle, and may not matter to all, but it matters to me and makes a difference to me in the way I enjoy and appreciate the music). 

Enjoy the music! Such amazing talent.

Update: Some more (non Coke Studio songs):

  • Neeye (Yazin Nizar, Sharanya Srinivas; music by Phani Kalyan) – amazing music, and the male singer has such a wonderful voice!
  • Poori Qaaynaat (Raj Pandit, Vishal Dadlani; music by Salim-Sulaiman) – again, amazing music! The singing is of course great, I loved the Sitar too.

New Gadgets

I didn’t realize I had a Gadgets category on this blog. Funny I forgot about it, considering I had blogged just a few months back about my new Kindles. 

Anyhoo. Two more gadget updates in case anyone’s interested. 

I bought a new phone for myself. The OnePlus 3T. 128GB/ Gunmetal version. Lovely phone! 

And I bought a new pair of headphones. The noise-canceling Bluetooth sort of headphones. :) Got myself a Sennheiser PXC 550 – which sounds so formal and uncool, but it’s a good pair of headphones nevertheless. It would be in the same category as the Bose QC 35 or the Sony MDX-1000X. I haven’t used either of them but I went with the Sennheiser as it had way more features than either of those, and I was able to get it at the same price point (well, slightly cheaper actually) as the Sony MDX-1000X (which is what I was eyeing, until I came across the PSX 550). 

Cool features of the Sennheiser PXC500 in a nutshell:

  1. It comes with a wired cable with a mic, so even if you run out of battery you can use the headset with no compromises (most other Bluetooth headsets that come with a cable don’t include a mic).
  2. It has a great battery life (30 hours or something, I think; I dunno, I just charge it every weekend or so).
  3. I like the touch controls – lets me easily pause, rewind, forward via a touch on the right ear cup.
  4. The headphones have an inbuilt DSP for modes like speech (useful for podcasts & audio books), movies (useful for movies or listening to film scores), club (I never use this), or none.
  5. Using the companion Android & iOS app you can create custom equalizer settings (I don’t use this) and also enable a cool feature that automatically pauses the music when you take off the headphones (but I turned it off since I discovered that I use the headphones a lot when walking, and the sweat that accumulates seems to confuse these sensors and they randomly pause the music). 
  6. There’s no off/ on button. Simply take off headphones and fold them flat (which is what I always do) and it powers them off! So nice. Unfold and they power on. 
  7. It can connect to 2 devices at the same time. Sooo convenient! It can remember up to 8 (or is it 10) devices – but it only connects automatically to the last 2. 
  8. You can turn off the noise-cancelling or set a percentage for it (which you set via the app). So it doesn’t have to be full noise-cancelling always. Personally, I don’t find any difference between full and a percentage. Which makes me wonder if it’s doing a proper noise-cancelling or not, but I know it blocks out most noise so it’s doing something. One thing I learn about “noise cancelling” is that it doesn’t not entirely cancel noise as the ads might have you believe. You can still hear train announcements and a bit of the background noise – so it’s not totally silent! 
  9. When there’s no music playing you can double tap the right ear cup to turn on a mode that pulls in the surrounding noise via the mics into your ears. So you can hear even more clearly what’s on your surroundings – say you want to talk to someone and don’t want to take off the headphones (and because they are around the ear they still block out noise even if noise cancelling is off). This mode’s useful for that. 

That’s all I think! 

Kindles – Voyage & Oasis

Recently I decided to upgrade my Kindle. And went on a splurge and first bought the Voyage, and then the Oasis (on a 5 month installment scheme from Amazon). This was a huge upgrade for me – device I hitherto used for reading being the first gen Paperwhite. 

The first gen Paperwhite was my first and only Kindle up to this point. When the subsequent generations were released I never upgraded. Mainly coz my reading habits were off and on, and also because I used to supplement the Paperwhite with the Kindle apps on my iPad and Nexus tablet. Neither of them were as good as the Paperwhite but like I said my reading was off and on, and I used to read other stuff like PDFs and Instapaper and Longform, plus for a long time I was into comics. 

Fast forward to the present I slowly stopped reading all those other mediums too and pretty much stopped any reading. I think after a long time I read  “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullen mainly because I saw that excellent movie “Mr. Holmes” which is based on the book and was so in love with the movie and it’s background score. The book didn’t live up to either of them but I persisted and finished it nevertheless over a weekend. After this I think I read a few books on the Paperwhite – mostly non-fiction. 

A few months later I signed up on Audible to try it out, this with yet another Holmes book – that of the elder brother (a book called “Mycroft Holmes”). I didn’t enjoy this book much either but I bought the Kindle version to read side by side and also try out Whispersync. That was nice. The book wasn’t great but I enjoyed the ability to sync and read together etc. Anyways, I didn’t manage much on Audiblr either and was about to close it after the trial month but Amazon offered a 3 month extension at half the price and so I stuck on. Good that I did coz now I am hooked on to Audible. 

I guess it’s coz of Audible and a rekindling of my interest in reading/ prose, plus a nudge from Amazon in terms of a reduced price on the Voyage for Prime members that I bought the Voyage. This was a giant step forward from the aging first gen Paperwhite that I was hooked and started voraciously reading.  Then I wanted to try the Oasis too, and even though it is pricey and has many negative reviews regarding its screen (and I am not rich and don’t have cash to throw around) I decided to buy it. 

Both are delightful devices. My favorite features would be the single pane of glass (without the depression on the screen as with the Paperwhite) – not sure why that matters, but it feels good – plus the ability to turn pages via Pagepress or the physical buttons. I especially love the latter. Makes it so convenient reading single handedly. 

I like both devices. I think I prefer the Voyage slightly more coz it feels more polished; but the Oasis has a lot more “cute” or children’s book sort of feel to it. It’s a nice little device. Sort of short and squarish. And more handy reading in a dark room as the page turn is via physical buttons as opposed to pressing the bezel on the Voyage (which is a hit and miss in the dark). Plus I love the cover and I feel it a lot easier to hold in hand. That’s not fair to the Voyage though as my comparison doesn’t include the Voyage case (which I don’t have). 

Initially I thought my Oasis had lighting issues as I felt one side is a bit darker than the other. I still feel so but when reading in the dark it doesn’t feel so, so maybe it’s just the external lighting. The Voyage consistently feels better in terms of lighting though. And maybe I am wrong but the text on the Voyage seems slightly more sharper – but that’s probably just me nitpicking. 

Anyhow. For anyone sitting on the fence these are excellent devices and a worthy upgrade over the Paperwhite (which is a good device too – what I mean is that you are getting some value for the extra cash you dole out for the Voyage or Oasis). 

Extract secret keys from Two-Factor Authentication (TFA) QR codes

Got me Pebble Time yesterday! Yay. Found a cool app for Two-Factor Authentication codes called QuickAuth (it’s open source too, amazing!). 

The app requires you to enter the secret keys for your Two-Factor Authentication sites. Unfortunately I never saved these when I set up TFA on my devices. I was smart enough to save the QR code for each site and this way I was always able to add new devices by just scanning the saved QR code, but now I had to enter the secret key and I was stuck. 

Enter another open source project Zebra Crossing (zxing). This is a library for processing QR codes and they have an Android app called Barcode Scanner. Get this app, scan the QR code, and you get an output that starts with otp://. That’s the secret key you want. Enter this into QuickAuth. 

If you don’t want to download the app there’s also an online interface to upload a QR code and decode. Nice!

p.s. In case it helps anyone – on the face of it there seems to be no easy way to delete a key/ site once you enter it into QuickAuth. Later I realized if I long press the select button on the pebble when it shows a code I get many options. One of these lets you delete the key/ site. 

RSA SecureID soft token: error reading sdtid file

So at work we are rolling out the newer BB OS 10.x devices. We use RSA keyfobs  and they have a software variant where-in you can load a software version of the keyfob in an app supplied by RSA. There are apps for iOS, Windows, Android, and BlackBerry OS so it’s a pretty good option. 

The way this works is that you create a file (ending with a .sdtid extension) which is the software keyfob (let’s call this a “soft token” from now on). You then import this into the app and it generates the changing codes. iOS, Windows, and Android have it easy in that there are RSA tools to convert this soft token to a QR code which you can simply scan and import this into the app. These OSes also don’t have the concept of separate spaces, so you the IT admin can easily email the soft token to your users and they can open & import it into the app. But BlackBerry users have a work  space and a personal space on their device, and corporate email is in the work space, so you can only import the token into the RSA app if it’s installed from the app store in the work space. 

Again, in practice that shouldn’t be an issue, but in our firm the RSA app isn’t appearing on the app store in the work space. The BES admins have published the app to the app store, yet it doesn’t appear. They are taking their sweet time troubleshooting, so I figured why not just install the app in the personal space and somehow get the soft token into that?

One option would be to create an email account in the personal space with the user’s private account and email the token to that. Too much effort! Another option would be to put it up on a website and access it via the personal space browser, then import. Yet another option would be to just plug in the device to the computer, copy the soft token to the micro SD card, and then import. The latter is what I decided to go with. 

Everything went well but when it came to importing some devices gave an error along the following lines: “error reading sdtid file”. Uninstalling re-installing the RSA app did the trick. I am not sure how that helped but my guess is when the app launches it asks for permissions to read your micro SD card etc, and am guessing when the user was presented with that he/ she ignored the prompt or denied the request. As a result the app couldn’t read the soft token from the micro SD card and threw the above error. That’s my guess at least.  In any case, uninstall re-install the app and that should do the trick! ;-) I found many forum posts with this question but none with a straight-forward answer so thought I should make a blog post in case it helps someone. 

Steps to root OnePlus One (Bacon)

Not a comprehensive post, just a note to myself on what I need to do every time the device is updated and loses root + recovery (though the latter can be avoided by disabling the option to update recovery during system upgrades in Developer Options).

  1. Get the Bacon Root Toolkit (BRT), cousin of the wonderful Nexus Root Toolkit.
  2. Enable ADB on the device (it’s under Developer Options).
  3. Connect device, confirm BRT has detected it as an ADB device.
    1. This doesn’t always happen. In such cases (a) try a different port, (b) try a different cable, and (c) check that the ADB device appears in Device Manager. If it does not, reinstall the Google drivers using BRT.
  4. Flash Custom Recovery (my choice is TWRP) from BRT. This is needed to root the device. Default Cyanogen Recovery can’t do this. This requires a couple of reboots. 
  5. Reboot into the Recovery and exit. I use TWRP, and when existing it checks whether the device is rooted and offers to root it. Go ahead and do that.
  6. SuperSU (and SuperSU Pro) are what one uses to manage root. (Apparently CM 12 allows one to do this using the in-built Privacy Guard but I couldn’t find any options for that. Another option is Superuser, but that doesn’t work on Android 5.0 yet I think). 
    1. CM 12 also apparently has an option to enable/ disable root under Developer Options but I couldn’t find that on my device (before or after rooting).

That’s it! One of the reasons I went with OnePlus One and Cyanogen is the hope that the device will stay rooted after updates, but that isn’t the case. I guess this is so the OS and stay compliant with Google. So each time I do a major update I need to repeat these steps. This doesn’t happen often so by the time I get around to doing this I have usually forgotten what I did last time around. Hopefully I can come back and refer to this post the next time!

New features in BlackBerry OS 10.3.1 (picture heavy)

BlackBerry OS 10.3.1 was released yesterday and I downloaded it to my Z3. It feels very weird but I am strangely excited by this release. Maybe it’s the changes, maybe it’s just me – I am excited by a lot of things nowadays (Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Lumia phone, Azure … to name a few). 

BlackBerry OS 10.3 was so far only available to the BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Classic. But with 10.3.1 other devices too can get it. For a list of new features check out this official page. Below are my notes on some of the features, along with some screenshots. 

IMG_20150221_115613The first thing to notice is the new look. The icons look flatter and prettier. No more of this “ugly” shadows and dull colors. Everything feels brighter and flatter (and squarer?). 

The next thing that stands out is the Amazon App Store. Yup, you now have the Amazon App Store installed by default on the BlackBerry so it’s easy to download Android apps from there for your device. Much easier than side-loading by getting the APK files from third-party sites, which was the only way to previously get Android apps on your BlackBerry OS 10 devices. IMG_20150221_115237-2

Another new thing that stands out is that you now have a home screen. Previously your home screen had all the app icons and/ or a list of open apps. If you closed all the open apps you were taken to the page with app icons (as above). Now if you close all your open apps, the page where that is usually displayed stays on – blank – so your selected wallpaper shows through. I don’t care much about that so turned it off from Settings. IMG_20150221_115237-3

 I don’t remember if BlackBerry OS 10.2 had this option or not, but the same Display Settings menu also lets us select the display color (warm, cool) and also the keyboard appearance (dark, light, automatic). 

Speaking of the home screen-cum-app switcher, that too seems different. For once, the preview seems different (though I IMG_20150221_115356can’t place a finger on how it’s different from OS 10.2); for another, the layout has changed a bit. Previously the app you closed last took the top-left position, pushing whatever app was previously there to the right. So the app you you had closed last was on the top-left position, the app you closed first was on the bottom-right position. But now apps are arranged in the order you closed them. So the top-left app is the first app you closed, next is the second app you closed, … all the way to the bottom-right which is the latest app you closed. 

 Another very nifty feature is Advanced Interaction, which you can find under the Settings menu. You get some cool features like wake the device by lifting it, keep it away while holding it, etc. Nice stuff! 

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 Yet another nifty new feature is the Action Bar. Check out the screenshots below. Depending on the context you get a bar of sorts at the bottom giving some of the actions that are commonly used in that context. You can customize it via the Settings menu too. 

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It’s little stuff, but very useful. Probably a side effect of this, but now the camera app has a button you can press to take photos! (Previously you had to tap anywhere on the screen, which was a bit confusing to me as I am used to clicking anywhere on the screen to usually focus a picture). The volume buttons too can be used to click a photo (I don’t recollect if that was the case with OS 10.2). 

There are some new modes too (panorama and such). Notice the three dots above in the bottom right corner? You can click that to get more options. 

IMG_20150221_120306A very very useful feature is the revised circle when typing text. Previously the circle had “handles” on either end which you could use to move it around and navigate through the text you are typing to make changes. Now there are left and right arrows that let you move in either direction character by character, giving you finer control. And the handle-bar at the bottom can still be used to move the circle around. It’s a small change but I found it infinitely more useful when typing. 

Moreover, the keyboard layout too has small changes in my opinion. I think the spacing has changed. Whereas previously I used to hate typing on the virtual keyboard, since I upgrade to OS 10.3.1 it has been a pleasure. I make way less mistakes now. 

The Settings menu has some more new settings. 

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Quick Settings lets you customize the quick settings menu you get when swiping up from the top on the main screen (home page & screen where the app icons are shown). You can select what you want to see, as well as rearrange the order. 

Data Management lets you view the data usage of the device as well as configure per account data settings (including what happens when you are on roaming). Again, useful stuff, especially for roaming users. 

Lastly, Battery Saving Mode has settings to save battery when it is falling low. I don’t know whether battery performance has improved since OS 10.3.1, but under OS 10.2 it was dismal on the Z3. Hopefully I can squeeze more out of the battery thanks to this. 

IMG_20150221_123758_editAlmost forgot, the email client has some useful new features. One of these is that whenever you view an email and come out, there are two new icons briefly displayed next to the message. These let you delete the email or file it away. 

I forgot to take a screenshot of it, but the email list view has a new icon on the top right corner that lets you get similar icons for all emails that are displayed. This way you can delete/ file away multiple emails easily (note this is not same as selecting multiple emails and doing a common action; instead, you can do individual actions but on multiple emails one by one). 

The telephone app too has a pretty redesign and is pleasant to the eyes. 

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The BlackBerry Assistant (which was present in OS 10.2 if I remember correctly) has significantly improved. Previously it could only be used to dial contacts, but not it has Siri-like features in that you can ask it to do things for you. 

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Another new feature is BlackBerry Blend – which I didn’t try out. Apparently you install a client softwIMG_20150221_115749are on your PC IMG_20150221_115744and that lets you easily “blend” your BlackBerry and PC. You can transfer data easily (wirelessly I believe) and messages and notifications are synced over. Must try that sometime … (I am not a fan of installing too many software on my PC, especially from BlackBerry regarding which I have a mind block, that’s why I haven’t tried this yet). 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, there’s a new feature called Meeting Mode which is sort of hidden away in that you can’t get to it via the usual Settings menu. Instead, it is hidden under the settings menu of the Calendar app. What it does is that once enabled it automatically figures when you are in a meeting and adjusts notifications and alerts such that you are not disturbed (again, you can choose what happens). Very useful! 

To access this, launch the Calendar, swipe down from the top of the screen, and then you can see Meeting Mode. 

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And that’s more or less it. 

Overall this seems like a great release and I am quite excited by it. Previously I didn’t used to bother with my BlackBerry much, but ever since I updated today I have been exploring the new features and more importantly enjoying using the device. It feels lighter (coz of the design I guess), brighter (the colors), easier to type and move around (the keyboard layout, improved circle, the new Action Bar), and smart (all the new little features). 

Apparently keyboard shortcuts are back too! So now you can be in the email view and press “t” to go to the top of the list, “b” to go to the bottom, etc. Like you could in the good ol’ days of Blackberries. This feature was removed in the newer OS but is now back. I don’t have a physical keyboard on the Z3 so it isn’t of use to me, but I am pleased keyboard shortcuts are back! 

That’s all for now. Good stuff, BlackBerry! Keep it up.