Category: Reviews

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My Personal Tech Kit 2019

I start the new year in a very different space, and with turnabout attitude, than 2018. About six months ago, I surrendered my digital lifestyle to Google, abandoning Apple as primary platform provider. Trust brought me to the Apple way. Distrust drove me away. Choosing between priorities privacy and security, in an increasingly dangerous Internet, the latter matters more. The Alphabet subsidiary truly has its ABCs ordered in ways that the bitten-fruit company doesn’t. I can trust that Google, being native to cloud computing and depending on it (mainly by way of search-related advertising), will secure my content and devices better than Apple, which is at best a cloud computing resident alien and more typically behaves like an immigrant who doesn’t speak the language well nor understands local culture.

Sure, I surrender some privacy but that would happen anyway, because privacy is a fiction. If you use the Internet or connected mobile device, you have none. Google is motivated to protect me (and you) because we are the product that generates ad revenue. Between marketers and hackers, it’s easy choice which I’d prefer to have my personal information. Granted anyone can debate which is, hehe, more criminal. But marketers aren’t likely to clean out my bank account or steal my identity. Or yours.

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Montblanc Summit 2

The complications of aging suck. On Nov. 2, 2018, my new Google Pixel 3 XL slipped from my fingers as I pulled it from my shorts pocket and fell face down on the sidewalk. The screen shattered in a splay of ugly cracks, and for the first time in 21 years as a cellular device user, I dropped and damaged a phone. That day, because of unexpected, but necessary, number of family texts and busy work-related emails, I pulled out the Pixel 3 XL untypically often. While the unusual activity played its role, I also am more dropsy than in the past. Realization and concern, woven with fear about ruining another phone, brought me to make a difficult lifestyle concession: Wear a smartwatch.

In mid July 2018, related to my switch from Apple to Google platform products, I returned to using an analog watch—the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 7 Twin-Time, inspired by the one serving as important metaphor during Syfy series 12 Monkeys. I happily wore the handsome mechanical and couldn’t imagine swapping for digital wristwear. Refusing return to Apple Watch, even with recent release of Series 4 models, I looked to a Wear OS timepiece. Only one appealed: Montblanc Summit 2, for traditional styling; more typical watch size; overall quality of construction and materials; and early adoption of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. 

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Grado GW100 Review

When I first opened the box containing the Grado Labs GW100 headphones, one word came to mind: “Cheap”. The cans didn’t look or feel like the classy Grado RS1i and RS1e, which I once owned, or the GS1000e that are still beloved and possessed. But after connecting to Google Pixel 2 XL (and later the 3 XL), via Bluetooth, I exclaimed: “Priceless”. The first offering in the company’s “Wireless Series” rises to an audiophile class unmatched by most competing cans; I prefer the GW100 to the GS1000e, which cost four times more to buy. Four words best describe the experience listening to music of any genre: Natural. ImmersiveBalanced. Authentic.

The GW100 are unique among wireless headphones by design: They are open-back like Grado’s wired models, but they are unlike all other major manufacturers’ wireless cans, which typically cover the ears and/or impose oppressively confining noise cancellation. I understand that commuters on noisy trains or travelers on rumbling airplanes might want NC, but the feature creates a cone of silence that is very unnatural. By comparison, the GW100’s open-air design allows music to expand, while—I must concede—letting in background noise going on about you. 

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Quick Update: My Apple to Google Switch

Doubt disturbed my commitment to give up the Apple Way for the Google lifestyle two months ago (yesterday). Preparing to pack up my wife’s 64GB white iPhone X, I was taken aback by how pretty it was. She kept the thing in a case, which protected from damage but also obscured beauty. For fleeting seconds, I wondered why switch. Product design that generates joy is another benefit—and one transcending any, and every, feature.

But the moment passed, and I boxed up Anne’s smartphone along with my 256GB black iPhone X. Google gave great trade-in values, which dispatched the hassle of reselling the devices on Craigslist. Eight weeks later, writing this post on Pixelbook i7, I don’t regret the decision. Confession: The transition isn’t quite complete, but we’re getting there. 

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Leica Q is an Experience

I am, on a good day, an adequate amateur photographer. My technique isn’t professional, nor do I have an artisan’s astute eye for composition. I am okay in every measurable, meaningful way. But what I lack in skill, I compensate with enthusiasm.

Photography is fun for me—and I am an original digital shooter, going back 20 years. Anyone remember the crappy Sony Mavica that saved photos to floppy disks? I owned one, in the late 1990s. My first camera of consequence was the Canon PowerShot S20, the first commercially available digital compact to top 3 megapixels; I used it to document Steve Jobs introducing Apple Store, in May 2001.

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Google Pixel XL First Impressions

Next week, iPhone is 10 years old; sales started on June 29, 2007. Please see my post about that day—”The iPhone Moment“—and another on the tenth anniversary of the device’s unveiling, “The iPhone Metaphor“, from January of this year. Strangely, I celebrate by abandonment. Twelve days ago, my family switched to Verizon from T-Mobile, and in process I gave up iPhone 7 Plus.

Appropriately perhaps, as I write this sentence, Talk Talk’s “Living in Another World” streams from Tidal. Yeah, that’s me, with respect to iPhone 7 Minus—what I started calling the thing after learning that Apple makes two models, one of which in part is incompatible with Verizon and other CDMA carriers. You want model A1661 and not A1784. Rather than get another Minus, I chose to try something else: Google Pixel XL, which overall user experience is as good and in many respects so much superior. 

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Moto Z Force Droid Review

If you asked why the Moto Z Force Droid Edition appeals to me, I couldn’t identify one thing, which arguably is odd considering this is a review. Benefits and features feel finely balanced, which is a hallmark of good product design. Oh, and that satisfaction is for the pure smartphone experience, which is premium by nearly every measure that matters; I didn’t test Moto Mods that expand capabilities.

Lenovo/Motorola and Verizon released the smartphone in July 2016, so this exploration is belated—and then some. Apologies, the delay was necessary. In mid-December 2016, Verizon sent a holiday review package unexpectedly. At the time, my father-in-law’s health rapidly declined—and he passed away about 30 days later. In the months following, as we settled his estate and finalized other matters, I occasionally recharged the battery and picked up the Droid but had no real time to test it. Still, something about how well the Moto Z Force feels and fits in the hand compelled me to handle it. Often. To caress the ridged bezel. To read blog posts and news stories on the beautiful display. 

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Fujifilm X100F Review

During the camera film era, Fujifilm battled kingpin Kodak with brighter, more vibrant colors that either photographers loved or hated—perhaps both. That was last century. In the 21st, Kodak is a shadow cast against aged Kodachrome, while its rival has successfully transitioned from print to digital—and with amazing bravado. Fuji’s transformation started six years ago with the cleverly-engineered, retro-designed X100, which I reviewed in May 2011.

The compact digital camera’s success led Fuji to develop a series of additional bodies and lenses; all are designed with professional shooters in mind. The X series family features compact, mirrorless designs that incorporate digital SLR-size sensors and manual controls—meaning dials and buttons to directly manipulate settings rather than rely on software menus. The X100 line—from the original to the S, T, and now F—remains the most distinctive for how well features and benefits balance set against truly innovative design concepts. 

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Grado GS1000e

After Grado Labs shipped to me the GS1000e headphones, but before they arrived, I realized my mistake. Big sound comes in matching size. So used to the Brooklyn-based company’s signature on-ear designs, I somehow overlooked that the pricey Statement Series audiophile cans are over-ear and overly large. It’s all about the earcups and pads. The RS1e, which I previously owned and sold, measure 17 x 8 x 19 cm (6.69 x 3.15 x 7.48 inches). The GS1000e: 23.11 x 8.89 x 23.88 cm (9.1 x 3.5 x 9.4 inches). As I feared, the Grados look enormous on my head, unbecoming. But, Hell, I accept the indignity of a big slab of iPhone against my face—why fuss?

Size isn’t the only difference from other Grados. I don’t hear the classic audio signature, but something else. Something better. Out of the box, with no burn-in, sound is smooth, expansive, and detailed. Well-rounded. Finely balanced. The open-air, over-ear styling truly is circumaural, spreading soundstage in placement you can close your eyes and see. Feel. There is an audio authenticity unlike any other headphones ever to touch (or cover) my ears—and that’s with less than 10 hours use. Cans like these improve with age; burn-in is everything.

BTW, I used the Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF35mmF2 R WR lens to shoot the Featured Image, which I considerably edited to remove some of the yellowish tint from the Jan. 25, 2017 evening capture (8:26 p.m. PST). Vitals: f/4, ISO 5000, 1/60 sec, 35mm.

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Master & Dynamic MW50 Review

Headphone manufacturers must make deliberate audio signature decisions when crafting cans. Some shops, like GradoLabs, adopt a house sound. Relative newcomer Master & Dynamic‘s design ethic seeks to equally please eyes and ears. As such, its flagship wired headphones (MH40) and wireless (MW60) share similar industrial design. Aluminum, lambskin, leather, and stainless steel combine in rugged style that evokes aviators of a bygone era. The newer MW50 Bluetooth headphones strongly resemble the other two, but they’re tuned for younger listeners on the move.

M&D’s earlier cans are over-ear—meaning they cover the lobes, while the MW50 rest on them. The headphones are smaller and lighter than either the MH40 or MW60, but with most of the overall benefits of the latter, including excellent wireless reception. On-ear headphones can be uncomfortable to wear and leak in too much ambient noise. The MW50 push past both typical limitations, which, honestly, surprises me. I personally don’t find the design to be as attractive as the over-the-ear cans. It’s about the earcups, which function matters more, however. The lambskin-covered ear pads are immensely comfortable, and the MW50 arguably are better all-around-wear than their siblings. I would take them outdoors on a walk, for example.  

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Master & Dynamic MW60 Review

For Christmas 2015, I bought myself a new pair of Bluetooth headphones. After trying several sets, I settled on Master & Dynamic MW60, which were a fantastic choice then and are still my top recommendation nearly a year later. The wireless cans replaced my beloved Grado RS1e—no small feat.

Read no further and buy the M&D cans, if wireless listening is priority—and should be if using iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, which lack 3.5 mm jack. Authentic audio, spacious soundstage, and full fidelity (without over-punchy bass) make the MW60 the gold standard for Bluetooth cans.