Saturday, 22 August 2015

Xiaomi vs Honor

Xiaomi vs Honor

With my recent reviews of both the Xiaomi Piston 3’s and the Honor AM12’s, so close together in time, in origins, in positioning and in pricing, the two earphones scream out that they are competition for each other.  They both in many ways represent more than themselves, they represent their entire brand and to an extent the whole company they come from so how can we not look at them, direct and head to head.

First up the Piston’s from Xiaomi. The company that the media love to call the Chinese “Apple” I think because they make products that look good.  Apple in my opinion produce wildly over priced products with beyond massive amounts of advertising behind them.  Xiaomi on the other hand doesn’t seem to do any advertising, instead relying on chatter derived from its flash sales in its home land.  It also spits out products that are very keenly priced.  Xiaomi have stated that their first forays into Western markets will be not through their phone lines but instead through their accessories which means products like the Piston’s.

The Pistons therefore represent a projection the company is trying to foist on the west, creating some brand recognition.  These being the third iteration of what has so far been a highly promising line in the world of audio.  They are not the finest quality in the world but they are so keenly priced their value is off the scale.

Then we look over at Honor.  It’s a brand I find curious because its parent company and brand, Huawei, also operate in the UK.  I see Honor as being their Western-friendly, trendier, little bit hipster brand.  They want the same associations between offering a decent product at a stunning cost which is the hallmark of both Chinese companies.  They may not quite yet be playing with the absolute best in the world but they are absurdly cost effective.
Whilst it’s obvious that the companies themselves align in their mission statements to some extent, how do their products compare?

Well both are good, rather differently flavoured.  The Piston’s being the heavier, more weighty sound and the AM12’s being more evenly balanced.  Both offer levels of skill and finesse that are pleasing, they aren’t amazing but they are both capably good.  The Pistons do edge out as the better of the two but as they are the third attempt from Xiaomi it’s not too surprising.  While the Pistons are the ostensibly “better” of the two the Honor AM12’s have the more evenly balanced and what I’d call more mature flavour to their sound.  Both are nice but a quick demo by a more “mainstream audio” friend instantly took a liking to the bigger, air shifting bass found on the Piston’s.  Personally I think I’d probably take the Honor’s more mature sound but I suspect most would opt for the Pistons.

Sorry Xiaomi but Honor has you whipped here.  It’s not that the Pistons are in any way ugly, they are just uninspiring.  Then you look at the AM12’s, come on, they look stunning don’t they?  I’m a total sucker for silvery, translucent cables and bare metal buds.  They look just beautiful.  As pretty as the most pretty earphones found anywhere and at any price.

Build Quality:  Again there is nothing wrong in any way with the Pistons but……. the Honor’s just look epic.  Rightly or not bare metal in my head sets of a bell that rings “quality.”  Time is the only real way to test so I can’t say which of the two is better after a longer period of use.  That combined Y-splitter on the Honor might one day cause an issue, who knows.  Honestly though, both seem really great quality wise.

Both are somewhat so so when it comes to isolation.  There are acoustic benefits to venting dynamic drivers but at the cost of a loss of isolation.  However for those coming from buds, or those things from Apple it will be a revelation how much they block out.  Neither is particularly better than the other so this is pretty much a tie.

I honestly don’t know how to compare them for value.  Both are so cheap yet really impressively good sounding for their prices.  The best prices I’ve found puts just a fiver between them. This means in essence the Piston’s are twice the price of the Honor’s AM12’s.  They are not twice as good, they simply aren’t but the difference of a fiver perhaps help to grey that particular deciding factor. Both really deserve to be thought of good value in equal measures, equal in the sense of they are both tremendous.

Well, I don’t know.  That I think is all that can be concluded is that whatever the two companies decide to focus their efforts on next, there is only one winner; Consumers. To be putting out products that are as good as these two and as disturbingly cheap, can only mean good things for you and I.  What’s more is the potential that lies in their product pipeline.  Rightly or wrongly I think of both companies as being “phone” companies but I have never had more than a brief play with an Honor phone and I’ve only briefly glimpsed a Xiaomi one.  So are their earphones simply supplementary products aimed to getting you to think of their phones as a great value accompaniment? The alternative is that it’s not a loss leader at all. That it is just representative of the new price / quality ratio that is coming out of this new breed of Chinese super company.

I reiterate, I just don’t know.  The thing is I’m not sure I care. Either way it seems to me like a win win for the consumer. So long may it continue.

Friday, 21 August 2015

No.1 Sun S2 Smart Watch Review

No.1 Sun S2 Smart Watch Review

Thanks to GearBest for the sample

First Impressions:  Having already had a “first look” at the device, that being a read up online all about the thing, I had a fair idea of what was coming.  The box seems alright, nothing too fancy.  Inside there we have the watch.  It looks nice in the flesh.  Though I’m still not sure I love the triangular pattern round the edge, feels like it’s there just to make it look more watch like.  Mind you given how often I smack the face of my other watches off of things maybe it’s there and so raised to act as a defensive measure?

Picking it up I rather like it.  I like metal bands and while I’ve seen reviews say its strap feels so light and cheap I can’t say I agree.  Maybe normal watch straps are made of lead but to me it feels nicely weighted.  Very flexible too, I like very much.  I have never loved tightly fitting watches, I like them a little loose on the wrist and with this I can.  Don’t think the heart rate thing will like that but how often will I use that?

Specifications:  Built-in chip type: MT6260, Bluetooth version: Bluetooth 3.0, Waterproof Rating: IP67, Health tracker: Pedometer, Heart rate monitor, Alert type: Ring, Vibration, Screen: LED, Screen resolution: 240 x 240 px, Screen size: 1.33 inch, Camera pixel: 0.3MP, Battery capacity: 350mAh, Standby time: About 90 hours, Product weight: 0.120 kg

Actually there are tons of more details in the full spec list but I’ve skimmed to the bits that I think matter.  Some spec too are variable, like the band material.  My one is metal, silvery metal but you can get black too or leather of varying colours.  The bands are actually standard watch straps so you can change it for anything you want.  You hear that Motorola, Sony!!!!  Standard bloody watch straps!  So if you don’t like the strap or just feel like a change you can use anything you like and you shouldn’t have any trouble doing so.

Screen:  The screen is pretty nice.  It does do the Moto 360 “flat tyre” thing.  You know where the bottom of the round screen has a black flat cut off at the bottom.  For the most part this doesn’t really bother me as I’m used to it but….. when you use a round dial its really noticeable that 6 is missing and the faces all seem to pretend that the bottom is there.  I don’t know why, the 360 does this too, just acts like it’s there when it’s not.  Otherwise though the screen is pretty damn good.  I was expecting poo viewing angles give the low cost but it’s actually really wide.  It’s not perfect but its works great all the way to angles you would never encounter in the real world.  It can get rather bright too.  I’m really impressed for the price.

UI:  This if anywhere is where things drop.  The UI is not Android Wear.  The UI is a proprietary thing I think made by Mediatek.  While China has absolutely got hardware nailed I cannot say the same in regards to software.  It all works, functionally but it can be odd.  Like there is just 3 fascia’s for the watch.  The white backed one I don’t like as the flat tyre is so noticeable.  The two black ones, one having silvery typeface and the other goldish.  Now it so happens I really quite like the silvery one so I was happy to use it but I could find no way to add any more options.  Then when you go past that first face you are greeted with a digital, in yellow with a call button and a message button below it.  You cannot change this screen and it’s different from the one in the photos, the one it the photos doesn’t seem to exist anywhere which I found really odd.  The UI on the whole is quirky, once you start delving into menu’s you often feel a bit lost.  Now you’ll hardly ever do it but you know.  The rest of the functions, there are all fairly easily accessed.  Somethings on there though, I don’t get.  Like what use is the video playback app or the video recording when the storage space is so super tiny?  Like I said, quirky but for the most part it’s pretty simple.

Features:  The Sun 2 has a couple of really unusual bits.  Now you see how the face looks like a watch and it has the little dial on the side where you would either wind it up or set the time?  Well obviously you do neither with it, so you may wonder what it’s for, just decorative?  Hell no, that thing is a camera!!!  Yes you read that right, a camera.  Granted it’s a low quality, 0.3 mega pixel camera but the 10 year old in me thinks it’s kinda awesome.  Come on a real camera in your watch, that is some James Bond type gadgetry right there!!!  Oh and you know what else!?!?!?  The damn thing has a speaker and a microphone built in so it can initiate and receive calls, on the watch!!!  Now I get you may look weird taking a call on your watch but…… come on, that is so James Bond.  I can tell you if I was 10 and had this thing I would be ecstatic.  As a grown up, I love the idea but I think I might feel too self-conscious to use in public.

Weirdly you can also use the watch to playback music on from your phone.  I don’t know why you would chose to do this.  I hoped I could use the watch as a remote control for audio being streamed to a Bluetooth pair of headphones but the Sun 2 and the headphones (Blueudio T2S) refused to be both connected to the phone (Moto G) at the same time.

Where you can use the watch as a remote control though is for your phones camera.  It’s a little bit odd, there is no live transmission so you can’t see on the watch what your about to snap on the phone.  Still it’s kinda cool that you can.  I’m not quite sure what you’d do with it, maybe some more James Bond spying perhaps?

The other features that you may want to make use of are the health stuff.  Now things like the pedometer it seemed to act more like a stopwatch than being some background, always monitoring feature.  Same for the sleep monitor and sedentary reminder.  So I don’t know if it was me missing something but they just seemed realistically of minimal use.  The “Heart Rate” and ECG apps seem to be pretty much the same thing.  They don’t continually monitor but if you’re interested in your heart rate they will tell you.  I found it be really very accurate too.

Build Quality:  It feels rather solid.  Now it doesn’t exude luxury it doesn’t look or feel like a piece of jewellery.  It feels like a man’s watch.  Some plain stainless steel, polished on the face, brushed on the band.  It’s a pleasant, plain, functional object.  It appeals to my sense of the functionally aesthetic.  Well bar that triangular bevelling, I still have mixed feelings about that.  It feels like decoration for decorations sake.  The rest of the thing looks fairly chunky, functional, and manly.  You can barely see them unless you take the watch off but near the strap attachments and the underside you can see that its screwed together.  I like that.

Usability:  Well it depends what you want to do.  If you’re happy to pair it up, just let it notify you of calls and texts you’re golden.  It does this very ably.  If you want to start doing things on the watch, like initiate a call or god forbid send a text, not so much.  The round screen is a pain and to make things more awkward the big bevelled facia makes it hard to hit things near the edges.  It sadly is awkward to do much more than hit the answer button or to acknowledge the notification of something.  Stick to the basics, which is what I really want a watch for anyway, you cannot over estimate how handy a vibrating notification on your wrist is in my opinion.  In these days of giant phones, leaving your phone on your desk or pocket means you might miss the vibration but when it’s on your wrist, you notice. 

Battery:  The battery life I found to be quite variable.  I had the thing set to light up with a flick of a wrist.  It would seem that while sleeping some nights I did this a lot and others not so much.  Therefore sometimes the battery would last nearly 3 days others it would be dead in the morning when I went to use it.  You should really just get in the habit of charging it overnight anyway.  Like you do with your phone, it’s what I would have done normally if I wasn’t specifically reviewing to see how long it would last. 

What was more of an issue I found was the charging dock.  It is a little dock that magnetically clamps to the underside of the watch.  The thing is it didn’t always seem to quite get the contacts lined up.  More than once I put it to charge and sever hours later I discovered it hadn’t been.  That got really annoying, if it just had some light or something to let you instantly see if it’s charging or not would have solved this.  There is not, if you want to see you have at wake it up and see if the battery meter is animating. 

Connectivity:  I’ve seen people say they have had issues connecting different smart watches to their phones, so this category is here but I can’t say I did.  There is some issue with the variety of apps available.  Having the latest “Meditek SmartDevice” app it paired saw each other and worked just fine.  Its range seemed more sensitive than my android wear watches, if I left the phone and wandered to the other side of the flat it would start ringing and vibrating to let me the Bluetooth connection had been lost.  When I wandered back it reconnected automatically.  That is with multiple devices all over the place too.

Value:  Ahh value, there is no getting around the headline fact that as “smartwatches” go this is cheap, hell’a cheap.  Right now it’s for sale, with a little Xiaomi LED light thrown in, for US$63 or with the handy discount code GBSS2 its US$54.  At present exchange rates that’s just £35.  So £35, with the cool wee light and delivered to your door.  So that’s pushing one tenth of what an Apple watch would cost you.  While I found the Sun 2 more limited and a little quirky, if what you want, the most important aspect for a smart watch for me, the notifications right there on your wrist.  You feel it vibrate where you rarely feel your phone in your pocket and you can glance to see if it’s worth bothering to dig your phone out.  With phones getting stupid big this matters ever more. Tbh even if you just use it for a watch, it’s still kinda bargain priced.

Conclusion:  So I have 6 different “wearables” in arms reach right now.  Yes I have issues, I know.  You know you can never really judge an item on its own without having some other thing to compare it to.  You know, your mothers Victora Sponge is cake and all cake is nice,  then you have a big slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte that’s had a generous drizzling of Kirsch.  One is good, one is to die for.  The Sun 2 then, it falls into the first category.  It isn’t a device that will wow you, change the way you look at existence, have you pondering in awe of the miracle that is human creativity.  The Sun 2 is a good product, a solid product that has a clearly defined parameter of functionality.

The Sun 2 is about just a few things, telling you the time, looking like a proper watch and notifying you of people trying to reach you.  Both calls and text notifications come through perfectly.  Its functionality that my long vanished, ancient Sonyericsson MBW-100 that I so loved, provided.  The Sun 2 replicates those functions admirably and throws in some little extras.  Most of those extras are things you probably won’t use.  Like the camera, it’s a super cool novelty but not actually useful.  It’s just a cool little gadget.

Would I buy one, I dunno.  I’ve gotten used to my Android Wear watches that do lots more but then they cost a lot more too.  This therefor I see appealing to the young, seriously 10 year old me would have freekin’ loved this thing beyond belief.  The other group being those who want the notifications in a reasonably looking package.  To both those groups it suffices perfectly.  It also is a really cost effictive way to see if you can get used to wearing a watch but mostly I see it being for those who are forever not noticing calls and texts.  When something strapped to your wrist vibrates, you notice it.  It is that simple.  So do you think you fall in to those categories?  If so it’s a nice, functional, pleasant, watch looking way to get that without having to throw down considerably more money.

No.1 Sun S2 Smart Watch Quick Review

No.1 Sun S2 Smart Watch Quick Review

Thanks to GearBest for the sample

Brief:  Bargain Bond watch.

Price:  US$63 but with code GBSS2 US$54 ( so about £35)

Specification:  Built-in chip type: MT6260, Bluetooth version: Bluetooth 3.0,  Waterproof Rating: IP67, Health tracker: Pedometer, Heart rate monitor, Alert type: Ring, Vibration, Screen: LED, Screen resolution: 240 x 240 px, Screen size: 1.33 inch, Camera pixel: 0.3MP, Battery capacity: 350mAh, Standby time: About 90 hours, Product weight: 0.120 kg

Accessories:  It comes with its little dock/charger and a micro USB cable to link it to a USB socket.

Build Quality:  It feels very sturdy, chunky, and functional.  I’ve seen people say its band feels really light but I don’t think it is, not in the least.  It’s all rather weighty and solid.

Comfort/Fit:  Great.  I like metal banded watches and I like them to sit loose on my wrist.  If you like more snug you can remove links or just change bands.  Oh or you could pick it with the leather and not metal band.

Aesthetics:  I mostly like it.  It comes is several options so you chose what you like most I guess but that triangular bevelling still looks a bit flashy to me.  I kinda think I might have preferred the black metal one, that being less reflective.  It’s hard to say but it certainly gives you plenty of options.

UI:  Hmm quirky.  Works but I doubt you’ll use most of it.  What use is the image viewer or file manager?  Much of it seems rather superfluous to me.

Functionality:  Where the Sun 2 excels is acting as a notifier for calls and texts, I regularly don’t notice my phone as I always keep it on vibrate.  Vibrating in my pocket isn’t something I always notice but you do when something strapped to your wrist vibrates and lights up.  That is handy beyond words in my opinion.  Also I have to mention the camera, super cool but not so functionally useful.  I did though have an issue with the limited number of fascia’s available, just 3.  That was bluntly disappointing and I couldn’t find any way to add more.  Lastly you can use the watch to make calls, it’s got a mic and speaker built in, super cool but I’d feel super silly using it in public.

Battery:  Variable.  Screen on time hammers the battery so clearly in my sleep I would set it off and that slashed the battery life.  Though if you take it off at night you’ll easily get a few days out of it.

Connectivity:  Great.  Would drop if I left the room with the phone but that’s what its supposed to do.  Never had it give any problems.

Value:  It is a bargain priced device.  Sure it’s not got the functionality of Android Wear watches or the Apple watch but it’s just a sliver of their price tags.  If all you really need is notifications then this will got the job done considerably more cheaply.

Pro’s:   Bargain price tag.  Chunky feel.  Standard watch band fittings.

Con’s:  UI is interesting. Limited fascia’s. Docking charger not always catching.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Google Nexus 5 Review

Google Nexus 5 Review

First Impressions:  Once more this is a cast the mind back somewhat as my initial unboxing was, err, quite some time ago.  The box opening was very much like that of the Nexus 4.  If the box here was black rather than the mostly white, it would be almost identical.  Though the box is white, the charger and charging / data cable are both thankfully, black.  Honestly why Apple can’t do a black cable or charger, Christ knows.  Anyway, the box is like all modern phone boxes, a pretty Spartan affair.

The phone itself too is like most phones, a black slab.  Though unlike its predecessor the 5 has a plastic back and feels much lighter.  Also despite it technically having a larger screen it feels much more hand friendly.  With a 16:9 display it’s narrower to hold and I prefer it.  The 4 always just felt so wide, too wide for my little thumb.  The 5 feels infinitely more thumb friendly.  Not that I’d have minded if it was a little bit smaller, maybe a 4.7 rather than a 5 inch display. 

Hardware:  The specs on launch were excellent.  In every way it was a flagship device, clear and simple.  If there was anything that it could have been said to be lacking, it would be the lack of an SD card slot.  Google like to say it’s because they don’t want to include the proprietary licence for FAT32 or exFAT but given they could use ext4 if they wanted I’m sure it’s to push you to using the “cloud” for everything.  Personally I still see no SD card slot as a massive downer but the trade-off is that you get everything else flagship but for a pretty bargain price.

Starting with the screen, it’s a 4.95 inch LCD with 1920 x 1080 pixels.  That’s a whopping 445PPI.  That means that this phone has the same number of pixels as your 40+ inch HD TV.  It’s a razor sharp display and it’s a clear step up on its predecessor.  I know I like AMOLED screens more but the one here is first class for an LCD.  The CPU is a Snapdragon 800, quad core running at 2.3GHz, the GPU an Adreno 330 and it has 2GB of RAM.  Storage can be either 16 or 32GB.  The only remaining curiosity is that it, like the 4, uses Slimport rather than the more widely supported MHL for getting an HDMI signal out of its micro USB socket.  In theory I care about this and want to be miffed but….. in actual use I really never use the feature other than to test and go “ooh that’s cool.” 

I almost forgot, it’s got Qi wireless charging too.  That, unlike the Slimport, is something I do care about.  Once you start using it you begin to wonder how you ever managed to get by with the trauma of having to plug in a cable.  Honestly, plugging in a cable seems like such a massive chore to me now.  Love Qi charging.

Audio Software:  If you have at all used an Android phone is you are in some way familiar with the primary musical source in my opinion.  That is of course Google’s Play Music.  A stupid sounding name it may be but it’s a good service.  You have the streaming option, where you can subscribe and stream whatever you want, much like Spotify.  The other option though, the one I like, is free.  Not just because it’s free but because it allows me to stream my own music to each and every device and I don’t have to manage it, or have it auto select what can fit on to the phones storage, eating all of the phones available space.  You have the ability to upload up to fifty thousand tracks to Google, for free, that you can then stream back as you wish.  The quality is pretty decent too, 320kbit mp3’s so for coming out of your phone it’s good enough.

If you fancy another option you have pretty much every other streaming service in the world available on Android.  If none of those tickle your fancy you also have the option of more local players than you can shake a stick at.  They cover every imaginable music file format too though if I was you I’d look to streaming.  If you want local storage then the fact is I’d skip a Nexus because at either 16 or 32GB if you start putting music on there, especially lossless music, it’ll be eaten in no time.  Not that I’m trying to tell you you can’t use local storage on a Nexus but personally I think if that’s what you’re going to do, get something with an SDcard slot instead.

Audio Hardware:  In side we apparently have a WCD9320 DAC, which is some Qualcomm thing.  The internet has some people saying it’s rather good and others saying it’s terrible.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone making a point of saying they have a Qualcomm DAC inside which I take to mean, no one thinks highly enough of them to want to crow about the fact. 

Lows:  Reasonable:  The DAC inside is comparatively clean and distinct so bass feels tonally clean.  Depth is a touch of an issue, it hasn’t the power to drive things down low so you do miss out a bit.  However otherwise, for mainstream bass, a blend of expansion and punch it’s a fairly credible balance of the two.  As phones go it’s not too bad at all, god I’m actually enjoying it.  Its bouncy and lively enough that I’m liking listening to it (IE7’s atm)  having come directly from the Iphone 5 the bass here feels so much more dynamically expressive.  There is tone and flavour, it has texture, it’s tangible. The scale is there that the 7 has to offer.  I’m pleased.  Sure if start to look outside phones then things get less rosy.  The N5 cannot really grip and punch with the vigour a really good DAP can.  It’s a phone so I’m willing to cut it a lot of slack,  just steer away from hard to drive things and you’ll be fine.

Mids:  A touch on the open side.  You get a fairly competent balance of open clarity and detail.  There is a layer of veil to vocals that I do find a bit frustrating.  The DAC inside seems to not be that bad, it feels like it’s the amp that’s powering the hp out, it feels like it cannot cope.  There just isn’t the oomph to give you the clarity it should.  Its vocal dynamics suffer and you get a slightly washed out rendition.  Yeah it’s a phone so I don’t expect magic but I get the impression if the amp was less rubbish that the DAC would have more to show.  It’s frustrating.  Still, a bit on the dry tends to give the impression of greater clarity.  Assuming that the typical pairing of a phone will be to something very warm and very heavy it’s not an unreasonable way to go.  Just try to stay away from light, bright or hard to drive things and you’ll be fine.  You won’t get blown away, but you won’t hate it either.

Highs:  Have a guess.  Yep, that amp it just can’t power things out like I want it to.  I get the idea it’s capable of better clarity but the amp causes them to go only so far then it trails off.  When it does try to go all dazzling it is a bit on the hard side.  Those edge impacts can be hard on the ear.  Again assuming it’s going to paired to bassy fart cannons you’ll want that edge to stand out but…. Well you go with bright and easy to drive, not so much.  It’s not terrible, it’s not great it’s just a bit, well, you know.  To me it’s pretty fair for a phone so I don’t feel it’s right bash it but I can’t exactly shower praise on it either. 

Soundstage/Instrument Separation:  Soundstage on the whole isn’t bad.  Things have a fair amount of scale, helps if you crank the volume a bit mind.  Instrument separation is similar.  Its pretty reasonable.  You can tell its not got the power to make things their best but it’s a has a go anyway.

Battery Life:  With Android so much of the battery life is dependent on how much you have running in the background all the time.  Ios and WP heavily restrict this to conserve battery but Android will let you do whatever the hell you want.  That means if you pile it up with lots of data sucking apps, that data sucking will suck the life out of your battery too.  The N5 battery isn’t the biggest to begin with so in short, the battery life is pretty rubbish.  If you’re actually using it then you are going to want to try giving it a top up change whenever you get the chance to.

Build Quality:  I like it.  Yes it’s plastic so it’s fairly light but its snuggly put together and feels like a perfectly reasonably, solid, upper end device.

UI:  Woo hoo!  It’s android so you can pretty much change the UI to whatever you want.  There are launchers to suit every imaginable taste and theme packs, custom icons, you think of it, it can be changed and tweaked to suit you.  You can create a completely unique design and set up.  Granted that you have an infinite number of options isn’t to everyone’s tastes, some just want to be handed a layout / style and be told to get on with it.  I like to make things just so, for me.  So I slap on Nova launcher and I do so.  With my favourite live wallpaper running in the background, my phone look is pretty much unique to me. 

In The Hand:  Mostly I like the device.  I do find that the flat and flush edges disappoint me though.  I got used to the glass gently curving away on the N4 but the back, well the back feels great.  The back is soft touch plastic with a gentle curve to it so fits my hands very well.  Additionally that the screen is relatively narrow compared with the N4, it makes it that bit easier for my thumb to reach across it too.  It’s nice.

Format Support:  You name it, the will be an app that can play it.  I tend to stick to the standard Play Music app to stream rather than eat up precious on board storage, but if you want to use ogg or FLAC then you can.

Volume:  It’s pretty good.  I mean yes you’re probably going to be using it in the upper ranges of its output but aside from the quietest of tracks and the hardest to drive headphones it was fine.  Though it has a bit of a rep for being quiet when it launched but seems they have bumped its output now.

Accessories:  Well you only get a charger and a USB cable in the box (plus sim tray ejector.) for some reason the official accessories for Nexus devices are insanely expensive.  Like the official Qi charger was £60!!!!!! Just what kind of crack are you people smoking????  Otherwise since it a media known device you can hit up eBay for all sorts of compatible and much cheaper bits.  However there isn’t the same level of device compatibility as you get with Apple’s devices.

Speaker:  It is, well its okay.  At launch it was widely claimed to be much too quiet but a software tweak bumped that up.  It’s adequate for the odd speaker phone call and such.  You could get away with watching on-board video with MX players speaker over drive ability but Netflix, err it’s really too quiet to use.

Camera:  It’s an 8MP camera but true to form, all Nexus past cameras have been poo and so is the Nexus 5 one.  I still think that device makers do it deliberately to differentiate their own flagships from the Nexus but hey.  For me it’s good enough for anything I’m likely to be taking an unplanned snap of so I’m fine with it.  Photo buffs though I’d suspect won’t be so okay with it.  The front is a 1.3MP and its fine really.  It can’t compete with the new wave of “selfie” cameras but for skype it’s perfectly good.

The Good:  The main “good” things about this device are twofold.  First of all, it was dirt cheap when it launched.  Naff camera and smallish battery aside it was top of the range, flagship hardware for mid-range money.  The second boon is that it’s a Nexus.  That means you get software from Google directly so when new versions of Android ship, you get them sharpish.  You also get the side benefit of its being highly supported so new apps will work with it and new ROM’s are going to favour the easily unlockable Nexus.  They get lots of developer attention as the anointed dev device from Google.  Maybe updates and support don’t matter to you but to those they do, you just cannot beat a Nexus.

The Bad:  The camera is meh and the battery is a bit small.  It also doesn’t have a micro SD card slot which is an annoyance.  Otherwise, well there isn’t much “bad” about the handset.  For the money it’s a really decent offering.

Value:  Excellent.  Flagship hardware for midrange money. Sure it’s not a perfect device but costing half the price of its equivalent alternatives earns it a boat load of leeway and grace on those matters.

Conclusion:  The Nexus 5 is, on the whole, an excellent device.  The hardware is mostly great just for substantially less money than anything else near its spec.  It’s that simple.  If it was twice its price then I could be more critical.  I mean its camera is meh, I don’t like its sealed and not very big battery, not to mention the no SD card slot.  But……. it is just so cheap that how can you not cut it a massive amount of slack?

In audio terms, well it’s no audiophile DAP but you know, it’s okay.  I wouldn’t want to use it every day but in a pinch it is listenable.  I wouldn’t be super happy about it but it wouldn’t kill my soul like having to use the Nexus 4 would.  Plus if you really, really want to use it as your DAP you can always hook up an external DAC/amp.  Why you wouldn’t just then use a proper DAP I don’t know but hey, the option is there.

All in all, I really like the Nexus 5.  Its hardware is mostly excellent, its audio abilities are passible but mostly what really does it for the device is that it was half the price of its competition.  You be that much cheaper than the alternatives and it gives you a humongous advantage in terms of value and willingness for me to be kind to it in the areas where it does fall down a bit.  The fact it’s such a bargain how can you not like it.

Google Nexus 5 Quick Review

Google Nexus 5 Quick Review

Brief:  Erm, it’s a Nexus with a 5 inch screen.

Price:  £299 for 16GB or £339 for 32GB

Specification:  See here

Accessories:  Erm a charger and cable.  You can always find plenty of cases on eBay, be warned all official accessories are insanely expensive.

Build Quality:  Rather nice I think.  The thing is sealed so that help with rigidity I guess.  It all looks very neat and tidy.  The buttons feel nice and sold.  Can’t really fault it for anything.

Aesthetics:   Erm it’s a black rectangle.  It’s not ugly but neither is it particularly pretty.  It’s a fairly bland, non-descript affair.

As a Phone:  It’s pushing the limits of what my fingers can comfortably deal with but I’ve gotten used to it.  Calls and stuff all worked fine.  It was pretty much always snappy to use.  There is the odd crash but, I am using a non-stock ROM so I’m good with that.  It’s really user friendly and tweakable.

Sound:  For a phone I think it’s pretty good.  It’s not like I would want to have to use it every day, or pretty much any day for my audio needs but if it was all I had I could survive.  As phones go it’s pretty reasonable.  The bass is a nice balance between soft expansion and punch.  Its depth and rigidity aren’t all that but it’s a phone.  Pairing it up with something warm, bassy, mainstream styled it’s a good pairing.  Mids too, they are a bit dry, open which would once more suit thick and heavy mainstream stuff.  They are a trying to take vocals in a dry direction so it does help them to come out a bit from a thick and creamy IEM.  Highs are much the same story.  The amp can’t push their extension but their overall slightly dry, open sound lends to a sense of clarity and detail.  Its edges can be a bit brittle but once more, what it’s likely to encounter they complement each other well.  For a phone it’s reasonable, these and the IE8’s make for a pretty good combo and if I didn’t know what the 8’s could do when driven better I’d be really pleased with them.  However I do know and I can’t pretend I don’t.  So yes it’s good for a phone, for a phone.  I’ll still take my HM-650 thanks.

However I find myself feeling the DAC isn’t the limiting factor, if the hp amp was better these could really stretch their legs and shine.  It feels like a missed opportunity and that niggles me.

Value:  Great.  It was top tier spec for midrange money.  It sold great and it deserved to.  A bit so so for a DAP but overall great for the money.

Pro’s:  Cheap.  Reasonable sound quality.  Nexus so well supported.

Con’s:  HP amp isn’t just quite there.  No SD card slot.  Meh battery life.

Apple Iphone 5 Review

Apple Iphone 5 Review

First Impressions:  Having acquired the phone second hand, from a friend, it’s not going to be as exactly as would be new.  However I don’t think that strictly matters.  The box is as we all know from Apple, they know how to make a nice box.  Inside the phone is there, a little black slab of glass.  Underneath are the charger and charging / data cable.  Though really Apple, black phone, the most high margin phone out there and you couldn’t stretch to making a black cable and black charger???? Really?!?!?!?  Guess how long it’ll take me to order a black cable on eBay?  I hate while cables.  Anyway, the phone itself is a nice object, a small object to be sure but a very dense, metal and glass one.  While one could say this makes it feel “premium” mostly I think I want to say it feels heavy.  Of course it’s so small its total mass isn’t massive but as I look and hold it, my impression is, heavy.

Anyway…… since I still use Itunes for the Ipods I have kicking around I have a copy of it not just installed but full of music and ready to go.  Hooking it up and its fairly simple to set up.  Not of course that I plan to fill it with music, it is after all only a 16GB model and lossless files would eat all of that in a heartbeat.  For using with a phone my traditional music source is my goggle music account.  I’m not sure how well it may or may not play nice with the Iphone.

Hardware:  Apple has a reputation for making “premium” products and I cannot say that in any way it does not feel like it’s a nicely made product.  It feels utterly ridged in the hand.  The screen of it too, while the numbers, both the size and the resolution, are …….. not what one would think of as being from a high end device.  Granted the device by now is old but even at the time, a 4 inch screen is just plain small.  Not that small is a bad thing, I personally find that 4.7 is my ideal screen size so I’m no lover of humungo phones.  The resolution, meh, its 640 x 1136.  The PPI is 326 so it’s reasonable.  That however doesn’t really capture that in the flesh the screen is very good looking.  It’s an LCD so more natural colour wise.  It is pleasant.  I still prefer the poppy colours of an AMOLED screen, it’s a phone screen, I’m not watching a film that demands accurate colour representation.  There simply is nothing I’m going to do with a 4 inch screen that demands tonal purity.

Inside we have a dual core 1.3GHz cpu and 1GB of RAM.  On paper it’s no speed demon.  Still in use iOS being set up to prioritise on screen action it always feels buttery smooth.  That you can’t run anything in the background certainly helps in that regard. Though visually iOS just feels old.  I know it’s limited in what you can do to it but WP 8.1 is just as locked down and it feels slick, modern, this feels so quant.  Camera wise the front is a basic 1.2MP and the one on the back is an 8MP.  Again on paper that sounds a bit meh but it’s vastly better than the junk that’s on the back of a Nexus 4.  It’s still better than the one on the Nexus 5 too.  Fact is Nexus cameras are always crap and Apple ones are normally pretty good.

The last hardware bit of note in the button on the front.  Yes it actually has a real button on the front, not a capacitive one but a real actual button.  It feels so quant and old fashioned.  Speaking of which, while I know the lightning connector is nice, you can use it either way round but no Qi charging???  It launched at the same time as the N4 which was what, a quarter of its price but this has no Qi?  I disprove greatly.

Audio Software:  Quite why the music app is called music and not Itunes, I know not.  Why Itunes store and App store are different I don’t know either.  I’d be lying if said I was impressed with the default state of affairs but people seem to be fine with it.  For me, I mostly went to the Google Play Music app as it’s conveniently got my music on it.  When comparing things it’s almost essential to use music you know.  However every streaming service has an app I’m sure, Tidal certainly did and I know Spotify does too.  You can even get apps that allegedly can play FLAC files too.  I however really cannot be arsed trying it.  Frankly if you are using an Iphone and you want on board music you are going to be using Itunes.  Since it, like Apple in general, are arsey about refusing to use the format that everyone else on earth uses (FLAC) for seemingly no other reason than just to be arsey.  So if you’re locked into the horror that is Itunes and you have FLAC files you want to play, convert them to ALAC and have done with.  Then the phone will play them just fine in the stock app.

Streaming wise though things are looking up.  You name it, it’s available and seeing as Apple charge eye watering amounts for increased on-board storage, streaming really looks like the sensible option. 

Audio Hardware:  I did have look to see if anyone had definitively declared what DAC was inside the thing. I couldn’t.  From previous incarnations it’s been some Cirrus Logic cheapo parts, but it does seem a bit on the warmer side that is usual for Cirrus Logic.  I found nothing screaming apple had moved back to Wolfson so I’m working on the assumption it’s a Cirrus Logic chip.  Still it’s not horrid. 

Lows:  Meh.  The biggest problem with the lows here is that the amp itself is so weedy.  Sure it’s also a fairly warm and soft sound, I have no problem with that at all but the bass even on fairly bassy things was just so bland.  Sticking in the IE8’s and it began to come more alive and vibrant but they are easy to drive, bass cannon roller coasters.  The bass is sizable but it should be ripping my face off, tearing from one side to another in a violent, rip roaring bass fest.  It’s just not.  It is good but that I’ve had to pair one of the most capable and dynamic IEM’s to get the bass to come alive disappoints me.  It’s just so meh and bland and flabby and meh.  Maybe this is why so Iphone users are inclined to bass cannons like the Beat’s things?  The DAP is so mediocre that they need ear/headphones that are so aggressively bassy to get things to stir?

Depth isn’t particularly good.  It’s probably a question of amp power but its rolls off so swiftly.  At least its graceful about it, doesn’t try to struggle on and just flab all over the place.

Mids:  The midrange on the whole is an improvement.  They have a nice amount of liquidity and still have a moderate amount of air and space to them.  The overall warmed tone of the Iphone is one that tends to suit vocals very well. Guitars and such, not so, much.  They want more clean and a greater sense of clarity but hey for vocals I’m good.  Even on hard to drive things like the RE-0 mids are very nice.  Smoothly controlled and never ever heading towards that sibilant zone.  They if anything are inclined to a lower midrange and gently, smoothly running upwards.  Detail levels, are pretty good too but they really aren’t pulling out all they could be.  I’m not really a massive detail junkie so for vocals I’d give them props for going for a more pleasant overall picture than trying to be to revealing and then falling flat on its face.

Highs:  Well, they aren’t horrible.  Like the bass there is a fair amount or roll off but that’s not the problem. It’s a blend of not being very refined, softened and then scratchy.  The upside of the amp being a bit weedy is that on brighter IEM’s like the RE-0 that it hasn’t the power to drive them well enough to show up where the treble is lacking.  On the easy to drive IE8 that’s not true.  It’s a good things it’s fairly rolled off as otherwise details that should be more abrasively apparent are encompassed in a vague wash of treble shimmer.  The fact is its not great and if the device was much cheaper or even just less marketed as an Ipod that can make call’s then I’d be much more willing to cut it some slack.  The fact that you must sync it with a programme called Itunes how can you not get the impression it’s supposed to be an audio player as much as it is a phone?  It’s just not.

Soundstage/Instrument Separation:  So so.  It’s a middling layout that errs towards the close in intimate.  Space, breathy abundant air and openness this has not.  Not that its unpleasant, in soft jazz and the like it’s very pleasantly cosy.

Battery Life:  The dramatic upside to Ios not allowing things to run in the background is that the battery life is excellent.  The battery is sealed so you can’t swap in a spare and to make things worse, Apple won’t use micro USB so there is reduced chance of there being a cable randomly about that will do.  It’s just as well then that the battery, sans lots of screen on time should comfortable last you through a day.

Build Quality:  Exemplary.  Apple have a reputation for making beautifully constructed things, it is deserved.  I really cannot fault its construction in any way.

UI:  Meh.  It feels so primitive and stunted. Like the rest of the OS is missing or its just simply not finished yet.  Yet the trade-off of that is that it’s so simple even a 2 year old could manage it.  It’s super simple, you really can’t do anything to break it or accidently kill something you shouldn’t.  You simply don’t have the ability to do so.  Hyper simplistic which depending on who you are is either a great boon or a show stopper.

In The Hand:  It is a very heavy little slab.  Of course its total weight isn’t vast given it’s so tiny but it’s very dense and unyielding.  Its edges too are very stark, it’s a little unkind to the hand, it doesn’t feels like it belongs in your hand.  Still once you slap it in a little case that hardness is softened and it feels much more comfortable.

Format Support:  Save yourself the headache, just use MP3, AAC or ALAC.  I don’t believe its worth fighting against using Itunes so just use formants it natively supports. 

Volume:  It could in most cases go loud enough.  I’m sure it knows in in Europe so I presume its volume lowered compared to the US but I don’t really know how to check.  Much of the time I had it in the “red” volume zone but it will depend on what you are using with them.  Its fine and probably sufficient for most but it just hasn’t the headroom I’d like to see. 

Accessories:  Erm a white USB plug and a white cable.  Really Apple, REALLY?!?!?!? Black phone and you can’t stretch to a black cable and plug????  However… the one major plus point of Iphones are that there is 400 billion compatible accessories.  Cases in particular have a fantastic selection and accordingly I have picked one that appeals to me greatly.  Apples marketing genius means that accessory makers literally que up to make compatible stuff.

Speaker:  While god forbid you use it for music, for speaker phone and such its adequate.  I’d again say that volume is a bit of an issue but then as it’s so small I suspect it wouldn’t get much use for video play back anyway.

Camera:  The numbers say it’s an 8MP camera.  Numbers though aren’t everything and it was fairly widely recognised that the Iphone cameras tend to be much better than their megapixel count would suggest.  I’m not Camera guy but to me it looks rather good.  Compare to the also 8MP Nexus 4 and the Iphone is the clear winner.

The Good:  Well depending on who you are the biggest plus point is probably its simplicity.  It’s so locked down a potted plant could use it and not have any particular problems.  Some people love it for that simplicity, they either can’t or don’t want to deal with any complexity or options.  They want all the thinking done for them and that’s a perfectly valid position to take, even if it’s completely not me.  I really just can’t abide the software on the phone, iOS just is so frustrating and so over simplified you can’t alter the most trivial of things, it makes me want to scream.  Still there are millions out there who love that, so for some it being locked down is a big plus.
Otherwise the pluses of the device are that it is a lovely bit of hardware.  The construction of it is exemplary and the screen is absolutely first class quality.  Sure it’s a bit small but with phones now going all over 5 inches small isn’t a bad thing it’s a choice.  If you want something that can fit in your small hands and use then that potentially is a huge plus.  Fundamentally the hardware of this device on the whole is all a great big plus.  Its audio is a bit meh but otherwise its all of a high quality.

The Bad:  Cost.  The phone cost stupid money brand new and if you want more on-board storage then be prepared to pay insane amounts for it.  The lack of an SD card slot I don’t like, nor that it’s a sealed battery.  Nor that it doesn’t use micro USB to charge, really Apple stop being dicks about these things.  Actually for me the negatives of the device come down largely to the cost which I do not feel is consummate to the hardware you get.  It also really annoys me that for a phone so music orientated and is so expensive that Apple would then penny pinch over the DAC and amp.  Given the sky high cost there is no reason why this couldn’t have the best audio components in it.  Frankly it’s insulting that some cheap ass Lumia should sound so much better than this, you know because when you think Microsoft we all immediately think music right??? Don’t we????  What with the global mega hit that was the Zune Microsoft and music are just absolutely synonymous right????

Additionally the restricted nature of the OS means that I can’t change the keyboard.  Well you can change the keyboard but seemingly for “security” anytime it wants my password input, it jumps back to the stock Apple keyboard.  Its infuriating as I don’t normally use a Qwerty layout, infuriating isn’t the word.  To date I have not found a way to stop this if any one else has, please let me know.

Value:  Well I don’t think its good value at all.  The price of the thing at launch in its 16GB form was £530.  The price of the Ipod touch with is basically the same thing in its 16GB form is presently £160.  I mean is a modem, couple of antennas an earpiece and a mic really worth and additional £370????  I’m thinking it’s not, so personally I’d be inviting Apple to place the thing where the sun seldom shines.  However it’s often said that the value of a product is what the market will bare.  Otherwise put its worth whatever Apple can convince people to pay for it, so I guess to many it is good value as they keep buying them.  Mind you by that reasoning heroin must be good value too.

Conclusion:  I normally say oooh I have mixed feelings about xyz.  Yeah, I really don’t here.  Don’t get me wrong, on the whole the hardware is nice but there is no way it should cost what it does and it pisses me off that the one area that Apple have absolutely cheaped out on the hardware is on the audio.   So on the whole, Apple you can go suck it.

Now that that is out of the way, the Iphone 5 isn’t all bad.  It’s a nice object on the whole and OS aside much of the things I don’t like are not specific failings but choices.  They aren’t choices I’d select but they are still valid.  The only one I really can’t let them get away with is the meh audio quality.  There is just no excuse for it.  The Iphone is minimally different from the Ipod touch and has its roots in the audio world.  Granted the Ipod was never the best sounding DAP ever although the early ones where actually quite good.  Apple cared about how the sounded (even if they bundled crap buds) there was recognition that the Wolfson chips in them were good quality, premium chips.  Then one day Apple decided their customers didn’t care or just wouldn’t notice and swapped to using bargain basement el cheapo chips. 

Sadly the result of that action was a rise in their profit margins and the people buying the devices either didn’t notice or did not care.  So here we have a high end, premium device, with first class components throughout except when it comes to audio.  I realise they have largely gotten away with it as their customers clearly don’t care but, hey, I do and while I’d be absolutely willing to forgive them if they were bargain priced like some others.  Cheap makes me far more willing to be kind but when you are so expensive you ask to be held to a higher standard and I’m sorry but the Iphone 5 just does not cut it.