Travel without Travelling

Most of us are in some form of social distancing or another. With countries worldwide imposing restrictions on travel to minimise the spread of the disease during this season, many people are experiencing ‘cabin fever’. The lack of travel for those who just love traveling can be daunting for some, but there are many ways to travel without traveling!

Go travel around the world, virtually!

There has been an increase in the number of virtual tours available online for free during this COVID-19 season. Two of the museums which I’ve particularly enjoyed viewing virtually are the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul and NASA’s Langley Research Center.

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul’s online viewing gallery not only has the overall image of the art piece involved and its background story, it also gives one a close-up on the strokes of the paintings. The level of details in the paintings shown on a virtual exhibit shows the effort to which the museum has curated its library, and all this is made free for all to view!

NASA’s Langley Research Center’s virtual tour is also commendable as there is so much to learn and explore. The research flight deck exhibit (as seen in the image below) has a high level of detail, and I like how they embed information and video links within each the virtual tour – it is as if you’re in the exhibit and looking at it first-hand.

Image captured from NASA's virtual tour on its Research Flight Deck exhibit
Image captured from NASA’s virtual tour on its Research Flight Deck exhibit

You can view more collated lists of virtual museums here, and here.

Reminisce via your old photos, videos and souvenirs!

If you can’t make a trip out right now, why not reflect or look back on the trips you’ve travelled before?

My father enjoys collecting bells – and for each destination we head to, he’ll make it a point to buy a bell from there. It may well be a small bell, and look insignificant, but this collection grows – and when it grows, each bell can serve as a reminder of the memories created in the destination! Have you looked at some of the souvenirs you bought from the countries you’ve travelled to? If no, why not take a look at it now?

Collection of bells

As the saying goes (more like a quote, heh), we take photos as a return ticket to moments otherwise gone. You can use this non-travel period to look through photos taken at the various countries and attractions you’ve been to!

Tip: If you have your photos hosted on cloud platforms like iCloud or Google Photos, one can easily search for photos based on countries traveled to!

Plan for your next trip

The headline of a Huffington Post’s article caught my eye a couple of years’ back. The article, which headline reads ’The Happiest Part Of Your Vacation Isn’t What You Think’ got me thinking, what makes traveling so exciting? And it turns out, planning a trip (while it can be stressful) is what makes vacationers happy because one tends to look forward to good times while planning for a vacation. So, why not begin planning for your next vacation during this period?

It may not be a detailed trip planned, but you can make use of the time now to create a ‘wander-list’ of places you want to visit and why you want to visit it. This can serve as a good start when deciding on your next trip. Whether the number of days, the attractions or even the food, having such details on what you like of place will make deciding your next holiday a lot easier when it is safe to travel again.

Social distancing and the lack of travel may be hard for us right now, but why not ‘travel’, without traveling during this period?

AirPods Pro Review

A recent treat for myself was the purchase of an Apple Air Pods Pro to upgrade my current Air Pods. The Bluetooth headset came on the market around two months back and has received its fair share of positive and negative reviews. As an Android user, here’s my review on this product!

What I like

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and transparency

Unlike the AirPods, the AirPods Pro provides active noise cancellation which reduces the surrounding’s white noise. Such a feature plus the transparency feature turned off provides users like me with the ability to completely tune-off to the surroundings especially when traveling on public transport and cafes. Will test this feature out further when on the plane!

When the transparency feature is turned on, one can also easily eavesdrop on conversations surrounding you as the microphones on the AirPods Pro pick up surrounding sounds and amplifies it in the AirPods Pro. This feature is good in situations where you need to be constantly aware of what’s going and allows you not to be shut-off from your surroundings completely.

Comfort

The AirPods Pro comes with three pairs of in-ear rubber tips (small, medium and large). The default medium size fits my ears snugly and provides a good level of comfort even when wearing for extended periods of time. I believe that the in-ear rubber became an option not only to replace the hard AirPods but also to aid in the noise cancellation feature. As a patented in-ear rubber tip, I’ve really got to make it a point not to lose these rubber tips as the conventional tips will not easily replace it.

AirPods Pro – In-Ear Rubber Tips

Battery-life

The battery-life is considerably longer than my AirPods with each charge lasting around four hours with the ANC feature turned on. The charging case also holds around four to five charges of the AirPods Pro. A 10-minute charge in the wireless case charged the AirPods by about 40%.

Haptic feedback

While not a main feature, the haptic feedback on the tips of the AirPods Pro gives the button-like feel when clicked. Instead of a pure tap of the earpiece where I sometimes find a bit insensitive on my AirPods, the tip of the AirPods Pro has a button-life feature that is only usable when the AirPods Pro are in your ear. The feel of clicking a button to control is still pretty amazing imo.

What I dislike:

Android users do not get all the perks!


The AirPods Pro is designed to work seamlessly with complementary Apple products (i.e. MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, iWatch) and Siri can easily be called out to assist you. However, for Android users, while Siri is not available, I’d expect the microphone to be able to activate my Google Assistant – but it doesn’t! So that’s something I’m a tad disappointed with, especially if my mobile phone isn’t near enough to pick up my Google commands.

In addition, the ear tip fit test can only be done via Apple products (iPhone specifically) and therefore this feature does not apply to me. Not a big deal in my opinion, but something I’d use if I’d own an iPhone.

Intermittent pairing

I’ve faced two instances of intermittent headset pairing with both my MacBook and my Android phone.

For my MacBook, it somehow only managed to pick up one side of my AirPods Pro and did not pick up the other. This resulted in an imbalance in sounds and was annoying till I placed the pair of AirPods Pro in its casing and removed it again for a refreshed connection.

For my Android phone, the AirPods Pro connection could not be picked up by my mobile phone’s Bluetooth in one instance – an issue I didn’t really have with my previous pair of AirPods. Again, a quick reset solved it.

Like any other Bluetooth headsets, there is bound to be some pairing issues, but I was just shocked to see that it happened (I had higher hopes for these expensive pair of AirPods).

Thoughts

AirPods Pro

I had originally considered buying the Sony WF-1000XM3 Noise Cancelling True Wireless Headphones but ultimately decided on purchasing the AirPods Pro as my previous pair AirPods was pretty reliable and I wanted the seamless pairing it had with my MacBook Pro.

While there are some issues which I dislike about the AirPods Pro, I would still recommend it to anyone who is looking for a noise-cancellation earpiece with decent audio quality. The comfort level of this earpiece supersedes its predecessors and if you own complementary Apple products, the seamless pairing is definitely a perk!

You can learn more about the product here.  

Hunting for a notebook

Love the packaging

What do you look out for when you’re looking for a new notebook computer? Though I’m quite at home with technology and am an avid follower of the scene, this question still caused me to stop and think for a bit.

What exactly was I looking for? Taking a step back, I began with why I was searching for a new one in the first place.

My existing notebooks were a 17-inch gaming notebook which I used for the office and a 13-inch Apple MacBook Air for travelling. One’s powerful but too heavy to lug around while the other is light but runs on a different operating system.

The gaming notebook is great for working on spreadsheets (which I don’t fancy), watching movies and playing games. While it’s a few years old, it still packs enough grunt to get everything done fast. The only negative was it’s weight, making it highly unportable.

On the other hand, the MacBook Air provided the portability, which is especially useful for my travel. I bought it after feeling the strain of carrying another notebook while on trips to the US. The Apple device is not as fast (it was bought in 2011) as the Windows-based notebook (which is designed with power in mind) but it was enough to get things done.

Why change

Toggling between the two computers involved backing up and copying my Outlook file whenever I have to travel, which was about once a month.

This means that I use a Windows computer most of the time. While I have no issue with macOS, it does take a bit of getting reacquainted every few weeks.

Outlook and Word also works differently on both platforms. The functionalities are generally the same but the little differences began to take its toll, particularly the cut-and-paste between documents and Outlook.

Since June, I’ve had to spend more time out of the office so I’m using the Mac a little more but what’s worst is the constant copying and backing up of files.

What I need

Having identified my painpoints, I have an idea of what I need:

  1. Powerful
  2. Portable
  3. Window-based
  4. Affordable
  5. Reliable brand
  6. X-factor

The research took longer than expected as I could not find one that matched all my requirements. How brands named and positioned their product lines also made the search a little challenging. I also turned to a well-known editor for his advice.

This is it

Just when I thought that nothing could match my criteria, I read about an upcoming notebook.

Asus had announced earlier in the year that it was coming up with its 30th anniversary edition. After pouring through the known specs in detail, I was quite certain that this was what I wanted.

The limited-edition Asus ZenBook Edition 30 was supposed to be launched in conjunction with an IT show in September. A quick check with Asus a day before the show revealed that the notebook’s already available in the store.

I drove to the nearest Asus store but could not find it on the display shelf. When queried, the salesperson pointed to an empty space on the shelf and said that was where the new notebook will be placed. He added that he could furnish me with the specs if I was interested to find out more.

Before I could educate the young man, his colleague said that the unit’s in the storeroom and she could get it for me after she’s done with a customer.

Ten minutes later, I became the proud owner of a brand new notebook.

Why I like this

My purchase was no impulse decision. Here are why I picked this over dozens of others:

  1. Powerful enough: It sports an 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8565U CPU supported by the NVIDIA GeForce MX250 GPU and 16GB of RAM — that’s enough horsepower for me.
  2. Portable enough: Weighing under 1.3kg, it comes with a 13.3-inch LED-backlit Full HD display with four-sided frameless NanoEdge design.
  3. Window-based: It runs of Windows 10 so I do not have to toggle between two operating sytems.
  4. Affordable enough: Priced at S$2,198, it’s a little ex for an average notebook but this is definitely not an average notebook.
  5. Reliable brand: HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Acer are some leading brands that I’ve used in the past. From my experience with my gaming notebook, Asus stands right up there with the best.
  6. X-factor: Now, this is where the Asus ZenBook Edition 30 is streets ahead of the rest. Imagine a notebook clad in pearl white leather and rose gold anodised diamond-cut edges and trim bar. The rose gold logo is futuristic and not so in-your-face. And it features a second screen on the mouse pad. While many have written this off as a gimick, I found it to be useful for viewing a messaging app or the Spotify playlist. Oh, the package also includes a matching mouse and leather notebook sleeve. Really nice touch.

After nearly three months of using the Asus ZenBook Edition 30, I simply love this. It’s everything I need and a little more.

End of support for Adobe Acrobat and Reader 2015

It used to be that when we buy something, we own it for life and use it for as long as the thing works. Think television, radio, refrigerator, hair dryer, and car.

But technology is not only changing our life but the way we own products. Adobe today announced that support for Adobe Acrobat 2015 and Adobe Reader 2015 will end on April 7, 2020.

OK, hands up, Adobe is not the first to do this. Apple has done so, Microsoft as well, but somehow this move by Adobe got me ruffled a little and set me thinking more.

Still nicely wrapped up but no longer supported.

Admittedly, I don’t own either software — I own OLDER versions, including a couple of sets with shrinkwrap intact. Guess those are also no longer supported.

According to Adobe, end of support means that Adobe no longer provides technical support, including product and/or security updates, for all derivatives of a product or product version.

While it is understandable — to a certain degree — why software companies are doing so, as a product owner, one can feel shortchanged.

Technical support adds to cost for the vendor so that makes financial sense for them. But, what about letting users pay for that support, if needed. That way, users won’t feel that all is totally lost…

…unless the intention is to force users to migrate! Adobe has adopted a subscription model, like many software vendors, so that revenue is recurring rather than a one-off earning. But many users have invested heavily on the software, which incidentally is not cheap. And this move may just push them to consider using the many other Adobe compatible software out in the market.

More important that technical support for an existing user is security updates. This is one thing they really need. The digital space is rife with viruses and malware appearing in hordes daily so having updated security is a must.

Again, if Adobe feels that it cannot continue providing security patches, how about charging a subscription fee for such updates so that users can continue using their existing Adobe products?

Adobe is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to deliver the death knell to other versions of its products. But, if software companies continue to take this approach of ending support, which in Adobe’s case, is after five years, users may well start adding a longeivity criteria when evaluating future purchases.

Pre-matured end of life (for products)

Apple Watch 4: Written off in just a year

Apple will be rolling out a new generation of its smartwatch tomorrow (September 20). It’s an annual introduction for the Cupertino-based company, along with a slew of other computers and devices. This is what keeps technology companies innovating and in business.

But, what shocked me was that the one-year-old Apple Watch 4 is being discontinued. While Apple must have its reasons for doing so, spare a thought for those fans who spent hard-earned cash on the Apple Watch 4.

Is this the company’s tactic to compel them to upgrade to the latest version? If that’s the case, why is it still selling the older Apple Watch 3?

I’ve had my fair share of buying new products that became obsolete in a year of so. The most painful was my first notebook computer which cost more than S$2,000 in the mid-1990s. That’s a lot of money back then.

Shortly after I bought the new notebook, I discovered that the US manufacturer had discontinued that product. Upset is too mild a word to describe my feelings at that time. What’s worse was that half the screen went blank one day and the customer support told me that it would cost $800 to get the screen replaced.

After much angst and deliberation, I decided to buy a new laptop from another vendor. That US-branded notebook turned out to be my first and last from the company.

A more recent experience was my Pebble Time smartwatch in April 2016. In December that year, Pebble announced that it would be shut down, and no longer make or support for any device or honour any warranties.

Two experiences. Twenty years apart. Both times, the feeling was similar — painful!

Tech companies should care more for their customers. Beyond the bells and whistles associated with big fanfare launches, they must show customers that they are committed to supporting the products — at least for a few years after they stop selling it.

Otherwise, customers are the ones to bear the brunt and pay the cost for believing in the wrong product from the wrong vendor.

If vendors are not careful, they risk losing customer trust. Once lost, that’s hard to regain, especially when there are so many other options available.

When upgrading is unnecessary

Still good after all these years

Apple has launched a new iPhone. Google is expected to announce Pixel 4 on October 15. With every introduction of a new product, the message is crystal clear — buy, buy, buy! The question is — is it really necessary to get the latest toy? Is your current device good enough?

If vendors were to have their way, we would be upgrading every year or two.

It’s the computer industry, and later the smartphone makers, that seems to be driving the need to upgrade regularly — even if your PC/notebook/smartphone is working perfectly fine.

This is so different from the days of old when a television, electric fan or refrigerator can last for a decade or more. If it breaks down, you get it fixed. Buying a new one is only necessary when it can no longer be repaired.

These days, computer and smartphone are constantly bombarding consumers that the latest is the greatest (if it’s not, something must be very wrong, right?) and you need to upgrade. Even consumer electronic product makers are trying to get into the act.

Putting aside fancy new features and the feel great of owning a new device factors, the most important question to ask is “Do I need to upgrade?”

What difference will the newest chip’s speed bump make? How will the fingerprint sensor make my phone more secured? How much storage do I really need?

I have owned a MacBook Air since 2011 and a third generation iPad since 2012 (see photo above) and am proud to declare that I am still using them.

Here are the reasons why I did not upgrade:

  1. They are still working perfectly. Operating system updates have slowed them down a little but nothing’s changed otherwise.
  2. They do what I need them for. I use my MacBook Air for work and my iPad when giving talks. Both still function as required. They may not be as fast as the latest iterations but they’re good enough.
  3. I save money by not upgrading. There’s no need to spend on newer devices since these are still fine. Money saved can be used for other things in life — like getting other gadgets that I do not already own or travelling.

The point is that if I want to upgrade, the vendors must give me something that I could not do before but need to have. A faster chip, brighter/sharper screen or more connectivity options just doesn’t cut it.

In recent times, the only device that I’ve upgraded constantly was the digital camera. My first was a Sony Mavica given to me in 1999. It introduced me to the world of digital photography, Nokia phones notwithstanding. I was a proud owner bringing a box of 3.5-inch floppy disk drives with me wherever I went. For each 1.44MB drive, I can take about 20 photos. So a box gives me sufficient space for about 200 low quality images.

As digital cameras evolved, so did my expectations. I wanted higher quality images and upgraded whenever I could afford a better camera.

But, my latest digital SLR camera has been untouched for a few years. Why? Because the smartphone has made it redundant. My Google Pixel 3 can take excellent images at high resolutions. In fact, each image size is bigger than a 3.5-inch floppy disk.

Upgrading my digital camera was necessary because the image quality made a difference. But, there are many other products where newer versions do not provide enough justification for parting with the cash.

Year end shopping: Online or in-store?

Present.jpgA Facebook commissioned study revealed that 45 percent of Hong Kong consumers shopped in-store last Christmas. Surprisingly, only 36 percent shopped online.

In terms of spending, mobile-first consumers planned to spend HK$7,176 compared to planned spending of HK$5,437 for the average shopper during that period.

To avoid long wait times and crowds in-store, half of the mobile-first consumers said they were very interested in buying online, then pick-up in store.

Though it’s a survey on Hong Kong, the trend can apply to many urban places around the world.

So, which is better — shopping online or in-store?

Well, I guess it depends on what we’re buying.

Online is definitely more convenient as you can shop from wherever you are using the smartphone or a notebook/PC.

You also have access to practically any product from anywhere in the world. The transaction is immediate though delivery time is another matter. I had to order months in advance for fruit cakes from the US in order to get them by Christmas.

Another online advantage is the ability to read reviews and compare prices across sites so that you can get the best deals. Discounts and coupons abound for those who know where to find them.

While online shopping has its perks, brick-and-mortar stores still have their place.

Most of us would have heard of horror stories on online purchases. I have had my fair share with shirts that don’t fit — even though I spent time studying the size chart of the store — as well as a Kickstarter purchase.

Here’s where physical stores can make a massive difference. For clothing, you can see, feel and try them on so that you get the right fit and right colours (sometimes the colours look different online).

For food, it’s also good to be able to try them before buying. I mean, which online seller will tell you that theirs is not nice? It’s like asking a fruit seller if an orange is sweet — the answer, nearly always anyway, is a resounding “Yes”.

When buying big ticket items such as furniture and electronic products, it’s best to view them physically first before buying. There’s a high price to pay for any mismatch of expectation.

A hybrid approach may be the best way to do Christmas shopping. Do you research online, then go to physical stores to check out the product. The final decision on which platform to purchase from depends on who offers the best deal.

Happy shopping!

When is a sale a sale?

Lazada 11 11Alibaba set a new record of US$30.8 billion in sales on November 11, aka Singles Day. The figure eclipsed the US$4 billion that Amazon brought in on Prime Day in July.

If anything, this shows that people are drawn to sales — 10/10, 11/11 and with Black Friday and Christmas coming up soon. It’s like everybody has been saving up just for these occasions.

But, is a sale really a sale or just an opportunity for sellers to sell more because of the hype?

Sometimes, we can’t really tell, especially if we’re just blindly caught up in the frenzy and thinking that most, if not all, deals are good.

Here’s where a little homework can make a world of difference:

  1. Know the usual price. Find out the usual price of the product you’re eyeing, then you’ll know if the deal is good.
  2. Search and search some more. Don’t be too trigger happy and click on the first listing, Scour through the list to compare prices for similar products.
  3. Warranty period. Do consider warranty period if you’re getting an electronic or mobile device. Some products may simply be cheaper because they are brought in by parallel importers and come without or with limited warranty.
  4. Any bundling? If the price doesn’t look discounted, find out if the listing comes with any gifts. Sometimes, new products cannot be discounted, such as the OnePlus 6T smartphone (below), which was launched end October. On November 11, the deal came with an additional adapter and cable.OnePlus 6T
  5. Shipping cost. Another deal breaker is shipping cost. Some vendors give free shipping on special sales while others may offer discounted shipping. But, take note of delivery timeline in such instances.

Doing your homework will help you make better decisions at the next sales — Black Friday!

 

 

 

Himalaya Salt candy is so addictive!

Himalaya Salt.jpgLast October, I was given a pack of sports candy called Himalaya Salt. As it was new to me, I tried it and got hooked by its combination of mint, sweetness, sourness and saltiness.

While there was a longing for more, I forgot about it over time — until my daughter told me about a sweet that she discovered while on a trip to Malaysia a few months ago. From her description, I guessed that it was the forgotten Himalaya Salt.

Turns out that this is a Malaysian product that is highly popular — it was sold out when my daughter tried to buy in from the shops near her hotel.

Everyone we offered the candy to loved it! Seems that some have tried it before but didn’t know where to buy it.

Thankfully, I found it available online in Shopee. OK, the price range was higher than in Malaysia but it beats having to make a trip up north.

After ordering a couple of boxes (12 per box), I found out that Teck Leong Lee Kee, a wholesale candy shop in Bedok in Singapore is selling it at close to Malaysia price.

If you’ve not tried the Himalaya Salt mint candy yet, do give it a shot. It’s refreshingly good and very addictive too!

 

 

 

Second chance for Garmin

 

Garmin VivoActive 3Truth be told, after my first experience the Garmin Vivosmart, I wanted to steer clear of Garmin. I bought three of the devices — one for me and two for my daughters and all had displays that malfunctioned just after a year of use. That’s not great value by any measure and is a red flag for me.

Based on this negative experience. I never thought that I would consider having another Garmin device. Since then, I’ve been using a Pebble 2, which is still running perfectly after more than two years. Of course, the sad part is that Pebble has since been sold to Fitbit and support is almost non-existent.

Back to Garmin. I was asked if I wanted the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music as a gift. Believe me, I thought long and hard. There are many other options out there, including the over-priced Apple Watch, various Fitbit models and Samsung Gear devices.

After some research online, I decided to give Garmin a second chance.

It’s been a week since I started using the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music and so far, the experience has been good. I won’t say “great” yet because I’m still trying to get used to the interface.

Here are five reasons why I like this smartwatch:

  1. Big enough screen. The 1.2-inch display is sufficiently large without being overwhelming. I don’t have a bulky arm so it looks just nice. My hope is that this screen will continue functioning for a long time.
  2. Long battery life. It’s supposed to have up to seven days of battery life, which is wonderful for a short trip overseas without needing to bring the cable. However, when GPS and always-on synching are activated, battery life is considerably shortened to a couple of days. The key is to keep it simple and cut out unnecessary features.
  3. Many pre-loaded settings. I was thrilled to see so many activity settings — walk, run, threadmill, indoor track, bike, bike indoor, walk indoor, floor climb, pool swim, and strength among others. This makes it easy to get started on many activities.
  4. Simple customisation. The Garmin Connect app is easy to use and allows downloading of apps, changing of watch faces and smart notification settings.
  5. Easy payment. I’m not talking about installment payment for the smartwatch but rather the Garmin Pay feature which enables contactless payment for purchases when tagged to a credit card. At the moment, only OCBC Bank in Singapore supports Garmin Pay, which is fine with me because I have the bank’s credit card.

I’ve yet to try out the music feature as I’m more accustomed to Spotify, which is currently not supported by the smartwatch.

Overall, the signs are good and I am optimistic that the Garmin Vivoactive 3 can at least match my sturdy Pebble 2’s shelf life.