Do more with your AirPods!

Do more with your AirPods!

I’ve had the AirPods Pro for quite a while now – about a year and a half – and here are two features I think are pretty fabulous.

Customize your hearing experience by adjusting your audio accessibility settings

Connect your AirPods to your iPhone > Settings > Accessibility > AirPods > Audio Accessibility Settings  > Headphone Accommodations

Here, you will be able to go through a setup process which allows you to tune your audio and set the range of your transparency mode. You can then make the necessary adjustments to allow you listen to your audio with greater clarity. Honestly a pretty neat in-build feature which I personally think more people should know about!

Use your AirPods to test how loud your surroundings are (and if it’s healthy for your years.

You can add the feature by going to Settings > Control Centre > Hearing. Once this feature has been added into your control centre, with your AirPods connected, activate it. Live listen will then be activated and you will be able to identify how loud (or soft) your surroundings are.

As a benchmark, you should try to be in an environment that’s less than 70 Db to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Rubber Connector Accessory

In addition, I recently discovered this rubber connector which helps you easily connect your AirPods. While this seems to defeat the purpose of having a wire-free audio device, it is still useful especially for workouts or when you accidentally fall asleep and the AirPods fall out.

Conclusion

If you’re on the Apple ecosystem, owning a pair of AirPods is indeed a must – but how many features do we actually know exist? Let’s continue exploring them and hopefully we’ll be able to make full use of these trusty pair of earphones.

On the radar: Mirrorless AI camera for smartphones

On the radar: Mirrorless AI camera for smartphones

Ever wished for a better camera for the smartphone to take nicer photos? While camera capabilities are limited by the phone’s size, startup Photogram is developing an alternative that brings the benefits of the mirrorless camera to the smartphone.

Its Alice compact, mirrorless camera is sleek and sports just a shutter button, control wheel and cold-shoe adapter. After mounting the smartphone, it connects via 5Ghz wi-fi, letting users share images and stream videos easily.

Alice is built around a Sony IMX294 10.7 megapixel 4/3 sensor optimised for high-quality and full-width 4K video. The sensor is eight times bigger than that of a typical smartphone.

In front of that big sensor is a Micro Four Third lens mount. The compact interchangeable lens system gives users access to more than 100 lens options from Olympus, Panasonic, and specialty lens makers such as Sigma, Tamron and Tokina.

Users will be able to choose from 16mm-equivalent fish-eye lenses for a super-wide angle of view or 800mm-equivalent telephone zoom lenses able to get clear, undistorted pictures of objects far away, with plenty of options in between.

THE SECRET SAUCE

“I was thinking a lot about how data science and machine learning and AI could be applied to create video and imagery. I was using a camera all the time to create video content and becoming increasingly frustrated with operating them,” said Vishal Kumar of Photogram.

The secret sauce is an AI built using NVIDIA GPU-accelerated deep learning to help photographers wring the most out of Alice’s hardware. The AI controls and improves focusing, changes exposure, automatically adjusts white balance, and performs automatic image stabilisation.

Users will eventually make Alice better at whatever photography they do. “Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer, or you like to shoot cats or clothes. We want people to be able to optimise our models and retrain them so their Alice camera can be more optimised for the photography they do,” said Kumar.

Since its listing on Indigogo last September, Alice has raised US$200,000 from more than 250 backers by February. It is due for release in October for around US$760 to early backers.

Photo: Photogram

Google Photos: Free storage going soon

Google Photos: Free storage going soon

Looks like it’s a case of hook them, then cook them. After offering free storage to attract to use Google Pbotos for the past five years, the service will no longer be free from June 1, 2021.

From that fateful date, new photos and videos will be counted as part of the free 15GB of storage that comes with every Google Account.

Users who need more space will have to become a Google One member and pay US$1.99 per month for 100GB of storage.

Well, I can’t say that I didn’t see this coming. When Google launched the Pixel 4 last October, the writing was already on the wall. Along with the introduction was an announcement that the smartphone comes with free three-month 100GB subscription of Google One.

Original quality images taken on the Google Pixel 4 are uploaded to Google One where the subscription see if payable after three months.

Admittedly, the good deal cannot go on forever. Google needs to monetise this fast-growing service with 28 billion new photos and videos uploaded every week.

But, to slam the door on all users doesn’t speak well of its customer service or desire to retain customers.

Source: Google

Perhaps, Google could have just stuck the new cap on new Google Photo users. This is wishful thinking but why rock the boat with the faithful?

The company did say that Pixel 1 to 5 users are exempted from the change and can continue to upload high quality photos and videos after June 1, 2021.

As a current Google Pixel 3 user, I still enjoy free storage for original quality photos and videos until January 31, 2022. After that, it’s either about forking out for a subscription to maintain media quality or just being contented with lower quality. Guess I’ll defer the decision till then.

Oculus Quest 2: Enter an alternate reality

I had my first taste of virtual reality (VR) when my colleague brought his Oculus Quest to the office last year and let us play Beat Saber on it. As I put on the headset and slipped on the controllers, I stepped into a whole new world of musical star wars and fruit ninja, slicing flying boxes to the beat with my light sabers. When I took the headset off, I was transported back to the office. It was an incredible experience and since then, I was secretly hoping for the day I could have my own Oculus Quest.

Fast forward a year and I now find myself a proud new owner of an Oculus Quest 2, having received it as an early birthday present. Released on October 13 and arriving at my doorstep halfway across the globe in sunny (and almost COVID-19 free I hope) Singapore on October 16, the Oculus Quest 2 was a portal into an alternate reality I could not wait to enter again.

It came in a sleek box and with a spacer (a plastic piece to add more distance between your face and the screen) for folks who wear glasses like yours truly. It was a breeze to set up once I linked it up with my Facebook account.

PSA: you have to link your Quest 2 to your Facebook account and there have been stories of people who have had their Quest 2 downgraded to paperweights as they were locked out of their Facebook accounts. You have been warned. A further look into those accounts shows that it mostly happens to those with new/throwaway accounts which aren’t tied to a person’s real identity. That would bring us down another rabbit hole of the “omniscience” and intrusiveness of Facebook… but tldr; if you aren’t willing to connect your Facebook account with your Oculus, the Oculus Quest 2 is definitely not for you.

Now that I’ve owned it for more than 10 days, here are five reasons why I think you’ll like it:

  1. It’s an incredibly immersive experience. As you don the headset and look around you, there’s only the ground under your feet that tethers you to reality. Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little bit – but at any rate, I’d encourage you to try a VR headset and you’ll see what I mean.
  2. It’s convenient. There are no wires involved! This is a departure from most other VR headsets which can be a bit cumbersome to set up. The headset and controllers are all you need, and this makes the set very portable. This might seem intuitive and easy to take for granted, but not too long ago, VR required the setting up of additional “base stations”/poles to get started.
  3. It’s value for money. The Oculus Quest 2 64GB is currently available for S$440 on Amazon Prime and I consider it quite affordable for a VR headset. In comparison, a Nintendo Switch console retails at S$459. A single Beat Saber game at Headrock VR which would set you back S$35 when bundled with 2 other VR games (the latter 2 are a bit harder to replicate on the Quest so maybe you could head down to Headrock to try it out!). Given it’s arguably the cheapest of the 3, I would put it at S$5 per play. The game itself cost me S$50 including an Imagine Dragons music pack and I’ve played it a tad too many times to count. I’m working on bringing the average cost per game (including the headset) to below S$5…
  4. It can provide a good workout. There are pretty good exercise games available for purchase. My only game thus far is Beat Saber and my heartbeat has gone above 150 bpm when playing this game.
  5. It’s great for connecting with friends. While there aren’t many collaborative games that I know of which you can play on a single headset, it is still great for connecting with friends. Most folks still have not really tasted the VR experience yet and when I brought it over for social gatherings, my friends thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were bowled over by the technology. A couple of them are thinking of getting it for themselves too.

However, there are a few drawbacks to the Quest 2 that you may want to be aware of too.

  1. The head strap can take a bit of getting used to and it wasn’t as hardy as I hoped for it to be. It takes a bit of adjusting to have it sit comfortably on your head.
  2. The battery life of two hours could be considered short for some. I consider it a reminder that it’s time to come back to reality though. If you’re planning to play with friends, you’ll want to make sure it’s fully charged.
  3. The game selection is rather limited compared to other platforms, and they also can be a bit more pricey. To manage costs, I’m spacing my game purchases out so I can enjoy them fully and get my money’s worth out of it.
  4. This isn’t quite a drawback, but a reminder to consider getting some hygienic disposable eye masks so that everyone’s sweat doesn’t get absorbed into the same sponge.

In short, if you’re looking for a new immersive experience to share with your friends, the Oculus Quest 2 will be a great gadget to get!

Verdict

Novelty: 👍👍👍👍👍

Value: 👍👍👍👍

Overall: 👍👍👍👍👍

Secretlab chair: Not just for gamers

Secretlab chair: Not just for gamers

Working from home means that I spend lots of time with my work chair. Over the years, I have worn out quite a few — from an Ikea version to one bought at a hefty price (for me at least) just a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately, the pricey chair did not last long before the hydraulic gave way. It will slide down after a short while of sitting. And it’s handle broke off easily one day.

Enough of the justification. I started keeping my eyes out for a good chair — one that is durable, comfortable and sturdy.

With more people working from home, my Facebook feeds began showing people with their Secretlab chair. It became something like a badge of honour for them.

I never considered Secretlab in the past because it was positioned as a gaming chair — and I am not a gamer. However, the folks who bought them are not gamers either.

So, I began reading up and was intrigued by how a Singapore company found a niche and is now a household name in gaming chair.

The price of its chair was close to my previous one and the reviews were generally good.

I decided to give it a shot and ordered one online with delivery more than six weeks’ away because of the demand.

The package promptly on the expected delivery date. It comes unassembled so some work is required to put the chair together.

Here’s why I enjoy the Secretlab chair buying experience:

  1. Pleasant ordering process: Secretlab has nailed it. The customer experience was great. Buying a chair at this price is a big investment for many so it helps that the site was informative, right down to choosing an appropriate chair based on height and weight, and stating up front the delivery timeline.
  2. Easy assembly: The chair came in a box with assembling instruction. For added convenience, there is an instructional video that shows step-by-step assembly. The caveat is that the parts are pretty heavy so it helps to have an additional pair of hands to put the chair together.
  3. Great final product: The chair is as I had imagined it to be. It feels sturdy, sits comfortably and gives me confidence that it’s doing to be durable — having a five-year warranty helps give peace of mind.

As with others, I posted about my purchase and the general response was “Wow!”. After a few weeks of using it, I would highly recommend it if you’re working from home and spend hours on your chair — even if you’re not a gamer. If you’re keen, order it from Secretlab.

Verdict

Price: 👍👍👍👍

Quality: 👍👍👍👍👍

Overall: 👍👍👍👍👍

This little (Thunlit) light of mine!

This little (Thunlit) light of mine!

I recently needed a light for my room – a light bright enough to be used as a side table lamp yet dim enough to not disrupt me as I prepare for bed.

Thunlit LED Eye Protection Lamp

My parents chanced upon the Thulit LED Eye Protection Lamp on Shopee earlier last month and after reading through the reviews, they decided to purchase it for me. They shipped it over to where I’m at right now and boy, am I enjoying it!

The whole lamp is covered in white PU leather and has a very clean feel to it. The base of the lamp also has a small groove that allows one to rest your phone there. Weighing a mere 480g, this light-weight lamp is sturdy and can be tilted at different angles for optimal brightness. The fact that it can be shifted to any angle makes it very flexible and suitable for small rooms.  

With three colour temperatures, this lamp provides white light, warm light and a seemingly other white colour (supposedly different but I can’t tell the difference). My go-to colour is the warm light as it makes the place look very warm and homely at night.

This light illuminates the room pretty well. The touch button function also makes it easy to turn on-and-off. One downside to this model is that the touch function is slightly below the printed ‘on-off’ button on the base of the lamp. We actually thought that we had received a malfunctioned one when we first got it.

Warm light in a dark room

The model I have is the USB-plugged in version without an in-built battery. However, it suits my needs as I have a power socket near my bedside. I do believe there is a model that has an in-built battery though!

If you’re looking for a flexible, small bedside lamp, you may want to give this a shot. It is pretty inexpensive, is aesthetically-pleasing and brings light to the room (literally).

The Thunlit lamp can be folded for easy storage too!

Verdict

Price 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Performance 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

You can check it out on Shopee here.

Huawei MatePad T8: An entry level essential

This week has been filled with all the razzmatazz associated with Apple’s new iPads, which incidentally are really good devices for those who need them.

I own an iPad (the 2012 edition) and all that it has to offer. There hasn’t been a need to upgrade that since as I have other devices to play with (oops, I mean use). And this goes to show how good the iPad is.

When Google launched the Nexus 7, I happened to be in the US so I ordered one — just for kicks. OK, seriously, it was because I wanted to see what Android OS is about.

Since then, it has been many years of tablet silence — that is, until this month.

And no, I did not go for them new iPads. Instead, I was drawn to a new low-cost Huawei tablet. Huawei was busy making announcements on smartwatches, headsets and notebook computers this September. What stood out (for me at least) among all these was the Huawei MatePad T8.

More to the point is that I felt that the S$198 price point makes it worthwhile to satiate my desire to try out Huawei’s ecosystem with Google pulling the plug on the China tech giant.

The 9/9 offer sweetened an already good price as the package comes with a cover and Huawei bluetooth speaker worth a combined value of S$86.

Surprisingly, my order from Lazada Singapore (where Huawei’s official store resides) arrived in two days — even though the expected delivery was a week later. Talk about under promising and over delivering.

Setting up was easy. Everything was in English. And at first glance, it looks just like any Android tablet — the device runs on EMUI 10 which is based on Google’s OS.

After using if for a week, let me share my experience:

  1. AppGallery is limited. While it is said to have 96,000 apps, many of those I need were not there. Other than Telegram, there weren’t Facebook, WhatsApp and the entire range of Google apps. Credit must be given to Huawei for recognising this and providing a workaround. Under the built-in Petal Search, I could find most of the apps I wanted — Facebook, Messenger and Netflix. If the app is not there, there are alternatives. For instance, while Google Maps is not available, there’s a Tom Tom GPS app, which is pretty good. Also in AppGallery are many Singapore apps such as banking, food delivery, government, and online shopping.
  2. No home button. The on-off and volume buttons are the only ones available. Huawei has kept design simple without a home button. I’ve learnt to get used to just swiping up, down, left, and right to do what I need to do. It’s not difficult — just a bit of learning and getting used to.
  3. Face and password unlock. Where this device scores is that it comes with a decent face unlock for security. In poor lighting condition, it’s accessible using a six-digit password.
  4. Good battery life. This is a good device to bring around for an entire day. The battery seems to go on forever. OK, that’s just an expression. I got around 12 hours of usage before rejuicing.
  5. Enough grunt. The octacore Mediatek MT8768 is nothing to shout about but delivers enough performance for work and watching video. The 2GB of RAM and 32GB of memory are unlikely to be able to handle graphics intensive games but that’s really because this tablet is not built or priced for gaming. And there’s a card slot for bumping up memory using microSDXC.
  6. Connectivity counts. Surprisingly, the MediaPad T8 comes with LTE connection on top of wi-fi and bluetooth. This matters lots to me because I can pair it with our family’s Xiaomi MiJia Youth Projector to cast movies on our 100-inch screen. The resolution’s not that great but it’s watchable for most.
  7. 3.5mm jack delight. While wireless earbuds are the in-thing, nothing beats having a 3.5mm jack to plug in a wired headset or external speaker.

Overall, I enjoyed using the tablet and experiencing the Huawei ecosystem. On a personal note, I love it that the tablet and cover both come in blue — one of my favourite colours.

While iOS and Android may be more established, Huawei can become a strong competitor with its own HarmonyOS and ecosytem of partners. It is certainly working hard at winning customers outside of China. This message in the photo above probably answers questions on privacy — the security issue that the US has been trying so hard to raise.

At its price point, the Huawei MediaPad T8 is great value for money and can handle essential tasks well. But, if you’re into gaming and doing stuff that demands more performance from your tablet, look elsewhere.

Verdict

Price: 👍👍👍👍👍

Performance: 👍👍👍

Overall: 👍👍👍👍

Do you need a new iPad?

By Edward Lim

Apple unveiled two new iPads early this morning — the 8th generation iPad and 4th generation iPad Air. If that has gotten you excited, it’s understandable because the specifications and features are amazing.

Just take the new iPad Air. It has impressive credentials. A secured touch screen with 10.9-inch liquid retina display. A powerful A14 Bionic chip that can capture and edit 4K video. An array of colours to choose from. And who could not be attracted to the 2nd generation Apple Pencil?

Of course, it packs much more than these but let’s focus on these for now.

Are these good enough reasons to dunk your current device for this newbie? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting down the new offerings.

I’ve owned the first and third generation iPads and am proud of Apple for their innovations. In fact, it’s because of the reliability of Apple’s products that I’m still using the third generation iPad bought in 2012 today. It does everything I need it for. Whatever it cannot do, I will use my notebook or smartphone.

7 reasons not to get

Here are seven reasons why I won’t be getting a new iPad.

  1. My current device is still working fine. It’s a testament of Apple’s quality.
  2. I can still do what I need with my well-used iPad.
  3. I don’t play games that require graphics grunt.
  4. I don’t need a more powerful device — the old chip is fast enough for what I need to do.
  5. I don’t need an iPad in another colour — I can always buy a cover of any other colour. Admittedly, it’s harder to find these today but not impossible.
  6. The display is good and bright enough for me.
  7. I don’t shoot and edit 4K videos on my iPad.

I can think of many more reasons but these seven are good enough to convince me not to part with my cash to get more dash.

And 7 reasons to lay hold of a new one

To be fair, I will also provide seven reasons why you should consider getting one.

  1. If you’ve not owned an iPad, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s the original tablet and leader of the tablet pack.
  2. If you intend to make the iPad your primary device. Gone are the days when the iPad has to play second fiddle to the notebook computer. I know of people who use just the iPad for work and play.
  3. It can handle tons of stuff.  The new chip is powerful enough for Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoship CC and even games that require graphics grunt.
  4. The Apple Pencil is a game changer. If you’re the creative sort, it’s all you need to bring around with you on your sojourns.
  5. Weighing just 458 grammes for the wi-fi version, it is light and thin — plus points for bringing around anywhere.
  6. If you’re into shooting 4K video, this is it — you can even edit your videos on this device.
  7. If you’re an Apple ecosystem fan, this is a must-have to complete your collection. Everything works seamlessly across the Apple products.

So, whether to buy or not really depends on your needs. I don’t need a new version at the moment but your needs may differ from mine.

Xiaomi MiJia Youth Projector: An incredible device

Xiaomi MiJia Youth Projector: An incredible device

My family purchased the Xiaomi MiJia Youth projector during Phase 1 of Singapore’s circuit breaker as a form of entertainment in our living room.

After a solid three months of using it, here are some of the things I like about this projector and some minor complaints.

What thrilled me

  1. The projector is only slightly bigger than my hand. With a height of just 15cm, the projector weighs only 1.3 kg. That’s a projector and a speaker packed into one compact and mighty device.
  2. The throw is really good. Powered by a 500 ANSI lumens light source, it trumps the average 300 lumens projectors — it can fill my 100-inch projector screen nicely and looks bright and crisp at night (the colour’s a tad faint in the daytime due to the sunlight but that’s honestly acceptable). It supports 1080p resolution and in a small living room, the resolution is superb!
  3. The auto focusing is accurate. If the projector is shifted, the feature is triggered to re-focus the screen. Alternatively, you can also easily call the function from the remote control to deal with focus issues should you want to readjust it.
  4. The speaker is loud. While it doesn’t give a strong bass, it is loud and can fill the entire living room without an external speaker. One can also easily use the projector as a speaker.
  5. My MacBook Pro and iPad connects well with the in-built AirPlay. Hooked on the same WiFi network, my Apple devices connect fast and well with the Xiaomi MiJia Youth projector without any lag.

What could be better

Remote-control with AI Voice Search Function Available
  1. We got the China edition, which unlike the international version, does not provide Netflix or Chromecast-related features. The in-built MIUI TV does not run in Singapore and almost all content inside is paid content which cannot be accessed. All content is in Chinese too, and while switching it to English provides some English headers, the bulk of the content is still in Chinese.
  2. To get the throw you want, you’ve got to shift the projector manually. Unlike some other projectors on the market which allow one to shift the scale of the throw on the screen on the projector itself, the Xiaomi MiJia Youth projector needs to be manually shifted to get the exact throw you want. It works but is inconvenient.
  3. The fact that the version I got was the China edition also rendered a lot of the remote-control features useless for us. Apart from turning the projector on, changing the input source, volume, and dealing with the auto-focus, we do not get to make use of the AI-driven audio search function that’s available on the remote control. This doesn’t affect the overall use of the projector but would have been much better if we had been able to use it.

The Xiaomi MiJia Youth projector is an incredible projector. It costs less than a TV, is highly portable and can be connected to the Internet and a plethora of devices – Nintendo Switch, AirPlay, XiaoMi devices, and basically anything with a HDMI cable (even Google Chromecast). For the convenience and its price, getting this projector is hands-down a win for my family!

Rating: 5/5

You can find the product on Lazada or Shopee. Alternatively, you can head to XiaoMi’s flagship store in Funan (that’s where we first set our eyes on it!).

Countering facial recognition

Source: Sand Lab

If you’re reading this, you are probably using social media as well. One of the biggest worry about social media is the loss of privacy. Every photo that you post of yourself and your loved ones are processed by artificial intelligence (AI) tools that enable facial recognition. In case you’re never wondered why, this is what lets Facebook suggest names to tag when you upload a photo.

Facial recognition works by establishing invisible relationships among the pixels that make up a computer-generated picture of a face. It then compares it with other photos available online to look for matching ones.

This makes tagging photos in Facebook or looking for photos in Google Photos convenient and easy. However, it may also be used by others — organisations and individuals — to do likewise, venturing into the domain of personal privacy.

The good news is that researchers at the University of Chicago have developed an algorithm that counters that. Named “Fawkes“, it alters your photos slightly to deceive the facial recognition software.

Fawkes uses a process called image cloaking to make tiny, pixel-level changes that make it difficult for facial recognition software to connect your photo to other images.

Altered images look the same visually but the subtle change fools facial recognition software, protecting your privacy in the process.

Caveat. I’ve not tried it myself but if you’re keen to check it out, download the free algorithm (for Mac and Windows) at http://sandlab.cs.uchicago.edu/fawkes/#code.