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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Apple iPad Review (5th Gen 2017)




A few weeks ago, Apple announced their new iPad line which includes the current iPad mini 4 that now only comes in 128GB and the new iPad. That’s right, its now just called iPad -- not Air, Air 3 or anything else. What’s even more surprising is that it’s even cheaper than the iPad Air 2 and Mini 4. The price was so good that I ended up buying one on impulse.  Let’s see if the new iPad is really worth buying or something that’s too good to be true.

Specs:

9.7 inch Retina Display 264ppi
A9 64bit CPU
32 or 128GB Storage
2GB RAM
Touch ID
8 MP rear and 1.2MP front camera
WIFI and LTE models
Twin Speakers

32GB US$329 (Php 16500) 
128GB US$429 (Php 21500)



Design and Performance:

At first glance, the new iPad looks like the iPad Air 2 when in fact based on the spec sheet, it's actually the same size as the Air 1. The difference is just a few millimeters that you really need to put them side by side to tell the difference. It is also a bit heavier than the Air 2 but again, only by a few grams. I guess these are aspects where Apple had to cut some corners in order to sell it at a lower price point. 








Another apparent and glaring (pun intended) aspect where they had to scale back is the screen. It doesn’t use an anti-reflective coating and laminated display as the older iPads. What does that mean? Well, in a nutshell the screen is more prone to glare specially outdoors or under direct light and also you’ll notice a very small black space or gap between the edges of the LCD screen and the glass screen. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. If no one points this out, it’s pretty hard to notice. 


Small gap between the LCD and the glass



Also, Apple says that the screen is brighter than previous models so it cranks up the brightness to compensate for the lack of anti-reflective coating (at the expense of battery life). Again, it does seem to work as I had no problems viewing the screen outdoors.

So those are the negatives. On the plus side, the new iPad has a faster A9 chip which is about 1.6X faster than the old A8, faster graphics processor and 2GB of RAM. And I have to say that there is noticeable difference in performance from the older iPad models.



Conclusion

Apple may have gone a one step back, two steps forward with the new iPad. It may even feel like they are using left over components from older models. But with the improved performance and great price point, its good enough to overlook some of the negatives, which in reality aren’t really that big of a deal. Apple might just have a winner on their hands. I can see students and businesses buying tons of these. The price is so competitive that if you have an older iPad or Android tablet this might be a great time for an upgrade.

The Good:

Price
Performance

The Bad:

Design and screen quality (compared to iPad Air 2)
Previous generation touch ID sensor



Thursday, March 2, 2017

ChatSim Review



One of the most challenging problems when traveling is keeping in touch with family, friends and colleagues. ChatSim claims to solve this problem. For a one-time annual fee, you can now keep in touch using some of the popular messaging apps. Let’s see if this is for real or just something that’s too good to be true.

What is it?

ChatSim is basically a pre-paid data roaming SIM card to use with your phone. It has a partnered with over 200 Telco operators and works in over 150 countries. You start out by purchasing their SIM card for US$15, plus $15 per year of unlimited chat (including Emoji) messaging. If you want to use it for data or use it for voice call and send photos they also have various plans at an additional cost. Once you get your SIM card, simply insert it into an unlocked phone, make sure data roaming is enabled and start using it.

Caveats (updated)

While you might think ChatSim is the final the solution to all your problems, there are some caveats that you need to be aware of. First of all, not all messaging apps are supported. It works with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Line, WeChat, BBM, Kakao, Telegram, Hike and QQI. Yes, that’s right. It does not support Viber and iMessage.  If you only use the latter then this might not be for you. While you can purchase additional plans so that you can use other apps, they can be a bit confusing. However, I did get an email from ChatSim giving me a sample of their plans. Here it is.

We can help you to understand price dedicated to exchanging multimedia contents with the additional plan.
Our recharges work in credits and we have 3 type of them:
2000 credits
5000 credits
10 000 credits
They are different only for the amount of credits; it depends on how much you want to exchange.

Example.
Country Japan:





With the minimum recharge of 2000 you can exchange untill maximum 200 photos, or 40 videos, or 80 minutes of voip calls. Amount depends on quality of contents and text messages exchanged. This is the idea of what you can do with credits in a specific country.
In Japan 1 MB is 50 credits

At the following link you can select country and amount of recharge and check what you can do with your credits

https://www.chatsim.com/plans

You also need to restrict some other apps from using data in the background by diving deep into the settings of your phone. If you use you phone either intentionally or not for other things that require data other than the supported apps, this could cause your account to be suspended. Therefore, it’s advisable to follow the setup instructions on the ChatSim website very carefully.

Verdict

I’ve been using ChatSim for over a month now. I’ve tried it in the US, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, and so far, it’s been working very well. I only got the unlimited messaging and did not buy additional plans. While I did find ChatSim's additional features plan a little confusing, you need to understand that different countries will have different pricing , that's just how roaming agreements work. So you really need to read it well. but at least it’s nice to know I have the option should I need it.

Another thing you need to consider is how you use the SIM card. Using a second phone dedicated for ChatSim would be most convenient. A dual-SIM phone will work too. That way, you don’t accidentally activate data roaming on your main SIM. It is also easier to disable apps from using data in the background on a separate phone. I’ve been using it with WhatsApp and Line without any problem. My Viber messages will have to wait till I get to a WiFi hotspot.

If you are a frequent traveler and don’t live in a Viber or iMessage world, then ChatSim is a godsend.

For more information visit ChatSim.com.

Update 03/24/2017

The nice folks at ChatSim were kind enough to send me a promo code.  Use promo code TECHAMUNA and it will give 250 FREE credits to the first 25 users. It has to be used during the "ACTIVATION" process



The Good

Price
It works!


The bad

Not all messaging apps are supported
Additional features plans depends on Zones (or countries) 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Asus Transformer Mini Review



A couple of years ago, I purchased an Acer W8 Windows tablet and it was a great purchase at the time. Then it was started to slow down and show it’s age. The 8-inch screen was also starting to feel small. That, or my eyesight must be starting to deteriorate. So I decided to get a new tablet. This time, I chose the Asus Transformer Mini. I was originally thinking of getting the Microsoft Surface 3 but alas, Microsoft decided to discontinue it. With the urgent need of a replacement that would suit my failing eyesight, I decided to get the Mini. Now let’s see if it was a wise decision.

Specs

10.1 “ 1280x800 screen
Intel Atom X5 Z8350 1.44 Ghz processor
4GB RAM and 128GB eMMC storage with Micro SD expansion
1 USB, 1 Micro USB and 1 micro HDMI
Fingerprint Sensor
Front 2MP camera
Weight 800g
Comes with detachable Keyboard and Stylus
11 Hrs battery life

Model T102HA
US$ 399 on Amazon

Design and usability

First of all, let’s lay it all out there. The design of the Mini is exactly like the Microsoft Surface, except smaller. Everything from the kickstand to the keyboard cover is the same. Of course, the Surface is more expensive so Asus had to cut cost by making it smaller and use a slower Atom processor. To be fair, the all-metal build of the Mini feels very sturdy and gives it a more premium look. Another place where Asus had to cut cost is in the screen. You only get an HD and not a full HD screen. On the upside, they make up for it with the quality. It is very bright and with good viewing angles and on a 10-inch screen, it doesn’t really bother me all that much. One place where they do better is that Asus includes the Keyboard and Stylus while Microsoft will charge you and arm and a leg for those.

The Mini is very light and I was actually quite surprised when I picked it up for the first time. Using it with one hand for extended periods is no effort at all. I also do like that they included a full USB and a micro HDMI port. The micro USB port is also great which means I can just use a standard phone charger so I don’t have to carry an extra one.










Performance

Like I mentioned, Asus had to cut some corners and one of those was using a low power Atom X5 processor. I wish they had used an M3 or even an X7 but I’m sure the people who will buy this aren’t power users anyway. I’ve been using this for a week now and so far, no hiccups. Browsing, watching movies, YouTube and MS Word were no problems at all. The 4GB of RAM helps a lot with multitasking but I’m quite sure that playing demanding games will be almost impossible on this machine.
I have to mention that the keyboard is quite small so I don’t think you’ll be writing your next best selling novel on this thing. I am however able to write this review with no problems. Another bonus is that the included stylus is quite good for drawing with only the only drawback is that it needs a hard-to-find “AAAA” battery. Lastly, the included fingerprint sensor is very responsive and useful. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of a rear-facing camera which would have been very useful for taking photos of documents and such.

Verdict

I have to say that I took a leap of faith when I got this. Since this was a newly released product, I was never able to see it and there weren’t that many reviews online at that time. Several things surprised me with the Asus Transformer Mini. It’s lightweight, the screen is very bright, the fingerprint sensor works instantly and lastly, the battery life is very good. Knowing the limitations of the Mini this could be very useful for a student or for someone that needs a light travel sized 2-in-1 laptop/tablet. If you need more power I would suggest getting the Transformer 3 or Pro or even the Surface 4 Pro. You also get a free copy of Microsoft Office which is a great bonus on this little versatile machine.

The Good

Light weight
Bright Screen
Fingerprint scanner
Build quality
Keyboard and Stylus are included
Free copy of Microsoft Office mobile

The Bad

Small keyboard

No rear camera

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trivoly Smart Watch Review



Smartwatches are fantastic. They give us a taste of the Dick Tracy future we always dreamed about. However, there seems to be something missing about high tech wearables. If you’re a person who appreciates the engineering and craftsmanship involved in making classic mechanical watches in the league of Rolex, Omega, IWC (just to name a few,) then you would know what I’m talking about. I looked back at my then LG G Watch R and realized that this thing had no soul, no heritage and no long-term value. Even a cheap mechanical Seiko watch had more charm and value than a smartwatch. It was then that I made the decision to free myself from the shackles of a high tech wearable. Don’t get me wrong, I still think smartwaches are great, but perhaps for specific uses. I could still see myself wearing one when I go to the gym or out for a run. But for everyday use, I was going back old school. After resurrecting my old mechanical watches, I realized that I sort of missed being able to get notifications on my watch. So after searching high and low, I found a solution called Trivoly on Kickstarter. The idea seemed like the best of both worlds. Their slogan is, “turns any watch into a smartwatch”.  I decided to back the project and after a few months of waiting, I finally have my Trivoly. Let’s see if this unique little gadget lives up to its promise.

Specs

Trivoly 2

• Full fitnes tracker: optical heart rate sensor,
pedometer, stairs, sleep, sports (works with
Strava, Google Fit, Apple Health and more)
• Messages, notifications, calls, alerts
• Control your smartphone from your wrist:
Camera, Spotify, iTunes, SONOS
• Works with any watch
• Sleek, ergonomic design
• Hypo allergenic: certified skin friendly
• Water resistant
• Up to 4 days battery life
• USB-charger

Trivoly 1 EUR 99
Trivoly 2 EUR 129

Design and use

The concept of the Trivoly is quite ingenious. Just stick this tiny disk behind your watch and it will basically turn it in to a smartwatch. While you obviously can’t read messages on it, at least you could get a vibrating alert every time you get a call or notification. The Trivoly has two versions. One that only gives notifications and the other version has some fitness tracking features like a heart rate sensor and step counting.
As with any Kickstarter project, there are risks involved. The first snag was the delay of about 4 months from the promised delivery date. The second was the negative feedback and comments I was seeing from the first batch of users. When it finally arrived, I was really excited to use it. Unfortunately, it seemed like the negative comments I saw were true. First of all, it’s not as thin as I had hoped. It makes your watch to sit too high on your wrist. It’s also a bit uncomfortable to wear and it leaves a mark on your wrist. Secondly, the build quality is pretty bad. It feels like it was made in a rush with no regard to fit and finish. It would be a sacrilege to put this under a Rolex. Lastly, the Trivoly Android App itself is quite terrible. It only supports a handful of third party apps. There’s no support for Viber, native Samsung text messaging app and alarms.










Verdict

While it may seem that Trivoly is a disaster, it’s not really that bad. To be fair, it does work as advertised. I was able to get call notifications, Whatsapp, Gmail and I was even able to control Spotify on it. Unfortunately, my stock messaging app for Samsung won’t work (you have to install a third party message app which I don’t want to do), no alarms which is probably one of the best features of a smartwatch and no Viber support. The heart rate and step counter are not accurate. In fact, the heartrate monitor would fail half the time. On the bright side, most of these issues are fixable if they update their app. What is not fixable is the build quality. I posted some photos to see what I mean. In the end, the Trivoly seems more like a prototype than a finished product. The makers of Trivoly truly have a bright and innovative concept. If they don’t straighten up their act, I sure hope someone else does.

The Good

Great idea
It works

The Bad

Build Quality
No Viber support
App needs improvement
Heartrate sensor does not always work