Headphones I’m Using Now, Music I’m Listening to Now

Headphones are another addiction of mine – an addiction that I have (mostly) conquered. I used to buy several sets a year. (Most of them have long since been sold off.) I bought so many that the guys in one of the headphone shops in the top floor of the Wanchai Computer Centre knew me well.

I wouldn’t say I’m an audiophile. Some of my ability to hear high frequencies is gone with age and I have tinnitus (probably a result of doing rock concert security back in my college years).

On the other hand, I have a good idea of what music should sound like, or at least how I want it to sound. I listen to a broad variety of genres. And thanks to the increased storage capacity of the iPhone 7+, I’ve now been filling up that storage capacity with Apple Lossless files rather than MP3’s, more than 3,000 songs so far.

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My Hong Kong Airport Adventure

I know I don’t come off looking too great in this story but I’m going to share it anyway. (In my defense, I will state that my job search is still unresolved and I was leaving Hong Kong thinking that it could be a very long time until I return. I was distracted and feeling semi-depressed.)

Monday night was my night to fly back to Manila from Hong Kong. Over the course of the past six months, my routine has gotten pretty fixed. I always take the last flight out from Cebu Pacific – it gets me back to Manila after midnight, so usually the traffic has died down a bit and I can get home pretty quickly. I leave our apartment in Wanchai relatively early so that I can take my time in the airport.

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Sony MDR-1000X Bluetooth Headphones

So, dealing with listening to music on the iPhone 7+.

For the last couple of months, I’ve had the Dragonfly Red DAC and Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 and been quite happy with the sound, not to forget that I now have more than 2,000 songs in Apple’s lossless format on the device. But to be honest, this set up was a literal and figurative pain. Literal, because the MSR7’s grip my head tightly and become uncomfortable after an hour. Figurative because I’d have to plug in so much stuff and then deal with the cord dangling down (and sometimes getting the cord stuck on stuff in crowded situations).

I do have one pair of Bluetooth headphones, the original Parrot Zik 1.0, which I’d bought used several years ago and had fallen out of love with. Since I was in Hong Kong, I thought I might get myself a new pair of Bluetooth something but was hoping to get away without spending very much.

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Apple and iTunes Are Driving Me Insane

I may have finally hit the point where I am ready to abandon the iPhone and the Apple eco-system.

Something weird started happening when I got my iPhone 7+ a couple of months ago. Syncing, which had never been a problem before, suddenly became a huge fucking problem. I’ve had almost every iPhone and I have never had this problem before and Apple’s tech support has been almost absolutely useless in solving this.

When I sync, if I have new music that I want to copy to the phone, or have updated apps on my computer that need to be updated on the phone, sometimes what happens is the sync will start up, it will do the back-up just fine, it will copy the diagnostic information, and then when it comes time to copy apps or music to the phone, it just dies. “Copying 1 of …” and it just sits there, until after about 30 minutes or so it times out and stops, unless I’ve stopped it before then.

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iPhone 7 Plus – Changing the Location of Your Backups

If you’ve been following along, you might recall that I got the new iPhone 7 Plus with 256 gig of RAM, the intention being to use that additional space for Lossless (FLAC) music files. I’ve so far added in more than 60 gig of FLAC files.

And then I ran into a problem – well actually two problems.

The first problem is that when I got the phone and set it up and then upgraded from iOS 10.0 to 10.0.1, it went into recovery mode. And the same thing happened again yesterday when doing the upgrade from 10.0.1 to 10.0.2. I have not had a chance to search around and see if this is a commonly reported issue or not. I may bring the phone to the Apple store when I am in Hong Kong this weekend.

Doing all of these back-ups and restores came with a cost. Like many people today, I use a relatively small solid state drive (SSD) for my C: drive. Mine is 223 gigabytes. I try to put as much as possible on other drives – all my data, most application installations and so on.

iOS is treating all of these FLAC files as “Documents & Data.” That means that this 60+ gig gets backed up every time I back up my phone. And that used up all of the free space on my C: drive. All of it.

iTunes does not offer you any options for location of your iOS device back-up files. They go on the C: drive, hidden away in a directory called C:\Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync.

I did not want to go out and replace my SSD. And I didn’t want to delete all those FLAC files from my phone. Finally I found a solution here. Basically what you’re doing is creating a symbolic link in the MobileSync directory to a new backup folder, which can be located anywhere you want (in my case, on my E:\ drive).

This may sound complicated but it’s not. That page does such a clear job of explaining it that I was able to get it set up in just a few minutes, and working right the first time. I now have 129 gig free space on my C:\ drive.

I won’t say this is a life saver for me, but it’s saved me from an expensive upgrade.

 

Some Quick Thoughts on the iPhone 7 Plus

I got my iPhone 7 Plus (256 gig, black) on Tuesday. I’ve had it for exactly a day and a half so haven’t had much time to play with it yet. Overall I’m happy with the decision I made. Of course, I don’t get my phone for free like some reviewers, so I’m pre-disposed to liking it after having spent so much money.

I’ve never had the “Plus” before. It’s a lot heavier than I expected and that will take some getting used to. I appreciate the larger keyboard to type on and the screen is amazingly sharp. With my regular sized iPhone 6, I was frequently reaching for my glasses for tasks like reading and responding to text messages – I don’t think I’ll need to do that as often now. I expect the larger screen to be useful for Waze (which is one of my most frequently used apps) but haven’t driven anywhere in the last 2 days to test it out.

My 128 gig iPhone 6 was almost always full. Now I have a lot of empty space and I’m filling it up with FLAC files (from CD’s I’m ripping myself using Exact Audio Copy and some stuff that I have, um, downloaded). I’m using a free app called FLAC Player+ for playing the music on the phone and so far that is working quite well. There are ads on screen – but how often does one look at the screen when listening to music?

(Time saving tip: Since FLAC Player+ loads files via iTunes’ file sharing interface, the first time I loaded files I had 20 files that started with 01., 20 files that started with 02., and so on. I deleted everything, batch renamed files so they had the album names first and reloaded the files. Otherwise it would be a long and painful process to delete individual albums later on. It appears that playlists need to be created on the phone. I’ve been using MusicBee to make sure all files are properly tagged.)

The sound quality is just blowing me away. I’m using the Audioquest Dragonfly Red DAC and the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones and I’m hearing details that I haven’t heard in a very long time. This alone makes the upgrade worth it for me!

I have not yet tried the Lightning/Headphone adapter with any of my wired headphones. I’ll get to it eventually.

My first phone call received was a spam marketing call! The first photo taken was of my wife and it’s very sharp, colors are great.

Here’s a test image taken my iPhone 6:

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That’s straight out of the camera, no processing aside from resizing it when loading it here.

Here’s a crop – JPG loaded into Picasa, cropped, no other adjustments, exported:

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Now here’s the shot I took moments later with the iPhone 7 Plus:

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And a similar crop:

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Nothing very scientific here. Do the iPhone 7 photos seem sharper? That could be, or it could just be that I was doing both shots handheld, relatively quickly, and can’t say with any certainty that I was in the exact same position for both photos. I have not had time to try out any apps that allow for RAW capture and editing.

The 7 Plus screen is definitely sharper. So when I compare the two images side by side on the phones, of course the one on the 7 looks better than the one on the 6. That should come as no surprise. DisplayMate tested the iPhone 7 display and said it was “visually indistinguishable from perfect”.

Some people have been freaking out over the new home “button that’s not a button.” So far it hasn’t bothered me even a tiny bit. I didn’t feel much of a difference between the three different settings for the “Taptic” response so I just left it set at “1”. Setting up my fingerprints seemed to go a lot quicker than on the iPhone 6.

The iPhone came with iOS 10 already installed, but Apple had released iOS 10.0.1 almost immediately after the initial 10 release to fix upgrade issues people were having. My upgrade of the 7 Plus from 10 to 10.0.1 surprisingly may have been the most painful iPhone OS upgrade I’ve ever done. During the first attempt, response from the Apple servers was so slow (32 hours to download 2 gig?) that I aborted just a few minutes in. Second attempt, downloaded at normal speed, but some how the data on the phone got corrupted and it needed to be recovered before I could proceed.

Also pairing my Apple Watch took a long time as I had to first un-pair it from the 6, pair it with the 7, restore it from a back-up and reload the apps. Not difficult, just time-consuming.

Overall, so far I’m quite happy with it and glad I upgraded from the 6. It feels like a major upgrade to me.

 

Which iPhone Will I Buy?

You all know I’m an Apple fan boy. And yet last year, for the first time, I did not automatically upgrade my iPhone when Apple released the 6s. I still haven’t gone for it.

I believe I will buy the iPhone 7 though. I think the differences from the 6 to the 7 are substantial enough to convince me to pull the trigger. Longer battery life, better screen, much improved cameras, faster CPU, waterproof-ish.

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I’m not at all bothered by the lack of a headphone jack. First of all, there kind of is one with the adapter cable. More importantly, ever since I bought the Dragonfly, I’ve been connecting my headphones to that and then connecting that to the Lightning port via the camera adapter – a little bit kludgy looking but sounds fantastic. Any of my wired headphones will work this way (although the mike and volume controls on the cords will no longer work)(and presumably the new way of connecting wired headphones to the iPhone 7 will have the same impact) and I do have one set of Bluetooth headphones, the Parrot Zik (version 1).

Here’s one of many round-ups detailing all the new stuff. Here’s another.

There are just three things I have yet to figure out. First, the color. Black or jet black? Hard to tell the difference from photos but the Apple web site notes that the back of the jet black model will be more inclined to show scratches.

Second, I have the 128 gig iPhone 6. 96 gig of the available 114 gig is filled with music – 9,423 songs at the moment. Isn’t that enough? Would I ever really need more than that? Well, I would if someone ever releases an app that played FLAC files. (VLC does, but with a horrendous interface.)

And then, do I need the larger Plus model? One huge use of my phone is running Waze whenever I drive anywhere. The larger screen would definitely help there. And I’m definitely intrigued by the dual camera set-up on the back of the Plus.

Pre-orders start at 3 PM HK time today (September 9th). If you’re buying one, which one are you getting … and why? And any readers who have the 6 Plus or 6s Plus, how happy with that are you compared to the standard sized model?

P.S. I have the Apple Watch and I wear it almost every day. I saw nothing that makes me think I need to upgrade to the Apple Watch 2.


UPDATE: I went for the iPhone 7 Plus, 256 gig, black. I want the bigger screen, I’m intrigued by the camera set-up, you can never have enough storage, and I think the “black” (as opposed to “jet black”) looks cooler.

The online confirmation that I got when I placed the order said delivery between September 28 and October 4. The email confirmation I received an hour later said delivery between September 19 and 21. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Three Days With the Apple Watch

apple-watch-customize-watch-face-hero

One thing I bought on my recent trip to Hong Kong was an Apple Watch. I realized that since the watch has now been on the market for more than six months, it would be easy enough to find a used one relatively cheap on DC Fever and I was correct.

Why did I want one?

I’m less of an Apple fanboi than I used to be. I feel zero need to buy the iPhone 6s or the iPad Pro. But I like “wearables” and find them useful.

I started off with the Nike Fuel band but that only lasted on my wrist for a few weeks. Next I went to the Jawbone UP, and after about a year I still wear it sometimes (these days I mostly use it for sleep tracking).

Millions of people around the world are obsessed with watches. You see this especially in Hong Kong – but it’s a global phenomenon. People pay thousands, tens of thousands for luxury brands for many reasons. Me? I’ve worn the same Casio solar G-Shock for about ten years now. I’ve never needed to change a battery and the watch looks about the same as the day I bought it. The downside is I can never remember how to change the time when I travel; I end up leaving it alone and computing in my head each time I look at it. I don’t think I would buy a Rolex or Patek Philippe even if I could afford one.

The Apple Watch intrigued me because I’m the kind of person who pulls his iPhone out of his pocket 67 times a day. Half the time I think I felt a vibration and pull it out to check the screen but there’s nothing new. And half the time I don’t feel the vibration and miss calls and text messages. So the idea of being able to get a “buzz” on my wrist and simply glance at my wrist to see what’s going on was appealing to me.

I read through a bunch of reviews, especially looking for ones that were written by writers after they’d lived with the watch for awhile. The consensus seemed to be that while the watch hadn’t become an essential piece of gear in their lives, most were still wearing it and loving it. One review (sorry, can’t find the links now) said that while the Apple Watch wasn’t a great smart watch, for the money it was a pretty great watch.

So which one to buy? There are several different configurations, starting with the materials used for the case and the “crystal.” The internals (CPU and memory) are the same across all of the models. When this first came out and I went into an Apple store to check them out, I’d thought I might go for one costing around US$800. What I found was that the only ones selling used on DC Fever were the bottom-end Apple Sport Watch. I decided I didn’t need anything more than that. My used one came with a second band and a screen protector (since the Sport edition uses cheaper materials for the crystal).

The Apple Watch is notoriously slow to load apps. Watch OS2 brought about apps that run natively on the watch, rather than just beaming information from the iPhone. Still slow but not quite as slow. The number of apps is quite limited compared to what’s available in iOS, but there are still plenty of useful ones.

The clincher for me is that one of the apps will allow me to control my GoPro Hero4 camera from the watch. I bought an all-black housing for the GoPro to make it less visible. I have a mount that allows me to put it on the strap of my backpack. And now I can walk down the street and take photos simply by tapping on my watch. I think that’s pretty cool.

The other thing that’s proven useful?  My wife messages me a hundred times a day. (Sigh.) It used to be that I’d have to pull the phone out of my pocket, unlock the screen, read her message, type a reply. Now all I have to do is glance at my wrist, scroll through her message using one finger, and then tap the little “thumbs up” symbol to send her a quick reply.

The Apple Watch is not as immediately intuitive as some other Apple products. I had to use Google to find out how to change the watch face – and there are a lot of options, many of which are almost infinitely configurable. There’s an animated version of the classic Mickey Mouse watch face, which is nice for about 13 seconds. One really cool one is the “Timelapse” – you can set it for one of 6 different cities (Hong Kong, New York, London, Paris, Shanghai, Mack Lake). For Hong Kong you get a view from The Peak which changes according to the time of day (and has some animations in it). Mostly I prefer a simple watch face, but I have added in the date, the current weather, a world clock, battery status and a button for the GoPro.

It’s also quite cool that I can make and receive calls directly on the watch. (I can only call out to those on my favorites list, which is fine.) I don’t know how often I’ll actually use it, but what the heck. I can control my music from the watch, get turn-by-turn directions as I’m walking down the street via Apple or Google Maps or Waze, and a few other things.

The Apple Watch is extremely light weight and quite thin. It’s big on my wrist because I bought the 42mm model (instead of the 38mm) because I wanted the bigger screen, but it’s so light that I barely realize I’m wearing it. And it’s a pleasant surprise that my crappy old eyes are able to read the screen without my needing to reach for my reading glasses.

One thing I don’t like is the watch band. The guy I bought it from had the basic black plastic band that comes with the Sport Watch model, along with what I think is a knock-off version of their “Milanese woven steel loop”. Apple makes a dizzying variety of bands and they’re expensive. Apple being Apple, the band attaches to the watch in a proprietary fashion. There are cheaper third party options, but I suspect they are not widely available in the Philippines. I need to find a thicker metal band or a leather one.

Battery life has proven to be better than expected. My day Friday started at 8 AM and I didn’t get home until almost 2 AM that night. I did use the battery pack I carry around to charge the watch around 5 PM but I think it would have lasted until 2 AM even if I hadn’t done that.

As the title of this post says, I’ve only had the gizmo for three days. Of course I’m happy with it so far. How will I feel about it in 3 months? How will I feel about it after the inevitable release of Apple Watch 2? Stay tuned.

Apple Scruffs

Here’s the deal. In case you’re new to my blog, every time Apple does one of their new product announcement dog and pony shows, I write a blog post about how the new stuff is crap, how Apple has totally lost it and how I won’t be buying any of it. Then three months later I go out and buy almost all of it. This post won’t be terribly different.

I stayed up last night reading one of the live streams from the Apple show. I’ve had a little more than 12 hours to think about it and read some of the online punditry. What do I think?

Apple Watch

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I’m very into the whole wearables concept. (I have a Jawbone UP24 that I quite like, when I remember to wear it.) I like the idea of being able to glance at my wrist rather than dig my phone out of my pockets to get some quick information. I don’t like the idea that every year or two Apple will try to sell me a new watch and that my old one will become obsolete because eventually Apple will release an OS version that’s not compatible with my watch. I worry that I’ll need to go digging for my glasses any time I need to use the watch for something other than telling time. I’m not crazy about needing to charge my watch daily. (I have worn a Casio Pro Trek Solar for more than 5 years. I’ve never needed to update an OS and I’ve never needed to change a battery, much less remember to charge it. It’s got huge white analog hands against a black dial and I can read the time from across the room.)

I guess the biggest change here is that the watch will soon have native apps that don’t require connectivity to the same app running on your phone. This is a good and necessary upgrade for them, and something that has been expected for months.

Verdict: I haven’t bought one so far. I almost succumbed when I was in NYC in July but managed to resist then, and I think I can manage to resist now.

Apple TV

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The addition of apps and voice control strike me as major innovations here. The idea that you can just talk into a remote and get the weather or a baseball score to pop up on screen while you’re still watching Mr. Robot seems useful. More useful is that you can say “I want to see a comedy” or “Robert De Niro movies please” and it will, if I have this right, throw up on a screen a menu of choices – and that menu will be source agnostic.

I’ve got a Western Digital WD-TV Live and a Roku stick. I like them both but they both have very clumsy interfaces. They’re a pain to use but I use them a lot (especially the WD-TV) because the services I receive through them are important to me. They’re worth the pain that these devices put me through. Eliminate the pain and that’s a nice improvement in my life.

There are two things that would keep me from buying an Apple TV. The first is that much of the stuff I download is not in formats that play nicely with Apple. Yes, I can get any format I have to play on my iPad via VLC. I don’t know (yet) if there is or will be an Apple TV equivalent app. Right now I can download anything I want in any format I can find it in, stick it on a USB drive, plug it into my WD-TV, and it just plays (well, it plays after waiting two minutes for the WD-TV to start up each time). If I can’t do that on an Apple TV, that would greatly reduce its desirability for me.

And second, the Philippines is not a priority country for Apple. There’s no Apple store in this country, just authorized distributors. The Philippines doesn’t get the new equipment as quickly as, say, Hong Kong or Singapore. So how much material would be available to download or stream from a Philippines iTunes tvOS store? That remains to be seen.

Verdict: Interested but not in any rush.

iPad

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No upgrades (that I can recall) for the iPad Air or iPad Mini. The big news was all about the massive iPad Pro. An iPad with a 12.9 inch diagonal screen weighing a pound and a half. Yawn. “You didn’t buy the smaller iPad, what about a bigger one?”

It has four speakers. Nice. You can buy a keyboard and stylus for it – I can do that (and have done that) for my regular iPad already.

Some are talking about this as a laptop replacement. For me, iOS needs to get a lot better at multi-tasking before I can consider it. And I’d need to be able to connect big USB drives to it, ones that I could also easily connect to laptops or desktops.

Last but not least, this is not a cheap solution. A 128 gig model with LTE and with the optional keyboard and stylus will cost far more than a 13 inch MacBook Air, which as far as I’m concerned is currently a more capable machine.

Verdict: Zero interest

iPhone

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Better cameras, yawn. Aluminium body, yawn. Faster Touch ID, bfd. Rose gold, really?

I was falling asleep and thinking about shutting down my computer and heading to the bedroom when they got to the bit about the improved screen, haptic feedback, and pressure sensitive gestures. This is innovative and might prove to be actually useful. I suppose it’s a matter of how soon the 3rd party software companies take advantage of this, how they implement it, and how they will continue to support their software running on older model iPhones that don’t have this capability.

Verdict: Definitely interested but not something I need to rush out and buy. As of now it is a “nice to have” but not “essential.”

So what are your thoughts? Are you going to rush out to buy any of this stuff? What new features are the most meaningful to you?