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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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.

Telstra Walks Away From Philippines Mobile Joint Venture

This is disappointing news. Australia’s Telstra was going to partner with San Miguel to set up a third major mobile phone company in the Philippines but has now walked away from negotiations with San Miguel, according to The Australian and Rappler. Telstra says they were unable to reach commercial agreement with San Miguel.

San Miguel has said they will move forward with setting up the service on their own or with another partner company. Telstra has offered to provide consulting services to San Miguel.

The Philippines has just two major mobile phone/internet companies and some of the slowest mobile internet speeds in the world. It’s not just that it’s slow, it’s not just that coverage is bad, it’s also very expensive. Perhaps a third company might be enough to shake up the market. But I think it’s safe to say that it won’t be happening in 2016.

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?

 

Snugg iPhone 5 Case Review

Since I write a fair bit about the iPhone and iPad from time to time, the folks at The Snugg wrote to me and asked me if I’d like a free case in exchange for a review. They told me I could select from a subset of their offerings and I chose their “Ultra Thin Bamboo iPhone 5 Case in Black.”

iPhone cases are practically a dime a dozen in Hong Kong, and even cheaper if you head across the border to Shenzhen. I always pick up a few of these cheapies at a time – either I get tired of the design or it doesn’t really fit the phone properly or it just falls apart after awhile.

In terms of material, I’ve steered clear of those rubber ones, because I just don’t like how they feel and some of them have seemed to “stick” against my wallet. I’ve also stayed away from leather because that usually adds too much bulk. I don’t like anything with a cover or any of those pouch-like ones. My phone is usually in my front jeans pocket, sharing space either with my wallet or my work phone (a Samsung Galaxy S4).  So I want a screen protector on the front and something thin on the back and sides. The Snugg Bamboo case seemed to fit my particular bill.

So here’s front and back shots of the packaging.

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 And here’s the front and back of the case once removed from the packaging.

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 So as you can see, it’s suitably thin. The bamboo piece has been coated so that it’s smooth to the touch – you’re not going to get any splinters when you pick it up.  The black piece is some sort of plastic or rubber – I’m no expert here – but also smooth. It’s a good, proper fit. Once the phone is in the case, there’s no jiggling around.

Both the top and bottom are “open” – on the bottom it’s not covering the speakers, lightning jack, or headphone jack. The cut is the same on the top, even though there’s just the one on/off button there.

The one thing I would change? I wish it was just the plain wood without their 3D logo. It takes away from what I think is otherwise a pretty sharp looking case.

Here’s a shot of my phone in the case:

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 And a side view:

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 (You’ll probably have to view this photo full-sized. It’s my phone standing on its side, using the, um, case’s case to balance it.)

One thing you should take away from these photos is how thin the case is. It’s also very light. So it adds little to the size or weight.  Yet it seems rigid enough to do what it’s supposed to do.  No – I haven’t tried any torture testing on it, no dropping my phone from ten feet or trying to see if I can smush the case with my fists.  I’ve only had it for a couple of days so I can’t comment on how well it will still look after a month or two. This particular case sells for US$24.95. (Other iPhone 5 cases from them run from $15 up to $40.)

The Snugg actually has a very wide product range. They make cases for every version of the iPad (some include Bluetooth keyboards) and quite a few other tablets out there (including Kindle and Nook). They cover (pardon the pun) iPhones and Samsungs and Blackberry and they also have cases for MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.  They claim to be the #1 seller of iPad cases on both Amazon US and UK.

I just took a look at their listings on Amazon for their iPad case. Almost 5,800 reviews, with an average rating of 4-1/2 stars. Not too shabby. For the bamboo iPhone case, 45 reviews with an average rating of 3.8 stars.

Of course there’s about a billion companies making a zillion cases out there, running the gamut from a buck or so up to designer cases that can cost more than the phone itself. Why pick one from these guys?  Well, of course the first thing will come down to whether or not you like the styles on offer.

These guys do offer a bit more though. They offer a lifetime guarantee on all their cases, they ship globally, they offer free shipping for orders over US$50 (I’m guessing that’s just in the US or the UK – I can’t find any further details on the web site) and say that they offer “no fuss returns.”

Overall, I’m happy with the bamboo case and intend to keep using it. You could do worse than to check out their site and see if they’ve got a case that suits you.