New camera: Canon G7X

New Canon G7X

Before going to Japan in March, I sold my Canon 60D and all my lenses. My intention was to buy a Sony RX100iii or a Canon G7X. I agonized over the differences. I like the Sony’s eye piece and fully flexible screen, but I don’t like their video formats. Also, that screen looks pretty delicate. The Canon’s touch screen was appealing, as was its video pull-focus feature. While at Yodobashi Camera at Umeda in Osaka, I did a side-by-side. In the end, I was able to negotiate the Canon down to just under $400, including a free neckstrap, screen protector and SD card. That is less than half the Sony!

After using it for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t be happier. It is an excellent little machine, super small and with 3 function rings I feel like I have as much control as my 60D. I am glad I bought it and I would recommend it if you are looking for a powerful yet pocketable camera. You can see a selection of G7X pics from my recent Japan trip here.

I plan on using the leftover money from my 60D towards a new laptop.

Nexus 5

Launch!

See all unboxing photos on Flickr.

It has only been a few days but I have to say that I am immensely enjoying my Nexus 5. For months I have been complaining incessantly about my first Android, a Samsung Galaxy S3. The quality of the software was pretty low, but most of all it was the cheap, soft plastic body and plastic AMOLED screen which scratched and scarred too easily. I was used to the solid build quality of my previous iPhone 4.

When my coworkers got Nexus 4s last year I was envious of the bright displays and glass bodies. The Nexus 5 takes it to the next level with a 445ppi IPS display. It is really gorgeous. Although the body isn’t glass, it is a solid plastic that has some weight to it and feels good in the hand. I don’t think it will chip easily like the S3, but it has only been a few days and I haven’t dropped it. The protruding camera is a bit of a concern (the protruding camera on my S3 is all scratched to hell), but it performs much better than the S3. I am not sure how it compares to an iPhone though.

As for the software, since I have been using a Nexus 7 for the past couple of months I am used to the vanilla Google experience, which is vastly superior to TouchWiz (though there are still a few shortcomings compared to iOS). I look forward putting something more open on the N5 in the future, something that was really difficult to do with my Mac and the S3.

All in all, a great phone. One other bonus: unlocked! I got the S3 on contract (the first time I have had a contract phone for years) and I am so glad to be free from telcos. I am using a T-Mobile SIM while I am in San Francisco, and will just pop in my old SIM when I return to Canada next month. Then while I am in Japan for New Year’s I will use a SIM from there — just like nature intended.

How I read

After listening to The Incomparable #116 (“Very Well-Read Hobos”) I was surprised that the panel did not mention — what is to my mind — the greatest appeal for reading digital books: guilt-free, searchable annotations.

While toiling away on my master’s thesis I had to travel to and from Japan (for family reasons). I did not want to shlep all my source material (stacks of books, journals, photocopies, printouts of articles and the like) back and forth over the Pacific Ocean. So I tried my best to keep all my research digital. It was brilliant. eBooks have a distinct advantage over paper books: they have no margin. You can scribble as much as you like in the virtual margins of an eBook — write a whole other book there if you like! Plus, and here is the best part, it is all searchable! I watched my fellows at the university scrabbling through piles of paper searching for that one footnote. For me, it was a short, typed query away.

I still annotate books all the time. If there is ever an interesting fact, or a clever turn of phrase, whether the book is fiction or not I highlight away — guilt free.

It was also during my time as a graduate that I discovered audiobooks. Hour long commutes and the self-doubt that accompanies writing a thesis (“I don’t know anything!”) made me want to pack every minute of my day with research. A couple of years later, while on paternity leave taking care of my newborn, I found another good use case for audio. So: washing dishes, gardening, commuting… and parenting. My Audible library contains 135 books.

Paper books I barely read anymore. They are far too inconvenient. Not only do I have to be careful while making notes (not to mention the limited space and that they are unsearchable), I need to create the right reading ambience to make any headway. I much prefer an eBook.

Serenity Caldwell reads many of her books on her iPhone (cf. #117: Intergalactic FedEx). I used to do that, but after reading on an iPad I began to appreciate having a larger screen. It is one of the reasons I bought a Galaxy SIII (and one of the few positives of owning an Android). The large display is great for reading. The iPhone 5 did get a longer screen, but I find it is still too narrow for comfortable reading. Hopefully the next version widens out a bit, or I might have to go for an iPad mini.

Yes, I have a Kindle. I got the first batch of international ones to Japan (see my original review here). But the convenience of my phone has relegated my Kindle to the old junk tech pile. It isn’t only the portability, I often read at night in bed and a book light it too clunky.

To sum up: mobile phone or iPad plus audiobooks — that is how I read. Soon I would like to post on what I read, and how it will change in the year 2013.

My first few days with an Android phone

[Sidenote: Funny how I just posted about leaving Apple and now I am talking about my new Android phone…]

Alright, so a couple of Android observations after having this new Samsung Galaxy S3 for just a couple of days. I still haven’t adjusted completely, so I am trying to keep these observations limited to more objective things.

First of all, the hardware:

The screen is flippin’ huge and I love it. It has basically given me arthritis for trying to use it one-handed, but it is nice and roomy. After using an iPad for the past couple of months my iPhone display started seeming small. The SGS3 display size is good. The color, not so good. Far too blue. That probably is related to the materials, which brings me to my next observation: It is all plastic, which sucks. It feels really cheap. Taking the back panel off is like watching SNL: disappointing.

The wifi antennae is really weak. All of my other devices have no problem connecting to my router from all over the house. I get terrible reception with the SGS3. Looking online I learned how to get into a diagnostic mode and turn off Wifi Power Saving Mode or something or other. Didn’t seem to help.

However, it is FAST. Dual core and 2 gigs of RAM. Nice. I am coming from an iPhone 4, not the 4s, so it is even more pronounced.

Now, software:

NOTE: As this thing is using Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature skin thus I cannot generalize about the Android platform as a whole. Keep that in mind — I am.

Okay, just gotta get this off my chest. Every time you tap something you get this little “natural” water droplet sound. It is an annoying manifestation of the Nature theme. Makes me want to wiz.

Widgets are brilliant. I am still not quite sure how I should organize my homescreen and my app drawer, but I see the potential for optimal customization there. I wish more widgets could be placed on the lock screen.

As for apps, I got just about everything I had on the iPhone. My only complaint is the lack of a decent Twitter client. I have been spoiled by Tweetbot.

The keyboard sucks. No spell-check? And no Japanese? But at least I can go out and download a new one that fits my needs. Score 1 for Android.

For such fast hardware, this thing locks up wayyy to easily. Apps crash… a lot. And processes too. Add a new email account and the thing becomes entirely unresponsive for about a minute. None of the onscreen or hardware keys work except for the sleep button. Even if you put it to sleep it won’t wake up until it is done doing what it is doing. This happened to me three times today, in three different apps. All of them ended in a error message.

Speaking of error messages, take a look at one that I get all the time:

Why the hell is this a customer-facing error message? It is meaningless to the average user.

And why does Bell’s Mobile TV app throw an error when I am on a wifi connection? “Content rights restrictions”? OMGWTFBBQ! And that has to be the crashiest app ever.

Okay, so here my bias will show. Feel free to skip this next section and go straight to the last para:

There is a general lack of polish. In general it feels pretty chintzy. Just like the plastic outer casing, the software inside lacks a depth of thought. The UI is “good enough” but it lacks the intuitiveness of the iPhone. Many of the workflows require an abundance of steps using checkboxes, modes and menus with very deep and convoluted hierarchies. (Speaking of menus, TouchWiz is very menu dependent. This comes down to the hardware soft-keys. I mean, soft-keys originated on feature phones. It feels like a step backwards.)

Anyways, I have basically left my iPhone on the desk and have thrown the SGS3 only twice so far, so I think things are going pretty good. I plan on living with this thing for at least the next 2 years so I should have a better sense of comparison in the future. I am sure I will comment more then.

When it comes down to it, I’m enjoying (at least the novelty of) it.

My current podcasts

podcasts 2012

I often talk about all the podcasts I listen to. I thought I would share them for those that are interested.

You can click on the image to enbiggen it. The app I use is Pocket Casts by Shifty Jelly. You can download my OPML file from here.

I grouped all the shows as follows: 5by5 shows; other tech shows; media and geek shows (I still hold out hope for a return); philosophy; “ahem”; football. Within those groups they are somewhat organized by priority. I don’t listen to every single show every week, but the ones at the beginning of each group are a guaranteed listen. I endorse them whole-heartedly.

Altogether I listen to an average of 15-20 hours a week plus or minus what audiobooks I am listening to at the time.

Now that you know what kinds of shows I like, if you have any suggestions let me know!

Learn you good

Each week I attend an online lecture for my Ruby on Rails course. It is conducted using Google+ Hangouts. It is a pretty cool system and I am learning a lot. The course is hosted by Matygo, a local startup here in Vancouver. I am interested in getting these guys on the show.