Posts tagged ‘review’


Some surprises on day one with the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 5G

07.12.2021



Top: Decent enough specs for the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 5G. Above: Very respectable download speeds (in the header) as the phone updates 71 apps.

My Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 5G is here, and it’s proved better than the reviews suggested.
   First up, kudos to the seller, YouGeek on Aliexpress, who not only double-checked to see that I wanted the Chinese version, but was considerate enough to send me, without any prompting, a New Zealand power adapter. The wrapping was the most secure I’ve ever seen from any Aliexpress vendor, like a hefty transparent Michelin man.
   DHL did the delivery two days ahead of schedule, which pleased me no end.
   The phone itself surprised me. I imagined 6·53 inches would be too big and 199 g too heavy, but neither has come to pass. It’s marginally taller than the outgoing Meizus but not ridiculously so, and as I have large hands, the width is fine. I haven’t noticed the weight increase, either.
   The blue finish, which isn’t available on the export Note 9T 5G, is probably the best colour of the three on offer, and frankly I don’t care if the back is plastic or metal. As long as it keeps the bits inside, it’s fine.
   What also isn’t on offer for export is precisely these specs: MediaTek Dimensity 800U running at a maximum of 2·4 GHz, 6 Gbyte of RAM, and 128 Gbyte of internal storage. The model code is M2007J22C.
   Other surprises: it’s Android 11 (security update, October 1, 2021) running MIUI 12·5. Now, whether it was straight out of the box, I can’t swear to, since it prompted me to do an update not too long after I switched on and logged in.
   It did try to get me to give a voice print to unlock its features by saying four Chinese words. Naturally I said them, but it seems Xiaomi doesn’t recognize Cantonese! The fingerprint scanner wasn’t that easy to set up—it took numerous attempts before it recognized my finger—but I got there, and now it’s programmed, the home screen does launch quickly.
   The first order of business was to take myself off ad personalization (so easy, they even take you to the screen during set-up), then download Bromite as the browser, to stop using the clumsy default; and replace Sogou keyboard with Microsoft Swiftkey. The rest was getting the apps to mirror the old phones’, which was pretty simple thanks to various APK sites such as APK Pure. The only one that did not function at all (a blank screen after the logo) was Instagram, but you expect Facebook, Inc. products to be buggy. An Uptodown download of a version from June 2021 solved that.
   Despite what other reviewers found, I discovered that the watermark on the photos was switched off by default. I’ve seen the grand total of one advertisement on the default apps, so the notion that Xiaomi is heavily ad-driven doesn’t seem to be the case with mine. There is a possibility that the combination of Chinese spec, English language, and a New Zealand IP address isn’t one that advertisers want to reach. There are far fewer app notifications than I got on the Meizus.
   After updating the OS, there were 71 apps that also needed the same treatment. Those came down at lightning speeds, even on wifi, at over 20 Mbyte/s.
   I’ve synced my messages, call logs and contacts, though surprisingly the phone could not work out that the New Zealand 02 numbers were the same as +64 2, and those had to be manually added. The old Meizu M2 Note had no such trouble back in 2016.
   The default typeface choice in MIUI is much easier on the eyes than the default Android fonts.
   Interestingly, the default music player here also fails to pick up local music on an SD card, rendering it useless, much like Meizu’s (are they copying one another, to have the same bug?). Once again, it was InShot’s Music Player to the rescue, and it works fine here. Sadly, I do have to relink a lot of the album covers.
   Screenshots aren’t as intuitive, as the volume control invariably appears if you do the power–volume switches’ combination, but a screenshot feature in the pull-down menu does the job.
   The battery life is interesting, as I’ve used it for about six hours since it was charged up to 100 per cent, and it fell to 65 per cent in that time. That tells me the 5,000 mAh is good for 18 hours of sustained usage, which included setting up, Bluetooth-linking it to the car and the M2 Note, running apps, using Here Maps for some navigation, and using some mobile data. I haven’t viewed any videos yet, and I don’t play any games. I’ll be interested to see how it fares on a more regular day: earlier reviews had led me to believe it could last over a day. I’m sure it can without the heavy use I’ve put it through in its first six hours.
   I understand that with the pace of change in China, this phone, launched this week one year ago, is already obsolete, but as far as I’m concerned, I hope I’m future-proofed for another six years—that’s how long the M2 lasted before things like its short battery life and inability to receive some calls became an issue. (And this was despite the M6 Note having come into service from 2018 with a short break to get serviced at PB.) It’s been a very pleasing first six hours, without the stress of having to put on a Chinese OS myself, and continuing to be Google-free.

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Posted in China, design, internet, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »


Farewell, Manhattan: switching to the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK Cherry MX Brown

10.04.2015

QuickFire TK
The Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, with white case.

On Tuesday, my Manhattan keyboard, for which I gave a glowing review on Amazon, gave up the ghost. I’m not entirely sure why but through its lifetime, there were two things wrong with it: the first was that regular typing wore off the keys’ markings (not an issue since I touch-type, and they were in Arial, so it was a pleasure to see them gone); and the wiring was conking out, as it would disconnect itself from the USB for about five seconds a day.
   I tend to buy these things based on their practical value, and I’ve gone through my history of finding the right keyboard elsewhere. However, on Tuesday, I found myself needing one pretty quick smart.
   Now, I could have moved another keyboard from one of the less utilized machines, but, faced with the prospect of finishing a book chapter this weekend, I didn’t savour the prospect of typing on a membrane keyboard. Sadly, those are all that are left here, other than the scissor-switch one on my Asus laptop.
   As I headed out to town, there weren’t many alternatives. I looked in the usual places, such as Dick Smith and Noël Leeming, knowing that they wouldn’t have what I sought: a decent keyboard operated on scissor-switches, that was a maximum of 16 inches wide. (I can tolerate maybe an other half-inch on top of that at a pinch.) If anything, I only popped by these stores because they were en route from the Railway Station into town and I was using public transport that day. But, if there was a fluke and there was something that was the equivalent of the dead Manhattan, I probably would have got it.
   To save you clicking through to the old post, I dislike reaching for a mouse (and I’m getting progressively fussier with those, too), and the 16-inch width is something I found I was comfortable with after years of typing. I also need a numeric keypad since I type in European languages, and Windows wants you to use the numeric keypad, unlike Mac.
   I visited Matthew Sew Hoy at Atech Computers on Wakefield Street. He knew my plight because I had told him on previous visits: that’s the beauty of going to a smaller store and getting personal service. He remembered the story instantly. And he had just the thing: a mechanical keyboard for about 10 times the price of the old Manhattan.
   I have long been a fan of the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, which suits my requirements to a T. The trouble always was the price: I have seen them go for over NZ$200, and I’ve toyed with bringing one in on a business trip. However, Atech had two, starting from NZ$160.
   Over the years I had eyed the TK with Cherry MX Blue switches: the clicky ones. My Pinterest is full of blue-switch compact keyboards. This was familiar territory to me, and probably most people who are my age and up. Keyboards should make a little click noise as the keys are depressed: that’s the mechanical switch getting activated. This is the reason mechanical keyboards cost more: modern ones, the $20 variety you see at Dick Smith, don’t have individual switches underneath each key. They only have a sheet with a printed circuit and contacts underneath, sending electronic signals to the computer. This makes it wonderful for keyboard manufacturers, who can churn these out at low cost, but the typing experience is less than satisfactory, especially if you type a lot.
   Sadly, and this is a consequence of living in a small country, Matthew only had the TK with Cherry MX Brown switches, which need medium force without returning the satisfying click. However, to use, in terms of the strokes and strength needed, it would be roughly the same. I sampled it at the shop, decided it was worth splashing out, and bought it.
   For such an expensive device, the first one he sold me had a fault. The left shift key and the virgule (slash) both thought they were question marks, and the keyboard had to be returned. Matthew swapped it for the other keyboard, which initially was more expensive, without charging me the difference. I’m now the proud owner of a Cooler Master Quick Fire TK in white, with Cherry MX Brown switches, and it’s not quite the combination I had planned on when spending so much on a keyboard.
   But how is it to use? I’ll admit I still look somewhat enviously on those who bought their TKs abroad and managed to get them with blue switches, but I am definitely faster typing on the new one. And that is a good thing when you need for your typing to keep up with your thoughts. I’ve finished off more emails this week than I had done in a while.
   I am frustrated with the odd typo I make and I wonder if this is to do with the lack of familiarity. Because I touch-type, I am hitting the u and the i together on occasion, or the full stop and comma together, and making similar mistakes, and I don’t recall doing that quite as often on the Manhattan. I’m sure these keyboards differ in their positioning by a millimetre or two, leading to these errors.
   The unit is also higher than the very slim Manhattan, which means my wrists are raised. I haven’t found a position where they are as comfortable as they were with the previous keyboard, and the wrist rest itself is too low relative to the TK to make any difference. That is proving a problem.
   The reason for the height, presumably, is for the feature I don’t need: illuminated keys. I’m not a gamer and I’m not typing in the dark. However, for those who use their TKs for such purposes, I can see how they would be ideal. To fit in the lights beneath, I imagine the designers had to raise the entire keyboard by a few millimetres, making it less comfortable to type on.
   The final negative to the keyboard, and one which I knew I would confront, is how the numeric keypad and the cursor keys are all together. You have to take Num Lock off in order to get the cursor keys to work, much like in the old days of the early IBM PC compatibles. This has slowed me down as I switch between modes.
   In this respect, I have travelled back to when I began using IBM compatibles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, the keyboards were mechanical and the cursor and numeric keypads were all in one lot, and there’s a certain retro charm to this arrangement. Without the clicking noises, it reminds me of the mechanical switches on my first microcomputer: the Commodore 64. I really have gone back to the future, appropriate in a year when Claudia Wells (the original Jennifer Parker before she morphed into Elisabeth Shue) has been Tweeting about Lucire.
   I may be one of the few non-gamers to have invested in a TK, with typing efficiency and practicality as my main aims. When I posted pictures of it on my Instagram, I received plaudits from other serious gamers and geeks with expensive computers, calling me ‘Dude’ and making me feel very welcome as a fellow TK owner. Looking online, the white case is a rare one, so I wound up unwittingly with a keyboard that is slightly more cool than the everyday black one. I sense that Matthew prefers the white one as well, and that I didn’t know how lucky I was (although I am very grateful to him for knocking the price down and giving it to me as a direct replacement).
   Where does this leave me? I have a decent enough keyboard which is efficient for the most part, and from which I can expect a far longer life than the Manhattan (Cooler Master reckons each key is good for 50 million hits, five times longer than on the Manhattan, and ten times longer than on any membrane keyboard). I no longer put up with five-second daily outages. The way the keys are designed, I won’t have to worry about the markings coming off (the glyphs are etched). I have multimedia controls from the function keys, which are a bonus, and one reason I liked the old Genius scissor-switch keyboard that got me on this path to finding the right unit. As I type, I ponder whether I should invest in a higher wrist rest, or whether my seating position needs to change to cope with the higher keyboard. I imagine that as my fingers adjust to the minute differences, I can only get faster with my touch-typing, and I’m looking forward to the efficiency gains. But, there are those Cherry MX Blues on Amazon. The grass might look greener there, but apparently the white case puts me up there with the über-gamers and the cool geeks.

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Posted in business, China, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 5 Comments »


Roy Axe gives a sincere look at his career

11.12.2010

Roy Axe: A Life in Style

Keith Adams is well known to many motorheads out there. We probably encountered him initially at his excellent AROnline, formerly The Unofficial Austin–Rover Resource. More recently, some of us have got to know Keith as a writer for Octane, where his well researched articles remind me of some of the best motoring journalists’ work. They combine a love of history with a contemporary style.
   Keith turned publisher earlier this year by publishing automotive designer Roy Axe’s autobiography, A Life in Style. I was more than happy to purchase it: this is not a review of a freebie copy that Keith gave me.
   The book serves its purpose in giving a very sincere look at Axe’s career, beginning at Rootes, before his national service, then continuing with the same firm and setting up a design department closer to the ones we know today, before its takeover by Chrysler. Then at Chrysler, Axe worked on both sides of the Atlantic (various 180 and Avenger proposals are fascinating), and headed the programmes that gave us the Simca 1307 and Horizon; and in the 1980s, Axe was head-hunted for Austin Rover.
   After leaving Rover, he founded his own firm, Design Research Associates, which has worked on designs for numerous international clients.
   The book reflects the career of a true gentleman. Axe supplies wonderful anecdotes from his earlier days and he, and presumably Keith, supply some never-before-seen (at least to me) images of prototypes from the studios. DRA’s work is too new to be revealed, and Axe considers that he is bound by client confidentiality on a lot of those projects, with the exception of one for Bentley and some BAe aircraft interiors.
   It is a must for car buffs, as Axe’s designs will have been seen in most corners of the world and, as all books of this type, reveal some wonderful “might-have-beens” at Chrysler (which was increasingly strapped for cash in the 1970s) and Austin Rover (which seemed always strapped for cash in the 1980s, and hindsight says it should have gone with far more of Axe’s team’s designs). It makes for fun comparison with, say, Iacocca: an Autobiography when discussing the era that Axe and his boss were at the company, and seeing the same personalities mentioned, albeit from different angles. The story is told with a personal love for the industry and a great deal of authenticity.
   My principal complaint is the lack of subediting. While there are precious few spelling mistakes—much heftier tomes, such as one John Barry biography I bought years ago, were full of them—parts of a few chapters read as a simple transcript from Axe. And, perhaps for budgetary reasons or the size of the original artwork, some of the images are a bit small. Initially, the underleaded Sabon body type appeared hard to read but surprisingly, I soon adjusted to it, thanks perhaps in part to the good stories that Axe had to tell.
   Despite these reservations, I’d still heartily recommend it. You can order it directly from Keith’s website and it’s perfect for anyone who loves the design profession or cars in general. Even those of you who read this blog for its branding content might be fascinated to see how brands are translated into industrial design (especially important when Austin Rover and Honda worked off the same platforms), and, for that matter, the organizational structure.
   Sadly, Roy Axe passed away soon after the book’s publication, otherwise I am sure he will have received a great deal of fan mail over it.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, design, interests, leadership, marketing, publishing, typography, UK | No Comments »