Thursday, February 4, 2016

Review of the Microsoft Lumia 950

N.B. This is a reposting of my original article that first appeared on the GMA Network website. I added more photos here since there are no constraints here to the number of photos that I can include and I've also updated this post to address some of the comments on that article. The link to the GMA Network post can be found here.


昔、昔。。。(Mukashi, mukashi...)

A long, long time ago, I really wanted a Microsoft phone. So as not to reveal my true age, I will not say what model that was. But my point is, I wanted a phone that can do what a bar phone of the time can't do: keep appointments, make a list of my contacts, set reminders, and sync with my PC.

How time flew...

Now we have smartphones that can do most of what full desktop PCs can do. There are cameraphones now that can challenge the photo quality of DSLRs of years past. And more importantly, phones now can keep us connected to any other portion of the globe.

Being an Apple fan, I own an iPhone 6s+ and this device has substituted most of my everyday gadgets.

However, being a gadget guy, I always look at what is on the other side of the divide. I am not an Apple snob, so even if I am an Apple loyalist, I still look at what the other gadget makers have to offer. So, when I was asked to do a review of the Microsoft Lumia 950, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.

So, with that, I would like to say before going any further that my review of this phone will be seen through an iPhone lens, if that makes sense.

The phone has a very nice construction. You put your SIM card in by removing the back cover and by removing the battery. This phone is actually a "dual-SIM" one, so you can actually put two cards at the same time. You can also expand the storage capacity of the phone by using a micro-SD card. The construction of the phone is impressive so even if the back is removable, there are no squeaking sounds when you press the back cover.

Speaking of the back, for all the complaints lodged at Apple for the protruding iPhone camera, this Lumia also has a protruding lens; I didn't mind it with the iPhone, I didn't mind it with this phone.

When you switch on the phone, you will be greeted by a gorgeous screen. Set up is fairly simple though using a phone pin to protect your contents will require you to have a Microsoft account (like, for example). I am guessing that this is required so that you will have a place to send the recovery pin if ever you forget your password.

The built-in apps are extensive enough to make the phone useable and enjoyable out of the box. There are the usual apps like the different office apps, mail, calendar and contacts, to name a few. There is also a music player, an app to dump all of your photos and videos, and, of course, a camera app.

You can assign tiles for the apps that you use most of the time. The level of customization for the look of the “desktop” is highly commendable.

Speaking of camera, this is the one thing that outshines the iPhone outright: the camera of the Lumia is really great and the pictures show great details. I am primarily a gadget photographer, so I was impressed by the Lumia even in low-light conditions. And at 20 megapixels, you will be able to crop photos to re-compose your shot. The photos are auto-processed after each shot and the auto-HDR is really impressive. And what’s more impressive is you can have full manual control of the camera app, like setting ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

And yes, you can shoot raw photos with this, in DNG format, so you will be able to tweak your shots after the fact without sacrificing the quality of your photos. Take note, though, that shooting in DNG format will produce bigger-sized file sizes.

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

If you want to get the photos from the phone to your computer, the easiest way to do it is by taking out the micro SD card from the phone and by using a card reader. This is also the easiest way to move music from your computer to the SD card. Otherwise, it’ll be really annoying to move files back-and-forth from the phone, especially if you are using a Mac.

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

If you take the latter route, transferring photos to a computer was a big pain… My laptop didn’t recognize the phone, nor the SD card, as an external drive so what I did was a round-about way of transferring files: I uploaded the photos from the phone to OneDrive, then I downloaded the photos from OneDrive to my computer. This was a really cumbersome process. Maybe there is a downloadable app from Microsoft that will make the Mac and the phone easily find each other, but I wasn’t able to try it out in the time I had the phone. (Update: Some people pointed out that there is an app that can be downloaded from Microsoft to make the phone and the Mac see each other. As I've said, I wasn't able to test it during the time I had the phone and, secondly, what I would have wanted was to have a "disk mode" for the phone, not necessarily to sync the computer and the phone. I don't like not having that with the iPhone, I don't like not having that with this phone.)

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

The built-in Maps app looks really good and shows a lot of details, though turn-by-turn direction could use more work.

Oh, I love the keyboard on this device. It’s probably better than most of the third-party keyboards that are available for the iPhone. And this phone uses USB-C, which is a high mark for me. (Update: As of this writing, Microsoft has already bought the third-party keyboard maker Swiftkey, so I am guessing that the Microsoft keyboard will get a lot better...)

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

As an iPhone user, there are some things that I found very confusing. A good example is the camera trigger button on the right side of the phone. I kept confusing it for the power button so in some of the times I wanted to open the phone, I actually opened the camera app.

Also, putting the phone on silent requires reading the manual… If you don’t want to be disturbed, then you push either of the volume buttons, then press the bell on the left end of the volume bar. And, doing this doesn’t put the whole phone on silent: alarms and reminders will still produce sound! If you want to really put the phone on silent, then you will have to completely turn the phone off! (Update: Note that the last tidbits came directly from the phone manual.)

Aside from the built in apps, there are really not a lot of apps on the Microsoft app store. Twitter has a native app, as well as Facebook, though Instagram is still on beta. YouTube doesn't even have a native app; it’s just a mobile web browser… (Update: People pointed out that there are a lot of third party apps... I am not talking about those here. I am talking about apps made by the companies themselves. It really boggled my mind why Google has not made a YouTube app for the Lumia...)

Shot with the Lumia.

Shot with the with iPhone 6s+.

Oh, I don’t know why I kept seeing the same posts on FB…

The sound produced by the phone was really good though the music app could still use some tweaking. You will have to use earphones though, if you really want to take advantage of the sound quality of the phone. Well, this is true for most phones anyway… And yes, you will have to set the equalizer for you to enjoy the sound. I thought, at the beginning, that the sound produced by the phone was flat, but when I changed the equalizer preset, the phone sounded much, much better.

And yes, call quality sounds great.

Despite the 3GB RAM, the phone is a tad slower than the 2GB-RAM iPhone 6s+. And also, I don’t know if it was just my demo unit or true for all Lumia 950s, but the one I used can get really warm even if I wasn’t actually using it. (Update: Some people pointed out that the phone did not get as warm after they updated the OS. I did not get that chance in the time I had the phone... Oh, I don't think I ever said anything about battery problems either...)

Battery life lasted the whole day through my usual usage (LTE, wifi and bluetooth always on; about four to five hours of cumulative reading twitter and FB and website browsing, plus emails and listening to music).

And, oh, I absolutely loved unlocking the phone using the iris scanner!

I can see myself using this phone. I will recommend this highly for those people who use two networks but don’t want to use two phones. And though there are far fewer apps for the Lumia, the apps that came with the phone out of the box will still make this device a compelling choice. And if you are a user of the different Microsoft tablets/computers, the look and feel of this phone will make you feel immediately at home.

Highly Recommended!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review of the MeFOTO SideKick 360+

An insurance plan is something nice to have. For example, you wouldn't want to be caught without a car insurance when, say, you hit another car. And when you get sick, a health insurance is a big, big help if you don't want to be strained financially with hospital bills and such.

However, if you are not using either, it seems as if you are just throwing money away. Well, think of it this way: the reason why you haven't been using your health insurance is because you are not getting sick and the reason why you haven't been using your car insurance is because you haven't been in an accident.

As the adage goes: it's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

So, this is supposed to be a technology blog so why am I writing about insurance?!?

Well, it's because of the iPhone 6s+. I love the phone, I love the size, I love every millimeter of it. The downside: the MeFOTO 360 that I was using for the iPhone 5s doesn't fit the bigger phone anymore. (I reviewed the 360 here.)

So, I looked for a tripod clam for the iPhone 6s+. One of the downsides of living in the Philippines is that not all brands are available here, or, the brand may be here but not all of the models they are selling are available. I am a big fan of MeFOTO, and they have tripods here, but the clamp that will fit the 6s+ is not available.

So I looked for something else, some other brand.

It turns out, at that time, there wasn't any other brands that were familiar to me that carry clamps big enough for the 6s+. There are other brands, mostly unknown, that one can use to clamp the phone, but I didn't trust them. They seem flimsy and I feel they will break at the first instant that I use them... (Well, I am exaggerating: they'll break after three uses...)

And this is where the insurance idea enters...

So, you spent several hundred dollars (several 10-thousand pesos) on a phone then you will spend less than $10 U.S. dollars (about 500 Philippine pesos) on a clamp?!? That doesn't make sense to me...

So I didn't give in. I didn't buy the cheap clamps. What I did was buy the MeFOTO Sidekick 360+ on Amazon. And I didn't look back.

This time around, I got the white version to differentiate it from the Sidekick 360. The finish of the 360+, the white one, is different from the orange one. Whereas the orange 360 has a metallic, rough finish, the white 360+ has a glossy finish. But the quality of the clamp is still very good. Construction is superb, the knobs turn easily.

You can still configure the clamp and use it as a phone stand, either in a portrait orientation for reading ebooks or in a landscape orientation when you're watching movies.

But, this is, for me, where the 360+ shines the most (and is also true for the 360): when it is used for iPhone photography. The base of the 360+ is ArcaSwiss compatible and you can simply attach it to a tripod that has the same head. You don't need adapters anymore if you want to use your tripod and your phone to take pictures or to shoot videos.

And yes, you can now be included in the photos when you want to shoot "groupies". And your selfies will also be improved because, instead of using the lower-quality front camera, you will be able to use the much, much better rear camera of the phone. Just don't forget to set the camera on timer mode.

So, is the MeFOTO Sidekick 360+ worth it? Definitely. With this accessory, I won't have to worry that the clamp will suddenly break down while I'm using it. As much as possible, I don't want my phone's date with concrete a possibility.

The MeFOTO Sidekick 360+ is Highly Recommended!

I just wish MeFOTO will start selling them here...

Photos shot with an iPhone 6+ using the iOS apps Visco and Hipstamatic.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Canon Philippines New Year Event at the Bonifacio High Street

The Canon Event was held at Single Origins, a third wave coffee shop in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) High Street.

It was held so that the company can re-connect with the press and for the company to showcase their new products.

The following cameras were on display:

- Canon Eos M3, the Company's entry to the mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera system

- Canon Eos M10, the stripped-down version of the M3 

- Canon Powershot G9x 

- Canon Powershot G5x, a retro-styled advanced compact and the one which got the most of my attention :)

- Canon Powershot G3x, an advanced fixed-lens camera with 25x zoom (yes, 25x zoom!!!)

Also on display was the Canon Pixma G3000 printer, a model that offers high volume printing using a low-cost, refillable ink cartridges.

Several speakers from Canon also highlighted, among the other things, their new product, Canon Cloud Computing.

Lim Kok Hin, President and CEO, Canon Marketing Philippines:

Pauline Estrada, Corporate Communications Officer:

Jojo Bolima, senior director for Business Imaging Solutions:

Vinchy Sanchez, director for Consumer Group Division:

Armi Liu, assistant director for Professional Print Production of Business Imaging Solutions division:

Roseann Co, Senior Supervisor, Corporate Communications:

Before the event wrapped up, business cards were drawn to determine the winners for a portable printer and a Canon Eos M10. Too bad I wasn't lucky enough to have my card drawn. :(

But all in all, it was a very nice event. I love the Canon brand and being with people from the company, and people who also have love for the brand, made me feel right at home.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee, plus the smell of gadgets, made for one interesting morning.

More photos from the event:

All photos shot with a Canon DSLR of course! :)

Comment Guidelines

Keep all comments relevant to the original post. Do not post comments which contain profanity, hate speeches or solicitations of any kind. Posting comments to this blog constitutes your agreement to adhere to these guidelines.