Friday, August 26, 2016

The JBL Charge 3 Review

I am happy to be of a certain... Age.

You see I am old enough to know about the existence of those large boom boxes, the thing that John Cusack carried above his head in the movie Say Anything. But, I am also young enough to know of the existence of small bluetooth speakers that can rival, or even best, those boom boxes of yore.

When I received the JBL Charge 3, I was immediately impressed by the device. And it endeared itself more to me when I saw that the accessories that came with the Charge 3 were colored orange. The build quality of the speaker was really good and it really felt good in the hand. There were no squeaking sounds and all the ports were sealed under a rubber door.

There are are 6 buttons on the Charge 3: the power button, the play/pause button, the two volume controls, the bluetooth pairing button and JBL Connect button. Setting up the speaker to pair with your device is really easy: just press that Bluetooth button so that your smartphone, tablet or any device that has a Bluetooth antenna can find it. Then, once found by your device, just select it and you’re all set.

The rubber door that I mentioned above is absolutely important. This device is actually rated as a waterproof speaker and that rubber door completes the water proofing! Yes, you can swim with it, surf with it, run in the rain with it (huh?). Anyway, my point is, you can take this speaker places and you won’t have to worry about it.

Now, I did not dunk this speaker under water for I cannot imagine anyone listening to anything when they go, say, scuba diving. But, to test out the waterproofing of this device, when it rained really hard in our place, I placed the speaker under torrential rain. I had a big umbrella, went to the pool area of the apartment complex, and placed the Charge 3 under the rain. And yes, I got some weird looks from some of the residents. :)

The speaker continued playing even when it got completely soaked. I even stood it on one end and one of the radiators actually accumulated water! And it was so nice to see the accumulated water bouncing up and down as the sound continued to play.

But of course, before I did this water-related experiment, I made sure that the rubber door is tightly sealed. And also, I also made sure that I rinsed the speaker under running tap water so that any salt in the rain, or whatever impurities that came with it, was washed off.

And to round off the capabilities of this speaker, the reason why this speaker is called the Charge 3 is because the speaker itself can serve as a power bank for your many other electronic devices. So, with this speaker, you can charge an iPhone 6s+ almost twice from a completely depleted state. So, if you are expecting a power interruption, like when there’s a typhoon coming, you can charge this device (no pun intended) the night before, and have it ready for the possible brown out.

The JBL Charge 3 is rated to last for 20 hours of continuous use and I was able to get about 15 to 18 hours of playtime. But of course, the battery life of the speaker will be reduced if you use it to charge your smartphone, say. There are 5 LCDs that can tell you the charge level of the battery.

But of course, the main purpose of the Charge 3’s existence is to be a speaker! And in this regard, the speaker performed really, really well.

The sound produced by this speaker is really good and really loud! The sound easily filled our apartment and it even leaked to the hallway of our floor even if the door was closed. I tested the speaker with different kinds of music, like Iron Man by Black Sabbath, Around the Bend by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Bad Blood by Taylor Swift, Skyfall by Adele, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 "Choral", among others. No matter the type of music I played, the Charge 3 performed admirably! From the highs to the mids to the lows, the details in the music sounded really clear.

However, the one thing where I wasn’t so impressed was when I used the speaker to watch some movies. The dialogues in the movie sounded soft, so I increased the volume of the speaker. However, when the action came in, like when the good guys and the bad guys started shooting each other, the volume of all those mayhem got so loud that I was forced to significantly reduce the volume of the speaker. And when there was a dialogue within the action, you essentially can’t hear the dialogue anymore because, at that point, the voices are way, way muted compared to the rest of the sound in the movie.

Note however, that this is true for all speakers of the same structure. If you really want a more immersive movie watching experience sound-wise, then you would have to invest in some 3.1 or 5.1-surround sound system. The JBL Charge 3, as in all bluetooth speakers of the same clout, is good for music but passable for movie watching.

However, for all its capabilities, the JBL Charge 3 is still something worth considering. Compared to the boombox I alluded to above, the Charge 3 is much, much better!

With the boombox, you need to have about a hundred size-D batteries for it. And the batteries will only last about two hours. Despite the smaller size, I believe that the Charge 3 is still louder and sounds much better than a boombox. And when you are outdoors, you and your friends need not worry about people spilling their drinks on the Charge 3. And you have to be really physically fit to lift a boombox above your head!

Although, lifting the Charge 3 above your head won’t be as cool… :)

The JBL Charge 3 speaker is Highly Recommended!

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Canon Powershot SX530 HS - An Ultra Powerful Zoom Camera!

When I reviewed the Canon Powershot SX610 HS, I was already greatly impressed by the zooming power of that camera. And then the Canon Powershot SX530HS dropped onto my lap.

The SX610 HS's 18x zoom seems so paltry compared to that camera. The zooming capability of the Powershot SX530 HS changed my view of power zooms forever.

Let's start of with the basics...

The camera shoots about 17 megapixel stills and Full HD videos. It's focal length ranges from 24mm to 1200 freaking mm!!! It has 50x zoom!!!

Let that sink in first...

It has 50x zoom!!!

It has a built-in flash and built-in wifi and NFC antennas. There's a 3-inch fixed screen at the back and optical image stabilization is also built-in.

The camera is well-built - there are no squeaking parts when it is held, though I felt as if the camera is on the light side... Another camera I am reviewing, the Canon G7x Mark II, seems more dense than this one. Though don't take that as a knock on this camera. I just felt that this camera is light for its size.

This is the first Canon camera that I held that came with a lens cap that can be attached to the camera via a string. I thought that was an innovative idea because you wouldn't have to worry about the lens cap getting lost. But, come shooting time, I find the hanging lens cap really annoying. I ended up not using the cap at all. Wish the lens cap has a built-in clip so that, when you are out shooting, the cap can be clipped, say, to the camera strap...

The photos produced by this camera are good, especially in amply-lit situations. The photos get grainy though, in low-light situations. This is because, when you zoom, the maximum aperture opening gets smaller. (The reason for this is to cut down the camera's size. If you make this with a huge maximum aperture, then the camera itself will be huge!) Actually, the maximum opening is not as big as, say, a regular point-and-shoot. This camera's aperture opening maxes out at f/3.4 on the wide end and f/6.5 on the telephoto end. However, this is typical for these types of cameras.

So, what can you do with this camera?

First of all, tracking of this camera is good. When it comes to camera reviews, the first thing I test is how good it is in tracking moving objects. This camera is really good with that especially in the wide end. And since you can go Full Manual with this camera, you can pan your shots and produce really nice pan-blurred, motion photos.

Macro photography is also handled well. If you set the camera to Macro mode, then the minimum focusing distance is reduced to less than two inches! You can really go in and make pleasing flowers photos. Even your food photos for Instagram will look good if you take photos with this camera.

And since this camera has a zoom lens, then your portraiture will also benefit from this. Just start your portraits with the lens zoomed, say ¼ of the way...

But really, this camera is mostly beneficial for those who really want to "go in" to their subjects. To demonstrate, I will post here a sequence of photos from full-wide to full-zoom and you will see the power of this camera.

With this all-in-one camera, you can photograph the whole scene and the full moon!

But, having a great zoom range comes with a great caveat: when zoomed all the way, a small movement of your hand will produce a great movement in the lens. Moving your hands slightly - a small tremble, too much caffeine in your system - and you will easily lose your subject. That's why Canon put special buttons along the side of the barrel: the Zoom Framing Assist button, when pressed and held, will make the lens zoom out to a wider focal length. This will make it easier to see your subject. Once you found your subject, you can focus on it again and let go of the Zoom Framing Assist button. The lens will zoom in to the original setting and you can go and shoot your subject again!

Other camera features include remote shooting via wifi, image transfer to your smartphone or tablet, Canon's proprietary Creative Shots and High Speed Autofocus. But really, this camera is meant for those who wish to see more through a narrower field of view. If you are going to a Safari, if you want to photograph the moon, or if you want to do street photography - from across the street - then this camera is for you.

The Canon Powershot SX530 HS is Highly Recommended!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thoughts on the iPhone SE

As the coming of the new iPhone looms near, I would like to share my thoughts on the iPhone SE. It's been a long time coming but I wanted to really think about what I feel about this device...

So, while walking in one of my favorite Metro Manila mall, I chanced upon the iPhone SE. While inside the store, I was able to test the many features of the new phone. I was even able to sneak in some shots.

My preliminary findings are as follow...

First of all, I will discuss the elephant in the room: the "old" design... To be honest, the iPhone 5s is my most favorite iPhone design so far. It has a 4-inch screen and, as the old advertisement for the 5s showed, it's perfect for us with opposable thumbs.

Also, the boxy design makes the phone highly grippable. In the whole time I had the 5s, I never put it in a case since I wasn't afraid that I was gonna drop it. The iPhone 6s+ is a different story altogether: the rounded edges make it really, really slippery and, the day after I bought it, I immediately bought a case for it.

So why am I discussing the iPhone 5s whereas this should have been a post about the iPhone SE? Well, it's because the two phones share the same design. Really, all the cases you bought and is in existence for the 5s (and even the iPhone 5 before it) would fit the SE. There really is no design difference. (And I believe accessory-makers breathed a big sigh of relief when Apple released the SE. All of their accessories made in 2012 will still work with the new phone!!!)

Is this a bad thing? Well, some Apple pundits deem this as a sign that the company is running out of ideas. I don't know about this. For me, this is a sign that Apple is reusing the design, the components, etc, to bring the cost of the phone down. You see, if the company didn't need to product test something for, say, rigidity, strength, etc, then that would bring the cost down. If they are able to recycle some of the parts, like the aluminum case, the screen, then that also will bring the cost down.

Also, when it comes to design, I wouldn't bet against Jony Ive...

Anyway, as far as the exterior is concerned, the only thing new are two things: the phone is now branded with "SE" at the back and it now also comes in, yep, "do-not-call-it-pink" Rose Gold. So the iPhone SE now comes in Space Grey, Silver, Gold (which appeared first on the 5s), and now Rose Gold.

But, as most things new from the company, it is what's inside that matters. The iPhone SE has a new processor, a new embedded motion co-processor (the very first one of which also appeared in the iPhone 5s! Are you seeing some trend here?!?), a new 12-megapixel stills and 4K video capture from the rear camera, and a NFC antenna which, as of this writing, is useless for us in the Philippines since Apple Pay is not yet available in the country. Essentially, these features can be found in the newest flagship phones, the 6s and the 6s+.

Conspicuously absent though are the 5-megapixel front camera, 3D Touch, the second generation Touch ID and the barometer that can read elevation. Apple doesn't explain the absence of these things but I am guessing that it is due to the limitation of the space in the SE. Of course you can put more sensors in a bigger volume and I feel that the company was constrained and, thus, they limited the capabilities in the SE. My second guess is they also, again, want to bring the cost down so they limited the functionalities that they put in the new phone.

So, how did the phone fare?

Well, in the brief amount of time that I got to spend with the phone, I noticed a couple of things:

One, this phone is really, really snappy compared to my old iPhone 5s! Apps open faster, multi-tasking does not slow the phone down, and changing from one app to another is a breeze. However, I feel that it is still slower than my 6s+, though I just might be biased... (Remember, I only spent a few minutes with the phone) But, if you are coming from a one-year old phone or older, you will be blown away by the processing speed of the iPhone SE.

Another thing that blew me away was the SE's rear camera. It has the same module as in the iPhone 6s and they essentially produce the same photo quality. The only thing missing on the SE is the optical image stabilizer which will reduce blur in low-light situations. Or when you had too much caffeine... Take note though that the optical image stabilizer feature is only available in the iPhone 6+/6s+.

The SE also has a super slo-mo camera capture, True Tone flash, panorama and auto-HDR. Again, these same features are brought down from the iPhone 6s/6s+.

So, if I were to sum up the reason for getting an SE, it will be these two: faster performance and better rear-facing camera.

One thing which I wish Apple put in the iPhone SE is the newer front-facing camera. The company put it in the iPad PRO 9.7 (and the 6s and 6s+) and yet they didn't put it in the SE. If it's a question of engineering, i.e. they couldn't put it inside because of the smaller space, then I would have understood the situation. But if it's a matter of saving cost, then I wish the company had taken a slight hit for it: we live in the age of selfies and snapchats and I believe the company is short changing their potential customers with the lower-spec'd front facing camera.

But all-in-all, the iPhone SE has become a very nice entry level for those who want to get into the Apple ecosystem but are turned off by the high entry price of the iPhone 6s/6s+. And anyway, Apple's hardware are just a gateway drug... The company doesn't stop earning after one buys an iPhone (or anything in their lineup...). The company also earns from music, movie, app downloads... And each "Made for iPhone" accessory also brings in licensing revenue money for the company. So those old accessories from 2012? Apple will also earn from those...

But, the main question still is: would you get an iPhone SE?

I love my iPhone 6s+ and I couldn't think of going back to the smaller phone. Well, maybe a 4.7-inch iPhone... But if, say, I am using a non-iPhone device and if I am not willing to spend so much on a phone, then I would consider getting the iPhone SE. It is a new phone in an old form factor, a form factor that I actually love the most... So yes, if I were you, I'd get it.

It will be a great primary phone or, as in my case, it would be a great second phone!

Highly Recommended!

Photos shot with an iPhone 6s+ using the iOS app VSCO


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