Transcend Drivepro 200 Dashcam Review - Overrated?

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Transcend Drivepro 200 Dashcam Review - Overrated?

Transcend's Drivepro 200 is one of the most popular dashcams out there. Unfortunately, I do somewhat think this title is overrated considering the product.

What's in the Box

For AU$160, you get the car video recording unit, a suction cup, 16GB MLC micro SD card, car charger with integrated 4m cable terminating in a right angled (yay) mini USB 2.0 port and a video out cable adapter. An adhesive mount is AU$40 extra. If you want to permanently leave the camera in the one car, I'd recommend the adhesive mount. The car suction cup mount vibrates, reducing image quality. Additionally, it makes the unit significantly larger, and has a tendency to fall off.

Suction Cup and Adhesive Mounting Options

Video Output and Car Charging Cables

The camera uses capacitors instead of batteries, which hold a charge, rather than permanently storing it. A capacitor can hold far less power than a battery when sizes are equal, but capacitors are far more resistant towards heat.

Due to the capacitor design, the camera boasts a two year warranty. Something I took advantage off within a week, when one of two of my Drivepro200 dashcams constantly started writing corrupted files to the SD card. The microphone also started picked up nothing but static once every few seconds, even when the car was parked in a deserted carpark. Of my two units, my other unit is still going strong, but it was a shame that my second unit went wrong so quickly. Bad luck.

One disadvantage of capacitors in dashcams is that if you leave this particular camera without power for 3 days, you'll need to set the clock again.

Honestly up until this point, I was really quite impressed. However, the video quality really left a lot to be desired. Youtube does compress and degrade the quality of the files. Download the original files.

Video Quality

Sharpness and dynamic range range leave much to be desired. At night, the camera looses focus at times. The lens distortion is almost fisheye, which makes poles look ridiculous. The microphone is terrible. Analogous to the camera being underwater. The volume is low, and can't pick up the sound of my indicators, despite other dashcams being able to. Don't buy this camera expecting it to exonerate you if you are alleged to be at fault for not indicating.

Due to the 160 degree field of view, the camera tends to expose to the sky, leaving the road completely dark. In future, I hope Transcend implements a 2560x1080 option (21x9), allowing for the camera to meter exposure off the road. Another fix would be to allow the user to set a zone where the camera should meter from, so the exposure is set off the road only.

I's say the wide angle is a bit excessive. 160 degrees can be good in certain cases, but the edges are even softer than the centre of the image, making license plates unreadable. Even cars that I tailgate in the right lane of the motorway look like they are on the horizon. This further exacerbate the issue of reading registration plates.

Emergency Recording

The G sensor even on its lowest sensitivity constantly triggers when I drive through bumpy Australian cross sections. Hence, my SD card is filled of unremarkable videos of after the G sensor is triggered. Happily, these clips are eventually overwritten when more emergency files are added. It's just annoying for the cameras screen to flash with a emergency recording warning.

User Interface Features

The user interface is great. Best in class. The Wi-Fi, although unusually slow adds functionality like changing the Wi-Fi network SSID and passphrase. You can also browse the SD card on your mobile device. On my Android phone it downscaled to the resolution of a potato, making this feature completely useless. Download to your computer at home instead.

Conclusion

For the price, I can't recommend this camera unless the capacitor is a must have for you. The video quality is as bad as you can really find and the Wi-Fi isn't implemented as well as it could be. The G sensor is perhaps too reliable, and the the suction cup isn't the mounting solution I'd recommend for most. On the upside however, the camera has a great user interface, good hot weather performance, comes with a decent sized SD card and comes from a reputable manufacturer.

Transcend-Drivepro-200-1.jpg

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Dodo ADSL2+ Broadband Internet Review

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Dodo ADSL2+ Broadband Internet Review

At the time, we were paying $80 dollars per month for our ADSL2+ with TPG. After we wanted to minimize our Internet costs, we tried switching to Dodo Unlimited ADSL2+ Broadband Internet plan for $29.99/month. This sounded great. However, what we didn't anticipate is we also needed to also get a Dodo DSL Phone Line rental for an additional $29.99/month. As part of the deal, we got a crappy Android tablet and a USB 3G 1GB Mobile Internet Dongle (herein called Mobile Wireless Broadband or MWB) for an additional $12.50/month for a total of $72.48/month (24 month contract). Sadly, we couldn't opt out of the tablet and Mobile Wireless Broadband (MWB) Dongle as it was included in the all inclusive price, and removing it would not save us any money other than postage.

If you've already noticed some devious pricing strategies so far, keep reading. I'll discuss my experiences regarding being deceptively charged, severe periods of Internet downtime, horrible service, and being straight up lied to.

Installation Experiences

Prior to us moving house, we informed Dodo a month early about our new address and the date of settlement. Despite this, after we moved house, it took over three weeks to get our connection up and running. It all seemed quite unnecessary. On one occasion, a Telstra technician came just to check if our home phone had a dial tone. So basically, we waited three weeks just for a "technician" to check if we had a dial tone. A dial tone is present in any phone line that is connected, and can be tested by connecting a home phone and pressing the green call button. Considering the last home owner had a dial tone, this seems ludicrous.

It took over a week to "activate" our connection on their end, despite all our hardware (i.e. modems, routers etc) being pre-installed. During these three weeks, we had to use our wireless Internet from Dodo and Amaysim. We ended up spending almost $700 dollars on mobile bills alone, much of it to Dodo for excess data from their tiny 1GB MWB Dongle. As we are running two business's out of our unit, this was an absolute nuance. Dodo's excuse for the long down time is they are not a first tier Internet retailer, unlike TPG, Telstra etc. This means they don't have direct access to technicians. So no matter how much notice you give them, you'll probably end up like us. Upon doing further research, I found this to be a common resentment within the Dodo community.

Speed

After the Internet finally went up, our Internet speeds were as follows:

Speedtest.net Internet Speed Test - Direct Ethernet into Macbook Pro Retina

Now this test isn't completely accurate as it doesn't account for data compression. However, this was completely unusable. For gaming, the lag was horrible. My Dropbox which contains a mere 6GB of storage never finished uploading, despite leaving the computer on for months overnight. This led to the eventual death of my old Macbook. The upload speeds were so pathetic that all my client's photo galleries I had to upload were done so over my mobile internet connection, otherwise the connection would time out (more excess data fees fro Dodo's MWB Dongle). This meant traveling to the top floor of our unit to get a mobile data connection at all. Fail. Good luck Skyping on Dodo internet too, the lag led to confusion and people talking over eachother. Additionally, although 6Mbps is sufficient to see my callers video stream, 0.22Mbps means your caller will see you at a resolution approximately equal to  a potato. The sound quality also, was reminiscent with speaking to someone underwater or perhaps, even in outer-space.

Reliability

It gets worse. Dodo's ADSL is notoriously unreliable in our experience. Often times I had a job to do, only to find I had to switch to MWB to get a connection at all. The internet speeds also varied. Often dropping to as low as 3Mbps down and 0.02Mbps up. On two occasions, the ping took so long, Speedtest.net timed out during the Ping test. In other words, it was too long to measure.

Value

The Banner Dodo uses to advertise its Unlimited ADSL2+ Broadband

Dodo advertises $29.99 per month for unlimited ADSL2+. Just a few problems with that. First of all, you'll need to double that cost as Home Phone Line rental is mandatory, inherent with all ADSL connections. So $59.80 per month is the minimum, assuming you lock yourself into a 24 month contract. Doing so will wavier the $100 connection fee. 

Likely, you'll have to spend $19 for a modem from Dodo if you don't have one already. Watch out though. Although they don't disclose this, you'll have to pay for hidden costs like the $24.99 shipping fees as well, totaling $43.99). Dodo's excuse for this is hidden in its "critical information summary" document. You can drive 19 hours from Queensland to Victoria and pick it up yourself "for free."

Technical Support & Customer Service

When we signed up for Internet, we had an hour long phone call of legalese that by law had to be recited to us in order for us to be able to sign up. This compares to other ISP's, that allow you to have the legal jargon Spam emailed to you, and have you reply with "I agree."

When we moved in, our connection didn't work, despite Dodo assuring us the Internet connection was active. After we checked the dial tone of all phone line outputs in the house, we diagnosed the problem to be my BYO modem. Dodo ended up shipping us a modem. As many ISP's take the expense of supplying a modem to their customers, I assumed it was part of the whole package, and I wouldn't have to pay extra. It worked and we were up and running. Three months later, we started getting odd text messages stating when we were going to return the modem. At  first, I thought it was a scam email from a malicious hacker. They then said they would start charging us for the modem. I called Dodo asking them what on earth was going on. Apparently, I was meant to send my broken modem to them, to verify if it was actually broken. However, since three months had passed, I had thrown the broken modem out. Despite their mistake misinforming me that they needed the modem, they ended up charging me $30 dollars for the modem, despite it being valued at $19. Scam.

For some reason, I had to be authorized as an account administrator by the account holder twice within three months. Otherwise, Dodo would refuse to talk to me. Infuriating.

Eventual Cancellation Experiences

Sick of the unreliability, tech support, value, Internet speeds etc we ended up switching to Wondercom FTTP Fibre Internet with VOIP (home phone over a data connection) for $69.99/month on an 18 month contract. We now get 90Mbps down, 40Mbps up and a ping of 10 milliseconds. 15, 180 and 6 times faster respectively. I emailed Dodo  about the imminent cancellation the same day I started my application with Wondercom (also known as TPG). I never got a response. Of course, they would want to keep charging me. I ended up calling them, and they said it would be $352 for the total cancellation fees. I said alright, and I'd call them to cancel in a few days when my Wondercom connection would be up and running. Days later, when I made this call (Wondercom Internet up and running), they told me $352 dollars was only for the Home Phone Line Rental. The total cost was over $500. After I ended up having to pay this, we found out we still had to cancel the MWB Dongle, an additional $160 on top of that. Dodo ended up wavering the ADSL Internet cancellation fee. So in total, what was originally $352 dollars for the total cancellation fee ended up being almost $700 dollars. This was infuriating not just because of the deception, but because I can honestly say I would not have switched providers if they would have told me upfront that $700 was the total cost of cancellation. Instead, they told me once my new Internet connection was already up and running, when I had no choice but to pay up.

Dodo blamed me for not complaining about the Internet speed and reliability. That was also not true. At the time I connected with Dodo, I complained about the Internet speeds and quoted the numbers. They completely ignored my complaint. Apparently, they were meant to send out a "technician" to check if there was something wrong with the apartment. Reading other reviews, this seems ridiculous, considering it would have taken weeks and our new ISP is getting great reliability and speeds over the same copper apartment connection. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, Dodo really does deserve its Worst ISP of the Year accolade it received in 2011 voted by consumers. Just look up other reviews on Dodo ADSL and you'll see other victimized consumers, experiencing deceptive pricing, hidden charges, terrible house moving experiences, poor reliability, Internet speeds and service. Most annoyingly of all, their business model seems specifically designed to sting customers if they want to leave to another provider. Dodo's "free tablet and MWB" was only an additional expense they ended up charging us for when we left. Additionally, it served as an additional source of revenue as they knew consumers would be forced to use the MWB when the ADSL2+ Internet was down. Couple this with the long downtime for customers moving house, and Dodo has yet another place to charge you extra on top of the already poor value by default. The CEO of Dodo when he became cognizant that Dodo had received the accolade of worst ISP of the year 2011 said he has "gutted." However, it was because (paraphrasing) that Dodo has many new and inexperienced consumers and that was the reason for the pitiful reviews. I would not at all consider myself an inexperienced user, but sure. Insulting your user base is really a great way to excuse yourself, along with all the other ridiculous excuses Dodo has given to me. Additionally, the CEO stated most reviews for Dodo have been positive. If you look online, most review sites review Dodo at 1.6/5 stars. I guess this isn't that surprising, coming from a company who's mascot is a Duck with a cape.

Happily though, I can recommend Wondercom. It isn't available everywhere, but I am happy with my experiences with them thus far and the Internet speeds are simply fantastic. But in any case, avoid Dodo at all costs. 

Further Reading

I would strongly recommend you do further research at the following links. Their Facebook page in particular is very telling. Look at the comments section under any post, or look at posts by users to the Dodo Facebook page wall (pictured bellow).

Dodo's Facebook Page - Click to Expand

Wondercom Internet Connection Speeds

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Logitech MX Master Review - Cut the Cord

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Logitech MX Master Review - Cut the Cord

Behind Every Great Man There is a Great Mouse

Logitech's new top tier mouse, the aptly named MX Master, is now available. Logitech says it is their best mouse ever. Does it live up to the hype? Or is it ridiculous to suggest a productivity peripheral can be hyped at all? 

Design & Ergonomics

The MX Master features a right handed design. It looks cool, comfortable and modern. However, it definitely took a while to get used to. In the beginning, I found the mouse foreign and at times even uncomfortable. I wondered, should I have gotten the Anywhere MX 2 (M905 successor) instead, and stuck with an conventional ambidextrous design? After a couple weeks though, the design really started to grow on me, and there is no going back!

Fun fact, apparently, there is no left handed version of the MX Master as last time Logitech sold a left handed version, it was a colossal flop.

It isn't all roses though. The back/forward buttons are located a little far back for my liking. In the beginning it was particularly a pain, and I barely used them. Over time though, I got used to it and it has become a feature I couldn't live without #firstworldproblems.

The vertical scroll wheel does not tilt left or right like the Anywhere MX 2. This is because sideways scrolling is controlled from the dedicated horizontal scrolling wheel. This is yet again another feature I didn't really use at all in the beginning. However, in multi-window and multi-display workflows where screen realestate is limited, it really comes in handy! Even if you don't use it though, it doesn't get in the way of operation.

 

Battery Life

Logitech like many have moved away from AA batteries, opting instead for a sealed in battery. Logitech assures us the battery should last for years, enough time for Logitech to create a MX Master successor! The mouse charges through an included Micro-USB cable to a port on the front of the mouse. This is truely a great design, as you can use the same cable as your Android phone most likely, and you can keep using the mouse while its charging. Simply plug it into the computer and use it as a wired mouse. The mouse doesn't take long to charge either, especially when plugged into the wall. Apple, take notes!

Compared to the original Performance MX, the MX Master has 10 days extra to the Performance MX's 30 day battery life. These numbers seem more or less realistic based on my experiences. The Anywhere MX nowadays has a battery life advertised to 2 months, making it a good alternative for those who want a smaller or ambidextrous design.

 

Features

Logitech's option software really opens up new avenues to explore and is a must download if you get this mouse. The mouse has 6 custom buttons as shown bellow.

Mouse Schematics

I like to program my scroll wheel button to launch Mac OS X's launchpad feature, which gives me a grid of apps, similar to what you'd find on an iPad or iPhone. The rest of the buttons I ended up leaving in their default configuration. More on this later.

Gesure Pad Customisation within Logitech Options Software - Click to expand

The Gesture button is customisable as shown on the right. On Mac OS X, you can swipe left and right between windows, or swipe up whilst holding the button to invoke mission control, or down for app expose.  Windows 10 can also take advantage of similar features regarding window/desktop management.

 

 

 

The software operates independently from Mac OS X's cursor settings, which is great as I have my mouse and touchpad scrolling set to opposite directions. In previous generations of Logitech's top tier mice, you had to press the scroll wheel down to invoke "Hyper Fast Scrolling." This was a mechanical switch that allowed users to switch between scrolling modes.

With the latest generation of Logitech's mice, by default you click a button on top of the mouse, inline with the scroll wheel. This electronic solution dubbed "SmartShift" means Logitech has been able to program user selectable speeds at which the scroll wheel automatically engages Hyper Fast Scrolling. This user selectable speed is denoted as SmartShift sensitivity in Logtech Options software. 

 

If you spin the wheel slowly, it works as the normal, the same ratchet clicking scroll wheel we are all used to. If you spin faster, the ratchet clicking declicks and is replaced with frictionless, super smooth and super fast scrolling that continues until the user stops the wheel from scrolling further, or manually invokes ratchet scrolling again with the aforementioned reprogrammable button. It is a novel feature, one that I have disabled... Instead, I manually press a button to invoke Hyper Fast Scrolling. Nethertheless, a great feature that you don't realise how much you need it until you are forced to live without it. Logitech also has "Smooth Scrolling," which honestly just increases the frame rate of scrolling and makes the scroll wheel response feel different. This took a while to get used to, but I do prefer it. However, many on the internet switch this off. There is a Google Chrome extension if you want to enable this feature on Google Chrome.

Users can also create custom settings for specific applications. This was similar to previous versions of Logitech's mouse software: "SetPoint", that allowed users to enter a mouse gaming mode for certain applications. 

Logitech Unifying Receiver

I remember getting my first Unifying receiver a few years ago. It was tiny. And years later, its even slightly smaller. The mouse now supports dual connectivity between bluetooth and the 2.4Ghz Unifying receiver. So if your device supports bluetooth, you won't be needing it. Additionally, the mouse supports device switching. By pressing a button on the bottom of the mouse, the user can switch the mouse between three different wireless connections between laptops, phones, tablets and desktop computers. This really comes into its own when you are using one mouse between 3 devices.

Left to Right: On/Off, Bluetooth connect botton, Darkfield Laser Sensor, Device Signal Switch Button

The mouse also features Logitech's Darkfield Laser sensor, allowing the mouse to work on glass with a minimum thickness of 4mm. This adds to the versatility of the mouse especially for travel (despite its large size). As the mouse is wide and flat on the bottom, it is vital you use the mouse on a flat surface for consistent (or usable) results. The mouse's relatively heavy weight makes me recommend a mousepad. You'll have a far smoother experience with one than without one.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this is all you will ever likely want in a mouse. Don't get me wrong, you can game with this mouse. However, that isn't what the mouse was designed for. As a general productivity tool, the mouse really accelerates my workflow and is well worth the ~$100 price tag. It is ludicrous to think Apple's positively awful magic mouse costs more than the MX Master. Food for thought... My only concern is the wireless. I live in a apartment complex comprised of 40 units, so the amount of wireless interference from neighbouring wi-fi networks can become an issue, as the Unifying receiver works on the same 2.4Ghz frequency wi-fi operates on. Additionally, I have an Airport extreme wireless router right next to my desk. I have noticed times where the MX Master starts to stutter for no obvious reason, something many users have also run into on previous generation of Logitech mice. It's a seldom occurrence though, and you can always just switch wireless mode or wire the mouse directly to the computer just in case. The mouse definitely takes time to get used to, with all the new features and right handed design. So if you buy it, try to get accustomed to the features and give it a few days before you think about exchanging it for a more conventional Anywhere MX 2 like I did. I would definitely recommend the MX Master.

Left to Right: Battery indicator (three circular lights), horizontal scroll wheel, forward and back buttons, "gesture pad"

Further Reading

Update: I now exclusively use the Unifying Receiver, rather than the Bluetooth connection due to lag and connection issues. At times, it will simply not recognise that the gesture button is a button at all.

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A Warning to Those Shipping to Australia - Import Duties & Taxes

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A Warning to Those Shipping to Australia - Import Duties & Taxes

So a recent experience from buying over $1000 of items from B&H Photo and Video in the United States inspired me to make this post. I woke up to the horror of a text message from DHL, saying that I had to pay duties and taxes for the shipment. Huh?

In the last few months, I had ordered from B&H several times. Some orders up to $900. Yet, I had never had this issue. Giving DHL a call made me aware that shipments over AU$1000 in value will have import duties and taxes applied. In my case, 20% extra!

Sure enough, digging around doing some more research, it's true. So my advice, split your orders into multiple, smaller imports all under $1000 Australian Dollars if possible. For B&H, you can split your order if your item is backordered at no additional expense. Even if you do have to pay additional for shipping, it will likely be far less than a 20% import tax and duty fee.

Hope this helps.

For more information, visit:

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Sony Xperia Z5 Real World Review

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Sony Xperia Z5 Real World Review

I can recall when I first tried a Sony Xperia Z3. It felt like what I wish my iPhone 4S was like back in the day. It was ergonomically a masterpiece. After trying a Samsaung Galaxy S4 and HTC One M8, I thought I've finally give the Sony Xperia Z Series a try. 

Finger Print Scanner

Before I bought the phone, there were already reviewers expressing there angst against the phones finger print unlock function. I can summarize the finger print scanner in three words: Don't sweat it! No... That is not a figure of speech. The finger print scanner will not work when you have any form of precipitation on your finger. As the scanner is longer than it is wide (see picture bellow), it absolutely struggles when you don't line up your finger with the phone. Given these conditions, it works reliably. It is nowhere near as reliable and probably not as quick as the iPhone 6S, but I'll still give Sony credit. Most people around me have no idea the scanner is even there, as it just looks like a generic power button!

Ergonomics

Left to Right: Camera (Two Levels of Press, Similar to Point & Shoot), Volume Rocker and Power Button/Finger Print Scanner

Speaking of buttons, the Xperia Z5 is thinner than the Xperia Z3, with a more angular design. Sadly, I find it very uncomfortable to hold. This can be fixed with a case, but that makes the phone even larger and unyielding. I'd encourage you try the phone for yourself, but I far prefer the HTC One M8 ergonomically, even considering the top mounted sleep/wake button! Comparing to a iPhone 6, I prefer the more rounded corners, although I dislike how slippery and difficult to grip both the Xperia Z5 and 6S are. Since the power button is placed a little too low to my liking, and the volume button is absurdly mounted even lower, I am constantly moving the phone up and down during one handed operation. This has resulted in some very near falls, so I ended up with a Tech21 case. In future, I hope Sony implements the volume button on the other side of the phone.

Call Quality

This is reason enough to not buy this phone alone. I realise not everyone uses their phone to make phone calls... But being a photographer, I always carry headphones around, as I literally cannot understand the person on the other end of the line without them! The speakers are almost invisible front mounted stereo slits on the top and bottom. HTC's Boomsound is leaps and bounds better, and the iPhone 6S also puts it to shame, even with its bottom mounted single speaker.

The phone app itself is very inconsistent in performance as well. For some reason, my unit can't put people on hold, stating "unable to switch calls." This was pretty embarrassing as when I first said to a client I'd put them on hold, I couldn't, and I had to listen to them speaking in a foreign language trying to get my phone to work.

Downgraded Waterproofing from the Z3

Water Resistant Door Housing Nano Sim Card & Micro SD Card Expansion

I have several friends with Xperia Z's and Z3's. All of them have found the waterproofing to be unreliable. One friend of mine even had his Xperia Z snap in half. Hence, Sony has now revoked warranty for water damage in the Z5, and downgraded the waterproofing spec. The message then is clear. Do not rely on the waterproof gaskets on the phone, as it'll be your fault if you damage the phone, which I've found to be common.

User Notes

The phone itself gets very warm. If I were to compare, it is similar in temperature to an iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S4 (both of which I have owned). Ironically, I've found the phones hot temperature makes my skin precipitate, hence disabling the usefulness of the finger print scanner. The software experience is also unreliable. Sometimes it will just freeze, or just outright reboot. This has become a real issue when I need information on demand, and why the iPhone has become so ubiquitous. The camera app is another place where the phone stutters. The phone gets very warm, especially when recording 4K or using the virtual reality apps which admit-ably, are a lot of fun.

Another quirk. Out of the box, I updated the Android version. The phone didn't require me charge the phone to a particular level, so when it downloaded the update and tried installing, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. The phone doesn't charge when booting or updating, and the boot sequence takes a very long time comparative to other phones. So when Android was upgrading, the phone died. Another issue, the phone continually restarted the moment it detected it was charging. So whenever it would auto restart, the phone would die before the update was finished. Additionally, if the update was interrupted by the phone dying, the progress made in the updating process would reset back to zero percent. So basically, my phone was rebooting continuously, constantly failing to complete the update due to the phones inability to charge when booting or updating,  and how the phone kept rebooting every time I'd plug in a power cable. I ended up solving the issue by charging the phone, and deliberately forcing the phone to turn off (and hence charge) every time it would boot, until there was sufficient charge to complete the update. After 30 minutes of constantly turning the phone off, it finally completed the update without running out of juice.

Conclusion

Sadly, I can't recommend the phone to most people. Its just too slow,  unreliable and ergonomically difficult to use. The phone doesn't really have any unique features (namely waterproofing), and although the design is a selling point, it is also in my experience its downfall (literally). For the price, there are far better options out there on the market, and honestly, I would go so far as to say buy the Xperia Z3 over this phone and save the extra money. The finger print scanner is so unreliable I find myself just pinning in my code anyway.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Bottom of Phone: Xperia Logo

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Macbook Pro 13" Retina Review - AppleCare Worth it? My Experiences with 3 Dead Apple Products

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Macbook Pro 13" Retina Review - AppleCare Worth it? My Experiences with 3 Dead Apple Products

Six years ago, I had my second PC fail me. From then on, I decided to try a Mac. Since then, I've owned two Mac's, both of which have died within two years.

This review will share my real world experiences with Apple support, genius bar, the laptops, software stability, and of course my thoughts on the laptop itself.

My Macbook Pro 13" Retina had a 2.4GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.9Ghz) Dual Core i5 Processor, 8GB of memory and a 256 GB SDD. I used it primarily for photo editing and my high school and now university studies. The latter really wasn't at all demanding. Mostly Microsoft Office work. The former... Well, not so much.

Photo/Video Editing Performance

For photo editing, the computer absolutely struggled. Admittedly, I have pushed the machine beyond what it was ever intended to. I often edit Photoshop files around 8GB, which obviously resulted in the computer stuttering when zooming and panning and even when using the brush tool. Median blending for my astrophotography took hours and sometimes even days. Lightroom was also painfully slow. I'll cut Apple some slack here. Lightroom is inherently a slow program, especially in converting to DNG, creating previews and exporting. The slow speeds were also contributed to the mediocre 2.4Ghz Dual Core processor and lack of discrete GPU. Any exposure or RAW adjustment would take several seconds to implement the change. It would take 5 seconds or more to update the noise reduction to the amount I specified. After the a7ii released uncompressed RAW files that surpassed 50 MB, the computer really started to struggle. Zooming in was a drag, and panning around would usually have a 3 second delay. This results in you scrolling past what you wanted to retouch, infuriating. Using Nik collection was also painfully slow. Processing the filters would take you out of productive editing for almost 30 seconds per picture depending on file size and amount of filters. Video editing on the machine in iMovie was absolutely unusable. Warp stabiliser and roller shutter correction left the machine unusable almost an hour. Even when exporting a one minute video.

I should mention, my Macbook Pro Retina had always plenty of storage space to spare, as I am aware that will keep the speed of the SSD up. In LR, I'd give the computer plenty of room on my SSD to cache. Also, I kept my Macbook in great condition. "Cosmetic Condition: Machine is in very good condition, no signs of markings of scratches, no dents or damage." - Apple Store. So if many of my experiences seem abnormal, I wanted to extol any doubt that I abused the machine.

Apple Support - My Experience

After two years with the Macbook, it died whilst I was on holiday. Around 15% battery, the computer suddenly died completely. I tried charging, and the green/orange light wouldn't turn on at all. I tried to boot into recovery, tried a different charger, hard SMC & SMC resets and basically everything Apple tried when I brought it into the Apple store a couple days later. There solution was to replace the entire logic board. They covered the cost of $800 and took care of it. Although my experiences were mostly good, there were some things that really bothered me.

"File Recovery"

First of all, they couldn't take the files of the SSD using a SSD reader, something that the Apple engineer admitted he was aware existed. His response: "Apple does not specialise in data recovery." To put this in perspective, years earlier, I "recovered" my files off my old Macbook Pro 2011 model by just taking the storage disk out and plugging it into another computer. In terms of execution, its as simple as plugging a USB drive into another computer and copying the files over. So if Apple can't even do this, you'll have to buy your own reader and custom screw driver to take data off when your computer fails. The custom screwdriver is a requirement because Apple uses proprietary non-standard screws. The engineer then made me sign an agreement that said it is my fault for not backing up my data if they loose it. Now I can live with this, but not if it is so easy for Apple or even me to take the files of the disk. Additionally, I backup all the time using time machine and external RAID network drives. However, I was on holiday for a couple weeks, so I didn't have access my backup disks. I didn't even use the computer intensively for the holiday at all. At the time, the computer was using Google Chrome and Photoshop editing a 1 MB file. I ended up recovering my files off my D750's formatted SD card using some command prompt software.

Turnaround Time

After 6 days, the laptop was ready. Happily, the Apple engineers had left the old SSD in the Macbook, so it booted like it always had. So in the end, their inability to take files off a storage drive didn't end in calamity. However, if you need to depend on your computer for professional use, keep this in mind. In my experience of two Macbook Pro's and an iPhone all dying within 2 years, just be prepared whether it is to recover your files manually or through a backup.

Upgrade During Repair?

I asked if I could upgrade the laptop's logic board and take the expense on my end. This would allow me to pick a logic board from the original late 2013 model Macbook Pro 13", yet pick more RAM and a processor with a higher clock speed. This would mean the unfolding calamity wouldn't all be for nothing. Sadly, they said nothing could be upgraded during the repair process, as everything in the database is serialised. Having created and worked with databases in the past, I see this as Apple being inflexible and not being able to deliver to customers needs. There is no reason why they couldn't do it. Make it happen Apple.

Apple Store Vs Other Stores?

I have two lessons I learnt from this. First of all, buy from a Apple Retail Store and not somebody else. In my case, JB-HI-FI. The Apple engineer told me I could have returned the laptop if I would have bought it from an Apple Store. However, that wasn't possible since I bought it from next doors JB-HI-FI.  The reason I bought it from JB-HI-FI is it wasn't in stock at the time from Apple themselves. Next, Apple Care. I don't usually condone extended warranties, but Apple care in my experience (two broken Macbook's and a broken iPhone) is worthwhile. If I would have had it, I could have returned the broken laptop, despite it being purchased through JB-HI-FI. Now that I need to upgrade to a more powerful computer as my workflow demands it, I have purchased a top of the line Macbook Pro 15."

Conclusion

At the end of it all, I was somewhat satisfied, perfectly deserving of the average of 3/5 stars that most Apple Stores in my area have been rated on Google Plus. I didn't think the Apple engineer was particularly respectful and I could not believe how inflexible Apple was in a variety of ways. But, for the normal consumer, I think most would be satisfied. I say this because the normal person usually has no idea what is and is not possible, and hence likely wouldn't have many of my complaints and accepted Apple for not being able to do anything but get the laptop working again. For the working professional though, there is lots of room for improvement. I hope my constructive criticism is informative for all consumers, professionals and hopefully Apple.

Update: I ended up selling my Macbook Pro 13 inch and upgrading to a Macbook Pro 15"

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Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED Real World Review - The Most Strange Lens I Have Ever Tested - Nikon D750

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Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED Real World Review - The Most Strange Lens I Have Ever Tested - Nikon D750

The Nikon 18-35mm is one of the most unusual lenses I have ever tested. Lets explain. First of all,  I want to preface this review by disclosing I am coming from a Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS, which is over double the cost. According to DxOMark, the lens is sharper than both the Sony and Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR lenses at the sharpest aperture (see my sharpest aperture for this lens in my independent testing later). Given the price difference, smaller size and weight and seemingly better optical performance in terms of chromatic aberration, vignetting, sharpness transmission and distortion, whats the catch? 

Turns out its the sharpness at varying apertures. As shown in DxOMark.com data bellow, the sharpness at varying apertures varies hugely in all the lenses. However, the Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR performs best, being sharpest at most apertures comparative to the other lenses.

Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5G ED

Sony FE 16-35mm F4 OSS

Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR

Sharpness at Varying Apertures (Center of Frame)

I have also tested the Nikon 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 at varying apertures on my copy of the lens. The results are as follows. Quality of focus can be thought of as optical resolution (higher numbers are better).

18mm - click to expand

35mm - click to expand

As the results illustrate, the lens doesn't follow the typical lens sharpness curve. Typically, it is expected a lens becomes sharper as stopped down, plateau around 2-3 stops down from wide open and then drop in sharpness past around F14 due to diffraction. Although the latter point is true, the lens at 35mm is sharpest at F5, only half a stop down from wide open. At 18mm, the lens follows a more traditional sharpness curve, sharpest at the center of the frame at F5.6, 1.5 stops down from wide open. Past this however, the sharpness drops consistently all the way to F22 (18mm). At 35mm, the sharpness continuously drops from F8 to F29. This is as expected, as at small apertures lens sharpness tends to decrease due to diffraction.

Build Quality, Ergonomics, Features and Design

The build quality is as you'd expect for a lens less than half the price of comparable lenses. It lacks weather resistance, it has no weather and dust sealing gasket at the mount, and the lens hood is crappy piece of plastic with no foam or texture. These light absorbent foam materials or padding embedded in the lens hood prevent light from reflecting from the lens hood into the lens, causing ghosting, flaring and reduction in contrast. This is found on both the Sony and Nikon 16-35mm lenses, but not on the 18-35.

Another thing the lens omits is any form of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). I don't really mind, as I generally use my ultra wide angles on a tripod, where you'll want to disable OIS anyway.

Ergonomically, the AF/MF switch is tiny and hard to change. This also doesn't affect me, as I use back button focus, meaning pressing the shutter button on my D750 doesn't engage autofocus.

The obvious drawback to the 18-35 is the fact it is 18mm at its widest. The other two lenses are 16mm at their widest. If 18mm is not wide enough, don't buy this lens. Personally, this limits me in my use of this lens for real estate photography, as I often find myself needing to go wider than 18mm.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this is the most unusual lens I have ever tested. If you don't care about the omission of OIS, weather sealing, and sharpness either doesn't matter to you, or your happy to shoot at a very limit range of apertures, the lens is a great value. If you want more flexibility and don't mind the price, size and weight penalty, go for the Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR. It's simply a better lens, and doesn't have any of the aforementioned drawbacks.

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Tamron SP 70-200 F2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens Review - Nikon D750

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Tamron SP 70-200 F2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens Review - Nikon D750

Here's my real world review of the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 Di VC USD. After I sold my Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens to upgrade to this lens, I have compiled some user notes aggregated from my real world experiences.

Lets start by breaking down the full name of the lens:

SP - Super Performance (Sounds ambitious, though, I suppose its true)

Di - Digitally Integrated (??????)

VC - Vibration Compensation

USD - Ultra Silent Drive

Ultra Silent, or Ultra Loud?

The lens is not silent at all. The lens is very audible when focusing, one of the loudest focusing lenses I have ever used. Does this affect image quality? Is the focusing slow per say? Definitely not. But the USD designation is ironic to say the least.

Infuriating Tripod Collar

Screw on Tripod Collar

On my previous Sony F4 version of this lens, the tripod collar required maybe one rotation of the knob to fix the collar to the lens. The same is true of the Nikon and Sigma versions of the 70-200 F2.8. However, the Tamron version is a simple screw on tripod collar, which takes maybe 5 rotations of the knob. If you want to take off or put on the tripod collar quickly, this lens will definitely slow you down. It also feels flimsy in comparison the Sony mirrorless version as well. Additionally, it's more difficult to attach as well, as the collar isn't "funnelled" into the groove as it is on other lenses. Overall, although not a big deal to many, the tripod collar seems like a afterthought. 

The Nikon 70-200 splits the tripod collar into two parts. The ring wrapping around the lens, and the part where your tripod plate attaches to. This has been found to be a more durable design, absorbing impact if your camera happened to fall off a tripod. I hope Tamron incorporates these improvements into this lenses successor.

Build Quality

In terms of build quality, the lens is probably what I was expecting for the price. Many lay into the name brand lens manufactures for being overpriced. Though, the name brand lenses are generally in my experience far better built. Similar to the Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD, the zoom ring feels like it gives way slightly when you press on it. The exception in my experience are the Sigma Art lenses, which are one of the best built lenses I have seen. Happily, the lens has a weather sealing gasket around the mount.

Weather Seal in the Mount

Ergonomics

Ergonomically, I dislike how the focus ring is further towards the back of the lens, and the zoom ring is towards the front. I constantly find myself accidentally adjusting focus while zooming.  The Sony, Nikon and Canon 70-200 lenses arrange the focus ring at the front, with the zoom ring towards the back. 

Optical Performance & Focusing

The lens has similar if not better optical performance to the name brand Nikon and Canon lenses. However, the Canon is the only one that doesn't exhibit severe focus breathing at close distances. This can come into play when taking tight headshots, as the Nikon and Tamron have a similar field of view at 200mm as the Canon at around 150mm. This can be remedied by extension tubes. The vibration compensation is great to have on a telephoto lens, and it works great.

Sharpness at Varying Apertures (Center of Frame)

The following is some data from my independent testing, using automated software. Quality of focus denotes sharpness.

Lens sharpness at 70mm - click to expand

Sharpness at 200mm - click to expand

The graphs illustrate that the Tamron 70-200 is sharpest at F4 at 70mm and F5.6 at 200mm when examining the center of the frame. Additionally, there is a rapid gain in sharpness when initially stopping down from F2.8, and F4. Past F14, the lens shows the usual reduction in sharpness due to diffraction.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the lens is a great upgrade from any 70-200 F4 lens. The shallower depth of field and roughly 2/3 stop increase in light is well worth it, especially considering most first party 70-200mm F4 lenses are less sharp and more expensive. My only hesitation is the loud focusing, somewhat poor ergonomics, comparatively worse feel in the hand and hateful tripod mount. If any of these are of particular importance to you, spring for the first party 70-200mm F2.8 lenses. If these can't justify the significant gulf in price though, this is a great option. Either way, I don't think you can really go wrong.

Further reading: Mirrorless vs. DSLR. Sony a7ii vs Nikon D750 - Comparison Between Brands & Why I Switched to Nikon