Sunday, June 30, 2013

Acer W3 - the New King of Portable Computing

Like an iPad Mini, but runs full Windows 8 Pro and all Windows applications including a full blow MS Office that's preinstalled for free. A dream? No, currently available in an Office Depot nearest you!

And for just $350.

At home or office, you may use external monitor, mouse and keyboard, it's like an ordinary desktop computer. When sitting in a sofa watching TV or on a flight crossing Pacific or Atlanta, you can still edit your paper or C++ codes, or do daily accounting with QuickBooks. Battery goes for at least 8 hours, no matter what you do with this W3.

This baby runs super smooth, no any Android tablet is like this, not even close. Typing on the screen is a joy, even in landscape mode, because it is the same size of iPad Mini just 20 mm longer. This article is entirely written on W3's screen.

I can even use Cyberlink PowerDirwctor to edit 1080p AVCHD (MTS) video taken with my G5 and compress video in real time, thanking to Intel's QuickSync - extremely fast and superb quality encoder.

16:10 (1280x800), not 4:3, but still much better than 16:9 that's common for pretty much all Windows and most Android.

Finally Microsoft, and Intel, have done something right after more than a decade!

Some photos:

Some hints:
  •  You can add other languages and input methods including Chinese and Pinyin in Control Panel.
  • Screen brightness is automatically adjusted by default and you may disable it. Auto screen rotate can also be disabled, Windows is never usable in portrait mode.
  •  Only 11.3GB is left out of box, but I got 2GB more after disk cleanup by freeing up windows updates.
  •  Press and hold down the power button and volume controls to enter BIOS or boot options. The BIOS is touch aware! To disable secure boot crap, you have to set up a supervisor password.
  •  It is a UEFI system, normal bootable CD/USB, including Windows XP/7/8 disks, won't boot. I had to use Macrium (the free version) to make bootable CD and USB (WinPE4) and do hard drive imaging. By far no any Linux support on this Z2760 platform; so Clonezilla etc. won't work.
  • AC adapter is rated 12V 1.5A, the plug is a standard 3 mm. Nice, you can use any such 3rd party adapters and you don't need a converter in a car.
  •  Screen is not IPS and therefore view angle is not great but good enough. There is a thin layer of haze like the Nokia Booklet, but not nearly that bad. The screen quality is low, but still well acceptable to me, especially for this price.
  •  After overnight sleep, battery level drops only 1% (from 43% to 42%). To wake up W3, you may press either the power or home button. I like to use the home button, it is more convenient and it won't reset to the desktop but goes to where I left. On and off are both truly instant, no any lag, not even 1 second, even faster than smartphones.
  •  A micro-to-standard USB adapter is not included, a huge mistake. Average customers will have great difficulty to deal with this, should they need anything USB.
  • Acer should make a simple dock for the USB and HDMI, then this thing will be perfect. The keyboard is crap, defeating all the beauty.
  •  The preinstalled MS Office is a full registered version, not those trial garbage found in many laptops. No blotware. It took only few minutes for the initial boot up, so far the best out of box experience ever!
  • This platform supports connected standby, like a smartphone, email can be pushed to W3 and an inbound phone call can ring a VOIP app!
Inside W3

Some bugs

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nook HD+ for $150 in Target etc.

Today is the last day for this sale in Target, better go grab one as you can return easily to Target if you'll not like it. Other stores honer this price too, such as Walmart, Staples and Fry's etc.

The whole point is about its screen, 1920 x 1280, truly HD, almost retina and very close to iPad's 4:3 ratio, 1.5 vs. 1.33. Almost all Android tablets are 1.77 or 1.6 - way too ugly long.

It plays flawlessly the AVCHD (mts) 1080p video from my Panasonic G5 camera, using DicePlayer. The super high resolution and good ratio, plus microSD slot, make it good for photos viewing too. A good company to digital cameras, for examining photos and video on the road.

It's slightly lighter and smaller than iPad, perfect size to read full web pages without scrolling and zooming. No any camera though.

Posted this article on Nook HD+.

[update] I initially bypassed the OOBE and did not register. Touchscreen was not responsive, sometimes. I then did a factory reset and went through the initial registration process. It got automatically updates twice, to V2.1 which added Google apps including Play Store etc. Now very smooth.

The only app that does not work is CNTV full version (not the CCTV version which is garbage). But I've found something even better - W. TV 手机电视:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gel ear pads - the solution for headphone isolation

In my last article, there was an important topic I did not touch: noise isolation about these headphones. Such closed-back cans provided much better noise isolation than open-back type such as Koss KSC75, well enough for enjoying music in, say, crowded shopping centers or a library with teens of white female and/or Asian.

However, they all do not provide adequate noise isolation for music on a bus, airplane and etc. If you need such level of isolation, so far the only solution is the gel ear pads made by David Clark for pilots. These pads are as quiet as what in-ear headphones are and they are extremely comfortable too! One stone, two birds, not many such times in life. Even better, they do not cost much, only $20/pair, as much as the OEM ones for ATH-M50.

As you can see, they fit perfectly on the ATH-M50, no wrinkles at all. They are heavier than the original ones though, 3.25 oz vs. 0.65 oz. This is the only downside, putting salt on the cut - my only complaint about the ATH-M50 is its weight.

Another thing worthy of mentioning: the pads block the front holes and the result - more bass (see my last article for details on this regard):

As you see, these pads do not come with filters. What you can do is to get a roll of no tear toilet paper ($1 in Dollar Tree) and cut two oval pieces as filters. Put the roll in the toilet and wait for your wife's screaming!

I also tried these gel pads on the Koss TBSE1, but they do not fit so well and still not so comfortable, although isolation becomes much better (but not as good as they are on the ATH-M50). You can see the big wrinkles, the pads do not block the front holes though:

I have no intention to try these pads on the Incase Sonic, because they are the lightest headphones in its class and any added weight rune that beauty.

So, if you need both comfort and isolation, ATH-M50 + gel pads by David Clark  is by far the only solution, a good one. On a summer bus with AC full on, the noise is low enough for me to enjoy my music. I can still hear people around me but I cannot tell what they are talking about. Before, I could hear their each and every word.

These pads are very easy to put on the M50, as easy as the original ones, if not easier. Some people say too tight to put on, I don't know what they are talking about.

More on gel pads

The pads you see in above photos are made by David Clark. There are similar pads made by 3rd parties for (note: not "by") David Clark, which are much shallower and should be avoided.

The center one is made in USA by David Clark, the other two have no brand name:

The ones made by David Clark are well packed with an instruction sheet that also says clearly company info etc. The ones made for David Clark come with nothing else, like sliced ham.

The deal break is: they are much shallower, won't be comfortable:

I don't even bother to open them and sent them right back to amazon. Wasted my $5 for shipping. The right one to order: sold by Gulf Coast Avionics (I have nothing to do with this seller other than bought my above pads from them through amazon).

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Total Wireless via Bluetooth

With more and more devices have APT-X, Bluetooth is finally for music. Good for gaming, movie watching and VOIP too, because APT-X has virtually no delay.


A smartphone that supports APT-X is the first thing for most people to get on the total wireless wagon, such as Samsung Note 2, Galaxy S3 and S4, HTC One, etc.

If you are a radio junk like me, you can use an Avantree Saturn ($36, Amazon) to transmit it over Bluetooth. You can do this to any audio source such as TV. The Aventree can also be used as a receiver like the HS3000 for headphones etc., but it does not have volume and track controls and Mic. Yes, the neat mail-mail 3.5mm connector is included, very nice.

If you use a laptop for music, game, movie, VOIP ..., you can use an Azio BTD-V400 ($12, Amazon). During the software install, lots of auto-start craps are added on your computer. You can run msconfig to disable them all except the "CSR Bluetooth Service" which is the only thing really needed.


All you need is a Samsung HS3000 ($38, MobileFun), see my last blog for details. Don't waste your money on Bluetooth headphones, they are all over priced and they all have lots of problems.

HS3000 is a multiple-point device, i.e., it can be paired to two devices at the same time. If my Note 2 gets a call while I am listening to my HD radio, it switches automatically to the phone.


For your car, HTC Car A200 ($25, Amazon) is a good choice. It never go into sleep; whenever you get into your car, it is there ready to serve you. You simply press its button and your music starts in your car's speakers.

Incase Sonic - the ideal portable headphones

By far the most comfortable headphones ever:
  • Very light at just 6.75 oz. Most full-size cans weigh more than 10 oz.
  • Around-ears type. No pressure on ears.
  • Gentle clapping force.
  • Cloth covered foam distributes pressure evenly on head top.
  • Cloth covered ear pads. Not fake leather.

Very good sound with good bass, I much prefer its sound to anything Sennheiser or monitor headphones. If it does not sound right to your ears, especially at very high volume, simply drill a small 1/8" hole. To remove the ear pads, twist them counter-clock wise.

As you can see, I actually drilled 6 holes to play with and I used a hot glue gun to block them. With 3 holes open, sound is good but not enough bass; with 2 holes, bass is hard (not pleasant); it sounds the best to me with only one hole. Most modern close-back headphones have such holes to suppress resonance.

The cords are perfect (yes, comes with two matching the inside and outside colors, respectively)! They are not too long and not too short; if you do need longer, you can simply use an extension cord. The segment that holds the MIC and 3 control buttons are not bulky, not at all; I used to hate such in-line stuff, because they usually are much bigger than the wire. The wire is thick and rubberized but still light and flexible. With such good cords, I almost no longer want Bluetooth (wireless).

Because almost all smartphones have the headphone jack located stupidly at the top instead of the bottom, a "L" shape (right-angle) plug is a must. The jack on the left side body is a standard 3.5 mm one, allowing you to use any cord you like. I should point out though: the jack is quite recessed and the hole is quite small (6 mm).

A huge benefit of detachable cord and standard jack: you can make it wireless by simply plugging in a Bluetooth receiver! I use a Samsung HS3000, because it supports APT-X that's supported by some Samsung and HTC phones such as Note 2 and Galaxy S3/4 etc. Some receivers such as HTC Car A200 and Avantree Saturn do not have volume and track controls, not good for headphones.

Such BT receivers like the HS3000 are very small and light, only 1/3 oz; not a hassle add-on, not at all. They cost about $40; therefore such a comb is still far cheaper than any APT-X headphones (e.g, the Haman Kardon cost $250 and Sennheiser's are above $300). And, you can use any headphones you like, not just those few expensive ones. Their battery life is usually only 5-7 hours though. I replaced the small internal battery with a large one that goes for at least 15 hours. Yes, the large battery will be charged fine, just takes longer. The total weight is still less than 1 oz. By using strong double-side tape, I attached the large battery to the back and then attached the back cover (with clapper) to the battery. The HS3000 is still used like before, just thicker.

The ear pads have cloth covers, feel very good, not those pleather found on most headphones these days. They are shallow though and I have to insert some foam strips to make my ears totally free in them. No need to do the entire circle, just the back half is enough.

All the surfaces are rubberized, not a single piece of metal or hard conner to scratch your smartphone. They cannot be easily scratched neither. For just $70 (Amazon), you cannot find anything more ideal for mobile and at home/office.

Some alternatives

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 ($99, Amazon): very good sound, less bass than the Incase Sonic but, unlike most monitor headphones, still not lack of bass. Although quite light at 10 oz compared to most full-size cans, still, unlike the Incase, too heavy to be ignored. After about 1 hour or so, I get neck-backache.

Another huge problem: the cord is long and heavy, and not detachable. The first thing I did immediately is to remove the cord and add a 3.5 mm jack.

There is absolutely no any physical damage, the headphones can be returned fully to its original factory status. The 3.5mm jack fits into the original wire hole, without any modification, perfectly and tight, I don't even need to use any glue. The jack is top quality with gold-plated terminals, should last forever.

Except for the weight, I have nothing to complain, in terms of sound and comfort. If the Incase Sonic was not that much lighter and so comfortable, and did not sound so good, this would have been my choice.

In order to let bass more pronounced, I used some strong thick tapes to block most of the front holes and leave only two of them open. Before, the sound was just a little cold and dry to my taste.

Koss Tony Benette Signature Edition ($50, Tuesday Morning): very special sounding, extremely analytic and detailed, especially on vocal. Most experienced audiophiles will appreciate this kind of sound, very much. Koss really knows how to make audiophile cans at incredible low price such as the KSC35. This one even looks audiophile class, with shinny metals and engraved signatures.

The cord is detachable and the jack is standard 3.5 mm, very nice. And the jack is not recessed, you can use any cord! It is not too heavy at 8.3 oz, but it is not as comfortable as the Incase and M50, even after I did the same Incase mod to its small and shallow pads.

I also tried to replace the pads with M50's, no much improvement. Seems to me the extend-able headband cannot extend enough, two or three more clicks out would make it comfortable. This is pretty much my only complain and for so little money there is no reason to not own a pair of this for its sound, detachable cord, lightweight and no-shame look and feel.

More on Bluetooth

About noise isolation

[update] I think I know why the TBSE1 cannot be made comfortable. The headband must be some kind of memory material. No matter what I do - bend it, stretch it, over night... it'll always return to its original position and retain its (too strong) clapping force:

I'm going to return it, headphones have no use if not comfortable.