Category: Tech

Which headphones are best? My 2015 Round Up

Which headphones are best? My 2015 Round Up

Audio is a huge part of my life – whether I’m listening to Andy Weir’s “The Martian” audiobook while cleaning the house, getting turn-by-turn directions using Co-rider while cycling around rural Australia, joining in on a Sendle team Hangout in the office, blocking out ambient noise so I can concentrate, or falling asleep to Dan Carlin’s Horrible History – it’s everywhere!

Getting the right pair of headphones for the job is essential. Here’s what’s currently in my rotation.

Jabra SPORT Wireless+

This bluetooth headset is my current favourite headphone and the iPhone accessory I carry (I don’t even carry a wallet). It’s elegant design and durability are fantastic.

Jabra SPORT Wireless+
Jabra SPORT Wireless+

Pros

  • Great for running/cycling because you can hear what’s going on around you
  • Includes an FM radio for when you run out of audio content
  • Stays comfortably in the ears – doesn’t fall out easily at all
  • Packs away nice and small
  • Micro-usb charging
  • Easy to use controls
  • Best quality microphone of the bunch
  • Very durable so far – it even survived going through the wash!

Cons

  • On the expensive side (A$150)
  • Range: if it’s in my left pocket it struggles – but that’s the case with all my bluetooth headsets so far.

Plantronics Backbeat Go 2

These headphones are the slimmest of the bunch but I struggled to get a good fit.

ProsScreen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.05.11 PM

  • Almost half the price of the Jabra (A$85)
  • Fits so snug that it blocks out noise
  • Packs away incredibly small
  • Micro-usb charging

Cons

  • Blocks out too much noise for cycling/running to be safe
  • Falls out far too easily, I tried many of the different sizes with no luck
  • Range: if it’s in my left pocket it struggles – but that’s the case with all my bluetooth headsets so far.

Avantree Jogger

These headphones are the slimmest of the bunch but I struggled to get a good fit.

ProsScreen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.05.01 PM

  • Cheapest set (A$52)
  • Fits very comfortably and doesn’t get tangled!
  • Great for running/cycling because you can hear what’s going on around you
  • Great customer support

Cons

  • Not as durable (had to get it replaced a couple of times but the customer support were great). That was the old discontinued model so 4.0 may be better.
  • Range: if it’s in my left pocket it struggles – but that’s the case with all my bluetooth headsets so far.

Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic

This standard set is fantastic to get free from Apple but I can never bring myself to shell out the $45 once they invariable get broken or lost. The lack of bluetooth seems to make it hard to justify the expense but having a wired pair of headphones always helps.

Pross-l1000

  • Never need to charge it as it plugs right in!
  • Great quality for phone calls
  • Comes free with your (albeit almost thousand dollar) iPhone

Cons

  • Pricey (but I find all decent wired headphones to be pricey considering the little technology inside)
  • The cable seems bound to get caught with me!

Sony MDR-NC31EM Digital Noise Cancelling Headset

This is the newest addition to my collection and so far they’re going great.

Pros$_35

  • These were great for my flight back from Canada as they blocked out the loud engine and air conditioning sounds of the plane
  • Fits in so snug that it blocks out lots of other noise
  • Comfortable enough to wear all day in the office so I can concentrate (listening to Lovers in Japan on repeat, yes, yes I do)

Cons

  • The noise cancelling controls are half way down the cable which makes it a bit awkward
  • Another wired set and less portable than the iPhone ones so they stay at my desk
  • They’re only mildly noise cancelling (doesn’t block out voices etc) but that’s to be expected with earbuds at this price range.
And now for some pillow talk

And now for some pillow talk

iMusic Pillow
iMusic Pillow

I’ve been known to fall asleep listening to audiobooks and podcasts so I recently acquired an iMusic Bluetooth Pillow out of intrigue to see if it would make it the whole situation a little better. I was a bit skeptical that it would work as described without being too uncomfortable but I’m always up for trying something new.

How it works

You have the option of pairing with a bluetooth phone dongle or plugging the pillow in directly into your phone/audio player. From there it’s fairly straightforward. Put your head on the pillow and listen instead of using a loud speaker or struggling with headphones.

The upside

The bluetooth option made it a lot easier than plugging it in via the headphone socket. This meant that the phone could sit beside my bed and I wouldn’t worry about pulling it off overnight. Relatively deep in the centre of the pillow a small speaker lies, it isn’t too noticeable there, but you don’t forget it’s there. It is kind of nice to be able to find the speaker and move it around a bit so that it is easier to listen without the pillow being up to loud. Having this setup means that I don’t have to worry about keeping my wife awake while I’m listening to my audio content.

The downside

It isn’t exactly as quiet as I was hoping. However, if you get the pillow “just right” you can hear the volume quite loudly without it being noticeable to others in the room. This does mean that it’s only really ideal if you’re fairly still in bed. I normally sleep with a very high quality pillow because of my back problems. After two nights on this I couldn’t get very comfortable. Finally, the bluetooth receiver doesn’t automatically turn off when there’s no signal. This means that it needs to be turned off once you’re finished or charged every day.

The middle ground

It is probably an unnecessary gadget for me to use a lot because of my back problems and seeing as I am normally in bed on my own for at least half an hour (I’m the early riser) and already use a sleep timer on Audible/iTunes. It’s now my spare pillow for the odd occasion that I need to be quiet but still want to sleep and on the big plus side I’ve really taken to using the bluetooth receiver for connecting our phones to the sound system in the living room (it’s independent of the pillow itself).

Keeping the lights on over the long bike kilometers

Keeping the lights on over the long bike kilometers

I do a lot of long distance cycling. This can often mean 18 hours in the saddle between overnight checkpoints that requires battery life for my lights, phone and GPS.

I’ve been looking for solutions for this and currently I use a combination of Fibre Flares (80 hour AAA battery life), battery packs and a 11mAh USB charger. This all adds a lot of weight to the bike.

When I stumbled across the Tigra Sport BikeCharge Dynamo on MobileZap I thought it’d be the next on my list of things to try.

The Good

The idea of getting to dump a lot of batteries and chargers is incredibly appealing, it’s the reason that a lot of town bikes have them and a lot of Audax riders (ultra long distance) use dynamos. The downside with a lot of dynamos is that they generally are a pain to install, expensive or noisy with a lot of resistance.

The great thing about the BikeCharge is that it is incredibly easy to install. There’s no need to replace a hub or spend ages aligning the mount – it just pops on your existing axel.

I had the thing installed within minutes.

The BikeCharge also has a built in USB charger and front/back lights with a handy switch that you can mount to the handlebars.

The Bad

Unfortunately it was quite noisy because it didn’t seem to fit well to my wheels. It is also had more resistance than I was expecting.

The Ugly

While it looks small in the photos it is actually quite big and heavy.

Conclusion

I think this is perfect for a town bike or a run around bike because you’ll always have a light at night. However if you’re going to put in some decent kilometres I think that the battery packs or a high end dynamo will have to be the choice because of the noise, weight and resistance.

I think the BikeCharge is going to live on my hybrid that I lend out to people and use as my backup bike.

In my next phase of this journey to find a power solution I’d like to try the solar panels. They won’t work at night but they could help the phone and GPS get through a multi-day event – plus they’d also be great for camping.

Yours in trying to figure out the right bike setup,

Luke

I'm back and no longer playing secret squirrel!

I'm back and no longer playing secret squirrel!

I’m back from my travels with as much if a tan as a pasty guy can expect and many stories to talk about!

I’m also finally writing the post that I promised so many of you I’d write to tell you what I’m actually doing now for work. I know I’ve been playing secret squirrel until now but it’s come to a stage where I can talk about it.

So the long and short of it is that I’ve joined James Moody (innovator, entrepreneur andauthor who you may remember from ABC’s New Inventors) and a small, very talented team to work on two startup projects: TuShare and Sendle.

I’ve told some of you already about TuShare, it’s Australia’s fastest growing giving network where every item is free! The goal is to divert as much of our perfectly reusable stuff from ending up in landfill while building a positive community. I encourage you to check it out and see if you can snag something you want for free, or if it can help you do some much needed de-cluttering.

This leads onto the project which I’ve been quiet about so far: Sendle. After setting up the logistics of the door-to-door delivery of rescued resources for TuShare, the idea was to make door-to-door delivery at post office prices available to everyone! No more waiting in post office lines during precious business hours, needing to pick things up at inconvenient times, being charged extra for tracking or insurance or getting parcels delivered to the wrong address — we even have a cool feature where addresses remain anonymous!

If that sounds good to you then please let me know as I can probably swing some free/cheap delivery for you guys while we’re still in beta (initially it’s domestic only).

If you have any questions or want to catch up please don’t hesitate. I’m still living in Lane Cove and my new office is now near Town Hall/Hyde Park if you’re ever in the neighbourhood and want to get a beverage or a meal.

Solving Battery Anxiety During Big Rides And Travelling

Solving Battery Anxiety During Big Rides And Travelling

Momax iPowerYou may already be aware from my previous post that I rode 600km over 2 days recently to raise money for Good Return. However, what you may not realise is how important it was to have charged lights, phone and GPS for the 30 hours or so of riding time.

When stumped with this problem it seemed like the best solution was to have a portable USB emergency charger (a battery that you carry with you to charge other batteries). I found the Momax iPower 16800mAh External Battery Pack and decided to give it a go because it had one of the highest battery capacities (about 9 full iPhone charges). Not only did it really save me on the big ride, it has also been a useful device to travel around Europe with!

Charging Suunto with Momax iPower while riding 600km audax.
Charging Suunto with Momax iPower while riding 600km audax.

Soon enough into the ride I discovered that when running at full navigation capacity my GPS (the Suunto Ambit 2) needed to be charged really quickly. In this picture you can see how the charger is hooked up to my GPS watch so that it could charge while riding and not increase the time that I had to spend waiting at checkpoints. I could have the charger safely packed away while the Suunto was charging and being used.

For a ride of this length the high capacity battery was an absolute must. However at almost half a kilo of extra weight it certainly adds to the load that you carry (every bit counts). This unusually high capacity will be very useful for VERY long rides but if you are doing ones shorter than 900-1200km then I would recommend something lighter.

Aside from the weight, it was relatively small compared to other chargers of the came charging capacity (similar weight but only about half the size of the other competing devices).

Having two separate USB ports came in handy when I ended up having the GPS plugged in for most of the ride. It allowed me to plug in my phone or a USB light for a while without needing to unplug the GPS.

Them charger has also turned out to be very durable and lasts through the drop tests well!

We’ve just finished a month of travelling and it’s been really nice to bring along with us to Europe. It’s allowed us to add extra charge to our devices while being or planes or trains that don’t always have charging capabilities (or charge you a pretty penny for it).

All in all I definitely recommend the Momax iPower for those looking at the top end of the market for chargers with high capacity!

Taking the plunge with an iPhone battery case

Taking the plunge with an iPhone battery case

This month, after holding out for a while for fear of a bulky phone and a state of indecision, I finally decided to give an iPhone charger case a go.

Dexim XPowerSkin
Dexim XPowerSkin

After um-ing and ah-ing for a while about what style of case I should try first I decided to go for the Dexim XPowerSkin case which encapsulates the entire phone and has a button on the back just to turn on charging functions.

I thought this month would be a great one to trial it seeing as I was doing a 336km ride that’d require me having enough battery to track my ride, get map directions and listen to some audiobooks. Quite a trial by fire!

An early win

Before I took the case on my big ride it certainly earned its keep by protecting my phone in the first few days when it flew out of my jersey pocket as I came out of the saddle riding at 40km/h. I heard the explosive sound of it hitting the pavement as bits flew everywhere but when I picked it all up the phone was fine as the case had taken the brunt of the impact.

The big ride

So, how did the charging case fare over 336km and 11 hours of high use? It performed admirably, but the task was too great.

The case made it to about the 250km mark before my battery dropped below 9 percent and I had to plug in another USB portable charger, very admirable considering the usage. This is hardly surprising as the case is only designed to give it one full charge (doubling the battery life of the phone). What this tells me is that if I want to have a single charger case last that kind of distance then I’ll need one that is probably more than 2000mAh.

Everyday usage

My initial impressions were a little shakey because I had trouble putting the phone in as I felt that I would break the plastic when trying to snap the two pieces together. This anxiety turned out to be a folly as I’ve put the case on and taken it back off a few times now without any trouble. The case does attach pretty solidly so its intended use seems to be a more permanent solution.

As expected any charger case is going to be bulky to carry in a pocket but it does help to always have the extra juice with me considering the pretty poor battery life I get with my high iPhone usage.

Final thoughts

For the moment I will keep using the case as I think I get good value out of it. I’ll watch this charging case space more closely now and look to try another case that is either less bulky or one that has more than one full charge in it.

All-in-all it has been a good experience for dipping my toes into the world of charging cases.

My audible, underwater adventures

My audible, underwater adventures

At first the water felt ice cold as his waist first was submerged. He felt a tingling in his recently injured shoulder as his arm sliced through the water, hurling himself closer to the headland. Another wave crashed over his head as the taste of salt started to set in. His ears wear blasting with the sound of “bubbles… gasp… bubbles… gasp” mixed with the words “We worked for some months in a spacious basement suite in which we had set up a closed-circuit system that projected an image of the subject’s pupil on a screen in the corridor…”.

It’s okay, I understand that confused look on your face right now.

You’re thinking, “What on earth is Luke on about?”, “What on earth is he describing?”, or perhaps “WHY IS HE TELLING ME THIS?! IS HE MAD?”.

I was describing myself at 7:05 this morning as I went swimming down at Manly Beach again, but this time there was one important difference…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls I have an announcement: I can now be less focused on my horrible drowning-style swimming and pass the time while listening to audiobooks, podcasts or music!

Sony NWZ-W273 Walkman Waterproof MP3 Player
Sony NWZ-W273 Walkman Waterproof MP3 Player

While my Avantree Jogger Bluetooth Headphones have been great for running and cycling, allowing me to pass the time while I put down some long kilometres but so far this hasn’t extended to swimming – my least favourite, most boring sport that needs the most improvement.

So back in December I was searching through a range of iPhone 5S/5 bluetooth headphones to try and find waterproof ones and a waterproof case for the iPhone (which in hindsight would have been pretty bulky for swimming) and low and behold, thanks to the genius of “related products” I saw this pair of headphones that are actually an waterproof MP3 player!

When I got my first Sony Walkman at 2 years old it was a radio/cassette tape player that hooked me onto audiobooks, I would never have anticipated that decades later I’d be using a new model walkman (NWZ-W273) to seamlessly listen to audiobooks underwater!

So how’s the experience? They’re comfortable enough considering they function underwater. Listening to music is a piece of cake, podcasts are fine too. Audiobooks are harder because you have to make sure you don’t accidentally have it on shuffle. Also be careful to slice the audiobook into small segments in case you accidentally skip forward or backwards and lose your place. It’s a little nuanced but well worth it.

All in all, I’m really excited about continuing to use these. It’ll really help my swimming training knowing that I have the likes of Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” waiting for me…1.5km at a time!

Trialling of an iPhone Bike Mount: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Trialling of an iPhone Bike Mount: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Tigra Bike Mount Console for iPhone 5/5S
Tigra Bike Mount Console for iPhone 5/5S

When was the last time you were more than 30 meters (90 feet or so) away from your iPhone? It’s certainly a rare occurrence. Seeing as I always bring it on the bike with me for emergencies and ride tracking I thought it would be good to try a bike mount.

After my amazing success with the Avantalk Jogger Bluetooth Headphones I also got the Tigra Bike Console Mount from the Mobile Zap iPhone 5S Cases site.

Here’s my thoughts on the product…

The Good

Firstly, it’s great to have the phone mounted safely and waterproofed so that it isn’t in danger of getting wet when sitting in my pockets/bag.

On the few occasions that I needed maps it was incredibly useful in providing a safe way to get around. This is the most valuable feature for me.

It also made tracking my rides easy. When I stop to meet up with other riders it is really easy to pause my rides to make sure the stats on Strava (the exercise tracking app) make sense. This helps your phone double as a bike computer and makes so much sense to not have two devices where you could have one.

The console mount has also helped a few times to be able to see the text messages (waiting at the traffic lights of course) coming in from my wife asking for me to drop into buy some groceries on the way home.

It’s a bonus that I didn’t have a good iPhone case and that the bike mount comes with a case which clips into the console (though that could work against you if you wanted to keep using your existing case).

The Bad

Glare. On really sunny days or with the wrong angle of light it could be impossible to read the screen… although that can also happen with the phone itself (although if you’re holding the phone instead of having it mounted it’s easy to adjust the angle to reduce glare).

Another issue was the one time it was pouring down raining and I tried to unlock the phone it wouldn’t respond to wet fingers. This only happened once but in fairness I was only really soaked once this month.

The Ugly

Although it is great to have a mount to make your phone double as a bike computer, this is definitely much bulkier than a regular bike computer and I got a few comments from other riders (it’s okay I’ve got thick skin and a self-deprecating sense of humour — “Shh… don’t interrupt me when I’m watching The Simpsons!”).

I still prefer the mount over having to use two separate devices though.

Conclusion

I think this is definitely something that I’ll keep on my bike unless I’m racing (aerodynamics). I might upgrade to one that mounts well to the handlebar stem though or one that is more aerodynamic but until then this is a keeper.

Great Bluetooth Headphones for Cycling and Jogging… Finally!

Great Bluetooth Headphones for Cycling and Jogging… Finally!

It’s been so hard to find good headphones for exercising and last month I picked up a pair of Avantalk Jogger headphones and all month I’ve had comments and people asking me questions about them so I thought I’d put them down here and do a little review.

The’ve been fantastic!

Avantree Jogger Green
Avantree Jogger Green

During October I rode 2,000km to raise money for the Children’s Medical Research Institute and these were a life saver. I listened to over 120 hours of audiobooks and podcasts and got a lot of milage out of my bike and my headphones!

I’d previously been quite disappointed with bluetooth headsets, but I really liked the idea. Avoiding getting the cable caught (and breaking regular earphones about once a month) was getting tedious so I got these from MobileZap online store (check the ‘iPhone 5 Accessories‘ page for the latest models). The store was really helpful. I sent a few questions through by email and the reviews on the site really helped.

The only problem I had was with the earbuds being a bit too big for my ears (I get this all the time) but I was able to use them without the earbud cover.

So far the battery life has been great (will see how it lasts in a year or so) and they only cost about $35 (which is much cheaper than the other ones that I’ve been dissatisfied with).

They’re certainly not noise cancelling, but that’s exactly what I need on the bike for safety reasons (I want to know what’s going on around me).

Obviously they’re really quite water resistant (unlike most headphones) and have lasted through a couple of storms.

The controls on the sides work great and if I’m listening to music at work it’s really easy to pause it or if I’m surround by loud noises (like the tunnel at central station in Sydney) I can turn the volume up easily.

They’re very comfortable to sit underneath the helmet and I can lay in bed with them too (which I’ve never been able to do with other bluetooth ones because of the way they sit behind the head).

All in all they’ve been one of my most satisfying tech acquisition in ages. If they come out with smaller earbuds then I’d have no complaints at all.

UPDATE: After six months of use the pair I had stopped charging. Without any trouble Avantree were incredibly helpful and replaced them for me. Fantastic customer service, great experience. I now continue to use these headphones every day.

Digital Cinema Evaluated – Essay

Digital Cinema Evaluated – Essay

I’ve been doing an essay on Digital Cinema, there is some pretty interesting stuff out there and how it is probably going to affect us… I would really love to see cinemas start to screen more alternative content (e.g. live concerts and independent films!!!) and I look forward to the idea that small independent cinemas might pop up with interesting content (Mac Uni already screens stuff in one of their lecture halls).

Its a long read and not quite an interesting journaistic style, but I’ll leave it here for future reference.

The rise of digital independence

The introduction of digital technology arguably represents the most exhaustive technical and social changes in the history of cinema, greater than both sound and colour (Ford 2005). In analysing who benefits from the proliferation of digital cinema, it is helpful to review it in the context of the traditional film making process and then to define digital cinema in regard to this. Developments in digital media are having a significant impact on the spectrum of cinema production (filming, editing and effects) and distribution (printing, shipping and screening). This results in both positive and negative ramifications that can be addressed in relation to a number of recent Australian films with digital processes.

The world of cinema began to change with the advent of films like the original “Star Wars“ (Associated Press 2005) which pioneered and developed digital editing and rendering techniques. This explosion has led not only to digital film industry but also the proliferation of technologies as video games, DVDs and video podcasts (Manovich 2007). Digital technology has also allowed the possibility of interactivity (e.g. alternate endings on DVDs), however this essay will instead focus on the feature/short film productions which are designed to be projected in a theatre.

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