Musing #65: Purchasing a projector (Xgimi Z6 Polar)

Purchasing a projector is never a straightforward decision because you are not buying in to its own product category but rather in to the category of displays as a whole. Thus, one needs to weigh it up against purchasing a TV or even a monitor. It doesn't take much to figure out that the projector is the device of choice for a home cinema on a budget, where size matters more than anything else.

As a secondary "screen" for the bedroom, it was a no-brainer for me to go for a screenless display a.k.a. a projector, at least until hologram displays become mainstream. While I have been a cinema hall owner's worst nightmare for years, this helps justify my abstinence from cinema halls even further.

Having decided on the display type, the purchase decision was dominated by one key spec - native full HD resolution. This is simply hard to come by when you are looking to not spend more than half a grand. Inevitably, it implies purchasing from a Chinese manufacturer and Xgimi was on my radar ever since the H1 was launched on Indiegogo. With the brand decided, on the basis of price and specs more than anything else, the next couple of questions involved "which", "when" and "where"?

Xgimi's product portfolio has been growing rather rapidly since the H1 with multiple iterative devices and for a time I was fixated on either the H1 as well as the recently launched H2 which were just beyond the price range I was comfortable with, considering I was essentially making a purchase from a foreign country without any warranty. It was against this backdrop that I came across the Z6 Polar which seemed to be a smaller sibling of the H-series. Being their entry-level Full HD projector, it fulfilled my primary criteria and it had the added advantage of being 4K HDR compatible along with portability at the expense of having a maximum brightness of only 700 ANSI lumens. Having no frame of reference for the brightness level, I took a shot in the dark by settling for the Z6 and hoping that my viewing experience didn't get thwarted by the sun.

With the "which" decided in favour of the Z6, the next question was "when" to make the purchase. Usually Chinese products are competitively priced and sale discounts are not as huge as one is accustomed to when buying locally from Amazon or Flipkart. However, even then, there is nothing better than 11/11 when it comes to purchasing from China and true enough the Z6 was priced at $500 during the sale as against its normal pricing of $550 or retail pricing of $569.

However, this pricing meant nothing as due to the price and category of the product, custom duties were inevitable and hence my focus was on minimizing expenses as much as possible. Having cycled through a bunch of international Chinese marketplaces, I eventually decided to go with AliExpress and one seller in particular who had near 100% feedback over a large number of orders. I had my fair share of bad experiences during the early years of AliExpress, but even now it is a rarity to find a seller with impeccable ratings. It became evident later why this was the case.

With the 11/11 store and seller discounts along with some adroit negotiation, I was able to bring the price down to $476, having initially not expected much from my bargaining skills. Buoyed by this success, I braced myself for additional tariffs to take some of the sheen off. At this point, I should also mention the benefit of having the product shipped by Gati whose setup in China as well as India ensures that the product is delivered within 5 days of shipping which is phenomenal considering that even local deliveries take longer. However, the faster shipping didn't do anything to compensate for the custom duties and sure enough I had to pay up at the time of accepting the delivery.

This was when the seller's high rating came in to the picture. I took up the case of the custom duties with the seller not expecting much to come out of it but was pleasantly surprised to have the seller offer to refund these charges. It was simply astounding to receive this level of service and certainly shatters the stereotype that one may have regarding products and services from China.

While it was a leap of faith to have made the purchase, the entire transaction couldn't have gone any better. The faith was rewarded in terms of a price that was nearly 40% lower than what's listed locally on Amazon. The product itself is living up to its expectations and expect a review on that soon.

Tutorial #21: Soft Tip Dart Assembly (Geologic)

How often does it happen that you trundle in to a shop out of boredom and end up making an impulse purchase just because it is the most exciting thing at that moment? This was the case with me at Decathlon earlier this week and the video above is evidence of that.

I can only vaguely recollect throwing darts at some point in my life, only to leave the wrong kind of impression, practically as well as figuratively. Taking cognizance of that experience, I went with the soft tip variant and laziness ensured I left the score-keeping to the machine.

Having never assembled a dart before, the natural recourse was to take to YouTube, only for it to not have a video specific to this purpose. Thus, I bring to you an assembly masterpiece like no other. Normally, any such video would be a precursor to a review, but in this case it is better to not feign knowledge and be off the mark.

Musing #64: Escalation and issue resolution with Amazon, Flipkart and other services

The holiday season implies sales and savings on the major e-commerce websites but along with it comes the headache of dealing with customer service, or lack of it, when things go wrong. This dark side doesn't pop up when making occasional purchases through the year but raises its ugly head during the sale season on account of en masse purchases, which inevitably increases the probability of things going wrong.

Musing #63: McWatchFace II for Gear Fit2/Pro

I had created and released the original McWatchFace just days after purchasing the Gear Fit2 Pro as I couldn't find a watch face that contained what I was looking for. Thus, it would be an understatement to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the response to it since its release on the Galaxy Apps Store.

The original watch face, in its two forms, has clocked an average download of 100 per day to rack up a total of over 15000 downloads in less than 6 months. I have no idea of the number of Gear Fit2/Pro users who actively download watch faces, but I find this to be beyond expectataions.

While I haven't released anything new for months, I have been tweaking the design in the background all this time with the aim of pushing the information envelope even further. The result thus, is the McWatchFace II. The changes are pretty much evident at first glance, but the following image sums it up pretty well.

Since these incremental but time-consuming changes were made over many weekends, stealing time from other activities, I decided to put it up as a paid watch face while still retaining the original one for free. It is also an experiment to see whether a paid market for watch faces really exists or people are just content with what they get for free. This decision, unfortunately, makes the watch face unavailable on the iOS app since Samsung has not implemented any means of purchasing watch faces on iOS.

If you happen to purchase this watch face and have feedback to share, then feel free to drop a comment. For others, the watch face can be seen in action in the following video and perhaps it would tempt you to give it a whirl.

Review #55: Lethal White ★★★☆☆

Having grown up reading the classic whodunits, I can never restrain myself from a good mystery. Ironically, this also means that until now I had never followed a series as it was being written. This accolade falls to the "Cormoron Strike" series, though not particularly for its literary prowess.

Had it just been Robert Galbraith, I imagine that I would have never picked up the series since time is the biggest constraint to choice. The media speculation following the revelation of the author is what got me to give this series, then only a book, a go. Even then, the choice of medium oddly fell to audio, as an accompaniment to my daily journeys. Since then, it has become my medium of choice for the series.

To digress even further, Robert Glenister does a stellar job of bring the narrative to life and in my humble opinion, makes the work much better than it is. Albeit a different medium, I can draw a parallel to the work of John Thaw who elevated the character of Morse to a much higher level in the TV series than envisaged by Colin Dexter in his books. Speaking of TV, the BBC series on the book isn't as captivating as it could be because of the source material, but Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger certainly do a good job of salvaging what they can.

I appear quite cynical of the literary aspect of the series and can't justify it otherwise. My perception is based on hearing the unabridged audio version of the book and I can only imagine a reader going through the emotions simply to get to the end. While the audio book can be a good accompaniment to long, boring journeys; the same cannot be said of a printed book being read on the couch. I imagine authors will always try to get away with as many words as the editor will permit, but it is not something a reader begrudges.

Length aside, it seems that the series has fallen in to a rut and the fourth book brings about a dreaded sense of "more of the same". It plays safe and does nothing to further the age-old whodunit template, but what makes it worse is that it ashamedly follows the template established in the earlier books. So, what you get is the intermingling of the unusually chaotic personal lives of its protagonists with a slow churner of a case involving broken relationships, upper-class idiosyncrasies, long-drawn conversations, staying in friend's houses, Land Rover rides and a made-for-TV, action-packed climax.

Somewhere in all the drama, there is a story, and this leaves me to reminisce of the days when whodunits were all about the mystery. An Agatha Christie classic would develop a character to lead and mislead the reader in pursuit of the case whereas over here it is more of a means to have a nine-book or nine-season series. A well-placed drama within the context of the story can still be ornamental but unfortunately that is not the case here. The need to artificially generate it towards the end falls extremely flat and one can be forgiven for mistaking it to be a screenplay. It might be a reflection of the times or simply economics, but a lot of readers would be worse for it.

To give credit where its due, Rowling manages to intricately carve a scene which gets the imagination running. I had never read any of the Harry Potter books, but I can imagine its effectiveness in a make-believe world, if it works so well with real-life locations. Having never been to London, I do regret being unable to generate a mental map of a place, but the descriptions substitute for it quite well. However, this alone does not redeem the book when the content fails to live up to expectations. As a result, I don't feel it obligatory for a reader/listener to part with their hard-earned money in favour of this book.

Review #53: Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro (with iOS) ★★★⯪☆

Update #4 (Oct 31, 2018):  I have come to realise that my previous optimism was unwarranted. iOS 12, as a matter of fact, still doesn't support the GF2 Pro.

My previous GF2 Pro detection on 12.0.1 came about on account of the device being already paired on iOS 11 prior to the update. However, unpairing the device caused it to no longer be detected on 12.0.1. Worst still, nothing has changed after the update to iOS 12.1.

Since iOS 11.4.1 is no longer signed by Apple, this means that my GF2 Pro is left to operate as a standalone device till the time either companies decide to do something about it, which going by the recent turn of events, might be never.

Edit: Turns out that it may be more of a Samsung software issue more than anything else. A full reset is usually a last resort and even when that didn't result in the device being detected, it seemed all was lost. However, resetting the Gear Fit2 Pro while also reinstalling the Gear Fit app did the trick as the new device setup finally popped up on the app, following which it is working as usual.

The issue seems to be a mixture of buggy Samsung software and the manner in which iOS operates. As always, it for the consumer to bear the brunt of this unholy alliance.

Update #3 (Oct 8, 2018): I paid more attention to the iOS 12.0.1 change log than I normally do for any iOS release and there was one entry that particularly caught my eye:
  • Addresses an issue where Bluetooth could become unavailable
As a result, I initiated the update from 11.4.1 with more than just hope and sure enough, my belief was rewarded. Incidentally, I had filed a bug report with Apple and would like to believe that it played a part as well, though that's unlikely. Anyway, all's well that ends well and in this regard the frequent update schedule for iOS is certainly beneficial.

Update #2 (Sep 21, 2018): The GF2 Pro isn't detected on the iOS 12.1 beta either. However, it works normally after downgrading to 11.4.1. Surprisingly, it seems that the original GF2 has no compatibility issues with iOS 12 which makes this situation even more curious. Samsung hasn't yet responded to any of my communications through the App Store, Twitter and e-mail, so one can only hope that a fix is in the works.

Update #1 (Sep 13, 2018): With a new iPhone launch comes a new OS. While iOS 12 is a welcome relief for iOS 11 users, it spells danger for Gear Fit2 Pro owners.

I updated to the iOS 12 GM release (16A366) yesterday which is what will be released to the general public on September 17th and it breaks compatibility with the Gear Fit2 Pro to the extent that it is not even detected as a Bluetooth device. All other Bluetooth devices are detected fine on iOS 12 and the Gear Fit2 itself is detected by other Bluetooth devices.

To top it all, there was no forewarning that this would happen as even the last iOS 12 Beta release worked fine with the Gear Fit2 Pro. Hence, it can only be construed that Apple made a change that hampers competing wearable devices, or at least this one from Samsung.

I have already shared the incompatibility details with Samsung and hope that they would release an update soon to address this issue since it seems Apple has already drawn the sword. Prospective owners should wait it out till the GF2 Pro becomes compatible with iOS 12.

P.S.: To follow-up on my previous post-script on Unicode 11.0, I have included the 'Star with left half black' as the fourth character in my star rating. You would be seeing a hollow block until your browser supports Unicode 11.0 which might not happen until the end of 2018 at the earliest, but that's the price you pay for writing in to the future.

Review #54: Credo Protective Case for Amazon Fire TV ★☆☆☆☆

If there is one thing I miss for, it is for the access to multitude of cases pertaining to all sorts of devices. Since its closure, Amazon is the only logical recourse left, especially for Amazon device accessories. This particular case pops up at the top of Google's search results and hence became the natural choice as a cover for the Gen 3 Fire TV remote.