Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Asus MB169C+ Portable Monitor Review – MB16AC Zenscreen Overview

 
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So I’ve been researching for a portable monitor for quite some time. AOC makes some cheap ones, but they are obliviously inferior to the Asus ones. With the recent release of Asus MB16AC (aka Zenscreen) on the way, I just want to test the water on how good exactly these portable monitors are.
 
I’m currently working as a financial auditor, I work in client’s office most of the time. I don’t have the luxury of having traditional dual monitor setup. I used to carry two laptops, but even though either one weighed relatively reasonable at 2.7lb, the two combined at 5.4lb is just quite heavy. Both the Asus MB169C+ and MB16AC weighs only 800g (1.76lb) is one lb less, makes it a lot easier to carry around.
 
Since the Zenscreen has not yet shipped, the only choice I have now is last year’s MB169C+, world’s first USB Type C portable monitor. Also the main big difference aside from the infinite edge boarder size between the Zenscreen that MB16AC has a Glare finish vs MB169C+’s matte finish. I would choose the matte display any day. Glares are absolutely disgusting in day to day use unless it’s a touchscreen.
 
Two main issues for portable monitors are:
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1. Connector – display lag. Traditional USB 2.0/3.0 has limited bandwidth, thus the display lags. Also display drivers are required since the raw signal needs to be processed and compressed before being sent to the display. While the MB169C+ supports DP Alternate USB Type C, it doesn’t require any special software to run. Just think it as a DisplayPort monitor with the disguise of USB Type C connector. Thus the lag is non issue here.
 
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This solution obviously has big support issue though, currently on the market, there are only few laptops support DP alternate USB Type C, with the Dell XPS 13 9350 being one of them. Not every computer with the USB Type C connector can support this monitor results the high return rate for this MB169C+ model. That’s why in this year’s Zenscreen, Asus introduces the hybrid DP alternate with the USB 3.0. Both standards are supported.
 
2. The brightness suffered. Due to limited power draw (8W) these portable monitors allow, the max brightness on this MB169C+ is only 220 cd/m^2.
 
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The color accuracy is also not that great, thus not good for photography usage. Also the monitor draws current directly from the laptop, the battery life on laptop suffers drastically.
 
Now the review of the actual unit, I got it from Amazon Warehouse Deal, which is a returned unit. Price is $160 after tax. The design is very yester-year with thick bezels all around. The power light for some reason is placed at the left top corner instead of the traditional right lower corner which is very distracting. Three dimension 379.1 x 235.8 x 8.5 mm. It barely fits in my shoulder bag Urban Reporter 250. Weight 800g which is pretty light. But the included leather case adds another 500g or so, it was a very chunky design. I opt to not use it at all. I’m using the recommended Anker Multi-angle phone holder which works fine. The included USB Type C to USB Type C cable is not the longest cable, but it works fine for put the portable monitor next to the laptop. I wonder if the USB C to C cable from Nexus 5X would work?
 
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The biggest problem I have with display is that the controls are very clucky. It took me two minutes to figure out how the three buttons work. No, the ASUS DisplayWidget Software which allows adjusting physical control with software does not support MB169C+, however, the upcoming MB16AC Zenscreen does. The display supports blue light filter technology which supposedly helps eye strain.
 
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I have calibrated the display with i1Profiler calibration tool. I was able to get pretty close match with the calibrated XPS 13 9350 look. I did a lightroom session on it and found the display to have acceptable results.
 
In the end, I don’t think I would keep the MB169C+ as the design is quite outdated. It’s hard to go back with such huge bezel while looking at XPS 13 9350’s infinite edge. The huge bezel means I can barely fit the monitor inside my shoulder bag. The new Zenscreen has the thin bezel, and three size at 359.7 x 226.4 x 8.0 mm, is more reasonable (the horizontal size is 19.4mm shorter than MB169C+). But the glare finish for the upcoming Zenscreen is the final nail in the coffin as looking at a reflective screen is very hard on eyes. The Zenscreen’s launch price is a bit too high at $249 as well. I’ll have to wait longer for the perfect monitor to show up. My dream monitor would be a 3:2 aspect ratio with decent resolution at 14-15 inch. 3:2 aspect ratio is really the ideal ratio for placing the monitor horizontal or vertical position, 16:9 is really too tall which hardly makes any sense to use it vertically. The weight could be further reduced to maybe 600g. And keep the matte finish, or offer touchscreen if it’s glare finish.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

LG V20 Sprint LS997 Initial Impression

 
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Being not impressed with my Galaxy S7, I broke down to order yet another sprint locked phone… This time being the LG V20. I’m a long time LG user despite some unfortunate history with this brand, a low-end Optimus L9 dead in 6mo, and a LG G4 dead with infamous bootloop. Besides these, my other LG G Flex survived and still being used as of this writing. (The nexus 5X built by LG being a recent purchase, not sure how long it will last). I always loved LG software. Especially the wireless storage app, which allows as a samba network device. But unfortunately, this app was removed after Android 4.4. And I have yet to find a replacement for that. Although there are quite a few samba apps on Play Store, all of them require some special kernal which are hard to get by. 
 
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Before going into the phone impression, let me talk about registration with Sprint MVNO network. My experience with sprint network has been fine contrary to what the internet is saying. Also as long as the phones are sprint locked, joining any MVNO network seems to be smooth, the financial eligibility requirement seems not being affected. I have transferred two LG Volt from Ringplus to tello. I replaced one of them with the GS7 sprint locked version with no issue. I registered a Verizon iphone 6 plus with Ringplus, then ported the number out to google voice. After using AT&T for three month, then registered the phone with tello. This time I registered this LG V20 on Ting. There are about 7 different sim cards for Sprint, as long as you get the right sim card, it should be easy to register the phone onto sprint network. From my understanding, the MEID is used for phone and text, and ICC ID is used for data connection. This LG V20 currently has a ZV5 firmware, which is the last version to support flashing Dirty Santa to unlock bootloader, and sim unlock as a side effect.
   
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Now back to the phone, all I can say is that the phone is a beast. The always on secondary screen is fully customizable, and very useful. Unlike the GS7 always on screen which drains battery drastically, the secondary screen on V20 barely affects battery performance. And you can even set timer to turn it on and off at your specified time.
 
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The general battery performance seems to be a little better than G4 since the Sprint firmware has less junk apps built in than the Verizon G4. The standby battery performance is excellent.
 
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Being a more recent release than GS7, V20 came with the USB-C port. The three size when compared to Oneplus 3 isn’t that big either. The weight though is significantly heavier. The back cover is so slippery that it almost feels like holding a soap in hand. A case is mandatory for this device. The back cover is very easy to open with the provided eject button. The battery at 3200mAh is relatively small compared to other phones with the screen size. But so far the battery performance is decent.
 
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The most interesting features of the phone are 1. Hi-Fi Quad DAC 2. Dual camera with regular and wide angle lens. I played around with the Hi-Fi Quad DAC with a pair of SONY MDR-7506 and Neutron music player. The sound is very good although the background noise is a bit high. Neutron runs quite stable on this device unlike on G4 it crashed a lot. There is still occasional stuttering when streaming from NAS with high bitrate Hi-Res FLAC files though. It almost made me regret getting the SONY NW-A35HN Hi-Res Walkman.
 
For the dual camera, I don’t think it uses software to simulate the bokeh effect. The two cameras work on their own. I haven’t got too much chance to test out the capability.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

MVNO cellphone service journal–A look back at PTel, H2O, Ringplus, Cricket, Project Fi, Tello, Freedompop

 

So here is a look back at various MVNO cellphone services I’ve tried so far. Since I don’t use my phone for calls or texts a lot, I’m mostly looking at cheapest option possible. And I live in big city, so any of the big 4 network all work for me, I have no preference of one carrier over another. I don’t travel in US domestic most of the time. As far as MVNO are concerned, roaming are usually not supported. Also my main number is a google voice number, it made switching carriers super easy. Text messages including MMS on google voice is also free.

1. PTel (PlatinumTel, T-Mobile MVNO) 2013-2015, company went under in January 2016

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Various unlocked GSM devices used with this service, including LG Optimus L9 that broke after only 6 month. SONY Xperia ION L28at lasted for a bit longer than a year. LG G Flex for more than a year.


This is the first major service I have after moving my phone service from expensive T-Mobile monthly bill. I usually used a $40 for 150 days pay as you go service. There were usually coupons available to make it even cheaper. Costs were 5 cents per minute for calls, 2 cents for texts, and 10 cents per megabyte of data.
The best thing about this service was that any remaining balance roll after refilling. The only downside about this service was that data was very expensive at 10 cents per MB, but otherwise it’s almost the perfect plan. For customer service, I only used emails for communication for 2 to 3 times, they were helpful at porting in numbers and billing processing.

2. H2O (AT&T MVNO) 2016

Verizon LG G4 (GSM is unlocked by default) and Oneplus 3

  photo H2O rate.png

After PTel went under in January 2016, I have to move the service to H2O. They offer similar pay as you go rate as PTel. I usually used a $10 for 90 days rate. Costs were 5 cents per minute for calls, 5 cents for texts, and 10 cents per megabyte of data. The downside is that the remaining balance did not roll. If you didn’t use up all the balance, they were gone after refilling. It wasn’t a super good alternative to PTel. For customer service, I have to call them for port in, they were helpful and the operators are US based. The website is very unintuitive, I never got it work under Chrome. The good side is that the SIM cards are cheap. It’s good for those port-in promotions if you ever want to try some new service.

3. Ringplus (Sprint MVNO) Nov 2015-Jan 2017, company went under in February 2017

Sprint locked LG Volt

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This service was fun while it lasted. It certainly has changed my way of using cellphone service. The plan I had was Leonardo 4. (they must at least have over 100 different plans over the one year span) Free: $0 for Unlimited RingPlus-to-RingPlus Voice & Text + 1400 Voice, 1400 Text and 1200 MB + tethering per month. My cost for the entire 1 year and 2 months was only the phone and the $20 top up ($65 total including tax). The LG Volt is a very basic android phone, but since tethering is included, I just use the hotspot feature, the connection was mostly stable. The service changed two ways of how I use cellphone: 1. Now I carry two cellphones all the time, it doesn’t feel too much of a burden since the LG Volt was small enough. (Now upgraded to Samsung Galaxy S7) 2. Data, now I can’t live without data. On average, I would consume 600MB-800MB data per month for light browsing, social media, and Google Maps. Ringplus also had the most intuitive user interface for all the carriers I’ve tried. Although towards the end, the optional add-on seems quite confusing. No, I’m not bothered with the ringplus radio every time I make a phone call. A perk that I see no others have offered is the Fluidcall, which is VOIP based phone number. You can use your number anywhere WIFI is available. This also gets around the restriction that you account gets deactivated if no activity for 30 days (or 60 days?). This is useful when I travel out of the country. Although it seems blocked in China, using a VPN resolves the problem. Too bad they couldn’t figure out a working business model before it’s too late. Those ridiculous offerings towards the end is a pretty clear sign that they can’t last…

4. Cricket (AT&T MVNO), Dec 2016

Oneplus 3

I only signed up for this service to terminate the H2O service by porting in the number, also got a pretty decent sign up bonus. I had the $30 plan for only one month. Unlimited talk, text and 1GB data. Customer service is helpful in port-in my number. Other than that, I can’t say much about this service. The advantage of this service is the group plans, the best value got be the $100/mo for 5 lines, each line has Unlimited Talk, Text, and Data access - with 4 GB of high-speed data. But unfortunately I don’t need 5 lines. There are also perks like rewards points and referral bonus.

5. Project Fi (Automatically switches between T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular)

Nexus 5X and Oneplus 3

To get started with project Fi, the cost would be a bit steep as they only support very few devices. I got a Nexus 5X to just try out this service. It is particularly convenient for travelers as it supports over 135 countries so that you don’t have to buy a local sim card. Depending on where you travel, the cost may not be that attractive though. The plan is $20 for unlimited talk and text plus $10/1 GB of data. You get refunded for any unused data. They also offer free data only sim cards that you can put into any unlocked GSM device.

 photo project fi china.png photo speed test in China Unicom 2017-feb project fi.png

One particular good usage for this service is to get around the GFW in China as all data are routed back to US before sending back to your device even though you are roaming on Chinese local network. This means you can access Google, Facebook, Instagram etc which typically are blocked in China without using a VPN service. Google map is subject to geoshifting in big cities such as Shanghai.

Project Fi uses China Mobile (default) and China Unicom as partners when you roam. If you manually forces to use China Unicom, you’ll get at least 3G HSPA+ speed in rural area and 4G LTE in big cities. Although the latency could be very high (400-500ms), I have no trouble using VOIP such as Hangouts to call any US number. I end up cancelling the service since the cost is too much for what I need in US domestic. It takes 3 months for Google to refund any remaining credits or deactivate your phone from their network. Maybe later whenever I travel to China, I will restart the service and then pause the service when I don’t need it.

Project Fi also offers perks such as referral and FlyWithFi travel trolleys in certain US airports. Also when the service is paused, you get refunded. So it might be possible pause it before you sleep and resume the next day when you awake to save 1/3 bill. This is a stretch though.

6. Tello (Sprint MVNO)

Sprint locked Samsung Galaxy S7

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This is a newcomer in US market, it just celebrated its first anniversary. It’s introduced as one of the options when Ringplus went under. It’s basically Ting without the mandatory $6 monthly fee. The lowest monthly plan with data (must be greater than $5) you could get is 100 min+200MB data which will cost $7 plus taxes. The data is 200MB LTE then throttled to 64KB afterwards. I also find that if you manually switch plan each month, you could keep your unused minutes rolling. This is now my daily driver since it’s about the cheapest plan I could find. Hope this company will be there with the same rate for at least the next 3 years to justify my impulse purchase of the locked Galaxy S7.

7. FreedomPop (AT&T MVNO)

Oneplus 3

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This is the type of company that lures people in by offering free data plan (voice and texts are strictly VOIP based), then charging people base on their ignorance. This is much like ringplus but they have a sustainable business model. I have been using it for almost 5 months as an alternative to ringplus free data. It works fine so far as I have followed the instruction to disable any charges. They uses three different carriers, CDMA with Sprint which gives free 500MB base data; GSM with Three UK roaming on AT&T, aka 3G Global which gives free 200MB base data; GSM with AT&T, aka 4G LTE which gives free 200MB base data. All plans you can add 10 friends to get additional 500MB bonus data which is pretty easy to do. It’s also possible to give upto 100MB data each month if you have multiple accounts or actual friends who have no use of their data. The 3G Global sim data are routed back to UK which gives huge latency, and the connection is persistently slow, I would highly suggest get the 4G LTE sim. The user interface is pretty terrible as it’s designed to get you confused with hidden charges, the plan, the service, and the credit are all in different sections. To cancel plan or service, you have to click those tiny texts that you will need magnifiers to see. The credits to stop the auto charge are disabled randomly even though I have used at least 5MB data each month. People are also experiencing downgrading bugs.

The plan is strictly data based. In order to use VOIP for calls and texts, you have to use their app. I tested it briefly and it seems to work fine. But I prefer simpler ways to just use google voice app or hangout dialer. There are ways to extract user name and password from the app to use in any VOIP app, but I haven’t bothered to try it out. The service itself seems pretty good despite all the quirks.

 

Summary:

So far, I’m pretty happy with Tello with the $7 monthly plan. But if you don’t want to be locked into Sprint which has only limited support to very specific phone models and Sim cards.

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The next cheap and reliable service seems to be MintSim’s 3 month for $35 promo plan with unlimited talk, text, 2GB LTE data which is on T-Mobile. Just use google voice and change service every 3 month. This would be my backup plan if Tello ever increases price or going under.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Adobe Lightroom troubleshooting guides

 

In order to save XMP sidecar files along with raw photos, make sure your disk space is greater than 1GB, otherwise lightroom refuses to do so, without telling you anything!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sigma MC-11 EF to E Mount Converter – Initial Impression

 
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So I finally got the Sigma MC-11 EF to E Mount Converter for the SONY alpha 7. I got it for refurbished, came with everything and in practically new condition for a reasonable $160. I’ve been following the development of EF to E mount converter for almost two years now.
 
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Before the release of this sigma converter, the go to converter has always been the Metabones IV which costs $399. That’s way too expensive for a converter considering I only paid $1200 for the alpha 7 body+lens bundle. Few other options are some Hongkong, China based company products with low prices, but the reviews seem not too favorably.
 
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While this Sigma converter was mainly designed to work with Sigma lens for EF Mount, it also works for the native Canon lenses as well. There are also firmware updates to support newer sigma lenses, some reviewers also claim improved compatibility with native Canon lenses.
 
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Firmware update has to be done through the SIGMA Optimization Pro software. A proprietary USB cable is provided for connection. Latest update in October 2016, version seems to be 1.0.3.
 
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I’ve tried all my Canon lenses, EF 24-105 F4L, EF 24-70 F2.8L II, EF 70-200 F2.8L II, EF 40 F2.8. All four lenses work with the converter. However, on the Alpha 7 body, the focusing speed is unbearably slow. All lenses struggled in hunting for the focus point, some better than the others. 24-105 and 40 seems worst, the two F2.8L lenses work a bit better.
 
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I’m not sure how it works for the native Sigma lenses, another factor to consider is the alpha 7 isn’t a fast camera at focusing either, it also lacks IBIS BTW.
 
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I would rather use manual focus, considering alpha 7 has a dedicated auto/manual focus button coupled with focus peaking, manual focusing is actually not that bad, as long as no fast moving objects.
 
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Most of the metadata are preserved such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length.
 
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Only thing altered by the converter is the lens model. The EF 70-200 F2.8L II is recognized as a SONY lens designation DT 70-200mm F2.8 SAM in lightroom.
 
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Overall, I think it’s a keeper for me, especially considering I got a pretty good deal on it. Maybe someday I’ll get one or two Sigma ART lens to pair with it and see the focusing performance upgrade…

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dell XPS 13 9350 USB Type-C HDMI 2.0 4K 60Hz output with Dell U3415W Ultrawide (Failed experiment with Vizio SB4051-C0 5.1CH soundbar)

 

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So I have XPS 13 9350 for almost 11 months now, except early on I tried a USB Type-C to USB A hub which ends up being total failure, I haven’t bothered with this port. Lately my interest for USB Type-C has been resurged after Apple announced their Macbook Pro with four USB Type-C ports. Since I already got a regular USB A hub, my focus this time is on the HDMI 2.0 4K 60Hz output since there is no video output built-in for 9350. I did some researches online about this subject, the information seems extremely scarce. The built-in Intel 520 definitely supports quite high resolution output since those QHD+ touchscreen models can drive at 3200x1800 @60Hz. And an article HERE indicates via Displayport it can output max 3840x2160 @60Hz.

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My goal here is to output to my Dell U3415W Ultrawide screen at 3440x1440 @60Hz via the HDMI 2.0 input (The DisplayPort is already occupied with a i5 3xxx desktop paired with Nvidia GTX-960 Graphic card driving at 3440x1440 @60Hz). The only USB Type-C devices I can find that got someone confirmed working are the google USB Type-C to DisplayPort Cable, the Plugable USB Type-C to HDMI 2.0 adapter. Other options are docks such as the Plugable and Dell’s WD15, but they are way too expensive, not to mention not very portable.

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So I continued my research and happened to learn that Dell actually has released its own USB Typc-C to HDMI 2.0 adapter (Part#: 470-ABMZ).

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Price wise it’s the same as the google adapter at $40, 40% more expensive than the plugable adapter at $25. So I gave the Dell adapter a try since the support list specifically lists 9350 and HDMI 2.0 mentioned, and it worked! I’m able to successfully drive the U3415W at 3440x1440 @60Hz.

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Since it’s an adapter only, you need to supply your own HDMI 2.0 cable. I got the Monoprice 6ft one.

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The monitor is being correctly recognized as the model no U3415W. Resolution and refresh rate all run at the optimal parameter!

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Audio wise, unfortunately it only can output to the built-in stereo speaker.

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Therefore, only stereo output is possible.

Since it was a success for video, naturally I would like to go one step further for the audio output. There are other two ways for output audio via the 3.5mm earphone jack or via the Bluetooth. But neither will give you the optimal performance with surround sound. I’m looking at output at least the compressed surround sound DD5.1 and DTS 5.1.

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The Vizio SB4051-C0 5.1CH soundbar offers HDMI input and output, allows extracting DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1 from the HDMI then route the video to the monitor. So my exact setup is as follows:

Dell XPS 13 9350 USB Type-C to HDMI 2.0 adapter –> HDMI input on soundbar, HDMI output->Dell U3415W monitor. This setup unfortunately did not work out. I have some doubt about whether the soundbar supports HDMI 2.0 would play into a factor, and I was right.

 photo Dell XPS-VIZIO sound bar 01.jpg

The Dell U3415W is being recognized as a DTV CP9687. Any resolution beyond 1080p gets 30Hz and below.

 photo Dell XPS-VIZIO sound bar 02.jpg

And this CP9687 chip seems only support Dolby Digital…

 

Lastly, the other test I haven’t tried yet is to hook up the HDMI to pass through a receiver to see if bitstreaming Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD is possible. To be continued…

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

SONY NW-A35HN LM Walkman First Impression & Media Go tricks

 

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So I just got the recently released SONY NW-A35HN LM from Amazon.co.jp. It appears that amazon japan started shipping even electronics to US now (the product has to be sold by amazon, not by third party). And the shipping is very reasonable for under $7, delivered in three days after shipment, all the way from Japan! Plus you don’t get charged VAT. Only thing not so great is the exchange rate. I also got the silicon case with screen protector.

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I had the NW-M505 Walkman for more than two years now. The player is much smaller than I had imagined by just seeing the pictures online. Maybe I was deceived by those NW-WM1A bricks… Should have checked the dimensions first.

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Size comparison with a FiiO DAP which I rarely used mostly due to its lack of auto off feature. The A35 is missing a timer function as well… Oh, it includes a hole for attaching straps, very much appreciated.

 photo SONY A35-8985.jpg

This is the first High-Res player for me. I waited out A10 and A20 series since the NW-M505 served my general listening very well.

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Now I want to move on to mostly playing FLAC tracks, especially those high bitrate FLACs from MORA and the like.

 photo SONY A35-9012.jpg

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The player supports DSD also, but it’s converted to LPCM internally, pure DSD signal can be output to SONY’s DAP such as PHA-3. The player comes with 4 demo tracks.

 photo SONY A35-8983.jpg

I chose the Viridian Blue color. Unfortunately the cable is a proprietary WM-port. Thus now I have to carry three kinds of USB cable, MicroUSB, USB-C, and this cable… The build quality is okay, it’s definitely not giving you a premium feel. I do like the square-ish design as I don’t like rounded corners that much. The device is a lot thicker than modern day cellphones.

 photo SONY A35-8998.jpg

The matching color schemed silicon case seems a lot brighter than the player itself. The screen protector is easy to apply thanks to the small size screen. The color temperature of the screen is on the cool side, resulting in too much blue tint to my eyes. Unfortunately there’s no option to adjust the color temperature in the UI. The 3.1in 800x480 resolution is definitely on the lower end nowadays. But the point of this player is a music player. SONY seems to have learned their lesson that full blown android music player does not work so well, therefore they scaled back to basic music playback function this year. Since this is the first generation of touchscreen A series player, the UI is somewhat sluggish, but it’s not too bad. Also the physical buttons are still provided. The silicon case makes pushing the keys hard, I’m still debating if I should have the case on or not. There is also a cover type protector, it has magnet so that when flipped open, the screen lights up automatically. The hardware buttons do not light up the screen thankfully.

 photo SONY A35-8989.jpg

The main appeal for me is that the player supports microSD cards. I’m pretty sure it supports higher than the advertised 128GB limit since the previous gen A20 series already supports 200GB as reported by someone here. Therefore I only got the cheapest 16GB model. The system seems to treat both internal and external storage as one big drive. As when play all is chosen, all songs are accessed.

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The microSD cards should be formatted as exFAT if they are over 32GB. SONY has claimed they conducted tests based on a 20000 songs combined on internal and external storages that the player will be operated smoothly.

 photo SONY A35-9010.jpg

As being a Japanese model, there is only Japanese interface. While the Chinese model provides a number of language options:

 photo language sel.jpg 

But I’m a firm believer that there are quality differences between products released in different regions, even if they are manufactured in the same place by the same factory. Therefore I imported this player from Japan instead of China. Considering the devaluation of Chinese yuan, importing from China seems quite appealing, but I would rather pay some premium for a Japanese model. I’ve seen some complaints on the build quality from one Chinese forum saying that the back has slight bulging issue. I did not notice such on my machine. Although on the initial release of the Japanese model, some machine suffers from mixed display of English for the menu so that SONY has to stop the sales temporally.

 photo SONY A35-9004.jpg

Unlike M505, the boot time on this player is very long, depends on how many songs you have, it updates the database every time, it could take 30sec to 1 min to complete the boot sequence. My solution here is just to leave the machine on all the time, the standby doesn’t seem to drain battery much at all. When you unplug the audio cable, music stops automatically.

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I used two headphones to test the audio quality. Tested with MDR-7506 first, a wired monitor. It sounds very flat, which is the overall signature of the player. The M505 has a warmer sound than this player.

 photo SONY A35-8997.jpg

The digital processing on this player is called S-MASTER HX, an upgraded version of the M505’s S-MASTER MX. I have to turn on ClearAudio+ to get more flavor out of the music tracks. Here are a list of sound effects the player supports:

 photo SONY A35-9009.jpg

Turning ClearAudio+ will override all these processing. The major difference is that SONY removed CLEAR BASS. So if you like more bass, you might want to have a headphone with extra bass in it. The Equalizer has 6 bands now instead of 5, with added 60hz, probably to compensate the lack of CLEAR BASS? I have yet to play around with Equalizer option, it supports two custom settings aside from a handful presets for different genres. DSEE HX is the solution for poor audio quality sound tracks, it tries to improve the low bitrate mp3 tracks to better sounds. DC phase linearizer linearizes phase shift for low frequency, simulates analog amplifier sound, haven’t tried this option yet. VPT is a simulated surround sound option, haven’t tried this yet, probably never will. Dynamic Normalizer tries to normalize audio volume among different sound track so that they sound in about the same level.

 photo SONY A35-9019.jpg

Now switching to the wireless headphone, a SONY MDR-ZX770BN. This player comes with support for Bluetooth ver 4.2. Unfortunately there is a mismatching on the devices here: The 770BN headphone was 2015 product which support SBC and APT-X codecs only, while the 2016 A35 music player support SBC and SONY’s proprietary LDAC codecs. So the best sound I could get is only the SBC codec. I don’t think this sounds as good as the connection from my XPS 13 laptop. Sound is quite muffled here.

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The player supports NFC for easy pairing of the Bluetooth devices, therefore the back of the device is plastic to allow signal to transmit, while the front is made of aluminum. As far as Bluetooth usage, the player can pair speaks and headphones for audio output, but it won’t accept any Bluetooth signal such as from the cellphone or laptop unlike M505. The player supports Bluetooth remote control, I tried to pair with an Android Bluetooth remote, but it couldn’t recognize it. So I guess the only remote it supports is the official SONY one which cost quite a bit.  

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The output power has been upped quite significantly on this gen, 35mW+35mW(16Ω)compared to mere 10mWx2 from previous gen. The volume is divided into a whopping 100 levels, compared to a mere 16 levels on M505. The menu supports gestures during playback. You can swipe four directions to get to different settings easily. There is on-the-fly bookmark and playlist features. I just wish the UI has a dropdown notification like Android where you can toggle Bluetooth and NFC on/off quickly…

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I’ve also been playing around with Medio Go software a bit since finding out simple drag and drop seems to have missing album artwork and some songs have missing characters. One major problem is that Media Go does NOT treat internal storage and mounted storage equally. It supports auto audio track recognition and artwork from Gracenote, but only on the songs that’s stored on internal storage. The solution is to mount the external storage as a mount point on the C drive. And then point the directive to the one on C drive inside Media Go. This has been worked flawlessly to find most of the albums missing info. If you insist to skip Media Go and use drag and drop, do note that the album artwork SONY players supported are baseline jpg only. If you happen to download progressive jpg or png files, they will NOT show as artwork.

 photo SONY A35-9014.jpg         

Other features on this player includes FM tuner, voice recorder, lyrics display, language learning which I have yet to play around with.

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A final conclusion on this initial impression report is that I’m pretty impressed with this little player. I just need more time to get used to the interface and play around a bit more to have a proper opinion on this machine. So far it shows pretty promising.