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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.  

     photo SONY A35-9015.jpg

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…

 photo Media Go 01.jpg

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.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Synology DS1515+ / Router RT1900ac troubleshooting


So I’ve got Synology DS1515+ to replace the Lenovo drive since late 2015. And the server has been running fine. Here are a few tips for things to work correctly:

1. VPN L2TP connection requires manual registry editing:

Ports Required:

  • IPSec – UPD 500
  • IPSec NAT Traversal – UDP 4500
  • L2TP – UDP 1701

Fix on Windows clients – http://support.microsoft.com/kb/926179

  • For Win7 and Win8 Machines
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE –> SYSTEM -> CurrentControlSet –> Services –> PolicyAgent
    • New DWORD (32-bit) – AssumeUDPEncapsulationContextOnSendRule
    • Set the Value Data to 2

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dell XPS 13 9350 wifi card replacement / New OS Installation Guide / General 6 month Review

So I bought the XPS 13 9350 ultrabook in December 2015. Basic configuration is 1080p non-touch screen, I5 6200 CPU, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM. I’ve been mostly happy with the laptop so far. But there is one problem with laptop, the wifi card it’s included has very poor signal under certain environment, especially with the Synology RT1900ac router under 5G connection.
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So I replaced it with Intel 8260 wifi card recently, and the connection has been stable so far.
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Opening up the laptop wasn’t as hard as I thought after following the ifixit guide and youtube video.
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Left is the crappy Dell DW 1820A wifi card that came with the machine. Right is the replaced Intel 8260 wifi card, the third gen wifi card that’s capable of connection speed upto 867Mbps under 5G. (2nd gen 7265 works with it as well, and it’s about $10 cheaper)
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The next part I would like to replace is the m2. SSD. I’ll wait for the Samsung 950 Pro 512GB to come down to around $200 price point. But the current 256GB+128GB microSD card has been serving me pretty well. (I got the microSD adapter that can insert flush with the machine) I don’t really need any more space so far.
After replacing the wifi card, I got some trouble with the Bluetooth driver. So I just completely reinstalled windows. It’s the first time I reinstall on a m2 NVME drive. I did plenty research on it and ran into some issues, but was able to solve the problems. So here are the procedures I did (I used the RAID approach by loading Intel RAID drivers manually during windows 10 installation):
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1. Prepare USB stick. I’m using Rufus. Change the partition to GPT for UEFI, and File system to FAT32. I have a 64GB USB drive, didn’t bother to try NTFS.
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After Rufus is done, it should have bootx64.efi under efi>boot folder. This is the boot file that you need to boot from USB. I ran into a problem where Dell’s UEFI wouldn’t boot from the USB drive. But it worked after I manually pointed this file in bios. The step will be shown later.
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Now download the intel RAID driver, and put it on the USB drive. You’ll have to manually point to the driver during windows installation, otherwise windows cannot see your drive.
2. UEFI Settings:
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My approach is to keep the RAID setting intact. Insert USB drive before booting into UEFI.
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(1). Disable Secure Boot
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(2). Check “Enable Legacy Option ROMs” in Advanced Boot Options.
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(3). Manually add the bootx64.efi in the “Boot Sequence” menu. I have a hard time with the USB will not boot. I finally resolved the problem by doing this.
Windows 10 installation is easy afterwards, you just need to point it to the intel RAID driver. I deleted the 10GB Dell recovery partition as I don’t feel I ever need it. The only problem I have so far is that some drivers and setting software downloaded from Dell will not install now as the system is not Dell specific. But the manufacture drivers from Intel, Microsoft etc works just fine.
A quick review about the laptop is that it improves upon Dell’s software updates, especially the BIOS updates. The first months I got the laptop has a lot of issues including random reboots, BSOD, etc. But they seem to disappear since January. The biggest appeal for this laptop is of course the thin bezel. I’m surprised that to this day, there is still no competitors coming up with bezels this thin (well, there is LG gram 13 and 15, and Samsung Notebook 9 NP900X5L-K02US). The speed of the laptop is reasonably fast, it runs with SONY Vegas video editing software and Adobe Lightroom just fine. The battery lasts me a good 5-6 hours (I’ve never been able to reach the claimed 10 hours). Another appealing factor is that Dell has some good accessories going along with it. The one I like so much is the power companion. A portable charger that can provide 35w power to the laptop and two additional USB ports for smartphones and tablets. The one I got is the smaller and lighter four cell PW7015M 12000mah. It can charge XPS 13 9350 upto 50% full through a single charge very quickly. And the recharge time is phenomenal in under 2 to 3 hours.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Camera Bag Review - Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L vs Case Logic SLRC-206

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So I’ve been using the Case Logic SLRC-206 ever since the beginning of my photography life back in 2012. It was a very much recommended bag back in the days with a good quality build. Also the price was very decent for such a camera bag. I’ve got a set of Think Tank Pro Speed Belt system with the respective accessory bags. And I quickly found out that system wasn’t ideal for travel. So my go to bag is still the case logic. The bag was with me, went through some long trip to west side of US (part of route 66) and some trips to China. But during a recent trip to climb the Mt. Huashan in China, I found the bag is quite short on a few features for the active sports type. The one biggest problem with the case logic is the lacking of an integrated water compartment. So I did some research and found this Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L bag. Hopefully it can address most of the problems I had with the case logic bag. The bag comes with two colors of choice, a glacier blue and bright orange. For some reason, the orange one is sold at $100 only, and the blue one is sold at $150. I went with the blue one since I don’t like the flashy orange color. This puts the bag at 2x the price of the case logic. There are quite a few sellers selling this bag from China with price under $100 though (for both blue and orange), not sure about the authenticity…
So far I’ve only taken the bag for one photo shoot on the Lunar Eclipse the past month. The bag seems OK for fulfilling my needs, I decided to keep it. So here is a review including a comparison with the case logic SLRC-206.
Initial impression about this bag is that the build quality including the paddings, the zipper smoothness is not as good as the cheaper case logic.
The main features of the Lowepro is the integrated water compartment on the left side while a dedicated tripod suspension system on the right side. And the unique back opening when you can flip the bag (with the waist strap on) and retrieving your gears from the main compartment without putting the bag on the ground. In practice, I like the back opening a lot. It made switching lens a breeze while all gears are available to you right in front of you without ever putting the bag down. This is the biggest reason why I decided to keep the bag.
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As for the water compartment, I tried to put in a 2L water bag, it was a super tight fit. So the manufacturer recommended 1.5L is about the right size. 1.5L should be about right for most situations.
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I haven’t tried the tripod mount yet, as my current tripod is too long when folded and too heavy. I DO plan to replace the tripod with a much more compact and low weight carbon fiber build in the near future. Some people also point out the weight imbalance if only one side is mounted (eg. just the water compartment or just the tripod side, or when you fully consumed all water). I think that’s a valid concern, I just don’t have the opportunity to put it to test.
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The Lowepro is smaller than the case logic. There are three sizes for this particular line, and this model 20L is already the largest…
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Wish they could make it slightly larger, especially on the width and depth.
Here is what the inside looks like when all my gears are packed:
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Note if I had the 24-70 attached and left the 70-200 on the side, it would look something like from Lowepro’s web:
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This would be a problem for the tripod side. The tripod seems best positioned is it’s sit straight against the side of the bag. The contoured shape from the overstuffed picture makes the tripod seem impossible to fit in.
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But mine looks nowhere near that full. After all, I don’t pack a lot of stuff into my bag. Also it’s possible to configure the bag into just two columns:
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The depth of the main compartment feels just one inch too short. I can only fit in a Canon 430 II flash in. I have to remove the Sto-fen modifier. While the case logic will happily fit it.
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I also like the bright orange dividers from case logic. It’s easier to see in the dark. The case logic has overall thicker sides as well, which adds some protection to the gear. The padding in Lowepro seems just not as so great when compared to case logic…
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One of the feature of the Lowepro is that you can take the main compartment out entirely, it includes a cover you can put on to the compartment. I don’t find this feature to be that practical.
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The bottom part of the bag includes a rain cover and it’s fairly easy to deploy to cover the entire bag.
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The rain cover is a tight fit though, if you have a tripod, then it won’t fit… I’ll try to see if I can stick in my own rain cover in there as there seems to be ample space. The soft bottom is really appreciated if you are using that flip feature a lot since that’s the spot will go against your “private part”.
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I do miss the hard EVA waterproof base from the case logic though. I guess the lowepro was meant to be on your back most of the time, especially on the beach.
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The padding on the strap is thicker from the case logic. But it tends to slip from my shoulder from time to time. Not a problem from Lowepro though. It stays on my shoulder just fine. So I’m quite happy with that.
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The case logic does not have any additional straps to help the bag to stay on. While the Lowepro provide not only the waist strap, but also the chest strap. The length of the straps are fully adjustable to fit most body shapes. So the Lowepro is a clear winner here. The ventilation design is about the same between the two. With the waist straps for the Lowepro, it does feel somewhat bulkier, although it’s actually a smaller bag than the case logic.
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The only downside about these waist straps is the lack of better pockets. There is only a meshed open top pocket on each side. I wish at least one side has a fully closed, well padded pocket with zipper for better protection. This way I can safely store some batteries and SD cards for quick access. I might just DIY a pocket at some point.
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Moving on to the front compartment. There is a slot for small laptop/tablet. I can fit in my 11.6 in laptop in there. (so it should fit an XPS 13 with infinite display) But again, the padding is really lacking here…
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There is another slot across, but the pocket is way to deep, it makes retrieving things really hard. I’m not gonna use that slot at all. I do like the two part design from the case logic in this case. The front of the backpack has two cross slots. One side is smaller while the other side is larger. I’m currently putting some filters in the bigger slot. However, with the waist strap on, it’s impossible to reach any of the compartments other than the main one. So it’s a bit of a nuance. But I can’t find a better place to store my filters…
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Overall, I think the case logic is a better bag with very good quality. But the lacking of water compartment and a built-in raincover, plus the slippery strap are the three aspects I dislike the most.            
The Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L has some quirks. It’s designed mainly for active sports type and people who doesn’t have a lot of gears. The back opening compartment is a very good idea and seems working out very well for me. But still it’s far from perfect. The ideal bag would be a bag that’s designed based on the case logic as it’s a good quality bag: flipping the main compartment of the case logic, adding waist flaps to have the flip functionality while having that spacious room for much more gears. The right side compartment needs to be way larger to be able to hold a 1.5L water bag. Improve the left side tripod system. Removing the small front bag, exchange for a flap that can cover the EVA base while flip the bag to provide a soft smooth area. Here is a very rough draft of what I have in mind when putting the best of the two bags together:
scatch perfect bag