HTC One M9 Review

Here’s my review from the latest episode of Bad Voltage. Note that a slightly longer version, with some pictures and a quote is available at LQ.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Android. As a result, I use and test a lot of different Android phones. I plan to start actually reviewing more of them. First up is the HTC One M9. You may remember that I mentioned the One M8 when I reviewed the Nexus 5. HTC’s 2015 top-of-the-line phone builds on the same sleek design as last year’s M8, sticking to the luxurious all-metal case and 5 inch Super LCD3 1080p HD screen while incorporating some key spec improvements, such as an upgraded Octo-core Snapdragon 810 processor, a 20 mega-pixel camera and a 2840 mAh battery. While it’s a bit heavy at 157g, especially compared to the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6, I prefer the weight and balance HTC has created. At 5.69 by 2.74 inches, it’s about as large as I prefer a phone to be (For comparison, the iPhone 6+ is 6.22 x 3.06 and the Nexus 6 is 6.27 x 3.27) The M9 is one of the few flagship phones to still feature expandable storage via SD card, and it offers a unique Uh Oh one-year replacement program in the US. While the phone ships with Android 5.0, I’d expect a 5.1 roll-out in the next month or so. The device is priced at $649 unlocked in the US, with on-contract pricing starting at $199.

With the specs out of the way, let’s get to what’s important; how does the One M9 perform on a day to day basis. Let’s start with the first thing you’ll notice if you’re coming from a non-HTC phone, which is Sense 7. Sense is the UI skin that HTC puts on their Android phones. If you’re a Samsung user, it’s the equivalent to TouchWiz. My last couple full time phones have been from the Nexus family and I tend to prefer the stock Android experience. That said, Sense 7 is actually quite nice. It’s clean, performs well and has a few little touches that would be welcome additions to Android proper. An interesting new feature is a home-screen widget which dynamically changes which apps are displayed within it, depending on your location. (Work, Home, on the go). The theme generator is also pretty cool: you can take a snap of anything and the phone will analyze the image and create a full palette of colors to use with icons and app headers. Even the font and icon shapes will be altered to match the overall feel of the new theme.

While the screen doesn’t have the density or resolution of the Galaxy S6 or LG G4, its 441 pixel per inch screen looks better than the similarly spec’d Nexus 5. HTC has once again eschewed playing the number game here and opted for a non-2k experience which offers almost no discernible benefits to me at this screen size while eating up more of your limited battery. While the speakers haven’t changed much since the previous version, they are still far and away the best available in any phone. The camera is one area that has had a big change since the previous model. The 4-mega-pixel Ultrapixel sensor has been moved to the front of the phone and the aforementioned 20-mega-pixel camera now sits on the back. The phone produced quality photos in my tests, although low light scenarios are a bit of a weak point. I did notice some shutter lag at times, but there are similar lags on my Nexus 5.

While the battery is slightly more capacious than the previous One and HTC estimates you should get a full day of use out of the phone, I’d say that’s ambitious. To be fair, most Android flagship phones seem to be roughly equivalent in this regard and it’s really an area manufacturers need to focus on in my opinion. One other thing that’s changed, and this time not for the better in my opinion, is the power button transferring to the right-hand side of the phone. This may be a more natural place for it to be positioned and some people seem to prefer it, but the fact that it’s the same size and shape as the volume buttons above it results in me inadvertently hitting the incorrect button at times. It’s placement has also resulted in me accidentally powering the screen off. Perhaps I hold my phone in a different position than most people, but I suspect it’s something I’d get used to over time.

One frustrating thing about the phone is that, while it supports QuickCharge 2.0, which can charge the phone 60% in just 30 minutes, the charger that ships with the phone is not QuickCharge enabled. That seems ludicrous for a phone in this price range. It should also be noted that during serious use, the phone tends to get a bit hotter than other phones I’ve used.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? The One M8 was one of my favorite phones last year. The slick design of the M9 is still amazing, but I will say the competition has upped its game considerably. While the M8 had the plasticky S5 and the small iPhone to contend with, the M9 has to compete with the also well designed S6 and the newer updated iPhone 6. A flagship phone has to score well in a lot of areas for me to consider it a phone worth recommending. It has to have solid performance, gorgeous design, a camera that will capture memories accurately and expediently, last through a full day of use and be reasonably priced. That’s a tall order to be sure. I think the HTC One M9 makes the short list (along with the Samsung Galaxy S6 and if you don’t mind a giant phone, the Nexus 6 or LG G4). If you’re looking for an Android phone I’d recommend you look at those phones and pick the one that suits your personal tastes best. As the Nexus 6 is too big for me, my personal choice would currently be the One M9. As a testament to just how good the phone is, I lent my review device to an iPhone user so they could get a feel for Android. They’re no longer an iPhone user.

–jeremy

Anova Precision Cooker Review

In the latest episode of Bad Voltage, I review the Anova Precision Cooker Sous Vide. While you should listen to the show (which includes discussion of the review), here’s the review text.

Anova Precision Cooker

As I mentioned in my Soylent review, viewing gastronomy as merely about sustenance is anathema to me. To say I enjoy food, food culture and eating is a prodigious understatement. It may come as no surprise then that I also enjoy cooking. While I’ve wanted a sous vide for some time now, there simply hasn’t been an affordable model I liked until a recent round of product launches. The Anova Precision Cooker seemed like a nice confluence of quality, price and technology and was the device that finally convinced me to plunge into the world of sous vide. For those unfamiliar with sous vide, it’s a method of cooking food sealed in an airtight bag in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking. The intention is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, while retaining moisture.

The Anova Precision Cooker is an immersion circulator sous vide, that has a temperature range of 77-210 degrees Fahrenheit, is accurate to a tenth of a degree and can heat up to a 5 gallon tank for a maximum of 99 hours. The unit is Bluetooth enabled and can be controlled from a smartphone, although at the time of this review neither the iOS or Android official apps have been released.

With the technical specifications out of the way, it’s time to move on to using the device. You may be wondering how easy it is to cook sous vide and more importantly, how does the food actually taste. Operating the Anova is extremely simple. You fill a suitable container with water, plug the device in, scroll the large wheel to your desired temp and hit the start button. Once the water has reached the desired temperature, you place the vacuumed sealed food in and wait. One great thing about sous vide is experimenting with the time and temperature to create an end result that’s ideal for you. Once you have the two variables dialed in to your tastes, you can perfectly replicate the outcome over and over again. To give you an example, a steak cooked for 90 minutes at 136 degrees Fahrenheit results in a Jeremy approved medium rare . As for the taste; well, it’s delicious. But there’s science behind it all. At these lower temperatures, cell walls in the food do not burst. In the case of meat cooking, tough collagen in connective tissue can be hydrolysed into gelatin, without heating the meat’s proteins high enough that they denature to a degree that the texture toughens and moisture is wrung out of the meat. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to cook some cuts, such as pork belly or spare ribs, for 48-72 hours. Additionally, enclosed spices or ingredients added to the sealed bag transmit their flavor more intensely than during normal cooking. The end product truly is amazing. One downside of that process, however, is that the low temperatures used means no Maillard reaction.. and that means no char. That has a negative impact on both texture and taste. Enter the Searzall. Invented at Booker and Dax, the food science lab arm of the Momofuku empire, the Searzall is an attachment secured to the top of a blowtorch to create the perfect searing temperature without the noxious aromas that typically result when cooking with a blowtorch. By forcing the thin flame of the blowtorch through two layers of fine, high-temperature-resistant wire mesh, it produces a consistent, evenly spread flame that provides a professional quality sear. The end result of a piece of steak cooked in the sous vide and then finished with the searzall is one that will rival the finest steak you’ve ever had.

So, what’s the bad voltage verdict? At $179, the Anova Precision Cooker isn’t outrageously priced but do keep in mind you will also need a vacuum sealer, suitable container and optionally a searzall (although a cast iron pan also works quite well). The total all in cost can be significant, especially if you opt for a chamber vacuum. That said, if you consider yourself an epicurean who enjoys cooking and eating, I think you’ll be highly impressed with what this combination puts on your dinner table.

–jeremy

Soylent 1.3 Review

In the next episode of Bad Voltage, I review Soylent 1.3. I typically post the review text after an episode comes out, but as I did with the Kindle Voyage Review I’m going to post it ahead of time. Why? Well, during the show myself and the rest of the Bad Voltage team discuss the review and after reading this I hope you’re interested enough to listen in when the show comes out tomorrow. In the mean time, you can listen to our holiday episode (where we discuss how we got into technology, where we think tech will be in 2024 and review our 2014 predictions) here: A Hannu-pancha-festi-christ-wanzaa-newton-vent Story

Soylent 1.3

For some, food and the act of eating are merely about sustenance. That mindset is antithetical to the way I approach gastronomy. That said, when Soylent hit the crowd funding scene, I was intrigued. And I wasn’t the only one. They had over $2M in pre-orders using Tilt and have since raised roughly 1.5M from venture capitalists.

So, what is Soylent? Unlike its eponymous plankton-colored movie nutrition source; it’s not people. It is a meal replacement drink that aims to be nutritionally complete, low cost, easy to prepare and flavor neutral. For those like Soylent’s creator who “resented the time, money, and effort the purchase, preparation, consumption, and clean-up of food was consuming”, it can be used in lieu of food for all three meals. During the initial formulation of the product he even subsided on nothing but Soylent for 30 days and has been living on a 90% Soylent diet ever since. For those who actually enjoy eating, it can also be used to replace individual meals at your discretion. It has a 50/30/20 ratio of carbohydrates, fats and protein and a 3 serving pouch contains 2,010 calories if you include the optional oil mixture. A 7 pouch box is $85 as a one time purchase with the starter kit or $70 as a monthly subscription.

I placed my order on July 1st and received it on December 15th. That’s correct it took 5 1/2 months. Unfortunately, based on shipping estimates currently on the website, things haven’t improved much since I placed my order. Do note that reorders should ship in 1-2 weeks, which is much more reasonable.

So, now that I actually have Soylent, what do I think? I should note here that radically altering your diet in the way Soylent’s creator has could have potentially serious health ramifications. Before you consume nothing but a nutrient slurry you heard about on Bad Voltage, created by someone you don’t know on the Internet, you should definitely do a copious amount of research and probably speak with a medical professional. Realistically I don’t think we’ll know the true long term implications of something like this anytime soon. With that out of the way, let me say that as a tech guy, I really like what they are doing. While they’re happy to sell you the product, there is a huge portion of the site dedicated to DYI that allows you to access and tweak their recipe to your liking and make it at home. This is not your average company. Additionally, they actually version the product and are iterating on it fairly quickly. The shipment I received was Soylent 1.3, which replaced the primary source of potassium, tweaked the flavor and changed packaging. Soylent 1.2 replaced fish oil with algae oil to make the product animal free and removed the enzyme blend added in a previous version while Soylent 1.1 reduced the amount of sucralose, added the aforementioned enzyme blend to improve digestion and updated the packaging. I don’t know of any other food vendor that details the changes in their product in this manner, but it’s a trend I welcome.

On to the actual product. The taste has been described as purposefully bland and that’s not far off. Opinions seem to very widely, but to me it has a very mild vanilla flavor. I didn’t use a blender for my initial tests and the product is slightly gritty, but certainly tolerable to me. Others I had taste Soylent did not concur with my assessment. Leaving Soylent in the refrigerator overnight helped the consistency immensely. I had almost nothing but Soylent for breakfast and lunch over the last two days which resulted in me feeling sated and having normal energy levels. I ran three miles before dinner yesterday and can’t say I noticed any difference between how I felt during that and a normal run. I had none of the gastric distress, intestinal discomfort or soul-crushing flatulence that has been reported by some.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? I can’t imagine consuming nothing but Soylent for 3 meals a day every day. I just like food too much. Even if I didn’t, I think the impact of cooking, eating and sharing food have a profound impact on local culture. One I’d hate to see go away. But the openness and transparency of the company, their willingness to iterate and the nutritional completeness along with ease of preparation does mean I’ll likely use it to replace breakfast and lunch a couple times a week moving forward. Now, is Soylent right for you? That’s too dependent on your gastronomic proclivities and intestinal fortitude for me to say.

As mentioned here, Bad Voltage is a new project I’m proud to be a part of. From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

–jeremy

Kindle Voyage Review

In the next episode of Bad Voltage, I review the new Kindle Voyage. I typically post the review text after an episode comes out, but this time I’m going to post it ahead of time. Why? Well, during the show myself and the rest of the Bad Voltage team discuss the review and after reading this I hope you’re interested enough to listen in when the show comes out this Thursday. In the mean time, you can listen to the latest episode (where we discuss systemd, ChromeOS and more) here: Everything is Orange

Kindle Voyage

While not necessarily a voracious reader, I am someone who enjoys reading regularly. For a long time, I strongly preferred print books to reading on a screen. The Kindle changed that. While some may not mind reading entire books on a tablet or screen, for me the e-ink display makes all the difference. For reference, the Kindle Voyage is my third Kindle replacing the Kindle Keyboard 3G (2011), which in turn replaced the original OG Kindle (2008). So, how does it compare?

First, let me get a couple boring specs out of the way. This is the thinnest Kindle ever made. At just 7.6mm it’s actually thinner than a Samsung Galaxy S5. Its 16-level gray scale 300 ppi display sits flush with the bezel and delivers twice as many pixels as the previous generation Paperwhite, which my esteemed college Jono reviewed in episode 18. It has an adaptive front light which automatically adjusts to your environment, comes with 4GB of storage and a single charge lasts for over a month of average usage.

With that out of the way, let’s get to actually using the device. First, let me say that the Amazon frustration free packaging is absolutely top shelf. Every time I get an electronic device in Gordian Knot packaging, I wonder why some companies treat their customers with such disdain. I’m going to guess you aren’t going to purchase a device based solely on its packaging, however. The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the Kindle Voyage is that it’s very well constructed. The magnesium alloy unibody is light, durable and has an attractive design. It also feels significantly better in your hands than the more recent Kindle iterations. You can tell Amazon has put real engineering work into making this feel not only like a solid product, but having it be reminiscent of holding an actual book. The touch UI is a vast improvement over the last model I was using and is surprisingly intuitive, with specific regions on the device dedicated to specific functionality. For example you can turn pages by simply tapping the right or left side of the capacitive touchscreen. For those of you who prefer a more tactile approach, you can use the ‘PagePress’ system, which consist of two pressure-sensitive sensors positioned on either side of the screen bezel and result in some haptic feedback being added to your page turns. The footnote and dictionary functionally are both vastly improved and wikipedia integration has been added. A previous annoyance, there is finally no ghosting or lag when turning pages. Most importantly, the screen really is best in class; it’s a joy to read on and graphics are much improved.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? At $199 the Kindle Voyage may be a little pricey for those people who are not regular readers or have the most recent Paperwhite. That said, in my opinion it’s the best e-reader on the planet. If you’re a regular reader, it’s a Voyage that’s well worth the trip.

As mentioned here, Bad Voltage is a new project I’m proud to be a part of. From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

–jeremy

Pebble Smartwatch Review

This review was originally done for Bad Voltage, but I figured it may also be of interest to my general readers.

In Season 1 Episode 13 of Bad Voltage, we covered the topic of wearables. One device that came up in that episode was the Pebble watch. For those who are unfamiliar with the device, it’s a first generation smartwatch that has an e-paper display and an ARM Cortex-M3 processor. It was originally funded via kickstarter, where the project hit over 10 million dollars of funding based on a goal of just $100,000. I was one of the initial backers, who got a Jet Black Pebble for just $99. With its fairly low price point, the watch is admittedly pretty basic from an aesthetics perspective. The rubber watch band, for example, is certainly not my favorite. The watchface itself, while plastic, is sleek and well constructed and the e-paper display is quite usable. The battery lasts for around a week, depending on usage, and the device is even water resistant, meaning it can be fully submerged in water or worn while running in the rain. It connects to iPhone and Android smartphones using Bluetooth and can alert you with a silent vibration and on screen notification to incoming calls, emails, text messages, weather alerts, sports scores, calendar events and more. You can also select from a wide variety of watchfaces. Some of the watchfaces are extremely well done and while simple, this is one of my favorite aspects of the watch.

From a customization perspective, that’s really just the beginning though as the watch can also be loaded with apps. Cyclists can use Pebble as a bike computer, accessing the GPS on their smartphone to display speed, distance and pace data. You can use the music control app to play, pause or skip tracks on your phone with the touch of a button. You can use the device to control your GoPro camera or nest thermostat, and there’s even a Freecaddie app that works as a golf rangefinder.

The Pebble can receive simple alerts and notifications from “if this then that” or via a web-facing RESTFUL endpoint. There is also a C-based SDK. Basically you can send anything that would have been a push notification directly to the device and the device can send data from the accelerometer and buttons back up to the Internet. The app ecosystem is fairly new, but some interesting 3rd party apps are already starting to appear, with services like Pandora, RunKeeper, Foursquare and Yelp jumping into the fray.

For those who didn’t like the look or construction of the original Pebble, which is still available with an MSRP of $150, the next generation Pebble, the Pebble Steel, is already available. As the name indicates, the new device is made of brushed or matte stainless steel and comes with either a leather or metal band. The watchface itself is both larger and higher quality and now comes with Gorilla glass and a notification LED. Overall the new Pebble Steel looks significantly nicer but does so at a higher cost of $250.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? At $99 I have to say I’m pleased with the device. To be fair, the new app store has certainly had some hiccups, and some of the apps are either a bit buggy or sound more useful than they actually end up being. The largest disappointment is probably that you can only have eight watchfaces or apps on the device at any given time, which is not nearly enough. But, for a first generation device that cost less than a hundred dollars I think it was a bargain. The new Pebble Steel looks to be a nice iteration, but whether it’s worth $250 is likely a matter of personal preference… so I leave that decision to the listener.

–jeremy
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Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer Review

This review was originally done for Bad Voltage, but I figured it may also be of interest to my general readers.

As I mentioned in the season one, episode four “Open Source Health” segment, I’m someone who makes a concerted effort to stay relatively healthy. Part of that means exercising regularly and being cognizant of my eating habits, but as an Open Source tech guy, I’m someone who prefers to make empirical decisions. I like data. I like being able to spot trends and from there see if I can find causation. Unfortunately, I’m not dedicated enough to regularly weigh myself, write it down manually and then start graphing that data. Enter the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer, which is an Internet connected Smart Scale. A few seconds after stepping on the scale, you’ll know your body weight, BMI, fat-lean ratio and heart rate. It even tracks air quality, carbon dioxide levels and temperature. That’s just the beginning, though. Moments later, all the data is synced and available online in the Health Mate dashboard. From that dashboard you can view a variety of graphs and trends, see how you’re progressing toward goals that you’ve set and see how you compare to normal ranges for your body type. You can also access the data via both iOS and android apps. Armed with this data it’s easy to spot that your recent trip to Los Angeles for SCaLE may have caused you to put on a pound or two, or that giving up a certain product after a certain date actually has paid dividends. If you need a bit of an extra motivator or are just the attention seeking type, you can even automatically post your data to Facebook and twitter. The scale supports multiple users, identifying different users by weight, with a clever system for choosing between users with similar weights.

If that’s all you use the Smart Body Analyzer for, I’d already consider it an extremely useful device. Especially if it actually motivates you to adhere to the fitness goals you’ve set for yourself. But, once you’re using the Health Mate dashboard, you’ll find that it also integrates with other Withings products. Add the Pulse Activity Tracker, for example, and you’ll get sleep cycle analysis along with steps taken, calories burned, elevation climbed and distance traveled throughout the day. Additional data sources aren’t locked into Withings products, however. With over 100 supported 3rd party apps you can add information from RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, Fitbit and many more. This allows you to form a fairly comprehensive view of your overall life.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? The Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer is a great way to track and monitor a large number of health-related metrics. While expensive for a scale, in my opinion $150 is a small price to pay for a device that is easy to setup, easy to use on a daily basis and provides such a plethora of health related data.

–jeremy
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Google Nexus 5 Review

This review was originally done for Bad Voltage, but I figured it may also be of interest to my general readers.

In this episode I’m going to review the recently released Nexus 5 phone, manufactured by LG. While the 5 in the product name is a reference to the device’s nearly 5 inch screen, it’s also the 5th iteration of the Google Nexus line (the predecessors being the HTC Nexus One, Samsung Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the LG Nexus 4). The exterior of the Nexus 5 is made from a polycarbonate shell, unlike the Nexus 4, which used a glass-based construction. At 5.42 inches tall and 2.7 inches wide, it’s a big phone but is shaped to feel smaller than it looks. It’s surprisingly light for its size, at only 4.6oz, and is 8.6 millimeters thick. The phone feels a bit more solid than a Samsung Galaxy S4, but sitting next to an HTC One it looks a bit, well, plain. But being flashy or ostentatious was never Google’s goal with the Nexus line. It was to showcase the unbridled, unadulterated and bloatware free vanilla Google Android experience. And the phone’s 445 pixel per inch, 4.95-inch, 1080p IPS screen helps a great deal in doing that. At the time of this review the Nexus 5 was the only phone officially running Android’s latest version: Kit Kat. And that’s a big part of the Nexus experience and something no other phone is going to offer. Manufacturers often take many months to port new versions of Android to existing handsets and in some cases ports you think will come never do. Even the new Google Play edition of phones will likely never receive updates as quickly as the Nexus line. If that’s important to you, most of this review probably doesn’t matter. Get yourself a Nexus 5. It’s hands down the best Nexus phone to date. On that note, Kit Kat is the best Android version to date as well, and is a fairly significant change from previous versions of the software. It’s sleeker, cleaner, more refined and more modern looking while being considerably more responsive. Google Search and Google Now are integrated much more seamlessly than in previous versions. And while I’m not personally a fan of Hangouts replacing SMS and MMS, one nice thing about Android is that you can easily change that.

Now, back to the phone itself. Some good: The quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 2G of RAM means that the phone is astonishingly fast. By far the fastest phone I’ve used to date. The display is absolutely gorgeous. The battery life has also been better than most Android phones I’ve used. The  overall build quality of the phone is high and the form factor is extremely usable. The Nexus experience is also difficult to beat. Some bad: While battery life has been better, it’s still fairly unpredictable at times. The camera is probably the weakest part of the phone and is considerably worse than other flagship offerings. That said, Google claims that much of the issue is software related so we may see some marked improvement here. The speaker, while fairly loud, is also frustratingly distorted at times. While I like the overall form factor of the phone, it is quizzical that they chose to give it such a large bottom bezel, especially considering the phone has only software buttons. The lack of an SD card slot is also disappointing.

So, what’s the Verdict? If you want the Nexus experience or would like to buy an off contract phone, at $349 for the 16GB model and $399 for the 32GB model I think the Nexus 5 is going to be impossible to beat. I’m certainly extremely happy with the device myself. That said if you’re in a position where you have to buy a phone on contract, the HTC One (which I’ve seen as low as $75 with a 2 year contract) or possibly the Samsung Galaxy S4 are probably better options.

–jeremy
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