Bookniture: First impressions

Bookniture was one of the more interesting non-electronic Kickstarter projects that I’ve ever backed. The concept is pretty simple but innovative – a small piece of furniture made of special paper that can be folded away like a book.

Innovation
Innovation

I finally received the piece today and it is a very interesting item as expected. In terms of weight, it is about as heavy as a MacBook Air or your typical Ultrabook, and the piece feels really sturdy once setup. You just open and close it like a book and there’s a felt top to give you a flat surface on top. It supposedly supports a ton of weight too, so you can sit on it without any worries.

As an origami enthusiast, it is quite nice to see something as innovative as this. There are a few kinks to the piece though. First is that the folds do not open out uniformly, and this is to be expected given the modus operandi. Still, it does give a sort of non-symmetric look. Secondly, the felt top could have used a bit of a smoother finish for the edges.

That said, both are minor complaints and the whole piece feels quite nice to open and use. In fact, I’m typing this out with my laptop perched on top of my Bookniture at this very moment. Check out the gallery below for images and if you want to get one for yourself, just head over to their site.

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Reality catches up with Uber – Mumbai taxi fares re-revisited

Uber Mumbai has just announced a big hike on the Black and SUV services, pretty much bringing them on par with the Ola Prime SUV service. So here’s the latest fare chart (older versions here – v1, v2):

Approx. taxi fares in Mumbai as on 13 July 2015
Approx. taxi fares in Mumbai as on 13 July 2015

Note on the calculation methodology:

  • Travel time calculated assuming 3 min per km (Uber, Ola, TFS)
  • Waiting time taken as 1/2 min per km (kaali peeli & Meru\TabCab)

Activity tracking with Misfit and Pebble Time: OneHandedReview

It’s been over 2 weeks since I got my Pebble Time, and one of the main things I wanted to try with it was the activity tracking functionality. I’ve been using the Misfit app for this purpose for the last 2 weeks. I prefer to wear watches on my left hand as most right handed people do, but having my left arm in a sling has forced me to wear the device on my right hand. This has given me some interesting perspective on the way the app and device work.

Step counting

Brushing teeth can be really vigorous
Brushing teeth can be really vigorous

Wrist worn activity trackers do have some limitations particularly when it comes to step counting accuracy as elaborated in The Wirecutter fitness tracker recommendation, and my experience has been no different. I found that I was hitting the goal of 600 points (approx 6000 steps) just sitting at home with my arm in a sling, all thanks to the app failing to reject mundane activities like brushing teeth from the count. Granted that I was wearing the device on my dominant hand, but the iPhone 5s is a much better step counter in this regard. The whole purpose of using a wrist worn device rather than a smartphone for step counting is to cover those times when you don’t have your phone with you, but the accuracy in this case leaves a lot to be desired.

Sleep tracking

This is one area where the Misfit app seems to do quite well, particularly since the detection is automatic and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to switch to the sleep mode. Since the Pebble Time does not have any sensor to detect whether it is worn, there were times when I removed the Pebble from my wrist and the app thought that I was sleeping. These false activities can of course be deleted from the Misfit app on the phone. There were also times when I got up for a while and then decided to sleep in and the app handled these activities quite gracefully.

I also did a mini experiment over the last couple of days by wearing the Pebble on my left hand which is bound in the sling at bedtime, and found that the awake periods came down significantly over my previous recordings using my right hand. I wonder whether it will make a difference if I put the Pebble in the pillow cover which should be a similar scenario as my sling bound arm.

Conclusion

The Misfit app for the Pebble is pretty decent overall and particularly good for sleep tracking. The battery life is also pretty decent at 3-4 days, when compared to dedicated fitness trackers and miles ahead of other smartwatches. However, if step counting is your primary objective or you want to use it with Android (only the iOS version of the Misfit app supports the Pebble), then look elsewhere. That said, I have found the app pretty useful though I plan to try out some of the other activity tracking apps for the Pebble like Jawbone, FitCat and Morpheuz.

Apple Music in India: First impressions

I updated my iPhone 5s and iPad mini to iOS 8.4 this week, and with it came the much anticipated Apple Music. I promptly signed up for the free trial, and have been trying it for the last couple of days. The service seems quite promising, but the Indian catalogue seems to be quite limited at the moment. The iTunes store has a ton of Indian music ranging from Bollywood tracks of different eras to regional ones. However, most of the tracks seem to be missing from the streaming service.

The interesting aspect is that if you try searching for a particular track that’s not currently available for streaming, you are presented with results of the artist likely indicating that it’ll show up eventually. The new Music app on iOS is also a big overhaul and relegates your music collection to the last tab. I’m already a subscriber of iTunes Match and was able to see my uploaded and matched tracks listed there and also in the search results when applicable. In fact artist pages in the Music app also show tracks from your library in a separate tab when available.

The Music app also seems to be a bit unstable at the moment and it has crashed on me quite a few times already while streaming music. There were also times when tracks were listed in the album or search results, but when you try adding them to the Now Playing list, they disappear. Looks like it’ll take some time for the service to stabilise in India.

The only other streaming service that I’ve used at length was Mix Radio thanks to the complimentary subscription that had come with my Lumia 720. That definitely had a very extensive catalogue and I’d augmented my music collection considerably during that 6 month period. I’m sure the other Indian streaming services like gaana, Saavn, Wink etc. have an equally extensive collection. However, Apple is taking on these services head on with their Rs 120/month pricing that’s a fifth of what they’re charging in US. This is of course consistent with their pricing for iTunes Match and the tracks on the iTunes Store. Apps are the only area where there’s price parity between regions it seems.

Either way, it is a good option for the consumer. The value of iTunes Match priced at Rs 1200 per year in India has become a bit questionable though, as the price difference with Apple Music subscription is just Rs 240 per year. I’m yet to check out the difference between the iCloud music library and iTunes Match. If equivalent, then it’ll be pretty clear as to which service to go with for me.

Revisiting the taxi fares in Mumbai

Ola announced a series of price cuts to their Mini and Sedan services to better compete with Uber and also added the Taxi for Sure hatchbacks to their app in the last few days. This calls for an update to the fare chart that I had made for the various taxi services in Mumbai ranging from the traditional kaali peeli and Meru\Tab cab to the new entrants like Ola and Uber. So here it is:

Taxi fares in Mumbai
Taxi fares in Mumbai

The equation hasn’t changed drastically, but the Ola Mini service is now pretty much comparable to UberX, while UberGo remains unchallenged. Ola Sedan also becomes significantly cheaper than the Merus and Tab Cabs while the newly added Taxi for Sure service (for the Ola app) slots in between these two. TFS seems ripe for a round of price revisions as the  cars are effectively equivalent of the Minis, i.e., hatchbacks.

The recommendations are quite simple:

  • For short distances (<10 km), kaali peelis are the most economical
  • Beyond 10 km, UberGo reigns supreme. In fact, unless you are doing very short distances (sub 5 km), they are the best option. They’re definitely not sustainable for Uber and that possibly explains their relatively limited availability. However, for taxi commuters like me they’re the perfect kaali peeli replacement.
  • Since you are unlikely to get an UberGo, your next best bet is to settle for an UberX or an Ola Mini. For that matter you could go with any of the other options barring the SUVs or Uber Black for distances around 10-15 km without too much fare difference.
  • For distances longer than 15 km, the newer lot comprising of UberX and Ola Mini & Sedan pull away from the Rs 20/km crowd of Meru, Mega, Tab Cab etc.

Either way, this is a good time for the commuter though the rates are unlikely to be sustainable in the long run. So, enjoy for the time being and hope that the day of pleading with taxi drivers and autos never returns.