Rogue One

Some quick thoughts on the movie:

  • The Star Wars movie with just one light saber in the whole movie, and more akin to the Westerns and War movies of the yesteryears as many reviewers have noted
  • This poses some interesting questions for the Star Wars Machete order, now that we have a storyline that comes in between Episodes III & IV
  • It also lays to rest the “big” design flaw in the Death Star that allowed its eventual destruction
  • It seems we’re also seeing the beginning of a new era where dead actors will be resurrected for key roles in prequels/sequels
  • The entire climax of the movie gives a new physical dimension to data search and security
  • This story also pretty much disregards the Jedi Knight video game series’ plot which started off with the Dark Forces game and involved Kyle Katarn stealing the Death Star plans
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The Oura Ring

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I got the Oura Ring through Kickstarter earlier this year and have been wearing it daily since then. This has been one of the gadgets that has drawn the attention of friends, colleagues and strangers alike. The Oura Ring is primarily a sleep tracker with a variety of sensors to measure your activities and sleep 24×7. It connects to its app your phone through bluetooth for daily insights and analysis. In short, it functions just like the typical wrist worn fitness tracker with a focus on sleep tracking, but in a much smaller form factor which makes it more comfortable to wear all the time.

The ring is definitely a large one, and would not look out of place on Mogambo‘s fingers. That said, it doesn’t feel very heavy or uncomfortable to wear all the time if worn on the correct finger. The wife acceptance factor is also pretty low as I have found out over the last few months (I had to leave it behind during one of our family vacations), but it rarely fails to draw the attention of anyone seeing it for the first time.

The ring is not exactly symmetric and due to this, fits more comfortably on either the index & middle finger of your left hand or the ring & little finger of your right. There are also small protrusions on the inner bottom side of the ring for the heart rate and body temperature sensors, but they are imperceptible when worn.

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I got the glossy black version and it has resisted scratches quite admirably though it can attract fingerprints. The completely waterproof nature of the rings ensures that it gets a regular cleaning every time you wash your hands or take a bath, so hygiene is taken care of unlike some smartwatches with straps that can’t be wet.

The battery life of the ring has also been great, lasting 2-3 nights and worn all day long, depending primarily on how long I sleep. The ring charger is basically the case it came in with a micro-USB port for charging. When the battery reaches around 10-12%, the ring seems to stop recording any information. A full charge takes about an hour in this state.

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There have been quite a few firmware and app updates (about once a month) that have fixed bugs and tweaked how sensitive the ring is to activities. It also integrates with the Health app on iOS and sends the sleep data and resting heart rate every cycle.

The ring is pretty much passive in nature with no display or direct interaction mechanism. It instead uses the phone app to sends notifications like low battery or time to stand up. However, it does detect when it is worn and can accordingly activate its tracking. There are also ways to activate an airplane mode and reset it through the app.

Coming to its actual utility, I have found it to track my sleep quite well, though it is limited to one cycle a day. So, if you take a nap in the afternoon, it won’t show in the app, but it does track the info and seems to pass it on to the iOS Health app. For the sleep tracking, it detects the different phases of sleep – light, deep & REM – along with your resting heart rate and body temperature. It then gives a score to the sleep cycle and your overall readiness depending on a variety of factors, and provides a few suggestions for the day.

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The ring gradually learns your the range of your typical vitals and adapts its analysis accordingly. For example, one night I was coming down with a fever and it was able to detect the elevated body temperature and higher than usual body temperature to give a basic diagnosis the next morning.

I have found the ring to be quite useful to better understand my sleep patterns and the sources of disturbances in the cycle. There are however times when I have not been able to follow through on the suggestions given and at the end of the day a fitness tracker can only provide guidance but not enforcement for healthy habits.

There are also some areas of improvement for the ring – tracking multiple sleep cycles in a day for one and passing on the wealth of information it captures to the Health app for another. The latter area is especially one where the ring seems to be capturing a lot of data points, but not exposing them directly to the end user.

The Oura ring has turned out to be one of my most interesting backed projects on Kickstarter and it definitely is a precursor of things to come in the wearables and IoT space beyond today’s wrist worn devices. A hat tip to the Four short links post that led me to Oura.

Reviewing a trio of Blaupunkt products

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I recently got a trio of products from Blaupunkt which comprised of a car charger, a lightning cable for iDevices and a wired earphone. I got to use the cable during a couple of my recent outstation trips, and the car charger during a trip to Bangalore. I’ve also been using the earphone pretty regularly with my iPhone and Mi 4 for the last few weeks. Here are some thoughts on each of the products.

Lightning cable

I got a white cable with subtle Blaupunkt branding that’s about a metre long and it worked flawlessly with my iPhone and iPad. One thing to note is that the plastic portion on the lightning connector is thicker than the regular Apple cable and thus may pose some difficulties to people with snug cases. That said the quality of the cable seems to be more robust and should hold up better than the Apple ones. The milky white colour is unlikely to hold up with prolonged use though.

Car charger

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The car charger was also designed pretty interestingly and promised 3 in 1 features by providing a seat belt cutter and glass breaker as part of the device. In terms of the core feature, it has 2 USB ports that are set at an angle and can thus pose a bit of a problem if your car port is placed in an enclosure like in the photo, thus rendering one of the ports unusable.

They do have another model where the 2 USB ports are placed at the rear, so you may want to check the location of your car port before deciding which model to get. As for the charging itself, there were no issues and it charged my iPhone 5s pretty quickly using the cable reviewed earlier.

Earphones

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The earphones have been my most used of the 3 products and I’ve been using them regularly when viewing Netflix and Amazon Video on my iPhone and Mi 4. The cable is flat in nature which lessens the chance of it getting tangled when stored and there is a mic with a play/pause button. There is also a separate volume slider at the Y junction that works independent of the device volume, but ensuring that it works on both Android and iDevices (or any other device for that matter). It was supplied with 3 different sized eartip pairs to enable better fitting for your ears. There is also a white colour available.

As for the sound output, it has decent bass and mid range, but the top end is definitely lacking. This makes it quite good for voice calls and also video watching, but not necessarily for music. I compared it to the staple Apple earpods and my 4 year old Soundmagic E30 (around 3x the price of the Blaupunkt set, but without a mic) while listening to some of my favourite tracks. The Blaupunkt model easily best the earpods which is not a difficult feat, but falls well short of the Soundmagic model which has a different level of clarity thanks to the better treble output.

Overall, the earphone should be a decent buy if you are going to use it for voice calls or video viewing and the flat cable and universal volume control adds to the value. However, if you primarily want to listen to music, there are better options in this price range.

Amazon Primes for a 2 front war

Finally got a mail notification for the launch of the Amazon Prime Video service in India that’s bundled with the Amazon Prime subscription. As if the price (Rs 999 per year for now which includes a bunch of benefits for the ecommerce side vs Rs 500+ per month for Netflix) was not lucrative enough, they’ve beaten the Netflix catalogue on many fronts.

Not only are there a bunch of recent movie releases on the Amazon platform but also a bunch of popular TV series including Indian ones. The Amazon Video app also supports offline videos, a feature that was recently added to Netflix and remains a bit spotty regarding support for Android phone models (doesn’t work on my Mi 4). Amazon also offers a bunch of regional Indian language subtitles and audio tracks for some of the movies. It is quite clear how much of a difference Amazon’s Indian presence in the Indian market for the last few years have made.

Amazon also has more bandwidth friendly streaming options giving you more bang for your data pack bucks as well. The lowest quality setting on Amazon uses about 90 MB per hour of video vs around 250 MB for Netflix. Those with a Windows 8 or 10 machine like me are out of luck on the app front with Amazon though there’s always the browser. This is one area that Netflix has an advantage.

There is some overlap of the catalogue between both the platforms. Of course, there are quite a few Netflix originals that will not be on Amazon and vice versa. Netflix is also a bit better organised on its UI with different seasons of a TV series getting clubbed together when browsing the catalogue.

Then, there’s the matter of the situation that Amazon’s other competitors like Flipkart and Snapdeal find themselves in now that the Prime membership has multiplied in value. 2016 started with the Netflix entry and ended with an even bigger bang thanks to Amazon Prime video.