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.

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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.

Tamasha or Corsican Cheese

Watched the movie in the night show yesterday and went in with my expectations low based on the feedback from my family and friends. The first half turned out to be pretty decent albeit composed of recycled Imtiaz Ali material, while the second half was definitely better than Rockstar. I’m really beginning to wonder whether we’re part of a really confused generation whose parents spent the better part of their lives to ensure a comfortable living for us for it to only give rise to a set of new problems. 3 Idiots was really onto something and seems to have been a trendsetter along the lines of HAHK & DDLJ. That said, the performances of the leading pair was pretty good.

Nonetheless here go my customary observations:

  • They really used the iPhone to establish the movie timeline with the Corsica episode from 4-5 years ago featuring an iPhone 3G or thereabouts and the present jumping to the iPhone 5s & 6. I wonder whether Deepika Padukone had something to do with this given her handling of the iPhone in Piku.
  • Asterix in Corsica was the first thing that came to my mind when they showed the place label and within 5 minutes the heroine was referring to it as her inspiration to visit the place.
  • The movie is targeted squarely at my generation right from the way they depict the childhood scenes and pastimes, to the corporate life.
  • The Catch-22 book featured has a symbolistic charm of the yesteryears.
  • It’s a mini miracle of sorts to have a thriving library of the kind shown in the movie in the current times. Then again, something of the sort might exist in Delhi that I may not be aware of.
  • Quite a few sequences from the first half brought back memories of Jab We Met (it easily remains my favourite Imtiaz Ali movie and one of my all time favourites as well) but with the hero & heroine roles reversed.

iOS 9 on the original iPad mini & iPhone 5s

I updated to iOS 9 on my iPad mini and iPhone 5s within the first week of launch, and been using it for nearly 2 weeks now. The update was a lot easier this time due to the space optimisations and I managed to do an OTA update on the iPhone unlike last time.

iOS 9 comes with its share of tweaks and optimisations that are supposed to improve performance on older devices, but I haven’t noticed much difference in terms of performance on either device which is in line with the observations of others. That said a few games like Limbo that were crashing on startup on my iPad mini (even after device restarts) seem to be at least working now.

While the iPhone 5s gets pretty much all the new features introduced in iOS 9 barring the ones that require special hardware, the iPad mini is left out of practically all the marquee features like content blocking, Siri-Spotlight search improvements and all of the split screen features. That said the iPad keyboard is improved and sports the cut-copy-paste & undo-redo buttons and also supports the two finger cursor navigation gesture. iOS 9 also brings back the 4×4 grid of icons in folders on the iPad, so it is not a total lost cause.

Battery life also seems to be in the same ballpark, though the iPhone seems to be exhibiting a slight improvement in the last few days. Of course that is hardly sufficient to last me a full day even with the new Low Power Mode. The additional details in the battery usage section of settings is also quite useful as it shows the screen on time and overall active time for each item as well.

I also noticed that iPhone only apps when run on the iPad no longer show the top status bar as a part of the app, but leave it on the top of the screen. This is possibly a result of the split screen multitasking capabilities introduced in iOS 9.

A gotcha to keep in mind on the iPhone is the Wifi assist feature (something that’s been on Android for a while) that’s on by default and tries to use the mobile network when the wifi is poor. This can easily burn through your data plan and is best left turned off on limited data plans.

There are also some features like app slicing that are currently disabled due to glitches, but should improve the storage situation on all devices. This is one of the features I’m really looking forward to on my 16 GB iPhone.

Overall, the experience has been quite good though the iPad mini is beginning to show its age. Pretty evident why Apple pulled the device off the market earlier this year. This year also marks a complete 64 bit transition for Apple’s entire device lineup starting from the iPod Touch to the iPad and Apple TV.

Upgrading to Windows 10 on a 4 year old laptop

Upgrading to Windows 10
Upgrading to Windows 10

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my 4 year old Acer Aspire 5750G laptop to Windows 10 from Windows 7 thanks to the free upgrade offer. I managed to wait for a couple of weeks after the release before pulling the plug. The machine is quite reasonably specced with a Core i5-2410M processor, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD (upgraded from 500 GB) and the NVIDIA 540M GPU, and barring the slow hard disk is well equipped to run Windows 10.

The upgrade process was itself quite painless – took a good amount of time to download on my 2 Mbps connection, but the installation itself took around 1.5 hours. There were a few updates including one for the touchpad, and they installed without much fuss either. I also updated the NVIDIA graphics drivers to the Windows 10 version.

The OS itself is quite easy to use and I find the interface an improvement over Windows 7 and agree with my most read reviewers. Compared to Windows 8\8.1 that I’ve used intermittently over the last few years, the experience is definitely a marked improvement particularly on laptops.

The overall experience is pretty much as it was in Windows 7 for me as there are not that many useful Windows Store apps yet, and the laptop is without a touchscreen to make use of full screen apps. The improvements to Explorer, Task Manager and rest of the OS are of course welcome, but would definitely have not been a compelling reason to upgrade were it not free. Cortana has unfortunately not yet released for India, and some of the newer security features require newer hardware.

Having used a MacBook Air for over a year and a half now, I do find some of the new features like multiple desktops quite useful but the experience is hampered by the poor touchpad. Then of course there is the HDD vs SSD performance chasm that puts a big dampener on the Windows usage. If you are eligible for an update, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger (unless you have some incompatible components of course). I’ve also signed up for the Insider builds for some more excitement and quicker access to new features.

The next few months should be interesting with the touch versions of Office for Windows being released and the next generation of Intel processors showing up in devices. Maybe a compelling time for an update…

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.

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.

Mi 4: 2 month usage review

Xiaomi Mi 4 unboxed
Xiaomi Mi 4 unboxing

I finally replaced my Galaxy S3 in April after almost 3 years of service. It had begun to show signs of aging for a while, and I had managed to extend its usability for a few months by flashing Cyanogenmod on it last year. The gadetitis relapse hit me in March this year and I began scouting for my next Android phone in March. After lots of debate, it boiled down to the 64 GB versions OnePlus One and the Xiaomi Mi 4, and the Mi fan festival ensured that price was not going to be a factor when choosing between the two. In the end, the smaller form factor and IR port of the Mi 4 won and I even ended up renewing my Flipkart First subscription to get the phone in a day.

In terms of build quality, the Mi 4 has a very premium feel to it with its steel frame and from the front it has a striking resemblance to the iPhone 5\5s. The back though is a lot more mundane plastic, but there is a faint pattern visible under direct lighting. When it comes to the specs, it is pretty much a Nexus 5 in a prettier package. While it is missing NFC, it does have an IR port that can let you control TVs, ACs etc.

The camera, while pretty decent, pales in comparison to the iPhone 5s that I also own. Colours can turn out a bit oversaturated in shots and the video stabilization has its own issues resulting in jitters if you pan around quickly with shaky hands. I also discovered that the Carousel app from Dropbox can prevent you from shooting videos if you enable the camera overlay option in that app. I missed quite a few video opportunities before I was finally resolved the issue.

The on board storage of 64 GB for the price is the real icing on the cake, and this makes a difference over SD card slots when you have a huge library of games like I do thanks to the Humble Mobile Bundle sales. The 2014 flagship class specs comprising of a full HD display powered by the SnapDragon 801 ensure that games fly on the device. It is definitely a lot faster than my iPad mini that’s based on the aging A5 platform. I haven’t faced any heating issues with the phone so far, and the only time it heats up is when the signal is weak or while charging a severely depleted battery.

On the software front, MIUI also adds a touch of iOS-ness to the usability with some of its design philosophies and then some. Though it’s based on KitKat (without ART support at that), there are also a lot of thoughtful additions that MIUI brings that has kept me from switching to the Google launcher and making Google Now a first citizen. Lack of Lollipop is a bit of a downer, but ART brings its own set of compatibility issues with many games, and I’m quite happy with the phone’s performance and usability for the time being.

The missing NFC hasn’t bothered me much so far, and it was a rarely used feature of my Galaxy S3 as well. However, with Android Pay around the corner, NFC is bound to become a must have feature. That said, it will be at least a year or two before there’s any significant penetration of the service, and that always leaves room for a phone upgrade.

Battery life has also been quite good for me and it easily lasts a day even with some gaming and maps usage. During days of lighter usage, it even manages to stretch to 2 days. In fact, it easily beats my iPhone 5s in the battery life department and I can rely on it to get me through a busy day unlike the iPhone. Overnight discharge is also minimal – around 5-6%, while charging is also quite fast and I can get through a day by charging the phone for an hour in the morning.

Overall, I’m quite happy with the phone and don’t find any compromise or downgrade unlike some of my earlier purchases. It represents one of the best value devices on the market currently, though the Mi 4i is arguably better value if you’re not too fussed about metallic builds and IR ports.

A year with a MacBook Air

I switched to a MacBook Air (2013 model with 256 GB storage) at work from a typical Windows 7 laptop over a year ago (since I manage the app store accounts and iOS needs a Mac) and have had a good while to experience the pros and cons of the system, particularly in a Windows centric enterprise environment. Customary thoughts on the same:

  • In terms of the build quality, weight and size, there are definitely very few Windows laptops that would come close, and none of them are likely to be priced in the typical enterprise purchasing range. And yes, the trackpad is lightyears ahead of a typical Windows laptop.
  • The display though not IPS or retina is definitely much better than the typical Windows laptops.
  • OS X has its advantages and disadvantages versus Windows. I particularly like the multiple desktop feature and Spotlight search.
  • I started off with Mavericks and am currently on Yosemite and do see how OS X has been injected with iOS paradigms. For me that turned out to be an advantage since I started off my Apple computing on iOS devices.
  • Battery life is also pretty good and I can manage a near full day of work without plugging in. However, since I use Chrome as my primary browser due to its cross platform presence, there is definitely a trade off here with it showing up as one of the “apps using significant energy” every now and then.
  • I’ve even used the MacBook for a bunch of video editing in iMovie for some office events and the editing process itself was quite smooth. Exporting the videos was only when I felt the Air’s slower processor.

In the meantime, I’ve been using a Windows 7 laptop at home (reversed situation over many) and while Windows 7 is just as good an OS as OS X, the real difference in usage experience comes from the SSD, trackpad and display. These compromises by Windows laptop OEMS even in laptops priced close to MacBooks really sabotage the Windows usage experience even for . Things have been getting better in the Windows camp, but there still seems to be a long way to go.