Friday, July 1, 2016

It's Freakin' July!

What a special, special month this will be for me! So many opportunities, new gadgets to play with and review, new games to discover, and of course, clocking one year as an employed Graphic Artist.


There are a number of tech reviews I will be writing for this month, mainly revolving the new iPad Pro 9.7 and of course, the Batband by StudioBanana. I will also be attending an art fair at the end of the month and be displaying/selling my art at a partner café around the Liboton area in Naga City.

Yes, this is freaking short, and yes, this will be a rollercoaster, but we'll get through this.

Oh yeah, we have new leaders in position now, so that's that. (I still can't wrap my head around Duterte and what his presidency will mean for the country.)

Happiest of July!
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Friday, June 17, 2016

Google Cardboard & Immersive 360° Videos

It's a given that a lot of new ways to enjoy video have been popping out, and one in particular has caught us all in the net: 360° videos. It started with Google's Cardboard, which is a basic strap-on device that allows you to move your head around and see everything that that virtual world had to offer.


I bought mine online around a year ago for an incredibly low price, and I still use it to this day. After the fun of putting the whole thing together (the version (1?) I got wasn't ready-to-wear), the actual experience began. Back then (August 2015 or so), there weren't a lot of great apps and videos to try the Cardboard on, and some just made me straight-up nauseous. I lost interest a few weeks later and stored it on one of the shelves home. 

I got my kit looking exactly like this one. They came folded with the lenses packed into two separate plastics, along with instructions on putting them together. It was an easy process.

It was only within this year that Virtual Reality (VR) and 360° videos started to go uphill. It became the talk of the tech industry, and for the first time, more people began exposing themselves to this form of art. 

Realizing I had given my Cardboard enough time to rest, I picked it up a month ago and got back into the game - literally. There were now more videos, more apps, and more games to immerse yourself into, and my excitement came back. Some still sucked, some made me dizzy, but there were select few that, when paired with some great headphones, made for an incredible experience. Here are a few Youtube 360° videos that I found entertaining.

Note: The 360 experience can only be activated on mobile via the Youtube App. This won't work on your browser (and it will take the experience away).


Shadows Lurking From Within

The best VR experience is one that induces horror, and this one is best played in a dark room with headphones on. It'll help if you're alone at home too, haha. 



Open Blue 360 Experience (Teaser)

For someone who grew up knowing how to swim and being at the beach most of the time, the ocean terrifies me. It's my Xenophobia kicking in, and thanks to VR, I can swim with the sharks, whales, and eels however often I want, without endangering myself.



Clash of Clans 360: Experience A Virtual Reality Raid

If you've played Clash of Clans, I'm sure you'll find this one fun (and even if you haven't, you sure would, too). A First-Person perspective from the Archer's Tower, you'll see all the action.



There are heaps more 360° videos out on Youtube to be explored, so gear up (either buy the Google Cardboard to experience VR at a reasonably cheap price or invest on a higher-end model) and be ready for an incredible ride.

I'm honestly just waiting for VR to get into the 'online classes' area. Now that would be interactive, first-person learning.
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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Anime of the Week - Himouto! Umaru-chan

It's been a while since I got into animé at a safe distance (you do NOT want to see me addicted to it, for sure), and when I did, I decided to keep it on a light, comedic genre at the time (now, I've moved on to the likes of Shimoneta and Assassination Classroom, among many others). 

One of the two incredibly awesome, cute, funny, and relatable animé I've come across is this one. I introduce you to Himouto! Umaru-chan



Here's a bit of the story to catch your attention. 

The whole series (which started as a Manga - this animé was created to promote it I think) revolves around Umaru Doma, the perfect high school girl - straight A's, beautiful, and graceful. When she gets home though and puts on her hamster hoodie, she transforms into a crazy, lazy, junk food-addict otaku who leaves the housework to her incredibly patient and responsible brother Taihei (I'm the elder of two kids, and even I don't know how he does it). 

She's usually with her friends Nana Ebina and Kirie Motoba, and sometimes, her self-proclaimed "rival" Sylphinford Tachibana (self-proclaimed because as their rivalry is one-sided and Umaru sees her as a friend anyway). 

Umaru throws tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants (at home, anyway), obsesses over "cola" and video games, and stays up until morning playing or surfing the internet - honestly, a typical teenager these days with the exception of the cola addiction. On good days however, she can be a complete angel (also, me, hahaha).





I came across this animé while surfing Hulu, and since it had high ratings plus a relatively cutesy art style, I reckoned I'd give it a try. I expected nothing special, but no matter how bland some reviews on some sites were, I was hooked. After finishing the series, I kept replaying everything over and over again.





I guess the reason why I love this animé is the fact that I relate to almost all of these characters, even the side ones. There's a bit of me in every single one. In Umaru, I see my gamer, addictive, academic oriented side (on her good days). In Ebina, I see my introvert personality and my awkwardness at being complimented by anyone. In Kirie, I see my "-dere" sides (Can't decide between Tsundere or Dandere). In Taihei, I see my responsible, elder-sister personality, and in Sylphynford, my need to reach the top but always being obstructed by someone better.


It bothers me how much I can actually relate to Umaru. It really does. 

Especially with this one. Man, I stay up late for some of the dumbest games and videos.



So there.

If you're not an animé person, it's fine. Himouto! Umaru-chan is a series that you don't need to be a fan to enjoy. Just watch the first episode and see if you want to watch more. You can watch Umaru via Hulu (or Crunchyroll if you prefer their service).

Next week, there's another animé I'll introduce you to, and that one has more feels than this one. If you feel like this one has no lesson to teach you, that one will.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Face-off: Apple Music vs Spotify

So you want to subscribe to a streaming service (Apple Music or Spotify), but you don't know which one will suit your needs. Well, as someone who's currently subscribed to both, I'd like to share my experience (and why I didn't stick to one).


Initial Thoughts

As a friend once put it, anything you have to pay for monthly that doesn't fit under the basic necessities group is a luxury in the Philippines, and I agree. I had doubts as to whether or not these services would give me my money's worth (I'm not a rich kid, and I help pay the bills at home, too), but for a music lover like me, I just couldn't resist trying them out. After months of subscription, I'm loving the experience.



Apple Music

Admittedly, I'm a biased Apple fan. If I had more money than I could fit under my credit limit, I'd be using Apple devices for everything (not too far behind though, as I'm already using a Mac, an iPod, and an iPhone). This isn't just because it feels great to use premium products or that I become "in" with my friends - it's about the slick, user-friendly feel the brand gives off. While Apple Music isn't perfect (I go crazy over small bugs sometimes), it still makes me happy. They've also rolled out an Android app, but it still has a lot of bugs and issues the developers have yet to face.

In terms of playlist organization, I feel AM does its job fairly well. The only problem I've encountered so far is the inability to add local songs (meaning tracks that aren't from the iCloud Apple Music library) to a playlist that has iCloud music on it. This means that the songs I've purchased in a physical shop in a CD form and then added to iTunes can't be mixed with tracks from Apple Music. This was a pain when some J-Pop tracks I have locally aren't on Apple Music.

In terms of look and feel, I am so much happier seeing light colors and a grid of my downloaded music (filtered by album). This is something all iDevices share - their ultra sleek, minimalist interface. Some updates, however, mess with the User Experience, and sometimes, I just want to revert to the previous version.

In terms of its music library, AM is quite limited in the Japanese/Korean library, but for other genres/moods, I think they have it together. It is incredibly artist-based too, and that's something I find helpful, as I usually search for the artist instead of song title. Once I trust an artist's vocal skills, I often take the leap and download almost all their tracks to sift through later.

In terms of its curated/user-made playlists, I feel there's still room for improvement. While I love the fact that I only get curated ones (and not someone's random playlist he just made public), some songs might have been better off included in another playlist. Of course, everyone's taste in music differs. I might not have been able to explore more, but so far, this is one of their weak points.

Some problems I've faced with the service is its sudden "playlist/song loss" after an update (this happened to me recently, too). After updating to its recent version (iTunes v.12.4), some tracks disappeared from my library, and some of my playlists became a little scrambled. Apple Support had an immediate cure for this though, but granted they're already a big player in the tech industry, something so simple shouldn't be an issue at all.



Spotify

Before AM, there was Spotify, and for a time, I could tell you I swore by their service. I had been on Basic Spotify for years before finally deciding to go premium last year, mainly because I grew tired of the adds and not being able to download my playlists for offline listening. One great thing about this is is that it has a solid, working app for both Android and iOS, so all I'll need is a cheap android phone with a Play Store and an internet connection.

In terms of playlist organization, Spotify has you covered. They're pretty much similar (with AM) in that you can't include local songs into a playlist and expect it to also be available for offline listening on your device. I tried adding local tracks from my mac's Spotify app to a playlist, then downloading the entire playlist on one of my Androids and upon playback, they local tracks were grayed out. Other than that, Spotify playlists work fine.

In terms of look and feel, Spotify's color scheme can be a little... rough (?), for lack of a better word. Yeah, I like how the colors push the attention towards the content, which is great, but sometimes it just takes longer for my eyes to adjust. In design, we are told as much as possible (and depending on purpose) to avoid placing white text on a dark background as it strains the eyes and makes the eyes work harder to read the text. This is a minor thing, although I normally want to search for indie, alternative music whenever I see Spotify's colors.

In terms of its music library, I love how diverse it can be. I love how there are short to lengthy podcast-type tracks for books, or short stories, for poetry, and for other genres you won't normally look for. Again, I feel Spotify lacks more J-Pop/Rock tracks and artists from other parts of the world. I'd again have to rely on my local tracks to account for this. I feel Spotify relies more on playlists, than it does artist searches, and this helps me because I use Spotify to discover artists across different genres.

In terms of its curated/user-made playlists, I'd have to say it tends to be cluttered. Their curated playlists are so-so, and user-made playlists are quite all over the place. Like I said before, I love their playlist-centeredness, 'cause I discover more artists that way. I just think it would do them good to tidy up once in a while. (I'm not sure there's a feature to turn off user-made playlists, so if there is, tell me how and maybe I'll change my mind about this whole thing, haha.)

Some problems I've faced include being logged out more often than I can count on my devices after an update. I've tried posting on their support forum regarding the issue, and I still haven't been replied to (it's been around 6-7 months already). Another problem is that I've been hacked twice for no understandable reason. I change my password regularly, and I always make mine 17 characters with a mixture of symbols, numbers, upper and lowercase letters, but I still get hacked. Is this a normal thing ? Thankfully, their support team has constantly helped with my issue.




SO WHY SUBSCRIBE TO BOTH AT THE SAME TIME?

Like sleeping under a blanket with one leg out to feel cool, I want the best of both worlds. Since my personal search style in creating playlists is artist-based, Apple Music tends to that need like a pro. Apple Music's greatest feature (well, for me anyway) is their "New" section, and that gives me an overview of the hottest artists and the tracks they're becoming popular for in a heartbeat. Spotify, on the other hand, allows me to explore and search for unknown artists through playlists (organized by genre). This means I need to focus on my mood for the day to look for new artists. The thing is, after I find an artist I like, I switch over to Apple Music and type in the artist to search for other songs under him/her.

Think of Spotify as my search pool and Apple Music as my music organizer. This works a lot for me as Spotify's color scheme often makes me blue and Apple Music's colors invite me to stay alert and happy.

Although that is generally how I use both services, I sometimes spend hours on Spotify organizing songs into playlists and syncing them to my Android. This happens most especially when I'm on the road as I trust Spotify's internet reliability more (since their app is already stable enough) and also because our network providers have special promos regarding Spotify streaming.


Do you agree, or feel that I simply missed some features of either service? Care to enlighten me (or challenge me to a duel, haha)? Comment below on what you think.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tech-Tuesday: The BATBAND

OMG OMG OMG.

Okay, so I've waited a long while to write a post about this, but now that there's only 3 months left of waiting (based on its expected date of arrival), I can't resist. I need to talk about the Batband and get everyone on board.

The BATBAND was a project on Kickstarter and was funded in full within just five (5) days (talk about amazing). While I don't remember the exact date I backed the project, I took a screenshot of it as inspiration and source of excitement until I got it.


On Kickstarter, the basic package was priced at $140, including shipping. However, it didn't ship to the Philippines, so I instead wrote down my cousin's address living in London so that when she came here for vacation, she could bring it in, tax-free. For a "music device", this is quite on the pricey side, right? So what does it have that makes it, well, special?

Here's a short video to get you better acquainted.


Admittedly, I had doubts as to whether the price would be worth the wait and the product's quality, but considering this would be an incredible feat if they pulled it off, I was kind of sold. Besides, funding this would make me one of the few people in the country to own something revolutionary (granting other Pinoys have pledged as well). 

Beyond the issue of pride however lies the fact that this device would solve (and create good) problems. One problem would be its attraction to snatchers. This literally just wraps around your head without a string or chord to put it in place. A workmate suggested I create a custom chord for it so it can rest on my neck and stay there. No biggie. 

Fortunately, it solves more problems (ie. makes life more tolerable) than it creates. For one thing, I could get rid of the chords, the audio jack, the 'you don't hear anything when you have your headphones on says mom' issue, and it lets you answer your calls hands-free. Sure, sure, there are devices that do almost all of the same things, but the BATBAND does not rest on your ear. Less ear infections and hearing problems if you ask me. 

The Kickstarter already ended months ago, but pre-order is still ongoing at their site. It costs much more though ($199 excluding the shipping), but the upside is that it ships to the Philippines. 

So I ordered another one. This time, it cost me between $230 to $248 USD with the shipping. At least it ships directly to the Philippines, so that's a plus.

As soon as I get the product and conduct 'extensive' testing, I'll write a post about the experience. Hopefully, I get it before July (the supposed ETA). Super excited!

Pre-order the Batband and let's experience this device together! 

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