Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cursory Review of the Hidizs AP200

To a few people Hidizs isn't a new name in Digital Audio Players, they've had an excellent run with their previous models but now have taken a step further with the AP200, a High Resolution Android DAP certified by JAS (Japan Audio Association) that promises a lot of things that go above it's price tag.

The box is made of sturdy cardboard and looks very special, it reminds me of the same box used by Huawei on the P9. Don't mind the leather "case" box since it's a separate purchase and doesn't come with the package.

Box contents from top left is the AP200 (with applied screen protector, top cover peeled already), a clear side/matte back plastic cover case, inside the box is the AP200 tray, on it's side is the cable box and under the tray is space for the case and the following from bottom left, an extra screen protector in a white pouch, a legends card (for what the buttons do and parts of the DAP) which covered the tray. A warranty card (black card), a QC pass card (white card). The bottom cable is the USB-C data/charging cable and a shorter USB-C to USB-B (micro usb) cable which is used as the DAC cable.

The Hidizs AP200 specs:
* Android 5.1 with "Pure Music Mode"
* 3.54-inch (960x640, 325 PPI) touch screen
* CPU Rockchip RK3188 (QuadCore 1Ghz)
Dual ESS9118C DAC chips
* TPA6120A2 AMP Chip
* Bluetooth with APT-X support
* Wi-Fi 
* One MicroSD card slot expansion, support up to 256GB
* Type-C USB Port
* 3100mAh Battery claimed 10 hours on one charge
* Weight Aluminum 0.32#, Stainless Steel 0.46#
* File support includes:
  Flac, Ape, WMA, Wav, Alac, DSF and DSDIFF, Native DSD 64/128, PCM up to 384Khz/32 bit, ISO DSD format.
* Comes in two case variants and 3 base capacities: 
  32GB Aluminum Case, Blue/Black/Silver and 64GB/128GB Stainless Steel, Wood, Carbon Fiber, Glass back

I have the 64GB Stainless Steel Carbon Fiber back version, the frame is made of stainless steel and feels very solid with a brushed titanium look, and though I thought the carbon fiber design (in general) was pretty much the same and kind of cheap, on the AP200 it actually looks good underneath the glass. 

The power button is on the top right of the device, the left side has a circular play/pause button and under it is an angled bar for volume up/down (press once and press and hold) and doubles as the rewind/skip forward (double press the up or down button.) The system of double tapping and long pressing can be a bit confusing, plus the volume up isn't "forward" but "rewind" so I don't feel it's instinctual in use. Under the AP200 is the plug, which looks nice and sturdy, surrounded by a gold ring similar to the Sony Walkmans. Beside it is the USB-C plug for charging and data transfer and the single MicroSD card slot.

Note that when using the plastic case, the buttons can be a bit harder to push (specially the volume down/fast forward) since it sits more flush into the body.

Boot up is fast with a single "welcome" screen followed by an animated HIDIZS screen and the actual operating system. Normally when you receive your device it will be on the latest firmware (2.0 beta) and may be a bit laggy in some places, if that is the case, you can erase NAND in settings, and do a Factory Reset. Take note that this reverts the device to Chinese, remember the placement of the Language option (Just press the Settings "Gear" and select the Language "Globe" icon and you'll find English there.) This is what I did to my unit so the following observations will apply.

Swiping is good, selection and app uptime takes around a second. Take note that since this is beta, there will be some bugs on the firmware/software side of things, and one of the things I've observed is that while playing music, a song may suddenly pause for 1-4 seconds, like it met the end of a buffer and will restart where it stopped, this doesn't happen often, like once or twice in 4 hours of playback. In the OS, there isn't really any bloatware (except maybe calendar) as there's a basic browser, calendar and the Hidiz player app, this may change though with future firmware updates. Another buggy thing is that activating the Equalizer and using it can cause the app to close (specially when you take too long to drag a bar) but once it's set-up, it cause no issues.

Bluetooth has no issues with use, though I have not tested the maximum range it can transmit.

It seems there is an issue with wifi as it seems (software?) restrictions made it underpowered, my phones could pick up signals the AP200 can't and the AP200 wifi transfer speeds are more affected by signal strength. Good news is, the closer I went to the router, the better and faster the transfer rate till the signal strength is 100% where it's at par with most phone wifi speeds. Note: My internet speeds are up to 10Mbps.

Longevity seems to hover around 8-10 hours depending on what you do with it, using wifi, installing apps downloading files uses the most amount of power, while playing music alone with minimal use of the screen can extend the life of the battery. Note that using high gain and/or high volumes depletes the battery faster. The unit charges well (1 hour 45 minutes from 10% to full charge) and can charge whether it's on or off. Note: I've tested charging bricks from 1amp to 2amps, they're relatively safe, but try to avoid samsung/huawei chargers and cables, some have non standard charging protocols (for fast charging) and may eventually damage your unit. Stick with charging bricks that just produce 1 to 2 amps, no quick charge, quick pump, fast charge or what not. 

Testing the AP200 (the only audio affecting option is in the EQ, which I disabled) on various headsets and iems, I am pleasantly surprised by it's lightly warmish, relatively balanced and musical signature. When I say balanced, I mean nothing stands out (too much) with regards to lows, mids and highs. For example (on my AKG k553 pro, my more or less 'reference type of headset) bass and sub bass is heard in good quantity, it's fast and not muddy. Drums sound alright, not booming but each hit is heard more than felt, until the track actually has booming bass, then you can feel it a bit. Mids are slightly forward, intimate but not an in your face/ear kind of sound. Vocals are clear, guitar sounds good, strings on acoustic tracks can be heard as they are plucked. Highs are good too, a bit extended, a bit controlled and clear but not sparkling and hasn't introduced any sibilance in my gear. 

The better the headgear, the more pronounced the signature is based on what your headgear is slanted to, like on my Tennmak Trio, bass is more pronounced, mids are in line (balanced filter has a slight mid recession) and highs are comparable to the AKG, overall sound is clear, separation is good, there is moderate head space, it's not cluttered or compressed, more of a bit of intimacy. On the Andromeda, bass can be easily felt when the track has it in moderation up to thumping booms which translates to bigger thumps, mids become crystal, like guitar finger plucks are clearer and easily heard. On high, nuances are expressed more, there is a bit more extension heard but never piercing. 

The above tests were done with a few hours on each headgear, low gain and half the time on Android and the other half on Pure Music Mode. One other pleasant thing I've discovered is that the AP200 can drive the Hifiman HE400i easily, on Low Gain you'll need around 90-100% to use it well, but on High Gain, 50-60% is really good, 70-80% is plenty loud, 90-100% is something I cannot listen for long without fear of losing my hearing. I'm guessing this means it can drive a lot of hard to drive headgear.

Please take note that the above 'review' is more of an impression as I haven't listened through the AP200 as much as I would want. Like the fact I haven't tested it's dac functions in full yet, but as it stands, the AP200 is surpassing my expectations sonically (software needs some more work though) and though it wont replace my Sony WM1a, it's good enough that I won't miss the Sony that much when I use this for travel. My other DAP, the Sony A35 is going to be shelved for sure because of this unit, it doesn't matter if the software isn't final at this point, but considering the performance at it's price point, it's definitely a great DAP for everyday use based on audio quality, versatility, power and potential. 

Thanks for reading through!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I Dream of Sony (Or Why I Still Got a 2 Year Old Gadget with a 5 Year Old OS)

To be frank, I got like 2 draft items for posting I haven't finished, but as most people know, I love Sony and today I just got my ideal Digital Audio Player or DAP (or "MP3" Player/Music Player) and I'm over the moon! 

The 3rd time's the charm, yes I'm the 3rd owner

It's a Sony NW-ZX2 Walkman, and to expound, my ideal DAP is dedicated (it should JUST play music), can play/stream using Spotify, play my music files, do all of that well and be (preferably) a Sony! Granted it's old android tech, very few modern phones (if ever) can match it's audio capabilities as well as it's longevity, and the iPod though better than most phones or audio players can't play the more common high resolution audio format called FLAC (unless you do something to them, I'll you about it someday) which is why it's been on my wishlist of devices for a long long time.

Fast forward 2 years and its still prohibitive price became affordable in the used market and so here I am, and here it is. Like most Sony stuff in the past (and some even today) tech specs are not given up easily, and though I'm a good researcher, it took awhile before I found answers.

The ZX2 runs on an ARM-A9 Dual Core Processor at 300 MHz to 1.01 GHz with a PowerVR SGX 540 GPU. Definitely not cutting edge, even for the time. In comparison the LG v10 has a hexacore processor 4x1.4GHz, 2x1.4Ghz at $299 and the Sony Z5 was an octacore  4x1.5GHz, 4x2.0GHz at $400 - both a far cry vs the $1,199 of the ZX2 (yes, way too pricy, my major complaint about Sony) and the RAM? Where do I begin, mid range phones were using 2GB of ram and high end ones at 3-4GB while the ZX2 had a paltry (miniscule!) 685MB, yes, not even 3/4ths of a gigabyte! Which is probably why they settled for the 4.2 Android Jellybean OS and never upgraded. Now the rest of the specs are well known, music file playback capability, enormous storage and the rest which I won't get into detail anymore, what I gonna be writing about next is how to maximize the available resources of the ZX2.

First off, you'll need to gain root access to the ZX2 so you can disable the non essential (for my needs) apps and release more ram for a snappier interface overall and reduce background apps that drain power and for that you'll need 360 Root, access it from your phone and just click on the first selectable bubble you'll see and allow it to download, this a one click rooting system that actually works with the ZX2, the more famous ones I've tried does not work. Turn on Unknown Sources for installing apps, run the apk, and it should install.

Once it's installed and opened, it'll wait for your press to root the DAP, you need wifi on for this. It will do some stuff like trying multiple ways to root your DAP till it shows a smiley face and restarts the app. If it hangs, crashes or fails (sad face) just try again, it will eventually root.

Run the app on root mode and you'll be greeted by screen 1. Translations provided per image, Page 2 Root Management is for controlling apps that can be granted root access like Titanium Backup. Page 3 is the Freeze Apps page, going to "apps to freeze" shows you a list of 'freezeable' apps, basically the only things I left are music apps and contact/calendar/maps (which can be safely frozen) - Frozen apps are not shown on the DAP and do not launch and of course save on resources and power usage. Thaw Apps will show you frozen apps that you can reactivate. I would suggest you freeze apps vs uninstalling them unless you have titaniumbackup and can backup every app on the DAP. Page 4  is the Menu page where you can turn on and off the root status of the DAP and uninstall root and app.

Startup management allows you to toggle which apps launch on boot, while garbage cleanup is basically a DAP clutter cleaner like Cleanmaster. You can get as much as 200+MB of ram free (vs 120+mb) if you freeze most of the apps and prevent them from starting up. This results in a faster and more responsive ZX2, and theoretically, it'll last longer too.

In the end, even if this is a 2 year old DAP with a 5 year old operating system with a 7 year old high end android hardware, I'm a happy man with a great sounding DAP. Until Sony releases an android powered DAP with even higher end musical performance, android Oreo, at least quad core at 2GHz with at least 2 gigs of ram that is.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Nintendo Switch Charging on the go

I got a Nintendo Switch! Yey! And the first thing I did was slap a screen protector on that gorgeous screen, cause there's enough reviews prior to release to say that it's made of plastic and not scratch resistant.

Prior to release, I've been reading and trying to figure some things about the Switch, particularly the portable aspect of it and how to keep it running while away from a wall socket. Most information on the net mentions that it can be charged with almost anything that out there but there are things that made me second guess this. First off, there is not true hardware information on the switch, even after it's release, we don't know what kind of charging method it specifically uses (qualcom  or maybe some proprietary fast charging method) and there's more than enough not so good information on the net regarding the charger.

If you notice, there are 2 ratings on the adapter that came with the Switch, 5 volts at 1.5 amperes and 15 volts at 2.6 amperes. Now just to clarify, the wall adapter switches to one or the other, depending on what it's connected to. If its connected directly to the Switch, then it uses 5v 1.5A and if it's connected to the dock (which needs a lot more power) it'll 'switch' to 15v 2.6A.

So the simplest thought here is keep the wall adapter at home (maybe in the dock if you use it frequently enough) and bring a power bank with you for out of the house charging. Now some of the posts I've seen online say we would need 2.6 amps to be able to charge on the go, and that there are Type-C (a small second issue in itself) 'batteries' that are needed to be able to make full use of the switch. Again, to clarify, if you're charging the Switch directly off the wall adapter, it will receive 5v at 1.5A so a powerbank that can provide a minimum of 5V at 1.5A is as good as the wall adapter. Another is that there is no 'Type-C battery/powerbank' there IS however a standard for Type-C, which is that it can take/transfer up to 3.0A (literature here) and that there are Type-C cables that are 2.0 compliant (which I consider as workable but not the most efficient) and the 'real' ones are 3.0 compliant (which if you are used to mobiles with fast charging, has the effect of actually fast charging your device, the 2.0 compliant ones do not fast charge) and should be the ones you use for charging your Switch away from the adapter.

Also, if you plan on getting another wall adapter, stay away from those that have quick/fast charge technologies, they are reliant on the charging architecture of a device, now most adapters and devices are 'smart' enough to know how much it can take and dish out in terms of voltage and amperes, but considering the price point of a Switch, I personally would not risk it. Use the official charger for now till better literature comes out on it's actual specs.

At 74% 6:20pm while playing Zelda (Romoss Sense 6 20,000mah - using the 2.1A slot with a Huawei P9 Type-C cable)

At 76% 6:29pm while playing Zelda (Romoss Sense 6 20,000mah - using the 2.1A slot with a Huawei P9 Type-C cable)
So the take away here is that, to safely charge on the go (or away from the official wall adapter) one should use a standard, non special power source that can provide 5v with at least 1.5A so you can charge and play at the same time, most available good powerbanks in the Philippines are like that since those special quick charge compliant ones are far more expensive and are not readily available. Take note that using the Switch and charging at the same time will yield slower charging results, specially with Zelda Breath of the Wild.

Potscript Notes:
Use a powerbank with at least 1.5amps 2.1 is fine, the device will still receive a max of 1.5amps
Use a good usb Type-C cable, cheap ones will not charge as well.
Using a micro usb to Type-C adapter does not work on my end, the same setup that quick charges my mobile does not charge the Switch at all, your mileage may vary but that's my experience.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Would you like to add power to your drink?

This is (mostly in part) added info for my previous blog post about power banks, you see, most power bank testers/reviewers have those wonderful USB voltage testers and I don't (for now) so I can't really back up most data that I've seen online or their actual specs. Also, I neglected to take pics because I was lazy (I'm still kinda lazy, sorry.)

Anyway, I tried making a more in-depth approach to testing the power banks by using my digital charger (which can use USB as a power source) and charging my phone at the same time, kind of like a stress test of sorts:

Normally the charger can use up to 1 amp per battery (with 2 batteries like above) but if the source is unable to provide enough amps, the charger will try to make do with what's available. In this case, if both ports are used, the Pineng can supply 1.4 amps on the 2.1 amp slot and the Romoss can provide 1.2 to 1.4 amps (it seems to fluctuate depending on available power, the lower the available charge the lower max amp provided) on the same 2.1 amp slot.

Granted, the difference between the two is partly age and battery technology (the Romoss is an older model but just a month old and uses Lithium Ion Batteries, vs the newer model Pineng with a Lithium Polymer battery) but you can see that there is a marked difference in performance when both slots are used. On the other hand, if only one slot is used, they both provide at least 2.0 amperes (my charger can only utilize 1 amp per channel at max of 2 channels so I cant say for sure if they are pumping 2.1 or just 2) but it might be safe to assume that it would provide that amperage as advertised.

So between the above two, it's almost a no brainer on what to choose (if I was asked on what's better) since the Pineng is cheaper (specially if you can get it on a Lazada sale) with newer technology for safety and battery, it's less bulky and lighter than the Romoss.

Take note though that the Romoss Sense 6P is now available on Lazada and is sporting the same LED/LCD percentage screen with the same Lithium Polymer battery as the Pineng, so they might turn out as even in terms of performance (or maybe slightly better for the Romoss) but on a sale day, Pineng is really cheaper.

With that out of the way, I find myself pretty lazy of late that I barely make my favorite Vietnamese coffee and just use instant coffee to start my day, and it's not really providing me with enough zing to do my thing. I'm guessing that the Vietnamese coffee has a lot more caffeine than the instant one which makes me less than powered up (yeah, excuses hahaha) but I'll see of my little experiment with the power banks will apply to me, I'll strive to make iced Vietnamese coffee tomorrow :)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

No promises

Yes, it has been a long while since I tried writing again on a blog, but I would refrain from doing anything celebratory for now, at least until I can rightfully say 'I'm back.'

One of the few things that has been on my mind of late is gadgets, specifically power banks as our country is known for it's yearly brownouts, storm induced power failures and that most of our portable devices are power hungry. I usually imagine situations similar to the last great storm that affected our area, wherein our roads got blocked by toppled trees and the power was out for many days. We would survive on my 10,000 mah power bank for the night using a USB fan which was both from cdrking as well as a hand wound USB output charger for my other gadgets.

Now 10,000 mah a few years ago was incredible, and would last you a day or more if used sparingly, though I seriously doubt that it was truly 10,000 mah in capacity (we are talking about cdrking so I'd peg it around maybe 7.5k in true capacity.) Nowadays, 10,000 is still good, but the real grail (and affordable) capacity is 20,000 mah IF you know what and where to look.

To date, there are two that I would handily recommend Romoss and Pineng, both go for around less than 1000 pesos in Lazada and in some malls and are both of good quality. They weigh practically the same and have nearly the same technology inside. Plus, I'm not afraid they would blow up on me if I charge or use them (as long as they are the legit ones). I got my Romoss Sense 6 from Asianic at 999 pesos a long time ago, it's the LED light power meter version (4 LED's representing 25% of a power level) but you could get the newer ones at the same price at Lazada where it used to be that LCD power banks were pricier (now sometimes the LCD versions are cheaper, I guess it depends on the store) also Pineng has those LCD 20,000 mah power banks at around 799 or so (they fluctuate at times.)

Now the thing is, there are two kinds of power sources for the current gen power banks, Lithium Ion and Lithium Polymer batteries though some reputable sources say that they are basically the same in terms of safety and capacity, they do differ in shape and weight. Lithium Ion powered banks are heavier and bulkier compared to the Lithium Polymer ones because Li-Ion ones use those same batteries used in laptops and vape devices, 16850 batteries that look like oversized AA batteries and you need a few of them to make up the total available power for your devices. Li-Po batteries though can be any shape and size which helps in both bulk and weight as they can be one brick (as is the case for the new models) that powers the whole device and because of this, they are generally more expensive than Li-Ion batteries but are easier to charge, lighter and less bulky (the newer power banks can handle 2.1 amperes charging which makes the usual 11-18 hour charge at 1 amp to a little over half that amount.)

Both seem accurate in their battery capacities regardless of type (my Romoss is Lithium Ion and my Pineng is Lithium Polymer) and both have dual output charging that helps charge 2 devices at the same time albeit one is at 1 ampere and the other is at 2.1 amps. Overall though, since I'm a bit OC, the Pineng with it's lcd screen for showing current available power in percentage and it's lighter, less bulky frame is fast becoming my favorite to bring along on trips.

Now I do not represent either brand or Lazada for that matter but I just thought I'd disclose some of my stuff and preference for people to compare with their own experiences and ideas. And maybe see what else I could be missing out of or help others make a decision.

Here's hoping I can find time to write again and hopefully it is of interest to other people.

Edit: added more info with my next post here.