Fatherhood, Man Matter, Opinions, Reviews

Beauty and the Beast (2017) An honest in-depth look

I LOVE the Disney animated movie (hand-drawn cartoon) Beauty and the Beast (1991). It is my favourite Disney animated movie of all times. (Not counting Pixar 3D-animated movies.) I was a kid back then but I can still remember the ballroom scene that composite hand-drawn cartoon with the 3D-CGI ballroom and chandelier. It resonated with me because the visuals were stunning, the song was sung with such feeling and it just builds and builds to a crescendo, leaving me breathless and watery-eyed at the same time. And I was in love with Belle. ūüėČ She’s smart, beautiful & has a mind of her own. Oh, and she’s French!

The new BatB “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) made a heroic effort to turn a fantasy cartoon into a live-action movie¬†and while it gained a lot of realism, it lost a lot of charm & grace… and a little bit of comedy. This doesn’t make it a bad movie because I still scored it a 7/10 for explaining much of what the 1991 movie passed on without explaining, and the shear size and technical achievement of making the castle & fantasy characters believable in the real-world. However, I wasn’t able to be fully immersed in the story or¬†suspend my disbelief until the final act of the movie when the pace picked up and the emotions swelled.

Score: 7 / 10
Pros: The story does work and filled in a lot of missing details from the cartoon movie. The sets and characters are well animated and looks real. The acting was decent and towards the end, you may even shed a tear. There are more songs for the title characters, which really helped you care for them towards the end.

Cons: The Director’s or Producers’ pacing is too uneven, starting out slow, plateu in the middle, then shoot you to space right at the end. Fans of the 1991 cartoon knows what to expect next but new viewers may get lost. Major plot points can be condensed. This even affected some of the songs which develops the individual character’s story arc.

More Cons: Emma Watson was really wooden in some scenes and I blame it on the Director. See the Chip blows bubble scene…

Spoilers ahead!

Let’s go in-depth into BatB (2017)

With the remake of any beloved movie or franchise, the new crew has the unenviable task of living up to the expectations of fans, while coming up with something new that can stand on its own. Unfair comparison is inevitable because when you watch a movie as your younger self, you are more impressionable compared to your older jaded soul. This is called nostalgia and it affects almost all of us. With that in mind, I will try to be as impartial as possible. If it’s my preference vs the director’s choice, I will highlight that! Other than that, I will review this movie like any other.

The movie opens differently from the original. Instead of a monologue of¬†the story with a stained glass “slideshow,” BatB (2017) opens with a ballroom party where the Prince was dancing & swooning guests until the old haggard lady came in looking for shelter from the bitter cold. The opening scene sets the tone of the movie and it completely fell flat emotionally.

It could have been set as a fantasy (flashback) scene like in the Labyrinth (1986) with a dreamy whimsical tone or it could have been dark & foreboding like Maleficient (2014). Instead, the director went for a Prince not accepting a rose and getting turned into a goat-head giant sprouting¬†orang-utan fur. It was neither fearsome nor sad. The cartoon stained glass at least show the Prince in anguish. This is just boring… like so many other reviewers who noted the director just going along for the ride, not taking any risks or driving a singular vision that could¬†make this movie great.

If you’re coming into BatB for the first time, you will be wowed by the baroque costumes and the grandiose castle and that’s great. What I’m saying is the director could have taken these sets & settings and made them GREAT. And that is my biggest problem with this movie. After Maleficient, I was ready to see more grandiose in Disney life-action remakes and I was disappointed in that respect.

This opening scene could have been done in a much darker note showing the terror & decay of the inhabitants and the amnesia that befalls their loved ones at the neighbouring village with the aftermath of the villagers losing their children, who became teacups. It would also be a much sharper contrast when Belle starts her whimiscal “Little Town” song showcasing her loneliness and dissatisfactoion of living in a village without teenagers.¬†The issue of not going “the extra mile” continues in¬†Act 1 & 2.

After this, it cuts to Belle’s opening number¬†and that is my second-biggest issue with this movie. Throughout the movie, Emma Watson’s singing was heavily synthesize with Auto-Tune. Being the title singing role, I would rather they get a professional singer like Ariana Grande to dub over Emma’s singing rather than hearing an unnatural synthesized voice, if Emma really can’t sing. Disney has done this in many of their movies where the singing voice is different from the speaking voice. I’m a fan of Emma Watson and her Auto-tuned singing really irritated me on many level.

My third biggest issue is with Emma Watson’s acting or Bill Condon’s direction. Animated¬†Belle was spunky, intelligent, compassionate and graceful. Hermione (Harry Potter franchise) was spunky, intelligent & compassionate (but not graceful). So what happened to Emma Watson? Her performance was pretty sub par in many scenes and I’m willing to bet it’s the director’s fault.

I heard Emma had a very active role in redefining Belle to cater to the feminist movement. However, not all the scenes worked and it’s the director’s job to decide what scenes to keep or cut. Animated Belle was really into books and she seem to have gotten a lot of that from the bookstore, hence she’s smart but innocent. Emma’s Belle showed much less interest in books and the movie show her going to a church for books? And there was less than 10 paperback size books on the counter. How many of those are bibles I wonder… And just like that, the fountain scene was cut. Emma’s Belle did show she can use her smarts with her own invention and that worked for the movie.

The 1991 cartoon movie skipped many plot points to maintain a very focused¬†pace including cutting the entire fantastically animated sequence with the wonderful song “To Be Human Again” from the theatrical release. When I watched the Remastered BatB (1991), I completely understood why it was cut in the first place. It didn’t contribute to the movie story-wise and inserted a 5-minute break to the pace. All the characters had overtly mention their longing for Belle to break the spell multiple times, which meant turning back to human again. There isn’t any need to waste 5 minutes of screen time to reinforce something the audience already knew.

This is the next problem I have with this movie. The pacing is slow. The songs are longer, even the “Be my guest” sequence didn’t get interesting until the last 15-seconds, but the first minute of the build-up was so slow! And Belle STILL didn’t get to eat anything except for the pudding that was not trashed by the Dishes & their Friends. For some reason, the director wants us to wait and wait till the end before he blast us with everything the CGI department can throw at us! He could just increase the tempo to match the animated movie & it’ll be fine! So I didn’t really enjoy most of Ewan Mcgregor’s “Be My Guest.” Also, Ian McKellen’s Cosworth was quite boring.

It’s the same with the entire movie. Act 1 & 2 was slow &¬†draggy, and while I appreciate the story really being fleshed out to explain so many questions we had from the cartoon, the build-up could have been better handled. There were so many padding in Act 2 between Gaston and Maurice when a brief scene¬†would suffice. I mean there’s a 2 minute sequence of Gaston trying to kill Maurice and Le Fou trying to stop him. Then a 3-4 minute sequence of Gaston framing Maurice and getting him locked in a cart bound for the asylum. The cartoon’s way was much more effective in this instance and moved the story quicker. Of course, it could be the producers wanting to give the wonderful Kelvin Kline more scenes, in which case, I feel the script was really weak with respect to Maurice, Agathe & Gaston. They should either cut that section out completely or show how Agathe is involved in all of this.

So, I just wasn’t emotionally involved in Act 1 & 2. Even the humour fell flat.

At this point in time you’d be wondering with so many¬†negative comments, how the hell I gave this movie a 7?

Well, it’s because despite the director’s best efforts to dumb and slow down the movie, all the main cast did put in a really decent performance especially during their introduction and character development sequence when they’re singing. Besides Emma’s Auto-Tuned singing, everyone else’s was fine, which is weird since¬†they only did it for Emma Watson.

Dan Stevens’ Beast was spot-on as a reluctant tyrant¬†led astray by his father. Emma’s Belle was spunky & somewhat intelligent and she did shine in a few scenes (Act 1 & 2), although not graceful or genuinely curious (or excited) about living in an enchanted castle. Kelvin Kline’s Maurice’s tragic back-story of his wife’s death to the Bubonic Plague and his over-protection of Belle was believable & touching. Luke Evans’ Gaston is well portrayed as a megalomania & schizophrenic war-hero. Josh Gad’s LeFou lost the comedic sidekick role and became Gaston’s lover-in-the-waiting +¬†moral compass.

Gaston’s self-admiration in the mirror scene was a highlight and it really contrasted with the director/producer not going all the way for each and every scene, like when Belle was teaching the little girl to read. They didn’t show the girl’s parents summoning the other villagers to pull Belle and the little girl apart with the girl being scolded by the parents and the rest of the villagers trashing Belle’s donkey-driven washing machine (which is a brilliant device that could have washed half the town’s laundry at a go!) This would have added 10 second of Belle’s disbelief and disgust of their petty small minds and added emotional depth in Act 1 that¬†arc towards Act 3 when the townspeople were manipulated by Gaston to “Kill the Beast.”

The pivotal scene where Belle and Beast felt something inside them and Belle sang “Something There” started slow but build up faster than “Be Our Guest.” It worked and we gained more insight into why Belle could ever learn to love the Beast. The Beast was starting to melt and it showed in Dan Stevens’ performance, even beneath all that orang-utan fur. ūüôā By the end of the song, he had even learned to laugh and shot Belle down with a giant snowball, one of the few scenes with¬†unexpected humour.

The most important scene of the movie has to be the ballroom dance scene where their love blossomed. The set was very well done and the mood/lighting was impeccable. Belle’s gown was BEAUTIFUL and the Beast suit was well-done. However, as with the rest of the movie, the magic isn’t turned on till the very end of the ballroom scene . I think it has to do with the cinematography being too choppy.¬†There just wasn’t enough of the grand sweeping pans and pullback + zoom-ins from the dance to a wide-angle shot of the ballroom. The camera was dead set on the couple dancing and it cuts in and out of the scene instead of the original slow panning and zooming. However, the last 1/3 of the sequence did work when¬†the music swells and the magic starts with the Beast sweeping Belle off her feet. Some may¬†prefer this although I personally prefer the original 3D animated sequence.

I also prefer Angela Lansbury’s Mrs Potts rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” because everything just felt heightened. The notes soared higher, the musical crescendo was more majestic, so much so that you feel your soul being lifted as well. And it ended so sweet and gently. Emma Thomson did a decent job but Angela Lansbury did it with 1 take, hitting all the right highs and lows. I also prefer Celine Dion &¬†Peabo Bryson’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast”, although Ariana Grande & John Legend take was awesome too.

After this, the final Act starts when Gaston locked up Maurice & Belle and the pace picked up considerably. The music and singing also somehow picked up several notches with “Kill the Beast.” The director seemed to be in a rush to finish the movie and it seemed to make the movie MUCH more enjoyable! The plot was tighter, the action was swift and decisive. Mrs Potts recognised her husband from the village during the castle lobby fight sequence! Belle and the Beast tag-team to fight Gaston and Gaston’s cowardly act of begging the Beast not to let go, then shooting the Beast in the back made more sense than the original.

All the actors also seemed to wake up and really pulled their acts together. Belle suddenly became fearless and compassionate, Beast truly showed his aggressiveness and resolve, Gaston became the jealous & cunning nutcase he truly is.

After the last petal fell, BatB (2017) did something unexpected and pulled a tear-jerker by showing all the castle inhabitants turning to lifeless object in addition to the beast dying. Belle cried and finally confessed her love for the Beast. At this moment, the mysterious enchantress returned to break the spell, resurrecting and reforming the Prince. The castle staff reanimated & returned to their human form while winter turned to spring. And as a bonus, the village invaders suddenly remember the castle and their loved ones working there. This absolutely made a lot of sense retrospectively.

This last 10-15 minutes of the movie really saved it. While it’s still not great enough for me to give it 7.5, it made me feel it was still worth my money bringing the family to watch it. Without it, I would have rated this movie a 6. It’s interesting to note that when I watched BatB on 16/3/2017, IMDB showed 6.1, but as of 18/3/2017, IMDB shows 7.6. Rotten Tomato also went up to 71% while Metacritic remains at 65.

I would recommend you go watch it. You will probably enjoy this more if you’ve never watch the animated movie first because there’s a reason the 1991 movie is rated an ‘8’ on IMDB.

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Finance & Insurance, Reviews

Difference between Employee Benefits & Shield Health Insurance plans

Employment situation in Singapore

In Singapore, it’s always a battle to hire & retain productive employees. Even when the economy is bad, the Singapore workforce has always managed a decent level of income due to our adaptibility and skill levels.

It is this reason that job hopping is very common amongst Singapore employees. The 2 main reasons to job-hop these days are a more attractive pay package & dissatisfaction with their immediate superior.

It’s therefore a battle for HR managers to keep productive employees and their managers, or in fact, the whole team! Once an employee reaches a certain pay-grade, they start to look at other factors in deciding whether they’d job-hop.

The Singapore workforce is a very pragmatic group of people. All of us know that medical bills are just going to get higher. This is due to better treatment becoming available that treats our lifestyle illnesses with less side-effects. We also know that our income increment cannot keep up with medical inflation.

All Singaporeans and PRs have already transferred the risk of major hospital bills to either MediShield Life or other Shield plans but these plans have deductible & co-insurance. If there’s a way to transfer those risks as well, wouldn’t it be perfect?

Employee Benefits

Enter insurers’ Group insurance.

All employees of Multi-Nation Corporations (MNCs) have it and many SMEs are enrolling their staff as well. Employees in companies that provide these Group insurance typically show more loyalty, take less MC and are generally more productive.

Basically, buying an insurance is a way to show love. It’s the same with employers as well. ūüôā

The common Employee Benefits include Group Term Life, which covers Death and Total & Permanent Disabilities; Group Critical Illnesses; Group Personal Accident; and most interestingly Group Hospital & Surgery (GHS).

For the purpose of this article, I’d only touch on the difference between GHS & a typical Shield plan.

GHS Benefits

Group Hospital & Surgery is actually a collection of insurance policies instead of a big policy that covers everything. The main reason to do this is of course, company budget. Taking up all the benefits of a GHS plan is obviously not cheap in light of the medical costs in Singapore.

I¬†wouldn’t be going into so-called International Health plans that companies buy for upper management or expatriates as these are 2-3 times more expensive that a comprehensive GHS plan.

In summary, GHS is made up of:

  • Hospital & Surgical benefits, which covers Inpatient treatments including day-surgeries
  • Specialist Outpatient benefits, which covers Specialist Treatment that don’t require admission to a medical facility
  • Medical card, which covers normal GP clinics participating in the insurer’s plan or we call ‘panel clinics’
  • Extended Major Medical benefits, which covers hospitalisation that is more than 20 days. This benefit usually comes with a 20% co-insurance.

Companies may mix and match these benefits according to their trade and the perceived needs of the employees, and of course, their annual budget as well.

GHS Limitations and how they compare with Shield plans

Now it’s important to note that GHS doesn’t cover everything. In my line of work, I have heard lots of clients and prospects say their company will cover all their hospitalisation bills. This is simply not true for the majority of employees.

A lot of times, what the employer meant is, they can issue a letter of guarantee to the hospital, which is not the same as the entire bill is covered. A letter of guarantee basically means that the company will bear the upfront costs of the hospitalisation. After that, the company will claim from GHS. If the limits are exceeded, they will recover it via staff medical benefits, followed by deducting from the employee’s salary. Obviously, different companies have different procedures so check with your HR manager.

In Singapore, GHS is now seen as a supplementary medical insurance to the Shield plans because Shield plans covers the really big bills while GHS covers from the first $1 to a small sized hospital bill. A typical GHS plan should be able to cover the the Shield plans’ deductible and co-insurance BUT even a high-end GHS plan will NOT be able to cover an extended stay at a Private Hospital in Singapore.

Take a look at the chart below, prepared by my friends at AIA Corporate Solutions. The information is accurate as of 15 September 2015 so it may have gone up. Look at the room charges for Private Hospitals! Also, GST is NOT included!

Ward Type 1-bedded 2-bedded 4-bedded 5-bedded 6-bedded Open
A1 A2 B1 B2+ B2 C
ALEXANDRA HOSPITAL
Citizen NA NA NA NA 63.55 29.91
Permanent Resident NA NA NA NA 123.36 81.31
Foreigner NA NA NA NA 231.96 207.01
CHANGI GENERAL HOSPITAL
Citizen 401.87 NA 224.30 NA 71.03 36.45
Permanent Resident 401.87 NA 251.40 NA 128.97 81.31
Foreigner From 401.87 NA From 287.85 NA From 252.34 From 207.48
KHOO TECK PUAT HOSPITAL
Citizen 392.52 NA 185.05 71.96 NA 32.71
Permanent Resident 392.52 NA 222.43 127.10 NA 70.09
Foreigner 392.52 NA 231.78 230.84 NA 175.70
KK WOMEN’S & CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
Citizen 420.00 NA 235.00 160.00 75.00 35.00
Permanent Resident 420.00 NA 306.00 242.00 154.00 104.00
Foreigner 462.00 NA 409.20 400.40 383.90 332.20
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL
Citizen 440.00 264.00 210.00 NA 70.09 38.32
Permanent Resident 440.00 264.00 236.00 NA 128.04 85.05
Foreigner 440.00 316.80 286.00 NA NA NA
NG TENG FONG GENERAL HOSPITAL
Citizen 402.80 NA 210.28 NA 68.22 33.64
Permanent Resident 402.80 NA 237.38 NA 117.76 75.70
Foreigner 402.80 NA 263.55 NA 209.35 180.37
TAN TOCK SENG HOSPITAL
Citizen 392.52 262.62 210.28 NA 70.10 to 78.50 39.25
Permanent Resident 392.52 262.62 235.51 NA 121.50 to 131.78 86.92
Foreigner 392.52 262.62 248.60 NA 219.62 to 225.23 203.74
SINGAPORE GENERAL HOSPITAL
Citizen 400.00 NA 225.00 NA 70.09 32.71
Permanent Resident 400.00 NA 254.00 NA $135.51 to $174.81 $88.79 to $140.37
Foreigner 440.00 NA 300.00 NA 257.00 230.00
GLENEAGLES HOSPITAL
569.16 307.48 242.06 NA NA NA
MOUNT ALVERNIA HOSPITAL
532.00 288.00 209.00 NA 148.00 NA
MOUNT ELIZABETH HOSPITAL
598.13 317.76 265.38 NA NA NA
MOUNT ELIZABETH NOVENA HOSPITAL
598.13 NA NA NA NA NA
PARKWAY EAST HOSPITAL
530.84 285.05 224.30 NA NA NA
RAFFLES HOSPITAL
588.00 300.00 231.00 NA 168.00 NA
THOMSON MEDICAL CENTRE
530.00 288.00 209.00 NA NA NA

Many of the GHS plans that companies have bought over the years can no longer keep up! So, many Singaporeans & PRs simply rely on their Shield plans. However, many Foreign professionals will have to fork out money from their own pocket, which will come as a rude shock!

Take a look at the difference between a typical GHS & our AIA HealthShield Gold Max A.

Benefits Typical GHS HealthShield Gold Max A
Daily Room & Board $460 (Max 120 days) As charged
Daily Intensive Care Unit $920 (Max 30 days) As charged
Other Hospital Services
(Including implants)
$5,000 As charged
Surgical Benefit
(Surgeon’s fee more than $1500 subjected to Surgical Schedule in Private Hospital)
$10,000 As charged
(No surgical table requirement)
Daily In-hospital Doctor’s Consultation $60 As charged
Pre- & Post-Hospital bills $1000
(90-days before admission & 90-days after discharge)
As charged
(100-days before admission & 100-days after discharge)
Emergency Accidental Outpatient Treatment $1,500 NIL
Geographical coverage Worldwide Singapore
Death Benefit $10,000 $5,000
Outpatient Kidney Dialysis & Cancer treatment $10,000 As charged
Rehabilitation Benefit $5,000 As charged
Pre-existing condition Waiting period of 1 year NIL
Living Donor Organ Transplant (As the donor) NIL $60,000 per transplant
Living Donor Organ Transplant (For 3rd-party who’s the donor) NIL $60,000 per transplant
In-patient Psychiatric Treatment NIL $5,000
Deductible & Co-Insurance NIL $3500 deductible & 10% Co-insurance in Private Hospital
Waiver of per Benefit limits in Singapore Government Hospital Yes
$20,000 overall limit
Not applicable
Maximum age of coverage 70 (last birthday) Lifetime
GST claimable No (for older plans) Yes

From the table, you can see that GHS is a good supplementary plan to Shield plans, especially for employees who travel a fair bit. But as a standalone plan, it simply isn’t sufficient to cover all the bases.

GHS Claims

For companies that issue Letter of Guarantee, it is fairly simple for employees. Just produce the letter at the point of admission. Most of the time, however, Singaporean & PR will just claim from their Shield plans and submit any shortfall to their company for claims.

For Foreigners, you’d have to settle the full bill upon discharge unless, you’re covered under something similar to AIA GHS with Express Claims Process where the Hospital’s Business department will contact AIA Claims department for a fast-track assessment to settle¬†some of the bills upon discharge. Just take note that this facility is only available during working hours from Monday to Friday for AIA. Please check with your HR manager to see if your company is covered this way.

At this time, I’d like to mention that GHS is a General Insurance where risk underwriting is based on indemnity. What this mean is, General Insurance covers assets & liabilities, which has a cap on the dollar value, unlike Life Insurance where a life is priceless and there’s no upper limits to that life.

During claims, Group Insurance claims officers will based their claims assessment 100% on the policy wording with no exceptions. Therefore, it’s much harder to appeal for increased claims payout, even the so-called ‘good-will’ claims.

On top of that, a company at most will have thousands of employees and insurers will try their best to make sure the policy is profitable to them. So during appeals, insurers will also look at the claim experience of the company, i.e., how much is claimed so far, versus how much premium was collected from the company for that year.

This contrasts greatly with Life insurance where the portfolio is MUCH bigger so even a $100,000 medical claim isn’t going to make the portfolio unprofitable. And since Life is priceless, Life Insurers in Singapore are much more willing to bend the rules to pay claims.

This is the reason why, even within the same insurance company, the same claim can be rejected by their Group insurance but accepted by their Life insurance claims department.

Which is¬†why I always advise Foreigners to also get a personal Hospitalisation Insurance in Singapore. What if you’re so sick, you can’t go back to your home country for treatment because the airline wouldn’t allow it?

All comments and questions are welcome. Be sure to like this article if it‚Äôs useful and share it with your friends and family, or colleagues who can benefit from it! Button are all over my website just waiting for you to click them! ūüôā

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Reviews, Solutions

Best Replacement for Weave News Reader

Update: 16/3/2015 РCorrections & additions to WP8 Nextgen Reader & Magnify, Weave Server deactivated
Update: 15/3/2015 – More in-depth review of NextGen Reader for Windows 8 & WP8
Update: 12/3/2015 – additional info for NextGen Reader for WP8

Weave is no more!

Weave News Reader¬†was one of the first and¬†one of the best news reader for the Windows Phone platform. I started using it when it was Windows Phone News. It is a Windows Phone exclusive app from Windows Phone 7 till now but like we Chinese say, “There’s no celebration/banquet that lasts forever.” Weave stopped working on 16 March 2015, with @Selesgames pulling the plug on the Weave server. This also means that Weave for Windows 8.x has stopped working as well.

@Selesgames has posted on Windows Central regarding the abrupt decision and while I’m sad that Arash Emami, the sole proprietor of @Selegames, is discontinuing Weave, I’m happy that he’s joining LinkedIn. Hopefully he can do something about the LinkedIn app in Windows 8 / WP8 & Windows 10.

I exclusively use Weave (Windows 8/WP8) for news on Windows, Windows Phone, Technology in general, Science & Astronomy, World News and Self-help. In fact, based on Battery sense, Weave is usually the single biggest usage of Battery!

Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.
Above half shows Weave for Windows 8.x, below is Weave for WP8.

So what’s next for users like me? Well I think it’s time to do a comparative review of some of the best news reader for the Windows/Windows Phone platform.

The contenders

There are many great news aggregator in the Windows Store but I have chosen these few to compare against Weave. The areas that I’ll compare include ease of initial & subsequent setup of accounts & feeds, ease of synchronization between devices including Windows & Phones, speed of app in pulling feeds online & offline, speed in displaying news aggregate and individual articles, UX and customisations.

Converge 4.3.1 РConverge is a popular app with a 4.5 star rating. It focuses on Tech news only which makes it less useful for me but it has a very nice UI & includes a Video Hub that display all videos embedded in all the downloaded articles.

The Popular page is the Home page and you can switch between Tile mode shown below as the 2nd screen or Slideshow mode (find this in Settings) which changes to a magazine mode shown below as the 3rd screen.

It doesn’t sync to other devices and also doesn’t have a Windows 8 app, which is a waste, as the potential for this app to be popular as a Universal app on Windows 8 & 10 is definitely great.

The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It's also distinctively Modern.
The UI & UX of Converge is very attractive & smooth. It’s also distinctively Modern.

Flipboard 2.6¬†– Flipboard is a social-media driven news aggregator app that’s ported from IOS. The main draw of Flipboard for IOS users was it simulates the page curling and flipping when you switch between articles, akin to flipping the page of a magazine. Alas, this flipping transition was not ported in WP8 thus reducing the “magic.”

The lineage of the app is very Apple-esque. The Windows version is very versatile but UI takes some getting used to. Things like Following which Feed or which Category was scattered all over the Modern app. I have not tried Flipboard on my iPad so I can’t tell if it works the same way there but I felt it could have been better organized. Flipping the page and other navigation is through keyboard left and right cursor keys or the Scroll on your mouse. BUT, there was NO indication on the screen on how that’ll work if you’re not using a touchscreen! Unlike other Modern apps like Microsoft News which has pop-up left/right edge cues, Flipboard for Windows doesn’t have those!

After you spend a few hours sieving through all the hundreds of feeds/website/categories/whatever and Follow the correct Feeds, you’d be very happy as it syncs back to your Flipboard account and that will propagate¬†to all your devices. Unfortunately, there seems to be some issues with my Flipboard for Windows. After I’ve followed some feeds, it doesn’t sync back to my Flipboard account. It will always revert to the default Flipboard feeds & categories.

FlipBoard for WP8 works much better as it syncs perfectly with my Flipboard account and with other devices. However, it overwrites all the categories I’ve selected in FlipBoard for Windows. Now sieving through so many feeds isn’t productive on a small screen so it’s a real bummer that FlipBoard for Windows wasn’t synching properly.

A lot of potential here but it takes too much time to get to the news I want.

FlipBoard for Windows is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.
FlipBoard for Windows (Above) is fully functional, powerful & a bit messy. FlipBoard for WP8 (Below) is Beautiful, easy to navigate but lacks the ability to easily customize feeds.

Fuse 2.4.0.2 РFuse is created by legendary Windows Phone developer Rudy Huyn. It is a very functional software with an interesting Film reel layout. Setting up is quite easy but still requires you to sieve through a huge list categories of RSS feeds. After which you can categories it according to your preference.

It is the least polished of the apps in this round-up and lacks important features like sync to cloud and a Universal app for Windows 8/10. The film reel news feed, while functional, is very distracting with huge website name and the perforated separator for time making this part of the UI rather clunky and un-modern.

There’re some nice touches and animations here and there like all of Rudy’s other apps but this app definitely could use more development.

Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.
Fuse from Rudy Huyn is great for getting to the news and categorizing them according to your preference.

Microsoft News 3.1.4.381¬†– Microsoft 1st party News app is a showcase of how a Modern app should be like and they have more or less succeeded in that mission. BUT, it’s also the least customizable of all the apps in this comparison. There’re also some nagging bugs like the Featured News showing SUPER OLD NEWS. See the picture below!

The pre-installed list of news sites are very few and doesn’t cover the full spectrum of interests and categories. You could make it show news from all your favourite websites but you’d have to manually key in the address and configure the RSS, which is why I only use MS News to follow Singapore & World news.

For some reasons, MS removed a great feature which allows you to add your own “Topic of interest.” This is moved to Cortana so I suppose MS means for us to use Cortana as our News source?

MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive.
MS News app is fully modern and a joy to use. Navigation on all devices is fantastic and intuitive. News for Windows (Above) has a tendency to show old news. News app for WP8 (Below) is great though with Auto-sync.

Nextgen Reader 6.3.0.5¬†– Nextgen Reader is another 4+ star app that has won the praise of many user and reviewers. It is highly functional and the Windows UI is modeled after Outlook Express. It’s also a Universal app which automatically syncs your account between devices.

However, its Achilles’ Heels is the configuration has to happen at the Feedly website. As a client only, it is not possible to configure from the Windows app. Fortunately, the Feedly website is easy to navigate with interest & categories clearly sorted and searchable. Even though the list isn’t pre-selected or curated, it was very easy for me to add the individual websites into the category as major topics of interest are #hashtagged in search. Unlike Flipboard or Fuse, getting organized was super easy & quick, and I don’t feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of websites.

After I’ve added some of the websites that was curated from Weave, I selected a few more which were not in Weave’s list. After that,¬†clicking Sync in¬†the Windows 8 Nextgen Reader immediately displays all my selection from the website. It was super easy!

Opening the app in WP8 was the same, the list and news feeds were all sync and ready to read. I just have to change the view to “Headline with Large Image” and it works almost the same as Weave!

You can add & delete Feeds from within the WP8 app which makes it a bit weird that the Windows app can’t. Did I miss something? WP8 Nextgen Reader has an awesome built-in Twitter sharing engine but if you prefer another app, you can always disable to share via WP8 Shares, or you could have BOTH! This multiplicity of functions is what I’ve come to expect from Desktop software. To see it in mobile apps without clunking up the whole UI is why I love WP8 platform and why I’m growing to like Nextgen Reader more everyday.

I subscribe to a large number of Feeds from multiple sources and it can go into the hundreds within a few hours. I don’t read every article, so I scroll through the list and tap only those I’m interested in. A very useful feature for both Windows & WP8 is the ability to, “Mark above as Read.” This allows me to go through a huge list of articles and simply mark ‘read’ the posts that I’ve scrolled past so I don’t have to go through them again later.

Nextgen Reader¬†is not the prettiest of the bunch but so far, it’s the closest competitor to Weave. After using it for a couple of days I find that there were some areas that can be improved. In the WP8 app,¬†currently in List view, ‘Read’ articles are denoted by a greyed Headline, it would be much clearer if the preview image was greyed as well. And when I go into an article, I have to tap “get full article”, why not set this as the default behavior? This is true for both Windows & WP8.

NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!
NextGen Reader for Windows (Above) was shockingly empty when I just opened it! After following the instructions to add feeds from the website, both Windows 8 & WP8 app (Below) filled up with glorious news!

Magnify News Reader 3.1.7¬†– Magnify (Beta) is a beautiful app with so much bells and whistles, they had to create a video tutorial that runs the first time you open the app. It is also a Feedly client like NextGen Reader and thus, all my feeds are downloaded and sync to the app immediately after I sign in. If you haven’t create feeds in Feedly website, the app will appear empty and that’s why I scratched my head the first time I installed it months ago. The UI & UX is vastly different from NextGen Reader and users who like 3D animations are in for a treat.

All the transitions have 3D animations, from Home Page to individual section, there’s that flying pages animation. In the Preview page, scrolling up & down also scrolls up and down the Preview images. Once inside the article, a 3D cube effect changes the page instead of a standard scroll.

The app is also packed with tons of features that I use regularly in Weave so this is definitely a strong contender, although I must say that after reading a few articles, I got a headache from all the animations. Fortunately, there’s an ‘Article view’ which switches off the 3D cube effect and just scroll as per normal.

A very important feature that sets it apart from Nextgen Reader is the included Curated lists when you tap the “+” hub. It is a full featured Feed management system which gives users the ability to manage their Feeds completely within the¬†app or use the pre-selected ones in each category or interest. It’s also more powerful than Weave and almost as easy to use as the Feedly website, which is an impressive feat given the limited screen size. Also, when I tap to view an article, Magnify shows the preview while downloading the full (mobilised) article automatically in the background. Kudos to the developers!

Its biggest annoyance is perhaps the lack of the “Mark above as Read” which is so useful in Nextgen Reader. Since the Feeds are not paginated, I have to tap on individual Feeds group if I think I cannot finish all the posts at one go. Within the Article list, you can only Mark all ‘Read’ or ‘Unread’. This can definitely be improved. Personally, the app is a bit too colourful for my liking but if you like your Groups to be colour-coded and fully customizable, you’d love Magnify!

Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.
Magnify is another Feedly client, like NextGen Reader so whatever I added in Feedly was automatically added to Magnify after I installed the app and sign in.

Weave News Reader 8.7.0.2 – Weave News Reader. Much has been written about it. It’s a fantastic news reader for the busy person. It looks fantastic when it first came out. While the look is a bit dated now with Flipboard & Magnify looking awesome, Weave still gets the job done pretty well.

One of its best feature, the Weave (mobiliser) server that Weave News Reader sync to is no longer unique and in fact, can be unstable at times. Certain website also doesn’t get mobilised, including some of my favourite websites, causing Weave to switch to the much slower Web View. Beside mobilising the webpage, the Weave Server also prepares the page for Text-to-Speech, which is a¬†great feature not available in most other apps.

Unfortunately, Weave News Reader has its fair share of bugs like the¬†synchronization of Read/Unread posts can become out-of-sync between devices. When the Weave server was unstable, Weave News Reader would crash or its Live Tile can go haywire. Another very common complain was a stuck Live Tile but that’s less common after WP8.1.

Having said that, Weave still has the best curated list of websites sorted into interest & categories to get newbies up and running quickly. After that, you can opt to sync to your Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter or Google Account. This allows your selected feeds to sync between devices, including read/unread posts so you can continue reading on the go or at home/office.

You can easily customize your preferred website or add more if you so desire although IIRC Feedly isn’t supported. Articles can be easily shared to multiple destinations without any fuss and you can favourite any posts so it stays in your synchronized feed forever, or until Weave server goes dark on 14th March.

Weave has tons and tons of features but somehow doesn’t feel cluttered and is one of the best example of a modern app there is!

Which app is the winner?

Well, after this review, I still prefer Weave but since I have to choose an alternative, my recommendation goes to NextGen Reader. It¬†has the best balance between UX, UI, features¬†& customisations. I’d continue to play with the other apps and update this article with my thoughts as I go along.

To help readers make up their own mind, here’s a table.

Winner in Red.
Winner in Red.

Comments are welcome and if you want me to review another app on either Windows or WP8, I’d be happy to do so when I have the time. Remember to like my post & subscribe!

Man Matter, Reviews, Solutions

Solving Denon AVR-3808 DLNA repeating problem

Update 04 September 2014: New solution! Click here to skip to the solution!

 

Audiophile delight

That’s a mighty fine AVR with some seriously sweet sound!

Anyone who’s using a Denon Audio Video Receiver (AVR) can tell you how good it is.

Beside above average sound quality & a superior video upscaler, the last few generations of their AVR are also Cloud connected for firmware upgrades & streaming radio station management, amongst other benefits.

Their Audessey automatic EQ & room acoustic adjuster makes it SO easy to tune & optimize a room’s audio characteristics to get the best sound possible. And its menus are accessible via¬†webpage, Onscreen, On-remote & even in WP/iOS/Android Apps.

Generally the higher the series, the better the fidelity in audio output + the more options you have in surround.

Anyway, I think you get the idea that Denon AVR are geared towards Audiophiles as well as catering for the movie buffs who only need the amp to pump out enough power so explosions & metal clashes can vibrate the sofa.

(OK, movie buffs also need low channel crosstalk to ensure good channel separation but with today’s digital technology, that shouldn’t be an issue for all Hi-Fi equipment.)

One of the most useful feature of an AVR is the support for DLNA.

What is DLNA?

Yup! I need ALL that connectivity!

Seriously if you’re reading this & you have no idea what DLNA is, you’re REALLY underutilizing your Denon AVR!

I bought a decent AVR-3808CI in 2008 as it had enough inputs for all my AV sources & a single¬†HDMI output since I only have a Samsung LED TV as my monitor. I also own quite a few audiophile HDCDs but times have changed & it’s becoming a bit of a hassle to insert a CD into my player.

Ever since I got the 3808, I’ve ripped all my CDs into WMA-lossless (so they can play in Windows Media Player) and use DLNA to push CD quality (but not HDCD quality) music from my PC or NAS to the AVR. It was (almost) audiophile heaven.

* if anyone knows how to rip HDCD & play it back on the 3808, please leave a comment!

After using it for a year or so, the DLNA function broke. I believe it was after a firmware upgrade. When playing music, the 3808 will keep playing the same song over and over and over again. It was damn irritating & frustrating because nothing I did helped.

I tried to switch off Repeat & Random on the 3808, tested different versions of Windows Media Player on different OS like Windows 7, 7 SP1, 8, 8.1, and all with 32bit & 64bit. I even tried using it on my Windows Phone & only my HTC Trophy 7 played through the playlist.

When I upgraded to the Lumia 800 or 920 or 1020, it’ll also get stuck playing the same song over in a loop.

Searching the web, I discovered that there were MANY people who had the same issue & most of them have given up. I tried emailing Denon & got no respond. I tried many forums over the years and no one could answer me until yesterday.

The SOLUTION!!!

Updated & easier solution!

Unfortunately I can’t remember which forum I saw this. I’d update the article when I find out & give proper credit.

Just enable "Allow Remote Control of my Player". That's it!
Just enable “Allow Remote Control of my Player”. That’s it!

For those of us using WMP to stream DLNA, just enable “Allow remote control of my Player…” It’s THAT simple!

If you’re using another device or software, you can still use the original method below.

I can’t thank “Alki” enough! His/her 4 posts to the AVS forum¬†about 1/2 year ago solved my 3 year old problem!!! Here’s the link. I’d give credit where it’s due. ūüėČ

“Alki” was using an AVR-4308 and I have confirmation from Microsoft support forum that this works for the Denon AVR-5308CI as well. It seems like many of the AVR-xx08 in 2007-2008 have this problem.

The solution is while the song is playing, change the “Repeat” (to ALL) and “Random” (to ALL or ON).

By the end of the song, the next song should play. Yay!!!

Depending on which model you’re using, you may have to manually set both the Repeat & Random settings to “NO”.

It is that simple & no one had stumbled on the solution for 3 years. Worse, Denon hasn’t given any support or updated the firmware in the past 3 years as well! I wish these makers will support their products longer like how Microsoft support their OS for 10 years! Yes, I know it’s wishful thinking…

Right-click on an Album or a Song & choose Play To to activate DLNA
Right-click on an Album or a Song & choose Play To to activate DLNA

Anyway, there you have it! I can now wirelessly stream my music from my smartphone anywhere in the house, or use the AVR to stream music from my PC or NAS like it was supposed to.

I’m in musical bliss again! ūüėÄ

Health, Reviews, Solutions

How to cheaply convert your air-con into an air purifier

Beating the Haze!

By now, the world has once again heard about Singapore & mistaken us as some China state. Hint to these people, Google ASEAN or South-East Asia. Some people are still hazy about who we are (pun intended.)

But I digress. There are many ways for people to beat the haze but the best is to stay indoors with the air-con on and all doors & windows closed as tightly as possible. If you have put off installing an air-con in the house, please consider doing so now, as the haze will be with us for many more weeks. Look at my post here on how to choose an air-con suitable to your house in Singapore.

Offices are usually the best as the air-cons are maintained by professionals regularly. The air-cons at home, may not be maintained as regularly so do clean them today if you haven’t done so in the last 3 months. I just cleaned mine today & there’re a lot of grey ash on it.

Many people are also turning to air purifiers to help clean the air in their home or office and while many of the good ones are effective, they also tend to be noisy ( >60dB on high setting), not to mention they cost many thousands of dollars.

Let’s take a look at some that I’ve come across.

Air Purifier

Air purifiers work by pushing & pulling air through multiple membrane filters. Due to the resistive nature of membrane, the fan motor must be very powerful in order to move enough air to be effective. Hence, you have 2 types of noise, mechanical noise from the motor¬†& wind noise. The situation is worst in air purifiers with HEPA filters because those are so restrictive to air flow, hence some makers like Rainbow & Delphin use water as the main filter + a “L-Lamella” separator cone to reject fine dust.

Click to expand
I bought this German made Delphin Vacuum system 10 years ago & it’s still working. However, I rarely use it for air purifying because the wind noise is annoying.

Rainbow still include a HEPA filter but this results in the motor having to work very hard & it’s really loud when vacuuming. When purifying air, it’s not as annoying but still noisy. The air flow also doesn’t seem as high as the Delphin.

Rainbow Vacuum with HEPA filter.

The advantage of water-based system are they’re less restrictive to air flow and thus saves energy + can recycle the air faster. Even if they¬†can’t filter the same amount of dust in 1 cycle, the amount of air they can process in the same amount of time makes up for their lower efficiency. This is especially true for the Delphin system which doesn’t have any membrane filter at all!

Water is also able to dissolve much of the harmful chemicals & odour in the air that membrane filters are not able to remove. This is why many air-purifiers also include a charcoal (or activated carbon) filter which adds to the cost of purchase and maintenance.

OK fine, I just want to know the cheapest & fastest way to purify my air!

Why I’m glad you asked. If you’ve skip the above explanation, that’s fine. I recommend using the air-con as your MAIN air purifier for 2 simple reasons. It’s the most efficient and fastest mover of air in the house, and it’s also very quiet (typically 25dB on Auto).

BUT, obviously the filters in your air-con are not actually very good. Some air-cons have UV and Plasma technology. UV kills virus & bacteria so it only sterilize the air, not filter dust.

Cold Plasma technology¬†is basically air-ionization, which introduce an electrical charge to dust particles so they can stick to another charged surface. However, this introduce¬†a small amount of ozone which is unhealthy with prolonged inhalation. The charged¬†dust particle must still stick to another opposite charged surface before it’s removed from the air so its efficiency is not consistent in every environment.

SO, the best solution is to introduce another filter behind your air-con filter.

I recommend the 3M Filtrete Room Air Cleaning Filter with Carbon.

I bought the blue box Filtrete at a DIY shop for less than $30.
I bought the blue box Filtrete at a DIY shop for less than $30.

It’s an electrically-charged¬†membrane filter with carbon so it’s able to filter particle down to 0.3 micron + the carbon will help to absorb harmful chemicals & odour. It’s not as efficient as a HEPA filter but because the air-con is pushing so much more air through the filter per minute, the result is still very good with noticeably cleaner & neutral smelling air in¬†10 minutes.

The black mesh is the carbon & the membrane filter is behind it. Just stick it or place it behind the normal air-con filter, then reinstall your air-con filter.
The black mesh is the carbon & the membrane filter is behind it. Just cut it to size & stick it or place it behind the normal air-con filter, then reinstall your air-con filter.

It’s recommended to cover up to 70% of the air-con filter to allow good air-flow so the air-con cooling power is not compromised. Don’t worry, after 1 month, the membrane will turn a icky grey to let you know the filter IS working. The filter is rated to work for 2 months but with this haze, I recommend changing it sooner, when the filter turns completely grey.

I install the 3M Filtrete behind the normal air-con filter to prolong its life-span.

Each box contains 2 pieces of 60 x 30cm filter, which is enough to last an air-con blower unit 18 months if you change it every 2 months.

For less than $30 per air-con unit per year, I’d say that’s VERY cheap!

Lastly, for you people who are lazy, you can install the 3M filter OVER the air-con filter so you don’t even need to wash the filter in future. Obviously, the 3M filter will get dirty faster but since the haze wouldn’t last forever, it’s completely fine. ūüėČ

Reviews

Review: Nokia Lumia 920

Overview

This is a detailed review of the Nokia flagship Lumia 920 after using it for half a year. I’d cover as much as I can without too much commentary.

Summary: (still in progress)

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Good battery life
  • Easy to use
  • Great screen
  • Great camera
  • Nokia exclusive apps
  • 29GB available for user
  • Solid build quality
  • Qi Wireless charging

Cons:

  • Heavy & large for some
  • No MicroSD
  • Audio output below par

Issues:

  • Top apps like Instagram not available, Skype not integrated yet
  • NFC for payment only available in very limited markets (Singapore – coming soon)
  • No way to move Apps settings & data from between phones
  • Not all WP7 apps are compatible with WP8 despite MS claims
  • Accidental touching of 3 buttons still bring you out of app

Nitpicks:

  • 3 buttons glows brightly at night, distracting

The 2012 flagship

2013 saw the launch of more than 5 Lumias from Nokia & that is a good thing to target low & high-end markets. Mid-end still belongs to Android. Still, the Lumia 920 holds it own against recent flagships like Lumia 925 & 928. Then there’s the HTC One & Samsung Galaxy S4.

I’m in the group of users who prefer a more handy phone in the 3.5-4″ screen size. However, all these new phones are¬†above 4″ in screen size so I chose the 4.5″ Lumia 920.

Having a bigger screen means you can put a bigger battery behind as shown by the fantastic battery life of 7″ & 10″ tablets. Anything below 4″ wouldn’t allow anything more than a 1500mah battery without undue thickness.

The Lumia 920 is the FIRST mobile phone to have an Optical Image Stabilization system or “floating lens” as Nokia calls it. This technology allows the sensor to continue to capture light even though your hand & body is not steady. The main benefactor is night time. The system is superior to digitally stabilized images as those tend to be soft with a corresponding loss of detail. Unfortunately, OIS doesn’t seem to kick in during subject in shade or under overcast sky. Those image still experience camera shake. This is something Nokia should fix by improving the sensor driver to take faster shutter speed like 1/1000 or faster.

After using the Lumia 920 for 6 months, I found it to be really big but not heavy. It’s thinner than the L800 with case & it doesn’t weigh down my pants. So I’m comfortable with the weight but I can’t reach the very top parts of the screen without shifting it in my hand. This is a bit precarious as the white glossy one that I bought can be very slippery, especially after it’s cleaned.

The battery is a monster! This thing can easily last me a whole day. It lasted me 6+ hours of continuous usage on WiFi on my first charge! 2nd day, with normal usage, it lasted 13 hours on my second charge. Since Lithium batteries have controllers that control the charging/discharging, the cells need to be calibrated. The best way to do this is to use the phone until the critical battery warning comes up, then charge continually till 100%. You only need about 2 cycles to be good to go.

The Lumia 920 has a Peta-band 4G radio so it should work in all markets with LTE. M1 4G is super fast currently & my entire contact list (1000+) & calendar was synced completely soon after I step out of M1 Tampines Mall!

Windows Phone 8 is based on the mature NT microkernel that has proven itself in Windows 7 & 8. As such, preemptive multithreading on multi-core CPU is no stranger to WP8. Any app that fires Async threads works super fast, like the Supertube youtube downloader function. It was very slow on my L800 due probably to the single-core & Windows Phone 7 inadequacy. Even our local Xin Video app is also super fast thanks to WP8 & the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4.

The IPS screen is fast but the colour is not as beautiful or black as the AMOLED on the L800. (However, after 1.5 years, the Lumia 800’s AMOLED is starting to yellow.) After Portico update, the screen refresh is noticeably faster than the Lumia 800’s. Viewing angle is also a lot poorer as per LCD screens. That said, the screen is definitely brighter on Hi-boosted (under direct sunlight) but optimum viewing angle is only 30degrees. Colour is more “natural” but I’m spoilt by the L800 & my Samsung LED TV colour gamut.

However, because the pixel density on¬†the L920 is much¬†higher than the L800, surfing web & reading is¬†better especially for people who are annoyed by the L800’s Pentile¬†pixel arrangement.

The Lumia 920 is also the first smartphone to use the new Super sensitive capacitive screen from Synaptic. It allows your finger to still control the screen when wearing thin gloves or using metal objects. Since I’m not using it with gloves, I switched display+touch to Normal. Unfortunately, it’s so sensitive, it can get activated in my pocket occasionally.

IE10 is super fast although it’s barebone. I switched the icon¬†to Tabs so it’s a lot easier to switch tabs & close pages I don’t use. Note that some¬†webpages can be active in the background & drain battery.

One of the best thing about WP8 is, OEM updates for Apps, Settings &¬†Lens¬†are delivered OTA through the Store! This means there is no more Telco interference, allowing a timely update of critical bugs affecting the smartphone. Sounds great in theory but realistically, important updates are still slow to reach users. More later…

The Lumia 920 finally comes with a 7-band Graphics Equalizer function, which is great! But this only works for the Line-out. Besides the EQ, it also comes with Dolby Mobile which should come in handy for watching movies. However, I’m not a fan of Dolby Mobile because it makes music sound compressed. I prefer SRS compared to Dolby Mobile or nothing at all when using good headphones. My favourite is still QSound because of its ability to create a 3D soundstage.

On the topic on sound, the Lumia 920 Line-out is definitely not Audiophile quality. I tested the Lumia 920 with my Monster Purity headphone. It’s quite obvious that the stereo separation is not there as mentioned in reviews due to Far-end Crosstalk. SNR is still ok. The instruments are still quite distinct (not distorted much) & not as bad as the review make it sound but some distortion can still be heard on louder music with many frequencies.¬†Of course, hearing is subjective so you should bring your own¬†headphones if¬†you’re an audiophile.

WP8 is great but the FB integration can be enhanced further by allowing Delete & Edit for comments & Posts. Rooms only works with another WP8 unfortunately.

The Camera app can really use more control. It’s a step backwards from L800. That said the quality is very impressive. Most of the stuff that are “not on par” can be easily solved in Windows Photo Gallery (part of Windows Essential 2013), which I really recommend for anyone who’s using their WP for photography. It’s so powerful, yet easy to use! & no matter how good your camera, you will almost always need to edit a bit, be it Photoshop or Instagram.

If you integrate Live Photo Gallery with Photosynth & Image Composite Editor in Win7/8, it’s even more powerful. The Windows Movie Maker on Win8 can even do digital video stabilization if the L920 OIS is not enough.

The speakers are not loud enough for notification/speakerphone but too loud for music. MS still need to do some more work but at least the Volume doesn’t suddenly change when notification comes in.

GPS is fast to lock even under some shelter. (Nokia) Here Drive+ Beta is fantastic in Singapore. Malaysia still need a lot of work. LEGOLAND & Hello Kitty at Puteri Harbour is still not in the map. Here Map now features Indoor maps for many shopping malls + now includes LiveSight which improves your situation awareness when walking, especially in cities. Here City Lens is also becoming more useful & very soon may be integrated into Here Maps.

Live Tiles from WP7 apps like My Stocks are still using low res so it’s a bit blurred from scaling 200% but that should be solved with an upgrade.

Whatsapp 2.9.3 is largely stable with most features enabled but we’ll like to see the end of the Audio streaming being used for background transfers. That will save a lot of power. Viber is here but still buggy. Skype is stable & contacts are integrated into the People Hub but it still use its own dialer instead of the native one. Maybe that will come in WP8.1?

After 6 months, I’ve managed to scratch the Gorilla Glass, there’re micro-scratches on the white polycarbonate body & there’s a lot of dust in the Front-facing camera & proximity sensor. This caused the infamous “screen blacken when in a call” problem which prevented people from even hanging up a call!

Fortunately, firmware 1308 solved it but not before making a lot of users wait very long or had to take their phone in for a 2 day repair. These showstopper firmware updates should be pushed out IMMEDIATELY after Nokia QC has approved it, instead of waiting for Telco’s approval again.

Final thoughts

Even with the launch of so many new phones, I’m still going to keep the Lumia 920 as my main phone. Let’s see whether the rumoured 41megapixel Nokia EOS will sway me next month.