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The Nexus 7.

the hypocrisy…

Admittedly, I was against the idea of owning a tablet initially; thinking they were heavily targeted at the wealthy/people with too much cash & time. However… well, I haven`t really changed my mind. I did, yet again congratulate Apple (in my mind) for creating a market out of nowhere for a new piece of technology. And they have. Do you know how many iPads have been sold? Loads & loads. I always thought they would become more of a niche thing for demoing portfolios for businesses or for businessmen on their travels. Apple are already such an icon for stylishness among society that I think they can just sell stuff with little effort - the power of branding.

the decision…

But the iPad was instantly a write-off for me due to the price-tag. I just wasn`t interested in spending that much on a tablet, even though the integration with my other Apple products would have been nice (Apple TV & Airplay). I also looked briefly into the Samsung Galaxy & Sony Tablet ranges, & although they were appealing, I decided against them for the same reason as the iPad. So, I looked at the Arnova 7 3g (Archos brand - rebranded after bad press for unreliable hardware/software) as a budget alternative recommended by a friend. I went into HMV to play with it but came across the Nexus 7. Comparing the aesthetics & screen resolutions alone made me want the N7. I made a pretty snappy decision & bought the 16GB version @ £199.99 (it also ships as 8GB @ £165).

the features…

The N7 is the first in a line of Nexus tabs developed by Google & Asus. It runs (obviously) Google’s OS Android in which the releases are named after candy or other sweet products. The N7 comes loaded with 4.1 Jelly Bean. Being open source of course, the OS is highly customisable, & the source code is freely available to manipulate. Thus, various launchers (shells for the interface) have & are being developed. Again, compare this to Apple who are usually very tight over connectivity unless it’s among it’s own hardware. Google have thrown in £15 credit for their Google Play store (apps, movies & e-books). AND Transformers: Dark of the Moon free & a book which I have forgotten. Generous, though.

Well, the first thing I noticed was the weight (340g), it’s very nice & light, but it doesn’t feel cheap in any way at all - quite the opposite. There is a plastic back to maximise grip (even for those of us with sweaty hands.. :/ ) which is delightful to hold. The power & volume buttons are the only none-touch screen interactions you’ll have with the tab (no “home button” equivalent). There is a typical 3.5mm headphone jack & mini USB port located at the bottom of the tab which I find is a convenient place for both. The USB cable however would have been better longer than it is (only a few feet max). It acts, like the Apple products, as a standalone cable but plugs into the plug via standard USB.

The second thing I noticed was the size. 7 inches is a great size for a tab I think - portable & ergonomically friendly. The iPad is a little too big in my eyes, but each to their own. The 1280x800 (LED backlit IPS @ 16:9 aspect, too) display means HD movies look great, not full HD I know, but it means that the N7 runs smooth as hell. Nvidia’s 1.2GHz quad-core Tegra 3 chip is a sexy thing really, & means through benchmarking we get marginally higher specs than the iPad 3 ;D (http://www.itpro.co.uk/641896/apple-ipad-3-vs-google-nexus-7-head-to-head-review). The 1GB of RAM (DDR3) & 416 MHz twelve-core Nvidia GeForce GPU help too. Generally, especially with the whores of the cache & background service world (Facebook mainly) you get around 512GB of RAM free with to play with aside from the OS. The only game I have tried so far is Minecraft PE, which runs fine.

Now, to possibly my first negative point about the N7 - the flash storage. I really don’t think it’s a big deal, but I would have loved an SD card port for connectivity, especially for my photos. I know other reviewers have slammed the N7 for it, but think about it -cloud storage is the next big thing. Apple started with.. I’ve forgotten what it was called which turned into iCloud, then Microsoft announced their cloud, then Ubuntu joined in withUbuntu One (which I use), & currently they offer 5 GB free.. Also, WIFI connectivity nowadays is great. I have an app actually on my that acts as a server to transfer data to my browser on my Macbook

In terms of battery life, the N7 has a 4325mAh Lithium Ion which is pretty impressive. Supposedly it lasts 9 hours during HD video playback & 300 hours on standby, & although I haven’t had the patience or pedantry to test that quote, I bet it would. 

The list of tech features are as follows - Bluetooth (3.0) which I think is still a good interface to include at the moment for sharing for some applications. Just 1 (!) user-facing camera for video calls (which I currently haven’t tested as I have no friends) which is at 1.2MP (720p). I’ve read that Skype & other video calling is decent, though (not amazing but decent). So, another gripe according to some critics is the lack of front-facing camera, but lets face (haha) it, you people look like idiots taking a photo with your tabs in the air. NFC is the technology for interacting with car parking machines for example, & I reckon Google will integrate this heavily with Google Wallet (credit card storage & organiser application).

As for the lack of 3G… this is a point, but then as I said WIFI is so accessible now. HDMI, well, again good point. I would like to have seen one, but with interactivity over WIFI for this type of thing popping up nowadays I’m not sweating (actually I am a little but it’s unrelated). There is also an Accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, digital compass, GPS, magnetometer & microphone for the various applications included on the N7 (maps, Google voice search, rotating interface etc).

So, the interface. Well, the lock screen is cool - swipe upwards & you are transported to the Google search (also voice activated) app, and any other direction to unlock normally. I suspect Google will add more actions to this later. The 3 main buttons at the base are (left to right) the return/back button, the home button & the recently accessed app button. I have found the return button can be a little confusing instead of having a close button in the software, but having one button for it makes sense. You can customise the home screen however you like with the widgets provided with the apps. For example featured or suggested items from the Google Play store, or I have a list of unread articles from the RSS reader greader. Installing apps from Google Play is a sinch, too. I really like the interface, it’s clean & simplistic & not overcrowded (my pet hate). You can add apps to the ‘dock’ at the base of the interface & also apps to folders there too (like Apple’s iPhone app folders). I love the pull-down notification tray where all your stuff appears (again lent from Apple’s iOS but I’m not complaining). You can also save screenshots holding down the power & volume down buttons simultaneously, which I love. The keyboard is nice & big so my sausage fingers have no issue punching in letters.

Ok, so one issue here I will raise which isn’t Google’s fault at all - Adobe no longer support -  or even make available - their flash plugin for the N7. Now, this IS for me a big downside when viewing content on the flash-happy web. Maybe this will be addressed in the future?

the verdict…

Man, sorry if this has been too long to read, but, guys, I love it. I know this review hasn’t really been too impartial, but honestly I am mostly an Apple fan so I wasn’t trying  to bash the iPad.. Anyway I highly recommend the N7 - especially if you use it for the same reasons as I do. I had this gut feeling that Google (& Asus) would produce solid pieces of hardware/software. I know other reviewers have rated it lower due to no front facing camera, no HDMI port, no mobile network interface (3G) & perhaps most notably no flash storage expansion. But, at least to me these aren’t groundbreaking design flaws (as I have covered in the text). All I can say is I’m glad I waited..

Sidenote: Apparently Linus Torvalds likes the N7 too (yeah I know open source)

Thanks for reading, guys.

Phil

Upgrade?

So, ‘whoops’, I apparently need to ‘upgrade’ my browser (FROM Opera). When I tried to navigate to the discover feature on last.fm, the pop-up below appeared. I’m trying not to sound ranty here as it’s not the first time I have come across a similar message, but never has the message been ironic & kinda insulting (at least to me) at the same time. The wording is what gets to me - ‘Upgrade’, as if I’m some crazy fanboy using an obsolete browser like IE (joke, although, it is pretty s**t). Also, ‘whoops’, comes across as ‘we sound as if we are joking but we aren’t really you suck’. But the best (& ironic) thing about it for me is the fact that Opera fully conforms to web standards…

(http://www.opera.com/company/education/curriculum/)

Curvature

Going back 5 years, I came across a website called last.fm. Being the geeky statistics whore I am, I instantly fell in love with it purely due to the fact it had the ‘scrobble’ feature to log what I had played, and then my artists were ranked by my play counts. I (sadly) know that I’m not alone when I reveal I sat and listened to music, just staring at my profile stats (there is a last.fm group dedicated to us kind). …Anyways, the greatest thing last.fm had to offer me was a vast offering of artists I had never heard of, in every genre imaginable (lots are made up). Most of my now favourite artists I most likely would never have heard of if I had not become a regular user, browsing the site with the intent of expanding my collection. One of my most treasured discoveries is a small band from Cincinnati, July For Kings, which I came across from stalking one of my last.fm friend’s charts (best way to find new music, trust me).

Joe Hedges (lead vocals & I believe main songwriter - lyrically & instrumentally) of JFK released a solo album called Curvature in 2008. Which, in my mind, is fantastic. It’s a real fresh-sounding, experimental album with a lot of personality. I takes a few listens - as a lot of music does - to sink in, but when you are ‘plugged in’ it’s great. The title track, Wake Up builds and builds gradually until it’s fully-fledged instrumentally and more urgent-sounding, then it ends. I love it. Theres an ominous sound right at the start, then guitars strumming, then louder, like we are waking up to the sound. The riff is exciting and different and I really like the build up to the end. It’s a cool way to construct a song, and although I’m not 100% on the meaning, I think it aids the lyrics/story.

White Bird, which I think is a beautiful metaphor for making your own way in the world and not conforming. Again, there’s something unique here with the strings opening the song, and it’s very gentle and dreamy. As the story progresses there is an addition of percussion, and this cuts off and the sound levels off again as doubt sets in ‘the fear and the noise become you, what if things don’t ever change?’. I love how Joe has worked the music and the lyrics meaningfully together.

I have always thought Glass Case has an odd tone - it somehow manages to sound melancholy with a hint of upbeatness (?) like things are going to be ok. Mitral Valve Prolaspe - I love this song. And I know keep saying this, but it’s great. So is the music video but that’s another blog entry.. This song I know for a fact is about the condition which the song is named after. Very feeling and soulful song. The lyrics are very clever and the music is powerful. The ‘ohhhh ohhh ohh ohh’ ‘s are great and complete the mood of the song. It’s quite sad..

Curvature seems to manage musically to sound as an album, all tracks sounding like they belong, but at the same time the tracks are different. Difficult to achieve I imagine unless it just fell into place! I have no experience of these things.. Virgo is at a faster pace and is more upbeat. Another metaphor? I’m terrible at deciphering lyrics, even if they are the type to be interpreted in your own way.. Envoi d’un Message is a working of fan messages into a track. It’s a nice interlude. All The Way Across is dreamy - the vocals are ‘reverbed’ and sound a little broken up - as if you were accessing your own memory - a blur. Again, I have a rough idea of the meaning or idea behind Telescope Eyes, but I’m too chicken to guess! Interesting sound to this song. I love the melody in Perseus, and the sound of Joe’s vocals. And yet again I’m not going to presume to know what it’s about, but it’s something to do with Greek mythology.. The Dark is one I can decipher with my crazy skills. A lovely song put together very nicely - moving. It’s quite melancholy but somewhat comforting.. It’s a new way of putting the verses together as well which I like. Futureflies bursts into vocals and faster-paced music. I like the slower-paced chorus. Again there is the theme of melancholy but almost a glimmer of hope that seems to be a theme of the album. The piano in Pray the stars separates this end-of-album ballad (?) from the others. A sorrowful yet beautiful tone of personal reflection.

Curvature is a beautiful mish-mash of experimental and personal work, carving it’s sound and tone from strings and piano, and the usual guitar and percussions with a twist.. I remember reading somewhere (I think it may have been Dan Wilson) that it’s a great compliment to a musician’s piece if you struggle to recognise the instrument/s in question! I think I can safely say that about some of the tracks here. Whether it’s melancholy or upbeat, Curvature is more than a pleasure to listen to, and when I’m in the right mood, I’ll often turn to it for a good listen..

WRONG SCALE

The last month or so I have attempted to write blogs for several of my favourite artists. However, each time one of my fav bands comes up on shuffle, I open a new text doc and start writing about that one instead. Shows how much I like music and apparently how much I want to write about them! I settled for WRONG SCALE because I wrote down a longish list of good material that really relates to why I like them. Also, they are a new band to me, so while they are fresh in my mind… 

I don’t know that much about WRONG SCALE, except that, true to their name, the titles to their tracks are an odd mix of lower and upper case. They are not that well known, and being Japanese all the information about them is in Kanji. I do know they were a four-piece band together from 1999-2009. It didn’t take me too long to get into them. The list I have applies to WRONG SCALE as a whole, but for concentration purposes I have chosen the album ‘bed and board’ as my WRONG SCALE example album (It is by FAR the best in my opinion). 

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Welcome to D’espairsRay.

Ok, I’ll start off with a little context for you to understand my ramblings. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Visual-Kei, it is a genre predominantly hailing from Japan which refers mostly to the wardrobe of the band members. Rather than trying to describe it, just Google ‘Visual-Kei’ and you will be hit by an array of VK bands (there are a lot out there trust me.. ) The music is rock, usually quite heavy, some of it metal. So, VK’s musical range can be broad. There are also genres that originate from various districts in Japan - for example Nagoya kei, from Nagoya, which usually has a dark, heavy sound. Lynch are a good example of this genre. Other popular genres are Shibuya kei (Pizzicato Five) and OShare Kei (An Cafe).

A lot of Japanese bands have their name typeset in English because it is considered quite trendy (it would look cool if we used Kanji). Japanese bands also like to capitalise English words for track names. For some reason, there are often disputes over the correct typesets of bands. It can get messy because bands sometimes change the typeset after a while. Many bands use Katakana, which is the Japanese loan word Alphabet (e.g. ナイトメア or Nightmare use Katakana) which is used for words that derive outside the Japanese language.

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Feeling Strangely Summarised..

So, today Chris and I were talking about music on our walk. This is not a rare occurrence, but we don’t often talk for too long about it (I think this is because our music tastes are not that similar). Chris told me that he wanted to know why I like these bands and why I dislike bands that he likes such as Arcade Fire. Last week at my friend Gareth’s birthday party, Gareth told me that he didn’t know why I liked the music that I like (D’espairsRay specifically). 

So, the purpose of the digression above was to contextualise this blog entry, and introduce why I am writing it in the first place. I love listening to music and talking about it, but this is a rare occasion unless I’m on the internet talking to my pals across the world on Last.fm. I have been meaning to write blog entires on my favourite bands / albums before, but have been put off mostly by the thought of translating why I like the music into words, or an explanation why. I warn you, though, this might not be much of a review but more of a personal account!

As we all know, Semisonic is my favourite band. This is clear to me. I would even go as far as saying this is purely due to the existence of Feeling Strangely Fine (1998). I give all those songs 5 stars. I know it sounds a little cheesy quantifying how much you like something by giving it a star rating, but I think it is important at the same time. It gives you a nice gauge of how much you are into a track. The other three albums (including Pleasure EP) are very good, but they don’t stand up to Feeling Strangely Fine for me.

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