Saturday, January 31, 2015

Finis SwiMP3: Newer is not always better

Subtitle: When Newer is not always better and when Global Sourcing FAILS ....

Finis is a company specialising in Swimming equipment. Fins, Goggles, timers and for some years MP3 players that you can swim with.

Wait.  Why would you want to listen to music, or an audio-book whilst Swim training?


Any athlete puts in hours of training per week.   But compared to (say) Cycling or Running, Pool Swimming has one big huge difference.

There is bugger all to look at except the familiar walls of a pool.  Without music a 1 hour Swimming session can quickly lead to boredom and a resolution that you should Swim less rather than more.

So back to waterproof MP3 players.  I've already reviewed the  SwiMP3 2G player.   It is just brilliant!

What changed in 2013
Finis it seems were struck by a combination of stupidy and insanity and changed an almost perfect design adding features that would frustrate me ....

  • A big fat bit in the middle between the bone conduction earphones.  I'll have to stick this onto my goggles at the back.
  • Crinkly bits where the cables comes out of the unit  - unnecessary, better ways to prevent cable fatigue.
  • An LCD display - unnecessary
  • 4GB memory - unnecessary  (2GB or the previous model more than enough)
  • Volumetrically the new unit is a lot larger than the old and has lost its simple functionality.

Global Sourcing Woes
In early 2014 I realised that the new design was inferior and so ordered up a backup SwiMP3 player.  It was extremely difficult to find a unit, at a good price, that would ship to Switzerland.

Now it is 2015.

My backup 2G player was appropriated by darling Agata

My 2G player failed ... one earpiece has died.

I've just paid an annoying price premium on Amazon for an old style swiMP3 2G player.

This was after having an eBay watch outstanding for over 4 months now, and nothing turning up.

Last Minute Hitch
After making the order begrudgingly, I got a message after 30 minutes saying the goods were not really in stock.  What!

So this means I WILL have to order the flippin Neptune monstrosity after all.

Learning Points
With my best OCD (Mr Monk) hat on I thought the days of stockpiling items that I loved was not necessary in the 21st Globally resourced world.

Somewhere (they tell me) is the thing you love, waiting and available at a fair price.  Or, that something is replaced by a newer and lower cost, better designed, higher functionality replacement.

But sometimes the replacement is not as good and nobody (else) does it better.

Wait, I feel a song coming on

Nobody does it better

Saturday Afternoon Update

Having resolved to buy the neptune we journeyed to 

Sportmax Lausanne,  our local Triathlon shop

For Switzerland they keep pretty good hours for Saturday, (and as you know nothing is open on Sunday)

It has been ages since we visited.  But we were reminded that they have an excellent selection of Specialist sports equipment for enthusiasts.

And,  drum role, they had a Neptune.  And they sold it to us for a special price, actually less than I could find on    So I am actually pretty staggered!   The lower price has convinced me to give the Neptune a chance.  Full review to follow.

Finis Neptune

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sony QX10 Camera Lens

This is a review of the Sony QX10 smartphone camera lens.

What is the Idea?
The idea is that your Smartphone has a decent enough camera for general purpose photography, but sometimes you would like something more in terms of quality, zoom, and perhaps pixel count.  So instead of also carrying around an extra camera e.g. a quality compact or DSLR you can carry a Sony QX lens which 

  • attaches physically to your smartphone
  • uses the smartphone as a viewfinder and optional shutter (QX lenses have their own shutter and zoom buttons on lens but you can use the phone app)

In my defence
Critics immediately say: not another gadget Marcus!

But it was free, well sort of ... One of the few points that we collect here in Lausanne Switzerland is Coop Supermarket points.  We can't ever think of anything to spend them on until Dec 2014 there was an opportunity to turn them into tokens at a local Electronics store.  Hello!  [I did calculate a mere 10K GBP/ 15K CHF  of food shopping, they are not that generous in Switzerland I am afraid!]

The Model Range
The Sony QX10 (18MP, x10 zoom, 7.76mm sensor, F3.3   ) and Sony QX100 (20MP, x3.6 zoom, 13.2x8.8mm sensor, F1.8)  were announced Sept 2013.  See Dpreview.

Then in Sept 2014 Sony announced the QX1 mount  allowing you to attach an existing eMount lens to this QX1 body and attach that combo to your phone.

Since the QX10 is by far the lightest  and smallest at dimension of 6.25x6.25x3.33cm  we picked it.

The QX10
 Yes it is really small!

Lens body and a plastic clip which as the spring loaded wings that hold onto your smartphone

You need to populate the QX10 with a micro SD card which slots behind a cover on the back. 

 With x10 zoom fully extended

Attached to a 5.5 inch smartphone  ... clip extended to a maximum.  I'm 100% sure the clips would not fit a Nexus 6.

How big is it?
This is a slightly unfair comparison.  But on the left you see our uber small Sony Full frame camera and fixed focal lens. On the right the QX10 zoom lens and a slim 5.5" smartphone.  The Smartphone combo is a lot lighter but as you can see the volume difference is not as much as you might imagine.

Picture Quality
You select the picture quality

In Program mode you can select ISO and exposure compensation .

I tend to leave it on 18M pixel shooting and Superior Auto.  Superior Auto shoots multiple photos and combines them together into a higher quality lower noise single photo. 

At this /best/ setting each photograph is about 7MB maximum.  So on a 32GB card I can shoot ...  over 4000 photographs.  Bonkers.

All the processing is done on the QX10, indeed once you set the mode and MP setting (via the phone app) you can simply power on the QX10 on its own   (without any smartphone) and press the shutter button.  (Of course there is no viewfinder and if you use the zoom then you are really on your own!)

Application Support
For Android there is an official Sony PlayMemories application which is very buggy and crashes a lot!  (I had initially used QX10 with a Windows Mobile phone and there was a user written application M2 Sony Remote  and this was actually better than the Android app!)

Here is the Android app screen.  I have it set to /touch display to focus/ and press the button middle right to take a picture.

Here you see it's in Superior Auto mode (top left icon) and its decided to use a Macro setting.

Bottom right is the W T button allowing the lens to be zoomed.

 Settings screen

In particular save options=off.  This means that photos are not sent from QX10 to the smartphone after each photo is taken.   You see the photo as a review but that is all.  This should make shooting faster,  plus give the app less to do, so there is less chance that it will crash :-(

Here is one of many times the app misbehaved.   Whenever you minimise or background the app it disconnects the wifi connection from the phone to the QX10 lens  (it talks over wifi)  and when you go back to the app it must resume the connection.

Unfortunately this can go wrong.  Frequently.   In the above it's just a busy black screen that will never become ready!

Even though photos are not being sent from lens to camera you get this processing screen on the Smartphone app after each photo is taken.  Not sure exactly what is processing and where.  Hmm.

Best Use Cases
Because of the poor quality of the Android application and having to attach the camera to the Smartphone  I prefer to initially once setup the camera to take Superior Auto, 18M photos.  Then just use the QX10 without smarphone at all.  Since there is no viewfinder you have to guess the picture area but the most difficult thing is to take a picture on the level!  When I get home download photos and use Irfanview to crop and finely rotate photos as necessary.

During Running races
During a short running race  (not an Ultra where you would have to take a Smartphone for safety/ emergency) I would normally be carrying an iPod Nano for music but might like to take quick photos.  Here the QX10 is ideal.  Keep it in a back pocket inside a waterproof plastic bag.   Stop running, pull out QX10, shoot a set of photos, then poweroff. With its fast power on, automatic lens cap it is perfect to take a batch of photos quickly without totally screwing up your race time. With dedicated physical photo buttons it beats a smartphone.

Transferring the Photos
To me the easiest way is to plug a micro USB lead in and have the micro SD card appear as a Drive on your Windows computer.  Then simply copy paste files that you want.

Using the Android Application there is an option to transfer nothing, or the original image, or a lowres e.g. VGA image to your smartphone as you take each picture.

This transfer original photo option might sound attractive however it takes extra time and with the flaky nature of the Android application is an extra thing to go wrong and screw up.   Next, I can't image the point of transferring a VGA image either, unless perhaps you want to email lowres photos on the fly and later at home get the full res versions?


Lots of sample photos follow

Here showing the hardware optical zoom.  It works well (But to use it on zoom you really need to see what you are photographing and that needs the Android app connected and working)

The QX10 is an okay product, basically it takes high quality photographs but it is very fiddly to use.

But really when to use it?

For on the fly photos the Smartphone is suficient and for a holiday then our new tiny tiny full frame DSLR is portable.  I think the use cases therefore are

a) A running race, where high quality quick photos are needed  (used on its own its quicker than a smartphone)
b) As a backup camera on holiday, when the main DSLR is down or unavailable, or just too bulky to carry, and when you would prefer higher resolution to smartphone.

The QX10 is about 150 GBP.

Sony lens style camera
Play memories mobile android app
Sony QX10 spec
Sony QX100 spec
Sony QX30 spec
Sony QX1 mount


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tim Cook says: It is APRIL fool

Chris Rea: Fool if you think it is over

We heard late on Wednesday that Uncle Tim  (Cook) has pronounced the delivery of the Apple Watch will be during April.  I presume he means April 2015 :-)

Verge article

Gizmodo article

Forbes article

To Buy or not to Buy?

For  Marcus and Agata it's an easy

NO BUY [yet]


  • We already have GPS Sports Watches and Step trackers

    Both Marcus and Agata are now sitting in the Garmin Sportswatch camp for GPS watches and fitness trackers.  We are pretty happy bunnies.
  • You want to buy a Gen1 Apple new product?

    Apple gen1 products  (iPhone, iPod) were certainly very sturdy but more quickly outmoded than later models in the series.  Being an Apple early adopter is where the cool kids, nay the cool expensive kids are.  We are not sure we need to be so cool.
  • NO GPS

    Any decent sportswatch needs a GPS. Otherwise you would need to carry a GPS and probably Internet enabled Phone with you, with presumably Bluetooth 4 connectivity.  And so this rules out Swimming altogether, and many races won't allow phones/ music devices to be carried at all.

  • Reported class lagging battery life?

    Nobody really knows but the pre-announce rumours are that the battery life is between poor and dismal.

    Unofficially I understand that the best user experience would be to have at least 2 watches.  One on the wrist and one on charge, ready for a half daily swap.

  • Needs iPhone

    This is a bit of a gotcha.  So anybody without an iPhone, say an Android phone user is not able to join the Apple Watch party. Hmmm.

Still, despite our protestations, the Apple watch reveal is still mightily impressive

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Wednesday Sermon: I am Offended

Hitchens: Offended  in 80 seconds

I might be offended but I don't have a right to murder you as a consequence.