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review

A typical workday with the Pixel Buds 2

A follow up to the “First 48 hours with the Pixel Buds 2“.

Since the first two days were on a weekend and I was mostly outside I wanted to give some insight into a typical workday using the Buds.

My typical day for me consists of 3-4 hours of concentrating with constant music interrupted by 3-4 meetings that range from 30-45 minutes each. These meetings are either on the phone (taken on the computer), Zoom, or MS Teams.

Meeting audio

I haven’t nailed down why, but the audio quality coming out of a Zoom or MS Teams call using Bluetooth is not ideal. Switching back to a wired headset returns the call quality back to normal. Listening to music though YouTube or Soundcloud seems to be completely fine though.

I’ve played with every Bluetooth setting suggested on various “How to increase Bluetooth audio quality on a mac” page I could find with no permanent solution. Enabling AAC, forcing aptX or upping the bitpool didn’t provide a permanent solution either. Resetting Bluetooth, disconnecting and reconnecting the Buds seemed to help a little though.

I did land on, and end up paying for, the ToothFairy app, which makes it really easy to connect and disconnect Bluetooth devices.

Audio quality without using the mic

Every site I visited talking about the audio quality on a Mac said to avoid using the Bluetooth mic if you’re concerned about audio quality. I found this to be 100% the case.

Only listening in on meetings or music with the Buds and using a separate mic made everything crystal clear.

The ToothFairy app (above) even has a setting to “Improve sound quality by using the internal mic by default”.

Long term use

After two days of music and meetings, I don’t know how or why anyone would want to wear in-ear headphones all day. It’s not that they hurt in any specific way but they just become uncomfortable after 2-3 hours. I guess if you don’t have any other options they will do, but I found myself switching back to the over the ear headphones for longer stretches because they are just so much more comfortable long-term.

Battery life

So far they have really held up to being usable when I need them. I haven’t run into a situation when they were dead or drained and not being able to use them. When they are out of my ears they are in their case (and charging). I found it felt weird to have them laying around on the desk or table. Perhaps their size or them still being connected to the phone/computer while out or that a dog or kid would get them.

The only time I could see battery being an issue is on a really long bike ride, walk or run.

It is helpful if one of the Buds gets below 15% battery it makes an audible sound that sounds like it is powering down. It definitely makes you feel like it is running out of battery.

Truly hands free Google Assistant

I long for a truly hands-free Assistant, it does a good job at most things, but not everything. I really wish there was a clear way to ask to have all unread notifications read out loud as if you were holding your finger on the Bud. There has to be some magic word combination to do it, I have yet to find it though.

I have found though that I can ask to “Open Pocketcasts” then ask it to “Play” and it will pick up where I had left off, which is nice.

My dream would be that you could open any app, get items read to you on-screen and be able to navigate and activate anything on screen as if you’re using a screen reader.

Remembering a connection

I typically have my phone next to my computer all day. If I walk far enough away from the Macbook and it disconnects, as soon as I get close enough again, the Buds default to connecting back to the computer. It is great they recognize the last device they were connected to and not always fall back to the phone as a default.

Connection in/out of a car

My car (2009) is typically paired with my phone. When having the Buds paired with my phone while listening to a podcast, I got in the car and turned it on, the car picked up the Bluetooth and the podcast started playing inside.

Looked at the Bluetooth settings, it said two devices were connected. After turning off the car the podcast paused, Bluetooth disconnected from the car but noticed the Buds were still connected and I couldn’t tap them to unpause. It was like they were in some sort of sleep mode.

I couldn’t control anything on the phone or unpause the podcast until I took one out of the Buds then put it back in. That seemed to have reactivated them as the primary media output. After that, they worked like normal.

Hear surroundings while running

Feeling safe while running and hearing surroundings is a must. So far so good on this front. I haven’t had any issues hearing cars or bikes coming behind me that I wouldn’t have otherwise with the USB-C pixel earbuds (which are not in-ear).

Overall

I think I’ll stick to using the Buds primarily while running, walking, and around the house. I can’t see myself using these as my primary headphones all day. I just can’t see myself keeping them in my ears all day without them feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps I’m so used to over the ear headphones, but I have found myself switching to them a bit during the day and it is nice to have the flexibility of not being stuck to a desk with a cord.

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review

First 48 hours with the Pixel Buds 2

Pixel buds 2 case open with the included USB-C charging cable and box on a desk

Continued at: “A typical workday with the Pixel Buds 2

Unsponsored review by an average person.

Wireless headphones have never been my thing. I’ve had numerous wired headphones though, from the Apple in-ear to Sony in-ear to the Pixel USB-C earbuds. For me it’s all about how secure they are in my ear while on a long run.

The appeal of the Pixel Buds came from using assistant with the USB-C earbuds, it’s just so convenient. For context, I’ve never tried the original Pixel Buds or any other wireless headphones.

Fit

Decided on the smallest pads. The medium size seemed fine, but after having them in for more than an hour at a time, I found the smallest ones were the best mix of fit and ability to hear talking when audio is paused.

They are seriously light though, it hardly feels like there is anything in your ears.

Audio volume

At first, they felt pretty quiet, but after some adjusting, they seem only slightly on the quiet side. There is definitely something odd about the volume controls though. At times it felt like there were two volume controls while connected to a Mac. The output volume works like normal, but then there seems to be a separate Buds volume that is controlled through swiping. Sometimes they update in sequence, but with the Mac volume all the way up, I can still turn up the Buds by swiping until they top out. Not ideal, and probably a bug, but it may be why some people feel they are quieter than they should be.

Swiping and touch controls

These feel completely natural and work really well. On two occasions though while running and trying to turn the volume up it thought I long-pressed and read me the time and all my notifications. This could have been due to sweat, but it was unexpected.

Battery life

To be honest these (or any in-ear headphones) are not something I would want to wear all day long. I am on calls for 3-4 hours per workday, but I haven’t yet had the chance to see how long I would keep them in.

Spend the second day doing a ton of yard work and had them in ~40% of the day. Feels natural to put them back into their case when not in my ears and the longest amount of time wearing them only reduced the battery to 40%.

They come fully charged out of the box and after 48 hours the case is still at 38%. Even if I traveled a lot and wasn’t able to get to a charger each night, the amount of battery seems on par for what is reasonable and I likely wouldn’t spend more for a higher capacity battery.

Adaptive sound

So far so good on this front. It is nice to hear conversations around me without have to take the Buds out. While running next to a loud road the sound did turn up automatically and then back down when it got quieter. While mowing the lawn it did the same. I would say the feature is pretty helpful but found myself still adjusting the volume between podcasts and wish the adaptive sound would equalize the output audio instead of assuming all audio is already equalized.

Microphone

I’m used to recording audio on my computer with a podcasting mic. This one was a bit weird for me to wrap my head around. While connected to the Pixel 3 XL and making a call outside in a windy environment the person I was talking to said I sounded normal and they couldn’t hear any wind at all, which was great.

I make a lot of calls from my computer though, a 2017 Macbook Pro 13″ with Touch Bar. This is where things get complicated. I tried to record the mic and got some really horrible results similar to Tech FireSide. But realized it was only because Mac OS was doing some sort of downsampling only while recording, the actual call quality was really good.

After listening to someone else talk on them from the Mac or phone I can say the mic really is high quality and on-par with a wired microphone.

A real world test after a full work day will be telling though.

Connection quality

Connected to the Pixel 3 XL the connection has been great, I was able to walk a good ~30 feet away inside and ~100 feet outside with no regression in the audio quality. Connected to the Mac though I was surprised the range was only about 15 feet at best. Apparently the 2017 Macbook Pro only has Bluetooth 4.2, which severely limits the range.

When moving from the Pixel to the Mac and back and forth multiple time the speed was fantastic. Only two or so seconds to disconnect and reconnect.

Some people have reported one or both Buds cutting out with head or body movement. I’ve run multiple miles with my phone in a SPIbelt and cut the lawn with my phone in the pocket with no cutting out from either earbud.

Google Assistant

Something I’ve struggled with is going truly voice based for all interactions. With the USB-C pixel earbuds I was able to hear all notifications and they were read to me. I could prompt this by holding the mic button and it would read the time and then all unread messages.

Without the cord and with my hands dirty I’m looking for a way to do the same but with only my voice. I’ve tried the recommended “read my messages” with mixed results. I have checked my app notification settings and all the relevant ones are on.

I still haven’t found a consistent voice command to have Google read me all my unread notifications without touching the physical buds.

Firmware update

It took a few times of taking the Buds in and out of their case and then leaving them alone for them to update then report their new version. There was no audible sound or notification to let me know they were being updated or that the update was complete.

Hissing

I have not experienced hissing when connected to the Pixel 3XL, even when listening to audio at the lowest volume. As soon as they are paired with the Macbook Pro though there is a noticeable hiss when in-between apps/music but it seems to silence itself after a second or two. Definitely not noticeable or a dealbreaker and feels like it is coming from the computer instead of the Buds.

Overall

The first two days have been wonderful. I don’t have a lot of context to other wireless headphones but compared to the wired ones I’m used to the Pixel Buds are great. I’ve found myself leaving them in my ears more than their wired counterparts.

I mostly listen to books and podcasts but the overall sound quality is great although if I really wanted to listen to rich music I would opt for over the ear headphones any day.

For me, the largest sell is the ability to access the Assistant and everything on my phone with voice.

Next in the series: “A typical workday with the Pixel Buds 2

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review software

Grooveshark Preview – Bye Bye Flash

If you are a fan of Grooveshark you have probably been using either the Flash based site or if you are VIP, the AIR application. Both work the exact same way except they rely on Flash and are very resource intensive. If you’re on a laptop and trying to conserve battery Flash is not something you want to be running a lot.

I posted a tweet last week when I realized just how much resources Grooveshark AIR application was taking up while working on a slower computer.

[blackbirdpie id=”2480466154225665″]

Luckily this last week Grooveshark released a preview of their new fully HTML site! It’s not fully HTML5 because it doesn’t have all the features yet. It is only available to VIP members and you have to be running Google Chrome. It looks very similar to the current site. I have included a screen shot above. They did tweak the actual player at the bottom made it more fluid. I personally like it more.

Testing out the resource allocation between the two versions you can see from the activity monitor below the difference is phenomenal! The CPU % was the largest improvement.

Current Flash Version

New HTML Version

I won’t go into the details of the new version of Grooveshark but I just wanted to point out and give the Grooveshark team props for migrating their app into something (almost) completely native. Great job guys, keep up the awesome work!

The new HTML version is available at: http://preview.grooveshark.com/

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First 24 hours with the Palm Pre

Palm PreLet me just preface that I have owned Palm Treo devices in the past. I also love Apple and their products, I don’t have an iPhone because of the AT&T lock in and ridiculous pricing structure.

When Palm announced what seems like years ago they were developing a completely new phone web based OS I got excited. I live and breath the web and know the power of web devices. Finally they announced the Palm Pre and it was released yesterday, June 6 2009. Of course supplies were going to be limited so getting in line early was key. The Sprint store by my house opened at 8 am and I got in line at 6. I ended up being #19 and there were 3 people who actually camped overnight. The store ended up having about 80 of them so I easily got one. Here is a breakdown of my first 24 hours with the Palm Pre.

Feature Run Down.

Initially reading the reviews everyone said the plastic was flimsy and the phone was too light. I found none of these to be true, the phone is a great weight and doesn’t feel cheap at all. The only piece that does feel flimsy is the little cover for the micro USB port. You have to open it carefully the first few times to break it in, it feels like it is going to break if you are not careful. But after a few times opening and closing it it loosens up and I feel more comfortable about it now.

Palm Pre ScreenshotThe Web OS is Amazing! very fast and fluid. Launching applications and switching between them takes almost no effort at all. It feels very similar to the iPhone except you can use gestures instead of always clicking the center button to move back a screen. Moving between apps and launching apps happens super fast, not sure how it compares to the iPhone but it blows the Backberry Storm out of the water.

The screen is very bright and the colors, transparencies and shadows are amazing. Its almost like when someone moves from a Windows PC to a Mac. The window placement, transitions and movement are just so fluid you don’t know how you ever worked on a PC. I was scared that the feel of the screen was going to be like the Blackberry Storm, (I hate the feel of the storm screen) but its not rubbery at all, its not glass but its super solid. Very reactive and sensitive. It reacts to your fingers without effort. Only thing I could not figure out at first was how to do is take a screen shot, one thing I like that the iPhone/Tough can do in just two keys. I finally figured it out with the OrangeSym, and P keys (kind of a hassle).

The App Catalog is limited at the current moment, I really hope Palm releases the SDK soon because it looks super easy just from the apps I have downloaded. I downloaded 6 so far and they have all been pretty good. Tweed could use some more options but it works, I am sure someone will create a better Twitter client once the SDK comes out.

The audio quality is amazing, both in the ear piece and on speaker, I think better than my Blackberry. I love that there is a full headphone jack at the top, a great position for it and the iTunes integration is awesome. The Pandora app lets you stream music right over the air (no need to be on wifi, but if wifi is enabled it will use it) and can even keep playing in the background. Something the iPhone cannot compete with.

The notification system is really cool to say the least. It comes through at the bottom of the screen with tiny icons or one line text till you touch it and all notifications expand and moves your application up a little, no need to quit your app it just keeps running. Clicking on a notification launches the app and still keeps your old app running in the background.

The battery life is good so far. It came about 40% charged and playing with it the battery was going down quick. After charging it to 100% it only went down 10% in about 4 hours. Its hard to say how good the battery life is yet, I will post an update in the next few days.

Palm Pre ScreenshotThe browser is solid and loads pretty much any web page, zoom happens with the normal two finger actions. One thing I was disappointed by was the lack of Flash. I really hope it comes in a update soon. Updates get pushed through in the background and looks like they are going to be updating the OS often. There already is an update for Web OS to 1.0.2 and it updated without issue. The Sprint network is amazing, I was getting 358 kbit/sec with 0.215s latency data transfer. Site Used: DSL Reports Mobile Speed Test

The keyboard I heard form reviews was hard to type on and the keys were too small. I did not find this to be the case. The only issue I found with the keyboard layout is how close the “back” and “enter” keys are to each other. Without looking I often went to click the back button but ended up clicking the enter key. Bummer but totally possible to get use to.

The network integration is awesome. No need for the Google Sync app its all built in. The only downside is that Google Sync allows you to pick your “My Contacts” instead of “All Contacts” by default in the Pre. So it pulled in 500+ contacts and a lot of them I didn’t even know I had in my book. Took me a little bit but I finally cleaned up my addresses and now all is good. Adding Facebook contacts only complicates things further, wow there is a lot of people in your phone now. I ended up removing Facebook contacts for now.

Wrapup

Overall the Palm Pre is a pleasure to use. It makes using a phone seem effortless and fun again. I really hope they release the SDK soon so they can get more Apps in the catalog, this will be the make or break feature for the phone. The features and positives definitely outweigh the negatives. If you are looking for something different the Pre is definitely for you, its not your run of the mill phone and hopefully will compete for some of the iPhone’s market share. Competition is good and this phone will definitely keep Apple and Google on their toes.

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review

[Review] DialinFree – MI Free Dial Up Internet Service

dialinfree-logoEvery year we go upnorth for New Years and with a bunch of friends in the summer for vacation. One thing that is lacking is an internet connection, being wired is essential.

In the past we have had the luxury of using free dial up service through Wayne State University and MichNet. MichNet unfortunately discontinued the service two years ago. Last year I just signed up with NetZero. It worked but was kinda clunky, they are a needy ISP (requires software and ad bar) and eventually would not leave me alone for quitting. The connection speed was not too hot either, sometimes dropping down to 14.4 KB/sec.

This year I went out to find a free service and stumbled upon http://dialinfree.net/ which claims to be “Michigan’s only free unlimited dialup service!” They also don’t ask for anything besides an email address and a zip code. Asking around online I could not confirm if the service was legit. So I decided to give them a try and let you know my experience in hopes to demistify the DialinFree service.

First Time Use

The first time connection it was super simple, just put in the phone number, email and password into the regular connection screens on OS X, there is no need to install additional software. It dialed up, got the great connection noise and we were off and running.

google-pingJust as a test I decided to pint Google to see how fast the response was. Not too bad, No lost packets and 226 ms avg connection time.

download-rate

Next I wanted to checkout the download rate so I began downloading a medium sized PDF and the download topped out at 5.5 KB/sec. Not too bad for dial up.

Issues

So after being connected for a few hours the first two days (I think we were online for 7+ hours) the third day connecting we ran into an issue. It would dial, connect and get stuck on the Authentication. After about 2 minutes of waiting it would just disconnect.

hungupBut after waiting an hour it started working again. We did get the error randomly after that but we could just try it again and it would work. Not sure why it was happening but it seemed to be on there end.

Overall

If you are looking for a truly free dial up internet service without a hassle in Michigan this is the one for you. They don’t require any special software, no credit card information or even personal information. They do ask that you use their homepage and run your Google searches through them when connected but it is not a requirement.

By far this is the best dial up service I have used next to MichNet. It was fast (although you are still on dial up), they have a ton of access numbers and they did not require ANY personal information to start up. It never disconnected us and the only issue was at initial connection as mentioned above.

They also have a spot where you can donate money to keep the service alive. I recommend even if you use the service just once to compensate them for your use, keep this service alive and others will thank you.