BeatsX review

I like using Bluetooth headsets. It is great not to have to worry about cables, and the slight loss in audio quality does not really bother me. With the new generation of Bluetooth headsets – Apple AirPods, Bragi the Headphone, Sol Republic Amps Air, … – I am exploring which one to get. So far, on paper, there does not apear to exist a product without compromises, so I have started to think that I’ll just have to try them.

I have started with the BeatsX headphones, from Beats by Dre. I have been using them for about a week and the experience has been very interesting.

beatsx-2

Likes
* Design
* Stays very well put on my neck
* Fast charging with lightning cable
* Battery life
* Presence of inline controls

Dislikes
* Cable noise (microphonics)
* Bass is hardly present if the earbuds are not perfectly fit
* I have found it hard to get a nice fit, despite the 4 different earbuds
* I am unsure about how they look when wearing them the whole day everyday

User Experience
Apple gets full points from me when it comes to the user experience. All the daily activities required in managing/using the headphones work very well. Consequently, it makes it very pleasant and hassle-free to use:
1. Charging is done with the lightning cable, which is great as I can then use the same cable for my phone and earbuds.
2. It charges really fast, which is very convenient. Fast fuel is not just a silly marketing term, it does work in practice.
3. Battery life is acceptable for me, and I use it a lot during my workdays. I just charge it in the morning for a moment.
4. They are very easy to pair initially and they connect/disconnect with a simple press of the button.
5. They sit very nicely on the neck and when not in use, the little buds stay together with magnets.
6. The carrying case is minimal, but actually works quite well.

The only thing it has me wanting is that it automatically turns off the audio when I take out the earbuds or link them with the little magnets. I guess that was just a bit too much.

Sound quality
The user experience is very important, but they are headphones, and they should sound well. So how do they fair?

I am no audiophile, but as long as you can get a good seal, the sound is good, rich while still being balanced. Similarly, when the seal is good, the passive noise cancellation is spot on. If the seal is not complete, though, I found the bass to lack quite significantly.

Given the importance of a good seal, I should point out that the earbuds come with 4 different tips. I managed to get a reasonably good fit with one of them. The tips are mostly the regular ones, with nothing fancy. The issue, for me, is that when I found a good seal, I started to hear certain sounds very amplified, such as my own breathing, swallowing, even the blood in my ears, which is not pleasant. Also, they really block you out from the world around you.

Therefore, it seems that with these headphones I have to choose between good sound or a comfortable experience. That is not really a trade-off I would like to make.

Also, there is another important drawback that I would like to point out. The earbuds, while bluetooth, have quite a bit of cable. On the one hand that is very convenient (see my user experience notes above), but when I was wearing button up shirts (or a coat), I would get a lot of microphonics (or cable noise) and movement of the cable would slightly loosen the earbud, causing me to re-adjust the fit a bit too frequently for my liking. With t-shirts this happened a lot less, but it is something worth taking into consideration.

Comfort
They are in-ear earbuds, so if you don’t like that, you should not even try them. However, for being in-ear, I think they are reasonably comfortable. They did not end up hurting, but I guess like all headphones, fit is very personal. In any case, for me they fit better than the Apple Airpods.

Conclusion

These ear buds have quite a bit going for them: the user experience and the sound quality are good to very good. However, for the price, I am not sure I would like to accept my two major drawbacks: 1. the trade-off between a comfortable listening experience vs good sound and 2. the presence of microphonics.

Like I said, in this segment there are few head phones without compromise, so up next are the Bragi the Headphone.

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Lumia 1520 is pretty nice for only a small crowd

I’ve had the Lumia 1520 for two weeks now and wanted to summarise here my experiences with it. Before I get into it, I want to highlight that I have come at it from a Galaxy Note 3 user’s perspective. The Galaxy Note 3 is probably its main competitor and anyone looking to buy a large screened phone would potentially compare them. Naturally, I also made those direct comparisons.

Hardware

The main selling point of the Lumia 1520 is its screen size. If you want a large screen on your phone, this is certainly a phone to consider. The 6″ screen is incredible (and slightly better than the one on the Galaxy Note 3): beautiful colour reproduction, very readable in direct sunlight and very good viewing angles. The only issue I had with the screen is that when I watched some (darker) videos in low light conditions, the screen would be too dim/dark. I could have changed that via the settings by turning up brightness, but I had hoped for the phone to manage that for me.

Whereas the large screen is a real luxury, the body it comes in, is at the same time by far its main downside. This phone is really large! I found it quite difficult to manage with one hand for just about anything. Add to that the slippery materials of the phone and I can assure you that I never felt comfortable managing it in one hand while walking down the street.

You may feel that is a trade-off for the large screen, but I would have to disagree. The Galaxy Note 3 has a 5,7″ screen and comes in a body that is considerably smaller and with a back made of a material that is far less slippery. The Note 3 is a phone I can quite comfortably handle with one hand for 90% of the things I want to do.
Although the difference is size is not really big, the Note 3 is easier to handle.
Although the difference in size is not big, the Note 3 is certainly easier to handle. Milimeters make a difference.

All that being said, I understand that the size of phone you can handle comfortably is a very personal thing. I feel that Galaxy Note 3 size is my upper limit, but I realise that if you have smaller or larger hands, your mileage may vary. In any case, Nokia should have at least done a better job in the screen size to phone size ratio.

The Huawei Ascend W1 has a 4" screen and the Lumia 1520 a 6" screen. The Note 3 maximises the screen size vs its body size.
The Huawei Ascend W1 has a 4″ screen and the Lumia 1520 a 6″ screen. The Note 3 maximises the screen size (5,7″) vs its body size.

Besides screen quality and phone size, I can only say good things about the remaining hardware aspects. The camera performs as expected, the speaker quality is nice, and wireless radios work fine. It is the hardware quality that I have come to expect from Nokia.

Lastly, I really liked the headphones that shipped with the Lumia 1520 (Nokia WH-208). Not great sounding bass, but very comfortable. I even picked up a pair on Amazon for 12€.

Performance

Windows Phone 8 (update 3) runs fast and responsive on the Snapdragon 800 processor + 2Gb RAM inside. Absolutely no complaints running 3D games, HD videos or switching between apps. The truth is, though, that I also never had complaints on the Lumia 1020 or 920 (with slower processors and less RAM), which is a testament to the optimisations done to Windows Phone by Microsoft.

The large battery allowed me to enjoy all that performance and large screen goodness without having to doubt whether I would get through the day. If there is one additional advantage to every large screened phone, it is that they stick a lot of battery underneath that screen. With the Nokia Lumia 1520 that is no different.

Software

As I said before, Windows Phone 8 performs very nicely on this phone. However, I have WP 8.1 on my Huawei Ascend W1 and really feel that it is a nice upgrade that should arrive for the Lumia 1520 sooner rather than later. The big advantages of Windows Phone 8.1 are Noticification Centre, Action Centre, better SD Card support, swipe keyboard, a much better app store, and nicer extensibility of the Share menu, to name a few.

Even with Windows Phone 8.1, Windows Phone does not yet have the level of maturity as Android on the Galaxy Note 3. The Galaxy Note 3 is much more feature rich, including an excellent S-Pen, and makes more use of the larger screen (particularly with regards to multi-tasking). On the Lumia 8.1 it is mostly larger text, and sometimes a line or two of additional content. Not bad, but could be better.

The app ecosystem is unfortunately as I remembered it from 6 months ago. It is OK, but definitely not a selling point. I feel it is adequate for 70% of the population, but if you want to play with the latest or niche apps, Windows Phone is not the OS for you yet.

On the other hand, if you use a lot of Microsoft services and/or your company is an Microsoft environment company, there is quite a bit to like here. The phone performs admirably as a work phone, with great battery life, call quality, data speeds, ample storage, email and office document support.

Summary

If you can handle the size of the Lumia 1520, are not looking for niche/latest apps and want to use it quite a lot for work (Microsoft environment), I think the phone is a very good option. However, this is only a small part of the population, I realise. For the rest, it has to compete with the likes of the Galaxy Note 3 and I feel that it simply can’t. The Note 3 is better value mainly due to the size, OS, Galaxy Note enhancements and app ecosystem.

One more chapter in my Windows Phone journey, trialling a Lumia 1520

When it comes to Windows Phone, so far I have tried a HTC 8X, Huawei Ascend W1, Nokia Lumia 800, 920 and 1020. With every iteration I have come closer to actually using Windows Phone (particularly the Lumia iteration) on a daily basis. However, it is hard to move away from Android after so many years with that flexible and powerful platform.

Today the fine people of Nokia Connects, will allow me to trial a Nokia Lumia 1520. This may be the phone that confirms that I can use it on a daily basis and let go, for some time, of Android.

Does it fit comfortably in a jeans pocket?
Does it fit comfortably in a jeans pocket?

Of all the phones I have tested I have found the screen sizes to be a little bit too small, perhaps – although I do go through phases. That particular issue certainly won’t be the problem for the 6″ monster of a Lumia 1520. If anything, it is going to be too big! I am currently using a Galaxy Note 3, so I am used to a large phone, but the Lumia 1520 is a whole step up in terms of size compared to my Note 3. Only day-to-day use will allow me to judge its size.

The other issue was always Windows Phone itself and perhaps to a larger extend the app ecosystem. I have installed the preview of Windows Phone 8.1 on my Huawei Ascend W1 and I quite like it. I should think that in terms of OS, Windows Phone 8.1 is good enough now.

The app ecosystem is getting more and more mature for Windows Phone and I hope that trying it now in Q2 2014 it should be better than 6 months ago. I realise progress is slow, but let’s see how I get on.

Those are really the only doubt I can have about this phone, because everything else is top-notch: screen quality, speaker quality, camera quality, performance, battery autonomy, … I shall be comparing extensively to my Galaxy Note 3, which is certainly its closest and fiercest competitor in the market place.