The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Category Archives: Hardware

The Real iPad Air 2- A Reflection

“It’s the iPad Air 2, mankind’s first step into space colonisation. This device is so advanced, I’m shitting my pants. Here’s the secret: it’s the A8X processor. Safari opens in no time at all, PDFs come up in an instant, fuck whatever load times were for games.” —Cr1t1kal-style impressions of the iPad Air 2

For the past four years, I’ve been fielding an iPad 2. This tablet was one of Apple’s longest running lines, having active support from March 2011 up until February 2014, and while it offered several new features over the original iPad, it was cited as being an incremental upgrade rather than anything revolutionary. Nonetheless, this was the iPad I would use and since May 2011, my trusty iPad 2 has seen everything from Sora no Woto and Break Blade during my first studentship with the university, to being the very device that gave my undergraduate thesis defense presentation. Despite having this much mileage on it, the tablet is still going strong; granted, some apps do load more slowly than they had done previously, but it still runs smoothly and the device retains the battery life it did from the day I got it: it consumes ten percent of my battery per hour of average use. This would be a device I would use until it failed completely, although circumstances change, and I’ve acquired a brand-new iPad Air 2 with the gold finish. The iPad 2 had been thinner than the original iPad and felt remarkably lightweight to use, but compared to the iPad Air 2, even the iPad 2 feels like a brick. Armed with the same retina display as the iPad Air, the iPad Air 2’s display blows the iPad 2’s display out of the water. iOS 8.1 runs like dream on the iPad Air 2, which packs Apple’s A8X triple-core processor and 2 GB of RAM. I’d been noticing the iPad 2 was feeling a little sluggish (but still very usable) in day-to-day tasks, and by comparison, the iPad Air 2 leaves it in the dust. I do miss the lack of an orientation lock button, and glory in the inclusion of a TouchID sensor, which allows me to unlock the device with my thumbprint. The iPad Air 2 is a worthy successor to the iPad 2, but the question remains of what I can do with so much hardware packed into so little a space.

  • I’m finally rocking iOS 8 now, and although it’s not too different than iOS 7 from an appearances perspective, there are numerous new features that I haven’t begun to take advantage of yet. Some of the features I have noticed and enjoy include the updated notification centre and predictive typing (a feature that my Windows Phone has long had and one that I love using).

  • Spotlight search is quite useful, and in the new iteration, will even link to online resources such as Wikipedia if it is available. Overall, I’ve had no troubles using iOS 8, and it’ll probably take me a little while to learn all of the new features that the iPad Air 2 can access. I absolutely love the partial transparency some menus have: iOS 8 does make subtle changes to things to improve the visual fidelity of the user interface.

  • The only thing about the iPad Air 2 that is a little disconcerting is the lack of a physical button for orientation lock/mute. I understand that Apple’s quest for ultra-thin devices is motivated by ergonomics, but admittedly, I would’ve been okay with a slightly heftier device (like the iPad Air) if it meant more hardware and improved battery life.

  • This is what the blog looks like out of Safari for iOS 8. The bookmarks and history bar has been moved to the left, rather than the right, and since I use Google Chrome as my primary browser, this is a little unusual, although Safari for Mac OS X also has its bookmarks bar on the left. Safari for iOS 8 feels amazing and handles well on the iPad Air 2: tabs have become more visual now, and on the iPad Air 2, the additional RAM finally means I can chat with a friend in Skype and browse the web at the same time.

  • While Siri remained little more than a curiosity in the past, I’ve since grown to view it as a very novel feature that brings to mind the robot from Thunderbirds that Brains had been testing. Back in the 1960s, voice-activated commands were very much a thing of science fiction, and in the space of five decades, we’ve gotten to the point where we can ask our devices what our schedule is, or have them act as a worthy opponent against us in chess; the technological advancement we’ve had never ceases to amaze me.

I typically treat tablets as an ultra-mobile computing solution for things like being able to read slides along with a lecture as it progresses and make annotations, read and annotate papers while away from a computer, browse the internet and keep in touch with people by means of social network applications. I also watch anime on tablets, use them to create presentations and work on my assignments, and on some occasions, game on them. The original iPad 2 excelled in each of these areas; during the summer of 2011, I even watched the Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi while waiting for guests to arrive at a friend’s LAN Party, and using a video, gave the impression I was playing Halo Reach on the iPad. The iPad Air 2 is remarkably powerful and, while decidedly less powerful than an Xbox 360, is capable of putting out some impressive graphics: three-and-a-half years ago, I joked about the day when tablets could match consoles in graphics, and in a sense, the iPad Air 2 is getting pretty close. With the new iPad Air 2, I probably will use it as I did the iPad 2. It will be an excellent platform for reading papers and following lecture slides, for casual internet browsing and watching anime; the hardware powering it is more than sufficient for doing all of this. In fact, there are very few apps out there that can make full use of all this hardware. This is expected to change as developers begin making more of the Metal API, and games on the iPad, already impressive for a tablet, will begin to rival games like Halo Reach in terms of graphics as mobile hardware continues to improve. For the present, though, with its overpowered hardware, the iPad Air 2 is quite future-proof, and I look forwards to doing much with this machine.

Windows Phone 8 and the Nokia Lumia 520

I’ve been using an old-school Samsung flip phone for the entire duration of my undergraduate career, and the phone in question had been in use since 2005. Of course, said phone received SMS texts nearly twelve hours after they were originally sent, and could not send texts without an additional 25-cent surcharge (owing to the fact that after the contract expired, its service was paid for an inexpensive but limited plan). There was also the minor problem of the battery discharging within three days of acquiring a full charge (while on standby), and the fact that the microphone was not delivering sound effectively, The time had come to make an upgrade: whereas I had done without a present-generation device, several of my friends found it difficult to contact me via SMS to coordinate events, such as raclette parties and wings nights. Right at the edge of a new school year, but before the next-generation phones release, I decided to update my phone. One of my friends had, incidentally, been pushing me to “get a phone appropriate for my requirements”, and noted that the difference between my old phone and even an entry-level smartphone was roughly the difference between the 18th century musket and a 21st century assault rifle.

  • After giving the phone a full charge, and loading both my custom wallpapers and some apps onto the phone, the device feels a lot less foreign now. It will probably take me a while to get used to this phone after the old flip phone (which has an antennae!). The Windows Phone 8 experience is sleek, responsive and clean, contrasting the bewildering array of options on an Android platform and the aging iOS platform. The new iOS 7 is supposed to change that, and I’ll probably talk about it once I get it for the iPad (the fourth generation iPod touch I have won’t support it).

I had my eye on the Nokia Lumia 920, one of the top-of-the-line smart phones on the market, although unfortunately, stocks were depleted city-wide. I thus settled for the lesser Nokia Lumia 520: while inferior in hardware and construction, is still considered to be a reasonable phone (strangely enough, the Lumia 920 isn’t featured on TechRadar’s picks). With a reasonably large screen and sleek design, it feels compact in one’s hand. However, the screen smudges easily. Given that I was in the phone market to get access to better SMS, better audio quality and a battery that held its charge, the Lumia 520 technically is sufficient for my purposes, except for the 8GB internal storage. The storage limitation was quickly rectified with the purchase of a MicroSD card, which boosted the memory and will allow me to store a few more things on the phone to extend its usability. However, I hope that lack of gorilla glass won’t come to haunt me in the future: as my previous phone lasted eight years, I imagine that this phone should have a long service life and prove more than sufficient for what my requirements are (mainly, ensure that I am able to reach my friends for events and activities that should come up). My current plan is similar to the phone: excluding data, it is minimal and cost-effective. I don’t imagine I will need data, so I’ve disabled that and hopefully won’t incur any random expenses. I suppose it’s time to make use of the bells and whistles on the Lumia 520 that is supposed to set it above my old phone the same way a modern rifle outperforms a musket.

iPad 2 and iOS 6

Announced a few weeks ago at Apples Worldwide Developer Conference, iOS 6 is the latest incarnation of Apple’s latest mobile operating system. The updates will bring several new updates to iOS, including an in-house maps application, Facebook integration, as well as numerous improvements to Safari and Mail. In addition, there is Siri support for a wider range of devices, but for those who wield devices like the iPad 2 and iPod Touch 4th generation, Siri is more or less irrelevant.

  • I’ll say it right now: owners of the iPad 2 who wield it primarily for viewing videos will have no need to upgrade to the new iPad. From personal experience, the step from a regular screen to the Retina Display absolutely ruins videos in that what once looked good will look horrible. The only countermeasure is to re-encrypt the videos at higher resolutions, but this comes at the expense of storage capacity. Conversely, those who use the iPad primarily for viewing iBooks and PDFs will be able to capitalise on the Retina Display rather nicely.

From a personal perspective, the updates to iOS 6 are novel but not revolutionary. Unlike iOS 5, which brought touch gestures and tabbed browsing to the iPad, there isn’t anything particularly special included in iOS 6. I’m not particularly interested in the new maps, and in fact, may decide to hold back from updating to avoid being stuck with it. My mind may change, but for now, the loss of the nifty terrain function and a shift away ease-of-use found in Google Maps are both detractors. In the case of the latter, the maps look less professional and more difficult to read. The overemphasis on Siri is also problematic; for iPad 2 users, there’s probably little to be gained from the new updates when half the functionality cannot be utilised. Finally, given that they unceremoniously removed the lyrics from the music app, I’m hoping that they reinstate this function in iOS 6. The beta testers say that such a feature remains absent, but I can dream, right?

  • Any device not seen here is not compatible with iOS 6. I’ll have a verdict out later, but chances are, owners of older devices with iOS 4 (and in the case of iPad 1 owners, iOS 5) aren’t going to be missing out on much.

Maps and Siri are the only detractors I can see in the new update. There are three updates that make the device slightly more efficient to use. First of all, as a heavy user of the mail application, the decision to add the swipe-to-update feature was inspired by numerous social media apps and will make using email that much easier. There have been times where I’ve swiped my mail in iOS 5 and realised that Mail didn’t work that way. The next feature that I’m anticipating to be useful is offline browsing for Safari and Cloud tabs. I’m sure I’ll find a use for it. Finally, Facebook integration ought to be interesting. Despite having Twitter, I haven’t touched the integrated functions. While I use Facebook more frequently than Twitter, old habits might die hard as I try to accommodate the new ease-of-posting.

Shaw Reprised

It’s been nearly five months since I made the switch from Telus 5 Mbps DSL internet to Shaw Broadband 50 internet, resulting in a performance difference by an order of magnitude. Initially, for the first while, the performance was only really noticeable for applications that could immediately recognise the new connection strength, such as Steam. However, as of late, the new internet has revealed its true powers and has consistently performed beyond expectations.

  • In a benchmarking test using an exceedingly well-seeded torrent, Shaw Broadband 50 will reach speeds of 5 MB/s without any issue and has a theoretical maximum of 6 MB/s. Owing to overhead, the remainder of the bandwidth is dedicated to running essential functions, accounting for why Shaw 50 will not reach the upper limit of 7 MB/s.

Let’s do a thought experiment using the assumptions from the table below. A while back, I was able to get the internet capacity that most K-On! fans have. I’ve supplied their connection performance here, and will use it to form the basis of the calculations.

The average KyoAni fan’s internet The Infinite Zenith’s Internet

The K-on! Movie is said to have a runtime of 110 minutes. Assuming the encoders use the .mkv container for the H.264 codec and FLAC audio, the movie will roughly be 2.2 to 2.8 GB in 720p. At a steady 2.5 MB/s, it will take roughly 20 minutes to download. Even at a comparatively “slower” 1.0 MB/s, a download is expected to be completed in no more than 48 minutes. This performance can be attained without placing a significant load on the network: another user on the network can (empirically!) watch HD YouTube videos as per usual without experiencing any lag. On a 15 Mbps network, download speeds of around 1 MB/s can hypothetically be attained, although this will practically be the network’s entire capacity.

Shaw 50 Broadband

The new broadband modem arrived today, and with it, comes superior upload and download performance. The Shaw Broadband 50 plan offers up to 50 Mbps download and 3 Mbps uploads. It is in the 94th percentile for internet speeds; only six percent of all the internet in Canada surpasses it, and chances are, those are owned by large organisations with large amounts of traffic flowing through their networks.

  • This is my network on a bad day. This is probably your network on a good day. Otaku have nothing on the power of this network: when your internet is moving data downstream at 50 Mbps and upstream at 3 Mbps, there are no survivors.

Such a powerful system has the potential to rapidly upload new content to my websites and YouTube, host game and TeamSpeak servers, have lag-free online video conversations and play online games with virtually zero lag. On a practical side of things, it is capable of 3 MB/s downloads no problem (I think the upper limit is around 7 MB/s, although I have yet to encounter anything that will push it that far), and will upload at the same speed as the download speed from my previous ISP. By comparison, my previous ISP provided a maximum download speed of 5 Mbps (roughly the average for USA). South Korea averages around 20.4 Mbps download, while Japan averages 15.8 Mbps.