Bluetooth Selfie Stick Does Not Click Picture

This has happened to me way more times than I care to mention. The latest Yunteng YT-1288 Bluetooth Selfie Stick (and many other bluetooth as well as wired selfie sticks) just does not take a picture on my old Android Phone. Pressing the shutter / camera button on the bluetooth remote changes the sound volume level. Other buttons such as Zoom + or – buttons also change the sound volume level instead of actually taking a picture or changing camera settings. How do we resolve the situation?

The Internet recommends that we go to Camera Settings > Volume Buttons setting and change the action to Shutter. Unfortunately, this entire setting is missing from the camera app on some of my phones and present on other. Turns out, this is most predominant on the default Android Camera App that comes bundled with Android 4.x and 5.x. On these phones, pressing the camera button on your wired or wireless selfie stick triggers the sound volume. The camera actually ignores the selfie stick button action completely and it does not have any provision to change the settings either.

The default camera app bundled with Android 6.x and 7.x seems to be have built-in support for external camera triggers and the selfie sticks work just fine.

However, on your old phone, if you were to try out some other Camera App that supports an external shutter button action, the same selfie stick will work just fine on your phone. A number of apps were suggested such as Open Camera but these apps are complex and not meant for the basic user. Google itself has issued an app called the Google Camera and it works just fine with a selfie stick.

Unfortunately, Google Camera app appears to be restricted and it is not available for download form Play Store (at-least not in India). Fortunately, you can use a service like APKPure.com to download and transfer the APK file to your phone and install the app by allowing installation of apps from “Unknown Sources“. Let me know in the comments if this article helped you start using the selfie stick with your phone.

Review of Micromax Canvas Lapbook L1161 Laptop

The Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop is attractively designed and invitingly priced.
The Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop is attractively designed and invitingly priced.

The Micromax Canvas Lapbook series laptops are set to usher in a new era of low-cost computing in India. Though based on dated hardware and slightly more expensive than some of the other competing models, the laptops certainly seem to offer good value. In fact, when I was looking for computers for my client to serve his basic requirements, I took the risk and ordered about six of these.

 

Prelude

Desktop computers are bulky, hot, noisy and require a lot of space.
Desktop computers are bulky, hot, noisy and require a lot of space.

My client needed to purchase computers that would be useful to perform non-processing intensive tasks such as creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations, browsing the web and emailing. I recommended against opting for Desktop Computers because:

  • Desktop computers today are priced the same or more than Laptop computers.
  • Desktop computers consume a far higher amount of electrical power; dramatically increasing costs associated with electrical power backup systems and air conditioning systems.
  • Desktop computers require a high amount of floor space and tend to crash easily if man-handled even slightly.
  • Desktop computers are not portable enough to relocate quickly and do not offer the same amount of reliability as Laptop computers.

So I was permitted to proceed with purchasing twelve laptops instead of desktop computers and six of these machines were for basic office computing tasks.

Hardware Identification

My primary computing requirements were:

  • Ability to run office productivity suite such as Wordprocessing, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Client of Tally Accounting.
  • Ability to browse the Internet using Firefox browser and email using Thunderbird client.

In the past, I have used Intel Atom processor-based Netbooks and know that they prove to be sufficient for such tasks. In fact, I own an Asus Eeebook netbook featuring an Intel Atom N270 processor, 1 GB RAM and Windows XP. Though the processor scores a measly 271 in Passmark, I have found the netbook to be capable for most tasks including Youtube video watching. The only time it would overheat and stop working was when I tried to play 720p H.264 videos.

As a side note, my next upgrade was to an Acer 5745 Laptop featuring Core i5-430M CPU (1st generation i5). This CPU has a Passmark score of 2115. It felt only marginally better than the Atom N270 in basic productivity applications.

The Micromax Lapbook is compact and light-weight. It is quite slim and trendy.
The Micromax Lapbook is compact and light-weight. It is quite slim and trendy.

The most basic Intel Atom processor available in India now is the Intel Atom Z3735F 1.33 GHz with a Passmark score of 908. While it has been superseded by the Intel Atom X5-Z8300 (Passmark: 1197) and X5-Z8500 (Passmark: 1694) series internationally, very few companies have adopted the new processors and the bulk of the Atom Laptops feature the Z3735F processor.

Practically every reputed manufacturer such as Acer, Asus, HP etc. are offering basic Laptops featuring the Intel Atom Z3735F processor. By design, most of these are available as 11″ displays with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage with expandable storage via Micro SD card. Thanks to Microsoft’s push for universal adoption of Windows 10, all these machines are only available with Windows 10 Home Edition preloaded, which IMHO is a good thing.

These laptops are also available from Indian brands such as iBall, RDP, Swipe, Xolo and Micromax. The prices offered by the Indian brands are substantially lower (by 50% in some cases). I have had bad experiences with iBall products, RDP is a nascent company with its products being unavailable most of the time on e-commerce websites, Swipe and Xolo products were comparatively more expensive. Hence the logical choice was Micromax.

The final Hardware identified was: Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161, featuring (and missing):

  • Intel Atom Z3735F 1.33 GHz CPU with 4 cores, 56 KB L1 Cache, 1 MB L2 Cache, 64-bit capable.
  • 2 GB DDR3 RAM with approx 60 MB dedicated towards video memory etc.
  • Inbuilt 32 GB SanDisk DS2032 eMMC storage
  • MicroSD Card for storage expansion
  • 11.6″ IPS LED Display
  • Wi-Fi N150
  • HDMI (full size) and USB 2.0 Ports (2 nos.)
  • No LAN port, No USB 3.0 port, No CD/DVD drive, No VGA port.

Software Identification

Making a decision about software is even more critical than hardware. Incorrect choice of software can result in dramatic loss of productivity. Installing pirated software can land your organisation in hot water with the law. My final decision regarding software to be installed on the Laptops and the reasoning was:

  • Legit Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Home Edition, 32-bit, Single Language Pack. Having legit Windows OS helps immensely because the target users were most at home with Windows and some of the apps (such as Tally Accounting) are Windows only.
    • Even if the laptop had not come with a licensed OS, I would have installed an OS such as LinuxLite instead of installing an unlicensed version of Microsoft OS.
  • It is better to invest time and energy to discover the excellent Freeware or Low-cost alternatives now available to frequently pirated software.
    It is better to invest time and energy to discover the excellent Freeware or Low-cost alternatives now available to frequently pirated software.

    Office Productivity Suite: Softmaker FreeOffice 2016. The most important tasks (after time-wasting on Youtube) to be performed on these machines is word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Softmaker FreeOffice 2016 is completely free to use in commercial environments. While it cannot save documents in DOCX / XLSX / PPTX format, it can read them just fine and save them in DOC / XLS / PPT format. It does not have any limitations, ads or spyware. At only 70 MB, it’s quick to download, install and launch. The applications load on Atom-processor laptops in mere seconds.

    • Though Microsoft Office is generally the go-to office package, in my organisation we do not use it because it is too expensive, bloated and packed with enterprise collaboration features which we do not use and will require even more money to become operational.
    • We prefer LibreOffice which is completely free and works reasonably well. Apache OpenOffice has far fewer bugs than LibreOffice but it appears that OpenOffice is being abandoned by its developers.
    • Kingsoft WPS Office Free is also an excellent alternative but technically speaking, it’s free only for use in a non-commercial environment (such as homes) and may require users to view advertisements every time they want to print a document or export to PDF.
  • Anti-virus: Windows Defender. Viruses are likely to be a problem on these Windows machines but I would rather not load a heavy antivirus like Kaspersky which brings my i5 Desktop computers to their knees.
    • If necessary, I may deploy Avast Anti-virus to stop malware. I am also trying to figure out a way to install Group Policy Editor in the OS so that I can disable execution of programs from USB drives.
  • General utility software: Firefox, Thunderbird, Picasa are my must have. Generally, I also install TeamViewer, Skype, WinRAR, K-Lite Media Codec Pack etc.

The Machine

The Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop is attractively designed and invitingly priced.
The Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop features a brilliant IPS display with HD resolution. The display is easily readable in shaded outdoor area.

We ordered the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptops from Flipkart. Flipkart offered the machine at Rs.10,450/- while Amazon was selling the same for 13,500/- (nearly 30% more!). Please do a price comparison using sites like CompareRaja.in, 91mobiles.com, SmartPrix.com etc. before making online purchases.

The machine specs have already been documented earlier. Sufficient to say that the machine’s appearance and performance that belies the price point at which it is available.

  • The laptop is entirely built of plastic. The top surfaces (lid, keyboard area) feature a brushed feel while the bottom surfaces (base, display bezel) feature a matt finish. This has resulted in a machine that looks good and offers good grip in the hand. After all, it is intended to be carried around in hand like an oversized executive diary / planner. It weighs about 1.2 KG so carrying it around will be a zero strain effort.Micromax applies a protective plastic film on the top surfaces (which should be peeled off) but does not apply a film to the display.
  • The lid contains the glossy LED-backlit IPS LED screen featuring 1366 x 768 pixels resolution display. The 4 screws in the bezel have Micromax stickers on them. Only two of them have rubber pads on them to provide space between the LED display and the keyboard. There are six more rubber pads around the screen as additional protection. It is common to see laptop displays that have been scratched by the keyboard when the display was closed. If detected early, the damages could have been avoided by applying any of the following methods:
    • Apply a protective screen on the display.
    • Apply a protective layer on the keyboard.
    • Create and apply rubber pads on the display bezel to prevent the display from making contact with the keyboard.
  • A basic webcam along with microphone is placed in the conventional location. The webcam has a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels (VGA). The camera does not feature auto-focus. The image is barely sharp in the centre and the edges of the frame are quite soft. A gentle blue LED indicator is provided to indicate that the camera is in use. There are holes on either side of the camera. There are two microphones in the machine and I was able to obtain a 48 KHz 16-bit Stereo recording using them.
  • A soft power button is placed at the top of the keyboard. It requires a gentle but firm pressure to activate. A blue LED on the left of the power adapter indicates power and battery charging status. A blue LED on the right of the power button indicates machine power state.
  • The keyboard features soft square keys that are perfect for touch typing. The keys are of adequate size (approx. 15 mm wide) and spaced widely. The keyboard features all the required function keys.
  • The touchpad does not feature any hard buttons but supports clicking on the bottom corners for Left and Right click actions. The touchpad also supports finger swipe actions such as vertical scroll, image zoom etc.
  • The left side of the laptop features the Power Adapter port, full-size HDMI port, full-size USB 2.0 port, 3.5mm Headphone port, Micro SD Card reader. The right side of the laptop features a single full-size USB 2.0 port.
  • The bottom of the laptop is smooth and sealed with standard screws. There are no vents, grills or ports except the two ports for tiny speakers on left and right edges. The battery is also sealed inside the laptop and cannot be easily swapped out.
  • The supplied battery is a 44,260 mAh battery. Worryingly, the battery reported 6% wear (full-charge capacity 41,670 mAh) within 3 days of using it on a power adapter. The rate of battery discharge when idle was about 1,900 mW, thus predicting an 11-hour battery life in idle mode. When faced with a AIDA64 System Stability test (maximum load on CPU, GPU, Memory and Disk), the rate of battery discharge increased to 7,400 mW, thus predicting a battery life of about 5 hours in active mode.
    • To test battery performance, I used BatteryMon – a free utility from PassMark.

The Good

  • The Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 features full-size HDMI port and USB ports.
    The Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 features full-size HDMI port and USB ports.

    Power Consumption: The Laptop uses only about 24 Watts of power. The supplied 12 Volt 2 Ampere DC power adapter is the size of a mobile phone charger. The jack is similar to a mini barrel jack. The power adapter should be easy to replace and cable problems easy to resolve.

    • Manufacturers like Lenovo and Dell are unnecessary complicating power jacks with custom designed ports. While custom power jacks in Apple products are acceptable due to innovations such as mag-safe jacks, Lenovo and Dell are introducing power jack designs bereft of any such user-oriented features.
  • Start-up Time: Machine boot up time is very good. It started up from a cold boot in 38 seconds. Restoration from Hibernate State was only 16 seconds. Waking up from Sleep State requires only about 5 seconds.
    • To test time taken for cold boot start, I create a batch file with a “pause” statement. I added a shortcut to it to the “C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup” folder and I shut down the machine. I timed the time taken from the moment I pressed the power button to the time this batch file executed and presented a window on the Desktop manually using my Android phone.
    • I also used “netplwiz.msc” to automate Windows login so that boot would not be interrupted for data entry.
  • Display Performance: Micromax claims that this laptop features an IPS display and their claims are true. The 11.6″ display features gorgeous balanced colours, nearly 170-degree horizontal visibility, and good maximum brightness. At about 50% brightness, the display was perfect for working on documents, browsing the web etc.
  • Keyboard Performance: For a compact keyboard, it worked quite well. There were hardly any missed strokes when I typed out an entire document. The keyboard does not flex much and is comfortable to use. The arrow keys are a little small and I felt that they could have been increased in size by reducing the size of the Right Shift key.
  • Touchpad Performance: The Elan Touchpad is a delight to use. It’s way better than the keyboards that Asus machines offer. The touchpads on Asus suffer from tracking issues, palm sensitivity issues and buttons that go bad within a year. The touchpad on the Micromax Lapbook offered smooth tracking that started and stopped without any inertia. The palm sensitivity check was good. The button clicks were soft and firm.
  • The Webcam and Stereo Microphone array on the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop are usable for regular work.
    The Webcam and Stereo Microphone array on the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop are usable for regular work.

    Microphone Performance: The microphone sensitivity is very good. Even at 0 dB gain, it was able to capture kitchen noises 30 feet away. I did have to normalise the audio to hear them clearly. Applying a +24dB gain (max gain is +36dB), I was able to capture the sound of me gently snapping fingers sitting 3 feet away from the laptop. It should be possible to have Skype calls using this laptop with clear audio.

  • System Stability: When in AIDA64 System Stability Test, the CPU temperature rose from 50-degree celsius to about 80-degree celsius and stabilised. The machine continued to work normally at this temperature without even CPU throttling.
  • Application Start: Applications start fast. For example, Mozilla Firefox started in 5.6 seconds, VLC Media Player started in 0.3 seconds, WPS Writer started in 1.35 seconds. This is a seriously fast start for good productivity.
  • Multimedia Performance: For an Atom processor based machine, the laptop performs exceedingly well in multimedia tests. Video decoding performance was very good. Audio output through the built-in speakers was sufficient. For the tests I used MPC-HC (bundled with http://filehippo.com/download_klite_codec_pack/K-Lite Media Codec Pack) that was configured to use LAV Splitter-Audio-Video decoder using Intel QuickSync Hardware Acceleration. The video playback was directed to a Dell 21″ Full-HD monitor connected to the HDMI port on the laptop as an extended display monitor.
    • Decoding 352p XVID video was non-accelerated, did not drop even a single frame, average CPU usage was 18%.
    • Decoding 480p H.264 video was accelerated, did not drop even a single frame, average CPU usage was 17%.
    • Decoding 720p H.264 video was accelerated, did not drop even a single frame, average CPU usage was 30%.
    • Decoding 1080p H.264 video was accelerated, rarely dropped any frame, average CPU usage was 50%.
    • Decoding 720p H.265 video was non-accelerated, dropped a few frames in fast motion scenes and complex detail scenes, average CPU usage was 60%.
    • Decoding 1080p H.265 video was non-accelerated, dropped frames significantly to the point of being unwatchable, CPU usage varied between 75% – 100%.
  • Crapware: Micromax Phones and Tablets come pre-loaded with tons of crapware that are impossible to remove without rooting the devices. Though the laptops came with zero crapware, it remains to be how soon before Micromax goes the Dell / HP way and loads so much crap that the laptops performance is reduced.

The Bad

  • The left side of the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop features a single USB 2.0 port.
    The left side of the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop features a single USB 2.0 port.

    Microphone Performance: The microphones work well but there are some issues.

    • The microphones generate hissing noise. When amplified, this noise is easily audible.
    • The Left-side microphone is wired to the right audio channel and vice-versa.
    • The microphones are omnidirectional and the audio recordings sound ambient. Don’t expect it to give the performance of a dedicated voice-recording microphone which removes the hollow sound of a room, removes background audio and brings only the voice to the forefront.
  • Indicators: The machine does not have LED indicators for Caps Lock, disk activity indicator etc.
  • Windows 10 Bug: Occasionally, Windows 10 does not seem to remember the last brightness setting of the display and sets the display to full brightness upon restore from hibernation. This is probably more of a Windows issue than hardware.

The Ugly

  • The bottom of the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop features two speaker grills with tiny speakers that produce loud audio that is missing all bass.
    The bottom of the Micromax Canvas Lapbook 1161 laptop features two speaker grills with tiny speakers that produce loud audio that is missing all bass.

    Windows 10 Issue: Windows 10 gets bloated quickly. The default installation of the OS was approximately 8 GB in size but it bloated to 10 GB within a week due to updates etc. The 32 GB eMMC storage (29 GB actual disk space) had only 11 GB remaining after basic software installation.Windows 10 insisted on applying a critical update which requires 16 GB of available disk space. Since the available disk space is only 11 GB, not only does this update fail to install, it also continuously prompts for the update at every boot. What kind of OS update requires 16 GB available disk space? If Microsoft designed Windows 10 to work well on low resource machines like this, why on earth did they imagine that users would have 16 GB free disk space when running from a 29 GB eMMC disk?

    • I will be adding 32 GB Class 10 Micro SD memory cards to all the laptops to make space available for user documents etc. I am dreading the day when Windows will stop working because all the required updates have not been applied.
  • USB Ports: The laptop is missing the conventional Ethernet port to connect to wired networks. I am not lamenting its absence as much as I am cursing the absence of a USB 3.0 port. In any machine produced today, USB 3.0 ports are almost mandatory. Micromax’s own Pentium Quad Core laptops feature two USB 3.0 ports!
  • Webcam: The included VGA Webcam is total crap and suitable for basic Skype calls only. It fails to resolve almost any detail and cannot be used for video calls with a lot of participants; none of the participants will be visible clearly. Use a cheap external USB webcam instead.
  • Windows 10 Bug: I faced major issues with Power configuration in Windows 10. Basically, the laptop would refuse to wake-up from sleep if Windows was configured to go-to-sleep after a certain amount of time-out (for ex: 30 minutes) and also go-to-sleep if Lid was closed. After 30 minutes, opening the screen would not wake up the laptop. Pressing any number of keys or touchpad movement and clicks would not wake up the laptop. Pressing the power button would wake the blue LED indicating laptop power-on but the laptop would still play dead. I had no option but to do a long press (15 seconds) of the power button to perform a hard power-off and then power it back up again; losing any unsaved work and corrupting files in the process. To rectify this problem, the workaround I am using is to:
    • Enable Display power-off if idle for 3 minutes.
    • Disable Sleep timer.
    • Hibernate on Lid close.
    • Power off if the power button is pressed.
  • Windows 10 Misconfiguration: The way Windows 10 is installed and configured on this laptop, Hibernation function was not available in the power management settings. A little investigation using “powercfg” revealed that it was due to misconfiguration of the hibernation file size. To rectify this error, I applied the following fix in a Command Prompt window with Administrator privileges:
    • Disabled hibernation using “powercfg -h off” command.
    • Set hibernation file size to 100% using “powercfg -h -size 100”
    • Enabling hibernation using “powercfg -h on” command.
    • Restarting the machine using “shutdown -r -t 60” command. Be sure to save your work and close all windows before this command.

Desirable

  • I wish that the laptop had an additional USB port. A USB 3.0 port would have been icing on the cake.

Conclusion

Micromax is a nascent brand in the field of computers. It will be a few months before the quality of their products and after-sales support will become evident. Though they have a fairly large number of service centres, good track record of reliability in mobile phones and tablets, and easily available spares such as batteries; it remains to be seen if they can replicate the same for computers.

At the price point that Micromax is offering their products, it is very good value for money and sure to shake up the market erstwhile controlled by MNC brands.

Review of Clip-on Lens for Mobile Phone. Fish-eye, Wide-angle and Macro.

3-in-1 Clip-on Lens for Mobile PhonesIs it sane behaviour for a person who owns DSLRs, Super-zooms and Pocket-cams to buy cheap lenses for mobile-phone photography? Absolutely yes when the lenses cost $1 and 90% of the time it’s the phone that is capturing the precious moments of life. In any case, what could I lose by spending $1 on a possibly interesting experiment?

Sold on most Chinese sites for about $1 (about $2 on Indian e-commerce sites), these lenses promise a dramatic improvement in the current capabilities of your mobile phone camera. But does a $1 lens compare to a $500 macro-lens for close-up photography? Will a $1 lens compare to $200 for wide-angle photography?

Test Set-up:

  • I ordered this 3-in-1 clip-on lens pack from AliExpress. It actually cost me less than one Dollar and the item was delivered to me in twenty days; which is pretty fast. Similar items are available for sale on Amazon for about Rs.150/- and probably slightly cheaper in mobile phone shops near you.
  • For the tests, I used three mobile phones.
    • Xolo Q700, announced in May-2013, featuring a 5 MP camera.
    • Micromax A310, announced in September-2014, featuring a 13 MP camera.
    • Lenovo K3 Note, announced in June-2015, featuring a 13 MP camera.
    • For reference, I used a Nikon D5500 DSLR camera featuring a APS-C 24 MP Sensor with a Nikon 18-140mm Lens and a Tamron 90mm 1:1 Macro Lens.
  • All photos were taken hand-held from the same location in similar conditions. Due to changing weather and time-of-day, some changes to scenery, lighting and colour etc. have occurred.
  • Close-focus testing was done by placing a Fifty rupees currency note on a table and moving the camera vertically till a sharp image could be obtained at maximum magnification.
  • The images were imported into my computer and resized using Picasa. No other photo processing was done. In case of macro shots (close-up shots), software was use to extract 600 x 600 pixel sections out of the images for evaluation of sharpness, clarity etc.

Table of Images:

Scene Xolo Q700 Micromax A310 Lenovo K3 Note
Phone Default Normal Mode Xolo Q700 1-Normal Micromax A310 1-Normal Lenovo K3Note 1-Normal
with Wide-Angle Lens Xolo Q700 2-Wide Micromax A310 2-Wide Lenovo K3Note 2-Wide
with Fish-Eye Lens Xolo Q700 3-Fisheye Micromax A310 3-Fisheye Lenovo K3Note 3-Fisheye
Phone Default Close-Focus Xolo Q700 4-CloseFocus Micromax A310 4-Closeup Lenovo K3Note 4-CloseFocus
with Macro Lens Xolo Q700 5-Macro Micromax A310 5-Macro Lenovo K3Note 5-Macro
1:1 Crop of Macro Xolo-Q700-6-1to1 Micromax-A310-6-1to1 Lenovo-K3Note-6-1to1o

Inferences

  • Normal Camera Performance:
    • The Lenovo outperforms the others with it’s considerably wider angle of view, dynamic range and resolution.
    • The Micromax has better resolution (details) than the Xolo because of the higher MP sensor but a considerably under-exposed image.
    • The Xolo challenges the Micromax with image of higher contrast but lower resolution.
    • Recommendation: Newer technologies and good brands certainly go a long way towards quality of images. The Lenovo beats the others hands down.
  • Wide-Angle Lens Attachment:
    • The addition of the Wide-angle lens completely ruined the Lenovo. The Lenovo is already so wide that the barrel of the lens became visible. Extensive blurring appeared all over the edges with only a small sweet-spot in the center retaining any sharpness. Though the angle-of-view did increase, it was all blurred out and unusable.
    • The Micromax suffered a similar fate but slightly less so. The angle-of-view increased and the image wasn’t as blurred as it was in the Lenovo. There was an overall blurring in the image but the image itself remained barely usable.
    • The Xolo benefited the most. As it is, it’s angle-of-view is the least among others, the addition of the wide-angle lens produced blurrier but wider photos.
    • Recommendation: Usable on older phones, low-cost phones. Not suitable for new phones with already wide lenses.
  • Fish-Eye Lens Attachment:
    • Don’t use the fish-eye lens on the Lenovo, end of story. The resulting image was crazy with the lens barrel entirely visible and the photo being sharp only in the center.
    • The entire barrel was visible on the Micromax too but the circle of sharp image was slightly better. As a fish-eye lens, it certainly cannot compare to the $400 Rokinons for DSLRs. As single element lens with no other aspherical correction elements, this lens’s edge blurring is extreme.
    • The lens-barrel is intrusive enough to show up even on the Xolo Q700. But this lens allowed the Xolo to capture a truly wide image of the scenery; albeit very blurred on the edges.
    • Recommendation: Not usable. Under rare circumstances, when you must have a nearly 180 degree perspective and are willing to put up with the blurring, this lens is usable.
  • Normal Close-focus Camera Performance:
    • The Lenovo was the worst performer in the close-up test with it’s inability to focus very closely. This is partly due to the good wide-angle performance of the lens.
    • The Micromax was crazy. In the default mode, I had to place the camera nearly one foot higher than the shooting target to achieve focus. This resulted in an image that does not even remotely qualify as close-focus. However, the camera allowed me to zoom-in by 4x (by pinch action) and this resulted in a close-focus image that was clearly digitally interpolated but the image itself was sharp and had a lot of detail.
    • The Xolo Q700 was the best performer in this group with nice close-focus image that was sharp from edge-to-edge and featured tons of detail.
  • Close-Up View of Solder Joints
    Macro Lens to check for perfection of solder joints.

    Macro Lens Attachment:

    • Quite surprisingly, adding the lens dramatically reduced the close-focussing distance of all the phones to almost identical levels. This resulted in images that had nearly identical field of views too.
    • The Lenovo won the round with an image that was superbly sharp in the center, had terrific contrast and terrible blurring on the sides as expected.
    • The Micromax came close to the Lenovo but lost due to slightly soft image overall. Perhaps it was because of my focussing error, or hand-movement etc. I tried to rectify it a few times but gave-up because I was able to shoot a sharp image with the Lenovo in the first attempt itself.
    • The Xolo actually performed much better than the Micromax with an image that was sharp almost from edge to edge. Surprisingly the center of the image was out of focus but the sides were pin-sharp. Perhaps this has something to do with the internal lens-arrangement on the Xolo. Consequently, the purpose of macro photography is defeated on the Xolo unless you position the phone/subject creatively.
    • Recommendation: The macro lens turned out to be the most useful lens of the lot. It not only cut down on the close-focussing distance, on most phones it also allowed good quality close-up images to be taken.
  • Macro Lens Attachment – 1:1 Image Review:
    • By cropping a fixed 900 pixels square image, I was able to evaluate the macro performance more objectively. I chose to extract the image from the center portion which features the Ashok Chakra at the foot of the Lions.
    • As expected, the Lenovo outperformed all with a superbly sharp image. It was sharp to the point where you could make out imperfections in the printing.
    • The Micromax was close but image was softer and just did not have enough details.
    • The Xolo image appeared to be completely out of focus and not suitable for further evaluation. However, a 1:1 crop from off-center parts of the image, showed performance that were akin to the Lenovo!

Conclusion

  • Wide Angle View of Small Kitchen
    Fish-Eye Lens for view of small spaces

    No sane person is going to use a mobile phone camera for professional photography, even less so, by clipping on a simple lens on it. But, in this age, we share images not for their technical merit in photography but as snapshot of a moment in time. When we wilfully deface images using software photographic filters, surely ruining them using hardware lenses is pardonable. From that point-of-view, some of these lenses surely ave utility. I see myself using the Macro lens at workplace to check for surface imperfections, printing imperfections etc.. I can see an Insurance officer friend of mine use the wide-angle lens and a Real-estate manager friend of mine use the fish-eye lens.

  • All the mobile phones applied extreme JPEG compression to the images and this itself would have resulted in loss of sharpness. Though you can use software like “Open Camera” where you can possibly control the JPEG compression levels, for these tests I chose to only use the default camera app that came bundled with the phones.
  • Is it a len system that’s worth buying for your camera? Not if you are a general purpose user. But recommended if you have specific requirements such as wide-angle images of small spaces, quick checking of minute imperfections etc. At $ – $3 price points, it’s a no-brainer to purchase but I suspect it will soon get added to the brown-box in which you store the junk bought off the Internet.

 

The DPI versus MP Confusion

For a couple of years now, the Smart Photography Magazine has welcomed entries from the general public for featuring in it’s Center-spread and Photo of the Month features. The requirement for the images are:

  1. Landscape format.
  2. 17″ image printable at 300 dpi.

As a digital photographer, you may wonder how to give a 17″ image at 300 dpi considering that your entry-level DSLR camera shoots images in mega pixels.

What is DPI?

dpi illustration
Illustration of dpi / ppi

Simplistically speaking, DPI is the density of the ink dots that are printed to form the image. i.e. the number of printed dots packed into one inch. In the printing technician’s world, there are other parameters such as dot-pitch, bleed, dithering, LPI etc. but for general purpose the ‘dpi’ requirement is sufficient.

It is generally perceived that if an image is printed at 300 dots per inch, and the image is seen in normal reading mode (about 1 foot away from the eye), the human eye cannot make out the individual dots. The dots seem to merge and the resultant image seems continuous rather than made up of individual dots.

Magazines are typically printed at 300 dpi. News papers are printed at approximately 150 dpi and very high quality images are printed at 600 dpi.

What about Electronic DPI?

DPI is applicable to the electronic screens too. On a computer monitor, the image is made up of coloured pixels instead of coloured ink dots. Hence, simplistically speaking, dpi of the printed world can be substituted for ppi (pixels per inch) in the electronic world.

CGA graphics were displayed at 23 dpi.
CGA graphics were displayed just 23 dpi.

Earliest ‘graphic quality’ displays from Apple featured monitors with display resolution of just 72 ppi. For a long time, Microsoft Windows assumed that computer monitors operated at 96 ppi. The appearance of Apple iPad with Retina display pushed electronic displays towards 300 ppi resolution. A few devices on the market even claim 550 ppi resolution!

On older CRT monitors and LCD panels, you can make out the individual dots if you look closely enough. It is easier to do this if the monitor is displaying images with varied coloured areas instead of just solid colours. On the newer LCD panels, it is increasingly getting harder to make out the individual pixels and the images seem continuous rather than made up of individual pixels.

What is Mega Pixel?

Your digital camera shoots images and stores the information as pixels. For example, it may shoot an image and store data for 4000 pixels horizontally and 3000 pixels vertically. Hence the total number of pixels that are stored for the image are 4000 x 3000 = 1,20,00,000 pixels (1 crore 20 lakh pixels or about 12 million pixels). Instead of uttering this long string of numbers, it is convenient to reduced the number by a factor. The factor chosen was Mega Pixel or 1 Million Pixels. Hence, the 12 Million Pixel image can be simply described as 12 Mega Pixel image or 12 MP.

0.3 MP images on a 1.44 MB Floppy
0.3 MP images on a 1.44 MB Floppy

If I remember correctly, the first digital camera I ever used was in 1999. It was a Sony Mavica featuring 640 x 480 pixel images or approx. 0.3 MP. My most recent camera purchase, a Nikon D5500 features images that are 6000 x 4000 pixels across or 24 MP. A considerable jump. Back then, viewing a 640 x 480 pixel image on a 14″ colour monitor capable of 800 x 600 pixel display resolution resulted in a large viewing experience but no ability to zoom in to see details. Today, watching a 24 MP image on a 2 MP (Full HD) LED display allows me considerable leeway in zooming into the image and more details becomes visible as I keep zooming in till 1:1 ratio.

Medium Format cameras from Phase One now shoot 100 MP images. Even phone cameras featuring Nokia’s PureView technology claim to shoot 40 MP images. MILC such Olympus OMD EM-5 shoot 40 MP images using sensor-shift technology.

Even if you have an entry-level DSLR with a basic 18 – 55mm lens, you can shoot super-sharp 200 MP photos using Panorama stitching!

What is the DPI – MP connect?

Printer DPI test image
Printer DPI test image

The image out of your camera is fixed in it’s resolution. For example, your camera may deliver 12 MP images at maximum. This is a hard-limit and cannot be changed.

However, when you print it, you can opt to print it at a DPI of your choice.

For example, if you print a 4000 x 3000 pixel image (12 MP) at 300 dpi, the resultant image will be:

  • Horizontally: 4000 pixels / 300 dots per inch = 13.3 inches
  • Vertically: 3000 pixels / 300 dots per inch = 10 inches
  • i.e., you will get a sharp 13″ x 10″ print.

If you were to increase print resolution to 600 dpi, you will only get a 6.5″ x 5″ print which will be perceptibly sharper than the 300 dpi print but probably an overkill. The maths is:
Horizontally: 4000/600 = 6.66″, Vertically: 3000/600 = 5″.

Effect of dpi on continuous tone
Effect of dpi on continuous tone

Similarly, if you were to decrease the print resolution to 150 dpi, you will get a 26″ x 20″ print. Sure, when seen up close, you will be able to make out the individual printed dots. But such large poster sized images are meant to be seen for a distance of a couple of feet. At such distances, again your eye simply cannot resolve the individual pixel.

The conclusion is that:

  1. The MP capability of your camera is fixed.
  2. The DPI you select for printing, is simply dependent on how large a print you want or how sharp a print you want.

Activity:

  • Download the printer DPI test file and print on your printer at different dpi to check how fine your machine can print. Note that at higher DPI, the printed image dimensions should get smaller. At 300 dpi, the image should print at 9.41″ x 7.67″.
  • Try and photograph a high-quality print of the image to see how much detail can your camera resolve.

What about photography magazine requirements?

Assuming that the magazine wants a image that is 17″ wide horizontally at 300 dpi, the image needs to have 5100 pixels horizontally. Since digital cameras shoot images in 4:3 ratio, the vertical dimension will be 3825 pixels (5100 x 3/4). Hence the image has to be 19.5 MP (5100 x 3825 = 1,95,07,500).

In the year 2016, even entry-level DSLRs are offering a resolution of 18 MP and most amateur grade DSLRs are offering resolutions such as 24MP, 36MP etc. Shooting and submitting an image at 19.5 MP does not seem so hard. However, please consider the following factors:

  • Professional grade DSLRs featuring full-frame sensors do not offer high MP images. They focus on colour accuracy, dynamic range, pixel-well etc. For example, the Nikon D4S costing $6400, only offers a 16 MP image. However it’s image is better than 40 MP image from a Nokia camera by several orders of magnitude. So are we to assume that a top-notch world renowned photographer’s image from his Nikon D4S camera is ineligible for printing in the magazine?
  • It is a highly recommended technique that photographers should not crop in camera. i.e., when shooting, do not frame the image too tightly. Leave a little breathing space. Allow some extra parts of the scenery to be included. Cropping is ideally done in post-production. When you are examining the images on your computer, you may apply the cropping in a much more flexible manner. If you have cropped the scene very tightly while shooting, you have discarded information that you cannot grow back on your computer. Considering this, an image that is 24 MP in size, will probably become 12 – 14 MP once the photographer crops the image in post-processing. Although, the resultant photo is certainly better in it’s framing, has it just become ineligible for printing in the magazine?
  • The chase for 300 dpi is generally for sharpness. The magazine wants images that are super-sharp. The objects in the image should present knife-like edges. Every single detail should pop-out. This is quite contrary to what professional photographers preach. They say that photographers should focus on composition, depth of field, moment-anticipation etc. If fact, blurriness or softness are friends that can be employed creatively to create award winning images! So is the magazine incorrect in chasing sharpness over merit?
  • The magazines frequently diss images shot by Compact System Cameras (CSC or Pocket Cameras) that employ a tiny 1/2.3″ sensor. In fact Smart Photography went on to recommend CSC cameras that offered RAW output whereas noted photography experts stated that RAW images from CSC is crap because of the extremely high noise. They clearly state that the electronic image processor of the CSC cameras is designed to reduce the noise in the images from the sensor using proprietory technologies and we should let the camera do it instead of futzing around in Photoshop on our computer. In the last two months, I have read numerous articles in photography magazines which emphasized on why RAW format is an overkill for most photographers and they are simply wasting disk-space by stuffing them with RAW images that they will never get around to editing. So is the magazine’s awareness of technology a big suspect?
  • Till a few years back, photographers regarded the ability to shoot on 35 mm film highly and praised it over DSLR cameras. Considering that 35 mm film is actually 36 mm wide (horizontally), scanning such a film at 300 dpi yields a image that is just 425 pixels wide! It is a far cry from the 5100 pixels demanded by the magazine. To get 5100 pixels wide image from a 35 mm film, it would have to be scanned at 3600 dpi using specialized film-scanner. This is clearly out of scope for even many professional photographers. Considering that we are used to projecting 35 mm slides onto 12 feet walls, but will fail to scan it at 3600 dpi, will the magazine be right in rejecting a 600 dpi scan of the slide?

The net conclusion I can derive is that:

  • The magazines are unrealistic in technical and aesthetic terms about acceptable submissions for printing in their magazine.
  • While they should ask for images with a minimum MP resolution, demanding it in dpi is unrealistic. They can very well print it at a dpi that is optimum for their magazine’s requirements.

End note

Shot on iPhone 6 and printed on super-sized billboards
Shot on iPhone 6 and printed on super-sized billboards

If you have seen huge billboards featuring images shot using iPhone 6, you should know that sensor size, mega-pixel are fast becoming irrelevant. Imaging and printing technology have improved by leaps and bounds and the focus now is on creativity rather than technical superiority in numbers.

At times, my Lenovo K3 Note mobile phone takes images that are more satisfying because of it’s spontaneity and acceptable image quality rather than my Nikon D5500 DSLR which is terribly fiddly when shooting images as a tourist. Professional wedding photographers are using a mix of iPhones and Full-frame DSLR cameras. People are shooting more images with mobile phones than traditional cameras.

No one is challenging the superiority of large sensors, higher mega-pixels, fast frame-rates. The important thing to consider is that a 6 year-old kid has now been published by National Geographic for shooting with a Fujifilm Instant Camera. The key is creativity and aesthetics. If he can do it, so can you. To hell with magazines with archaic requirements from photographers.

Ola, TFS or Uber – Which is cheaper?

The arrival of private cab operators like Meru Cabs, Dot Cabs and Sky Cabs certainly improved the options for comfortable travel within Hyderabad but these services have pretty much relegated themselves to Airport-runs.

The arrival of Ola Cabs, Taxi for Sure and Uber actually heralded the end of dependence on the infamous Hyderabad Auto-wallah whose vocabulary consists of a single word – No.

Like our dear mobile phone companies, the cab companies too now have a variety of service plans and each new plan is slightly more convoluted than the one before.

The table below illustrates the comparison of basic plans from Ola, TFS and Uber. Note that ride time has been calculated at 20 KM/Hour – which sits in the sweet spot of about 15 KM/Hour in heavy traffic situations and 30 KM/Hour speed that we experience in low-medium traffic situations.

Service Plans of Ola Cabs, Ola Taxi for Sure and Uber at Hyderabad (as on 16-Mar-2016):

Ola Mini Ola Micro Ola TFS Ola SUV Ola Sedan UberGO UberX UberSUV
Base 0 35 0 0 0 25 45 120
Minimum Fare 90 50 49 150 100 50 80 160
Minimum Distance 4 8 2 5 4 7 9 8
Std Fare Per KM 7 6 6 18 9 7 9 20
Premium Amount 62 2 37 60 64 1 0 0
Ride Time Charge 1 1 1.5 2 1 0.95 1 2.5

Approximate Fare Chart: (excluding Service tax etc.)

KM Fare
Ola Mini Ola Micro Ola TFS Ola SUV Ola Sedan UberGO UberX UberSUV
1 90 85 49 150 100 75 125 280
2 90 85 49 150 100 75 125 280
3 90 85 68.5 150 100 75 125 280
4 90 85 79 150 100 75 125 280
5 112 85 89.5 150 124 75 125 280
6 122 85 100 204 136 75 125 280
7 132 85 110.5 228 148 75 125 280
8 142 85 121 252 160 104.8 125 280
9 152 118 131.5 276 172 114.65 125 367.5
10 162 127 142 300 184 124.5 165 395
11 172 136 152.5 324 196 134.35 177 422.5
12 182 145 163 348 208 144.2 189 450
13 192 154 173.5 372 220 154.05 201 477.5
14 202 163 184 396 232 163.9 213 505
15 212 172 194.5 420 244 173.75 225 532.5
16 222 181 205 444 256 183.6 237 560
17 232 190 215.5 468 268 193.45 249 587.5
18 242 199 226 492 280 203.3 261 615
19 252 208 236.5 516 292 213.15 273 642.5
20 262 217 247 540 304 223 285 670
21 272 226 257.5 564 316 232.85 297 697.5
22 282 235 268 588 328 242.7 309 725
23 292 244 278.5 612 340 252.55 321 752.5
24 302 253 289 636 352 262.4 333 780
25 312 262 299.5 660 364 272.25 345 807.5
26 322 271 310 684 376 282.1 357 835
27 332 280 320.5 708 388 291.95 369 862.5
28 342 289 331 732 400 301.8 381 890
29 352 298 341.5 756 412 311.65 393 917.5
30 362 307 352 780 424 321.5 405 945
Ola Mini Ola Micro Ola TFS Ola SUV Ola Sedan UberGO UberX UberSUV

Plot of Fare Chart:

Ola TFS Uber Fare Chart 16-Mar-2016

Inferences:

  • If you travel very short distance up-to 4 KMs, Ola Taxi for Sure is the most economical service.
  • If you travel intermediate distances up-to 7 KMs, Ola Micro and UberGo are the most economical services with Uber-Go being cheaper.
  • If you travel long distance up-to 30 KMs in small car, Ola Micro is the most economical service and Ola Mini is the most expensive.
  • Over long distance up-to 30 KMs, considering Ola Micro as the base, Ola TFS is 14.65% more expensive, Ola Mini is 17.91% more expensive, Ola Sedan is 38.11% more expensive and Ola SUV is 154% more expensive.
  • Ola Micro gives you the longest ride for a fixed price and is also the cheapest above distances of 10 KMs.
  • In Sedan category, Ola Sedan has the lowest entry point, but UberX is cheaper from 5 KM distance onwards.
  • In SUV category, Ola SUV wins hands down.

Review of Panasonic SC-HTB3GW-K Sound Bar

Panasonic Sound-bar SC-HTB3GW-K is more than two feet long.
Panasonic Sound-bar SC-HTB3GW-K is more than two feet long.

Panasonic launched the SC-HTB3GW sound bar on 15-Jan-2016 and issued a rather terse press-note which was promptly copied word-for-word by tech and non-tech news channels. Apparently, either they did not submit review units or they did not generate enough excitement for someone to review it. At Rs. 4190/-, the speaker promises 20W RMS output, thundering bass, Bluetooth connectivity, USB Pen Drive support and Aux-In (Stereo RCA cable) support. Panasonic is not a name associated with world-class sound and the audio-systems they make are best at complementing the miserable audio of ever-thinner LCD televisions. Quite naturally, even at Rs. 4K (which is 50% less than the nearest competing model by Philips), the speakers do not generate enough excitement in the audio-lovers. I nevertheless chose to acquire one and hence here it is, the first review of the sound bar.

My house is now full of speakers of all shapes and sizes. From Rs.99/- crap all the way to Rs.40,000/-. Though the ones that I am using more often than not, are the Bluetooth-enabled speakers. The sheer convenience wows me. I am able to transmit audio from my phone wirelessly and enjoy music untethered while sleeping on the floor with legs on the sofa. Audio quality is sufficiently high and depending on the speaker, indistinguishable from the wired connections. Much of my listening (99%) is music, music videos and TV shows. Movies (1%) are generally enjoyed on the Home Theatre system.

For my 99% listening, I use the Fenda (F&D) E200 Sound bar that is conveniently located below the monitor. At times, when I need the audio to be louder and punchier, I switch to the Creative Bluetooth enabled speakers. The Creative Muvo 10 sound bar that I have is pretty good but audio sounds slightly muffled and isn’t crystal enough. The Creative Woof, though smaller than the Muvo, actually sounds better to my ears but lack of stereo sound is a downer. All these speakers are portable / sound-bar format and the separation is too narrow for any stereo effect. I wanted a Bluetooth-enabled Sound-bar that could possibly replace the F&D E200 and save me the hassle of connecting the wires a few times daily to the laptop.

The sides feature attractive chrome ring but without any function
The sides feature attractive chrome ring but without any function

I saw an advertisement for the Panasonic SC-HTB3GW sound-bar on ShopClues for only Rs.2599/-. The deal seemed to-good-to-be-true (as many ShopClues deals are). The seller stated than an order booked on Feb-27, 2016 would be delivered by Mar-27, 2016; further lowering confidence. Like the other smart Desis who have booked the Freedom 251 phone on Cash on Delivery (CoD), I too booked the speaker on CoD. I would have to pay Rs. 2648/- to the delivery-person if and when they eventually turned up. I also video-graph the entire package opening process of deals like this so that I can prove without a doubt if the material delivered was defective and should be replaced / refunded. ShopClues support has generally been very responsive and customer-oriented (except one time where I lost Rs. 1800/- on fake Samsung Chargers). Seemed like a no-risk deal to me.

To my pleasant surprise, I placed the order on Feb-29, 2016 (late evening) and the Seller “Electronic House, Delhi” shipped it 24 hours later! The shipping company TCIXPS acknowledged picking up the order on Mar-2, 2016 and delivered it to my Mar-8, 2016. Very very pleasant experience so far. The package came hermetically sealed in reams of bubble-wrap and was completely free of damage and tampering. Great job by Seller and Shipping company.

The size of the package dismayed me. It was 29″ x 6″ x 6″. Clearly, the speaker was not the size of the F&D E200 and would not fit under my monitor. The actual speaker turned out to be 29″ x 5″ x 5″. I had to mentally readjust the location of the speaker in the house and decided to place it below the Panasonic 32″ LCD TV, removing a wired JBL 2.1 in the process. The Panasonic sound-bar works off 230V (features an internal transformer) which eliminates a big-thick transformer hanging from the power socket but it also means that unlike the F&D E200, it cannot be powered using a USB Charger or Battery pack. So, not a mobile speaker then.

The speaker came with RCA-Stereo audio-cable which I used to connect it to the TV’s audio-out. Upon applying power, a Red LED behind the front grill starts blinking. I think this could have been made classier. For example, the F&D E200 has a red ring-light around the volume control. The Creative speakers feature White / Blue LEDs that glow softly. The Panasonic sound-bar features chrome-rings on the sides and this area could have been improved with subtle lighting.

The buttons on top of the sound-bar are minimalist. Don't loose the remote.
The buttons on top of the sound-bar are minimalist. Don’t loose the remote.

I started out by playing the audio from Videocon D2H (SD service) connected to the TV. As expected, the audio was terrible, though not from the speaker’s fault. The quality of audio transmitted by D2H services in India have never been stellar and have now reached the point of being barely tolerable. Disgusted, I decided to continue testing with the Bluetooth features of the sound-bar. Pairing with the device using a Micromax A310 and Lenovo K3 Note was easy. No PIN code was required. First-time pairing was reasonably fast and took about 10 seconds; subsequent pairing took only about 2 seconds.

Right off the bat, you notice that initial audio-levels are low. In comparison, the F&D sounds louder. The situation is improved when the volume is turned up. The speaker features buttons on the top to control volume levels and switch between input sources. You can also use the handy remote-control. The volume levels are actually boosted substantially when the Bass and Treble levels are changed using the buttons on the remote. The audio opens up in crystality. The bass becomes noticeable, not to the point of becoming thumping. Note that the speaker features two mid-high range speakers at the ends and and a slightly larger bass-driver in the center. The size of the drivers means that bass frequencies just can never become similar to what maybe delivered using a sub-woofer.

At maximum volume (on the Phone and Speaker), the audio remains audible and degenerate into mush. However, the audio does split and it is advised that the speakers should not be played at maximum volumes to prevent permanent damage. The drivers angle slightly upwards and hence the speaker is suitable to be placed below the TV unit. The best audio experience (particularly the bass component) is best had when the speakers are placed at ear levels. Also note that, the Panasonic sound-bar does not feature a microphone and cannot be used for telephonic calls.

The dainty remote has features that are not found on the sound bar.
The dainty remote has features that are not found on the sound bar.

My verdict is that at Rs.2500/- this speaker delivers amazing value for money. I have heard Bluetooth enabled speakers from Creative, Logitech, JBL among others and none of them deliver this volume of audio at such a low price point. If you are looking for a speaker to improve the sound from your TV, you need substantial improvement on the bass sound and space is not an issue, you are better of buying a 2.1 Channel speaker system instead of this sound-bar. However, if you are looking for a decent bluetooth-enabled speaker for your phone or a relatively compact speaker system for your TV, look no further – the Panasonic sound-bar will be ideal for you.

Contact Form 7 Lists

I love Contact Form 7 by Takayuki Miyoshi. It’s simple, flexible, gets the job done. If you are a beginner, you may find the going hard but as your competence progresses, you will begin to appreciate it’s rather manual approach and avoid the GUI-based plugins.

An issue with WPCF7 is the rather cumbersome method of defining long lists. Though there is another plugin called ‘Listo’, it falls rather short of most requirements.

I have attempted to list a few common WPCF7 lists that I use regularly and maybe of use to you. Please contribute your lists in the comments and I will move them into the main-body of the post.

Gender: [select* myGender include_blank "Male" "Female" "Transgender"]
Day of Month: [select* myDOBDay include_blank "1" "2" "3" "4" "5" "6" "7" "8" "9" "10" "11" "12" "13" "14" "15" "16" "17" "18" "19" "20" "21" "22" "23" "24" "25" "26" "27" "28" "29" "30" "31"]
Month of Year: [select* myDOBMonth include_blank "JAN|1" "FEB|2" "MAR|3" "APR|4" "MAY|5" "JUN|6" "JUL|7" "AUG|8" "SEP|9" "OCT|10" "NOV|11" "DEC|12"]
States of India: [select* myAddrState include_blank "Andaman and Nicobar Island" "Andhra Pradesh" "Arunachal Pradesh" "Assam" "Bihar" "Chandigarh" "Chhattisgarh" "Dadra and Nagar Haveli" "Daman and Diu" "Delhi" "Goa" "Gujarat" "Haryana" "Himachal Pradesh" "Jammu and Kashmir" "Jharkhand" "Karnataka" "Kerala" "Lakshadweep" "Madhya Pradesh" "Maharashtra" "Manipur" "Meghalaya" "Mizoram" "Nagaland" "Odisha" "Puducherry" "Punjab" "Rajasthan" "Sikkim" "Tamil Nadu" "Telangana" "Tripura" "Uttarakhand" "Uttar Pradesh" "West Bengal"]
Countries of World: [select* myAddrCountry include_blank "India" "Afghanistan" "Albania" "Algeria" "Andorra" "Angola" "Antigua and Barbuda" "Argentina" "Armenia" "Aruba" "Australia" "Austria" "Azerbaijan" "Bahamas, The" "Bahrain" "Bangladesh" "Barbados" "Belarus" "Belgium" "Belize" "Benin" "Bhutan" "Bolivia" "Bosnia and Herzegovina" "Botswana" "Brazil" "Brunei" "Bulgaria" "Burkina Faso" "Burma" "Burundi" "Cambodia" "Cameroon" "Canada" "Cape Verde" "Central African Republic" "Chad" "Chile" "China" "Colombia" "Comoros" "Congo, Democratic Republic of the" "Congo, Republic of the" "Costa Rica" "Cote d'Ivoire" "Croatia" "Cuba" "Curacao" "Cyprus" "Czech Republic" "Denmark" "Djibouti" "Dominica" "Dominican Republic" "Ecuador" "Egypt" "El Salvador" "Equatorial Guinea" "Eritrea" "Estonia" "Ethiopia" "Fiji" "Finland" "France" "Gabon" "Gambia, The" "Georgia" "Germany" "Ghana" "Greece" "Grenada" "Guatemala" "Guinea" "Guinea-Bissau" "Guyana" "Haiti" "Holy See" "Honduras" "Hong Kong" "Hungary" "Iceland" "Indonesia" "Iran" "Iraq" "Ireland" "Israel" "Italy" "Jamaica" "Japan" "Jordan" "Kazakhstan" "Kenya" "Kiribati" "Korea, North" "Korea, South" "Kosovo" "Kuwait" "Kyrgyzstan" "Laos" "Latvia" "Lebanon" "Lesotho" "Liberia" "Libya" "Liechtenstein" "Lithuania" "Luxembourg" "Macau" "Macedonia" "Madagascar" "Malawi" "Malaysia" "Maldives" "Mali" "Malta" "Marshall Islands" "Mauritania" "Mauritius" "Mexico" "Micronesia" "Moldova" "Monaco" "Mongolia" "Montenegro" "Morocco" "Mozambique" "Namibia" "Nauru" "Nepal" "Netherlands" "Netherlands Antilles" "New Zealand" "Nicaragua" "Niger" "Nigeria" "North Korea" "Norway" "Oman" "Pakistan" "Palau" "Palestinian Territories" "Panama" "Papua New Guinea" "Paraguay" "Peru" "Philippines" "Poland" "Portugal" "Qatar" "Romania" "Russia" "Rwanda" "Saint Kitts and Nevis" "Saint Lucia" "Saint Vincent and the Grenadines" "Samoa" "San Marino" "Sao Tome and Principe" "Saudi Arabia" "Senegal" "Serbia" "Seychelles" "Sierra Leone" "Singapore" "Sint Maarten" "Slovakia" "Slovenia" "Solomon Islands" "Somalia" "South Africa" "South Korea" "South Sudan" "Spain" "Sri Lanka" "Sudan" "Suriname" "Swaziland" "Sweden" "Switzerland" "Syria" "Taiwan" "Tajikistan" "Tanzania" "Thailand" "Timor-Leste" "Togo" "Tonga" "Trinidad and Tobago" "Tunisia" "Turkey" "Turkmenistan" "Tuvalu" "Uganda" "Ukraine" "United Arab Emirates" "United Kingdom" "Uruguay" "Uzbekistan" "Vanuatu" "Venezuela" "Vietnam" "Yemen" "Zambia" "Zimbabwe" "Other"]
States of USA: [select* myAddrUSAState include_blank "Alaska" "Alabama" "Arkansas" "American Samoa" "Arizona" "California" "Colorado" "Connecticut" "District of Columbia" "Delaware" "Florida" "Georgia" "Guam" "Hawaii" "Iowa" "Idaho" "Illinois" "Indiana" "Kansas" "Kentucky" "Louisiana" "Massachusetts" "Maryland" "Maine" "Michigan" "Minnesota" "Missouri" "Northern Mariana Islands" "Mississippi" "Montana" "North Carolina" "North Dakota" "Nebraska" "New Hampshire" "New Jersey" "New Mexico" "Nevada" "New York" "Ohio" "Oklahoma" "Oregon" "Pennsylvania" "Puerto Rico" "Rhode Island" "South Carolina" "South Dakota" "Tennessee" "Texas" "United States Minor Outlying Islands" "Utah" "Virginia" "Virgin Islands, U.S." "Vermont" "Washington" "Wisconsin" "West Virginia" "Wyoming"]
Currencies: [select* myCurrency include_blank "Afghan Afghani" "Albanian Lek" "Algerian Dinar" "Angolan Kwanza" "Argentine Peso" "Armenian Dram" "Aruban Florin" "Australian Dollar" "Azerbaijani Manat" "Bahamian Dollar" "Bahraini Dinar" "Bangladeshi Taka" "Barbados Dollar" "Belarusian Ruble" "Belize Dollar" "Bermudian Dollar" "Bhutanese Ngultrum" "Boliviano" "Bosnia and Herzegovina Convertible Mark" "Botswana Pula" "Brazilian Real" "Brunei Dollar" "Bulgarian Lev" "Burundian Franc" "Cambodian Riel" "Canadian Dollar" "Cape Verde Escudo" "Cayman Islands Dollar" "Cfa Franc Bceao" "Cfa Franc Beac" "Cfp Franc (franc Pacifique)" "Chilean Peso" "Chinese Yuan" "Colombian Peso" "Comoro Franc" "Congolese Franc" "Costa Rican Colon" "Croatian Kuna" "Cuban Peso" "Czech Koruna" "Danish Krone" "Djiboutian Franc" "Dominican Peso" "East Caribbean Dollar" "Egyptian Pound" "Eritrean Nakfa" "Ethiopian Birr" "Euro" "Falkland Islands Pound" "Fiji Dollar" "Gambian Dalasi" "Georgian Lari" "Ghanaian Cedi" "Gibraltar Pound" "Guatemalan Quetzal" "Guinean Franc" "Guyanese Dollar" "Haitian Gourde" "Honduran Lempira" "Hong Kong Dollar" "Hungarian Forint" "Icelandic Króna" "Indian Rupee" "Indonesian Rupiah" "Iranian Rial" "Iraqi Dinar" "Israeli New Shekel" "Jamaican Dollar" "Japanese Yen" "Jordanian Dinar" "Kazakhstani Tenge" "Kenyan Shilling" "Kuwaiti Dinar" "Kyrgyzstani Som" "Lao Kip" "Lebanese Pound" "Lesotho Loti" "Liberian Dollar" "Libyan Dinar" "Lithuanian Litas" "Macanese Pataca" "Macedonian Denar" "Malagasy Ariary" "Malawian Kwacha" "Malaysian Ringgit" "Maldivian Rufiyaa" "Mauritanian Ouguiya" "Mauritian Rupee" "Mexican Peso" "Moldovan Leu" "Mongolian Tugrik" "Moroccan Dirham" "Mozambican Metical" "Myanma Kyat" "Namibian Dollar" "Nepalese Rupee" "Netherlands Antillean Guilder" "New Taiwan Dollar" "New Zealand Dollar" "Nicaraguan Córdoba" "Nigerian Naira" "North Korean Won" "Norwegian Krone" "Omani Rial" "Pakistani Rupee" "Panamanian Balboa" "Papua New Guinean Kina" "Paraguayan Guaraní" "Peruvian Nuevo Sol" "Philippine Peso" "Polish Złoty" "Pound Sterling" "Qatari Riyal" "Romanian New Leu" "Russian Ruble" "Rwandan Franc" "Saint Helena Pound" "Samoan Tala" "São Tomé and Príncipe Dobra" "Saudi Riyal" "Serbian Dinar" "Seychelles Rupee" "Sierra Leonean Leone" "Singapore Dollar" "Solomon Islands Dollar" "Somali Shilling" "South African Rand" "South Korean Won" "South Sudanese Pound" "Sri Lankan Rupee" "Sudanese Pound" "Surinamese Dollar" "Swazi Lilangeni" "Swedish Krona/kronor" "Swiss Franc" "Syrian Pound" "Tajikistani Somoni" "Tanzanian Shilling" "Thai Baht" "Tongan Paʻanga" "Trinidad and Tobago Dollar" "Tunisian Dinar" "Turkish Lira" "Turkmenistani Manat" "Ugandan Shilling" "Ukrainian Hryvnia" "United Arab Emirates Dirham" "United States Dollar" "Uruguayan Peso" "Uzbekistan Som" "Vanuatu Vatu" "Venezuelan Bolívar" "Vietnamese Dong" "Yemeni Rial" "Zambian Kwacha" "Zimbabwe Dollar"]
Country Telephone Codes: [select* myCountryTelCode include_blank "Afghanistan|+93" "Albania|+355" "Algeria|+213" "American Samoa|+1-684" "Andorra|+376" "Angola|+244" "Anguilla|+1-264" "Antarctica|+672" "Antigua and Barbuda|+1-268" "Argentina|+54" "Armenia|+374" "Aruba|+297" "Australia|+61" "Austria|+43" "Azerbaijan|+994" "Bahamas|+1-242" "Bahrain|+973" "Bangladesh|+880" "Barbados|+1-246" "Belarus|+375" "Belgium|+32" "Belize|+501" "Benin|+229" "Bermuda|+1-441" "Bhutan|+975" "Bolivia|+591" "Bosnia and Herzegovina|+387" "Botswana|+267" "Brazil|+55" "British Indian Ocean Territory|+246" "British Virgin Islands|+1-284" "Brunei|+673" "Bulgaria|+359" "Burkina Faso|+226" "Burundi|+257" "Cambodia|+855" "Cameroon|+237" "Canada|+1" "Cape Verde|+238" "Cayman Islands|+1-345" "Central African Republic|+236" "Chad|+235" "Chile|+56" "China|+86" "Christmas Island|+61" "Cocos Islands|+61" "Colombia|+57" "Comoros|+269" "Cook Islands|+682" "Costa Rica|+506" "Croatia|+385" "Cuba|+53" "Curacao|+599" "Cyprus|+357" "Czech Republic|+420" "Democratic Republic of the Congo|+243" "Denmark|+45" "Djibouti|+253" "Dominica|+1-767" "Dominican Republic|+1-809, 1-829, 1-849" "East Timor|+670" "Ecuador|+593" "Egypt|+20" "El Salvador|+503" "Equatorial Guinea|+240" "Eritrea|+291" "Estonia|+372" "Ethiopia|+251" "Falkland Islands|+500" "Faroe Islands|+298" "Fiji|+679" "Finland|+358" "France|+33" "French Polynesia|+689" "Gabon|+241" "Gambia|+220" "Georgia|+995" "Germany|+49" "Ghana|+233" "Gibraltar|+350" "Greece|+30" "Greenland|+299" "Grenada|+1-473" "Guam|+1-671" "Guatemala|+502" "Guernsey|+44-1481" "Guinea|+224" "Guinea-Bissau|+245" "Guyana|+592" "Haiti|+509" "Honduras|+504" "Hong Kong|+852" "Hungary|+36" "Iceland|+354" "India|+91" "Indonesia|+62" "Iran|+98" "Iraq|+964" "Ireland|+353" "Isle of Man|+44-1624" "Israel|+972" "Italy|+39" "Ivory Coast|+225" "Jamaica|+1-876" "Japan|+81" "Jersey|+44-1534" "Jordan|+962" "Kazakhstan|+7" "Kenya|+254" "Kiribati|+686" "Kosovo|+383" "Kuwait|+965" "Kyrgyzstan|+996" "Laos|+856" "Latvia|+371" "Lebanon|+961" "Lesotho|+266" "Liberia|+231" "Libya|+218" "Liechtenstein|+423" "Lithuania|+370" "Luxembourg|+352" "Macao|+853" "Macedonia|+389" "Madagascar|+261" "Malawi|+265" "Malaysia|+60" "Maldives|+960" "Mali|+223" "Malta|+356" "Marshall Islands|+692" "Mauritania|+222" "Mauritius|+230" "Mayotte|+262" "Mexico|+52" "Micronesia|+691" "Moldova|+373" "Monaco|+377" "Mongolia|+976" "Montenegro|+382" "Montserrat|+1-664" "Morocco|+212" "Mozambique|+258" "Myanmar|+95" "Namibia|+264" "Nauru|+674" "Nepal|+977" "Netherlands|+31" "Netherlands Antilles|+599" "New Caledonia|+687" "New Zealand|+64" "Nicaragua|+505" "Niger|+227" "Nigeria|+234" "Niue|+683" "North Korea|+850" "Northern Mariana Islands|+1-670" "Norway|+47" "Oman|+968" "Pakistan|+92" "Palau|+680" "Palestine|+970" "Panama|+507" "Papua New Guinea|+675" "Paraguay|+595" "Peru|+51" "Philippines|+63" "Pitcairn|+64" "Poland|+48" "Portugal|+351" "Puerto Rico|+1-787, 1-939" "Qatar|+974" "Republic of the Congo|+242" "Reunion|+262" "Romania|+40" "Russia|+7" "Rwanda|+250" "Saint Barthelemy|+590" "Saint Helena|+290" "Saint Kitts and Nevis|+1-869" "Saint Lucia|+1-758" "Saint Martin|+590" "Saint Pierre and Miquelon|+508" "Saint Vincent and the Grenadines|+1-784" "Samoa|+685" "San Marino|+378" "Sao Tome and Principe|+239" "Saudi Arabia|+966" "Senegal|+221" "Serbia|+381" "Seychelles|+248" "Sierra Leone|+232" "Singapore|+65" "Sint Maarten|+1-721" "Slovakia|+421" "Slovenia|+386" "Solomon Islands|+677" "Somalia|+252" "South Africa|+27" "South Korea|+82" "South Sudan|+211" "Spain|+34" "Sri Lanka|+94" "Sudan|+249" "Suriname|+597" "Svalbard and Jan Mayen|+47" "Swaziland|+268" "Sweden|+46" "Switzerland|+41" "Syria|+963" "Taiwan|+886" "Tajikistan|+992" "Tanzania|+255" "Thailand|+66" "Togo|+228" "Tokelau|+690" "Tonga|+676" "Trinidad and Tobago|+1-868" "Tunisia|+216" "Turkey|+90" "Turkmenistan|+993" "Turks and Caicos Islands|+1-649" "Tuvalu|+688" "U.S. Virgin Islands|+1-340" "Uganda|+256" "Ukraine|+380" "United Arab Emirates|+971" "United Kingdom|+44" "United States|+1" "Uruguay|+598" "Uzbekistan|+998" "Vanuatu|+678" "Vatican|+379" "Venezuela|+58" "Vietnam|+84" "Wallis and Futuna|+681" "Western Sahara|+212" "Yemen|+967" "Zambia|+260" "Zimbabwe|+263"]
Name Prefixes: [select* myNamePrefix include_blank "Ms" "Miss" "Mrs" "Mr" "Master" "Kum" "Dr" "CA" "Pandit" "Swami" "Ustad" "Sheikh" "Adm" "Amb" "Atty" "Br" "Brig" "Brig Gen" "Capt" "Cmdr" "Coach" "Col" "Cpl" "Esq" "Fr" "Gen" "Gov" "Hon" "Lt" "Lt Col" "Maj" "Maj Gen" "Msgr" "Ofc" "Pres" "Prof" "Pvt" "Rep" "Rev" "Sec" "Sen" "Sgt" "Sr" "Supt" "Treas"]

MB102 Breadboard Power Supply Module 3.3V 5V

mb102-breadboard-power-adapter
The Power Supply module fits perfectly on the MB102 motherboard.

Powering components on a breadboard is always challenging. Solderless breadboard certainly make it easy but for elegance, you will need to invest in an expensive bench power supply. Trying to power a mass of sensors using the power-pins on a Raspberry Pi or Arduino board is not a good idea because of the limitations placed on maximum current draw that these boards apply.

A $1 Breadboard Power Supply module from China is an elegant drop-in solution. It supports 6.5V – 12V input and outputs stable 3.3 V and 5V over two rails up-to 700mA. You can also configure it to supply 3.3V on both rails, 5V on both rails. By using a 3.3V to 5V Logic Level converter, you can freely power and mix up sensors that use 3.3V and 5V.

I used a relatively ordinary transformer based 1.5V – 12V 500mA variable power-supply that is used around the home to power electronic toys etc. and measured the voltage that was being output by the Power Supply Module.

Adapter Label Transformer Actual Output Module 3.3V Output Module 5V Output
1.5 3.06 0.69 1.5
3 4.6 2.17 2.99
4.5 6.7 3.33 4.9
6 8.53 3.33 5.02
7.5 10.52 3.33 5.03
9 12.84 3.33 5.03
12 15.56 3.34 5.03

Looking at the table, the following important points maybe noticed:

  • The board requires approx. 6.5V to trigger the stable output voltages. This means that you cannot power it off a Mobile Phone Charger (5V) or the USB port of a computer (5V).
  • The board continues to function even at 15V, but there is a slight increase in the voltage. Over a long period, the power regulators are likely to get damaged due to over-heating. It maybe safer to supply approx. 7.5V – 9V to the board for long-term persistent use.
  • The board does not feature a cut-off mechanism in case of under-voltage or over-voltage. Most electronic components do not work properly if the voltage levels are not within specification levels. Single board computers like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino in-fact hang-up and require reset.

Comparison of Budget Android Media Players with Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku and nVidia Shield

apple-tv-3
Apple TV, like most Apple products, was not the first product in it’s genre, but it was surely the one that made the most noise and brought the product category to the limelight.

Last few months have been very exciting for those who want to move to a digital streaming media player and move away from the conventional set-top boxes. I have covered the relative advantage of using a digital media in my articles on MK809V, M8H and MXQ Android Media Player.

Apple fanbois have been going crazy about the impending launch of Apple TV 4. Roku fanbois have declared victory already considering that the Apple TV 3 did not feature much more USP than Airplay and the Apple TV 4 is an incremental upgrade by tacking on existing technology. Google Nexus TV is and will probably remain a niche output of their R&D division. Amazon’s Fire TV aims at taking the technology of Nexus TV and making it practical. In fact, they have gone ahead and declared war on everyone else. nVidia is joining the race as a me-too but offering the USP of being able to play high-quality games on it.

Outside of USA, none of these boxes will ever achieve mass penetration. These markets are dominated by China-made Android Media Players which promise to do much of what the other boxes do and more, at 1/5th the price.

The table below compares the Media Player devices by listing their prices vs. technical specifications.

MXQ S805 Box NVIDIA SHIELD Apple TV (2015) Nexus Player Fire TV (2015) Roku 3 Apple TV (2012)
Price 33 199.99 200 99 79.99 99.99 69
Specs
CPU Quad-core, 32-bit Quad-core, 64-bit Dual-core, 64-bit Quad-core, 32-bit Quad-core, 64-bit Dual-core, 32-bit Single-core, 32-bit
Memory 1 GB 3 GB 2 GB 1 GB 2 GB 512 MB 512 MB
User Storage 8 GB + External SD 16 GB / 500 GB 32 GB / 64 GB 8 GB 8 GB None None
Ethernet Performance 100 Mbps 1 Gbps 100 Mbps No Ethernet 100 Mbps 100 Mbps 100 Mbps
Wi-Fi Performance 802.11n 802.11ac 802.11ac 802.11ac 802.11ac 802.11n 802.11n
HDMI HDMI 1.4 HDMI 2.0 HDMI 1.4 HDMI 1.4 HDMI 2.0 HDMI 1.4 HDMI 1.4
SD Card Slot Yes MicroSD No No MicroSD MicroSD No
USB Ports 4 USB 2.0 2 USB 3.0 No 1 USB 2.0 1 USB 2.0 1 USB 2.0 No
Game Controller (included) No Yes No No No No No
HDMI Cable (included) Yes Yes No No No No No
Features
Resolution 1080p 4K 60 Ultra HD & 1080p 1080p 1080p 4K 30 Ultra HD & 1080p 1080p 1080p
Voice Search No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Voice Commands No Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Cross-App Search Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Cast to your TV Miracast, Airplay Chromecast AirPlay Chromecast Yes Yes AirPlay
Mobile Compatibility Android & iOS Android & iOS iOS Android & iOS Android Android & iOS iOS
Headphone Jack No Yes No No No Yes No
Console-Class Games No Yes No No No No No
Stream Games from PC No Yes No No No No No
Cloud Gaming 1080p 1080p No No 720p No No
Apps
Netflix 1080p 4K Ultra HD & 1080p 1080p 1080p 4K Ultra HD & 1080p 1080p 1080p
YouTube 1080p 4K 60 Ultra HD & 1080p 1080p 1080p 4K 30 Ultra HD & 1080p 1080p 1080p
Hulu Plus Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sling TV Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Pandora Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
HBO Go Yes Announced Yes Announced Yes Yes Yes
HBO Now Yes Announced Yes Announced Yes Announced Yes
Amazon Instant Video Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No
Google Play Movies Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No
Google Play Music Yes Yes No Yes No No No
Crackle Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
VUDU Yes Announced No Announced No Yes No
PBS Kids Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vevo Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
MLB Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
NBA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Plex Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Kodi (XBMC) Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No
Twitch Yes Announced No Announced Yes Yes No

Another objective way to compare the cheap Android Media Player boxes would be to list the Pros and Cons.

Pros

  • Budget friendly devices that are only about one-sixth the cost of premium devices that are similar in capability.
  • Very wide range of apps are available. Games, Productivity, Streaming and Local media players, Education, Entertainment  apps are available.
  • Compatible with external hardware devices such as Remote Keyboards, Air Mouse, Joysticks etc.
  • Sophisticated Media Player / Media Center software such as Kodi is available.
  • Continuously updated software that fix bugs and add capabilities.

Cons

  • Some devices have inferior product design or production quality issues. The more expensive brands overcome this problem but they cost almost as much as the premium devices.
  • Cosmetically, not as refined as the top-end media players. More often than not, these devices are all plastic, have tacky lettering stamped all over them and glaringly bright LEDs with plastic windows.
  • Many of the streaming apps meant for USA do not work due to geographical licensing restrictions.

Review of MXQ Android Media Player

The MXQ Android Media Player features a very bright blue LED in the front. The top surface is frosted but the front surface is clear.
The MXQ Android Media Player features a very bright blue LED in the front. The top surface is frosted but the front surface is clear.

The cheap Android Media Players available from China are terrific value for money. I have purchased the M8H, MK809V in the past and I added to the collection by adding a MXQ OTT TV Box to the list. One thing that is common among all my Media Players is that they feature Amlogic 8xx Series processors which have inbuilt support for H.265 video codec.

  • Like the MK809V Compact AMP device, the MXQ device features an Amlogic S805 Quad Core CPU with 1GB RAM and 8 GB Internal Storage. It features an HDMI 1.4 Port, 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port, Four USB 2.0 Ports, 3.5mm SPDIF port and 3.5mm Composite Audio-video output port. The device also comes with a compact remote control, 1-foot long HDMI cable and 5V DC 2 Amp Adapter.
  • Appearance wise, it’s a compact flat box like Apple TV. Due to the huge number of USB ports, its very easy to connect a bunch of External HDDs directly to it and playback their content on the TV.
  • The device is capable of playing Full-HD videos encoded using H.265 Video Codec at 30 fps. This means that this device can very easily play BD-Rips encoded using either H.264 or H.265 codec.
  • The device outputs digital audio over HDMI port or SPDIF port. It also outputs analog audio over the Composite Audio-Video port.

Setting it up was super simple. I hooked it up to my Onkyo TX-NR525 Receiver via HDMI, connected the power supply and was done. Compared to the M8H device, the MXQ device features much better Hardware and Software internals. Caveats if any, are few.

The Good

  • mxq-box-side-right
    The side-panel of the MXQ box features three USB 2.0 ports and a full-size SD Card slot.
    mxq-box-back
    The back panel features HDMI, Ethernet, SPDIF, A/V Out and USB Port.

    The MXQ is reasonably fast. As a generic Android computing device, the numerical performance of it’s main CPU is only as fast as Mobile phones and Tabs from 2013-14. However, the numbers are decent enough for a wide range of computing tasks.

    • AnTuTu Benchmark 5.7.1 Score: 18037
    • AnTuTu HTML5 Benchmark 5.7.1 : 5543
    • Quadrant : 4014 (CPU:10620, Mem:2272, I/O:3808, 2D:1000, 3D:2370)
    • Sun Spider 1.0.2 : 1417.56 ms
  • The MXQ supported my 4GB USB 2.0 to 16 GB USB 3.0 Pen drives quite well. It also supported a Belkin Non-Powered USB Hub and External Desktop USB Drives connected to the hub.
  • It comes with a bunch of pre-installed programs. Fortunately, I was able to un-install all of them without any trouble and then install the stuff that I wanted. This included installation of Kodi 15.2 as the main media center. Kodi was easily able to play H.265 1080p videos and also send AC3 and multi-channel AAC audio in pass-through mode to my Onkyo Receiver for Dolby Digital Surround Sound.
  • The Android OS on the MXQ device allows you to change the default Home Screen Launcher app. You can choose to boot to default Android Home Screen with Live Wallpapers instead of the default Multimedia Launcher that is default on all Chinese Android Media Players.
  • The device does not get unbearably hot. The motherboard features a passive heat-sink that does a good job of taking away the heat from an otherwise hot S805 CPU. In my tests, the device worked for 4-hours straight without hanging or burning up.

The Bad

  • mxq-case-translucent
    The MXQ features a translucent box.

    The design of the device very similar to the M8H, and similar to the Apple TV in some aspects. It’s actually made of translucent black (actually deep blue) plastic on the top, transparent black plastic on the sides and opaque black plastic as the base. A Red/Blue LED at the front lets you know the device power status. The blue LED is extremely bright and while it appears beautifully diffused when viewed from top, from the front, it’s glare was just too much. I was easily able to diffuse it by scratching the LED plastic surface and also sticking some 3M Scotch-tape to the front panel of the device.

  • Some apps from Google Play Store will refuse to install citing device compatibility issues. You can bypass these errors by downloading the APK files from Play Store and then installing them by transferring them to the device using a USB Pen Drive or over Network.
  • The MXQ does not support 2.5″ USB Portable HDD drives that require bus-power. Apparently, the USB ports on the MXQ do not deliver 500 – 700mAh that is required for these drives to spin-up and work. Your only solution to connect such drives to the device is to use a USB Hub with External power option.
  • The device claimed to feature 1 GB RAM, however Android only reports about 815 MB RAM. It also claims 8 GB ROM, but Android reports available space of only about 5.06 GB. Both these parameters are not terrible and in fact, nearly 500 MB RAM is available for apps at device start.
  • For a software that claims to be Version 15, Kodi has a number of usability issues.
    • The sub-title colours in Kodi are hard-coded into the app and cannot be configured by the user. In fact, the “Grey” colour option is so light, that it almost appears white.
    • A fair bit of technical prowess is required to install additional fonts for subtitles in Kodi.
    • Kodi offers pass-through of Dolby AC3 and DTS audio-tracks. Many Receivers cannot handle multi-channel audio in any other format (for ex: AAC Multichannel). On such receivers, only stereo audio is processed. Fortunately, Kodi also offers an option to Resample such multi-channel audio files to AC3. Much of multi-channel audio/video files on the Internet use AAC encoding and this feature is certainly very useful.
    • Due to lack of support in hardware, Kodi is unable to render 10-bit H.265 video properly. While other apps simply crash and burn, Kodi struggles but eventually fails. I am unsure if 10-bit video will even become a priority for general public, but being able to support it will become mandatory.
    • Confluence, the default UI of Kodi requires a steady-hand and high-accuracy mouse. It’s quite frustrating to use the interface using a Bluetooth Keyboard with Touchpad from 10-feet away. Other user-created interfaces are available but the default theme is now long overdue for a revamp.
  • mxq-remote
    The simple remote provided looks and functions better than the M8H remote.

    The device lacks a software option for operating system shutdown and hardware switch for cutting power to the device. In the best case, you can put the device in standby mode using the remote or the power button of a keyboard. If you intend to switch the device off, please ensure that you have unmounted all connected USB storage and closed apps that may have opened files. Since Android 4.4 that is installed on the device is not rooted, you can use apps available on Google Play Store to power-off or reboot the device.

  • The device does not feature Bluetooth, hence you cannot redirect the audio from the device to a Bluetooth Portable Speaker or Bluetooth Audio Receiver. The device does not feature a headphone socket either for easy connectivity to small computer speakers. I did connect a Bluetooth dongle to the device and was disappointed to see that the dongle was not detected and added to the system capabilities.

The Ugly

  • mxq-board-front
    The Wi-Fi antenna is a patch antenna that is hard-soldered to the motherboard.

    The Wi-Fi feature uses a small patch antenna of the type that is used in mobile phones. Though it’s exact of the same type, it actually performed way better than the M8H device. At a particular location in my house, while the M8H showed signal strength of -69dB, the MXQ showed signal strength of almost -59dB. On the M8H, I had to use an external 3dB Gain Antenna to achieve this kind of signal strength. Unfortunately, the internal patch antenna is soldered to the motherboard and does not use  RP-SMA connector. This rules out using an external antenna with the MXQ to improve signal strengths further.

  • The OS features an Update feature to update the OS. However, it does not work. Since the manufacturer of the MXQ device is not clearly documented, trying to download the original or updated ROM for the device has proven to be useless till date for me.

Conclusion

While the device costs the same as the MK809V, it actually offers much better performance. Be it in terms of design, power or convenience, the MXQ makes much more sense than buying the MK809V or the M8S. Since it also costs less than half of M8H, it is an excellent option for those who only need 1080p video playback.

Gallery of Image (Software Configuration)