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Test drive: Parrot Zik


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For the past few days, I’ve been test driving the Parrot Zik. These high end bluetooth headphones are made made by Parrot, the french company most famous for it’s car kits and the AR Drone, and designed by the acclaimed french designer of just about everything: Philippe Starck.

Let me start of by saying that it is really hard to compare this headset to any other one out there, simply because it is so packed with new tech that no other product (to my knowledge) combines. Here’s a little rundown:

– Noise cancellation, EQ and “Concert Hall” feature that are all controlled from Parrot’s Audio Suite App.

– “Jawbone” sensor that directs focus to your speech when taking calls and automatically pauses whatever you’re listening to when you take the headphones of.

– NFC connectivity for easy pairing. I have read your mileage may vary on this since it doesn’t work with every NFC enabled device. Having an iPhone 4S, I really don’t have any use for this myself.

– Touchpad to control volume, track skipping and pausing by swiping on the right panel.

Sound quality

When it comes to audio quality, the Zik does not disappoint. However, these headphones have so much digital trickery that they are made to be used with EQ and “Concert Hall” settings in the Audio Suite App (available for iOS and Android). When using a flat EQ and no “Concert Hall” setting, you might be a bit underwhelmed. But once you starting playing with these settings and start to learn what settings fit what genre (which can differ greatly from one listener to another’s taste), the Zik provides a diverse and accurate listening experience. John Lee Hooker sounds great with the “Jazz Club” setting with a 90° speaker angle while The Who’s Baba O’Riley sounded like I was standing in an actual arena in the “Concert Hall” setting with a 60° listening angle. I prefer the “Punchy” EQ setting which raises high and low ranges while most mid tones remain unchanged. Other EQ’s are “Vocal”, “Club”, “Deep”, “Crystal” and “User” which you can fine tune to your personal preference. I should point out that the quality of your file is a very important factor. I had very different results between lossless or higher bit-rate AAC compared to some files on Spotify or “normal” quality MP3 files.

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Noise Cancellation

I don’t have loads of experience with noise cancelling headphones but the Zik isn’t far from my experience with the Bose QuietComfort line. There’s a total of 4 microphones both externally and inside the cups to take out any annoying continuous droning sounds like airplane engines, traffic, etc without completely cutting you of from the outside world. It just takes out enough to provide an accurate and even reproduction of whatever you’re listening to.

Zik comes with an easily removable battery by lifting a magnetic lid of the left cup. It provides up to 6 hours of battery life when using all the bells and whistles (Bluetooth, Noise Cancellation, EQ, Concert Hall) and up to 18 hours with Noise Cancellation turned off. You can also connect a 3,5mm jack to the right cup. This doesn’t change much in terms of audio quality but gives you a little more battery life. Downside to this is that all settings are controlled from your phone using the Audio Suite App. Also, music will mute (not pause, because the wired connection doesn’t support audio controls) whenever something happens on your phone. In wired mode, I recommend disconnecting bluetooth once you’ve set the headphone to the desired settings so the music doesn’t cut every time you unlock your phone. Taking off the headphones will also just mute sound while songs continue to play in iTunes or Spotify on your computer. The battery is charged using the provided micro USB cable that has a textile finish and the same orange accents as the headset, which is a nice detail.

Tech

Like I said before, the Zik comes jam packed with all sorts of cool sensors. I do have a few remarks: the “Jawbone” sensor doesn’t mean that this headphone does bone conduction. It’s really a sensor that looks for tiny vibrations emitted by your  skin. As a result, just putting your finger on it triggers the music to start playing again. The auto-pause feature works flawlessly most of the time but I’ve also had a few instances where the Zik started playing again because my neck touched the sensor. The touch controls work fine but take a little adjusting. When I first tried changing the volume I caught myself skipping to the next track instead. Once you get the hang of where to touch for which function, though, it’s a really intuitive set of controls.

Design and final thoughts

These cans just feel solid. The synthetic leather and metal construction of the headband feels sturdy and comfortable. Some reviewers noticed a little discomfort on the top of their head but I personally (maybe because I have long hair) didn’t feel any of that. The memory foam pads are super comfortable and don’t give any discomfort, even on longer listening sessions. Adjusting the size of the headband requires a little force but as a result of that the headband feels very sturdy and the cups don’t “dangle” like on some other headphones.

Overall this is a great set of headphones that comes packed with some ingenious features even though they don’t always work as intended (triggering play with your neck, etc). Noise cancellation might not be the best out there, but is more than adequate. The Zik really shines when it comes to audio quality and adjusting it to your preference. For the full experience, you really need the app. So if you don’t have an iOS or Android device I don’t think these are the headphones for you. Although I do hope that at one point Parrot will release a desktop version of the Audio Suite App. I was able to borrow this set from one of my colleagues and will probably be buying my own pair in the very near future. At 349 euro, it’s a bit steep. But if you shop around a bit you might be able to pick it up a little cheaper. The flexibility in sound experience you can create using the app does make it worth the premium price for me.

Pros

– Flexibility in sound and overall sound quality
– High tech and innovative features
– High quality design and finish

Cons

– Pricey
– Form factor might not be everyone’s cup of tea
– No way of controlling the sound without an iOS or Android device
– Ridiculously cheap feeling travel bag (shame on you, Parrot!)

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Upgrading to 24 frames per second

So, last week was quite thrilling for me. Remember how I said I would upgrade to the Nikon Pro line this year? Well, I did! The D4 ended up being a bit out of my price range, but I got offered a practically new (under one year old) Nikon D3S for a very fair price. I decided to go for it and boy, am I glad I did. The Nikon D3S is probably the best allround camera for someone who does mostly press related photography like me. Even though it’s “only” a 12 MP sensor like my D300 had, ISO sensitivity differs leaps and bounds and the ability to shoot 11 still frames per seconds opens up some great multimedia capabilities (see more below). There’s a lot to say about the device and I need a little more time to get the complete hang of it in order to give you guys my full review.

One of the main reasons I wanted to upgrade is video. I specialized in video during the last year of my journalism studies, and even shot my dissertation on a DSLR.  I was looking for a way to continue that work and as I need a good stills camera to do my photography work, the video capability on the D3S  is a great plus for me. I’ve decided to do some very small multimedia projects to get back into the flow of things and would like to share my first result with you guys. This past weekend, about 50 Congolese people protested in the main streets of Mechelen against Kabila’s reelection. I ended up with a 40 second clip mixing stills and video with their chanting in the background to give people a taste of the atmosphere. Any comments are, as always, very welcome. This video also got published over @ gva.be

Living in the cloud

This past monday, Apple gave quite a long keynote at The Moscone Center during WWDC ’11. Some desperately needed iOS features, lots of OS X lion and, last but not least, moving to the cloud. It looks like it are going to be exciting times to be an Apple user.


iOS as it should be

iOS 5 is going to be the most important update of Apple’s mobile platform to date. It might just be that my fanboyism isn’t what it used to be but some of the announced features are so blatantly obvious I don’t think they need a big applause during a keynote. Things like the new notifications with the “slide down from the top” feature. Granted, it looks great and will be super efficient, but can we all admit that it’s almost exactly the same as what Android has had since it launched? Taking a picture with the volume up button? I’m sorry, but my Sony Ericsson did that back in 2004. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all great features, but they don’t really induce a big “keynote” applause in my case.

Another long awaited feature is task management. If it works as good as it looks and integrates as seamlessly with iCal as they claim, it looks like I can say goodbye to the 25 euro I spent on Things for Mac and iPhone. I’m especially looking forward to the location aware notifications (eg: “Don’t forget the milk” pops up when you’re about to pass your local super market). I know, Android fanboys, hold your horses. I know this sounds an awful lot like Locale.

A rundown of some other goodies you can expect:

  • iMessage: what appears to be iOS-only WhatsApp like messaging integrated right into the OS.
  • PC free: autonomous iOS devices: no more need for a computer to set up your device.
  • Twitter integration: one time login in system preferences to rule them all + integration throughout the entire OS.
  • Safari: tabbed browsing, reader (Focus on the text, remove all clutter. Already a feature in Safari for Mac).
  • Wireless sync: more on that further down this article.

King of the OS world

The next version of your Mac’s OS has been talking to it’s iOS nephews. Lion will incorporate even more touch gestures for your built-in or external “magic” trackpad.Combine that with the new Mission Control that gives you a complete view of everything that’s happening on our and you’ve got yourself Exposé on steroids. More system apps (and I presume API will also provide it for third party apps) will have a full screen mode, keeping you focussed on the job at hand,. Be it writing a text in Pages, obtaining inbox zero in Mail or taking silly pictures of yourself in Photobooth.

A combination of a new feature called Launchpad and the Mac App Store you might already be using today is going to give your Mac even more of the iOS look’n’feel. Buying applications and browsing through them will feel just like you’re on the iPad. For me personally, it makes the OS feel a bit, well, childish I guess. I know the way forward is simplifying interfaces to be more efficient and accessible, but I’ll need to get used to it.

My favorite new features are Resume and Version. Whether you’re writing a text or editing a photo, Lion will allow apps to constantly save every move you make and provides the ability to browse through past versions of your document. Kinda like Time Machine but throughout the entire OS. After you’ve restarted the app takes you right back where you left off. Students are obviously going to have one less excuse to not get their papers done in time. Finally, I’d like to mention Airdrop, a nifty new feature that’s integrated into the Finder and allows you to transfer files to any Mac in your vicinity. You don’t even need to be on the same WiFi network. I’m interested to find out if they use WiFi or Bluetooth to airdrop (hence the name) an important business document securely into your collegae’s Download folder. Sharing files never was this exciting.

Some other stuff to look forward to:

  • Conversations in Mail (Did anyone say Wave?)
  • You’ll be able to receive FaceTime calls,  even if you’re not running the app (Don’t worry, you can turn it off if you want to.)
  • Full screen Screen Sharing

Goodbye MobileMe, hello iCloud

MobileMe has always been one of those service that, if you use it intensively, is immensely useful but, if you don’t, feels like a total waste of money. Soon, everyone will be able to enjoy Exchange for the rest of us without having to pay for it. Mail, calendars, contacts, documents, photo’s, you’ll be able to sync them between you Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod Tocuh without having to connect one single cable. On top of that, you can see all your past Music, Book or App purchases on all of your devices and download them instantly. Those purchases don’t even use your 5 GB of free cloud space. You can even set things up to automatically download new songs or apps you bought on your Mac to your iOS device(s).

The thing that’s got me excited though, is iTunes Match. For $25/year you sync up to 25.000 songs (even the ones you ripped from CD’s or got through some other sneaky way). Wirelessly over all your devices. You’ll even get Apple’s 256 kbps version of the songs you own. When you get to a charger in a WiFi hotspot, just plug in your device and the Cloud will do the rest. My biggest concern is whether SABAM and the Belgian music labels are going to block this feature just like they did with movies and shows on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, … you get the picture. Only time will tell …

Mac server slowing down your network?

I had only been tinkering with MacOS X for a few days when I had my first annoyance yesterday. It might have been just my fault, but judging by the amount of Google result on this problem, I thought I’d just quickly write out my solution.

The symptoms:

– Server Admin takes 5 minutes to actually appear, before that it’s shown as “not responding” in Activity Monitor.
– Server has a working internet connection, but you can’t load updates or a web page in Safari.
– Overall, all computers in your network are taking forever to load web pages, almost looks like your ISP put you on limited bandwidth.

The cause (in my case):

– I had done a few consecutive installs of the OS to dial in the ideal settings. When you select some of the options under “What is this server going to be used for?”, the wizard starts up DNS service automatically. Apparently, this new DNS server is stored in your Airport Extreme base station.
– With every page you load, your computer goes knocking on your server’s door for DNS info which obviously isn’t there, resulting in a prolonged load time.

The solution (in my case):

– Open up Airport Utility > Manual Configuration > Internet and delete the local DNS server (10.0.1.x).

Your Airport base station will automatically reboot, relaying all updated DNS info to the computers in your network. Et voila … your at full speed and your server will respond normally once again.

I hope this post will help frustrated users restoring faith in their MacOS X server. If not, good luck looking for your particular solution.

Final Cut Pro X: closing the gap

Final Cut has always been a professional application, but it looks like the latest version of Apple’s video editing software is opening up it’s features and tools to a much broader audience.

The new version is called Final Cut X (as in ten) and was first announced and demoed last month  during a big meetup by the Final Cut User Group in Las Vegas. It has been rebuilt from the ground up to support 64bit and, at first glance, looks like a grown-up version of the latest iMovie. It will be shipping in june and pricing is set at $299 (problably €299 for us Europeans).

When it comes to “look and feel” the gap between iMovie and
Final Cut has become really narrow.

Losing the pro look, making the pro feel more accessible

So, is Apple trying to make professional video editing more accessible or is the new layout just a more efficient workspace? I think a lot of pro users will miss the classic, grey, pro look at first. Personally, I don’t give a damn how the software looks, as long as it lets me do my editing in an efficient and intuitive way. Final Cut Pro X comes with a bunch of new features: things like a magnetic time line, compounding sequences to declutter your time line, auditioning multiple sequence options inside your timeline, background rendering and some great new tagging options will, I think, give editors a more efficient workflow and cut down on editing time. On the other hand, non-pro users will get the hang of the software way more easily and, combined with the fair price, have a larger set of tools at their disposal.

What about the studio?

It isn’t quite clear yet whether Apple revamped the entire Studio suite. I’m pretty sure DVD Studio Pro isn’t going to make it to this new version (just like iDVD didn’t in the iLife suite). But what about Motion and Soundtrack Pro? Will all programs be sold separately via the Mac App Store? Will there still be a physical box in stores? All of these questions will probably be answered when Final Cut Pro X launches. One thing’s for sure: the new “easier” look and feel and increase in features have made Final Cut Express completely redundant. Another app bites the dust.

Check back in about a month for my first impressions.


Birth of a server

Thanks to a mac shuffle throughout the house (the misses got a new laptop), I found a new candidate in my never-ending search of a pet project. I decided to turn my old first generation white Macbook (FLASHBACK!) into a Mac OS server. I have very little experience with servers, none actually, so I’m curious to see how it’ll go along. The goal is to host my own portfolio/company website, as I’m (hopefully) going to graduate next month. To start it all off, I went ahead and registered http://www.gilplaquet.com (powered by Priorweb).

What I’ve done so for:

– Installed Snow Leopard server
– Installed Insomniax to keep the Macbook awake (for some reason that particular model doesn’t like waking up with the lid closed since Snow Leopard)
– Installed Sequel Pro for editing MySQL databases (I know, I know, real geeks do that stuff in Terminal)
– Exploring the server OS, probably ruining stuff all over the place

What I’m not sure about / would like to know:

– WordPress, Drupal or … ?
– Will Telenet start bitchin’ (I know they block port 80)?
– What are absolute essentials when running your own (Mac) server?

Getting your music in the zone …

These past few months, I had the chance to test out the latest wireless speaker system by Sonos: the Zoneplayer S5. I’ve know the brand for a while, but never got to checking it out properly before. What Sonos basicly does is allow you to play your entire music collection and almost every online music service in multiple zones spread through your home, wirelessly and with almost no set up required.

So let’s start by taking a look at the device itself: the design looks similar to that of the Bose Sound Dock. It’s sleek, minimalistic and feels sturdy. To keep everything simple the amount of buttons has been reduced to the bare minimum: there’s a volume up and down button and a mute button, thats it. On the back you’ll find an audio in port, headphone port, a simple power chord (no clunky brick!) and an ethernet hub to plug it into your wired internet, where available.

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