Reviews

My Thoughts on Tidal

As a fan of different music genres and theories, it’s always a treat to come across a really nice streaming service that answers my needs, music selection and overall design considered. When I first heard of Tidal years back, I didn’t really consider it an option.

First, it’s not available in the Philippines, second, I wasn’t a fan of Jay-Z (who owns the company), and third, I had heard reports about it being expensive as hell. More than Apple Music & Spotify combined, in fact.

What you see when you visit  tidal.com

What you see when you visit tidal.com

Converted to Philippine Peso, the base monthly plan starts at P522 and gets up to P1,044 for the HiFi subscription. (That would already pay for a Family Plan on any of the other streaming platforms!) Being the sucker that I am for new things, I caved and got the HiFi plan (‘cause why not?).

What I Love

Using Tidal is super easy. The user interface is simple, direct, and beautiful. While I had always disliked Spotify’s dark colors, Tidal gets away with it by balancing the dark with colorful album covers. (This must be why Spotify had recently started adapting and learning from them.)

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The iPhone app is also very beautiful, with no distractions at all when you pull out a track into full-screen mode. Very sleek. I also love that it took me less than 5 minutes to set things up just the way I wanted. From “collecting” albums to creating playlists, the experience was smooth.

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Their claim to provide lossless audio for HiFi accounts was accurate. There was a period where, to test the quality across the three platforms (Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music), I’d play the same song on the fullest, highest settings available on all of them. To give the two a fair chance, I temporarily set Tidal to play at Standard quality. Tidal came out a tad bit better. More bass and a fuller sound.

Just like the other platforms, you can save songs for offline listening via the app and all the nice features you expect to come with the service. Unlike Spotify, they have videos that you can save to collections - kind of like a personal video playlist. They also house music-themed podcasts, which i also like.


What Could be Better

So, Tidal is great. I never said it was perfect, however. For one, the desktop version of the app doesn’t allow downloads for offline listening. I’ve tried exploring the interface but I haven’t found a way to do that. While that disappointed me, it wasn’t a deal breaker.

Desktop app for Tidal. Can’t see a download button anywhere.

Desktop app for Tidal. Can’t see a download button anywhere.

Secondly, I was hoping that their podcast directory wouldn’t be music-based only. One of the things I love about Spotify and Apple Music is that there’s a huge selection of podcasts ranging from music, to self-improvement, to language learning, and more.

Thirdly, their global music selection is incomplete. Similar to Spotify, not all K-Pop or J-Pop tracks are listed. Apple Music has an advantage here, but also, the platform isn’t complete in itself.

Lastly, I hate the fact that it’s so damn expensive. Like I mentioned earlier, a single user on Tidal could be paying for a whole family subscription on any of the two platforms. (I’ve found a trick though: pay annually so I don’t feel the money slipping away every month.)

The Verdict

Considering all these pro’s and con’s, I’d still recommend Tidal. It has more of what I love than hate, I love how it looks, I love its simple interface, and I’d be willing to give it more money on my next annual bill.

Have you ever tried Tidal or thinking of getting a trial subscription? Sound-off in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Bye!

IOS 12: A First Impression

Whenever a major tech company comes out with something new, there’s basically just two types of reactions: extremely excited and positive, or very skeptical with an “it’s not that big of a deal” attitude. Personally, I try to be more reserved, holding off my opinions until after I’ve tried it myself.

Less than 24 hours ago, Apple’s newest phone OS, IOS 12, was released to the public. When I came into work this morning, a colleague was already telling me to download the update so I could experience the “buttery smooth” system and its new features. 

 

Initial Thoughts

Speed was a major update for this version, and I’m happy to say they did not disappoint. Opening apps on IOS 12 was faster, and swiping through app pages responded with noticeably lower latency. Images also appeared more crisp and clear. 

From what I observed throughout a day of normal use, battery life also improved, and for some reason, charging to 100% also finished faster than with IOS 11. From this, it seemed like the hype was well deserved.

 

What’s New

Quite a few apps were redesigned for IOS 12, and well-done at that. 

IBooks (now Apple Books) 

One of the apps I’d stopped using was iBooks, as frankly, the user interface and overall experience lacked personality compared to other readers. However, the revamped app now holds promise.  

Visually inspired by their App Store, Apple seems to have opted for a clean-cut, polished design. About time, I reckon.

Visually inspired by their App Store, Apple seems to have opted for a clean-cut, polished design. About time, I reckon.

The app now seems able to automatically detect when you’re the dark (or probably if it’s night time) and switches to dark mode.

The app now seems able to automatically detect when you’re the dark (or probably if it’s night time) and switches to dark mode.

Stocks

For us who keep an eye on companies’ stocks, the new Stocks app has also had a redesign, and I’m not entirely sure if this is a favorable change or otherwise. The more I use it though, the more I can appreciate the changes.

Important information are front and center, directing the user’s eyes to what needs to be seem.

Important information are front and center, directing the user’s eyes to what needs to be seem.

I follow Starbucks (and other major players), as I plan on buying shares in the near future.

I follow Starbucks (and other major players), as I plan on buying shares in the near future.

Photos  

Another app that was shown some love in IOS 12 was Photos, and it’s definitely gotten cleaner in terms of design. 

“Memories” has now been replaced with “For You”. Good riddance.

“Memories” has now been replaced with “For You”. Good riddance.

Inside a “memory” set. Still loving the layout.

Inside a “memory” set. Still loving the layout.

Navigating through categories or media types has never looked better.

Navigating through categories or media types has never looked better.

The new “For You” tab now lets you travel back to highlights in the past, and intuitively categorizes them into sets, complete with a slideshow option. While these features aren’t entirely new, navigation has gotten easier (Moments wasn’t really working for me) and browsing through the sets feels more natural, like it was always meant to react that way since the beginning.

Aside from redesigning a few apps, the new IOS 12 also came with new additions to the family. 

Screen Time

If you’ve ever had little self control over how much time you’ve spent on Social Media or any app on your phone, this new feature might come as both a curse and a solution. More than just a usage tracker, Screen Time allows you to set a limit for apps, disabling use after a period of time. 

This might actually help us social media addicts. Might be a feature we all didn’t want but need.

This might actually help us social media addicts. Might be a feature we all didn’t want but need.

I love that it also appears as a Widget for quick checks throughout the day.

I love that it also appears as a Widget for quick checks throughout the day.

Screen Time will also be a parent’s ally in restricting play time on the phone for their kids and in establishing times for studying and breaks.

Siri and Shortcuts

Siri was also given a more active role in getting things done quicker, with the help of the new Shortcuts app. If you’re familiar with the Automator on the mac or IFTTT, t should be no problem to set up.

Shortcuts I’ve created so far. The process is quite intuitive, although editing elements needed a little more exploration.

Shortcuts I’ve created so far. The process is quite intuitive, although editing elements needed a little more exploration.

It’s also great that a Browse tab is available, so you can just keep adding suggested, commonly used shortcuts.

It’s also great that a Browse tab is available, so you can just keep adding suggested, commonly used shortcuts.

Under Settings, a list of shortcuts connected to Siri is displayed. Been using it for music and calls.

Under Settings, a list of shortcuts connected to Siri is displayed. Been using it for music and calls.

In the past versions of Siri, I’d mostly used it for asking about the weather, a random topic I suddenly wanted to know more about, and asking it to play music for when I get in the shower. Now, I can use it to directly call people with custom phrases, as I don’t label contacts just “Mom” or “Anna”. It used to be tedious, but it’s gotten easier with the Shortcuts app.

A negative to the app would be integration with third-party apps like Spotify, and Tidal. I had hoped that with the new update, Siri would start working with more apps. I’m not sure whether it’s from Apple’s end or if these apps just won’t integrate with Siri.

Measure

One of the highlights of the Apple Event last June for IOS 12 was the Measure app, claiming to be able to accurately measure surfaces and objects quickly. On the public release of IOS 12, the app sparked crazy ideas, with the most ridiculous one being the question of measuring house pets.

A demo of the measuring app.

Demo of the level feature on the Measure app.

There may be a few other features I haven’t covered, but these so far are the major updates evident from the get-go. Have you installed IOS 12 yet? What do you like about it so far? Let me know in the comments below!

App Review: Sleep Orbit

Hello everybody! So today, I'll be talking about an app I recently downloaded on the App Store called 'Sleep Orbit', and according to the developers, it's a 'unique 3D sound concept' that'll help you relax and/or sleep through layered sounds. 

I recorded a short review video for you, so you can really experience the sounds before you download the app. (Earphones recommended!)

Helpful links/ASMR sources:

App Download for iOS | Android

The ASMR 101 article

 

There you go, I hope you guys will want to download the app and try it out for yourself. I'll update if I ever decide to go Pro with the app. 'Til then, I'll be confined to my little orbits of ASMR goodness. 

Quickdraw With Google

I love games, and if my Steam library is not an indication of that, I don't know what is. Of course, I don't limit myself to just PC/Mac games, but for this post, I'd like to show you a game similar to "Draw My Thing", if you're familiar with it. Instead of humans guessing your drawing from the other side of the globe, it's Google's AI. Introducing, Quickdraw.

So what does it do? To play the game, you must draw the object given in under 20 seconds. As you draw, Google's AI continuously spews out words to guess the object. There's 6 drawings per set, and after each set, you can see which items the AI wasn't able to guess and why.

Last week, the game told me to draw something impossible. Right after giving me the object to draw, it crashed, making me think that it was an error and the system had never intended to give me that task. 

Like, how the hell am I supposed to draw the friggin' Mona Lisa in under 20 seconds?! Holy cow. Even my workmates found this funny. I haven't come across this ever since that first time, and I'm really curious about how people went ahead with this. If this was part of the system, how did it determine if the drawing was The Mona? 

 

So yeah, if you have time to check it out, I suggest you contribute to this little AI study Google is conducting and help technology get a better grasp at intuition and logic. :)

2 Free Mobile Games You Should Download Right Now

Design and Experience. A great combination of the two results in an amazing game, app, software, gadget - you name it. During the whole of this month, I've been exploring the App Store in the hopes that I'd find a game worthy to fill the remaining memory of my iPad, a game I wouldn't delete after a few days 'cause I got bored with it.

I think I've found them. Two beautifully made games worthy of both your memory and your time (and money, if you're uncomfortable with even-numbered options). I hope you're ready, 'cause I still haven't gotten over these two. 

 

PinOut 

Pinout is a modern remake of the classic Pinball game, made even better with a hip soundtrack and amazing colors. It's got awesome sound effects, really cool levels, and is overall a very nice game. The game is playable on all levels under the free tier, but if you want to continue from a certain level, you'll need to buy the app for Php150, and that unlocks the "start from wherever" feature. 

Since downloading the game, playing it on the free mode, then purchasing the app, I've become addicted. I love the colors, I always look forward to the soundtrack of each level, and I just have tons of fun. I play it when I'm bored or have time to spare before a meeting at work, and that usually puts me in a good mood for a while.

 

Dancing Line

Music is life (or part of it), and if you're a fellow music lover, this app will make you happy. It's based on tempo and the beat of the song, so you have to listen very carefully to each track (headphones are highly recommended). It's very clean, simple, beautiful, and calming. The first time I downloaded it, I spent hours trying to finish everything, to no success. The game gives you 15 cubes to use for each time you play (or attempt) a track. It automatically regenerates after a few minutes so you don't have to buy more cubes.

If you're me, however, and want to finish everything now and just like hoarding blocks, you can purchase them within the game. If I remember correctly, it's Php 49 for 50 cubes, and Php 149 for a 24-hour, unlimited play-time. This purchase is optional though, so you'll still get to experience the full game for free. It's definitely worth a go.

 

Any apps you've discovered recently that you like? Let me know in the comments so I can check them out too! :)

We Happy View: A Truly Gorgeous Game

Everyone who knows me personally knows that I adore playing first-person games, especially if it's open-world and has very nice graphics. It just so happened that I decided to buy a truly gorgeous game (in its early stages), and now, I'll be sharing my first thoughts with you guys!

 

The Story

We Happy Few is an action-adventure, indie game that is currently in its Early Access stage on Steam. It was released last July 26, 2016 under Compulsion Games and from that point to now, the reviews have been very positive.

"We Happy Few is the tale of a plucky bunch of moderately terrible people trying to escape from a lifetime of cheerful denial in the city of Wellington Wells. Set in a drug-fuelled, retrofuturistic city in an alternative 1960s England, you’ll have to blend in with its other inhabitants, who don’t take kindly to people who don’t abide by their not-so-normal rules." (Compulsion Games)

While the game is yet to be finished, what's available for play is already pretty good. Stunning graphics, a great crafting system, nice voice acting, and in general just a fun, purposeful gameplay.

Actual in-game screenshot taken during my frist play-through.

Actual in-game screenshot taken during my frist play-through.

The game also plays with the concept of extreme joy and depression, where both might lead to insanity. In the game, people can be classified as "Downers" if they stopped taking their "Joy" pills, a drug regularly given to them by the 1960's British Dystopian England government. Not taking the pill makes you "remember" certain things whereas taking them will mask that depression and make you a generally accepted individual. You blend in, and from what I've played so far, blending in is the key to finishing the game.

Currently, you get to play as Arthur Hastings, a man who (by the player's choice) chooses not to take his Joy and end up on the wrong side of society - the Downers. He is chased down a tunnel and that's basically where the game starts.

 

The Numbers

The game is on Steam and retails for Php 759.95 (roughly $15-$16). That's an okay price given the current state of the game. Before buying though, make sure your rig meets the minimum, with more juice to spare (trust me, this will make the game more enjoyable).

The minimum requirement (vs. recommended):

  • OS: 64 bit, Windows 7 and above
  • Processor: Triple-core Intel or AMD, 2.0 GHz or faster (Quad-core Intel or AMD, 2.5 GHz or faster)
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 460 GTX or AMD Radeon 5870 HD series or higher Mobile: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M or higher. (NVIDIA GeForce 660 GTX or AMD Radeon 7870 HD series or higher)
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 6 GB available space

Get the recommended rig and you'll save yourself from having to turn a few settings down. I've tried playing with reduced settings and it isn't so bad. The feel kind of took me back to Amnesia.

 

The Cons

During my last gameplay, I got a little stressed over the map. It may be because it's on alpha, but there was no panning feature. You could zoom in or out but you couldn't navigate through the map. I also wish they'd put in indicators for the phone booths too like what they did for the water pumps and houses. It would've made it easier. But then I guess that's the point of the game. It's either your memory's really good or you're stupid enough to go around checking booths - which you've probably already opened - all night.

It's also weird how the time in-game shows it's already 8PM but the sky still looks 5PM. It only gets dark when it's 11PM and even then, the nighttime is very short.

 

The Verdict

I had been waiting to play this since it was announced early last year when they came out with a trailer that blew my mind. It was everything I wanted in a game: stunning graphics, mission-based and free-roaming options, first-person POV, a dark theme to go along with the violence, and a nice enough story line. It was like waiting for Outlast before it officially came out and I hoped it wouldn't disappoint.

It hasn't, so far. For an Early Access Game, everything looks exciting already. As the game develops, we'll get to see the pieces forming together.

Google Cardboard & 360 Videos

It's a given that a lot of new ways to enjoy video have been popping out, and one in particular has caught us all in the net: 360° videos. It started with Google's Cardboard, which is a basic strap-on device that allows you to move your head around and see everything that that virtual world had to offer.

I bought mine online around a year ago for an incredibly low price, and I still use it to this day. After the fun of putting the whole thing together (the version (1?) I got wasn't ready-to-wear), the actual experience began. Back then (August 2015 or so), there weren't a lot of great apps and videos to try the Cardboard on, and some just made me straight-up nauseous. I lost interest a few weeks later and stored it on one of the shelves home. 

I got my kit looking exactly like this one. They came folded with the lenses packed into two separate plastics, along with instructions on putting them together. It was an easy process.

I got my kit looking exactly like this one. They came folded with the lenses packed into two separate plastics, along with instructions on putting them together. It was an easy process.

It was only within this year that Virtual Reality (VR) and 360° videos started to go uphill. It became the talk of the tech industry, and for the first time, more people began exposing themselves to this form of art. 

Realizing I had given my Cardboard enough time to rest, I picked it up a month ago and got back into the game - literally. There were now more videos, more apps, and more games to immerse yourself into, and my excitement came back. Some still sucked, some made me dizzy, but there were select few that, when paired with some great headphones, made for an incredible experience. Here are a few Youtube 360° videos that I found entertaining.

Note: The 360 experience can only be activated on mobile via the Youtube App. This won't work on your browser (and it will take the experience away).

 

Shadows Lurking From Within

The best VR experience is one that induces horror, and this one is best played in a dark room with headphones on. It'll help if you're alone at home too, haha. 

 

Open Blue 360 Experience (Teaser)

For someone who grew up knowing how to swim and being at the beach most of the time, the ocean terrifies me. It's my Xenophobia kicking in, and thanks to VR, I can swim with the sharks, whales, and eels however often I want, without endangering myself.

 

Clash of Clans 360: Experience A Virtual Reality Raid

If you've played Clash of Clans, I'm sure you'll find this one fun (and even if you haven't, you sure would, too). A First-Person perspective from the Archer's Tower, you'll see all the action.

There are heaps more 360° videos out on Youtube to be explored, so gear up (either buy the Google Cardboard to experience VR at a reasonably cheap price or invest on a higher-end model) and be ready for an incredible ride.
 

I'm honestly just waiting for VR to get into the 'online classes' area. Now that would be interactive, first-person learning.

Face-Off: Apple vs Spotify

So you want to subscribe to a streaming service (Apple Music or Spotify), but you don't know which one will suit your needs. Well, as someone who's currently subscribed to both, I'd like to share my experience (and why I didn't stick to one).

Initial Thoughts

As a friend once put it, anything you have to pay for monthly that doesn't fit under the basic necessities group is a luxury in the Philippines, and I agree. I had doubts as to whether or not these services would give me my money's worth (I'm not a rich kid, and I help pay the bills at home, too), but for a music lover like me, I just couldn't resist trying them out. After months of subscription, I'm loving the experience.

 

Apple Music

Admittedly, I'm a biased Apple fan. If I had more money than I could fit under my credit limit, I'd be using Apple devices for everything (not too far behind though, as I'm already using a Mac, an iPod, and an iPhone). This isn't just because it feels great to use premium products or that I become "in" with my friends - it's about the slick, user-friendly feel the brand gives off. While Apple Music isn't perfect (I go crazy over small bugs sometimes), it still makes me happy. They've also rolled out an Android app, but it still has a lot of bugs and issues the developers have yet to face.

In terms of playlist organization, I feel AM does its job fairly well. The only problem I've encountered so far is the inability to add local songs (meaning tracks that aren't from the iCloud Apple Music library) to a playlist that has iCloud music on it. This means that the songs I've purchased in a physical shop in a CD form and then added to iTunes can't be mixed with tracks from Apple Music. This was a pain when some J-Pop tracks I have locally aren't on Apple Music.

In terms of look and feel, I am so much happier seeing light colors and a grid of my downloaded music (filtered by album). This is something all iDevices share - their ultra sleek, minimalist interface. Some updates, however, mess with the User Experience, and sometimes, I just want to revert to the previous version.

In terms of its music library, AM is quite limited in the Japanese/Korean library, but for other genres/moods, I think they have it together. It is incredibly artist-based too, and that's something I find helpful, as I usually search for the artist instead of song title. Once I trust an artist's vocal skills, I often take the leap and download almost all their tracks to sift through later.

In terms of its curated/user-made playlists, I feel there's still room for improvement. While I love the fact that I only get curated ones (and not someone's random playlist he just made public), some songs might have been better off included in another playlist. Of course, everyone's taste in music differs. I might not have been able to explore more, but so far, this is one of their weak points.

Some problems I've faced with the service is its sudden "playlist/song loss" after an update (this happened to me recently, too). After updating to its recent version (iTunes v.12.4), some tracks disappeared from my library, and some of my playlists became a little scrambled. Apple Support had an immediate cure for this though, but granted they're already a big player in the tech industry, something so simple shouldn't be an issue at all.

 

Spotify

Before AM, there was Spotify, and for a time, I could tell you I swore by their service. I had been on Basic Spotify for years before finally deciding to go premium last year, mainly because I grew tired of the adds and not being able to download my playlists for offline listening. One great thing about this is is that it has a solid, working app for both Android and iOS, so all I'll need is a cheap android phone with a Play Store and an internet connection.

In terms of playlist organization, Spotify has you covered. They're pretty much similar (with AM) in that you can't include local songs into a playlist and expect it to also be available for offline listening on your device. I tried adding local tracks from my mac's Spotify app to a playlist, then downloading the entire playlist on one of my Androids and upon playback, they local tracks were grayed out. Other than that, Spotify playlists work fine.

In terms of look and feel, Spotify's color scheme can be a little... rough (?), for lack of a better word. Yeah, I like how the colors push the attention towards the content, which is great, but sometimes it just takes longer for my eyes to adjust. In design, we are told as much as possible (and depending on purpose) to avoid placing white text on a dark background as it strains the eyes and makes the eyes work harder to read the text. This is a minor thing, although I normally want to search for indie, alternative music whenever I see Spotify's colors.

In terms of its music library, I love how diverse it can be. I love how there are short to lengthy podcast-type tracks for books, or short stories, for poetry, and for other genres you won't normally look for. Again, I feel Spotify lacks more J-Pop/Rock tracks and artists from other parts of the world. I'd again have to rely on my local tracks to account for this. I feel Spotify relies more on playlists, than it does artist searches, and this helps me because I use Spotify to discover artists across different genres.

In terms of its curated/user-made playlists, I'd have to say it tends to be cluttered. Their curated playlists are so-so, and user-made playlists are quite all over the place. Like I said before, I love their playlist-centeredness, 'cause I discover more artists that way. I just think it would do them good to tidy up once in a while. (I'm not sure there's a feature to turn off user-made playlists, so if there is, tell me how and maybe I'll change my mind about this whole thing, haha.)

Some problems I've faced include being logged out more often than I can count on my devices after an update. I've tried posting on their support forum regarding the issue, and I still haven't been replied to (it's been around 6-7 months already). Another problem is that I've been hacked twice for no understandable reason. I change my password regularly, and I always make mine 17 characters with a mixture of symbols, numbers, upper and lowercase letters, but I still get hacked. Is this a normal thing ? Thankfully, their support team has constantly helped with my issue.

 

So Why Subscribe to Both?

Like sleeping under a blanket with one leg out to feel cool, I want the best of both worlds. Since my personal search style in creating playlists is artist-based, Apple Music tends to that need like a pro. Apple Music's greatest feature (well, for me anyway) is their "New" section, and that gives me an overview of the hottest artists and the tracks they're becoming popular for in a heartbeat. Spotify, on the other hand, allows me to explore and search for unknown artists through playlists (organized by genre). This means I need to focus on my mood for the day to look for new artists. The thing is, after I find an artist I like, I switch over to Apple Music and type in the artist to search for other songs under him/her.

Think of Spotify as my search pool and Apple Music as my music organizer. This works a lot for me as Spotify's color scheme often makes me blue and Apple Music's colors invite me to stay alert and happy.

Although that is generally how I use both services, I sometimes spend hours on Spotify organizing songs into playlists and syncing them to my Android. This happens most especially when I'm on the road as I trust Spotify's internet reliability more (since their app is already stable enough) and also because our network providers have special promos regarding Spotify streaming.

 

Do you agree, or feel that I simply missed some features of either service? Care to enlighten me (or challenge me to a duel, haha)? Comment below on what you think.