Taking a trip to the cavernous art space and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, the NY Phil explored Finnish composer Kaija Saariahos sumptuous, theatrical work
On this seasons opening night, back in September, the New York Philharmonics outgoing music director, Alan Gilbert, led a subtly activist gala program that included Gershwins Concerto in F. The performance was activist in nature because it allowed the nights soloist jazz virtuoso Aaron Diehl to improvise in and around Gershwins written part. And it was subtle because the chance-taking worked so thoroughly and elegantly: an experimentalism that didnt have to call attention to itself.
This week, the Philharmonic is making another of its periodic visits to one of New Yorks contemporary performance art palaces, the Park Avenue Armory. As usual, the venturesome quality of the trip outside Lincoln Center is being more explicitly underlined. This is the same site that saw Gilbert and the Philharmonics performance of Stockhausens multi-orchestral masterpiece Gruppen (along with spatial music by Mozart and Boulez). This time around, the organizational theme centered on the sumptuous textures of works by contemporary Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, in a concert conducted by Philharmonic composer-in-residence Esa-Pekka Salonen.
The composer-in-residence position is, by the way, another Gilbert innovation during his time at the Philharmonic. Perhaps the point is obvious, at this juncture, but it still bears repeating: in its stylistic flexibility and in its approach to repertoire, the Philharmonic is working at an unusually high level, under Gilberts directorship. The point was underlined again on Thursday nights opening performance, the first of a two-night stand at the Armory. Helping round out the sense of the gig as an event was video art accompaniment, supervised by director Pierre Audi (whos also prepping Rossinis Guillaume Tell at the Met).
Any worries that the visuals would detract from concentration on the music were quickly vanquished, during the short opening orchestral piece, Lumire et Pesanteur. The overture-length work, dedicated to Salonen, was cinematic enough on its own. Early on, a pretty, delicate figure moved from a trumpet to a flute, while waves of strange harmony morphed as they passed through the wider orchestra. (The visual counterpoint was just a smoky series of cloud-like nimbuses.)
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The original Olympus PEN-F arrived in 1963 and quickly gained a cult following. Solid design made it an instant classic, and an unusual half-frame photo formatpacked as many as 72 images onto a 36-exposure roll of 35mm film.
Beautiful, classic design. Excellent selection of high-quality manual controls. Sensor produces some of the best images you’ll get from a Micro Four Thirds camera. Decent flash accessory. Highly customizable creative filters you can select using the wheel on the front.
At $1,200, it’s awfully pricey for a Micro Four Thirds camera. The lack of a 4K video mode stands out in 2016.
Buy It Now | Olympus
How We Rate
Thedigital PEN-Fcribs from the lookof original but offers thoroughly modern technology. Inside you’ll find a best-in-class 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor with 5-axis image stabilization. Perched in the top-left corner of the body sitsa bright 2.36 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder.Other notable specs include 10 frames per second continuous shooting (or 20 fps with electronic shutter), 1080p at 60 fps video (yep, another Olympus camera without 4K video) and a cool, if limited, 50-megapixel “high-resolution image” mode. More on that in a minute.
This camera sits in a class full of capable high-end compacts, witheverything you’d expect from a camera with interchangeable lenses and a price north of $1,000. It sportsan articulating 3-inch touchscreen, Wi-Fi connectivity, nine auto-focus modes, and a nice set of customizable controls. The retro design uses an aluminum and magnesium body with no visible screws, and Olympus really packed onthe dials and knobs. The number of options under my thumb are so plentiful that I rarely needed to use the on-screen menu.
Olympus has created the most film-like camera that I’ve used since selling my Nikon F3 and goingdigital. It even has the nicest faux-leather strap I’ve seen included with a camera. I found the articulated flashattachment even more useful, and it is far betterthan the fixed or pop-up varieties you usually see on cameras in this class.
If you’re thinking, “Hmm, this sounds pricey,” you’re absolutely right. The PEN-F is a wonderful camera, but at $1,200, it simply costs too much.
Outwardly, the PEN F looks more like a FujiFilm X100 than its ’60s namesake. It lacks the optical viewfinder of the X100,but the electronic viewfinder is in more or less thesame position. I found it wonderfully bright, but the diopter disagreedwith my eyes. I’m not sure about thedifference, or whether the camera I tested had a problem, but I could not get the electronic viewfinder sharp enough for my eye. If you wear corrective lenses like I do, it might be worth getting your hands on a PEN-F to seehow it works for you before committing to one.
But honestly, I didn’t rely much on the electronic viewfinder while testing.I am long accustomed to using the rear LCD screen for composing images with Micro Four Thirds cameras.
You tap into Olympus’s included image effects using a dedicated knob on the front of the PEN-F. With a twist, you can dial in settings for monochrome and color profile controls, color creator, and art filters.Each of adjusts the color saturation in your images, and each is customizable. Like other reviewers, I found them fun for about an hour. After that, I largelyignored them. I prefer to shoot RAW and add any effects whileprocessing images, but if you want straight-from-the-camera JPGs, Olympus provides an impressive set of customizable processing options. They aren’t quite as good as FujiFilm’s (the sharpening can be a bit harsh), but they’re close.
One reason I didn’t find the filters on the front-mounted wheel appealing is because the images coming out of the PEN-F are quite good to begin with—particularly the RAW files, which offer what may bethe best dynamic range I’ve seen in a Micro Four Thirds rig.
This camera offers features similar to those on other Olympus cameras, but they’re just a bit better here. For example the multi-shot high-res mode of the PEN-F is capable of 80 megapixels (if you shoot RAW; JPG is limited to 50) which is up from the OM-D E-M5 II’s 64-megapixel files. That said, high-res only works with a tripod and a really still subject. Wind-blown leaves blurred the landscapes I tried. But the PEN-F probably would do fine in the treeless deserts of Utah.
I found the PEN-Fquitecomfortable. If you have large hands, you might find the grip skimpy, but that’s a common complaint with the smaller bodies of Micro Four Thirds cameras. I found the PEN-F just about perfect in terms of weight and balance. I tested it with two lenses that Olympus provided, a 17mm (35mm equivalent) and a 25mm (50mm equivalent) both of which felt well balanced on the body. Although the camera felt front-heavy with my big Panasonic zoom, I found it to be more comfortable on this camera than on the Lumix GF1 it’s usually attached to.
The PEN-F’s dials and knobs strike that perfect balance Olympus is famous for, easily turned yet sturdy enough to keep from rotating on their own in your bag.
I found the PEN-F a joy to use, and liked it so much that remembering the $1,200 price invariably disappointed me. If Olympus priced it at $800, the PEN-F would be a best-in-class camera I couldn’t eagerly recommend. However, when you can get a similar camera like the FujiFilm X-E2S for $700 with an APS-C sensor, I find it tough to justify that price. Still, Olympus built an excellent camera, soif you want something that looks great and produces wonderful images, ignore the fashion tax and buy it.
Belgiums government averted a political crisis by relegating plans to cut the tax rate on corporate profits and calls for a capital gains levy to further review as the conflict threatened to derail a last-minute budget deal.
You cant let things like this depend on the outcome of a deal struck in early hours, said Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Flemish public broadcaster VRT. Thats why we decided to give ourselves more time and take a closer look at the impact on corporate financing and job creation.
Prime Minister Charles Michel canceled an appointment last Tuesday to present the 2017 budget and measures to accomodate private-sector job creation in parliament in Brussels. Talks between the four coalition parties had stalled over Flemish Christian Democrats demands for the introduction of a capital gains tax on stock investments. De Croo spoke as he left Michels office shortly before midnight. Under European Union rules, Belgium must submit its draft budget by Oct. 15.
Michel will give details about the 2017 budget at a briefing shortly after 11 a.m. on Saturday. According to De Croo, the political agreement amounts to a 3 billion-euro ($3.3 billion) effort, keeping the governments target of a structurally balanced budget in 2018 within reach.
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A rare misstep for the Oscar-winning director is an adaptation of Ben Fountains acclaimed novel flattened by ill-fitting experimentation with new technology
Theres a lot going on in Billy Lynns Long Halftime Walk, an alternately somber and boisterous film about the effect of combat on America. But despite the great wealth of compelling psychological, interpersonal and social drama that this promises, the complexities are left to those behind the camera to unravel. For director Ang Lee, he sees his latest project as a way to revolutionize how we experience cinema.
Its a lofty goal but Lees coming off the back of his Oscar win for the visually stunning adaptation of Yann Martels Life of Pi, a film that dazzled us with 3D wonders, arguably placed ahead of emotional engagement. But that was a project that demanded a skilled special effects team, a story too extraordinary to be told without. His follow-up is another adaptation, this time of Ben Fountains satirical award-winning novel about veterans and Lees keen to use it as a guinea pig for a new format.
The key here is immersion and as well as 3D, the film utilizes an increased frame rate of 120 frames per second, compared with 48 for The Hobbit trilogy. To the uninitiated, its that ultra-HD feel a high-end TV often adds, removing the slightest blemish but also a familiar gloss, making the biggest blockbuster feel like a documentary. Its a strange test subject for this technology and Lees two-hour argument that this will be how all films should be viewed in the future is a failed one.
The story follows Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn), a young soldier returning from a heroic tour in Iraq where media attention has turned him into a national celebrity in the US. Along with his squadron, hes being pushed around the country on a promotional tour, which is set to culminate during the halftime show of a Thanksgiving football game. But Lynn is struggling to acclimatize and a series of flashbacks showcase the difficult journey thats led him to this day.
When The Hobbit first unleashed an increased frame rate on audiences, feedback was mixed and by the end of the trilogy, converts were thin on the ground. Its an interesting concept to use an even faster frame rate for a film that exists in a real setting, with the idea that emotions should feel more genuine and the story more involving. But the irony is that the novelty of the technique ultimately makes the film feel like even more of a construct. The intimacy of certain scenes feels invaded, and its a struggle to feel emotional involvement within the flashy technique.
Its a curious, often lifeless film that has something to say and at times, almost makes a point or two, but too often it meanders awkwardly and Lees decision to shoot it in this way only serves to show up the inadequacies even more. Any false note, and there are quite a few from a cast of newcomers, is amplified and when a note doesnt ring true, it falls with a thud, harder than usual.
Taking away the technology, theres still a jarring mismatch between source material and film-maker. Fountains novel was praised for its post-modern satire, something that has only made it to the screen in brief glimpses. Theres a meta sub-plot about the squadrons heroic actions being adapted for the big screen with jabs made about the generic nature of Hollywoodised war films and Lee does deserve credit for not turning the project into American Sniper 2. But one feels as if there was a smarter, sharper, sadder film to be made here. Its almost there in the scenes between Lynn and his sister, played by MVP Kristen Stewart, that threaten to force reality through the 3D. But theyre sadly not enough to keep us involved.
Alwyn, effortlessly masking his British accent, makes a strong impression as Lynn and hints at better things to come in future roles while small appearances from Vin Diesel and Steve Martin make for amiable distractions. Its just a film that never really finds its footing, a problem that would have been noticeable with or without the increased frame rate. Its just that at 120 frames a second, its so much more noticeable.
The bestthings about the Daydream View, Google’s $79 mobile-driven virtual reality headset that comes out today, arewhat it isn’t: Complicated. Heavy. Expensive. Finicky. Most importantly of all, though, it’s not Cardboard. Google knows for Daydream to take off, the VR platform has to be as simple as as the assemble-it-yourself cheapo phone holster that’s brought so many people into immersive virtual worldsfor the first time—just better. Much better.
Much like the Google Pixel phone that powers it, the View is almost entirely featureless. Very unlike the Pixel, though—and unlike every other VR headset out there—the View manages to look and feel cozy. The eyebox is an uninterrupted swatch of soft heathered material. When you slip it over your head, a single wide fabric strap keeps everything secure, and a padded linerlets the headset rest snugly on your face withoutleaving pressure marks. The linercan even be removed and hand-washedwhich, seriously, you may want to consider doing every now and then. Your T-zone will thank you.
Google Daydream View
Comfortable for long spells. Feels good to the touch. Fast, responsive trackingespecially impressive after Cardboard’s disappointing performance. A versatile controller that enhances every experience.
Unreliable NFC pairing. A launch slate that’s overreliant on Google’s own apps.
Buy It Now | Google
How We Rate
Flip down the faceplate, place your Pixel on the four contact points, and the View should recognize it immediately via NFC and prompt you to close the lid. “Should” being the operative word. If I’d recently restarted the phone, all happened as expected, but many times I needed to explicitly launch a VR app just to receive the prompt to place my Pixel in the View—and sometimes I got no prompt at all, leading to a frustrating game of Home Screen Bingo to see what would trigger the launch sequence.
Once things start running, though, and the View is on your head, it (with a little help from you) pairs with the headset’s not-so-secret weapon: the companion controller. As my colleague David has already pointed out, the small pillbox-shaped device functions like a cross between the Apple TV’s remote and a Wiimote, though VR fans will find the Oculus Rift’s remote the handiest comparison. Yet, it’s an improvement on all of those, as well as handily eclipsing the touchpad-on-the-side-of-the-headset input scheme of theSamsung Gear VR, the View’s nearest competitor. It’s your all-in-one Daydream input device, taking various forms depending on what you’re doing. Because it’s motion-tracked, it act asa laser pointer, an aiming reticle, a flashlight, a wand, or just about anything you need it to be. Its buttons bring up in-game options or kick you back to an app-selection screen; around area near the top for your thumbcan function as a joystick, a rotary selector, or a swipe-able touchpad. It’s versatile, powerful, andwhilethe pairing dropped a handful times during my testing, it enhances everything you do in Daydream.
The first place you’ll use it is in Daydream’s pastoral home environment, a forest clearing with a waterfall to your right and a stream flowing nearby. In front of you hovers thesame tiledselection of apps that has emerged as VR’s default UI. (Passing your controller’s selector over the icons in Daydream, though,triggers a nifty 3D animation.) Our review unit included a small selection of titles, from Google’s own products like Street Viewand YouTube VR to third-party games and experiences: astronomy exploration tool Star Chartis a standout, as is cute if inconsequential puzzle game Mekorama.
The good news is that the vast majority of these are flawlessly comfortable experiences. The View might be significantly more wearable than a Google Cardboard viewer, but it’s still essentially the same thing: a phone holster with some lenses in it. There’s no focus wheel, no interpupillary distance adjustment—no input whatsoever. While the Samsung Gear VR has some onboard motion sensors and establishes a hard connection with the phone via its mini-USB jack, the View eschews all that, instead relying solely on the Pixel’s (and controller’s) internal sensors for all tracking. And it does so surprisingly well.
My only brush with VRdiscomfort was in a mini-game collection called Wonderglade:something about the top-down view and the game’s detached camera control came together in unholy matrimony and turned what should have beena pleasant gameof minigolf into a headache I’ve come to know as a precursor to simulator sickness. That’s the fault of the game design, though, notDaydream’s tracking. (By contrast, I found action-RPGHunters Gateto beperfectly comfortable,despite needing to use my thumb and my controller in different waysand looking around at my surroundingswhile doing both.)
For all the good, keep in mind that this is still mobile VR. You can swivel in a chair or look up and down, but you can’t physically move through a virtual space. Fully positionally-tracked VR isn’t yet available in a standalone or mobile-driven headset; for now, if you want to be cable-free or avoid buying a PC or PlayStation 4 (and the multi-hundred-dollar headset to go with it), you’re looking at a somewhat constrained VR experience.
But for a constrained VR experience, this is as good as I’ve seen. A Pixel XL’s Quad HD OLED screen delivers an image as good as you’ll get using a Galaxy phone with the Gear VR, and Google has done a lot of work to optimize the phone to deliver great VR. If you’re not a Verizon customer, you’ll need to wait until there’s a Daydream-ready phone on your own carrier, but that won’t be a long wait: as Google announced in May,at least eight differentAndroid manufacturers, from Asusto Xiaomi,will be rolling out Daydream-capable phones. (There’ll even be other Daydream headsets eventually.)
Daydream also has the benefit of coming nearly two years after the Oculus Store first launched. The VR pipeline is robust, and growing all the time. There are more than 40 other games, experiences and apps arriving on Daydream over the next two months,While many of those are already staples of most other VR platforms (Netflix, NYT VR, cartoonish racer VR Karts, the bomb-defusing game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes), a healthy number of them are newcomers. That infusion of talent is integral to people not just buying in, but using VR.
When Google first surprised us withits Cardboard viewer, it was 2014: the first version of the Samsung Gear VR was still months away.Simply by representing an affordable buy-in, Cardboardspawned a seemingly endless paradeofcheap and easy(and, sure, mostlycrappy) phone-based headsets.Google knew that the quality would come; it just wanted people to be willing to tryVR. Now it’s got them thereand it’s giving them a better View.
For years, consumer hardware has increasingly differentiated with design. And while Microsoft’s latest Surface Book hybrid features the premium materials, sleek looks, and lighter and thinner body you’d expect, it’s all about incredible engineering at its core.
This is the second version of the unique detachable device Microsoft first released a year ago, and outwardly the mechanics are largely the same. When the Surface Book’s 13.5-inch touchscreen docks in its mechanical-and-magnetic grip, it’s a powerful laptop with a comfortably spaced keyboard.
Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base
It’s a lean performance hybrid with an awesome keyboard. The sharp touchscreen has a sweet aspect ratio for hard-core doc-jockeying. Laptop mode offers the graphics performance of a decent gaming laptop. It does hybrid right.
Battery life is solid, but falls short of the 16 hours claimed. Sometimes you will forget where the power button is. It’s expensive, but you’re essentially getting two computers in one.
Buy It Now | Microsoft
How We Rate
But then you hold down a button for a second, hear an electromechanical thunk, and lift the display right off. Thats the muscle wire lock working as designed, a special mechanism that keeps the screen on tight in laptop mode, and lets it loose when you want a big-screened tablet PC instead—complete with its own three-hour battery and mobile processor. When it comes time to re-dock, go ahead and put the screen on backwards; the system still works and sips from the main battery, giving you a gently sloped surface to write on with the included Surface Pen stylus.
All of which makes Surface Book a unique entry in the portable PC field, even a year later. And while this year’s model—the Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base—doesn’t reinvent the hinge, it does offer a dual-core Intel Core i7 CPU, up to 16 gigs of RAM, and dedicated graphics processors for more gaming and graphics oomph. Not that you can tell from the outside; the new machine looks just like last years Surface Book.
The new model sticks with the same a 13.5-inch, 3000 x 2000 touchscreen display, and its 3:2 aspect ratio leaves ample vertical real estate for rockin’ Word docs. It has same signature bendy-straw hinge as its predecessor, the same surprisingly good speakers, the same contoured magnesium-alloy body with chiseled details, and the same MacBook-silver coloration.
There are differences, though, all of them hidden inside. As a result, the newer Surface Book is a little bit heavier, weighing in at around 3.7 pounds versus the previous model’s 3.5-pound frame. Those extra ounces are no big deal, as it remains a fairly light load in your laptop bag.
The most notable change is an upgraded graphics processing unit, which makes the Surface Book with Performance Base more attractive for gamers, video editors, or CAD whizzes who found last years internals too wimpy. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M GPU tucked inside now is an upgrade from the Nvidia 940M-range GPU found in last year’s models, and theres also double the memory devoted to it (2GB of GDDR5 RAM).
The upgrade pays off; the 2016 Surface Book is super-powerful for such a slim, light, and versatile machine. For the majority of mixed-use cases during testing—streaming a bunch of video, writing this review, surfing the web, and listening to music—the Surface Book had no trouble multitasking without a hiccup. It really zips. Thats to be expected out of the top configuration I tested, a $3,300 rig with a top-shelf Core i7 with 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD. Still, it lives up to very lofty performance expectations.
I ran it through 3DMarks Cloud Gate benchmark test for all-purpose laptops, and the Surface Pro with Performance Base churned out a score of 8,803, which was significantly better than most 2013 gaming laptops and any general-purpose portable PC. On the more intense Sky Diver test, it held its own as well, netting a 10,738 score that also put it above older gaming laptops and all-purpose portables. No, it’s not on par with newer gaming laptops—it wont handle Oculus VR, for example—but it’s especially impressive when you factor in its size, weight, and versatility.
One perk that the new Surface Book didn’t live up to was its listed 16 hours of battery life in laptop mode. I tested the laptop through three complete charge and recharge cycles, with normal heavy use, and it gave me between six and seven hours of juice at a time. Microsoft suggested downloading the latest Windows update, which did improve power management quite a bit, boosting me to around nine to 10 hours per charge. Another caveat: Microsoft’s battery life spec is based on video playback, not mixed use. The upshot is that you get solid mileage, but don’t expect to make from sunup to sundown with everyday use, unless you live in the Arctic.
Outside of the fresh new engine and bulked-up battery life, the experience of using the new Surface Book is exactly the same as using last years model. Thats largely a long list of pluses: I am a huge fan of its keyboard, which has wider keys, better ergonomics for bigger hands, and more pleasant key travel than the 13-inch MacBook Pro I normally use. The input options are decent, with two USB 3.0 ports and an SD reader along its left edge, and a mini DisplayPort jack on the right edge.
The Surface Books detached-screen experience is best described as tablet PC rather than tablet. When its freed from its dock, the big ol slate runs full Windows 10 programs and is more like a desktop experience than the app-filled iPad. Microsoft calls it Clipboard Mode, which is apt; its size and shape really do make it feel like a clipboard in your hands. In other words, its bulkier than your average iPad. For most casual users, Clipboard Mode will primarily be a nice-to-have feature for reading and watching movies on a plane.
Casual users probably aren’t ponying up this much for a laptop, though. And while Im certainly not the target audience for drawing on its touchscreen all that much, Microsoft nailed the feel of writing with the Surface Pen. It feels like a cross between the worlds smoothest ballpoint and jotting on a slick whiteboard. Just as importantly, stowing the Surface Pen is as simple as sticking it on the edge of the Surface Book’s display with its super-strong magnetic innards. For artists, its certainly worth at least a test sketch to see if it fits your needs.
There are tiny complaints with the new Surface Book here and there. The placement of the power button and the headphone jack will never feel quite right; to accommodate its standalone tablet mode, the Books power button is on the top of the display and the headphone jack is on the top right edge. Cords be danglin. Due to the unique hinge design, theres also a small loopy gap between the screen and the keyboard when the Book is closed. It didnt bother me at all, but it bears mentioning.
Just like the first version of the machine, Surface Book with Performance Base is certainly a laptop first—a damn good laptop first, with a great keyboard, superb performance, and a sharp display that gains more than youd think from its aspect ratio. The new graphics-boosted configurations represent steps up in performance, with the same clever engineering elements that make them such unique portables. But theyre certainly pricey, and if you can do without the tablet mode—and if you truly want a tablet, not a slate PC, you probably can—you can find a similarly powerful machine for the same price or less.
It just wont be as cool.
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The Blu R1 HD starts at $50, works on T-Mobile or AT&T, and will arrive on your doorstep in two days. It is, for all intents and purposes, an Amazon phone.
For Prime members who are fully entrenched in Amazons ecosystem, from Photos to Music to Video to Cloud Drive, the Blu R1 HD comes preinstalled with every Amazon app from the factory.
Now, before you get too excited, you have to remember its a $50 phone.
Amazon ads all up in your face
In June, Amazon announced a new program in which the company takes preexisting Android devices, preloads the complete suite of Amazon apps and tweaks the operating system. Those tweaks allow Amazon to push ads to the lock screen of the device, similar to what the company has long done with its Kindle lineup.
It’s not all bad news. The ads fill up the lock screen when you don’t have any pending notifications. But if you do have pending notifications, they just show up like any other notification.
It’s jarring to see the ads at first, but after a few days I got used to seeing them every time I woke up the phone. If you flat out dislike the idea of ads on your phone, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Also, know that you can’t pay a one-time fee to remove them later like you can with the Kindles with ads.
In exchange for letting Amazon shove ads in your face every time you pick up your phone, the company knocks the price down.
For example, the Blu R1 HD with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM normally would set you back $110. Someone who purchases the same phone through Amazons Prime Exclusive Phones will get a $50 discount, making the total cost for an unlocked smartphone $60.
Theres a less equipped version of the Blu R1 HD with 8GB of storage and 1GB of memory you can get for $50. Both models have a microSD card slot capable of accepting cards up to 64GB.
Motorola has partnered with Amazon on two of its Moto G4 devices, priced at $100 and $150 after the discount.
Google and Amazon apps
The Blu R1 HD runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and as previously mentioned comes preloaded with Amazon apps. The good news is when you enter your Amazon credentials during setup, all of the Amazon apps Prime Music, Video, Photos, or Alexa are already set up for use with your account.
For what its worth, you cant completely remove any of the Amazon apps, which makes sense. You can, however, disable the apps so you dont have to look at any unused app icons.
Theres little in the way of customizations from Blu, save for an option to schedule a time for the device to turn itself off and on.
Outside of that, the Blue R1 HD provides a pretty basic Android experience. No frills, no fluff, just Amazon and Google playing nice together.
I was somewhat surprised at how well the Blu R1 HD performed during my time with the phone. As it cost $59, my expectations for the device were very low. I anticipated having to wait for emails to open, apps to launch, and taps or swipes to register.
For the most part, I was wrong and the phone handled common tasks as one would expect. In other words, emails promptly opened, apps launched with quickness, and taps or swipes were registered without any delay.
Gaming, however, is where the Blu R1 HD begins to show its low-end specs. Asphalt 8 is a game I play on all review devices as a way of pushing the device to its limits (plus I enjoy the game quite a bit).
On the Blu R1 HD, graphics stuttered as the phone tried to keep up with gameplay. Its not enough to make the game unplayable, but its not something I could do for an extended chunk of time.
My loudest gripe, outside of the camera, has to be the display’s brightness. I couldnt leave the auto-brightness setting turned on because any lower than 80 percent brightness and the screen was just too dim. Ultimately I left the display set to max, and found it to work in all environments.
Overall battery life was just alright. Youll probably get a full day of use out of it, but barely.
I think this is the first smartphone camera I wouldnt feel comfortable applying the good enough for Facebook tagline to.
I dont know how else to say it, but the photos are bad. Like really bad. Colors are either overly muted and not all that realistic, or so overblown that the photo is, again, not close to reality.
Then again, maybe Im expecting too much from a phone that costs $1 more than Apples leather case for the iPhone 7 Plus. Yes, the camera can take pictures and video, just dont expect to be happy with the results on most occasions.
Should you buy it?
The vast majority like 99.75 percent of the time, that answer is no. The Blu R1 HD is a $50 phone with more concessions than giving Amazon access to blast ads to your lock screen. The camera alone almost makes it a no-go. Heck, for $50 more you can get the Amazon Prime Exclusive version of the Moto G4 Play and find yourself with a battery camera and superior battery life.
With that said, for someone who has met the sad fate of losing a phone and cant afford a new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone, the Blu R1 HD will get the job done.
And who knows, maybe the ads you see from Amazon will save you money on purchases you were going to end up making anyways.
Blu R1 HD
Ridiculously cheap Noticeable Amazon integration
Screen is too dim Laughable camera Slow performance at times
The Bottom Line
If youre on a tight budget and just want a phone to get by, you cant go wrong for $50.
The post Amazon Blu R1 HD review: Just barely good enough to get by appeared first on Safer Reviews, Unbiased & Independent Reviews..
USAs new anthology series based on a Norwegian small-town crime drama is dragged out a bit longer than necessary but is a deceptively substantial take
Theres a certain type of film-making the washed-out colors, the bleak autumn landscape, the small towns with big problems which are always about five minutes away from a downpour or maybe just five minutes after the end of one that suggest a TV drama set in the Pacific north-west.
To be even more specific, it usually indicates an American remake of a Scandinavian show. Remember The Killing? Sadly, I do too.
Eyewitness, a new anthology series, has that look and is a remake of a popular Norwegian show. But its actually set in Tivoli, New York, not far from Manhattan. The setting isnt the only thing thats different. It is a visually compelling and narratively complex (if a bit derivative) take on the small-town crime genre.
The big crime here is a drug-related multiple murder in a cabin on the heroin smuggling route from the city to points north. What should seem like an open and shut case of a drug deal gone wrong is complicated by a number of factors: one of the dead men was an FBI informant and the killer was somehow caught up with a nearby kingpins 17-year-old daughter.
But the biggest complication is that Lukas (James Paxton, son of Bill) and Philip (Tyler Young), two closeted high school students who stole away to the cabin for some intimate time together, witnessed the whole thing.
Lukas, the son of a local bigwig, refuses to let Philip talk about the crime not because he doesnt want to get involved but because he doesnt want to tell anyone what he and his friend were doing there.
To lend that level of coincidence that always infects a rural crime thriller, Philips new foster mother is the local sheriff. Helen (Julianne Nicholson) is a bit of a hard-ass, with observation and deduction skills that come in handy when trying to piece together a crime. Shes not so good at trying to make a skittish gay teenager trust her.
Helens investigation is thwarted by an FBI agent, Kamilah Davis (Tattiawna Jones) but aided by her wisecracking partner Tony (Matt Murray). That might be the big draw, but the story between the two teens is much more emotionally engaging.
In one of the better-observed stories about gay teens searching to make sense of their newfound sexual urges, the push and pull between Philip and Lukas is fascinating if painful to watch.
Lukas says at one point: I dont want to be that guy, my father doesnt want me to be that guy, no one wants me to be that guy. Though a bit trite, it perfectly encapsulates his feelings while showing he cant resist spending more time with Philip, not only as lovers but also as companions. The two almost seem to despise each other, even as they cant pull themselves away.
The other high point is Nicholsons performance. Though she has been on TV before, most notably in the quickly forgotten Red Road, it seems like an actress of her caliber should have landed a role this meaty before. She brings a great nuance to Helen, hard-edged but sympathetic.
Thankfully, her character is not the sort of very talented jerk that is usually at the center of a procedural. With her brittleness and dedication to her job, Helen is the type of character that would usually be played by a man. Her bland, well-meaning husband Gabe (Gil Bellows) is often left with little to do but care for the children.
While the investigation is dragged out a little bit longer than necessary over the 10 episodes, the ambient pleasures of watching Nicholson and her two young co-stars are enough to keep anyone plugging through the more boring stretches.
The show, adapted for American television by Adi Hasak (Shades of Blue) with the first two episodes directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight), offers a deceptive substance lying below the surface. Eyewitness will not only fool viewers into thinking its set in the Pacific north-west, but also that it is more conventional than it truly is.
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For reasons that never became clear to me, my brother-in-law Gregory emailed over the summer suggesting that I review a toaster called the Balmuda available only in Japan and Korea. His subject line was persuasive. It read: “The Perfect Toaster.”
Balmuda The Toaster
Beauty and consistency in a toaster. Helps preserve the moisture in whatever you’re toasting. It’s whimsical and cute, which is a good thing.
It’s not yet available in the US, and if you do get your hands on one, caveat emptor; you’re an ocean away from customer support or a valid warranty.
Buy It Now | Balmuda
How We Rate
I’d done some research on toasters a year prior and found the industry to be something of a confused sea: neither the brand nor the amount of money—from dirt-cheap to ludicrous—spent on a toaster guaranteed quality. It’s also not a space rife with innovation. The toasters we’re using today and the ones manufactured a generation ago are pretty similar, though the ones we’re using now tend to be chintzier.
Toaster ovens are their own special category separate from traditional slot toasters, and, thanks in large part to the distance between the heat source and the toast itself, they’re not renowned for making great toast. In fact, toaster-oven toast tends to be dried-out toast. This one, dubbed Balmuda The Toaster (about $220), seemed like it should be lumped in the toaster oven category, but Gregory’s subject line nagged at me. I also watched a video where, before toasting, water is poured into a slot into the top of the oven before toasting, effectively converting the Balmuda into a mini steam oven, a hack designed to keep what’s being cooked from drying out.
Getting my hands on one required some effort. I emailed Gregory, who lives in Seoul, and asked if he could contact Balmuda and get them to send a unit my way. Akin to vacuum manufacturer Dyson, Balmuda the company is known in Japan for creating design-forward items like fans, air filters, and electric heaters. One week later, the thing arrived looking like an upscale appliance from the Apple Store on Tatooine. It was surprisingly beautiful and more than a little bit cute. What really stuck out was the itty-bitty plastic mug that looked like it was pimped from a Holly Hobbie Oven set. I poured the water in a trap door in the top of the machine and watched the water reappear in a built-in slot in the front of the toaster.
Did I mention that all of the instructions were in Korean and Japanese or that I read neither? No matter. There were plenty of pictures and online videos and someone in Korea had handwritten helpful things like “toast,” “cheese toast,” and “croissant” next to their pictures in the manual. (There are also straight-up oven settings, but those aren’t going to drive a purchase decision on this device.) I plugged the machine in, put in some lovely croissants and twisted the timer dial to get things going. The timer sang a happy little tick-tick-tick as it counted down and made a “Ta-Da!” sound when it was done. When I tried to heat the croissants, lights around the dial blinked and indicated things should have been happening inside, but when I peered in the window, I noticed a particular lack of toaster glow. The croissants emerged warm but not hot and the water level was unchanged.
Toward the end of the cycle, the steam stops and there’s a burst of power to the heating elements, giving the bread a last-moment nudge toward toasty perfection.
I rifled through the manual then asked my editor: “We aren’t 220 volts like Korea, are we?” Two lines lower, the cover of the manual read “FOR USE IN KOREA ONLY. NO QUALITY ASSURANCE FOR OVERSEAS USE.”
Two days later, an incredibly heavy box arrived on my doorstep. Nested inside were two more boxes, each one smaller and somehow heavier feeling. Finally, I pulled out a car-battery sized transformer. Intense in its ugliness, it cast the odor of uncured plastic in a five-foot radius around it. A yin to Balmuda’s cute yang, it nevertheless got the toaster working.
I’d bought a loaf of shokupan, a sort of extra-thick Wonder Bread cousin that’s really, really big in Japan. I put two slices inside the Balmuda, selected the toast setting and turned the timer to four minutes. The top and bottom heating elements alternated on and off, as if saying hello to one another. Steam emerged from little vents in the side of the door.
I opened the door to toast that was evenly browned on both sides, save for the thin white strips on one side where the oven grate blocked the bottom element’s radiant heat. I pulled out the butter and my friend Rene’s “Just Peachy” jam.
For a little while my wife Elisabeth and I just reveled in toasty goodness. Only toward the end of my slice did I stop to think that I should be a bit more scientific in my carbo loading. I grabbed my trusty red Cuisinart Metal Classic 4-Slice Toaster and did a two-unit head-to-head shokupan toast-off. Honestly, the toast they produced wasn’t incredibly different. The Balmuda took a whisker longer to get to the same degree of doneness, but the evenness of toasting, particularly comparing sides of the same piece of toast was more consistent. I also noted a bit more tender chewiness in the Balmuda slice.
There’s innovation under Balmuda’s hood, but after you’ve poured the water in the slot, it’s familiar. Set the mode: toast, cheese toast, croissant, or French bread, twist the timer to your preferred time, and it starts counting down. On toast mode, the heating elements come on: top, bottom, top, bottom, alternating their way up to an oven temperature of about 320 degrees Fahrenheit, and holding steady there through the middle portion of the cooking, warming the bread until, as the Japanese-to-English Google Translate suggests, the exterior “takes on the color of a fox.” Toward the end of the cycle, the steam stops and there’s a burst of power to the heating elements, giving the bread a last-moment nudge toward toasty perfection. In my tests, I found that the middle “fox” phase was really like the “get the bread hot and steamy” phase, and the blast at the end created the majority of the nice caramelization.
The taleggio melted through, going ever so slightly bubbly while the top of it started browning. The top edges of the bread took on a lovely dark crispiness.
As for the other settings, cheese toast concentrates more heat on the top of the bread, croissant mode warms it throughout with only a short crisping-heat blast at the end. French bread mode leaves the crisping out completely. One person I’ve talked to waxed about how impressive the steam is for resuscitating stale bread or croissants. While true, it feels peculiar to recommend purchasing something for its capacity to refresh bakery items from the day-old bin.
Next, I swapped the shukopan for a loaf of fresh-sliced sourdough from Seattle’s James Beard-nominated Columbia City Bakery. The bread had a lovely soft, springy texture and an appealing tackiness. Here, the differences were more apparent. Again, there was the pleasing chewiness in the Balmuda slice, while bread pulled from the traditional toaster leaned toward a cracker-like crispness at the edges. What I realized with these slices was that the Balmuda’s magic was that it preserved more of the bread’s original springiness, encasing it in a crisp exterior, while the traditional toaster’s work felt more subtractive, trading moisture for crunchiness. Regardless of the machine, the slices were so good that I forgot to butter them.
My previous toaster research had led me to toaster repairman Michael Sheafe who had counseled the “second batch test,” which boils down to checking for consistency between the first and second batches of toast. Cheap toasters inevitably give inconsistent results, as the first batch is a cold start and the second begins with a hot machine, but in my tests, the Balmuda was impressively consistent.
A day later, I bought a hunk of taleggio from the supermarket, cut it into thick slices which I set on the sourdough, switched the dial to cheese bread mode and turned it on. The taleggio melted through, going ever so slightly bubbly while the top of it started browning. The top edges of the bread took on a lovely dark crispiness. While it didn’t feel like some sort of technical miracle of toast, it did remind me of some of the best things about fondue.
The Joy of Toast
It got me thinking about what we like about toast and how much of it is based on texture. We want a pillowy interior, an exterior so crispy that it’s audible when bitten through, and some satisfying chewiness. The Balmuda works on accentuating and preserving these qualities. It’s some pretty good thinking, cleverness that in my book qualifies this toaster in the “smart kitchen” category, even though it doesnt need an app.
Is it so good that it’s going to make you want to bring your existing toaster to Goodwill and take the plunge? No. Not quite. Are you going to think twice about plunking down more than $200 if it ever comes out in the United States? Yes you are.
Then again, you could plunk down that much anyway; the clear-sided, quartz-heated Magimix by Robot-Coupe Vision Toaster, a critical favorite, is $250.
The thing that really pushes me over the edge to where I’d think about it once my Cuisinart kicks the bucket, is that unlike so much other stuff out there, the Balmuda makes me happy. There’s the way it resembles an artist’s prototype, good-looking enough that I stuck it on a bookshelf one night when my wife and I had company because I wanted it to be a conversation piece. I like the tick-tock of the timer and the ta-da! when it’s done. There are also the little curls of steam that waft out of vents in either side of the door. There’s that goofy feeling you get when you catch yourself watching the elements go on and off, literally watching your toast… toast.
That said, as a food writer, restaurant critic, and a cookbook author, I’m constantly looking for the little things that turn the quality up a whisker, quietly transforming a good meal into a memorable one. What this can be is always a variable: farm-fresh ingredients, tasting and seasoning at every step of the cooking process, the use of fat and acidity to heighten flavors, or attention to texture, to name a few.
Is Balmuda The Toaster the perfect toaster? That depends on you. Is something better because it brings you a bit of joy when you use it or just look at it?
It’s a slippery slope. Saying something makes you happy when you use it could lead to people putting Hello Kitty stickers on the steering wheels of their 16-year old Subarus and expecting their day to get better. Then again, considering how well the Balmuda works, maybe it will.
Update: This headline of this article was changed to note the fact that the toaster is made in Japan.
In-depth look at the hit Broadway musical has an impressively starry lineup but doesnt give us a truly behind-the-scenes peek at the creative process
Now that Lin-Manuel Mirandas Hamilton, the hip-hop biography of Alexander Hamilton, has won its Grammy and its Pulitzer and its many Tonys, its place in the cultural firmament is assured. Tickets to the show at the Richard Rodgers theater, which seats only 1,319, are notoriously difficult to snag and more than worth their weight in gold. So theres a ready-made audience for the PBS documentary Hamiltons America, which screens on 21 October under the aegis of Great Performances: everyone wants to be in the room where it happens.
But this is a desire that the documentary only intermittently satisfies. Handsome, admiring and assured, it sets out to describe both the story of Hamilton the musical and the story of Hamilton himself, an intertwining both gratifying and frustrating.
The documentarys producers, RadicalMedia, had a hunch that Hamilton would be a success and began filming Miranda in 2014, months before rehearsals began. Miranda, ponytail in various stages of growth, is an enthusiastic and unpretentious host. Sometimes he speaks directly to an unseen interlocutor; at other times he asks the questions, interviewing those who have inspired him, from Stephen Sondheim to Nas, from his father to Barack Obama. (Mirandas fathers description of his immigrant experience is poignant and pointed.)
The best sequences juxtapose Miranda and the shows stars with historic settings the women of the cast visiting the home of an aunt of the Schuyler sisters, one of whom Hamilton married; Leslie Odom Jr and Miranda strolling along Maiden Lane in New York and executing an impromptu shoulder shuffle; one beautiful scene of Miranda writing in Aaron Burrs bedroom, mouthing words with his eyes closed, headphones clapped to his ears. Also featured are a few choice bits of backstage banter and freestyling, which mostly serve to whet the appetite for more. Unfortunately, theres almost no rehearsal footage or any sense of how the show was built from the script up. The filmed excerpts are beautifully shot, though tantalizingly brief.
When it comes to the history of Hamilton himself, the approach is dutiful, with predictable archival images and talking heads. Some of these heads are more incisive than others. Ron Chernow, on whose book Hamilton based the musical, is of course a welcome presence, as is the historian Joanne Freeman and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who offers a nuanced critique of Hamiltons elitism. But the likes of Jimmy Fallon and George W Bush dont offer much illumination, though Bushs analysis of Hamilton is interestingly self-serving: Thats the way history works. Sometimes it takes a while for people to give you credit.
Is any of this more rewarding than a filmed version of the show in the style of NT Live would be? Not really. Michelle Obamas hyperbolic encomium, that Hamilton is the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life, is fun to hear. But wouldnt it be better to listen in on the art itself or at least tell the story of its creation more specifically? The producers of this engaged and often astute film have in no way thrown away their shot, but they might have taken more particular aim.
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