Nay, not DLSR!

On my previous blog post, I said that I am going to buy a 5D Mark III. However after much consideration and failing to get a used body within my budget, I’ve decided to just get a new Fujifilm X-T2. I’ll write a review for the X-T2 soon, so this post is mostly about why I’ve done that.

First of I feel Canon as a camera company is just so arrogant, and I do not support such arrogance, which I am going to vote with my wallet. The recent 6D Mark II launch shows the extent they are going to cripple a camera so they can sell 5D, 1D and Cinema EOS at a much higher premium. I’m going to refer the camera as 6DII from now.

I can understand if they omitted 4K video and dual card slots for their cine line and pro-bodies, but a sensor with worse dynamic range than their very own APS-C 80D? Like seriously Canon? I really wanted to know who approved this sensor to go into a 2017 full-frame camera.

Even then, they should just included both 4K video recording and dual card slots because the 6DII is so physically huge and very expensive! Heck, if they have included these, I would have just bought the 6DII instead of XT2.

This led me into thinking again whether I should buy a used 5DIII with all the reason I’d previously wrote. Honestly the only thing I will miss out without buying a full-frame body is only bokeh. The 56mm f/1.2 give me more than enough for me to chew.

So coming back to the XT2 purchase. I’ve decided that the video from the 5DIII is not worth the it in 2017. Other than the 4K Magic Lantern hack, the default 1080p video from the camera seems terrible at best, compared to even the much more cheaper m43 cameras. Heck even the 1″ sensor from Sony RX100V can shoot sharper 1080p video as well as 4k video.

The XT2 can do sharp 4k, as well as HDMI out which I think I will be using for my brother’s wedding for streaming the feed online. By adding the Booster Grip, I can use the included power adapter to power the camera instead of relying on the little batteries. To do the same on 5DIII, I need to get a separate power adapter, an attachment for the correct battery size and the whole package doesn’t work very reliably, as some of the reviews has mentioned in Amazon.

Lastly I manage to find a very good X-T2 deal, but it doesn’t come with Malaysia Warranty. I’ve used the X100S and X-T1 and those two has never gave me much problems and I’m confident in the X-T2 will be as reliable to not needing any local warranty.

Nay, not DLSR!

2nd ETS Ride

My wife was having two night stop in Penang and so happen I am free over the weekend, so I’ve decided to spend the weekend with her in Penang. Just like my previous trip to Penang, I must bring my bicycle there!

I can fly to Penang, but that’s going to be too easy and stuck with walking around in Penang during the time I am alone. I managed to buy the very last ETS ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth. Same process as in 2015, I bought the ticket online, this time it cost RM79 one way. The KTM website hasn’t really change this two years, still very crap.

This time, instead of using a car to KL Sentral, I took the newly opened MRT. Basically I rode on my bike to station, took the shiny new train to KL Sentral. At KL Sentral, I went to the KTM ETS counter to print out my ticket even though I don’t really need to. Instead of descending down to the platform nearby the ticketing counter, I had to go to Kommuter Platform C to board the ETS due to renovation work.

I was there pretty late this time, close to 10 minutes before departure, so luckily the baggage area of my carriage is empty! I have all the space I need to secure my bike there. I’m seat next to the aisle and besides me that day was an Indian guy. I later found out he’s a Catholic too and heading to Bukit Mertajam to attend the special event at St. Anne Church.

Brompton in ETS

The train departed on time, and I spent the next four hours in quite a comfortable seat with spacious legroom. Noise cancelling headphones is a Godsend during long ride like this, especially when you have kids making lots of noise and their parent failed to discipline them. My U Mobile line was spotty at best along the ride, I kept myself busy with iPad games and a bit of reading. The data connection got better once getting nearer to Ipoh and onwards.

The ETS ride was pretty comfortable, just like the first time. The seats are clean, and the air-cond only gets really chilly at the last hour of the ride after most of the people disembarked at Bukit Mertajam. The legroom is really spacious, and if that’s not enough, I am free to walk around the train when it is moving. This is very much different from flying or taking the bus which you have very limited space to move around, and potentially dangerous.

Almost an hour into the ride, I was served some snacks which included a bottle of soy milk and two packets of biscuits. That was enough for me since it was lunch time, so I made my way to the bar to order some hot meals. The people serving the snacks were also the same working at the bar, so I do need to wait a bit for them to prepare everything. Queue also quickly built up there due to the small bar with only two microwave ovens and one guy working there.

After arrival in Butterworth, I still need to carry my bike and stuff  up the pedestrian bridge, crossing the railways to reach the ferry terminal. There is a free shuttle bus which run between the ferry terminal and bus terminal for the people who have difficulties climbing stairs. However they still have to climb the ramp heading to the ferry terminal, because pedestrian are seated on the top floor of the ferry.

After my shot getaway in Penang, I took the bus back from Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal because the tickets for ETS has been sold out. Yes I do same some time and trouble not needing to cross the Straits with ferry, but the supposedly 5 hours journey turned 7 hours! The bus was stuck in traffic jam three times along the way returning back to Kuala Lumpur. So I’ll take the ETS anytime if I got a choice.

2nd ETS Ride

Get Another DSLR?

I’ve been eying for the 5D Mark III for sometimes now, even before I bought my second hand X-T1. I couldn’t find a reason to buy it because of how rare I will be shooting with it since I’ve stopped shooting for events. Until now…

My younger brother is going to get married in November, the wedding will be held in KL. My mother who has difficulty walking couldn’t come to KL to attend his wedding, so I’m thinking to some how stream the event online, so she can watch from her bed.

Yes I can use a webcam which I already have, but I think the video feed from a camera will be much better. In addition, adding a tele lens will allow for close up at people’s expression. For a camera to do that, it has to have direct video output, preferably thru HDMI for best resolution. Looking at my camera collection: Canon 5D, 40D, 1000D, Fujifilm X-T1 and X100S. None of them has so called Clean HDMI Out.

The 1000D and 40D has PC tethering, and I could probably hack that with some software to stream what’s captured on the screen. I don’t think this is a good idea because the video feed wouldn’t be smooth and low resolution in today’s standard. The X-T1 got phone tethering, but there’s no way to stream the video out, at least not in a reliable way.

Since I already got a couple of Canon and Fujifilm lens, I decided not to look for a third brand of camera for this little project. The brand new Fujifilm X-T2 has got sharp 4k recording as well as clean HDMI out. It is priced at RM6400 brand new.

At around the same price, I could get a used Canon 5D Mark III. The 5D3 only shoots 1080p, very blur 1080p. Looking how its successor 5D Mark IV compared to the rest in low light video, seems like the 5D3 bigger sensor won’t be an advantage in noise department at high ISO. The 5D3’s Clean HDMI out doesn’t output sound from the camera’s mic too.  The 5D3 looks like a poor choice in every way as a video camera. It is also not a very good still too in 2017 with its poor dynamic range.

If I were to sell all of my Canon lens and replace them with Fujifilm…

X-T2 – RM6400
XF 50-140mm – RM6400
XF 16mm – RM4400
minus – RM9500 selling old Canon lens
Total: RM7700

That comes out almost RM2k more than a used 5D Mark III, but of course it’ll give a big boost in image and video quality. If I regretted the purchase and decided to sell of the Fuji, I will lost around RM3-4k, but if I were to sell the used Mark III, I only lose around RM1k at most.

If not for still owning good Canon lens, I wouldn’t be considering the 5D3 at all. However I still have the awesome 70-200mm f/2.8 and 24mm f/1.4 which perform really well on full-frame camera, and I really miss getting nice bokeh after shooting mostly with Fujifilm for 3 years. I’m sure the X-T2 is faster than the X-T1 but the 5D Mark III’s focus will still have a slight edge in speed. Or I am a Canon fanboy… damnit.

And for streaming, the viewer will not be watching from a 50″ TV, they most probably watch it on their computer, phone or tablet and probably over Youtube or Facebook. Some may be streaming at 1080p but most will most probably stream at 720p or lower in Malaysia. So the video quality of the camera doesn’t actually matter, solely in this aspect.

So I’m most probably going to get the 5D3, plus a grip, plus extra batteries, plus a ACK-E6 adapter for powering the camera continuously without battery.

Get Another DSLR?

Quick Take on HTC U11 Selfie Camera

My wife has been using the Oneplus 3T for some more than half a year, and it has been a great upgrade from her previous HTC Desire Eye. The OP3T is smoother, faster and she isn’t frustrated with Instagram crashing so often anymore.

With better image sensor, the front and back camera also takes better photos especially in low light. However the color coming out of the image from Desire Eye is better and more pleasing than from the OP3T, which says a lot about the way HTC processes the photos. The Desire Eye front camera has a ultrawide angle lens too, and on HTC software, it is able to do HDR, which is very useful during mid-day when the sunlight is harsh.

When HTC announced the U11, I was very excited and hoping to see if it can be a better selfie camera phone for my wife. With the flagship specifications, I don’t think she will be disappointed. Most of the reviews online are very positive too. The absence of headphone jack isn’t a problem for her because she never use the headphone before.

It is however, very difficult to find people who really look into the performance of the front camera. I guess most of the reviewers aren’t into selfie. And the people who does a lot of selfie, isn’t interested of the technical details of the front camera. I really need to test it out the old-school way by using the actual product in my hand.

Both the Maxis Centre and HTC store in Sunway Pyramid has a demo unit of the HTC U11, so that mall is the best place to go. Maxis also has the silver blue version in stock if my wife were to upgrade her phone since she is already on Maxis.

The selfie camera is the ONLY thing we ever tested when my wife and I went to the store for a test use. My wife took a few photos with the U11 alongside of her OP3T, so it is nothing scientific. At first glance, the image comes out really nice. The color is much natural compared to those from OP3T, the auto HDR is also a very welcoming feature which prevent some parts of the photos from over exposed.

But there is just one big problem. Auto-focus, or the lack of it. I couldn’t believe there is no auto-focus on the U11, and the photos comes out soft when zoom to pixel level. I just couldn’t make it shoot crisply sharp photos and the sharpness is so much worse than the 3T.

Then there’s the shutter lag. Without any sort of AF, I shouldn’t see any lag at all, but the U11 exhibit some kind of shutter lag from the moment you press the shutter button to the time it actually take a photo. I could say it took longer for the 3T to shoot since it to need focus before shooting, but at least if it pre-focus correctly, it shoot faster than the U11.

I also make a quick test on using the new Edge Sense feature to take a photo. I can think of how useful is it during winter when we’re using thick gloves and unable to use the screen, but there is no winter in Malaysia. Using it to take photo also is also less stable than a shutter or on-screen button, which make taking low light photos really useless. So yes, the new feature is still gimmicky.

So the search for the best selfie camera phone continues. A lot of phones for the selfie crowd doesn’t have flagship specs, and the flagship phones only emphasize on the main shooter. The Google Pixel probably has one of the best selfie shooter for now but it is not officially sold in Malaysia, what a bummer.

Quick Take on HTC U11 Selfie Camera

4TB Seagate 2.5″ HDD

Ever since I started using the Noctua NH-C14, I lost the ability to use a 3.5″ Hard Disk inside my Ncase M1. When I was using and AIO CPU cooler, I was able to use a 4TB drive to store my photos and downloaded content, saving precious space for my SSD intended for storing OS, software and games for quick loading time. I put the drive into an external USB 3.0 case after that, and the performance isn’t that great.

Seagate Backup Plus 4TB

I discovered the availability of the 2.5″ 4TB drive quite late, it was available since late 2016. Upon researching, buying the drive itself is more expensive than buying the external USB 3.0 model called Seagate Backup Plus. Even in Malaysia, the price difference is roughly RM180 (RM680 vs RM860)

Seagate Backup Plus 4TB

The Seagate Backup Plus is just the 4TB drive inside an external USB 3.0 enclosure. It isn’t like some WD external drive whereby the SATA ports for the internal drives has been removed to make way for smaller external drive. After reading few reviews in Amazon whereby people successfully shuck the drive, I was confident enough to get one, shuck it and put it into my Ncase M1.

Seagate Backup Plus 4TB

Taking out the internal drive from the casing is very easy as the case is only held together by adhesive and I don’t need much force to pry open it. Opening up the case, I can see the drive is covered by a thin layer of aluminum, which probably assist in cooling. The HDD inside is again held by rubber at its four corner, probably for impact absorption. The drive is easily taken out, and disconnected from enclosure.

Seagate Backup Plus 4TB

At 15mm, the drive is quite a bit thicker than old 9mm laptop drive, or newer 7mm drive be it SSD or mechanical. That being said, I’ve seen people moding their PS4 for the drive to fit, however I wouldn’t fit into those newer laptop with built-in 7mm drives. Surprisingly it fitted perfectly onto my Ncase M1 front panel, and there was a still a very small gap when the front panel is on.

Seagate Backup Plus 4TB

This isn’t a performance drive, so no WD Black or SSD level speed here. It manage to transfer files in the 90MB/s range, which is enough for me. What I’m interested is lowering the latency, by not going thru USB 3.0 on an external drive. I can’t really benchmark that, but running Lightroom with my huge photo library is slightly quicker now. In addition, using an internal drive is much more stable compared to an external.

Seagate Backup Plus 4TB

The 4TB 2.5″ Seagate Backup Plus can be a little more expensive than a WD Green or Blue 3.5″, but I highly recommends it if you ITX build doesn’t have space for a 3.5″ HDD and you need a 4TB drive to store your data on the cheap.

4TB Seagate 2.5″ HDD

Sony MDR-1000X

 

Sony MDR-1000X

Background

After getting the Sony MDR-1Rmk2, I’ve been exposed to what I have been missing in the music that I am listening all these while – the awesome sound quality and the sound stage. I couldn’t go back to a sub-par headphone anymore, that’s why I am reluctant to buy a gaming headphone even though I find the included microphone will be really useful while gaming.

The MDR-1Rmk2 follows almost everywhere I go, it is always in my work bag for me to use it while commuting to work. Since I take the bus to work, I spend an average 12 hours a month commuting inside the bus and sometimes I will be traveling inside the cabin of an airplane, so I do think I will benefit a lot if I have a noise canceling (NC) headphone.

The Competition

When you think of NC headphone, you think of the brand Bose. No doubt they made some of the best NC headphone out there. Not long after I got the MDR-1Rmk2, I went and try the Bose QC25 in the store, one of Bose best wired NC headphone. After listening a few songs, I don’t like the sound signature. It sounded hollow with poor sound stage, a far cry from my Sony, and it is not cheap – around RM1000.

When the wireless QC35 is out, I can’t wait to try it out thinking they’d improved the sound quality significantly. I was wrong, it does not sound any better and it cost 50% more. Both QC25 & QC35 does well in the bass department, but I am not so much of a bass lover.

Sony has few NC headphones such as the MDR-1RNC which cost as much as the QC35 but without wireless feature. As for the XB-1 NC. I just couldn’t justify paying so much for anything that sound so much worse than my MDR-1Rmk2.

I also consider getting a cheap Panasonic NC headphone just for my commuting use, and use the Sony at the rest of the time. The problem is that I couldn’t find it here locally in Malaysia.

The MDR-1000X appears

Right after Sony announced the MDR-1000X and reading about it, I knew right away that is the headphone that I’ve been waiting. Great sound quality with NC, and I am willing to pay for it. Just like a lot of gadgets, Malaysia didn’t get it on the first day of availability and I’ve been checking with the local Sony store very frequently to see if they started selling it. With batteries and electronics inside the MDR-1000X, I want my MDR-1000X to have local warranty just in case it breaks. It took almost a month for it to arrive in Malaysia and I bought it from Star Picker Audio at Kota Damansara instead of the nearest Sony store because the latter didn’t have the colour binge.

Just like the MDR-1mk2, the headphone comes in a nice padded box, but the similarities stops there. Instead of just a bag, the 1000X comes with a hard case with pocket for the included 3.5mm headphone jack cable and airplane adapter. This time around, only one 1.5m cable is included, unlike 3 different cables in the 1Rmk2. The headphone also came pre-charged, so I can use it straight out of the box.

Noise Cancellation

This is new to me, in fact this is my first noise canceling headphone. I’ve only tried briefly on the store to test the effect of noise cancellation. I eagerly fired up the headphone right after getting into the car, without playing any music just to see how quiet can it get. I then start my car engine and I am very excited to not hear anything.

It is also really useful during my commute to work in the bus and train, silencing most of the background low frequency noise so that the bass sounds better, and I can listen to music on a lower volume. It also works nicely in noisy environments such as restaurants. I won’t completely silence voice of people talking, but the reflecting sound is greatly reduced.

The most useful place is inside an aircraft cabin. Those jet engines are very very loud, and without NC, I have to listen more than 50% volume. With NC, I can actually listen at 10% volume and still hear quite clearly. I think that might actually protect my ears from damagingly loud music.

Voice & Ambient Sound Mode

Sony MDR-1000X

Other than the normal NC function, there are two additional sound modes that distinguishes itself from the QC35. The Voice mode cancel out the low-frequency and use the external mic to mirror sound in the voice frequency range. This is useful when listening to announcements or when hearing what other people is talking with your background music kept at minimum.

I’ve tried inside the bus with people talking at the back, I can hear the sound of people talking while the NC silenced the engine’s sound. However the voice isn’t that clear, so the other party really have to speak out above normal conversation volume for the mic to pick it up. There’s also a slight latency, but not that much to cause a serious echo.

The Ambient sound mode turns the NC off and the mic picks up all the sound, mirror it into the headphone. So you actually gets to hear more than a normal close back headphone. Probably good if you’re walking on the street and want to avoid being hit by incoming vehicles. Due to the small mics, the direction of the sound isn’t perfectly recreated, but it is good enough. Pretty cool.

Bluetooth & Sound Quality

I can only comment the sound quality from legacy Bluetooth A2DP because I do not have any device that is able to transfer on the higher quality AptX or Sony’s proprietary LDAC. Over A2DP, the sound quality sound noticeably muddy compared to straight from cable. Sound stage is also narrower.

With NC on, I can listen to music at a very low volume that the reduced in sound quality and sound stage doesn’t pose a significant problem to me. This is also my first Bluetooth headphone and the convenience of wireless is really apparent during commute which involves in a lot of walking and getting on and off train of bus.

Edit: I’ve found a way to mod my phone and activate AptX on the CM14.1  Android OS. With AptX the sound quality is significant better with much better clarity and less compression distortion. I think it is so good that I won’t be able to tell the difference from using the cable in a noisy environment. In a quiet environment, I’m able to pick up more details and better sound stage with wire input.

Gesture Control

Another feature I found really convenient for commuting is gesture controls. A lot of review mentions the gesture control is a hit and miss thing, but it worked pretty good for me. One draw back with it is making large changes in volumes which involves in a lot of swipes to achieve it. Someone online described that like a dog scratching its ear.

On wired input, most of the gesture doesn’t work except for mode where you temporary lowers the volumes with your right hand.  Not a big deal since the phone is always nearby with wired input.

The headphone also receive calls in both Bluetooth and wired mode. However I really need speak louder in order for the microphone placed on the headphone to pick up my voice. Same goes to wired mode, which I wish there is a mic on the wire which I can place closer to my mouth when taking calls.

Built Quality & Comfort

Since it is priced more expensive than the MDR-1Rmk2, it also sports a better build quality. There isn’t much plastic squeak unlike my MDR-1Rmk2. The latter squeak a lot when resting my head on headrest with the headset pressed onto the cushion.  The outside of ear cups are had a touch of leather skin or something which feels like that and isn’t cheap plastic surface.

The MDR-1000X is a little tighter than the MDR-1Rmk2, that is understood because it is also significantly heavier with batteries and additional electronics inside for Bluetooth and NC. I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable with the tighter headband.

It is more comfortable to rest my head on headrest with the MDR-1000X because of the more compact arm holding the ear-cups which doesn’t touch the headrest. However I do need to keep my head really still to make sure the headset does not touch the headrest of the seat while taking a bus or plane, because the vibration from the chair will transfer to the ear through the headset and it is very annoying. The sound it made is more pronounce on a NC headset.

After prolong usage, I noticed that the MDR-1000X is sensitive to abrupt air pressure changes. I think the headphone NC mis-compensate it causing a loud thud to be heard. I not sure if this is Sony only problem or is this a side effect for any NC headphones because I couldn’t find much people complaining it, only someone in Head-Fi forum. It might be a defect for my set.

Conclusion

Sony MDR-1000X

All in all, the MDR-1000X is a good buy even with the high price tag if you need Noise Cancellation. If you’re only listening at home, then you’re better of with similarly priced but having much better sound quality. The NC is tout to be the best out there currently and combine that with great Bluetooth AptX, the MDR-1000X truly let you enjoy your favorite music on-the-go.

Sony MDR-1000X

Alienware 13 R3 Review

Never in my wildest dream that I will buy an Alienware laptop. I knew about the brand dating back as far as 2 decades ago, before they are being bought by Dell. I never liked its design because it looked too geeky. It is so geeky that it was Sheldon Cooper’s laptop in “The Big Bang Theory”. I prefer the Macbook Pro type of industrial design with minimalist look.

My previous laptop – the Dell Inspiron 15 7559 was a great budget gaming laptop, but it struggle quite a lot when comes to playing AAA games. I thought I was going to play Starcraft2 and BF4 a lot with it, I ended up playing a lot of The Division.

 

Smaller Size

Another problem is that how big the Dell 7559 is. It’s so wide that I have to get a new camera backpack to fit it. The AW13 fits into my old Lowepro Event Messenger 250. The Inspiron 15 fit tightly into my work luggage while the AW13 fits nicely with rooms to spare. The AW13 is same as thick though.

Although I don’t use laptop a lot in flight, but my Inspiron 15 will need to be on my lap for me to use it half comfortably. With the AW13, I can place it on the tray table and use it comfortably without the laptop warming up my lap. I’ve tried inside the economy class of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737, so you can expect it to be a bit more cramp inside LCC airplanes.

13″ IPS Screen

Prior to getting my AW13, I have yet to read any reviews having a unit with IPS screen. Most of the US based reviewer got their OLED units back in the end of 2016 with Skylake CPU and all of the review are positive of the 1440p OLED screen.

I already have a 1440p desktop screen at home, and even a 980Ti is barely powerful enough to keep at stable 60fps on Ultra Settings in some AAA games,. The main purpose for me getting the AW13 is simply just playing games and a bit of photo editing, so the cheaper 1080p IPS screen is enough for me. I do lose the OLED tech raved by other reviewers.

With my subjective view, I think the IPS screen by BOE on this is pretty ok, much better than the 15″ LG that came with the Inspiron 15, on par with the replaced AOU 15″. It gets bright enough and dark enough for what I need. I do not have any light meter or color meter for proper testing of the screen.

Best of all, the screen has got matte coating, unlike the OLED screen. I mentioned before that the 1080p resolution density is just nice for a 15″ screen without any scaling. 1080p on 13″ is a little small without scaling, but isn’t that bad because the screen is now closer to me compared to the Inspiron 15. Arguably the 1440p will be the best with 150% scaling.

The screen doesn’t support Gsync, with that it does supports Optimus graphic switching which IMO, far out weight Gsync. No matter how power efficient the 1060 is, it still cannot compete with Intel’s iGPU when not running anything 3D, giving this gaming laptop an insane amount of battery life.

 

Speaker & Audio Quality

I can’t believe I say this, but I really like the speakers and surround simulation on the AW13. The combination is better than the implementation in Inspiron 15. The virtual surrounds successfully tricked me into thinking the sound came from behind! I find it better than the Asus Xonar U7 with 2.1 setup on my desktop.

Plugging in my Sony MDR-1000X, with just virtual surround enabled and the rest disabled, the effect is also quite pleasing when playing games. Again, arguably it sounds better compared to Dolby HT on Xonar U7. The Killer wireless module doesn’t supports AptX audio thru Bluetooth, so that’s something I missed from the Inspiron 15 7559.

Sound quality for music listening is okay with all Alienware Enhancement turned off. I think using the enhancements is worst off. By plugging in my little Asus Xonar U3 and comparing to the on board audio, the sound from U3 sounds fuller, crisper and with better sound stage.

 

Built

Like the other reviews has mentioned, the laptop felt solid and dense with very little flex, very much different from the Inspiron 15, closer to the high quality of Macbook. It is actually very hard for me to believe it until I got my hands on it because my past experience with Dell laptop (mostly Inspiron and Vostro line) suggest otherwise.

The screen can be open with a single hand, something I’m so used on my Macbook Air and missed it when using the Inspiron 15. This is thanks to the sturdy and very well-tuned hinge. The screen is also held shut by magnet, so it won’t open ajar when the laptop is place inside the bag standing on its back.

The soft touch material on the palm rest is identical to the one on Inspiron, same goes to the keys on the keyboard, which is a good thing.

The outer shell consist of plastic and aluminum panel which in combination made the laptop feels much sturdier than the budget Inspiron 15 even though it may not have the touch and feel of unibody Macbook or Razer Blade.

As for the lightings, I’ve disabled all of them except for keyboard and power button. I don’t find lighting up the touchpad being cool. Although all the keys are lit, they’re aren’t as evenly lit like on my Macbook Air. The keyboards lightings isn’t per key RGB, heck I can’t even choose the colour White. Instead, I have to edit the hex numbers in the config files for that colour.

One reason I could think of for not providing white colour is that the LEDs can’t really do perfect white light, there’s a slight purple tint, very obvious on the touchpads, which isn’t a problem since I’ve disable it. At least the secondary functions keys are lit unlike on the latest Razer Blade.

 

Keyboard & Touchpad

The keyboard looks like from the 1990, unlike the island keys made famous by Apple Macbook. I prefer the island style keys for typing because the gap in between the keys on the AW13 are too small and I keep hitting the wrong key. Maybe I’m used to the smaller Inspiron keys IDK.  I do find the keys very stable, not too close apart and with deep travel distance, making them really great to and game on.

The keyboard on the Inspiron is good for typing when you got use to them, but they aren’t really great for playing games, they are too close to each other. I actually use a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard to game on it. Oh mechanical keyboard, still the best thing for both gaming and typing!

The touchpad is ok. I can say it sucked if I compare it to my old Macbook Air, why they don’t put in a better touchpad is beyond me. Good thing they made it smaller compared to Inspiron so that I don’t touch them during typing and gaming. There are physical buttons for mouse clicks which are nice to have but I have no use for them.

 

Ports

I’m not going into the details of the available ports, it has got one less USB 3.0 port, which I had already gotten a USB-C to USB A converter in case I need more ports. I also wish it has a SD card reader, so now I gotta bring a card reader and its cable when I’m travelling. Maybe I need to find a USB-C SD card reader.

The AW13 has 2 audio jacks for headphones and mic. The headphone jack seems to support those headset with a single jack because a prompt popped asking for the correct configuration when I plug in the headphone jack.

I am still now used to the power input at the back, all the laptops I ever used have power input on the left. With the cable sticking out on the back, I need more space behind it when placing it on a table.  I guess it has desktop in mind, by hiding as much cable behind as possible.

I haven’t find the use of rest of the ports yet. I don’t have a HTC Vive for testing, which would makes the extra ports very useful. I’ll hook up the laptop to my 4k TV if I got the time.

 

Upgrades

Just like the Inspiron 15, the bottom of the AW13 can be easily opened, albeit by releasing a little more screws. By a quick glance of the internal from the bottom, I can tell it is a much higher quality product compared to the Inspiron 15.

The 16GB DDR4 (2×8) can be upgrade to 32GB, which I don’t find a reason to do so. There are two M.2 SSD banks which one has been used by the included 256GB PCI-E SSD. Dell is kind enough to use Samsung SM961 on my unit, which I prefer compared to Toshiba ones.

It supports M.2 SATA SSD too which I’ve used briefly with the 256GB Crucial MX200 I’ve installed in my Inspiron. It has since been replaced by a used 1TB Toshiba PCI-E SSD which I found someone selling online.

Battery Life

Long story short, I can around 6 hours with non-gaming usage. Probably more if all I do is just reading from a PDF or typing some stuff. I’m glad to report that the new Kaby Lake CPU really makes wonders because I would expect this laptop with 1060 wouldn’t last as long as my old Inspiron 15 with 960M. I’m gladly surprised it isn’t the case. I had report that the AW13R3 with OLED and Skylake CPU would last around 4 hours.

I wish it can last 10 hours like the Macbook Pro does, but I can totally live with 6 hours. My Sandy Bridge Macbook Air barely reaches 4 hours which I find that a bit short.

I do not plan to game on battery, ever, so no comment on that.

 

Gaming

The only reason I get the AW13 is to play games, that’s all. If not for that I would just get a XPS 15 which cost roughly the same but sports a much slower GTX 1050 GPU but at a much lighter weight and compact size. Plus that bigger screen!

And oh boy the GTX1060 doesn’t disappoint. It is crazy to think the GPU inside is faster and cooler than my old big ass R9 280X and just a tad slower than the 980 Ti on my current desktop. I’m not going to post benchmark scores here since many have done that already.

I’m so happy that I can play The Division, Battlefield 1 and now Ghost Recon: Wildlands with graphical settings similar to the ones on my desktop, on this little laptop. The fans does spin up quite a lot during load, which is expected.

Initially I got CPU temperature hovering above 80°C during gaming, which is WAAAAY past my comfort on a laptop. Luckily with the help of Intel XTU, with a -0.120V core adjustment, I am able to bring down the temperature by 10°C without any repasting done.

Just like I’ve rant about the screen, I wanted to say again that at 13.3″ the screen is a little small for gaming. I really wish they put in an 15″ Infinity display from the XPS into it. Maybe it is the small screen, but I don’t miss not having Gsync as I don’t see much, if any, tearing.

 

Conclusion

The Alienware 13 R3 is a powerful laptop which doesn’t come in a really big package. It is still rather bulky and heavy in the era of tablet and Ultrabook computing. The 13″ screen is a little small, but the 1080p resolution keeps everything sharp and nice. This is a laptop for people who play games but doesn’t need a laptop to be with them all the time.

Alienware 13 R3 Review