Bose QuietControl 30 Review #amwriting #campnanowrimo

You who’ve been with me a while know that I can’t resist playing with new tech. So I ordinarily wouldn’t have bought the Bose QuietControl 30 (QC30) in-ear headset during July Camp NaNoWriMo—but I made the mistake of putting it on my birthday list, and to my astonishment, it arrived! (Thanks, Hubby!)

The Bose QuietControl 30

As an ADHD writer, I need a serious noise-attenuating headset. I’ve had a mid-level active noise cancelling (ANC) in-ear headset, the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC33IS, for years. It does great for airplane noise, but for coffeehouse music and conversation, not so much. I’ve had two gaming headsets, which do well on passive noise attenuation. But I left the quite good Hyper X Cloud II over-the-ear set behind at coffeehouses no fewer than three times, the last time for good. It just wasn’t meant to be. And the Razer Hammerhead BT—well, it’s just not up to attenuating the coffeehouse milieu, either, not even with Comply Foam Eartips installed.

Since I can’t stop losing over-the-ear headphones, there seemed to be only one choice for wide frequency, in-ear ANC—the outrageously expensive Bose QC30. Four times the cost of the ATH-ANC33IS or Razer Hammerhead BT, is it really worth that much money?

Yes. Yes, it is, if you need that level of attenuation. The QC30 drops outside music and loud conversation volume to such a low level that I can turn down the volume on my soothing background music and just write. OMG, it’s wonderful! Occasionally I start thinking that it’s not doing much—but then I turn off the ANC and hastily turn it back on.

The QC30 music quality is great, for my not-too-picky taste. Will it satisfy serious audiophiles? Probably not, but it’s not shabby. Check out this Sound Guys article if you’re curious. I’m happy with how it treats my Bach concertos, though.

There’s also the “Control” part of QuietControl. I can increase or decrease attenuation at will. In other words, I don’t have to dig an eartip out of my ear in order to talk to the coffeehouse barista, then replace it afterwards. I just lower attenuation, talk normally, then raise the attenuation back up to max.

Don’t be discouraged by the (comparatively) low ratings for the QC30 v. the Bose over-the-ear headsets. Expectations for Bose are high, and in-ear headsets always have lower ratings than their over-the-ear counterparts. Here are some common complaints:

  • The batteries die after two years. Rechargeable lithium batteries wear out. Depending on how many times you charge them, this isn’t unexpected. Not even Bose can change physics.
  • The QC30 doesn’t stand up to workouts. Bose doesn’t claim it will. Their sports headsets are not noise-cancelling. Their noise-cancelling headsets are not intended to stand up to sports.
  • The eartips don’t fit. They’re good eartips, provided in small, medium, and large, but of course they won’t fit everyone. Poor eartip fit is the cause of not only fit complaints, but many poor sound complaints as well. I’m lucky the large tips fit me, because the QC30 won’t accept third-party eartips. In my opinion, the inability to accept third-party eartips is one of its few flaws.
  • The neckband shifts position. It can slip off to one side a bit if I’m taking a brisk walk to the neighbourhood Starbucks whilst playing Pokemon Go. The only time I’ve had a real problem with this is if I’m listening to music, forget myself, and start dancing. This appears to be part of the “not ready for workouts” syndrome.
  • The ear wires/neckband physically wear out. I haven’t had mine long enough to give this a test. However, by design necessity in-ear headsets are more delicate than over-the-ear ones. The wires and components of the QC30 are heavier than those of my old AT headset, which has lasted me years. Many Bose customers complaining about this say that it happens after the 1-year warranty runs out—and that their expectations for Bose are that the set will last several years more. I’ll revise my review if this happens, but like my Audio-Technica set, I intend to treat my QC30 as if it’s made of glass. Similar complaints were rife about the AT set, and I managed to get five years out of it (it’s still going, in fact.) Honestly, I’ll likely wear out the battery before I wear out the rest of the device.
Tips for Using the Bose QC30 Headset

Update your firmware. There are many reviews complaining about the voice microphone for phone calls, sound quality, etc. My unit arrived with firmware 1.2.x. By the time I finished updating, the firmware version was 3.0.3! Don’t just depend on the Bose phone app, Bose Connect. I got a more recent copy of the firmware by going to the Bose update site, btu.bose.com. I have had zero problems with sound quality or with folks I call complaining about call quality.

Change the way you think about voice pickup. There’s no microphone in the control module. It’s not hidden in the neckband, either. No, the microphones(!) are on the earbuds themselves. So holding the control module or the neckband closer to your mouth won’t help. Just speak normally. I’d suggest keeping your voice even a bit softer than normal—one person I called said my voice was “over-modulated”. That meant that I was speaking too loudly for the mics and they were distorting my voice. But please do be sure you have the latest firmware (see above.)

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Screen Protectors: RhinoShield Impact Protection vs. Bodyguardz HD Impact #amwriting #Rhinoshield

I’ve long used fancy impact protection screen protectors on my touchscreen devices—the protectors with multiple layers of polymers (AKA plastic). Typically, the top layer is oleophobic (literally “fat-fearing”, like the touchscreen it covers), glossy, and scratch-resistant, to mimic the touchscreen surface. The interior features layers of shock-absorbing and shock- distributing materials, with a non-residue adhesive next the touchscreen itself.

Image courtesy of Rhinoshield.io

I prefer these to the tempered glass protectors that are so popular now. This is because of what’s happened to my devices when I’ve dropped them, and what’s happened to acquaintances who dropped their glass-protected devices.

I’ve dropped my iPad while it was equipped with a Bodyguardz HD Impact protector—from a height of four feet, screen-first, onto an exposed sharp aluminium corner. A bare iPad would have shattered. Not only did my iPad screen survive, the (plastic, remember) protector wasn’t scratched.

An acquaintance had a similar experience with his glass-protected iPhone. The protector was shattered. Now, his screen beneath was fine—but he had to get that sharp shattered glass off his screen. Eventually he took it to an Apple store to get it picked off.

Add to that the facts that plastic impact protectors are lighter, thinner, and more stylus-friendly, and you won’t see my electronics sporting glass screen protectors any time soon.

So I should be a Bodyguardz customer forever, right? I was—but then I upgraded to an iPhone 8 Plus. Bodyguardz are phasing out their plastic HD Impact protectors. You have to search their site for “HD Impact” to even find them, and they’ve stopped producing them for newer phones and tablets. The 8 Plus isn’t on the list of supported devices.

Bummer. I searched the internet for a new vendor, and found Rhinoshield. The technology described is similar to the HD Impact, and I was impressed by their hammer video. I watched carefully and noticed the clear protector turning opaque under each blow, as the force was distributed and absorbed. In short, I could see it working. Way, way cool.

I’ve applied my new Rhinoshield to my iPhone 8 Plus, and found two more features impressive. First, the fit is—gasp—even better than that of the Bodyguardz product. Rhinoshield have made a superbly close-fitting protector with tiny, tiny cutouts for the home button, camera, light detector, and speaker. Bodyguardz, in contrast, make their cutout for the home button large, and put in a large “notch” at the top to accommodate the speaker, camera, and light sensor. Rhinoshield covers more of my screen.

Secondly, Rhinoshield’s recommended installation (the “hot dog” technique) resulted in the easiest screen protector installation I’ve ever done. After 48 hours, the only way to see the protector is to shine a light on it sideways to highlight the edges.

It’s a pity I didn’t find Rhinoshield earlier. But I won’t go back to Bodyguardz for my next screen protector, even if they still have one that fits.

Hint for Using a Layered Plastic Screen Protector

When an oleophobic screen protector comes from the factory, it feels “squeaky”, like your hair after a shampoo. After a day or three of use, oils from your fingers build up, and it feels as slick as glass. To make this go faster, put a tiny, tiny drop of cooking oil on the installed protector and spread it over the entire surface with your fingers. Take care not to get it into the speaker! Remove any excess with a microfibre cloth. Now the protector will feel as slick as your touchscreen.

iPad 6th Generation v. Adonit Pixel Stylus—Review #amwriting

It’s frustrating being an Adonit stylus fangirl, sometimes. Adonit themselves seem content to ignore new iPad releases. I’ve had an Adonit Pixel stylus since April 2017, and I couldn’t find any information as to whether my stylus would work with an iPad 6th generation, which has been available for more than a year.

My new iPad 6th Gen. and my older Adonit Pixel Bluetooth Stylus get along just fine!

But my iPad Air 2 (it’s three years old) was rapidly dying, so last week I replaced it with an iPad 6 and took a chance that I wouldn’t need to buy an Apple Pencil.

I win!

My Pixel stylus works fine with my iPad 6. All my drawing apps that supported the Pixel before still support it (except for Astropad, who are abandoning all pressure-sensitive styluses except for Apple Pencil.)

To give a brief recap of the relative merits of Adonit Pixel v. Apple Pencil:

Pixel Pros

  • It has 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity.
  • It works with iPhones.
  • It has programmable function buttons.
  • It’s less expensive than an Apple Pencil.
  • Its battery is durable. Mine is still going strong after 2 years.

Pixel Cons

  • It doesn’t work with iPad Pro models.
  • It connects with specific apps rather than with the iPad or iPhone as a whole.
  • It requires some setup to get the most from the stylus. In particular, a user needs to set his or her handwriting angle in each app that supports Pixel. The little hand position diagrams can be misleading—best practice is to try each angle setting in each app to see which works best.

Apple Pencil Pros

  • If Apple says it works with a device, then it does. No experimentation is needed.
  • It’s both pressure and angle sensitive.
  • Setup is like that of any other Bluetooth device.
  • It’s not limited to use only in apps that support it.

Apple Pencil Cons

  • The Pencil doesn’t work with any iPhone, and is limited to iPad Pro models, and very recent less-expensive iPad models.
  • It’s more expensive than the Adonit Pixel.
  • It has no function buttons.
  • There are problems with the Pencil battery if you don’t use the Pencil often.

Honestly, if I were buying now, it would be a hard decision. I’m accustomed to my apps that support the Pixel, so the Pencil’s usability in more apps isn’t persuasive. On the other hand, Apple will make sure that the Pencil will work with my iPad 6 through iOS upgrades regardless. There’s no such assurance for the Pixel.

If my Pixel should bite the dust, I’ll probably get an Apple Pencil. But as long as my Pixel holds out, I’ll enjoy pressure-sensitive drawing on my iPhone as well as on my iPad.

Scrivener iOS-Only Project Backup and Restore #amwriting

Scrivener syncing among various iOS devices and computers is a popular subject. The iOS Scrivener tutorial is a useful introduction which covers the basics. There are also several excellent Literature and Latte videos on this subject, as well as in-depth Knowledge Base articles.

What’s not covered is how to protect your data if all you have is iOS Scrivener. Maybe you just don’t have a Mac or a PC. Maybe you’re on vacation, or on a business trip, and only brought your iPad or iPhone. In these situations, how do you make a backup? If need be, how do you restore a backup to iOS Scrivener?

Fear not, there is a way. I’ll show you how with screenshots from iPhone Scrivener. You can also use the Restore process to restore a zipped backup from Mac or Windows Scrivener to iOS Scrivener.

Backup

Backup from iOS Scrivener is not hard, but the way to do it isn’t obvious—there’s no big button that says “backup.” You don’t need Dropbox for this; any cloud service that you can access through the Apple Files app will work. In fact, if you ordinarily use Dropbox for syncing among devices, I recommend you use a different service for backup.

  1. In iOS Scrivener, tap the Edit button at the top of the projects list.
    Edit Button
  2. Tap to select the project you want to back up.
  3. Tap the Share button at the bottom of the screen. You’ll see a brief message that says “Creating Archive.” This is when Scrivener zips the project into a backup file.
  4. Scrivener will display the standard iOS Share panel. Select the “Save to Files” option. Go ahead and save it anywhere you like, except “On my iPhone/iPad” (or Dropbox if you use Scrivener Dropbox syncing.) Yes, iCloud is fine, Google Drive works… any service you can access here will work. For this demo, I’ll save my backup to the Scrivener folder on iCloud Drive, but again, any cloud service connected to Files will do.

That’s it for backup! You’ve created a .zip archive from your project, and saved it to a cloud service. When you have an internet connection, that cloud service will save your backup on its servers.

Restore From Backup

The problem here is that iOS Scrivener can’t open a zipped project directly. You’ll need a utility that can open a zipped project, and send the result to iOS Scrivener. I’ll show you that utility, FileApp File Manager, and demonstrate how to use it to restore a zipped backup to iOS Scrivener.

  1. If you haven’t already, download and install FileApp File Manager by DigiDNA SARL onto your iOS device.
    FileApp (File Manager) by DigiDNA SARLFileApp (File Manager) by DigiDNA SARL
  2. Now open the Apple Files app, and select the backup you saved in step 4, above. Then tap the Folder (Move) icon.
  3. In Apple Files, tap On My iPhone > FileApp > Downloads. Then tap the Copy button.
  4. Open the FileApp app and tap on the Downloads folder.
  5. Still in FileApp, tap on the .zip file you just sent from Files. (If you can’t see it, pull down on the file list to refresh, then tap.)
  6. FileApp asks if you want to decompress the file; tap UnZIP.
  7. Tap on the folder that FileApp creates. Inside, you’ll find a folder with a .scriv extension (very important!)
  8. Long press on the .scriv folder, and tap the Actions button. FileApp displays the iOS Share panel. Select Open in Scrivener
  9. iOS Scrivener will open. Select a location for the project. Scrivener will create the project and open it for you.

You’ve now created a backup in iOS Scrivener, saved it to a cloud service, and restored the project from that backup to iOS Scrivener. You can use the Restore process to both restore iOS-created backups and import Mac- and PC-created zipped backups to iOS Scrivener.

(With thanks to Literature and Latte Tech Support and the users on the L&L Forums.)

MacAlly Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard Review #amwriting

The MacAlly Foldable BT Keyboard (PMOBILEKEY)
MacAlly Foldable BT Keyboard (PMOBILEKEY)
Overall *****
Weight *****
Size *****
Ease of use *****
Durability ***

How good is it? I’m typing this review with it.

Let’s talk about portable bluetooth keyboards in general, for a moment.

Either these things are nearly as heavy and bulky as a keyboard intended to stay put (e.g., Apple Magic Keyboard) or they suffer greatly from the delusion that to be used with a tablet, the keyboard must be sized like a tablet—with longest dimension no longer than the longest side of the tablet (e.g., any keyboard tablet case.)

I’ve had portable keyboards since the days of the Palm Pilot, and I’ve bought a lot of them—the Apple Magic above, the various Logitech Keyboard Covers, the Zagg Pocket Keyboard, and any number of cheap knockoffs bought surreptitiously on eBay. Either they are heavy (Apple Magic Keyboard; Apple Smart Keyboard for the 12.9″ iPad Pro) or cramped (anything except the Apple keyboards, really) or both (Logitech Keyboard Covers or any other keyboard tablet case.)

Not so the MacAlly PMOBILEKEY. It’s small when folded, but nearly as large as the Apple keyboards when unfolded. And it weighs in lighter than any other BT keyboard I’ve (foolishly) spent money on:

Dimensions:

5 3/4″ × 3 7/8″ x 1/2″ folded (14.6 cm × 12.3 cm x 1 cm)
11 5/16″ × 3 7/8″ × 1/4″ unfolded (28.7 cm × 12.3 cm x 0.5 cm)
Weight:

5.54 oz. (157 grams)
The MacAlly’s key row height is the same as that of the Macbook Air 11.
The MacAlly keyboard is only slightly narrower in width than the MacBook 11’s keyboard.

As you can see, it’s only half an inch (1 cm) narrower than the built-in keyboard on my Mac. The keys are well-spaced, and well-placed. The action is nearly as solid as my MacBook Air 11 keyboard (which uses the older scissor mechanism.)

The keyboard’s drawbacks are those of any foldable keyboard I’ve ever tried: the vulnerable point is always the hinge, and the flexible cables used to bridge it. It’s all-plastic construction as well—not as sturdy as the same thing done in aluminum. There have been a few reports of keys sticking in the Amazon reviews as well.

Overall, though, I can recommend the PMOBILEKEY for travel or any other application where light weight and small footprint are key, if treated gently. Just don’t stick it in your jeans pocket, sit on it, and expect it to survive.

Apple, You Make It Hard: Mac Laptop “Retina” Screen Update #amwriting

In November, I wrote about giving your older Mac laptop a “Retina” screen by enabling it with SwitchResX. Well, I just upgraded my MacBook Air 11 to Mojave (MacOS 10.14.2) via a “clean install”, and it took away my beautiful high-resolution, pseudo-Retina screen! As an obsessive nerd, I could not possibly let that one stand.

It seems that years and years ago, I installed Apple’s dev tools, which enabled HiDPI (pseudo-Retina), unbeknownst to me. When I did a clean install of Mojave, I wiped out both the tools and the HiDPI capability. Oops.

Long story short, I found what I needed in this article, “How to Enable HiDPI Mode in Mac OS X,” by Jim Tanous. Here’s a summary of how to enable these delightful screen modes:

  1. Start from an account for which you have admin privileges.
  2. Open the Terminal app (you can find it in Applications/Utilities)
  3. Copy and paste the following command: sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.windowserver.plist DisplayResolutionEnabled -bool true
  4. Press return. Terminal will ask for your admin password. Provide it and press return.
  5. Restart your Mac.

Now HiDPI (AKA “Retina”) resolutions should be available in the SwitchResX menu, assuming your laptop screen is capable. Enjoy!

If you’ve never used Terminal before, here’s a quick breakdown of what’s happening in its screen.

N.B.: This works because of two effects: SwitchResX enables you to go to a scaled resolution larger than the largest “native” resolution on many monitors (AKA “stretched” resolution)—including the MacBook Air 11 built-in monitor. Enabling HiDPI enables you to use a “half-resolution” or HiDPI. Thus, the text is four times sharper because it uses four times as many pixels to render text. With both these effects in place, I can get a 1280×720 “Retina” resolution on my old MacBook Air 11. If a monitor can’t display a stretched resolution, the best it can do for a HiDPI is half the resolution of the maximum native resolution. For example, this doesn’t do much of anything for my LG Ultrawide, which can’t display a stretched resolution. So results are entirely dependent on what SwitchResX can do with your display hardware.

RIP, Dragon Dictation for Mac #amwriting

If you’re a Mac Nuance customer you may have gotten an email last month entitled Product Discontinuation Notice. This email gave you the sad news that Dragon Professional Individual for Mac (the only Mac product Nuance had) was discontinued as of 22 October 2018 (two days before the email was sent.)

Dragon Professional Individual for Mac is no more

Now, I had my problems with Dragon Pro (The Demise of Dictation) but people commented on my “I give up!” post saying that I just hadn’t used it correctly. That’s as may be, but Dragon Pro for Mac had other problems besides my dictating ineptitude. For some time, it’s been having problems with applications using Apple’s 64-bit text toolkit (Dragon on Scrivener 3 has gone haywire.) Nor has it ever been the stellar performer that Dragon Pro on Windows has been—in fact, one noted writer on the subject, Scott Baker, frankly suggests in A Writer’s Guide to Training your Dragon that Mac users get a cheap Windows machine or use Boot Camp on their Macs in order to use the Windows version of Dragon. Nor did his recommendation change when Dragon Pro for Mac version 6 was released, although he conceded that the software was reported to be more usable.

Why would Nuance discontinue Dragon Mac? They aren’t talking, but the problems with 64-bit text apps are definite. Further, MacOS won’t support 32-bit apps past the current major release (Mojave.) My own speculation is that Nuance, looking at a product that has never been up to its (Windows) standards and is (probably) not especially profitable for all its absurdly high price, was not willing to dump “good money after bad” in order to update it for the 64-bit text kit plus addressing any other problems it may have.

Now, I don’t feel any sorrow that Dragon Mac is gone—it means I will never again have the option of picking it up, deciding that it’s not working for me, or of spending hours with the notoriously bad Nuance tech support who tell me that it’s not working for me (duh.) Aside from the depressing feeling of getting dumped, I’m okay, but for many Mac users dictation is not optional. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, there is no other commercial third-party dictation software for Mac. So Mac-using writers who need dictation have fewer choices at this point:

  1. Use Mac, iOS, or Android native dictation. (Free with your device.)
  2. Use Dragon Anywhere (on iOS or Android). ($150 USD/year)
  3. Get Windows (see above). After investing in Windows hardware and software (cost varies), buy Dragon Professional. ($300 USD)

Not an outstanding list of choices. Good luck, Mac writers using dictation.

MacOS v. Bluetooth Headsets—How to Get Good Mac Sound Output #amwriting

I praised my Razer Hammerhead BT headset last week for its superb sound output from my Mac. I’d like to say it was easy—but I had to do some digging to make it so.

Before anything, in order for great, lag-free sound to come out of your Mac via Bluetooth, your Mac must support Bluetooth 4.0 or greater, and your BT headset must also support it. To find out if your Mac supports this BT version, select About This Mac from the Apple menu, then click on the System Report… button near the bottom of the window that results.

Checking BT Compatibility

Click on Bluetooth in the System Information window that opens. You’re looking for

  • Bluetooth Low Energy Supported: Yes
  • HCI Version: 4.0 (0x6) (or higher)
  • LMP Version: 4.0 (0x6) (or higher)

Alternatively, you could check the Bluetooth version by using Mactracker, a free utility available on the Mac App Store, which holds the specifications of every Apple device ever built. Ever.

Your BT headset’s box or its website should clearly state which version of BT it supports. If it doesn’t support 4.0 or better, none of the rest of the info in this article will work.

Checking Codec1 Compatibility

If your Mac supports BT 4.0 and you have a MacOS released since 2015, you’re good on the Mac side. Your Mac supports both the aptX and the AAC codecs, so if your headset has either, you’re in business.

If your BT headset not only supports BT 4.0+ but also supports the aptX codec, you’re in great shape! Most headset manufacturers brag about aptX if they’ve got it, so check the manufacturer’s website to find out. Failing aptX, check whether the headset supports Apple’s AAC codec (it almost certainly does if advertised as usable with iOS.) AAC won’t get you quite as good sound as aptX, but many people can’t hear the difference.

Persuading Your Mac to Play Nice

So now, you know that your BT headset and your Mac can talk to each other fast enough and well enough to get beautiful sound. What’s the problem?

Sometimes, the Mac refuses to use higher bandwidth codecs, even though they’re available on both the Mac and the BT headset. Why, no one seems to know, least of all Apple. But you can work around this with a developer utility called Bluetooth Explorer, which you can get via a link in this article by John H. Darko. Mr Darko’s article also explains how to force use of aptX or AAC by using Bluetooth Explorer once you’ve got it.

I did this, but my MacBook Air was still downgrading to the horrid SCO codec. Now what?

After a good deal of Internet research, I found that the problem lies in Apple Dictation. Often, when you connect a BT headset, MacOS will automatically assume that you want to use the headset microphone for dictation. This is not a bad assumption in and of itself, but when MacOS selects a BT headset for dictation, it will automatically downgrade the BT codec, whether you’re actually using dictation right now or not. (You could use dictation, any time now, is its feeble mechanical rationale, so it had better be prepared…)

One solution is to simply turn off dictation on your Mac. If you’re a writer, though, this may not be practical. An alternative solution is to leave the internal microphone selected for dictation, and manually switch to your BT headset mic if needed. Here’s how to implement either possibility.

Mac Dictation can sabotage your headset sound

  • Open System Preferences
  • Click on the Keyboard panel
  • Click on the Dictation tab
  • Click the “Off” radio button to turn off dictation completely
  • OR—from the drop-down menu beneath the microphone icon, choose “Internal microphone.” (Do not choose Automatic; that’s what’s causing the problem.) The machine may whine2 about how this won’t give you best results. Ignore it.

Now music should pour forth from your Mac and sound beautiful on your BT headset. If you should decide that you want to dictate some text and use your BT headset to do it, go back to System Preferences and manually change dictation input to your BT headset. The codec will downgrade but you won’t care because you’ll be dictating and you can’t listen to music at the same time anyway. Manually change dictation input back to Internal Microphone when you want to listen to music again.

Tooth Fairy makes controlling your mic more convenient.

Another possibility: a little utility available on the Mac App Store, called Tooth Fairy, $2.99 USD. It will let you put an icon in your menubar for your headset (and also display its battery status). You can connect and disconnect the headset by clicking on the icon. If you right-click, you can access Tooth Fairy preferences—which let you disable the headset mic, by means of its Advanced… settings. Thus you avoid needing to dig deep into the System Preferences; leave them as they are, and just turn the mic on or off as needed from the Tooth Fairy icon.


  1. What’s a codec? “Codec” is short for COde/DECode. A codec is simply a set of rules for compressing your sound before the Mac sends it, and then decompressing it on your headset before it’s played. The more information the codec can send and/or receive in a given amount of time, the better the sound on your headset. aptX is excellent, AAC is not bad, SBC stinks, and SCO is monaural transmission suitable only for voice calls. 
  2. Display a yellow triangle warning message. 

Razer Hammerhead BT Headset Review #amwriting

I can’t imagine trying to get heavy writing done without a headset of some kind. I use headsets as distraction filters, hearing protectors, telephone speaking/listening devices, and occasional dictation devices. Sometimes I even use them to listen to music. I’ve reported before on how well gaming equipment suits my writing needs (The Gaming—Writing—Dictation Connection, Long, Cool Monitor). This little lurid-green-and-black beauty is my latest acquisition:

The Razer Hammerhead BT Headset

Razer Hammerhead BT Headset, $99.00 MSRP

My Summary:

Overall *****
Noise Isolation ****
Sound *****
Microphone ***
Setup ****
Comfort *****
Ease of Use ****
The (Really) Good:
  • The Razer Hammerhead BT has great sound by my standards.
    • I often attend live classical music concerts, so while I don’t insist on audiophile quality sound, I don’t care for artificially inflated bass either. This headset inflates the bass, but not enough to annoy; it only slightly inflates bass past compensating for the usual feeble bass of in-ear headsets. Otherwise, frequency response sounds pretty darn flat, which suits.
    • It sounds as good as my wired Audio-Technica ATH-ANC33iS headset with my iOS devices. The problems reported with BT headsets (lag, poor sound quality compared to wired) are not present.
    • It produces the best darn sound I’ve ever gotten out of my Mac. I’ve made the aptX codec active (see this article by John H. Darko for how) and the sparkling highs rival those of my old component stereo system. But even before I activated aptX it did as well as my A-T.
  • It does a similar job of noise isolation compared to my Audio-Technica headset. The Razer eliminates more high-pitched noise; the A-T is better on the droning low-pitched stuff (due to active noise cancellation.) (N.B. All comparisons of noise isolation were done with Comply foam eartips on each headset.)
  • The inline control unit contains the microphone, as customary. The unit is larger than usual, and easy to use. The microphone hangs naturally pointed at the user’s face. The controls works well with iOS and with MacOS.
  • It exceeds its advertised battery life of eight hours.
  • The Razer has a two year warranty! Even if there are durability issues I should be covered.
  • The flat ribbon wired connections among the components should be sturdier than the round wired connectors of my A-T.
  • Again, the machined aluminium earbud bodies should be sturdier than those made of plastic.
The Indifferent:
  • The Razer microphone. It performs well enough, but it’s neither particularly well suited nor poorly suited to dictation in noisy environments. It does OK for dictation in quiet environments. People I’ve been on voice calls with report decent call quality. I need not grab it and hold it in front of my mouth in order to be understood, as I did the A-T microphone. In short, it works well but not outstandingly so.
  • The magnetic shirt clip works well for thin fabric, but its grip is problematic on anything thicker than a t-shirt.
  • The silicone eartips are decent quality. Note that the double-flange eartips are only provided in size medium. If you have large or small ear canals, you won’t get the extra noise isolation of double-flanges with the provided eartips. (This doesn’t bother me as I replace manufacturer’s eartips with Comply foam eartips anyway.)
The Quirky:
  • Not only does the Hammerhead BT have two-tone green and black cables but also the earbuds’ logos slowly pulse with lurid green light (“breathing”) while in use. This, ah, feature can’t be turned off directly, from iOS, or from Mac. It might be controllable from Android or Windows—I have no way to check.
  • The knurled grips on the earbuds irritate some users’ ears, but I haven’t noticed any problem.
  • The provided carry case is huge for the size of the headset. Yes, it has a nice custom-moulded interior; nonetheless it’s more than twice the volume of the little case I used for my A-T headset.
  • The charging port is in the inline control rather than the transceiver/battery compartment. Strange.
Conclusions:

The Hammerhead BT delivers on low lag, noise isolation, and good sound. It should work well for mobile gaming, and it certainly serves my humble writing purposes. At $99 USD (MSRP), it’s comparable in price to the wired Audio-Technica noise-cancelling in-ear headset, and 30% less expensive than A-T’s in-ear Bluetooth model. It’s a third of the price of Bose noise-cancelling in-ear sets. With its two-year warranty, it’s a solid bargain.

A Warning About Counterfeits:

Several reviewers on Amazon report receiving counterfeit Razer headsets. The counterfeit headsets are flimsy and perform poorly. Needless to say, Razer won’t support them, and they can’t be registered for warranty. My suggestions:

  • Buy from Amazon directly—be sure that the product page says “Sold by and shipped from Amazon.com” when you buy. Avoid third-party sellers.
  • OR—Buy from Best Buy or other major brick-and-mortar retailer.
  • OR—Buy from the https://RAZER.com website.

And finally, register your warranty at http://razerzone.com/registration as soon as you receive your headset! The information you need is all on the outside of the box; you needn’t break the shrink wrap. If you can’t register it, then it’s likely counterfeit and you should return it for a refund ASAP (if you can).

How to Give Your Older Macbook Air a “Retina” Screen

I don’t know about you, but I have a severe technology envy problem. I look at tech specs of new Apple products and heave deep, heartfelt sighs. In particular, I would very much like a newer Macbook 12 instead of my older Macbook Air 11. It’s… well, it’s lighter. To a former aerospace engineer, 5.6 ounces saved is 5.6 ounces, man! Think what you can boost with an extra 5.6 ounces to spare for fuel!

You can get Retina-style resolution on your older Macbook Air.

Not only that, but it has that nice, crisp Retina screen. Reading on the normal resolution Macbook Air 11 with a pixel density1 of 135 DPI—sometimes I take off my glasses and look at the screen from a distance of six inches (I’m very nearsighted) in order to read something. It doesn’t always help. The Retina displays on my iOS devices show text that is more crisp, and have more detail in the graphics.

I discovered a way around the lack of a “Retina” display quite by accident. Here’s my secret:

SwitchResX $16 USD (free trial available)

SwitchResX is a utility designed to give its users far more control over monitors and their resolutions than Apple is willing to provide. Bluntly, it has a lot more complexity than I’ll ever need, and I’m comfortable with tech (see above.) But for $16 it gave me a Retina screen equivalent for my Macbook Air, without delving into the tech details further than an added menubar icon.

UPDATE 2018-12-20: In addition to the below, you may also need to enable HiDPI on your Mac system. If no “HiDPI” resolutions show up when you use SwitchResX, check out Apple, You Make it Hard: Mac Laptop “Retina” Screen Update

You’ll need admin privileges on your account to install it. For these purposes, you’ll only need to set two of its preferences (open System Preferences; tap on the SwitchResX icon towards the bottom of the screen.) Be sure that its menubar extra is enabled (SRX menus prefs), and that the “SwitchResX daemon” is set to Launch on login (SRX general prefs). Close the SRX prefs window and quit System Preferences.

Now click on that new menubar icon that looks like a screen. You should see a long list of resolutions that you never knew your Macbook Air had available. Select the largest one that says “HiDPI” next to it, and you’re in business! (Note that if you have a Macbook Air 13 you’ll probably want one that’s in a 16:10 ratio, and for a Macbook Air 11 you’ll want 16:9.)

For the Macbook Air 11, that’s a DPI in HiDPI mode of 253 pixels per linear inch, higher than the Macbook Pro 13’s 220 DPI in Retina mode.

Enjoy your rejuvenated Mac!

(Note that I still envy Macbook 12 owners—after all, they have Macbooks that are 5.6 ounces lighter than mine. I just don’t envy them as much.)


  1. A note on resolution, pixel density, and what “Retina” means: Resolution, as commonly used these days, means the number of pixels horizontally and vertically on a screen. Thus, the Macbook Air 11 has a maximum resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. This is a measure of how much information the display can present.

    Pixel density, on the other hand, is a measure of how crammed that information is. 135 DPI is pretty darn crammed for a normal monitor. My LG Ultrawide 25UM58 monitor (also normal) has a maximum pixel density of 111 DPI, and the pre-Retina Macbook Air 13 has 128 as its nominal max.

    “Retina” in Apple parlance is much the same thing as “HiDPI” in Windows terminology. Each means that four physical pixels are used to display each “logical” pixel. So at least in terms of how much text can be displayed at a given point size, the “resolution” is diminished by a factor of two in each dimension. That text will be far more crisp and easy to read, however.

    Windows is more honest about this (IMO): Apple will describe a “2560-by-1600 (Retina)” resolution, which means the same thing as Windows “1280 x 800 HiDPI”. Both screens will display exactly the same amount of sharp Times New Roman 12 point text.