Asus Zenfone 2 review

It’s been called a game changer sight unseen, not in the least by me! And you know what? After using it for a few days I’m convinced it deserves to be. No it’s not perfect, but nothing is, not even that fancy iPhone 6 Plus, and this wonder of tech does a lot that that piece, at almost FOUR times mind you, the price doesn’t!

There are plenty of places on the web to read up on the boring details: 1080P screen, 2GB of RAM (double what the iPhone 6+ has!), 13MP camera, modern quad core SOC. The screen is somewhat dimmer than the latest and greatest, but trust me, it looks excellent!  It runs Android 5 with Asus’ software, called Zen UI, on top. I was worried about that, as many manufacturers really overdo it and I prefer the esthetics of plain Android, but I have to say: Asus did a fine job actually! And it’s doing lots of software updates, improving this thing with every version. Some of the earlier reviews complained of bad pictures, but the camera has seen MAJOR improvements and the ‘low light’ mode is brilliant!

I did install the Google Now launcher, but am using Asus’ email, contacts and calendar apps. They’re excellent! One of the great things about Android is that you can choose your default apps of course, unlike in the land of the Fruit. Another awesome thing right out of the box: this thing supports recording your calls! It’s built right in to the dialer! Voice recognition is beyond excellent, although speaker is not the best. It’s fine, but I have heard better. USB OTG: works like a dream, just plug in a USB stick or HD and use the File Manager App that comes with phone, just like you would on a regular computer. It evens allows me to access my shared drives on my main machine through Wifi.

Here’s another awesome feature: this phone supports dual SIM cards! As I moved my home line to an AT&T mobile, and my main line is on T-Mobile, I can now be connected to two separate providers. Each SIM is individually controllable too, although only the first can provide data connectivity. You can text and call through either though.

All in all, the Zenfone 2 is an incredible deal. Even its construction, while not top-of-the-line milled aluminum, is fine; it feels great in the hand, and does not flex. It always cracks me up when people who sing the praises of the mighty iPhone and its fancy materials, cover it up in some ugly case; cause they can’t afford to buy a new one if they break it! Like the grandma, who put plastic over her good couch, they probably made fun of.

Zenfone 2 runs all software I tried as fast as anything I’ve seen, and even though the GPU might not be the fastest, every game I’ve tried runs perfectly smooth, including GTA. The quad core CPU ATOM in here IS as fast as anything out there and makes it a joy to use. All in all, this thing is better than I had even hoped and all those three-and-a-half star reviews out there are, in my opinion, wrong. It might warrant that rating if it were $750 like the iP6+, but for $199??? This is better than 5 star material baby!

 

Game Changer: part trois

This morning I dropped by beloved little Moto G and the screen shattered….. ;-(…..that’s never happened to me before and it didn’t even land on concrete, it just hit right on a corner. Well, it only cost me $180 and lasted 15 months. As a matter of fact, it still seems to work fine underneath the spider web of glass, and replacements are only $6. Might get it fixed, but I decided to just order a Zenfone 2! Just like originally announced and unlike the rumors that popped up, the $200 model does come with the 5.5″ 1080P screen, 2GB of RAM and a quad core Atom CPU. In addition, it supports dual SIM cards which brings me to my next point.

As some of you know, I switched my cellphone number to T-Mobile a little while ago, from the AT&T network I used for years. After using it for six months or so, I can certainly say that I took a step back in coverage, although when the signal is good, I get way higher data speeds now. My boss has T-mobile too, Dave has Verizon so we’ve been able to really see the differences and Big Red does have an advantage. For instance, in Panama City, FL, Russ and I could not even make a call, in the airport! Mind you, it’s one with only 6 gates or so, but still. Overall, reception is just fine, here in L.A. it’s excellent, and at my house better than AT&T, and sometimes even Verizon let’s us down.  Now, I ported my home phone number to a GoPhone and now I will be able to put both sims in my new phone, effectively giving me access to TWO cellular networks on one device!

Right now, I’m in the process of porting it over to H2O, a reseller that uses AT&T’s network, which will give me 500MB of LTE data, plus unlimited calling, (international) texting and even at monthly $10 credit for calling internationally, for….wait for it……$27 per month including all taxes and fees! I was paying $34 a month for my landline, with no long-distance, not even voicemail or call-waiting.

So, I ordered the $199 Asus Zenfone 2 which should arrive Thursday. For $299 shipped, you can get the version with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, but either can take a microSD card, so the smaller one is more than good enough for me. I’ve been making due with 8GB for the last year and a half. It’s pretty incredible I’m about to get a modern phone, with higher resolution, double the RAM for a quarter of the price of an iPhone 6+! Keep ya posted!

Quantitative Easing

Many, many people talk about the government “printing money”, but very few understand what that even means. I’m not going to pretend that I know all the ins and outs, but I’ve tried to get to the facts at lot more than most and it’s certainly not as simple as many think. One of those is that major inflation has NOT resulted, at least yet, as predicted by so many from the rounds of Quantitative Easing by the US government since the Great Recession. The Federal reserve held $800 Billion in treasury notes before beginning to buy more at the end of 2008; by June 2010 that figure had grown to $2.1 Trillion. As of October 2014 the amount was $4.5 Trillion. As far as the possible effects go, I think Wikipedia has a very fair and balanced explanation:

Quantitative easing may cause higher inflation than desired if the amount of easing required is overestimated and too much money is created by the purchase of liquid assets.[17] On the other hand, QE can fail to spur demand if banks remain reluctant to lend money to businesses and households. Even then, QE can still ease the process of deleveraging as it lowers yields. However, there is a time lag between monetary growth and inflation; inflationary pressures associated with money growth from QE could build before the central bank acts to counter them.[87] Inflationary risks are mitigated if the system’s economy outgrows the pace of the increase of the money supply from the easing. If production in an economy increases because of the increased money supply, the value of a unit of currency may also increase, even though there is more currency available. For example, if a nation’s economy were to spur a significant increase in output at a rate at least as high as the amount of debt monetized, the inflationary pressures would be equalized. This can only happen if member banks actually lend the excess money out instead of hoarding the extra cash. During times of high economic output, the central bank always has the option of restoring reserves to higher levels through raising interest rates or other means, effectively reversing the easing steps taken.

Increasing the money supply tends to depreciate a country’s exchange rates relative to other currencies, through the mechanism of the interest rate. Lower interest rates lead to a capital outflow from a country, thereby reducing foreign demand for a country’s money, leading to a weaker currency. This feature of QE directly benefits exporters living in the country performing QE, as well as debtors, since the interest rate has fallen, meaning there is less money to be repaid. However, it directly harms creditors as they earn less money from lower interest rates. Devaluation of a currency also directly harms importers, as the cost of imported goods is inflated by the devaluation of the currency.[88]

The bottom line is that it’s a very involved and complicated process and that oversimplified statements about it should be dismissed! It does NOT automatically mean devaluation of you currency! Money is the oil of the economic engine and sometimes you need more oil to keep the motor running smoothly! I’m not saying the Fed did everything right, the end result is not known yet, but all the Monday Morning Quarterbacks I hear bitching about it are getting on my nerves.

A couple of nights ago, I was listening to some talk radio on the way home from a gig, and a seemingly very knowledgeable woman came on to talk about all of  this. When the subject became infrastructure, she started making even more sense. Where has all this QE money gone? Well, the Fed buys bonds from so-called “Primary Broker-Dealers” of the NY Fed, according to their own site:

Bank of Nova Scotia, New York Agency, BMO Capital Markets Corp., BNP Paribas Securities Corp., Barclays Capital Inc., Cantor Fitzgerald & Co., Citigroup Global Markets Inc., Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC, Daiwa Capital Markets America Inc., Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., Goldman, Sachs & Co., HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., Jefferies LLC, J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated, Mizuho Securities USA Inc., Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, Nomura Securities International, Inc., RBC Capital Markets, LLC, RBS Securities Inc., SG Americas Securities, LLC, TD Securities (USA) LLC, UBS Securities LLC.

These organizations sell bonds to the Fed, and funnel the money into the real economy, so it ends up in all kinds of areas. The woman on the radio had a suggestion: if there is another round of QE, invest directly in infrastructure programs! Bridges, roads, telecom….. You know, it’s our money, and putting it there has two great effects: improving our land, and putting cash in the hands of people who will spend it, instead of adding it to a stash of dough just sitting in a bank account. In a way it’s a miracle that this hasn’t really happened yet as America’s bridges crumble!

The other day I watched a debate between Bernie Saunders and Rand Paul that might have shown a glimpse of the problem we have in Washington. It was about a bill to make sure that seniors in the US have proper nutrition. Saunders explained that there are many who are in full-time institutions because they can’t feed themselves, which could be prevented with far simpler methods, like daily checkup at home by someone. Paul responds by saying “Only in Washington can someone suggest we can save money by spending!”. Even when Saunders responds with factual examples, the mindless rhetoric from the ‘right’ continues. It’s exactly such short-sighted thinking that is bringing us down in my opinion. Rand Paul asks why, if spending $2 Billion saves us money, why don’t we spend $20 Billion and save even more, is there no limit?! Mister Saunders answers: the limit is when seniors don’t go hungry. How is it possible we have such numbskulls ‘representing’ people?

The End Of An Era

That’s it, there will never be another Tuesday night Jam at Cafe Cordiale. As a matter of fact, after this Sunday’s final show, there will be no more Cafe Cordiale. It’s hard to believe, especially when you saw how incredibly busy it was last night, that this scene will cease to exist. In typical fashion, with a house packed to capacity, at 12:30 the lights came on and everybody was asked to leave….. only in the land of the idiot will a business owner squander such an amazing opportunity to make some money. I guess Peter and his family made enough already off the backs of broke musicians to retire comfortably!

Police Killings

There’s been a lot of talk about police killings lately, to be more precise, the killing of civilians by police. Some interesting facts: in 2011 there were 404 acts of “justifiable homicide” by law enforcement, and that’s a voluntarily reported number, so the real amount is higher, while in Australia there were six, in Germany six and in England and Wales only two.  Put together, those three lands have about 155 million inhabitants, or just about half of the USA, but (14/404) 3.5% of the killings! Mind you, the reported killings and you can be sure that unlike in the Land Of The Free, all police homicides are reported. It’s a staggering difference for which the reasons can only be speculated on. Is it because American officers have a much higher chance of encountering someone who’s armed?

Taxes 2014

In the nick of time! Finished my 2014 Taxes too and of course I owe, but it’s about where I expected it. Total receipts came in at $43,000, I did 141 live gigs, made about $1000 from royalties. I have to write a check to the Feds for $4500 and to California for $106. My Adjusted Gross Income was just shy of $20,000.

As far as expenses go: all car rentals including gas totaled $3200, much cheaper than if I were to buy a new car, I spent about $3000 on gear and $1000 on supplies. In my own cars I didn’t drive very much, only about 450 miles believe it or not. A really nice deduction this year was Meals Entertainment & Incidentals, because I was on the road quite a bit. I also add in all the money I spent at the Baked Potato and Cafe Cordiale, at least what I put on my Credit Card, because that’s a professional hang. In total, these expenses are 50% deductible, and added up to about $7000. Various other costs: $200 for web hosting, $700 for my cell phone and $425 for studio rentals.

All in all the best year I’ve ever had, and the current is looking good too! I did owe back $300 for the Obamacare subsidy I got and there is an underpayment penalty because I did not make quarterly estimated tax payments, but that’s only $54. Surprisingly low actually and definitely such that it’s worth holding on to my money throughout the year. One very odd thing is that I cannot use the H&R Block software I bought to deduct my self paid Health Insurance premiums, because due to the way the IRS implemented calculations. You see, the paid premiums lower your AGI, but the subsidy is based on your AGI! It’s a feedback loop if you will, and the only way to properly calculate it is by using an iterative process! When I get to the section in the software, it tells me I have to go to H&R Block to do my taxes! It’s too late now, so I just didn’t take the deduction, which will cost me $120. Unlike so many, I don’t mind paying taxes and that extra deduction could come in handy one day if I ever get audited!

The Watch

It was a pretty bold move, just calling it “Watch”, as if there aren’t any others, but now the first reviews are in. Mind you, these are from carefully selected early reviewers, generally expected to be kind to the big fruit. The Verge gives it a 7, not such a great mark anyway, even though at 6:24PM on a day of not using it all that much the battery is already at 25%. Most verdicts are not exactly positive, although of course everyone finds something he or she loves about the thing. The biggest problems other than battery life? The slowness amazingly enough, especially with third party apps, but even just the delay that happens sometimes when you just want to see what time it is. Also, Siri doesn’t seem to work particularly well on this thing, so replying to emails or texts with anything other than canned responses is not convenient, leading to having to use your iPhone.

Personally, I think the thing is pretty ugly, too fat especially, and the last thing I need is yet something else that needs charging everyday. More importantly, this thing only works with an iPhone, further tying you down to a particular ecosystem, which is something that will come back to bite you later. Already I have started reading reviews from people that say the Galaxy S6 is far superior to the 6+, but they can’t switch because they’re invested. Hell, in the comments for one of the Watch reviews is this comment: “Who cares about the Apple Watch being crap/having issues.. I’m buying one

Baron of Botox

I kid you not, that’s what they called him: “The Baron of Botox”! Fredric Brandt died last Sunday in his house in Miami, apparently by his own hand. Even stranger, the Volkskrant’s article calls him “unjustly ridiculed” even though just about any picture should tell you otherwise. The weirdest thing is that I have just finished watching the first season of “Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix, in which none other than Martin Short plays a plastic surgeon who was clearly modeled after this guy. Speculation goes that Mr. Brandt was so upset about this parody that it put him over the edge…. a quick googling should show enough photos to tell you the guy was a freak! Unfortunately, the damage this guy has done will not be erased by his voluntary self-removal from the gene pool…….

Baron of Botox

T-Mobile

After being able to text and use data from any country in the world, it was time to switch over to T-Mobile. They don’t have quite the network here in the US that AT&T does (and thus NET10 which I was using with an AT&T compatible SIM), but so far so good. We went to Denver yesterday and my phone behaved quite well. Data is noticeably faster in most locations even with my 3G phone, and reception has been just fine, including in my house where AT&T was not that great.

I was paying $47 a month including fees and taxes before, with 3GB of high speed data, throttled down but with no overage charges. I never went over 2GB even with using my phone as a mobile hotspot pretty regularly, especially in hotels that charge for Wifi. With T-Mobile the basic “Simple Choice” plan is $50 plus fees and comes with 1GB of fast data and also no charge if you go over, just lower speed. Right now, if you pay $10 more (=around $70 including everything) you get 3GB, plus unused data goes in your “Data Stash” for upcoming months; icing on the cake is a 10GB bonus that’s valid till the end of the year! The connection is way faster than my DSL at home, so I see myself using this to download some files once in a while actually! It’s amazing I can now text my friends Holland for free where before I couldn’t at all.

One thing to watch when you’re switching carriers is the so-called ‘porting’ process of your phone number. You see, the old one has to release your digits and that doesn’t always go through. When I went into the T-Mo place to request it, they asked me which number, put in in their computer and told me it was gonna take up to 24 hours. I called a few hours later, just to check, and then the rep told me the request was denied due to insufficient account info! I wonder when they would have let me know……anyway, I tried looking up my Net10 account number, which turned out to be the IMEI of the SIM card. Then called T-MO back and they put it in, even called NET10 while I was on the line and made sure this time the request had all the necessary information. Four hours later the process was complete! Moral of the story: stay on it, because if you let your number lapse somehow, you might not be able to get it back!

Technical info: my HTC8X does get LTE even though it’s originally an AT&T branded model and my Moto G (XT1034 to be precise, the AWS version with all bands for T-Mobile) is getting me H+ everywhere so far, which is honestly not that much slower. So far, so good! Will keep you posted….

BBB

Last night at Cafe Cordiale played perhaps the most awesome band we have in L.A. right now: BBB! I guess it stands for Bernie’s Big Band, as in Bernie Dresel, most famous for playing on all those Brian Setzer albums in his heyday. This guy is quite amazing of course, has played on many different things with many different artists. His previous efforts at this venue were with Bern, arguably the best wedding band this side of the Mississippi, but this is different. Here’s a properly curated collection of some of the most awesome Big Band charts in history, brought to you by some of the finest horn players in town! John Hatton (also from the Setzer band) is on bass and he and Bernie swing their asses off! Young kid on guitar is awesome, great solos from the horn guys and of course a masterclass in drumming at every show.

I’m not sure what is gonna happen to this group but they really should be touring. In a day and age when Snarky Puppy gets millions of views, there has to be a market for this. It’s hugely expensive to tour with a 16 piece band, but there’s just no substitute for this. I get goosebumps just thinking back to some of what I heard last night: when 16 grownups hit a note together, you have to be dead inside not to be moved. They have one more show at Cordiale before it closes……… April 30th at 9PM…..I’ll be there!