Author Archives: omo

My Tesla Model 3 Review Part 2

[Part 1 here]

After picking up the car from the service center, I didn’t really get to drive it much. I originally expected 1+ months of waiting, from ordering till delivery, but I got it in 2 weeks. August is a bad month for me as I have cons and other trips. The Model 3 can’t fly so it doesn’t work going to Japan…

I managed to squeeze in a road trip with it, however, so here’s a very different perspective than the part 1 post, which was written before the road trip. The odometer had 129 miles before I went on the trip, and after the trip it’s almost 500 miles, so here goes.

The main points I want to talk about are the more well-known aspects of the Tesla cars: charging an electric car, the autopilot features, and just the overall experience after spending more than a half-dozen hours in the car in the span of 28 hours. It turns out, this car (judged as a car) is actually really good. The car reviewers and the youtubers out there are largely right. I don’t think it’s a car for everyone, but it’s a good deal and I don’t think I will regret buying it.

First of all, while the car displays its “fuel” or battery levels in both % and miles remaining, both are not really that exact. It’s fairly accurate, but not super exact, I should say. I definitely realized the mile thing, while close enough to real miles to count on, depends a lot on how fuel-efficient your driving style is. You can definitely squeeze that aerodynamics and get more from your tank of electricity than my driving style, which is largely keeping it around 75 mph up and down I95.

I did touch 90mph in a short burst, and the car feels more or less the same as it does at 80mph. It’s really stable, not only because there isn’t a roaring engine, but the Model 3 motor doesn’t even whine. It’s just road noise and wind noise. The latter isn’t even really notable.

As far as charging the car goes, I left the house without bringing my cord. Which I think is the intended mode of use? LOL. I had maybe 290 miles left when I left the house, and one-shotted my friend’s house with about 12% left, or 40 miles of range. The next day, I drove to a nearby supercharger (it’s in Northern Virginia so there are quite a few destination chargers and a few superchargers in 40 miles range). My friend didn’t get the difference between the destination charger at the Tesla dealership at a nearby mall versus the supercharger, so I had to look it up and explain. Anyways, the closest supercharger was about 11 miles away and I had a nice lunch while charging. After an hour I was at about 85%, and I took another 20 minutes to go to 95%. That gave me enough juice to one-shot back, plus a detour.

As a M3 owner I should have to pay for my supercharging, but to actually use it, it is just plug-and-go. There was nothing to fiddle with. Supposedly the bill comes later on your Tesla account, but I didn’t see it when I looked for it later in the same day. So yeah, it feels like supercharging is not as convenient as going to the pump, but it does make me feel like getting Extended Range model on the M3 was a good choice. If I didn’t, I would have had to stop over once on the way down and once again on the way back.

I come to realize that, at least in sports mode, the M3 steering is very sensitive. Maybe this is why some people say the ride is rough. Compared to the Miata, this is actually pretty similar. It manages to tell you a lot about the road and about the car itself. Without an engine, though, there’s not a lot the car will tell you about itself. So that leaves the road. And maybe it is a little more chatty than some likes. Not for me though. To me this is a hallmark of a fun-to-drive vehicle. You have to feel the road in some way. Some say this might be partly due to how pressurized the tires are (and the tire pressures are displayed in PSI numbers in one of the on-screen views, which is very neat). It’s at like, 50 PSI, which is kind of high.

I don’t know, however, if a very responsive steering is a good play for Tesla, given its autonomous driving system. And it’s a hard thing to talk about. First of all, I get this from all kinds of people, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about Enhanced Autopilot in the form that other manufacturers have similar features already in their cars. This is partly true, but mostly false. First of all, if we break autopilot down into the features working together: adaptive cruise control, autosteer, auto lane change, I don’t think there is anyone except GM Supercruise. [Nissan comes kind of close…] The Germans and Japanese cars have similar but differing features. For one, a lot of them have lane detection but it’s to make sure you don’t drift out of lane. They don’t steer for you: if you let go the wheel, it will ping pong between the lane markings. It would also complain if you let go the wheel in a curve. It’s a very subtle distinction that a lot of car guys don’t get, but the point of Autopilot is that it’s driving, and you’re just awake enough to make sure it doesn’t screw up. A lot of the alternatives people say it’s the same are the reverse: you’re suppose to be driving and the automated features make sure you don’t screw up.

This is really the core thing and I don’t blame them for not understanding it as it is very unintuitive. Truth is it’s hard to advertise autopilot features when society is probably not fully ready for it, or welcomes it. However, there is value in such a system and unless you know how it works and the different versions of it on the market, you don’t know if it’s worth the money or understand how it fits in a car/automobile ecosystem. And I didn’t until I drove the M3 for a few hundred miles…

Basically, it’s the distinction between “driver’s assistant” system and “self-driving.” The former is normal driving with bells and whistles (basically every other system except Tesla’s, GM’s and maybe Nissan’s). The latter is driving in a new way and learning how to drive all over again.

So the thing about Autopilot is that, at first when I was using it, I felt awkward. It was partly a trust issue. It was partly an instinct issue. I wasn’t sure I could trust leaving steering to the machine and I wasn’t super sure if I can trust adaptive cruise control to do its thing. Driving is muscle memory of hand-eye reflexes. I got over that on this road trip after seeing how Autopilot works in a variety of conditions, and in some difficult environment (night time driving in heavy rain). But make no mistakes, Autopilot drives the car in a certain way. You have to get used to it, and learn how it works, in order to make the right decisions (when it is likely unreliable; when to best disengage autopilot; when to enable auto lane changes to smoothly pass a slow car; etc). It’s literally learning how to use this system, learning how to drive this particular way.

After the psychology, the next barrier was trying to de-program myself. I had to be hands-on-the-wheel for Autopilot, but it was hard to do this while not trying to drive the car, LOL. Unlike GM Supercruise, you had to keep your hands on the wheel. It will nag you every 90 seconds when you don’t, which is fine if you wanted to stretch or get a drink or something. But it’s not what you’re going to do most of the time. What I did was, eventually I learned to “pretend driving” in order to coexist with its detection system. And in essence, that is the whole point. You don’t have to do anything except hold the wheel and look at the road. Well the latter is even optional LOL, since there’s no face tracking in the Tesla.

And using Autopilot like that was a learning curve that I had to get over with. It’s not trivial, in that ultimately I am still the guy who has to get a benefit out of the system. I shouldn’t be a servant of the autopilot AI, babysitting the car-computer to make sure it doesn’t screw up, even if that was what I had to do. It’s pretty weird, but I guess I can get used to it, and thousands of other Tesla owners?

How was it being the safety driver instead of the primary driver? I can say it’s definitely less tiring on a longer road trip. The Tesla Model 3’s “vegan leather” seat generally did not get very warm after sitting on for hours on end, so that’s a plus, but it still gets a tad warm. With Autopilot you can take plenty of time to stretch, to shift your butt on the seat, pull up your pants, whatever, without any worries. That helps a lot, LOL. However, it is still kind of “work” supervising Autopilot, and its strict wheel-holding requirement meant my arms can’t be slack while driving it, unless I want to just wiggle the wheel every time it nags. That felt like too much work–I just want to zone out driving, freeing my consciousness from low-level driving tasks and think about other stuff without interruption.

And this is another reason why maybe the Model 3 isn’t for everyone…Well, this is more a self-driving isn’t for everything thing. All consumer self-driving system require this sort of babysitting in the present and in the near future. Even GM Supercruise requires you to look at the road, which is much less tiresome but probably just as annoying.

I think once I get more practice with Autopilot I will become happier about the car. There was definitely an initial wow period when you realize this car really could drive itself. The fact that it can’t some of the times, is no big deal. It’s more like even when it could, you are required to play this role as Autopilot’s spotter, that is problematic. But I think even with practice that could be a better experience than what I had to go through.

The real question is, why let the computer drive this car when the human probably enjoy being the driver more than being the spotter for the computer? That is not fun. Which is just to say, if the Model 3 was less fun to drive, it might make Autopilot more compelling. As is, driving the car is a good break from being bored as the spotter behind the wheel, trying to pay attention to the computer not screwing up and killing both of us.

Okay, it is still not the pure joy of driving that was the Mazda MX-5, but the Model 3 is pretty good, all in all, and still can be entertaining as a car, in more than one way. It might be the little things (like knowing it can play hi-res flac in the USB port, or that the charger cover opens and closes automatically, and that the car is full of undocumented features AKA Easter Eggs). It might be the way it accelerates and corners. It might be that you get to relearn how to drive. Thankfully this car gives you some options between all those things.


My Tesla Model 3 Review Part 1

For proper entry to mid-life crisis mode, I have purchased a Tesla Model 3. I guess this is probably the first post of at least two parts, since I’ve not driven it enough to give a good assessment and a car is a thing you probably will live with for some time.

Just to keep all of this as personal as possible, it’s going to be mostly compared to my previous “daily driver” or the Mazda MX-5 Miata (NC 2012, MT, PRHT). In quotes because I don’t drive that often, but yeah I traded it in for the Model 3. So here is going to be a review of sorts from someone who came from a really fun-to-drive, emotional and just all-around blast of a car and “downgrading” into a mid-range luxury sedan. If you know me well enough you might know that for most of my driving life I drove a variety of cars. Before the MX-5, they were: a beat up Acura Legend (RIP x2) or a beat up 240SX (RIP), and occasionally in a CR-V, a Ridgeline, or an old RAM (RIP). Those who know me even better might know I used to rock a Mazda MVP (RIP). Very decidedly middle-class, and no, I don’t Toyota (although I did rock a ’91 Corolla for a very short while–was fun wondering if the car had enough juice to get over some on-ramps…). I am probably missing a car here or there, but that’s what happens when your Dad sold Hondas for a living (at least for a while) and gave/sold good value used cars as a charity to help out poor Chinese immigrants. Very Christianly of him to buy out the cheaper used cars (his customers’ trade-ins) and then turn them around, which meant I got to use some of them while we were “storing” these.

I thought the Miata was enough of a midlife crisis kind of thing, but I got a great deal on it and honestly it was priced similarly from a well-equipped Accord or Camry anyway. Why would anyone drive those cars when they can drive a Miata? I had the support network of beat up pickup trucks and sedans in the rare case I need to move or carry something big. The MX-5 is by a long shot the most fun I’ve ever had with a four-wheeled vehicle. It’s like you just need to drive normally and the whole thing is fun. No need to go to a track–just any nice, scenic road without a lot of traffic, and maybe nice weather so you can roll down the top. Revving up that linear engine to a massive whopping 40MPH in the MX-5 was as much fun as drag racing anything. It rolled more than you’d expect in turns, but what it really is doing is teaching you how to shift a car’s weight coming into corners. It is definitely the most exciting teacher I’ve had. And I miss it.

However the Model 3 is a good consolation.The TL;DR is that the Model 3 is an alien spaceship but that electric motor acceleration is sugar crack cocaine. Overall car is still just a compromise between luxury, utility and performance, once you get past its disruptive features and the fact that it’s electric from the ground up. Not that those things are bad by any stretch, if you can get used to how alien it is. And compared to the Tesla S and BMW/Audi generally,  you’re getting a sweet bargain at this price.

The Model 3 I have is the primary config Tesla is actually delivering in 2018: rear wheel drive only, extended range, and with premium interior upgrade. I added the 19″ wheels and Enhanced Autopilot to bring it to a total of ~55500 before doc and delivery fees. There are no taxes in the State of New Jersey for electric vehicles, which is a nice touch, but it isn’t as plush of a incentive than some other states. This is all on top of the Federal tax incentive, an issue that really got me thinking of picking up the car now rather than later.

Before deciding to take delivery, what I wanted was actually the same car, but standard range. Truth is, I drive very little these days–before I traded in my MX-5 it had only ~12000 miles on it after 6 years. I don’t know if I will drive my M3 more, but I don’t think working in the City and commuting by train will make things any different than before. That $9000 extend-range upgrade will largely come into waste I figured, but it should mean there’s some residual value I can count on. Plus, it’s cold in the winter here, so maybe that range could still be useful as a buffer.

Since most people buying the M3 are buying Teslas for the first time, the current process is like this. First you have to go and commit to a configuration. I was a day-1 reservation holder, which just meant I put down a $1000 refundable deposit 2 years ago (all-in-all, it took about 26 months? LOL). That $1000 reservation thing is something newcomers can ignore. The new, non-refundable $2500 deposit guarantees your config and if your config is one that they can produce now, until someone jumps in front of you in the priority queue, you’re going to be in line for that car. In other words, say if you want a M3 Dual Motor, which is the hot new one people lining up for, and you didn’t have a $1000 deposit on top of your $2500, you will lose priority to people who did and want the same car and paid the $2500 around the time you are in that queue to manufacturing and VIN assignment. But at some point, you will still get your car even if there are others waiting for it with priority, if they didn’t put that 2500 down early enough. The factory is working non stop to crank these out, so you might get lucky. If you are going for a config with a shorter queue, such as the one I got, you probably can get your car in a month or so barring any odd configurations. For example, I think eventually they will make the white interior available as an option to more M3, and that one is definitely a thing you have to wait for even in the M3P/M3DM.

It took me exactly 14 days between putting down the 2500 and taking delivery of the car. It was frankly way too short, less than what I expected, and a learning experience. The configurator said 1-3 months, given my standing and config. I even made a minor change the day after I put down the deposit (before getting the VIN), but that didn’t make a difference (adding Enhanced Autopilot).

The process, as up to that point, was largely hands-off. I got maybe 4-5 emails over the 2 years from Tesla proper on Model 3 updates, but the news cycle does a good job telling me what’s going on, since it is a certified story in mainstream press. I would rather not this has to happen that way, but I follow tech news and such is life.

Oh I guess the reservation process was not entirely hands off–the initial $1000 deposit I made was at a Tesla store in Manhattan. I waited in line for like 30 minutes, and got my preorder at around 1pm.  I talked to a sales guy then, I looked at the MS and the then-new MX. Not too interested given those price tags. I got a couple emails after that to make sure I can log in and see my order, the estimator, etc.

Anyways, back to the near-past. On Thursday, or about 48 hours after my 2500 deposit on that Tuesday, I got an email from a rep based in Brooklyn about my order. He explained all the steps I need to do to get the car, at a high level. It was basically the same things on the website linked to you after you put in the deposit. You can make changes to config, you can input your driver info, insurance info, trade in, and financing. It was nice to have a human explain some of the things, even if the online configurator and process was straightforward.

The email also gave me a VIN, and gave me some rough estimate when my delivery would be. Yikes. It was soon: either 7/30 or 7/31. I got called a day later to walk through the items and I completed my trade in info later that week on Saturday. I also had to photograph a proof of ownership the week after because I had forgotten. The week after was also when I called about auto insurance, and shopping for insurance didn’t make that much sense, so I stuck with Metromile.

I didn’t figure out my financing situation until Tuesday the week after, but by Thursday I was just about completely done, which meant I can just chill and read up on the car over the weekend… Riding my MX-5 that one last time? LOL.

I probably spent the most time dealing with financing. My sister works for a credit union so I asked her to check their rates. It was worse than what Tesla was offering. Well, then. Second was the car insurance. For some reason, I guess due to billing cycle ending the same time as the delivery date, they can’t change it once I make the change? It was weird, but all it meant was I had to call the Monday before Tuesday’s handover date.

Metromile also had another wrinkle. For those who don’t know, Metromile is a bill-by-the-mile insurance system, and it requires the cars to have a GPS/cellular dongle installed. Typically it goes into the OBDII port. First, all my bad, I left my old dongle in my MX-5 but I got that recovered thanks to the helpful Tesla employees at the service center where I picked up the car. Second, the Model 3 does not have a OBDII port. I did not know this until I googled it–and it isn’t even reported by any official source. The two Metromile reps I talked to didn’t know either. The Tesla employees don’t know, as far as the ones I talked to. What I did find was that others have had this same issue, so Metromile (the entity and the system) does know about it, so it’s easy to get that addressed you if you call and ask. Basically, Metromile will mail you a different dongle, one that looks just like the OBDII plug you had, but the box also comes with a cigarette plug extension cord that you can plug into the same outlet in your M3. Well, I got that done too. The only complaint I have is that the plug is a little too long, and it runs into the tray inside the armrest storage thing. I hope it doesn’t damage the cord.

Well, I also hope Tesla allows 3rd party apps that could integrate more directly with Metromile, for example. A car is ultimately just a platform, so ways for 3rd parties to integrate with cars is vital. Just like how you can buy a camera lens case for iPhones and enable added features, you can do all kinds of things with a car. Like, how some people swapped out the spring shocks for the M3 and lowered it for a better ride, for example…

Or in my case, I bought some aftermarket floor liners. It is supposed to dampen road noise while being all-weather floor mats. I kind of don’t like the way if you put them on top of the existing floor mats, it makes the space from the back seats, between the floor and the front seats, kind of crammed. It works well for the front seats though, and given there isn’t a first party solution, these mats are pretty decent…for $200 that I got off of eBay. Tesla needs to make some M3 all-weather floor mats pronto.

On the day of the pickup I drove to the service center in Springfield, NJ and overall it took about 45 minutes to get the car. A lot of it was waiting and going over paperwork. I got a quick tutorial on the M3. We walk through setting up the app on the phone, registering the car, and the one guy helped put up the temporary plates in the rear license plate holder. Other unique things worth noting is how the trade in required an extra waiver because Tesla is a Californian company. And they won’t do vanity plates for you. You were given the option of keeping your old plates or get new ones, which I presume gives you the usual 4-year inspection waiver as it typically does for new cars in NJ. All of that gets mailed to you, supposedly, a month later. So I don’t have my new plates or registration yet. In comparison, it typically takes 2-3 weeks at a normal dealership, as fast as a week sometimes.

It’s through this exercise I “feel” that what Tesla is doing is different than what dealers do. And that’s true, it’s direct sales versus franchising dealers. Okay, I guess, but I still have to pay a doc fee and a destination fee. It feels like if I am not going to get a red carpet type handling without the middleman, this direct sales model is a bit of an inferior product that the customers are still going to pay for. Dealing with financing and everything is stuff you have to deal with at a dealership but someone is there to help you through the process. It isn’t like I needed that someone, but it would be nice to not have to put up most of the elbow grease on my own, jumping through hoops that other dealers don’t have to deal with.

I was worried about the M3 fit and finish, as with most people. Turns out it’s mostly FUD because mine was pretty flawless. It’s not super tight, but it’s uniform and lacking in obvious flaws. I talked to the delivery dude about this and he says this has been the case with all the recent deliveries. Only the ones from last year were bad (and some were very bad). So let’s put that to rest. If there was a little quirk…it would be the wipers. Feels like they pushes on the windshield too strongly. Not a bad thing until it squeaks.

Driving away from the service center, I realized I didn’t actually pair my phone with the car yet. This is important because while setting up your phone as the key is one thing, that’s separate from the bluetooth audio connection needed to play music from your phone. I also left my EZ Pass tag in the trunk, so I had to pull over on the NJ Parkway to address these items. It’s not unfair to say getting into the M3 is like switching on an Android phone if you are a long time iPhone user, getting his or her phone for the first time. There are a lot of things that are just done differently in this car that there are few analogs to in other cars. I suppose the blinkers, for one, are like some luxury cars where the stalk doesn’t stay up or down while blinking. The nav is like Google Maps, minus auto traffic routing/Waze functionality (a big negative IMO) despite the ability to show traffic on the map. The Nav does a lot of other stuff Google Maps don’t do, such as automatically giving you waypoints if you need to Supercharge or something.

The on board audio, which is upgraded via the interior option, sounded pretty great. It comes with free internet streaming (AT&T) so TuneIn and Slacker is there. I didn’t get the time to poke around with it but it comes with some Utada, Cowboy Bebop, and the Pillows. Just weeb enough. That said I have not had the time to really play with it yet. Googling and researching says I should first get my login to my Slacker account and up the bitrate. It sounded better than Bluetooth from my phone (SBC probably), but only now I found out it can take files from the USB ports.

And that goes for other tidbits, besides the OBDII port and audio features. It extends to not just these kind of day-to-day experience stuff, but a lot of the car is an enigma. Maybe a never-ending Easter Egg kind of thing. I still remember a line from the customer rep at the service center, among all the “omg new fancy car” excitement, that some people enjoy discovering the features. I’m not sure I’m one of them, but I sure am discovering stuff…!

During the past month or so I did a lot of research on the Model 3, as you’d imagine. What I found was there is a lack of definitive source of all the info. What I also found is that your orientation changes before and after owning the car–you actually know exactly what to google now, rather than before it was more just a vagueness. The basic car-related functionality is well documented, the autopilot, the acceleration, etc. The car itself, however, is badly documented I think. The important stuff is the manual, but a lot of the things are just not documented outside of Reddit and the other two big Tesla forums. I hope someone put it all together in a way that is easy to read, but I also think this is one of those versioning nightmares since newer cars of the same model might have different features, and all of it can change after each firmware update, which comes out more frequently than Android versions, LOL.

Well, the driving experience is well documented, but as someone coming from a Miata it felt a little one dimensional. Maybe a better way to phrase it is that it drives like a quality, solid luxury sedan with little body roll. Paired with that instant and big acceleration the whole vehicle feels almost a bit go-kart-y. As much a 4000lb thing can be a go-kart, anyway. Is it good? It does not feel heavy and solid like German luxury, but in exchange it has a more lively performance characteristics. Perhaps, it feels more American? I only really handled the car in sports mode setting, for reference.

I’m not a huge fan of this steering wheel, coming from the Miata. The M3 steering wheel is a good wheel and I like the texture, but I don’t like the button placements. I didn’t use the buttons on my wheel much back when driving other cars, come to think of it–maybe only the Acuras were well-used, and the buttons were ergonomically well placed given the way that steering wheel was designed. It’s just okay on the Tesla. I’m sure part of it is I’m not fully used to it, and frankly I don’t know what it does half the time.

The big touchscreen that controls everything is fine. It is pretty sensitive and does the job. I sometimes wish the touch interfaces (buttons, dials, +/- signs) were a bit bigger so it’s easier to hit while on the road. My strategy has been to use the bottom menu buttons as the go to. The car icon brings up all the important controls immediately. Pressing the same thing again bring up the background, which is usually the map. Having to swipe up and down on a big screen to get the audio menu up is probably the worst part of the UX I think.

The real holy grail of in-car interface is really voice. And it works for the most part. I speak with poor/below average pronunciation so it doesn’t do a great job picking up everything I say correctly, but it generally works okay. As long as I stay away from anime names I guess. In other words for nav, it works well. For audio, it barely works. I don’t even know how to change inputs via voice (probably the most important thing). Anyways, YMMV on this, I don’t think it’s bad but I’ve not gotten used to it yet. Nor do I know where I can find a list of commands to try…which goes back to what I was saying earlier.

Oh, I guess I should also say that the even better UX solution is “auto” mode that is right. Light and wiper are automatic, and for the most part they do a fine job. I’m a bit OCD about wiper speeds, and they would be PITA to change on the M3 if I were to manually change the speed. Auto is fine usually.

I do use the summon feature. Oh, so I had to clean out my garage to fit the M3, since it’s full of my Dad’s junk, and the Miata is a tiny car by comparison–mostly in length. And the M3 fits, barely. Surprisingly Summon can drive the car in it automatically. It has this really cool display in the interior touchscreen when it’s in that “parking” mode, and it’ll show you literally the area near the front or rear of your car and the distance of the closest point to collision. Great for parking in a tight spot as you can now get a 180 degrees view of all the nooks and crannies. Which is to say my garage is small, so God bless summons, which lets me park and pull out the car without opening the door. Although I might still want to drive in to the garage manually…

Charging the car is a big question mark even today. Because my garage is detached across the backyard, it will cost me like 1400 to wire up a 10 gauge and plug in a NEMA 14-50. We would have to trench the driveway. Thankfully the 120v in the garage juices up to 5 miles per hour, which is more than plenty for my use. If I go on a long road trip I will have to user a Supercharger anyway. In this sense it is really just like charging a cell phone… One that can blast air conditioning and have kickass speakers. (Hey Musk, Camper Mode before the summer’s over please?) Well, more like I have not driven enough to have a conclusive thought on the range and electric aspect of this yet.

I can drone on for a few more. But in retrospect, the lack of good information and easy-to-access information on how to get to all the nook and crannies of the Model 3 annoys me almost more than the fact that I have to drive an electric car that doesn’t “creep” or trying to get used to Autopilot. Those are straightforward things I can adjust to. Not knowing how stuff works because it’s not in the manual is a very different thing. Sometimes it’s kind of important, like not having a OBDII port.

And yes, that acceleration. In the car, you let it roll, on highway speeds, you stomp on the gas pedal, it zooms. It’s better than a go-kart. It better be better than a go-kart. I wish they would release the track mode mod for even the regular M3…

To be continued…

Zolo Liberty+ quick review

I backed the Zolo Liberty+ (Zolo Liberty Plus) kickstarter–it’s part of my semi-conscious push to get more companies to do better wireless audio for portable use cases. Neckbuds and the like can DIAF, as I’m thinking it is really just not a viable solution for mobility due to durability and cost problems. For clarity’s sake, note that there’s also a non-Plus version of the Zolo Liberty+ (which is just called Liberty). Zolo is a new brand and the Liberty/Liberty+ are their first foray into this product category.

The Zolo brand is Anker’s consumer audio label, they have these earbuds and a set of Alexa and Google Home enabled speakers under the brand. So it’s easy to see why the Liberty+ has a great charging case, as that’s in their wheelhouse. The Liberty+ has an aluminum charging case with extended charges, and supposedly so does the earphones with longer battery life. The Plus also has audio pass-through (similar to ANC headsets that pipes the microphone through the headset for ambient listening), compared to the non-Plus Liberty. The normal Liberty do not have a non-aluminum charge case and it has supposedly half the battery life, but since I don’t have one I don’t know in detail the differences. It is the one shipping as of this writing from Amazon, where as the Plus is not yet shipping (and won’t for Christmas) unless you are a backer.

In the box: It comes in a box with nicely presented opening experience, I guess? There is the buds, the charge case, a nice (braided) USB-A to USB-micro charging cable, and paperwork. There are also a set of tips of different sizes, and 4 pairs of earbud jackets (that are the same AFAIK, so just for replacement I guess).

Battery life: The Liberty+ should have 24+ hours of battery life from the case, but I don’t know how much each bud is. I have ran non-stop over 1.5 hours and it seemed rock solid, and I think it’s suppose to get over 3.5 hours, but I have not tested either capacity.

Looks: These are okay buds, they set in your ear with a “lock in” kind of mechanism. It comes with a rubber tip (the folded kind that you find common with low end in-ears) but also with a earbud jacket that you attach to the business end of the bud. Made of plastic, these have a weight to them but it isn’t too heavy, and probably just light enough that it doesn’t move around if you run with them. The non-business end (the one facing out) has a round “zolo liberty” labeled button. So you got one on left ear and one on right.

The Liberty+ comes in black, white, or backers edition (which is black with gold trims). I got the black ones because they ship first. I’m assuming backers editions are not available in retail.

Handling and use: The buds are a little tricky to pick up out of the case, or maybe my fingers are too fat. They have magnetic pins in the case that lines up to the buds, and they only fit one way so it isn’t hard to put them in. The build quality is not 100% best because sometimes the buds don’t rest completely on the pins, and you have to jiggle it a bit. Maybe with a bit of practice and breaking into it would be better down the road. Also, it would be nice if the finger holes in the case were a tad bigger so it’s easier to clean any ear wax or the like that falls into the case. (I have dry earwax.)

The buds themselves are pretty big in terms of holding it between my fingers and being able to insert into my ears and remove from my ears. I don’t particularly handle them with confidence, however. In a way the Apple Earpod’s stem provides a good contrast, but the Zolo Liberty+ is easy enough to handle even while on the move, it just needs a bit more caution.

The aluminum Liberty+ case feels good in the hand, and it has motion-sensitive battery indicator led that looks neat. I would say that aluminum makes it a tad more slippery than you’d want, and the lid is a tad hard to open for me, because the “lip” part is pretty small to get a grip on–again, it’s okay to handle while on the move but i wish they made it a little more confidence-inspiring tactilely.

To use the buttons, pressing it to turn on (each bud has to be turned on individually). Press it while it’s paired to start/stop music or pickup/hangup calls. Pressing it for 2 seconds to skip (left bud skip back, right bud skip forward). Pressing it for 3 seconds enables audio pass-through mode. Once I got used to it, the buttons all made sense and it wasn’t a problem pressing them while the buds were jammed in my ears.

The only real complaint about handling and use, besides maybe the case can have a better opening experience and the seating of the buds could be better built, is that it really jams into your ears. Zolo says it has some kind of ear lock thing, where you put it in upright and twist for a good seal. For me it mostly works, although I didn’t have to twist much. But I found that using the default size cups is not the most confident fit so I went one size larger. It is definitely a tighter fit and it doesn’t move around, but it’s also a tad uncomfortable for a long time. I think I will get used to it though.

Bluetooth: The pairing process was painless, if you read the instructions first. It’s definitely not intuitive in a way, but given there are just 2 buttons, I doubt you can screw it up. Basically, once your buds are charged, you press the buttons on the buds once each. It will give you a power up sound if you happen to have them in your ears while pressing the button. Then you just go to your phone and pair, that’s it. I believe this is both applicable to iOS and Android. There are no fancy tech or anything in these.

I haven’t figured out how to reset the pairing yet (or rather, I read it and forgot what it said in the instructions), or if it can be paired with multiple devices. None of that is a huge deal though.

Sound quality: So the Zolo Liberty and Liberty Plus have graphene drivers. I think it’s kind of like other statically driven earphones/headphones I’ve used, on the budget end. In other words, it sounds kind of like an appliance speaker with fairly muddy mids/highs and generally uninspiring sound. On the Zolo, it’s better than most membrane phones in this price range in that it has some bass, and if I EQ a bit the mids and highs can distinguish themselves a bit better. Consider I got the 2nd round early bird kickstarter price on these, they’re definitely decent sounding, if even good, for $90. I think they would also give Airpods a run for their money, but the sound quality leaves something to be desired. That said, a pair of Shure 215s would blow these away, as a measuring stick.

The isolation on these are on par with IEMs, maybe a bit worse because they don’t have great tips. I wish I can just use my Comply tips with these, it would improve comfort, although that might mean I couldn’t run with them.

Lastly, these buds don’t support Aptx or any advanced BT audio codecs–which might not be a big deal because the sound quality on the Liberty+ is barely at that point where you can tell the difference. That would still be nice to have though.

Other notes: There is a companion app to the Zolo Liberty. On the Plus, you can use it to control the buds’ passthrough mode and other commands you can otherwise do via the buttons. That is also how you EQ the buds–I couldn’t find any custom settings, just the presets. Also, the app for this, Zolo Play, has the same icon as the other Zolo app, Zolo Life, on Android. Maybe not the best idea.

I can criticize the case some more. It’s small and easy to pocket (for me), but the marking in the back kind of ruins the look when it’s in the hand. They should’ve saved all the regulatory writing inside the case or something. It feels like they are 95% of the way there to a great case, but it has these minor things I can nitpick.

Conclusion: This is a new and exciting product category that I feel is made for me. As someone who has been listening to music on his phone on the go since the dumb phone days, who bypassed iPods and went for phones as soon as possible, this is like, the second realization of that wireless vision. But at the same time I understand too well as to the challenges in this product category, and why we haven’t landed on wireless audio nirvana yet. The Zolo is a democratic brand, not for audiophiles, but hopefully they can raise the bar and do something to bring the pragmatic aspects of their devices to pair with actual high end audio. With the Liberty+ I think they got the gist of it, they just need better phones.

Google Pixel 2 First Takes

It might be too early for a first take because things are still developing with some potential hardware issues with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, and Google is in the process of addressing them. Today they announced that my warranty for this 128GB Black Pixel 2 will go from 1 year to 2.

I like this. Coming from almost 1 exact year from owning and using a Pixel (also 128GB and Black), I had to RMA my old Pixel once because the unit died, effectively bricking the phone. It also died while I was in Japan, so that kind of blows. After I got back to the States I started the RMA process, which involved calling them and explaining the situ. Then they sent me a replacement phone (likely a refurb) and I sent them my broken phone back. And in this process they had to authorize the payment of a phone and credit me back, which is kind of normal I guess? I don’t know. Anyways it’s good to have assurance.

What is there to say about the new Pixel 2? Leading up to it, I was definitely reading on all the leaks. What was pivotal was the first impressions people had at the Google announcement event. Reading those, I got the impression to turn on sRGB mode on my Pixel (as O already rolled out by then on Pixels) and started to get used to it. Turned out that really was the one biggest change between PIxel and Pixel 2.

That leads to my biggest one thing about the Pixel 2–it’s sRGB only (on launch), and this is BAD. I mean, it’s great, but bad in that people want Android because of choice, not because it’s Yet Another Apple. I think Google doesn’t own enough of the supply chain to guarantee that they don’t screw up on the screen, as the currently developing situation is playing out. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, there are widespread reports about the Pixel 2 XL display, that it either is just low quality (blue tinting, graininess, and varies between units), reports of burn in (unlikely tbh, just that the OLED in question leading to more image retention for more units), and it looks blue off-angle (all units exhibits this). It’s the same pentile nonsense Nexus owners had to deal with in the early days.

That said, it’s not a big deal. The display itself is great on the Pixel 2 and sRGB is hardly terrible, it’s just this sRGB is a tad too blue (not enough red).

To give this review more personal context, I think the second largest change is the sound. Two front facing speakers is great to play Theater Days/Deresute/Bang Dream with. Playing it on the Pixel was pretty lame because sound would go right into your palm (I’m a thumb player) and now it sounds fine. I actually picked up the fact that the top and bottom speakers actually sound different almost immediately, but from far away enough you wouldn’t really be able to tell. It doesn’t really matter. On those rhythm games, the only thing that bothered me was just if you press hard enough, you can feel the vibration of the music just a bit, which is lols. Overall it’s improved from the Pixel I’d say, mainly because of the speakers, and there’s less lag. My calibration is maybe 2-5 max on the Pixel 2 in Theater Days, 10 with BT. On the Pixel it’s like 18 on BT.

The other part of music/sound that’s great about the Pixel 2 is that it comes with out of box aptx (full stack) support and LDAC support. The low BT latency and superior connection makes this a much better music box than the Pixel. Even via the USB-C dongle hires sounded notably better than the 3.5mm jack. Sure, I am now rocking a Fiio BTR1 and I pulled the trigger on a pair of Sony MDX-1000X, just because this is the solution God has intended. Well, maybe when someone else releases a good AptX HD compatible BT portable amp.

I guess that might be it in terms of the overall impact? The Pixel 2 is really similar to the Pixel. Physically it is a bit heavier, and a touch longer, and of course it has a better camera stack and all. The camera on the Pixel 2 is really the bees knees and there is nothing on the market this good. I actually think it’s a better point-and-shooter than my aging NEX-5N, especially under low light, unless you include what a nice kit of wide-aperture, prime lens can do for anybody.

Some key data points for curious Pixel 2 owners or owner-wannabes. I used the Google Clear case with my Pixel, and I can’t find the same thing from Google for the Pixel 2. Bummer. The next best thing is the Air Jacket case Google Store sells, and it does fit the description for the most part. Instead of textured plastic on the back though, now it’s this kind-of-slippery self-healing thing. I guess it looks better, but it’s more slippery. It also now covers all of the top of the phone, because there isn’t a need to accommodate a headphone jack. I count this as an improvement because my Pixel got scratched the hardest at the top of the phone, which is now protected with this type of case.

I tried to use a generic Pixel 2 case at the Verizon store while the air jacket case was in the mail, it sucked and promptly was returned a few days later.

Anyways, since I’m really happy about my Pixel, I am about as happy with my Pixel 2. The price of the Pixel 2 128GB went down compared to the Pixel originally, and I was able to sell my Pixel on Swappa for about $400ish, making this a fairly painless purchase. I guess the money I spent on the Pixel is lost to depreciation…and being able to get a 1-year phone to a 0-year phone with some incremental upgrades.

So that’s the rub, if you dig incremental upgrades and don’t mind paying for that gap, I think the Pixel 2 is worth it. If you are coming from a Nexus 5X or something, it’s a huge upgrade. Actually I’d say it’s a huge upgrade from anyone not coming from a GS8, as that’s the only phone not that big and still arguably comparable (closer to Pixel than Pixel 2 TBH). Maybe the LG V30 but that thing is huge. Or a discounted Pixel, LOL.

SJW, Race, etc.

I think this might be the most precise way to state my feelings about SJWs. My casual run-in (well, it’s not that casual but my attitude towards it has been casual?) with feminism tilts academic as most of it happened in law school, so it rings a bit more true to me, but my objection on feminism of this sort (and also in the pop LGBQ+ movement, which is not a coincident) has always been one regarding to their ignorance of their own whiteness–which isn’t even always about being white, or being privileged. Or in other words, white kids who aren’t woke enough, with the stress on “kids”?

A problem with pop culture feminism is that the education is informal and opt-in; rarely are its acolytes (who are inevitably the most vocal and enthusiastic evangelists) given the contextual foundation of its philosophical underpinning. As a result, some of the ideas circulating within the community can be misguided, if not harmful. In the case of nerd culture, the loudest voices are often white and cisgender, a group that, upon warming up to social justice causes, often means well but in their enthusiastic attempt to advocate for others, begin to speak over those who have direct experience with discrimination. Thus the popular narrative is shifted to the least insightful perspective, often taking the movement’s priorities with it[]

Which in summary, is just another way to say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

On the topic in the article though, this is why some anime are awesome and people should watch those. A lot of what western pop culture lack drives people like me to otaku media just all the more. It’s not to say otaku media isn’t just as bad, it probably is even worse if you want to look for it, it’s just also got the diversity and the good stuff, a lot less homogenous and at least a good contrast.

One more quote that resonated with me on a race basis:

We women know we’re strong. We’ve had to be. Sometimes when you praise us for our strength, it feels like you’re celebrating our ability to endure immense amounts of bullshit. In that sense, even the value that straight cisgender men place on our strength feels self serving: in the end, we’re strong, because we’re trying to survive you.

Kind of like this right.