apple airpods, a simple review

I finally broke down and purchased my very own pair of Apple AirPods. Up to that point I’d believed the Apple hater’s negative hype surrounding the devices, such as it wouldn’t stay in my ears, they would fall out and become an expensive loss, they didn’t work well, etc, etc. My local Costco had them for sale for $130, which was $30 less than the Apple Store across the way in the Big Mall. So on a Friday evening at my local Costco while shopping for groceries (I live such an exciting life) I finally said to myself, said I, “OK”. And thus I walked away with my very own AirPods nestled in with the bags of salad, corn-on-the-cob, and whole wheat baked bread.

When I got home I put away the groceries and then opened up the AirPod box and read the very simple instructions, which were:

  1. Open AirPod Charger
  2. Place near iPhone
  3. Let it pair automagically

And voilà, the AirPod earbuds were instantly paired with my iPhone 8 Plus. Over the rest of the evening and all the next day those pods hardly ever left my ears except to recharge them. I left the AirPod charging case plugged in all the time.

I discovered I could leave my iPhone on its wireless charger while I roamed all through my house (and even outside into the yard) and I never lost connectivity but once, and that was to determine the AirPod’s range limits. Turns out for all practical purposes to be pretty far.

I discovered that no mater if I was standing, sitting, or leaning back, my AirPods were never in danger of falling out of my ears. Not once.

I discovered that if I took one of the AirPods out of my ear to listen to my lovely wife, that the music or podcast or whatever would pause playing until I put it back. That, to me, was an incredibly simple, but incredibly useful feature. I sat there after the first time taking the pod in and out just to watch it work. Yes, I’m easily entertained.

I discovered I could easily pair my AirPods with my iPad Pro first generation just like with my iPhone. I’ve not yet tried it with my Macbook Pro.

Finally, I discovered that the sound coming out of the AirPods is quite good, matching or exceeding anything using the wired EarPods. And with the AirPods, there’s no damned collection of wires that need to be untangled before they’re ready to use.

I’ve not tried the other major feature, integration with Siri. I’m not into anything Siri (or Alexa or “Hey Google!” either).

Right now everybody who’s anybody in tech (or might think they are) are probably shacking their heads and thinking “he should have waited for the second generation.” The internet is currently rife with rumors about the AirPods Second Coming, and while it makes for entertaining reading, they all have one shocking limitation in common: an agreement of when they’ll actually arrive. Oh well.

As for buying trailing edge, trailing edge might as well be my middle name. I can’t afford leading edge anything for two reasons: one, it’s too expensive and two, it’s buggy and will wind up with at least one firmware update before it’s decent, let alone half-way decent. The AirPods were announced/released in 2016, so they’ve had plenty of time to settle down as far as radically new tech is concerned. And don’t kid yourself; in spite of how old they are now, they’re still leading tech and they Just Work.

As a former reviewer who’s name I can’t remember used to say at the end of his review, “Highly Recommended.”

amazon’s deep racer is still missing in action

You’re looking at Amazon’s DeepRacer, advertised as “the fastest way to get rolling with machine learning, literally.” DeepRacer is an interesting integration of a 1/8 scale electric race car chassis and an Intel dual-core Atom processor running Ubuntu. It appears that DeepRacer is based on Amazon’s DeepLens, an AI training system Amazon released in 2017 (see “Exploring AWS DeepLens” for interesting details). DeepLens appears to be using an Intel SoC, a dual-core Atom E3930 with an Intel HD Graphics 500 GPU. The GPU has 12 execution units capable of running 7 threads each (SIMD architecture), the equivalent of 84 cores. The SoC with this GPU is capable of doing interesting image processing on an “edge” device, with the Atom cores doing the basic integration and control of the entire device. And all of this tied back into Amazons Web Services (AWS) for further machine-based inference. It is thus a very interesting device, and all for the paltry sum of $250.

Great tech bundle if you can get one. DeepRacer was announced towards the end of December 2018, and I placed my order for a unit on 1 January 2019 after it became available again (it’s now no longer available, again). Expected release date was supposedly 6 March, or a mere three days from the date of this post. Yesterday I got an order update email from Amazon telling me that the delivery date for my unit was being pushed back six weeks to 19 April at the earliest, with the option to cancel the order if I so wished.

At this point I’m not sure what to do. The DeepLens kit is $250 just by itself and is also available on Amazon. If I were to build my own DeepRacer clone system using a DeepLens to start with, the cost alone would easily be double the cost of a real DeepRacer.  A second alternative is to go full maker and build everything from scratch, substituting cheaper hardware all around, especially the processor. That might allow me to get something approaching DeepRacer in functionality, but hacking the software to perform the same rough functionality isn’t something I want to take on. I’ve followed that lone gunslinger penny-wise-and-pound-foolish type of engineering path in the past because I had no other options, but this time around I really don’t want to go there. The graphics inference engine that runs locally is coded around the on-chip HD Graphics 500 GPU, which isn’t something to look askance at. It might not be an nVidia or Apple class GPU, but it’s no slouch either. I would be sorely pressed to find an equivalent alternative on a SoC, find it on a cost-effective SBC, and find software to bootstrap on this so-called mythical SBC if the SBC even exists.

I’m still not sure if I should cancel the order at this time or just wait it out. My thought is to keep the order in place and begin to look at possible alternatives. The AWS platform is free for experimentation, and it has an simulator, but the simulator is specifically for DeepRacer (obviously). Decisions, decisions…