Thoughts about Apple’s Airpods

Recently I finally bought myself a pair of Apple’s Airpods, which are their wireless earpods (or headset) so to speak. I’ve used the Apple earpods for years now, needing to buy a new pair every year, sometimes twice a year, because I always got stuck behind some tiny hook or even my own knees with the wire, while listening to podcasts and audiobooks during cooking, cleaning or travelling. Which in turn caused the drop of my iPhone on the cold hard floor more times than I dare to remember.

My second main use of the (wired) earpods, next to listening, was using the microphone function for recording video. And each time I accidentally moved or touched the wire, it was audible in said recording, with some creaking. Very annoying.

So after hesitating for about a year, mainly because of the price, I finally decided to treat myself to some Airpods. And here are my first experiences.

Looks

Of course the design is visually very pleasing. Starting with the clean and elegant packaging – don’t forget to get your complementary Lightning-USB wire before you throw it out, I almost didn’t notice it underneath the first layer of the box!

The Airpods come in a beautifully sleek, tiny, hightech storage box that somehow reminds me of a flattened egg.

The looks of the airpods themselves are an acquired taste I guess. If you’re always wearing earrings you could get away with it, but I still find they look a bit weird – especifially on men. Let’s hope Apple’s designers will fix that in the future. In the meantime guys could always use their gauge piercings to store their Airpods… (found on Pinterest):

Pairing to your device

Pick any Apple device, turn on bluetooth, hold the ‘egg box’ close and open it. The pairing with your device will be almost instantaneous and will offer you a very slick dialogue screen. If you close the box, the pairing will sever and the dialogue screen vanishes, also instanteously. Very fun to play with the first few minutes 🙂

Bonus: the Airpods can be paired to other devices like Android phones! Instructions on cnet teach us: To start pairing to anything new, put the AirPods in their case, then flip the lid up and press and hold the small button on the bottom rear of the charging case until the little LED light starts pulsing white. They should then show up in any Bluetooth-pairing settings on an Android phone, or computer, or TV.

Using the Airpods

Somehow the Airpods ‘know’ when you put the first one in your ear, you’ll hear a short ‘On’ signal. If you’re playing some media on your device via its speakers and you put the Airpods in your ear (provided they’re paired to that device) the playback on your device will immediately switch from speakers to the Airpods, without pause. As soon as you remove the first Airpod, your device will stop playback, very convenient I have to say. It won’t switch automatically back to speakers though, it stops playback and you’ll have to manually press Play again to continue listening on speaker.

One of the main reasons I bought the Airpods is wireless audio enhancement during video recording, thanks to the microphone function. Which of course means you can use them for phone calls, Facetime, Skype and audio recordings as well. They work perfectly, and I’m never scared they’ll fall out of my ears.

If you go to the Airpod settings on your iDevice (a subsection of your bluetooth settings) you can assign different functions to double-tapping each earbud, like start/stop playback.

Charging is easy, you stick the Airpods back into their little box, attach the wire (that came with their packaging) to any USB charger and you’re good to go.
You can add the very handy Battery widget to your iDevice’s screen to always keep track of your Airpods’ batterylife status.

What I’m missing

What I’m really missing is remote volume control via the Airpods. I’ve gotten very used to that function on my earpods. Now I have to dig up my device to adjust the volume, which is not very practical and seems to defeat the purpose of handsfree or wireless listening (and roaming around without your device on your body).

Another minor annoyance is battery life. I found that I have to charge the Airpods at least once a day, often more when I’m using them a lot.

Conclusion (so far)

After my first 2 weeks of use I’m finding the Airpods a very comfortable, easy to use, good quality wireless headset, with the special ‘Apple touch & feel’ that I’ve come to appreciate. They’re not cheap, but if you can afford them, I’d definitely recommend them.

Star Wars EU comics: Dawn of the Jedi 2 – The Prisoner of Bogan (25,793 BBY)

To hear me read this review and its two other parts, check out episode 525 of the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, go to timestamp 25:38.

So, let’s continue right where we left off last time, with part 2 of the awesome Dawn of the Jedi trade paperback (TPB) comics trilogy!

Publisher’s summary

(W ) John Ostrander (A) Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons (CA) Wes Dziboa, David Michael Beck
Xesh, a mysterious alien warrior, is enthralled with the madman Daegen Lok and his obsession with conquering known space. Hunter teams are dispatched by the Je’daii to stop Lok and save the misguided Xesh, but they’re not alone. Xesh’s former masters have sent their own hunter-with orders to kill! Collects Dawn of the Jedi: Prisoner of Bogan #1-#5.

My thoughts

In this second TPB we find our dark side protagonist Xesh on Bogan, one of Tython’s two moons, banished to meditate on finding balance between the dark and the light sides of the Force. There he meets Daegon Lok, banished seven years earlier for the same reason. Daegon immediately issues a challenge, striving for dominance between them.

Daegon manages to take Xesh by surprise, overwhelming him with dark force magic – a term which is not used in this story, but which we know from at least one other Star Wars Expanded Universe novel series, the Darth Bane trilogy. Bane’s apprentice Zannah shows remarkable talent in this area and Bane makes her study the ancient writings and holocrons to learn about this specific dark side skill, which he himself lacks. It may well be that the ancient knowledge Zannah is studying, stems from this Dawn of the Jedi period. Who knows, I haven’t read any of the other EU stuff yet, so this is my theory for now 🙂 Fact is that Darth Zannah applies the exact same magic as Daegon Lok: preying on other people’s fears and using it to their detriment and sometimes even demise. Maybe the writer wanted to help us make this connection by naming one of Daegon’s victims Bel Zana (Dawn of the Jedi was created some years after Darth Bane).

Since the Je’daii have taken Xesh’s force saber from him, Daegon wants him to make another. Which is how we learn how a dark side force saber is made: not only does one need a special crystal, but one needs also to practice alchemy, which I guess is also a form of dark side magic.

We get to know Xesh’s strength even better than we already did in part 1, Force Storm. We already know he’s a formidable force fighter, and can track almost everything through the force, but now we also learn about his pure, raw power in the force: he can power an entire space craft through the force!

While Daegon en Xesh plan their escape from Bogan to get the materials for new force sabers, the Je’daii study an ancient holocron to try to find out more about the threat that is coming, the threat Daegon Lok saw in his force visions years ago, that they say drove him mad and made them banish him to Bogan. What’s interesting about this holocron, is that it looks like a mini replica of a Tho Yor, the huge ancient force ships that brought all force users to Tython – about which we learned in part 1 of the trilogy.

Daegon and Xesh manage to escape from Bogan fairly early in the story arc, which turns the rest of the adventure into a hide-and-seek kind of manhunt, with ranger Shae Koda as the lead ‘search dog’ because of her special bond with Xesh (see also Force Storm). This offers us readers a nice view of the solar system, as they visit several planets and moons and the cities upon them.

The Je’daii are of course also studying Xesh’s force saber, trying to get it to work and if possible to replicate it. The reader now learns that the energy blade is not so much hot as it is cold!

Although most of this TPB’s story arc is a manhunt with a lot of chase and action scenes in true Star Wars form, Xesh’s character is also more fleshed out with more interesting details about his back story. This time we learn more about his past as a child, life as a member of a force hound brood, how they are torture-trained, and about the big sister-like female who always protected him. Although Xesh doesn’t really remember much about her because of a memory block his masters put into his mind, we readers immediately get it: this is Trill, the second force hound in this story, who we also met in Part 1.

There is much more to say about this story of course. I will highlight two things that stood out to me. First, the way Daegon treats Xesh. It reminds us of the Master-Apprentice dynamics between the Sith of later times. However, there are significant differences too: Xesh in the end is not only not an apprentice, he far out-matches Daegon in strength. It seems Daegon made a devastating error of judgment about their relationship…

And second, there’s the motif of close friendship & brotherhood vs betrayal, that echoes that of Obi-Wan & Anakin – and again between two friends that became Je’daii masters, namely Daegon Lok and Hawk Ryo. They also end up fighting a fierce forcesaber battle…

Conclusion

This TPB reads like a movie and is a truly fun and thrilling adventure. I can do nothing but recommend this – although it is not a jumping-on point, you really should read part 1: Force Storm first.

Stay tuned for part 3: Force War!

Star Wars EU comics: Dawn of the Jedi 1 – Force Storm (25,793 BBY)

To hear me read this review and its two next parts, check out episode 525 of the Spiritblade Underground Podcast, go to timestamp 25:38.

Well, by now I’ve dived deep into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, after a first few tentative steps with Darth Plagueis and the Darth Bane trilogy. In fact, I’ve gone full Obsessive Mode, which means I have now taken it upon myself to read all novels (a/o audiobooks) and all comics in chronological order, story-wise, as much as I can manage. Which does not mean I’ll review every single thing I read I don’t think, there is simply too much content to accompish that, but I’ll at least let you know about the things I liked, the hidden gems and also the things I found awful or simply incredibly dull. I’m planning to avoid reviewing the stuff I found simply okay, say the 3 out of 5 stars works.

For this undertaking I am using the Wookieepedia Legends timeline (the Expanded Universe has been declared non-canon by Disney and is now called Legends) that includes all novels and all comics at the same time. And for all of you who are into all that, they have also included movies, video games, tv series and even RPG scenarios – all in one big chronological timeline 🎉.

Although their entire timeline starts with a novel, I’ll review that one next time, since – spoiler alert – I didn’t like it very much and I really want to kick off this new blog series with a hit straight out of the ball park. My excuse is that both the novel and the comics are situated in the year 25,793 BBY – which means the actual order between the two doesn’t really matter.

On to Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm, the first of a TPB trilogy set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Publisher’s Summary

(W ) John Ostrander (A) Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons (CA) Wes Dziboa, Gonzalo Flores.
Here begins the tale of the dawn of the Jedi, the Star Wars of 25,000 years ago-before lightsabers, before hyperspace travel, before the Jedi spread throughout the galaxy, when connections to the Force were new.

On the planet Tython, a group of beings – scientists, philosophers, and warriors – strive to maintain peace and to balance the mystifying power known as the Force. But a stranger is coming, one who will disrupt the balance with his arrival and his own connection to the Force. Everything in their system is about to change . . . The doors to the galaxy have been opened! Collects Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi-Force Storm #1-#5.

My thoughts

To start with the ending: I LOVED this entire trilogy of trade paper backs (TPB)! Or, 15 comics issues if you manage to still find these. These stories have a lot of so-called Star Wars tropes, and I mean that in a positive way, while being completely new and original at the same time, since the story takes place so long before the Skywalker era that the Jedi and Sith didn’t even exist. Let me start with the five tropes I recognized in Force Storm, the first part of our trilogy: First, there’s a truly badass villain in the Darth Vader tradition, long before there even were any darths. He even shares some similarities with Anakin Skywalker: he grew up to be a slave, his personality oozes the possibility of redemption, and there are even hints of a great love in his future (see pic below).

And as for the darth part, he dresses all-black complete with a face-covering mask, he’s a powerful master of the dark side of the force and kills without hesitation.

As for the heroes, in this first TPB there are several protagonists, none of which stand out – yet. The focus seems to be on three adolescent apprentices though, continuing the SW tradition of picking fairly young heroes on a quest that will also make them grow in strength and wisdom. Nice little detail is that one of these three is an actual Sith, that is to say the Sith as a species, one of the myriad of alien races in the Star Wars universe. They are red-skinned and originated on the world of Korriban.

There’s also an easter egg for SW fans: the symbol on the ancient pyramid spacecraft Tho Yor is the same as the symbol for the Rebellion – an unimportant detail but very nice if you happen to notice it – see pictures above and below.

Fourthly, in what I would call an eye-wink to fans, one of the Je’daii masters resembles Mace Windu, both in looks as in strength and wisdom 😉

And the last but not the least of the tropes I found, was the cover of the first TPB, which is designed to look like a SW movie poster – and I love it! Too bad they didn’t do it for all three covers.

As for the Story, Force Storm takes its time to introduce us to these ancient times of the SW lore, but manages to keep it well-paced. We learn why force wielders are from different races all over the galaxy, how they all came to live on a world called Tython in the core of the galaxy and that they came to be known as je’daii – which is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. In those days, the Force was known to be both dark & light, in an eternal balance. The je’daii trained many years to keep this balance within themselves – which is of course a huge difference with the SW of the Skywalker era: in the ancient days there were no Light Side wielders and Dark Side wielders – every je’daii wielded both, and trained not to lose the balance. Interesting! In later EU stories like Revan we also see this phenomenon of force users wielding both sides of the force.

After the introductory pages, not so subtly disguised as a history lesson to our young journeyers (which we might call Padawan), the actual story starts. We meet our three young heroes, their masters and their force-sensitive planet Tython. We follow them on their adventure which leads them to meet Xesh, our villain – or in fact the representative of an entire realm of bad guys called the Infinite Empire. (Oh yeah, another SW trope! 🙂 ). Xesh is stronger in the Force and wields a forcesaber, which is a weapon the Tythons are unacquainted with. There are some fight scenes, both between the force wielders and with some of the planet’s monsters (“Hello, this is the Dune Saga calling, can we have our sand worms back?!”), and in the end we are left with Xesh leaving for Bogan, one of Tython’s two moons, the one representing the Dark Side of the Force. Which is where part 2 of the trilogy will pick up.

I loved the pacing of this story, the action scenes and the character moments. The villains are great. There’s Xesh of course, but we also meet his so-called ‘brood mate’ Trill, who like him is also a powerful Force Hound. And then there are their masters, the powerful and very evil Rakatan.

I did have some trouble sympathizing with our young heroes, I liked Xesh a lot better. Perhaps because he was better fleshed out, but I also think writers somehow find it easier to make bad guys interesting. The good guys often seem dull or two-dimensional or even hard to relate to.

Their masters on the other hand seemed to have more promise on the badassery scale, but they weren’t the main characters.

I did have some issue with the very on-the-nose references to buddhism, yin & yang, and the whole ‘good and evil are two sides of the same coin’ way of thinking. I know these elements are always somewhat present in SW, they are part of the concept, but in this TPB it was annoyingly so. Perhaps because in the Skywalker era, there was also some serious criticism of this philosophy weaved into the storylines, which created a good balance (see what I did there), whereas in this story it felt almost like an agenda.

All that being said, I still loved this first story arc very much, and would easily give it 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Next time, I’ll review part 2: Dawn of the Jedi: Prisoner of BoganStay tuned!

 

BewarenBewaren