Review: Alpine iXA-W407

Posted by Mark

Here is a quick review of the Alpine iXA-W407.

It works great with the iPod as expected. I previously had the Alpine iDA-X001 installed in my Wrangler and one annoying thing in the X001 was searching for an artist. It doesn’t get much better in the W407. You can’t search using an onscreen keyboard to type an artist name for some reason instead you need to scroll down to the artist u want. You can scroll down by letter as in if you are looking for Smashing Pumpkins you can press “page down” when u r at A and it will take u to B and u keep pressing till u get to S. A painfully long process which I do not recommend while driving. Once you get to S you then have to scroll down regularly by pressing “down” untill u get to Smashing Pumpkins. Takes forever and not practical at all.

On the bright side, that’s the only negative thing I found. The multi display screen is very cool (see picture above) which basically allows you to display up to 4 different kinds of information on the same screen. I Just wish there were more widgets to add out of the current 6 including calculator and sound adjustment which are not pictured above. What I would have liked to have seen is a weather widget (could use my iPhone’s internet connection for the date) or an RSS reader.

The W407 has Bluetooth built in. Once I get into the car my iPhone connects to the Alpine automatically and whenever I want to call someone I bring up the phone number on the Alpine screen and call it. When I get a phone call I can either answer it on the Alpine or if I want privacy I can talk directly on my iPhone. Now all thats pretty normal but my favorite thing is the fact that I can stream music from my iPhone to the Alpine using Bluetooth. Like my iPod and the Radio I have Bluetooth as an audio source. When I select Bluetooth as a source whatever sound my iPhone makes I hear it on the cars sound system. Other than listening to your iPod’s music wirelessly or playing games and have the sound blast out of the cars sound system, another cool feature is the fact I stream music from the web over 3G and onto my car stereo using bluetooth. I’ve got the iPhone app WunderRadio (which I’ve posted about before) and I use it to tune into radio stations in Lebanon and stream them into my car. I don’t have any problems streaming the Lebanese radio stations since they broadcast in EDGE but Ministry of Sound UK for example streams as 3G and after a minute or so the music cuts off and I have to buffer for like 10 seconds which is very annoying. But, I am going to be upgrading my iPhones internet connection from 600kb to 14.4MB at the end of the month which should solve my problem.

I really like the iXA-W407 and if I had to do the purchase all over again I would in a heartbeat. The final score is a 4 out of 5. The lack of a decent search feature and the fact there aren’t any extra widgets I can download and install are the reasons it’s not perfect. If anyone has any specific questions regarding that Alpine unit or the install just ask it below and I will try to answer it. Regarding the PAC TR7, it worked perfectly with the W407. With the TR7 install I can watch videos and change the stereo system settings while I am driving. Without the TR7 I would have to put the car in PARK and raise the handbrake. I also had the PAC SWI-Jack installed which allows the Alpine to be controlled with the FJ’s steering wheel buttons. The PAC SWI-Jack works on a number of cars and with a number of sound systems.

I ordered all my items from Amazon, here is the list with links:

Alpine iXA-W407 Digital Media Station $554.48
Alpine HCE-C107D Rear View Camera $176.99
Scosche TA2076B 2007 Toyota FJ ISO/Double DIN With Pocket Kit $19.58
Scosche Stereo Wire Harness Toyota FJ Cruiser $12.31
PAC TR7 Multi control interface bypass module $23.26
PAC SWI-JACK $42.90
Total: $829.52


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The Ultimate Water Review Part 2

Posted by Mark

When I posted my water review I wasn’t expecting much interest. I just did it because I thought it would be something fun but the response was much more than I was expecting. A lot of you requested I add more details like the sodium content or where the water comes from so I went ahead and did that. I just finished a long and very cold session in front of my fridge tasting all the water and taking down notes. Since the last review I went and purchased some more water brands and I think I managed to get one bottle from everything available in the market except for the bakala waters (random unknown brands you won’t see anywhere else).

For each bottle of water I’ve now written what kind of water it is, where it’s from, the sodium content and the taste. Water to me should have no taste but some brands (like the bakala ones) have a strange flavor for some odd reason. So when you read “none” keep in mind that’s a good thing.

Finally before I share the results, most of these brands of water can be found at your regular super markets except for the following:

10 Thousand BC and Icelandic Glacial are only available at Dean & Deluca.
Fiji I’ve seen only at Dean & Deluca and sometimes at Sultan Center.
TSC, O2GO and Metro Mint only available only at Sultan Center.
Isbre isn’t available anywhere yet but will be released in the Kuwaiti market this March.

The review did reveal some surprises. The biggest for me was TSC. Turned out to be bottled in Lebanon and contains only 2.3mg of sodium. I think TSC could actually be re-branded Rim water since both are bottled in Lebanon and both contain the exact same amount of Sodium. But that’s just my theory. Between locally produced water the two I would choose over other brands are Arwa and AlRwadatain. From the more expensive brands Highland Spring seems to be the best deal and also contains just 6mg of sodium. Check out the results below.

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Review: The iJacket

Posted by Mark

Over the weekend I picked up an iJacket while I was shopping in Bahrain. I originally posted about it back in 2007 and then totally forgot about it until I saw it at the store.

Firstly just to be clear, I got the jacket because the jacket looks good. I was not interested in the iPod connectivity, thats just an extra benefit for me but not the reason I bought the jacket. I am not the type of person that walks around listening to music and so I won’t be using the controls on the jacket a lot. Now since I did get the jacket and I do own a number of iPods I figured I might as well give my feedback.

The iPod has a special transparent and water proof pocket on the inside of the jacket. There is a regular iPod connector in that pocket and you connect your ipod to it. The pocket also has a small opening for your headphone cable to pass through. The controls on the jacket sleeve are fairly basic, volume up and down, pause/play forward and reverse. The idea is that when its cold outside you don’t want to unzip your jacket and pull out your iPod every time you want to perform a simple command and that’s where the controls on your sleeve come to play. Without unzipping your jacket or removing your gloves you can control your iPod by just touching the buttons on the sleeve. Although I call them buttons they’re not really buttons. The part of the sleeve where the buttons are located feels exactly the same as any other part of the sleeve. No bulge or anything of that sort just the shapes of the buttons imprinted on the sleeve.

When I first tried using the controls I thought I had a malfunctioning jacket since the buttons didn’t work. Then I found out that the jacket auto-locks the controls after 8 seconds of no use and to unlock the controls you have to hold down on the unlock button for 5 seconds. That’s the biggest issue I have with the jacket… the auto-lock feature. It makes the jacket unpractical. Imagine you’re listening to music and then a friend wants to tell you something. To pause the iPod you need to hold down on the unlock button for 5 seconds and then hit the pause button. So it takes at least 6 seconds to pause the iPod which is silly. You know how sometimes one track plays a lot louder than others? Well you need to wait 5 seconds for the buttons to unlock before you could quickly lower the volume to a decent listening level.

That’s why I’m giving the jacket a 2 out of 5. The auto-lock feature is the dumbest idea ever. There is no reason to have it since I can’t imagine the buttons being pressed accidentally unless someone grabs you from your arm and how often does that happen? I’ve already emailed Zegna asking if there is a way to disable the auto-lock but I doubt there is. As a jacket the iJacket is very comfortable and great looking. As an iPod controller it sucks big time because the auto-lock makes it impossible to use. Now a cool feature I would use a lot if it was included would be iPod/iPhone charging. I know there are a few jackets out there that do that but currently the iJacket doesn’t which sucks. I’m hoping if there will ever be an iJacket 2.0 it will.


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The Ultimate Water Review

Posted by Mark

Well this post was going to be the ultimate water review but after drinking around 2 liters of water I threw in the towel. Other than the fact that I think I overdosed on water, they all started tasting the same after the third bottle. BUT, it didn’t go all to waste. I was able to answer the most important question… Does a KD5 bottle of water taste better than a 100fils bottle?

I picked up my bottles of water from four different sources, Dean & Deluca, Carrefour, Sultan Center Souk Sharq and Sultan Center Salmiya and I paid a total of KD17.330 for 19 bottles of water. I actually spent the bulk of that at Dean & Deluca purchasing 4 bottles of water which came out to KD11. I’ve listed all the bottles below with their prices but the KD5 bottle I will be reviewing is the one I got from Dean & Deluca called 10 Thousand BC. This is what it says on the back of the bottle:

Locked in an icy vault for over 10,000 years, this water comes from the remote and sheltered Coastal Glacier Range, that literally vibrates with the rich fragrance of health and vitality. Experience the pure, natural taste captured in 10 THOUSAND BC.

The competition? Our very own locally produced Al Rawdatain. It’s my favorite water and I like the brand a lot probably because it reminds me of my childhood. So how was it going to do against the water that comes from the beautiful coastal glacier range of British Columbia, Canada? Not very good.

You can take what I am about to say with a grain of salt since I am no water expert but the 10 Thousand BC water did taste better. I really felt like I was drinking snow, it smelled like snow and tasted like snow. Nat thinks I am losing it but I still have a bit of water left in the bottle (saving it for a special occasion like when Prince Charles comes over) to prove her wrong. The bottle looks great and the story behind the water is breathtaking. Al Rawdatain on the other hand tasted pretty normal but at 60fils its over 500 times cheaper. The Al Rawdatain water also came in a plastic bottle which although not as pretty as the 10 Thousand BC glass bottle can at least handle a fall without breaking.

So 10 Thousand BC tasted better but seriously who would buy a KD5 bottle of water to drink regularly? It’s actually one of the most expensive bottles of water in the world. I mean KD5 is an affordable luxury, anyone can afford it if they want to try it but does anyone drink it casually?

Check out the list of prices below.

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Burger Review: The Meat Co.

Posted by Mark


The Best Burger in Kuwait Challenge
I love burgers and I’m glad my new nutrition plan includes burgers once a week because I don’t think I could have stuck to a plan that didn’t allow room for burgers. This past weekend I headed to 360 Mall for the Gulf Run 5 car show but first I decided to have lunch at The Meat Co. I had been wanting to try their burgers ever since my first visit but I never got the chance until now. I have to say, this was the hardest burger to review and I’ll explain why below.

I got to The Meat Co. early and decided to sit on the balcony overlooking Life with Cacao and Lorenzo. The friendly waiter gave me the menu and I flipped right away to their burger section. They had 6 burgers to choose from, the Classic Burger, the Cheese Burger, the Gourmet Burger (who the hell puts pineapple on a burger, totally gross), Rib Meat Burger, Lamb Burger and Chicken Burger. I went with the Cheese Burger although next time I will most probably go with their Rib Meat Burger and then maybe their Lamb Burger after that. I ordered my burger medium which is cool because when I first started this burger challenge I used to have my burgers well done but then as I started reading more about burgers and really getting into it I started having it medium well. To move to medium is a step in the right direction although I don’t think I would have a medium burger just anywhere.

The burger arrived and it looked beautiful. The shape, the size, the way everything was very tidy it just looked like the perfect burger. I took my first bite and in under a minute or two max I had finished the burger. It was the healthiest burger I’ve ever had and I’m talking about the actual beef patty here. It just tasted like it was made with really great quality meat. It wasn’t heavy, it didn’t have a bad after taste, it wasn’t fatty and it was very light on the stomach. It had the makings of a perfect burger which is why it was very difficult to review. There was very little flavor. It was lacking oomph which is why maybe next time I would get rid of the vegetables and put some mustard to see if that helps.

If I want to be extra nitpicky I would talk about how I am not a big fan of powdery buns but I in this case it didn’t bother me that much. My burger was very juicy and the bun didn’t have any trouble holding up, it didn’t get soggy which is always great. Speaking of juiciness, my burger arrived medium well instead of medium but that was fine. The final score is going to be a 4 out of 5. I would highly recommend it, it’s a near perfect classic burger. At KD5.500 its actually a steal.

The Meat Co. is located in 360 Mall
The cost of the Cheese Burger was KD5.500

Here are the burger places I’ve reviewed so far:
Applebee’s
Bredz
Burger Boutique
Fuddruckers
Hashi
Gaucho Gril
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
Johnny Rockets
Munch
Napket
Papa John’s Burgers
Prime & Toast
Ruby Tuesday
Slider Station
Sheraton Hotel
Smoke House
The Burger Hub
The Butcher Shop
The Little Oven
Wimpy


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Review: Canon G11

Posted by Mark

I’ve had the Canon G11 for just over a month now and after using it practically on a daily basis. I did a lot of research before choosing to go with the G11 and I don’t regret my decision. I have mostly great things to say about this camera and will go through the different categories one by one.

Battery Life
I got my Canon G11 on December 11th and I charged it that same day. Its now January 15th and I still haven’t charged the camera since then. Not only that but the battery meter is still showing that the battery is full. This is perfect because it means when I travel I don’t need to pack the charger or buy an extra battery.

Usability and Feel
The camera doesn’t fit in my pocket so I spend most of the time either carrying it in my hand or in my bag if I am carrying one. It comes with a strap but it isn’t long enough to wear across the shoulder just around the neck which isn’t practical for me. The camera feels very solid and it’s also a bit heavy so it gives it a very durable feel. I love the dials on top and I use them a lot. I always keep the camera on “P” (Program Mode) which automatically adjusts the aperture and shutter speed but control the exposure (make the shot brighter or darker) I use the dial on the left to control that. On the right there are two other dials, one for the ISO which I also use a lot and the second to swap between the different programs. Other than the regular programs which you find on most cameras like aperture priority, shutter priority, automatic mode etc.. there are two custom modes called C1 and C2. These two positions contain your custom camera settings. For example I have C1 set the camera to “P”, change the format of the image to JPG, the dimensions to wide shot and the color setting to vivid. That’s the mode I use mostly when taking shots for my blog. C2 on the other hand sets the camera to “P” but then changes the image format to RAW+JPG and at full resolution (not wide). I use that setting in case there is a beautiful shot I want to capture at the highest quality. There are a ton of other settings you could also set for each mode as well but I won’t get into them here. I really wish my Nikon D90 had a custom mode feature and dials on top to control the iso and exposure.

Image Quality
It’s great for a point and shoot camera but no competition next to a good DSLR. The noise at fairly high ISO’s is pretty decent and I find myself often using ISO800 with no worries about the image coming out noisy with ISO1600 also being very usable. The only issue I have is with the white balance. Sometimes when indoors the images come out a bit too cold for my taste and that’s actually the only issue I have with the camera.

Swivel Screen
One of the coolest features in the camera for me is the swivel screen. It allows me to take pictures without having to hold the camera up to my face. I also like the fact that when the camera is not in use I fold the screen to face inwards which protects the screen while in my bag. For people who don’t like the swivel feature they can rotate the screen towards them and fold it in and keep it that way like a regular camera.

So overall I really love this camera. There were a lot of occasions where I wished I had purchased the Panasonic GF1 but in the end I realized the reason I got the Canon G11 is to use for my blog and when I travel and the GF1 although a great camera isn’t as practical (and also twice more expensive). I highly recommend this camera to anyone that is looking for small highly controllable and fully featured camera. I am going to give it a 4.5 out of 5, it looses points for the white balance issue I faced and the fact that it doesn’t fit in my jeans pocket.

If you’re interested in this camera it’s available in Kuwait for KD228 but I purchased mine from Amazon for just KD127.
Here is the link to the Canon G11 on Amazon [Link]


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Burger Review: Napket

Posted by Mark


The Best Burger in Kuwait Challenge
Yes the burger challenge is still on, I didn’t forget about it I just took a little break. There are a lot of new places that opened up since the last time I reviewed a burger and I will start visiting them one by one soon. First from this new bunch is Napket. Although they’ve been open for awhile they just recently introduced a new menu which includes among other things, burgers.

I had three burgers to choose from, Napket Signature, The Western and Mushroom & Swiss. I decided to go with the Signature burger which has roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. The burger comes with french fries on the side but since I don’t have fried food anymore I asked for alternatives and ended up going with roasted potatoes instead.

The burger took a while to come and once it did it looked overcooked and charred. I was hungry and really looking forward to a good burger but, the forecast wasn’t looking good. Luckily I was wrong. I took my first bite into the burger and got completely surprised. It wasn’t burnt, it wasn’t dry, it was delicious. The beef patty was the perfect thickness and there was this sauce that was slightly spicy but added a lot of flavor to the burger. The caramelized onions were also a great addition, I’ve really started enjoying them in my burgers and in this case they added a very nice touch of sweetness that went strangely very well with the spicy sauce. It would have been perfect except for one major flaw… the roasted tomatoes. They were just too juicy for the burger, so juicy that the bottom bun had become extremely soggy and the whole burger was dripping. It was easily the messiest burger I’ve had since the start of this challenge and I’ve mentioned it before how much I hate messy burgers.

The burger cost KD3.500 which is fairly decent for a dish at Napket especially since it also comes with roasted potatoes (or fries) and a small portion of green stuff (I think they call it salad). The final score is a 3.5 out of 5. Everything was great except for the sogginess and mess that came with it. I told the waiter about the problem and he said he would pass my feedback on to the chef so hopefully it will get fixed. Next time I am going with the Mushroom & Swiss instead.

Napket is located in Avenues
The cost of the Napket Signature Burger was KD3.500

Here are the burger places I’ve reviewed so far:
Applebee’s
Bredz
Burger Boutique
Fuddruckers
Hashi
Gaucho Gril
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
Johnny Rockets
Munch
Papa John’s Burgers
Prime & Toast
Ruby Tuesday
Slider Station
Sheraton Hotel
Smoke House
The Burger Hub
The Butcher Shop
The Little Oven
Wimpy


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Review: Poshcafe

Posted by Mark

I’ve been wanting to pass by Poshcafe at the 360 Mall for sometime now since the place looked trendy and interesting and today I finally did for lunch. They don’t have a large menu but they do mix it up with variety like salads, soups, pastas, burgers, sandwiches and desserts. Their burgers are actually sliders made with Angus beef and I was really tempted to try it but decided instead to start with a Mushroom & Gruyère soup followed by a healthy Posh Club sandwich. Nat had a salad as usual.

The mushroom soup came first and it looked good but although the soup looked like it contained herbs, I couldn’t taste them and the whole thing turned out to be a bit bland. It wasn’t bad but I think it just tasted very average. The Posh Club which is their club sandwich was served once I had finished my soup. Presentation wise it looked really good and when I took my first bite I tasted something that seemed interesting. They use a “special” sauce with their club sandwich which I think is similar to the tahina sauce you get with meat shawermas. Although it tasted interesting at first by the third sandwich I realized the sauce was too heavy and turned what was supposed to be a light lunch into a heavy one and I didn’t like that since I might as well have gone with the sliders.

For the final score I am going to give them a 3.5 out of 5. I really liked the style of the place, the waitress was very friendly and they have a huge selection of desserts (which I didn’t try) that looked really good. My only issue is with the food I ordered, both of which I wouldn’t have again because they were just so average. Price wise they’re decent but maybe a bit on the high side with some items. Nat thought her salad was expensive since for the same price she could have had the salad bar at Le Notre. I thought the soup could have been a bit cheaper but the club sandwich was priced just right. The next time I go back I would probably try their slider and have a dessert instead of a starter.

Small mixed salad: KD2.750
Mushroom & Gruyère: KD2.450
Posh Club: KD2.750
Here is their [Menu]


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Review: Avatar

Posted by Mark

Last night I went and watched Avatar in 3D at the movies here in Lebanon. I’ve been trying to watch it the past few nights but it’s always sold out except for yesterday when I managed to find two seats empty.. first row on the left. Horrible location but I figured if it was really bad I could just walk out and come back another time.

It was the first time I watch a movie in 3D, actually the second time since the first was JAWS when it was released in Cinema Salmiya back in the early 80s. I wasn’t looking forward to wearing 3D glasses and actually wanted to watch Avatar in 2D because of the stupid glasses but it was only showing in 3D so I didn’t have a choice. That turned out to be a good thing.

I loved the movie and I loved the 3D. 3D theater technology has come a long way since JAWS that’s for sure. Even though I was sitting on the first row and to the side I still managed to enjoy the movie and the 3D effects. I had a major neck cramp by the end of the movie and I really wished I was sitting in a better location but that still didn’t change the fact that this movie is EPIC. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed since from the trailers the movie looked normal but honestly the trailer doesn’t do it any justice. You need to watch the movie on a big screen and you NEED to watch it in 3D.

I heard that Cinescape is having technical problems with Avatar in 3D and so they’re only playing the 2D version for now. I think I read on Gizmodo that a lot of theaters worldwide are having similar technical issues so its really not their fault. I personally think you should wait until they fix their problem and then watch it in 3D. It would be a shame to watch it in 2D especially if you haven’t watched any 3D movie before because this would be the perfect one to start with.

I didn’t have any problems with the movie, nothing to complain about. The story was great, the length was perfect and passed by quickly, the movie was just perfect. The final score is a 5 out of 5. Keep in mind I watched this movie from the worse location possible so everyone else should have a much better experience. [YouTube]


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Review: Fiio E5 Headphone Amplifier

Posted by Mark

The fake iPod Shuffle looking device in the picture above is the Fiio E5 Headphone Amplifier. For the past few years I have been using earphones (the kind you stick deep inside your ear) for traveling. They’re great because they isolate a lot of the airplane noise and if there is any kid screaming next to me I hear nothing. Now the disadvantage is after using these earphones for over an hour they start getting uncomfortable. They also aren’t practical to put on and take off every time you need to communicate with someone.

That’s why I ended up getting the Sennheiser PXC 250 sound isolating headphones back in July and since then I’ve used them a few times while traveling. They are very comfortable and cancel out the engine sound pretty well but I didn’t find them loud enough. In fact, my last trip I ended up using my older earphones instead. So, I decided to get a headphone amplifier to help increase the volume for when I find my headphones too low. I didn’t want to pay a lot and was looking for something portable. My two options ended up being either a homemade cMoy amp I could purchase from eBay or the Fiio E5 which was recommended by some users on Head Fi. I went with the Fiio.

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