When the left bud of my beloved Sennheiser CX300 earphones stopped working recently, i felt quite bereft, not to mention aurally lopsided. I couldn’t really complain about this failure having had over 4 years1 of near-daily use from them, but it didn’t help with the sense of loss. Nor did the discovery that CX300s aren’t as cheap to buy as they were 4 years ago. Sure the £17 i paid at that time probably wasn’t full RRP but now even the likes of Amazon are asking twice that – just shy of £34 for a set. That’s nothing to some people but a bit more than i wanted to pay. Fortunately there are lots and lots of other headphones to choose from. Unfortunately there are lots and lots of other headphones to choose from. Seriously, there are thousands. Limiting your search by price range, manufacturer/brand and so on obviously helps a great deal but you’re still left with hundreds of choices. Picking through them wasn’t a chore i was all that bothered about completing2. I was therefore cock-a-hoop when i received a hugely enthusiastic recommendation via twitter for the RHA MA350 earphones.
I’d never heard of RHA before but the MA350s immediately appealed – great sound (apparently), good looks, solid construction (machined aluminium!), a three year warranty and, best of all, they were British3. Together with the glowing words coming from twitter, this convinced me to overlook my budget4 and shell out £30. I ordered directly from RHA, receiving notice of dispatch in about 3 hours and, despite opting for free (and slower) delivery, had new earphones in my hands (and ears) within 48 hours. A promising start.
The TL;DR version for you young whippersnappers is that the MA350s are basically as good as promised by RHA’s marketing bumf and by my enthusiastic tweeter.
For those that like to know a little more than that: These earphones sound great. The output is perhaps not as bass-y as my faithful old Sennheiser CX300s but there’s a good range of sound and i’ve definitely noticed a few new notes, effects and subtleties in well-loved songs. Where the CX300s were a bit of a aural revelation to me after using Apple’s iPod headphones for so long, these come as more of an iterative improvement. A minor step up in quality. But a welcome one all the same.
In terms of design and build, i think they look good and are very well put together. The aluminium earbuds are not heavy but definitely feel solid and robust, and the somewhat bulky connector housing the 3.5mm jack looks like it will also withstand some punishment. The braided fabric cord feels strong and durable, plus that fairly unusual covering to the wires provides a nice added bonus – quite easily freed tangles. Every headphone user knows the frustration of tangled and knotted rubber wires but the fabric of the MA350s alleviates this a little, slipping past itself more easily than the traditional rubber does.
For all the benefits of that braided fabric cord, there is one drawback – cable rub noise. That is to say, as you move about the tiny vibrations caused by the headphone cable rubbing on your skin or clothing travels up the wire and interferes with your listening. It’s the same principle as the two-yoghurt-pots-on-a-string telephone your kids play with. All in-ear headphones seem to suffer with this issue to some extent – it was something that bothered me about my CX300s in particular – but the MA350s, because of the texture of the fabric cord, seem to affected to a greater degree. It can be distracting at times and, if you end up focused on the noise, even infuriating. I think the number of angry 1-star reviews these earphones receive on Amazon is testament to this. You definitely don’t want these earphones if you’re heading to the gym. All that said, after a couple of months of use i’ll admit i seem to have tuned out the cable noises, just as i did with my Sennheisers in the past.
As you might expect, these in-ear ‘phones are supplied with three pairs of different sized silicone earbud tips, thus ensuring you a good, snug fit no matter the size of your ear hole. Please be warned, however, that these tips can be very, very, very fiddly to fit. I was quite happy with the pre-fitted Medium tips but thought i’d see what the Large were like. Mistake. It took me an excruciating, profanity-filled 20 minutes to get the little bastards back on. (If there’s some special technique to fitting the silicone tips, please do let me know. I’m happy to be made to look stupid.)
In addition to the earphones and set of silicone tips, RHA also supply in the box a small “fabric carry bag”. It’s a not a bad idea at all and a nice gesture but unfortunately here is very badly executed. This little drawstring bag is made from some nasty faux-velvet material and looks horribly cheap. You could believe they’d made from the scrotum from some dusty old taxidermy horse and dyed it dark blue, except that for the fact that something this unpleasant could only be man-made. And aged horse scrotum probably costs a lot more to procure. Ordinarily i might include a photo here to show off the offending article but infuriatingly the thing seems to be very photogenic. Add treachery to its list of crimes. But seriously RHA, if you’re reading this, ditch that little bag. Or make it from cotton. Something. Do something about it please! Everything else positions this as a premium product but that little bag simply cheapens and detracts.
When some inconsequential little box-filler like a travel pouch is the most disappointing thing to write about in a review, you know you’ve got an otherwise great product. The MA350s sound great, feel solidly made and come with that reassuring three year warranty. If you’re going to be moving about a lot and suspect the noise of cable-rub is the sort of thing that might drive you batshit crazy then you should definitely look elsewhere, probably well away from the in-ear headphone section altogether. For the more sedentary amongst us, I reckon these are fantastic headphones which you’d be hard pressed to better at this relatively low price point. Thumbs up.
The furthest my research got before being pointed at RHA’s gear was some umming and arring about various low-end Sennheiser models and a brief flirtation with buying these Philips earphones. ↩
RHA are based in Glasgow. The kit is actually manufactured in China, which is sad but wholly unsurprising. ↩
At the time RHA did have a cheaper model, MA150, that appeared to be identical to MA350 but made from plastic and didn’t carry the three year warranty. They’re no longer listed on the RHA website but are still for sale on Amazon. ↩
Rumour has it that we’ll see two new iPhone models announced at next week’s Apple event – the iPhone 5S, a successor to the iPhone 5, and the iPhone 5C, a new “lower cost” iPhone.
Historically the current iPhone model would become the cheaper, second-tier offering once a newer version is available but the rumoured 5C could change that MO. Will the two new models come in and replace the current 5 / 4S / 4 line-up entirely? Perhaps the 5S and 5C will sit either side of the iPhone 5, thus scrapping the 4/4S? Or maybe the 4S will actually sit as the lowest cost option beneath 5S and 5C? Of course nobody outside Apple will know for sure until next week but I suspect it’s going to be the former and the new models will form the entire range between them.
Here’s what i’m expecting from the new devices, an amalgam of my hopes and my fears. I’ve tried to keep it sensible but may have succumbed to the odd wild rumour1…
That’s all guesswork, naturally. Don’t phone, it’s just for fun. The only certainties here are that Apple will announce something next week, the media will pick on the one immediately obvious but minor flaw2 and customers will buy the product regardless.
Yes, i’ve gone with that crazy fingerprint recognition rumour. My suggestion is a scanner beneath the lower portion of the screen, rather than in the Home button. I’m not sure if that’s technically feasible yet but much as I like the idea of a scanner being in the Home button – it seems the immediately obvious place to put it – the fingerprint recognition tech i’ve seen on computers before requires a swipe of a digit. And there’s a part of the iPhone where we swipe a digit already. No? ↩
Unless there’s something radical, my money is on it being that the “cheap” 5C isn’t cheap enough. ↩
With it looking increasingly like the iPhone 5 will be replaced as Apple’s flagship phone product very soon, I thought it’d be interesting to see how the device’s competitors are doing one year on.
To help me do this, i’ll be referring to The Register’s “Ten iPhone 5 challengers” article of September 2012. I’m sure there are other such lists available. I just know this one was compiled and published at the time of the iPhone 5’s release. And it was conveniently sat in my Reading List bookmarks.
Right then, here are ten year-ago iPhone 5 competitors – let’s see how they are faring today:
Reportedly a sharp-screened Android phone with a high quality look and feel. It certainly impressed enough to win a Register Hardware recommendation. Sadly, a year down the line, Acer seem to have forgotten about it – the original link 404s and the only mention you’ll find on Acer’s website is if you search the Support pages. Originally £290 SIM-free, the CloudMobile now sells for £170. But only through supplier Expansys. We’re off to a flying start.
The PadFone was a 4.3-inch Android mobile that you could stick inside a 10-inch tablet body when you felt the need for a bigger screen. You can’t fault Asus for trying something a little different. Unfortunately British telcos weren’t interested and it doesn’t look like the PadFone ever made it to the UK. The Register’s link 404s, though you can still find the product listed on the ASUS site. If you look about that site you’ll note that more recent PadFone (and look, Dom Joly, a FonePad!) products are available, so clearly Asus haven’t given up on the concept yet. The PadFone 2 was released December 2012 (rather a quick sequel, no?) and is currently free on various £30/month contracts or £599 SIM-free at Carphone Warehouse. Though there doesn’t appear to be any stock. Make of that what you will.
Huawei Ascend D Quad
A quad-cored Android mobile that “caused quite a stir at MWC.” And yet now there’s no mention of the Ascend D Quad on Huawei’s website, though the Ascend family clearly lives on. The Register had price and date “TBC” but, again, it’s not clear if this phone ever actually made it to the shops. I keep having to remind myself that these devices were supposedly iPhone 5 competitors just 12 months ago.
HTC One X
Another phone that came Register Hardware “Recommended” and one of the few in this list that i’ve actually heard of. It is still listed on the HTC website, though has now clearly been succeeded by the HTC One (no X). This phone is still available from various suppliers, though Vodafone is the only UK network still selling it (free on £25/month contract, so long as you don’t mind that it’s only a “nearly new” device). A year ago The Register suggested supplier Clove for a £446 HTC One X – it’s now £360.
LG Optimus 4X HD
A big, well-spec’d smartphone which The Register said “might just be the best Android phone available” and duly made it the Register Hardware “Editor’s Choice”. But the Android world clearly moves quickly – the Optimus 4X HD is still listed on the LG site but the supplier The Register pointed to, Clove, says the model has been discontinued. A year ago this device would’ve cost £460 SIM-free. As far as I can tell, it is currently only available in the UK at catalogue-turned-online-shopping-operation Littlewoods.com (£349) and TalkTalk Mobile (free on a £15/month contract). Who’d like to put money on the average customer being able to get the latest version of Android running on this phone?
Motorola Razr Maxx
An Android phone from Motorola. The main selling point of which appears to have been the large battery. How’s it doing a year down the line? The link in The Register’s piece redirects to a Motorola support page for the phone and the price tag has £370 struck-through, replaced with £240. But only if you’re willing to buy from a company you’ve never heard of via eBay or Amazon Marketplace.
Nokia PureView 808
Ah, at last, another phone that i’ve heard of. I think we’ve all heard of this Nokia. But only because of the staggering 41 megapixel camera it houses. Without that remarkable feature who was going to go out and buy a phone powered by dead-in-the-water Symbian? The 808 is still proudly listed on the Nokia website but doesn’t seem to be available to buy from any UK mobile network. Or indeed to buy new anywhere other than Amazon Marketplace, eBay and the like.
Panasonic Eluga Power
The Eluga Power looks like it might have been a lovely bit of hardware. Looks like. Even The Register can only provide a link to a Panasonic press release about the phone. No product page. No support page. A cursory web search reveals very little. So, another handset in the list that never actually made it to the UK. The Register were really clutching at next-big-thing straws to find an iPhone challenger, eh?
Samsung Galaxy S3
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is probably the best-known device in this list and, I think, the only device that you see in use in public as often as the iPhone. But of course this model has now been replaced at the top of Samsung’s stack by the Galaxy S4. 12 months ago the S3 would’ve cost you around £485 SIM-free but now would set you back just £347 (Clove). Vodafone seems to be only mobile network still offering the S3 (free on various £25/month contracts), though there are plenty of S3 derivatives available from Samsung in addition to the new S4. Who could forget the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini White Frost, the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE Titanium and the Samsung Galaxy S3 SuperHD Pea Green?
Sony Xperia S
Sony’s Android smartphone with a superb camera, beaten only by Nokia’s PureView 808, according the The Register. The Xperia S was £349 a year ago but is now available for £239. As long as you buy it direct from Sony. And as long as you want it in White. I’m actually vaguely familiar with the Xperia S as a colleague of mine owns one. I showed her how to remove the battery. Something she’s having to do to reboot the phone more and more often.
So there you have it, ten iPhone 5 challengers of a year ago. Of which…
three were never actually available in the UK
only five are still acknowledged as existing by their manufacturer
just two (at a push!) are still sold by UK network providers (where i’d guess the majority of consumers will find, try and buy phones)
…and, of course, they’re all now superceded by newer models. Meanwhile, the iPhone 5 is (for a week more, at least) still Apple’s top of the line phone, still starts at £529 SIM-free, still selling and still the phone that all others are compared to.
I suppose you could – and some undoubtedly will – argue that people buying the iPhone 5 right now are being short-changed, paying a high price for year-old technology, and that Android kit is better for customers, always offering more up-to-date hardware. Personally I just see it as Android manufacturers perpetually scrambling on top of each other in a fight to get noticed, constantly repackaging and reframing, with the customer forgotten at the point of sale. At least with the iPhone customers can be assured that their purchase will be supported and see software updates for years to come. But hey, potato, potahto.
His genius is not just his ability to see what others cannot but also how he applies it. To watch him with his workmates in the holy of holies, Apple’s design lab, or on a night out is to observe a very rare esprit de corps. They love their boss, and he loves them. What the competitors don’t seem to understand is you cannot get people this smart to work this hard just for money.
PS. Yes, this is from April. I’m still catching up with lots of things i’d starred in Google Reader for later reading.
Right now Apple is sitting on a mountainous bag of cash. In fact, it contains almost $150,000,000,000 at the last count. And when you’re sat atop such a pile the people looking upwards are naturally going to wonder what your plans are for it.
Some wonder if they might buy one or more PC manufacturer, a social network or just gift every person in the world a few Big Macs. Some more sensible folk suggest it might be worth investing in data for Apple Maps, improving iCloud, buying rights to sports and TV content, or negotiating with the mobile networks to create a better customer experience there.
What do i think Apple should do with this surplus money? How should they ease the tension of those bulging bags? Easy. Make things better for the customer.
While improving the situation with network operators or buying media content are good ideas that I tend to agree with (especially with regards improving the Apple TV offering for international customers), there are a few simpler things that i think Apple could do right now:
A free Newsstand and/or iBooks download for each Apple ID. Or a book/magazine equivalent to the iTunes Store’s Single of the Week. Just something that lets people see how these services work and what they’re like to use. Break down that barrier. Help people get even more from their Apple devices. Music and Apps really need no pushing but, looking at the Homescreens of my friends and family, i think iBooks and Newsstand do.
A better hardware warranty out of the door. Let’s have 2 years as standard and a (cheaper) Applecare that covers that 3rd year. Not only does this win you serious brownie points with customers, it is a hefty kick in the competitor’s gonads. How many other PC and phone manufacturer’s could afford to match this?
More free storage space in iCloud. Currently, when I buy an Apple product i’m gifted 5GB of space in iCloud. If I buy another device I still only have that 5GB of space because i’m just using the same Apple ID. It wouldn’t hurt Apple to give me the 10GB i’m really due, would it? And besides I potentially need that much space just for device backups. So, more iCloud space please. Give customers 5GB on creating an iCloud account and another 5GB for each device used with that ID, including Macs.
Big, immediate gains for the individual customer in return for a very small portion of what’s inside Apple’s money bag.