Let’s talk about USB-C, & e-Waste – Jul 22

The EU this year finally ruled on USB-C being the charging standard for all Smartphones going forward from Fall 2024. The rule will also apply to other electronic devices including tablets, digital cameras, headphones, handheld video game consoles, and e-readers. Laptops will have to comply with the rule at a later date. Source: Verge Article – USB-C will be mandatory for phones sold in the EU ‘by autumn 2024’

This would bring about such an amazing development in the Apple Ecosystem where we do not need a separate cable to charge the iPhones and Airpods we own; if only this applied to smart watches as well and the single cable for all tech dream would be finally true. But why does apple just not want to fully commit to USB-C, even though they have already seriously committed to it on the Laptop’s and iPads, something that perplexes most people; most think it is backward compatibility with existing cables that users already own, however that does not hold as true today as it did 3 to 4 years ago as almost all other devices have already standardized to USB-C or have committed to it.

There is a caveat here tho – in specific the EU’s press release says the new legislation applies to devices “that are rechargeable via a wired cable.” This means the previously mentioned dream of Apple Devices going portless is a possibility as well, which would be extremely unfortunate.

  • Why did the EU do this?
  • Will the world follow suite?
    • The EU is a usual stalwart when it comes to making sensible rules that supports the well being of consumers and the world in general and hence is a good standard to follow. For example their rules on GDPR and on CyberSecurity are rules that have pushed the industry in general to hold better standards toward privacy and security of data and people. It is also worth considering for tech companies in particular that making a region specific product creates production problems and logistics issues for them and their customers as well – hence it follows that if the EU rule is a sensible one with a positive global goal, might as well follow them for the longer positive impact on the companies image as all we the bottom line.
  • Will Apple follow suite as the largest smartphone maker?
    • This however is a trickier question, as the motivations at Apple are obviously very Apple specific and not very widely known to the public. Would apple rather go the wireless way 2 years down the line rather than put in a USB-C. Was MagSafe cases and chargers for the phone and the new MacBook Air with M2 signal the move to the MagSafe strategy rather than a USB-C. Only time will tell and USB-C is not a given by any means. And Apple fans are loyal enough and tied to the ecosystem enough to follow suite.

Apple has taken positive steps such as active recycling and recycled parts and no chargers in the box which have been successful steps to reduce e-waste and also successful due to others following suite. And logic would dictate that USB-C is the best way forward for all, but is it for Apple – that remains to be seen.

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WWDC 2022 & the ‘Meta’verse

This year’s WWDC was not a game changing one, it was a rather iterative update on all things Apple, and probably the way Apple likes it. Post the M1 in-house customer silicon and the upgrades of M1 Pro and M1 Max, they did come up with the M2 which is more powerful and helps a battery last longer – can’t wait for the time my MacBook Pro gets old and I can upgrade to the latest at the time; kinda sad that I got the most powerful 13″ of the intel generation with all the bells and whistles just before they switched to M1 – that is what I would call unfortunate timing. Still love all my Apple gadgets.

Source: Apple.com

All of this only gets me thinking of what’s the next big step, is the update only iterative or is it a piece of a bigger puzzle that we do not yet see. Think about it, all that power in a little chip with the efficiency & battery life in that small form factor – could it be to power some other experience apart from just being an efficient video & photo editor. And that brings us to the next big thing on the horizon, the Metaverse – Virtual and Augmented worlds of the future which will be the next iteration of Social Media and bring it to a whole new digital level.

The way I see it the overall journey is a long way away –

  • first the world builds virtual worlds, as that is a lot easier first step as I understand it
  • then we get better at building those worlds in terms of resolution, quality and our interaction with the virtual world
  • all this buys us some time to develop the augmented tech that would better understand how to place digital objects in real life i.e. are we projecting into the world or into our eyes so we see it in the world or is there a 3rd option we haven’t even thought of? The answer is very unclear as we have a lot more to develop in order to get there
  • next with augmented tech comes new challenges to overcome such as interaction, how to better understand depth perception, interaction of the digital with the real
Source: Facebook.com

Such exciting things to look forward to and some people betting their companies on the promise of such a massive business case that the risk is worth the reward to be the first mover in this technology and industry. And the industry that makes the first foray successfully ends up defining the market. And that really bothers me some days, our entire virtual worlds formed and defined by a company that makes money currently via social media and selling our personal information – shudder at the thought. Talking about Facebook (now Meta) incase you are still left wondering. They are a software company that are making the biggest push in hardware ever in a ‘bet the company’ moment their CEO is having.

On the other hand we also have a contender in Apple, that says it is all about privacy which ensures some scrutiny on them ensuring they follow that path. It is a company that builds good technology and believes in privacy, if these two are my only choices then I of course choose the latter. However, it still feels the world is quite helpless that we have only the big juggernauts that can take a crack at this problem and even if smaller disruptors enter the market with an actual feasible challenge, they most probably get bought up and absorbed by the big players. It’ll of course be unbearably expensive, but any product that Apple makes in the Virtual or Augmented reality space will be an amazing contender based on their track record of hardware, software and their integration.

As my first foray into testing this technology out I am looking forward to the Playstation VR2, a new and improved version of the Playstation VR that promises a higher resolution, eye tracking and better interaction capabilities via new design of controllers. Might seem like a small insignificant step in gaming but it is the best use case as of today for Virtual Reality and its success propels the success of the industry.

As glued as we are to our screens, this technology will probably have the biggest impact on our lives as this will be the next screen we use to meet friends, watch movies, play games, work and experience new places and things. Looking forward to what happens next!

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Windows 11 is here .. well, kinda! – Oct 21

They said Windows 10 was the final version of Windows, they said it would just be updates from here on out! But lo and behold – here’s a refreshed visual design of Windows being called the next generation of Windows .. read on to know more.

What’s new?

  • New Start Menu & Visual Changes to the interface
  • New Widgets Menu – with quick glance information
  • New Settings Menu – easier to use
  • New Snap Assist Tool – to easily position your windows into sections of the screen
  • New Microsoft Store & XBox Apps
  • Work in Progress updates:
    • Support for Android Apps
    • Support for Direct Storage for Games
    • Performance updates for Games

Should you update?

As tempting as it may be to update, I would recommend that you wait a few months for all the bugs to be smashed and for the teething issues in the interface and guts of the software to be sorted.

To summarize as of now though, there is not much in terms of new and noteworthy in the performance or the visual redesign.

If you have a 3 years or older desktop or laptop however, I would recommend to definitely hold as there are some compatibility software updates that need to be resolved. Even probably

The Details? Mostly good, some bad.

As much as the Windows team have tried to ensure that they do not copy MacOS, there are quite a few ideas taken straight from there. However, as soon as you click that start icon – which now is in the bottom center of the screen – you see that you are still using Windows.

  • Start Menu:
    • The center start menu now opens up to an app gallery where you can pin favorite apps right up to, it also features a search bar right up top with buttons to take you to all apps installed and also a button to get you to recommended i.e. recent files.
    • Plus the Shutdown, restart button and settings icon – all of which can be customized along with shifting start to the left similar to the old way.
    • You can also pin apps to the taskbar for easier access similar to Windows 10.
  • Visuals:
    • Rounded Corners, refreshed icons, emoji’s and overhauled + simplified look
  • Widgets:
    • Widgets now slide from the left side out and has some prebuilt widgets – however, something I rarely used (called tiles in Windows 10), and I don’t see the appeal, function or use of it still – time will tell.
    • Currently you can add the below, but no 3rd Party apps:
      • Outlook Calendar
      • To Do
      • Photos
      • Tips
      • Entertainment
      • Family Safety
      • Weather
      • Watchlist
      • Plus a newsfeed at the bottom
  • Settings Menu:
    • Easier to use and Navigate compared to before making it faster to change via the quick access to the left side of the window
    • Light Mode and Dark Mode Options + plus switching without reloading the window like before
    • You will also be able to switch on Auto HDR if you have a monitor that supports it
  • Snap Assist:
    • This is something they have copied from the Mac and improved upon in my opinion where the windows snap as before as well as you have snap layouts that fit your open windows into some useful preset options
  • Microsoft Teams and Messages are now one app:
    • They have updated Teams to now handle SMS messages so you can send and receive messages from the app on your desk
  • The Bad Stuff:
    • Cannot drag files into the task bar folders and apps as before
    • There are still barebones of Windows of the past still visible via the Command Prompt, Task Manager and some other windows some of which do not even switch on the Dark Mode switch
    • Only the primary monitor displays the easy access icons on the bottom right such as time, date, battery, bluetooth etc. The rest of the monitors do not.

Work in Progress updates !!

  • Performance Improvements:
    • There were supposed to be performance improvements with the introduction of Windows 11, however, as of now this doesn’t seem to have made any noticeable changes
  • Android Apps:
    • This is purely a workaround, but there will soon be an Amazon App Store that will have it’s own collection of Android Apps that you will be able to access via that store; how well these apps work and perform however is something that we need to wait and watch
  • Direct Storage Access:
    • Provided Games support it (which most don’t currently) the data can be loaded directly from the SSD via the GPU rather than the CPU which would result in much faster load times, which will have a significant boost incase you do not already have SSD’s

With all of this and more, hopefully Windows has a much better time going forward – keep in mind, every alternate version of Windows has been a disaster – Windows 8, Vista, ME; so this has a lot of history going against it.

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Tesla in the Middle East? – Oct 21

Have always been a techie at heart and one of the things I have been pondering on lately is a wish list item – A Tesla. I always push myself to have goals for fear of being bored by life in general – be it a skill, spiritual or materialistic. And now that my Mustang is about 5+ years old and I think about my next goal – my love of technology, cars and want for being sustainable – a tesla seems to check a lot of boxes for a worthy goal.

After a bit of research, here’s a summary of findings that you might find useful to either satiate your curiosity or if you, like me, are also pondering such things.

Tesla at a Glance : S3XY (Oct 21)

Tesla At A Glance, Data courtesy Tesla.com UAE, summarized by @robinbmac

Which one should you get?

  • Budget Conscious?
    • If you are budget conscious first and foremost, this car is probably not for you as even the cheapest of the lot is quite so very expensive. But if you still do want to get one, then I’d recommend sticking to the Model 3 or the Model Y.
      • The Model 3 if you are either single or have a small family and do not need to carry around too much when shopping.
      • The Model Y if you have a regular size family and also do need space when traveling or shopping. Waiting for a 7 seater model to be available in UAE however, which isn’t the case as of now.
  • Tech Savvy?
    • If you are Tech Savvy, any of these machines would actually do depending on the space you need for yourself or your family. It is completely stocked with tech from a mobile app, self-parking, sentry mode to other cool things. Maybe even spring some extra money for the full self-driving.
  • Traveler?
    • If you love to travel, then definitely consider the long range models of the car that you prefer as it would most definitely come in handy in the ‘long-run’ (get it, haha – sorry I had to).
  • Best of the Best?
    • If you only want the best of the best, you have to consider the Plaid versions seriously – why you ask?:
      • Quickest accelerating and highest torque
      • 3 High Performance Motors
      • Torque vectoring (Torque vectoring is a technology employed in automobile differentials that has the ability to vary the torque to each half-shaft with an electronic system. This method of power transfer has recently become popular in all-wheel drive vehicles.)

Other things to keep in mind?

  • Firstly, the Tesla isn’t cheap (even the cheapest of the lot) and to be able to use it regularly you definitely need to know when and where you can charge your car. So if you do not have a house where you can overnight charge or an area where you have multiple fast chargers you can access – this is not the car for you.
  • If you can wait, please consider that the deliveries take up to 2 quarters (4-6 months) on average; also check out the competition from Ford, Porsche and others. Tesla definitely is a tech company before anything else and they are learning how to manufacture cars and consider ranges etc., however, car companies producing electric cars have much more experience with what car owners expect. So expect a bit of a shock on how a car functions when buying from Tesla. One example of such a case is – when Tesla is approaching 0 km in distance to empty, consider fueling up asap as zero is actually zero and sometimes earlier; whereas a Ford Mustang Mach-E even at zero has some way to go before it stops fully.
  • If you have a place of your own, consider getting a Tesla Powerwall and also some Solar Panels – consider going fully green, this would be great for your bills (car & home) in the long run and the planet. 🙂

Go to Tesla.com to learn more and maybe order one for yourself if you are the impulsive type.

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The Surface that could – Microsoft Sep 21 Event

The market is in such bad a state that it is currently only a monopoly that could aspire to break up another monopoly. Microsoft took a well deserved hiatus from mobile hardware to focus on the cloud but now that their cloud act is at the top of it’s game they have been focusing on the Mobile Products division with the help of Panos Panay. And so the Surface Strategy is back with a new line of up of products to tempt you away from the iOS or Android Monopolies that you are already a part of and these are the products they announced.

The Surface Duo 2

Yup, Duo 2’s the name and it isn’t Deja-Vu. The second iteration of the Surface Folding Phone – all improved with a curved center edge, a thinner and lighter form factor, a slimmer pen and a new camera line up. Better specifications to boot as well. A pure ‘workaholic’s’ & Multitasker’s delight in my opinion. The only thing I would consider to replace my iPhone but only during work hours and not anything else.

Link to Technical Specifications here

The Refreshed Surface Laptops Line-Up

Next up is the refreshed line-up of Laptops and at first glance all you see is that they have upped the specifications and not much else for all except the Surface Laptop Studio which apart from the specs also had a new form factor to go with it.

Surface Laptop Studio

The screen is quite an amazing achievement, it also folds from it’s center back position to lay flat over the entire body so you can use the pen that hides under it’s mouse pad to write, draw and more. However, an overall bulky device with a box underneath for ventilation via fans and vents. Unsure how this performs in the market with better value for money options that are more powerful.

Link to the Technical Specifications here

The rest of the devices are nothing to write too much about, we have the Surface Pro 8, which is probably the best of the lot for its power for form factor ratio and also the detachable keyboard with the hidden pen slot. If you need a windows laptop + tablet for portability and work – this is the device for you. Well worth the spend just for the portability alone. The upgrades on this are nothing more than the spec’s tho.

You also have the Surface Go 3 if you need a budget friendly device, however the sacrifices it makes ensures it isn’t a great value for money. For this price range there are definitely better deals from other manufacturers out there. An new iPad would be a much better value for money with lower cost in this case.

Oh and yes, just to tick the box of being environmentally conscious, they also released a mouse made of recycled ocean plastic. So there’s that. Awesome, I guess.

Would you recommend buying one?

At this time, the only one worth recommending is the Surface Pro 8 in case you are looking for a portable windows machine with the emphasis on portable. The Surface Duo 2 can also be recommended if your work productivity is front and center in your list of priorities especially if tied into the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Apart from that the rest are not ready for prime time and do not justify the price for the value they deliver.

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How do we perfect perfection? The Apple Sep 21 Event

So we just went through a whole week where we had anticipation before the event and then disappointment after, and this brought me to think over the weekend about why Apple took this route – and most of this might be glaringly obvious and some of it might not at all. But here’s my thoughts on why Apple had the product launch it did. Read on.

So .. What happened?

Apple launched iterative updates for all its products in a sense implying their products are quite perfect already and they could just get away with improving on the things that matter such as the display, camera and the battery – some would say this is the right way to go but as always there are also quite a few that disagree and call this a slowdown in the pace of innovation as compared to their Android competitors. Below summary details on the products launched and the updates made on these products:

  • iPhone 13 / 13 Mini / 13 Pro / 13 Pro Max – With improvements in the processor, camera and the battery life for the 13 & Mini + the additional telephoto camera and the 120 Hz Display for the Pro versions

  • iPad / iPad Mini – An updated standard iPad for a relatively cheap option with an Apple Pencil, an updated Mini that is just an iPad Air in a smaller form factor for those who prefer it

  • Apple Watch – A slightly bigger + brighter screen, more durable and faster charging (with a USB-C connector now)

  • Apple TV+ & Apple Fitness+ – New shows and seasons for the TV and new + better workouts for the Fitness App

Why would Apple do this?

So why does Apple think they can get away with only iteration and a lack of innovation. So many theories, such short attention span’s to contend with.

  • 5G – Let’s start with the biggest incentive of all to have an event in the first place, sell product+service. With carrier partnerships all across who want to promote their 5G networks and are ready to subsidize your old iPhones to give you new ones – there’s no better time than the present to launch a shiny new phone, iPad and Watch even if the updates are only iterative.

  • Why mess with perfection? – The phones and the ecosystem as they are, are pretty amazing and at the #1 charts across the world in Phone sales. So why take risks by putting in an innovation that might not be well received. Which is why it makes sense to just make the safest of updates to improve products that are already good.

  • The Supply Chain? – There is a robust supply chain that has parts sourced for the massive demand for Apple products worldwide. So it makes sense to stretch out the parts for more years which results in price optimization and more importantly profit optimization.

  • Legacy – There is a whole world of legacy, Apple approved accessories that have to pay Apple for the usage rights to be apple certified; all of which goes away then they switch away to more open technologies such as USB-C. There are also other devices in the eco system that still have to switch over such as the iPad and the AirPods. This creates a kind of lock in as well for the accessories ecosystem of Apple’s most popular product, the iPhone. Revenues for which it needs to find ways to compensate for.

Would you recommend buying one?

This is subjective and relatively straight forward – if you own one of these products from 2 to 3 + generations ago, this is an amazing upgrade to get and well worth the money. If however you have all the latest from last year – definitely do not spend and either spend it on something else you might need or save for next year.

What next?

There is of course innovation in Apple’s future, purely because the market forces would enforce innovation lest they perish similar to the likes of Nokia and Blackberry. What can and will they do next? Thoughts below:

  • Competition – Apple is currently a market leader despite the lack of innovation it seems to display. If you hear the experts discussing this you would mostly hear that Apple usually implements innovations after they have been tested and proven in the market, and they they innovate on top. There are innovations and technologies that are still in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd generations that still need to prove themselves, a few to name as below:
    • Foldable Screens
    • Underscreen Fingerprint Scanner
    • Underscreen Selfie Camera’s
    • USB-C for the iPhone’s
    • Stylus for the iPhone

  • Augmented Reality – One of the big focuses for Apple post the Services push (Apple TV+, Apple Fitness+) has been augmented reality. Current speculation is that this would result in a Mixed Reality Headset that incorporates both Virtual and Augmented Reality; however very little is known on the final product they plan to release as well as when they plan to release it. However, they have started working on this with the Lidar sensors added to the phone and AR apple such as Pokemon Go etc.

  • Apple Car – the edge of the rumor mill is always the Apple Car, speculation stating that Apple will eventually get into Tesla’s business using its design philosophy and computing chops. However, we are still to see proof on how this shakes out eventually since this isn’t something the company will take lightly and would want to refine and get approvals for before they roll a product out.

Looking forward to the next Apple Event for the MacBooks and who know’s what else which might happen in the October/November timeframe of the year.

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Cheers! 🙂

Pictures courtesy Apple from the Apple Event on 15 Sep 21

So Much Hype @ Playstation Showcase Sep 2021

After all the XBox acquisition announcements over the past year it was quite certain that the Microsoft Console had an amazing future ahead of it and that it would give Sony Console a worthy competition. That followed by a rather lackluster Playstation 5 Game lineup put in question the Dominance post the PS4’s reign. But the showcase last week ensured the future is bright for PS5 and still a worth competitor in its own right!

What was announced?

  • Insomniac Games pretty much carried the bulk of the weight in terms of heavy weight announcements with:
    • Marvel’s Spiderman 2 as a PS5 exclusive in 2023 – a followup to the critically acclaimed Spiderman and Spiderman Miles Morales where you get to play as both and now have a new villain in Venom and we are sure others
    • Marvel’s Wolverine as a PS5 exclusive with no release date and no details, though this has gotten all Marvel fans and playstation gamers very excited
  • Developer Santa Monica Studios put up an exciting showcase with the God Of War: Ragnarok first look and the followup to the amazing God Of War Saga surely has many excited for the continuation of the storyline of Kratos and Loki in 2022.
  • Square Enix announced an original IP in Forspoken which is an interesting take on magical powers and taking bands due to release in Spring 2022.
Forspoken courtesy Square Enix
  • Next up are the PS5 remakes of old with:
    • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) by Aspyr for PS5 with no release date confirmed
    • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Lost Legacy by Naughty Dog for PS5 in early 2022
    • GTA 5 & GTA Online for PS5 by Rockstar Games in March 2022
  • Other games announced in the showcase:
    • Project Eve sometime between 2022 and 2023
    • Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands on March 25, 2022
    • Alan Wake Remastered on October 5, 2021
    • Gran Turismo 7 on March 22, 2022
  • Other announcements in the showcase:
    • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction gameplay that releases on September 16, 2021
    • New Ghostwire: Tokyo Trailer and it looks rad
    • Another Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Trailer
    • Another Deathloop Trailer
    • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt coming to the PS5

And some others that I’m not as excited to mention. What do you think about the showcase and if you don’t have a PS5 yet does, this make it a good ..

.. Time to get a PS5?

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Azerbaijan – Aug 2019

‘We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.’

Anonymous

For the first post we explore the latest trip this August, Azerbaijan. The best part of the trip was the coincidence of having a friend being in the same country at the same time – isn’t the world a small place. A great short trip with some amazing landscape and tech explored.

To help Navigate I’ve created sections so that you can navigate to the section you are interested in: The Pre-Trip checklist, Our Journey Summarized and specific location based details and experience. This way you can focus on and jump to sections you are interested in. I have also mentioned the time in brackets, for ex: Gobustan (1 Day Trip) or Gobuland (1 Hour), to give you a thumb rule of how much time you should aim to spend at each location.

Minimal Pre-Trip Checklist for August travel:

  • Visa Related – for UAE Residents there is visa on arrival
  • Travel Essentials:
    • Toiletries – the usual depending on hostel or hotel stay
    • Tech – just your phone+power-bank would do apart from a universal power adapter; GoPro, Drone, Insta360 if you love good video captures
  • Umbrella / Rain cover
  • About 100 Manat (local currency) per day – depending on how much exploring you plan to do – does not cover hotel stay. 1 Manat = 2.15 AED (Aug 2019)
  • Translator App – since most don’t speak English well
  • Roaming Data or Local SIM – would be useful out of the airport to use the Bolt App (similar to Uber/Careem) for transport, really cheap compared to Taxi’s & booking.com travel service + there’s a cash option to pay.
  • Clothes for rainy and humid weather mostly + 1 hoody or jacket for cable car ride to the top in Gebele.

Our Journey

Day 1: Baku Fountain Square Stroll > Sea Side Walk > Crazzy Bear (Conceptual Pub)

Day 2: Fountain Square (Starbucks, Morning Coffee) > Fountain Square (Koz Plus Doner, Lunch) >Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain) > Heydar Aliyev Center (Abstract Art Museum) > Old City Baku (La Mangerie, Dinner)

Day 3: Tour Day 1, Gobustan – Mud Volcano > Rock Art Cultural Museum > Rock Art Landscape > Bibiheybat Mosque > Great Mardakan Fortress > Fountain Square (Coffee House, Break) > Little Venice > People By Eleven (ISR Plaza, Restaurant & Lounge)

Day 4: Tour Day 2, Gebele – Gobuland (Breakfast with a view) > Jummah Mosque > Garagaya Rope Bridge & Mini Trek > Nohur Lake (Lunch with locals dancing in the background if you’re lucky) > Tufandag Mountain Resort (Cable Car ride to the top with a view) > Fountain Square (Bayramoglu, Dinner)

Day 5: Morning Flight back to Dubai

Baku

As soon as you land or before if you the proactive type download and install the Bolt app for all travel in Baku & other major cities in Azerbaijan – it’s their Uber! Compared to any Taxi or Travel booking service this is way more convenient to use. Also helps if you don’t speak the language.

Fountain Square at Night

Also recommended is staying somewhere central to the city, we stayed near Fountain Square – very easy to just walk around and find things to do, places to eat as well as walk to the Sea Side and Old Town. If you are from or familiar with Dubai you are more likely to find this place like home with all the regular shops, places to eat, coffee shops, shisha spots, bars and clubs – one key difference though, all of these places are a short walk away. The fountain square area comes alive in the evening with droves of people just walking around, sitting, chatting and catching up. Lots of cartoon character mascots, men with monkeys you can pet, pet friendly. Lots of tourists from the Middle East to be found here. The city goes through extra effort to keep clean and maintain order.

Some great places to just chill in Baku Central that we can recommend are:

  • Little Venice, Sea Side near the Carpet Museum – exactly what it sounds like, a mini version of Venice with restaurants and shisha lounges on either side and boats passing through.
  • La Mangerie, Old City – great restaurant ambiance and decor, great place for some snacks, drinks and a chat. A little on the pricey side though.
  • Koz Plus, Fountain Square near Hard Rock – Great Doner and local food options.
  • Starbucks, Fountain Square near Hard Rock – Morning Coffee and yes before you ask, I’m biased on this one.
  • Bayramoglu, Fountain Square near McDonalds – Good Shawarma and decent shisha
  • Crazzy Bear, near Fountain Square, Google it – Can not recommend this place enough, make reservations if possible or go early (around 6/7pm) if you can’t – good food and once evening turns to night the place comes alive with music and dance. Amazing decor and ambiance too!
  • People By Eleven, ISR Plaza, Fountain Square – Music, dance, food; make reservations early on (the bouncer here is pricey) decent crowd if you’re willing to get the party started.

Yanar Dag or Fire Mountain

One of the most underwhelming points of the trip was the visit to the Fire Mountain. Yes, there’s fire but not there’s no mountain on fire. Due to natural and plentiful availability of natural gas and it seeping into the atmosphere from the porous rocks there’s a small subsection of the rock side on fire. This was accidentally discovered by a shepherd when lighting a fire near here and now serves as a tourist attraction. There’s a bridge near here taking you to the top of the hillside – don’t go there with high hopes though, no more natural fires to be seen across the hillscape.

Heydar Aliyev Center

This Center in Baku (2 to 3 hours) is a sight to behold, the architecture alone will have you mesmerized for a good while – inside and outside. A building architects keep in their bucket list to visit!

The contents inside are no less, from the abstract art sculptures on the ground floor all the way till the heritage floor, toy floor, 3-D Building Model floor and the art & history floor – there’s something to capture everyone’s attention; even the non-musem goer’s.

My favorite was the toy floor, the detailing on some of the toys and models was spectacular. There were even abstract toys around. An artform to behold in my opinion – the building and the contents inside.

Gobustan or Qobustan (1/2 to 3/4 day trip)

Mud Volcano Pit

Before you head out of Baku Central do keep in mind to have a good guide with you who speaks both English and Azerbaijani for trips outside the city – will definitely save a lot of translation time plus you help out the tourism economy a little.

Gobustan is an interesting place to visit, the way here too explains clearly the rich and easy availability of crude oil and natural gas in the region. The Mud Volcano’s (3/4 hour) are an interesting visit, bubbling mud pits and hundreds of them small and large spread across the landscape. People believe the mud to have properties good for the skin as well in case you are in the mood for a mud bath or take some home in a bottle for later.

The next stop could be the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Center (1 to 2 hours), a UNESCO World Heritage preserved site for its rock art collection from the past 40,000 years! Do ensure not to spend too much time in the Center though (unless you’re into that sort of thing) and head on over to the actual path through the eroded hillscape for the real thing. Art through the ages depicted across the walls here for you to admire and ponder over what the Azeri ancestral society of that age was going through when carving these out.

Drone’s aren’t allowed here, so ensure to get some really long selfie sticks if you want to get a heightened view or get up close for some shots.

There’s also some good look out points where the rocks fall off towards the landscape.

Bibiheybat Mosque & Great Mardakan Fortress (part of the Gobustan Trip)

The Mosque (1/2 hour) isn’t that impressive considering you are from the Middle East or a Muslim influenced country. Though once you get to the inside is where this is totally different – shiny green tiles, gold center, beautiful architecture and design; something pictures cannot do justice to. Comparatively a short stop unless you want to also look towards Caspian Sea and the dock below.

The Great Fortress (1/2 hour) a little ways away is one of five that you can look at, a strategic viewpoint in it’s heyday and currently just a view point to a suburb from days past. A stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Baku Central.

Gebele, Gabala or Qabala (1 Day Trip)

We decided to start our tour mornings early (7am) so we could get more done, take our time and also maybe get back early – for this day, didn’t quite work out that way but was a good day nonetheless. This was the day though that we realized the importance of a tour guide who spoke both languages, since ours didn’t show up.

We started the day with a great big breakfast at Gobuland (1 Hour)! Totally recommend it just for the view. A deck balcony overlooking a small (probably man-made) lake. The staff here don’t speak the language so be careful of what you end up eating since there’s no menu. They usually bring a set menu to the table which is a whole host of things from bread and butter to honey and olives – send back what you don’t need as soon as it is set on the table. Can also ask for some other items apart from the breakfast set if you’re still hungry. Also, very much recommend the honey.

The Jummah Mosque is a quick stop (1/2 hour) with a great history and some good reconstructed architecture.

Garagaya Rope Bridge & Trek (part of Gebele Trip)

Save most of your time (2 to 3 hours if you chose to trek as well) for the Garagaya Rope Bridge on the way to Gebele! Not only is the crossing worth it over the flowing stream below, there’s hot tea waiting on the other end (not free of course). The most exciting thing is the trek around the hill and downwards towards the water stream below. Some cold gushing water, a great rocky river bed and a breathtaking view all around. Can also try to head to the little village up top for something to drink (something we regretfully did not find the time for). The trek is an easy one if you are experienced and a medium difficulty one if not. Keep in mind a local at the bridge entrance charges about 1/2 Manat per person.

Nohur Lake (part of Gebele Trip)

It might have been timing or just plain luck that we ended up here for lunch (1.5 hours) in the open ground Sahil restaurant during the Eid Break. A whole host of locals took to dancing on a makeshift stage – men, women and kids of all ages having the time of their lives; a better look into their culture we couldn’t have asked for and that too while having some delicious local food.

Tufandag Mountain Resort Cable Car Ride (part of Gebele Trip)

Another exciting part of the trip for us (2 to 3 hours), would recommend to go for the 3 line cable car ride to the top and also be prepared for cold weather – check the local forecast. Depending on when you travel (usually evening if you are coming in from Baku) you’ll see fog covered mountains great cold climate, maybe even some rain on your ride to the top. There’s also a restaurant up top should you feel the need for a hot cup of coffee or tea. They charge about 22 Manat per person for the 3 Line Cable Car rides.

Hope this helps plan your next trip to Azerbaijan! Use the comments section to let us know your experience. Can also follow my exploits on Instagram or reach out to me on Twitter – links on the Home Page!

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Essential Travel Tech!

In this post we talk about the Tech essentials when it comes to travel .. mostly cos I love tech – the actual and only essential is the smartphone everything else is an aid to up your photography and videography game. Since the smartphone season has begun, kicked off officially by the Samsung Galaxy & Fold , this is as best a time as any ..

  • The Smartphone
  • The Action Cam
  • The Gimmick Cam
  • The Drone

What we do not talk about here is the basics i.e. the cables, power banks and selfie sticks since I believe those are usually taken care of in general anyhow. Something I can cover in a later post about interesting basic tech that up the travel experience.

First up, The Smartphone has come a long way since the days of the popular Nokia’s and the age of the Blackberry. Today’s smartphone can do almost anything that you used to need cameras as well as laptops to do. Excellent photos and videos can be taken, edited, stored and posted as well directly from the little metal slab in your palm.

Samsung Galaxy S10+

The ‘best smartphone’ is an extremely subjective term these days with so many options. There are expensive all rounders (One Plus 8T) but there’s also a phone for note taking powerusers (Galaxy Note 10+), one photographers (upcoming Pixel 6 or Huawei P50 Pro), another for videographers (iPhone 12 or 12 Pro Max), for gamers (Asus ROG 5S) and so on. Ultimately it’s all about the budget – if you are someone who wants the best but for the least, then the One Plus is your best bet; if money is not such a concern then spend some time figuring out which phone fits your need the best.

The key point to note is that if you have a good phone you don’t need much else and the rest of the gadgets below are just minor increments in the wow factor of your captures.

Next up, are the add-on gadgets, you don’t need em, but it is pretty great if they are around.

To start with, the Action Cam, a rough and tough photo and video capture buddy that can take a beating, handle the heat, snow, water and still not complain. Pretty necessary especially if you love activity and sport in general. The Go Pro 9 series or the DJI Osmo Action for this one and you can’t go wrong. Whats more important are the accessories that go along with. Something to strap the gadget to your arm, head, chest or just to make sure it doesn’t sink and you should be covered for all occasions.

Next up, the Gimmick Cam, keep in mind though, today’s gimmick is tomorrow’s main stream device; trouble is you never know which gimmick succeeds.

Insta360 One X

Some great options if you’d like to start with are the Insta 360 One X2, Go Pro Max and Ricoh Theta Z1. This enables some great quality 360 video with a mobile editor to support point of view video editing and you end up looking like a professional videographer. Not to mention some VR support and you can come as close as possible to reliving the experience without stepping out of the comfort of your home. Needs some serious commitment though towards continuous use, photo/video editing and store or else it gets added to the gimmick gadget drawer that we all have (though we don’t want to admit it).

Drones, the more hyped about gimmick gadget than most, especially now. It definitely seems a lot more fun than it actually is and takes a bit of effort currently to set up and use. But real good capture once you learn to use it well. My recommendation would be to start small (depending on budget – the DJI Tello or the DJI Mavic Air or just borrow if that’s possible) – practice with this, get the feel for the gadget and once you understand that this is your thing then you can go out and get a proper drone.

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Hello there, @robinbmac here!

A collection of my thoughts for all the things I love reading, talking and learning about – technology, travel and more!

Why do this?

  • Have a lot of tech info rattling around in my head just out of interest and love to share
  • Love to travel as well and get around a bit thanks to an amazing travel planner in my wife!

FAQ:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
    • 3rd attempt at a tech blog, love to share info about tech – probably satisfying a need for attention.
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
    • Mostly about smartphone tech, travel that’s easy to get to from the Middle East – but will usually sideline it to other topics around tech that I find interesting as well
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
    • Someone who just needs to keep up with the current thing in tech & travel in bite sized reads, simplified and opinionated and also someone who wants more info or to discuss these topics I find so interesting
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?
    • Would love to do this full time – and if you help me get these, you have my utmost gratitude (all I can afford right now)

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Cheers! 🙂