Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Neutrogena Triple Protect Face Lotion for Men SPF 20 - Moisturizes and Protects Well

After using Neutrogena Men Age Fighter Face Moisturizer SPF 15 for a while, I wanted to get something cheaper and with higher sun protection factor even if it is not as "age-fighting". I bought the Neutrogena Triple Protect Face Lotion for Men SPF 20 since it has more sun protection and is significantly cheaper while still providing moisturizing action.


The Neutrogena Triple Protect Face Lotion for Men SPF 20 comes in an attractive plastic tube of the same black design as the other "Neutrogena for men" cosmetics. The tube is not round but flat (elliptical in cross-section) but is still stable when placed vertically. It is easy to squeeze the lotion out of the tube and the amount that comes out is rather easy to apply precisely to the face and neck, meaning it is not as much as what you normally get from dedicated sun block tubes.


The consistency of the lotion is more gooey and more greasy than that of the Neutrogena Men Age Fighter Face Moisturizer SPF 15, but that is understandable since the SPF is higher and you want it to stay on your face in case you sweat (think sports or other physical activity).

The lotion seems to protect my face and neck well. I use it when I go running and I don't get much if any tan or sunburn. SPF 20 is adequate for these activities and the moisturizing action is an added benefit. When applied to skin exposed to dry air (either at home or in the office, where AC makes air drier than what would be ideal for skin), my face and neck get softer and the dryness is gone.

When I go cycling however, I use SPF 70 sun block, because after 1-2 hours of exposure to direct sunlight in California, SPF 20 wouldn't do me any good.

Pros: Good sun protection, moisturizes well, low price, less greasy than dedicated sun block
Cons: More greasy than Neutrogena Age Fighter SPF 15

Bottom Line

The Neutrogena Triple Protect Face Lotion for Men SPF 20 is an excellent moisturizer and it protects from moderate sun exposure very well. If you have to be exposed to sun all day long or if the sun intensity is extreme, you might need something stronger. On the other hand, if you can get away with a slightly lower SPF factor (SPF 15), Neutrogena Men Age Fighter Face Moisturizer SPF 15 will provide better moisturizing action, smoother skin and better ease of application (it is less gooey or greasy).

Neutrogena Razor Defense Post Shave Lotion - The Best After Shave I Ever Used

Having been using Neutrogena Men Age Fighter Face Moisturizer SPF 15 for a short while, I decided to try their after shave. Although the aforementioned moisturizer worked as an aftershave as well, I suspected I could get better results from a dedicated after shave. Plus the after shave is cheaper. I bought the Neutrogena Razor Defense Post Shave Lotion and have been using it since.


The Neutrogena Razor Defense Post Shave Lotion comes in a convenient plastic tube of the same black design as the other "Neutrogena for men" cosmetics, albeit slightly lighter in the shade of black. The tube not round in cross-section and is very still stable when placed vertically. The lotion comes out easily when the tube is squeezed.


The consistency of the lotion is more thin than that of the Neutrogena Triple Protect Face Lotion for Men SPF 20, but a little thicker than the Neutrogena Men Age Fighter Face Moisturizer SPF 15. It is about average comparing to other after shave lotions I used. It is easy to spread.

The lotion soothes the skin after shaving very well and seems to reduce irritation significantly. I prefer it to any other after shave lotion I used (and I have used quite a few).

It also moisturizes very well. One thing it doesn't do, comparing to the aforementioned two other Neutrogena products is have any sun protection. But since I shave either before going to bed or before going to work, where I sit in the office, this is not a concern.

I also use it as a general moisturizer on the areas shaved recently. Example: I shave my face at night, use this after shave lotion, then use it again when I get up in the morning. Using it regularly seems to even make it easier to shave, as if the skin gets conditioned to the blade. And it smells really good too.

Pros: Soothes, moisturizes, reduces irritation, makes skin smoother and softer, low price
Cons: No sun protection

Bottom Line

The Neutrogena Razor Defense Post Shave Lotion is an excellent after shave lotion and a general moisturizer. It soothes the shaved skin, reduces irritation and provides moisture to dry skin. It is rather inexpensive and I highly recommend it. But if you want something that also features sun protection and makes your skin healthier, try  Neutrogena Men Age Fighter Face Moisturizer SPF 15.

Bell Pro Gel Cycle Gloves - Good Construction and Protection

I have a couple of mountain bicycles that I ride on some weekends on the beach bike paths. Even though the paths are smooth, the handles of the bikes aren't, which results in blisters after about 5 miles of riding. The blisters would form on my palms and my hands would also get too much sun and wind exposure. So I decided I needed gloves.

After looking as several different kinds and brands of cycle gloves, I settled on the Bell Pro Gel Cycle Gloves. While not the cheapest, these gloves seemed to offer good features and that should have resulted in good comfort and protection.

About Bell Pro Gel Cycle Gloves

The Bell Pro Gel Cycle Gloves are half-finger style cycling gloves with lightweight design, three divided gel inserts for shock absorption and reduced hand fatigue, perforated palm venting and stretch nylon/spandex back. They are available in S/M size and L/XL size. I got the latter.


The suede palm provides good grip and the gel inserts eliminated blistering and hand fatigue. The Velcro closure is strong and the palm is double-stitched for durability. Although there were some hanging threads upon arrival, the stitching itself is of high quality.

The back of the glove is made of material that absorbs moisture ok and will allow you to wipe off the sweat from your forehead if you so choose. Not only they protect my hands when I ride the bike, they will protect them if I fall. And they fit me "like a glove".

If you need to wash them, you can wash them in cold water and line dry.

Pros: Quality construction, comfortable, protect well from blisters, sun and wind, inexpensive
Cons: N/A

Bottom Line

Overall, I am very pleased with these gloves. They protect my hands well while being comfortable and lightweight. And they aren't particularly expensive, especially if you buy them online.

2010 Infiniti G37 - The Best G Yet

Recently I took my 2004 Infiniti G35 Sedan for an oil/filter change and a coolant flush and was given a loaner: 2010 Infiniti G37 Journey sedan with 10,500 miles on the odometer. I got to drive it for about 120 miles on city streets, LA freeways both at freeway speeds and in heavy "stop and go" traffic that clogs freeways around LA during rush hour.

Prior to that, I drove all model years of the G35 sedans and even though I was impressed with the 2007 model-year redesign and its improvements over the previous generations, the new 3.7-liter engine and the 7-speed transmission in the 2009 and later G37 unquestionably make it the best G yet. And let's not forget the now standard on Journey trim and above, rearview camera!

The 2010 G37 is an improvement over the 2009 G37 model in some areas, notably the interior. I will go over the car's features and performance as well as the improvements over the last year's model/models and the ownership/maintenance experience with the 2004 model, which is relevant to 2010 G37 as well.

About the 2010 G37 Sedan

The 2010 Infiniti G37 Sedan is a rear-wheel drive 4-door sedan with a 3.7-liter V6 engine, which produces 328 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm (with either a 7-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission). The power in the model I drove (Journey) is routed through the 7-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels. Also available are an AWD version (G37x) as well as a rear wheel drive model with a 6-speed manual transmission (G37 Sport 6MT).


The new 3.7-liter V6 engine (code-named VQ37VHR) is improved over the VQ35HR of the 2007-2008 models.  Aside from the higher displacement, the most important feature is the VVEL system on the intake valves (Variable Valve Event and Lift).

The system allows to steplessly vary the valve lift (in addition to timing) instead of relying on the throttle plate. The concept is similar to BMW's Valvetronic, but the execution is different, including the ability to function at higher engine speeds. The system promises lower pumping losses, lower fuel consumption, more power and torque and better responsiveness, comparing to the conventional throttle.

Other improvements introduced during the switch from the VQ35DE to VQ35HR in 2007 are also present: higher rigidity, better cooling, longer connecting rods for less friction/lateral forces, iridium-tipped spark plugs, dual intakes with individual air filter elements as well as dual exhaust with equal-length headers. The 328 hp (SAE) is achieved even disregarding the ram air effect that, according to Infiniti, adds extra power as speed grows.


Another element of the improved performance is the transmission. The new for 2009 model year, 7-speed automatic transmission attracted my attention for several reasons. First of all, the service schedule indicates that, unlike the 5-speed transmission it replaces, it does not require any inspections or fluid changes. It would not have been a big deal had it been clear when to service the old 5-speed model. From reading my manual, I figured the answer was "never" in normal service and at specific intervals if towing or driving on rough or muddy roads. But since I drive on semi-rough roads some of the time, I have no idea what to do. No worries with the new gearbox. But I digress.

Also, with more speeds, the new transmission is supposed to improve acceleration and fuel economy. The car is rated to deliver 18 mpg in city and 27 mpg on the highway (with 7-speed transmission), with a 1 mpg improvement on the highway comparing to the 2009 model and a significant improvement over my 2004 G35, which (using the same rating system) would be rated 16/23.

Other Features

The Infiniti G37 features LED stoplights, which illuminate faster and last longer than conventional lights. The front features HID bi-xenon headlights. The brakes have electronic force distribution, ABS, vehicle dynamic control and brake assist. The car has front, side and head-curtain airbags as well as active head restraints (they move forward in rear-end collisions helping to prevent whiplash). It got great crash-test ratings in both front and side impacts.

I believe that the G37 is a great bargain: the interior space closer to that of a BMW 528 with more power for the price of the stripped BMW 328. Of course, there are other variables involved, even aside from the BMW's legendary handling and free maintenance. And then there is the turbo 335i with over 300 hp and lots of torque. But then, the BMWs are also legendary for their use of noisy and super-expensive (to replace) run-flat tires and not-so-stellar reliability.

All G37 trim levels (starting with Journey, I don't know who would get the standard trim, which is not much cheaper) have the rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with homelink remote control as standard equipment.

The car I drove was the 2010 Infiniti G37 Sedan Journey. Journey models include Dual-Zone Automatic Temperature Control, rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with homelink remote control as standard equipment. All G37 models include tons of features, including Power Windows, locks, Intelligent Key with keyless entry and pushbutton ignition, trip computer, USB port, color screen for radio and other information, etc.


When new, the G37 costs slightly over $30K in real-world prices for the very well-equipped G37 Journey.  The base (non-Journey) is only a few hundred cheaper. G37x has four-wheel drive and the G37S comes with 6-speed manual transmission. You can also order G37 Journey with Sport Package (auto has magnesium paddle shifters and will have G37S's sport seats, bigger wheels and tires, brakes and front spoiler).

A fully-loaded G37 with premium package, navigation and 4-wheel steering can still be bought for under $40K (street price currently; no taxes or fees included in numbers).

Improvements Over the 2009 Model

The major improvement is in the interior. The center armrest, shifter and console and seat heater controls are new and look/feel much better than before. Also, the aluminum trim is better looking than before as well. The center armrest is fore comfortable. The seats, especially the driver seat feel more comfortable than before. I had difficulty finding a comfortable position in the 2009 model, but in this 2010 G37, I felt comfortable. The lateral support is also better.

The exterior appearance has been changed and I do like the new 17-inch wheels better than the ones on the 2009 model, ditto the redesigned bumper and fog lights below it.

Improvements Over the 2003-2006 Models 

As an owner of a 2004 model year G35, I find the improvements over that model year very relevant. At some point I will be switching from my 2004 model to something newer and I am waiting for a compelling reason. Comparing with my car, I noticed improvements immediately. The exterior looks much more sporty and stylish and more modern. The interior features significantly better materials and easier-to-use controls, including the screen. The buttons and controls seem to have better feel.

The gauges and displays don't seem to suffer from backlight as much as they do in my 2004 model. The strange orange backlight is gone and is replaced by more conventional white illumination scheme (which is easier on the eyes than the 2009's red/blue/white). The steering wheel has better leather cover with seams that are no longer under your fingers.

The seats have better shape and seemingly better leather. The armrests on doors and center are soft and leather (or leatherette) covered. This is unlike my 2004 G35, which has plastic that tries (but not nearly hard enough) to look like leather.

I like the intelligent key feature. You do not have to remove the key from your pocket, just push the button to unlock the car and push the button in the dash to start the engine.

The car is much quieter in the engine noise at low revs and the noise under full throttle is more refined. The tire noise is inaudible. The suspension is also more compliant while feeling even sportier. And the feedback from the steering wheel as well as the assist amount and the linearity are much better and feel just right.

The 2010 G37 I drove had seemingly better tires than my car's initial OEM Bridgestone Turanza EL42 (which I gladly replaced with Yokohama YK520 before they wore out, so terrible they were).

The interior uses real aluminum trim and, unlike 2003-2006 models I have driven, this particular car had no rattles whatsoever. I prefer wood interiors, but this particular aluminum trim is very nice.

Impressions About the Engine and Transmission

Aside from being more refined than 2003-2006's VQ35DE, the engine feels much stronger and, more importantly, keeps pulling hard in the upper rpm ranges, whereas my VQ35DE seemed to run out of breath when the needle approached the redline. The torque curve feels flatter and the power delivery, therefore, more linear.

With the pre-2007 G35s, the WOT (wide open throttle) sound was quite mechanical, an angry growl. It was a bit unrefined but I still like it. The new engine does not run out of breath and keeps pulling in linear fashion up to redline, all while making awesome sounds - refined yet powerful.

I still wish for more torque in the lower rpm ranges, but fortunately the 7-speed transmission helps you stay out of them.

Speaking of transmission, it is great overall, and the annoying traits I saw in 2009 model seem to have been rectified. It still provides excellent acceleration, fast downshifts when needed and no need of maintenance. The car is never in the wrong gear. And the fuel economy with this engine and transmission combination was exceptional (for VQ engines that is) at over 29 mpg on freeways when the traffic "behaved" and 25 mpg overall, including city streets and heavy "stop and go". Mixed freeway with good traffic flow 50% and stop/go 50% resulted in 28 mpg in the broken-in G37 (10,500 miles on the odometer).

The annoyance I had with the 2009 model was that when the transmission downshifted when coasting, it generated inconsistent amounts of engine braking at same speeds. In other words, although I didn't dislike that the engine braking existed, the intensity of the engine braking varied widely and became excessive when the transmission downshifted to lower gears. I was afraid to get rear-ended in heavy traffic, because, when coasting to a stop, the mild deceleration would suddenly change to pretty drastic slowing down as the lower gear became engaged. The deceleration level was definitely sudden and excessive.

With 2009 Infiniti G37, not only was I worried about people behind me damaging the rear bumper of this new G37, this behavior also made it really difficult to figure out the correct brake pedal application and the point at which to stop accelerating in "stop and go" traffic. It was very easy to release the gas pedal and start to coast hoping to come to almost a complete stop behind a car in front of you, when the deceleration would become much more pronounced in a couple of seconds, requiring you to push the gas pedal again and feel like a novice driver. Not any more, the 2010 model didn't display any of this behavior. The shift (especially downshifts) felt smoother as well.


Unlike the 2008 G35's brakes, which were a bit disappointing, the G37's were actually quite good. They are no longer squishy; they are responsive and easy to modulate.

Engine Compartment 

I like to do some of the maintenance myself. The pre-2007 models were a PITA in this respect: engine lid used a prop rod, the oil dipstick has a lot of bends and twists and the dipstick had to be inserted into a hole in the engine that was obscured by the intake hose, the air filter replacement required removal of the aforementioned air intake hose.

The G37 is much better. The hood uses gas-filled struts, the dipstick is in front and easy to use, the dual air filters are replaceable in a couple of minutes with no tools required.


The car is roomy inside and I find the seat very comfortable, due in part to the adjustable lumbar support. There is plenty of leg room up front and in the back seat. The wheel tilts together with the instrument cluster. The visibility is good and the large rearview mirrors, together with the backup camera help.

The car has a dual automatic climate control, which is easy to use. The audio control buttons on the steering wheel make it easy to control the CD playback or radio without even looking. The steering wheel is convenient and has buttons for cruise control as well as for audio control functions. The back seat does not fold, but has a pass-through with an arm rest for the back passengers, which doubles as the cup holders. The car even has A/C vents in the center console for the rear passengers.

Intelligent Key 

The Intelligent Key itself looks like an egg-shaped remote control. It has buttons to lock/unlock doors, lock the trunk or sound panic alarm.

You can lock/unlock the car or unlock the trunk by pushing buttons on the remote. Alternatively, you can unlock the trunk by pushing a button on the rear of the car, while having the IK in your pocket. In the same manner you can lock/unlock the front doors by pushing a small black button on the outside door handle (the car will beep).


The standard 17-inch aluminum wheels look nice and are fitted with 225/55R17 tires (the sports package equipped cars get W-rated tires in 225mm front, 245mm rears on 18-inch wheels).

The outside power heated mirrors can be folded (manually). They are quite large and have good visibility.


The trunk is relatively roomy and has a cargo net. The opening is quite large and the trunk lid has gas-filled struts. The trunk can be opened from the cabin or by pressing a button on the remote. Or you can open it by pushing a button on the trunk lid while having the intelligent key in the pocket (or purse).


Whereas my 2004 G35 features handling that is rather good in terms of ultimate lateral forces you can develop in turns, acceleration and braking (after I replaced the mediocre Bridgestone Turanza EL42 tires with Yokohama YK520), the handling has always been unrefined. The tail would get twitchy at the limit with sudden oversteer (if you have the stability control off) being the trademark The car always felt rather large and heavy, possibly due to the steering calibration.

The new G37 model handles better (again, maybe due to better steering). The steering feedback is better, the response and on-center feel is better and the controls (steering, brakes and gas) produce more linear result.

Also, the new G37 feels solid and more planted than the older models. It also (at least in non-sport trim) has very compliant suspension. And it corners and brakes quite flat. This is another gradual improvement from the 2008 G35 and a big improvement from my 2004 model. The combination of ride and handling is very good and moves it closer to the ideal combination of ride and handling desired of a sport sedan.

I didn't get a chance to explore the handling limits of the 2010 G37 (this is disallowed on public roads in the state of California), but up to 9/10 of the performance envelope, the handling was extremely competent.


As described above, the brakes are now less sensitive (comparing to the 2003-2004 models), but are easier to modulate and are supposed to last longer. They produce linear braking modulation (meaning the braking forces are proportional to the force applied to the pedal). I did several trial hard decelerations and the stopping distances were short with no "nose dive" or lateral movement of the car.


Unlike some makers like BMW, which provide you with free scheduled maintenance for 3-4 years, you have to pay for your maintenance with Infiniti. Some newer Acura, BMW, Mercedes and even Honda cars have flexible service system which tells you when to change the oil (in some cases up to 10K-15K miles if using synthetic oils).

Just as was the case with my 2004 model, Infiniti still has 3 service schedules, with driving in ideal conditions requiring oil changes every 7,500 miles or 6 months. Two other schedules: "Premium" (for people who are paranoid or have OCD) and "Severe" (for all others) require oil changes every 3,750 miles or 3 months.

Obviously, I have more important things to do than to have my oil changed every 3 months. And fortunately this is not what I have been doing for the last 8 years I had my G35, but more on that later.

The manual explicitly states that Infiniti recommends mineral-based oils. Based on experience with my 2004 models, the maintenance costs at the dealership are pretty high. Oil changes with inspection are currently $65 at the dealership I go to. Bring your own oil and filter and it becomes less than $30. I paid $130 for 7.5K mile service, which included only oil change, tire rotation and a couple of inspections. This is not counting the annual (or 15K miles, whichever comes first) in-cabin air filter replacement that dealerships normally want about $100 for.

Worse, I was quoted almost $500 for 15K maintenance, which included an oil change, tire rotation and some inspections. After I asked to have service elements itemized, the service advisor agreed to perform the 15K service for $170. Still a rip-off, but at least I got a loner car.

Do It Yourself (a.k.a. DIY) 

I do some maintenance items myself. Replacing the in-cabin microfilter normally costs $80-120, but you can do it yourself for about $20 (price of the filter). You have to remove the glove box, but it is no rocket science.

Some items require less maintenance than in other cars. The new iridium-tipped spark plugs need replacement every 105K. The engine uses long-lasting timing chain rather than timing belt, which would need replacement every 60-100 K.

The engine air filters are now easy to replace. One gripe I have is - why can't Infiniti develop a system similar to Honda's Maintenance Minder? Even GM has oil life monitors that tell you when to change oil based on how you drive. I used to stick with the conservative 3,750-mile interval instead (I like to employ Wide Open Throttle technique sometimes). This is probably the shortest oil change interval of all manufacturers, which is not good for me or the planet. So after following that routine for the first 40K miles, I switched to a better model: synthetic oil and better oil filters. Current fill: Shell Rotella T Syn 5w40 mixed with Valvoline Synpower 10w30 and Bosch Distance Plus oil filter.

Even Lexus does not ask you to change oil as often, let alone Volvo or Audi even with their turbocharged engines. If Infiniti positions itself as a luxury vehicle manufacturer, do they not consider the time of their target client segment valuable? Using good synthetic oil would not only allow them extend the oil change interval, but would also improve the cold engine startup wear somewhat. I just don't understand why they don't do this. For my part, I switched to synthetic oils are extended my oil change interval to over 5,000 miles.


The manual recommends Premium 91-octane and this is what I used. The fuel tank holds 20 gallons. I averaged 25 mpg in mixed city/highway/stop-n-go driving (including quite a few wide open throttle runs), which is much better than the 20-21 MPG I average in my 2004 G35 in similar mix of driving conditions. And I got to over 29 mpg in freeway driving, which is something I would never be able to achive in my G35 (the best I got was slightly above 24 mpg).


The car was crash-tested and got the best (GOOD) rating in the frontal and side crash tests. The previous generation of G35 had the lowest driver fatality rate among sedans, the same as BMW 7-series and second only to Chevy Astro minivan. The G35 had 11 fatalities for each 1 million vehicle-miles, same as the BMW 7-series. For comparison, Volvo S40 was somewhere in 40-60 range, Honda Accord and VW Passat in 30-40, similar to Volvo S60, BMW 3 and 5 and Mercedes C and E.

Not Good 

Although the G37 improved, there are still small items of concern. The interior is appreciable at a first sight, but it is still no Lexus or Acura. The leather is no match for Lexus or Acura hides. The dash uses plastic that looks better than the 2003-2006 G35, but still no match for the above two. The engine start/stop button on Lexus models looks better as well. And even though the center console is now much better looking and feeling than before, on the car I drove, the chrome ridge around the button that opens the compartment under the center armrest was peeling.

The trip computer buttons are pretty far, so you have to reach for them and therefore get distracted from watching the road.

The value content, which has always been the G's strong characteristic is higher than ever. The competing models from Acura, Lexus, BWM, Audi or Mercedes are pricier while providing fewer features. Plus, Acura vehicles are now mutilated (have chrome beaks), BMW 3-series is not pretty to look at (although slightly better than previous couple of years) and Mercedes C-class's interior looks cheap. Then, there is German reliability, or lack thereof. Audis are notorious for electrical issues and eating camshafts. Former applies to Mercs and Bimmers as well. And Lexus IS (or GS) vehicles can't be called "sport" sedans due to uninspiring handling (even if they accelerate and brake well).

But there are things that seem to have been missed in the 2010G. Why do I still have to change oil every 3,750 miles? Why does Honda models have flexible oil life (and overall maintenance) monitors while being 50% of the price of the G35? At least you no longer have to pay extra for Premium package to get the ability to open all 4 windows remotely.

The 2010 G37 is powerful, nice-looking, inexpensive, feature-rich, easy to use, good-sounding, very well-handling car with good expected reliability. In comparison with positives, the small issues are almost immaterial. I will probably still keep my 2004 G35 for a few years, but with new G models it is getting more and more difficult.

After I returned the 2010 G37 and got my car back, I suddenly felt like I am driving an old Nissan. But then again, this old Nissan can produce some mean mechanical groan when prodded and I have the upkeep and feeding of this beast all figured out.

Pros: Feature content for price, performance, looks, MPG, expected reliability, ride quality, 7-speed auto transmission
Cons: Interior is still not up to Acura/Lexus standards, short oil change interval

Bottom Line 

So there you have it, if you want a very well-handling, spacious and inexpensive sport sedan that will be reliable and easy on the eyes, you have to get the G37. With better than ever fuel economy, features and power, it is hard to beat.

Panasonic DMP-BDT110 3D Blu-Ray Player with Skype, Netflix and Amazon Streaming

Since the reception over WiFi is spotty in the room where I keep the Hitachi P50H401 1080p 50-inch Plasma HDTV, I decided to try the wired-LAN version of Panasonic BluRay player. A little bit of history: I used an Insignia NS-WBRDVD BluRay/DVD player with built-in WiFi and Netflix streaming in the past to watch Netflix as well as BluRay and MKV/QVI files. Then I bought the Panasonic DMP-BDT210 BluRay/DVD player with built-in WiFi and Netflix streaming. And since the reception was not great anyway, I am trying the Panasonic DMP-BDT110 BluRay/DVD player with Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming. The player has a LAN jack and is WiFi-ready.

On the importance of buying a good product: the Insignia NS-WBRDVD looked good on paper, but in practice it was a major disappointment. It did play BluRay discs and DVD somewhat well, while making annoying scraping sounds, but sometimes would freeze when playing DVD-R and DVD+R discs. It played MKV/AVI/MP3 files of all kinds. But its WiFi connection was very unstable, it would freeze in the middle of playing a Netflix movie or a MKV file. The “icing on the cake” was the fact that its remote had to be pointed directly at it.

Then I got the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and Amazon Prime membership with it, which allowed be free access to some movies and TV shows. Some of which were not available on Netflix streaming. Although watching them on the Kindle Fire tablet was a good experience overall, it is better to do so on a large screen, without straining one’s eyesight. But the Kindle Fire has no video outputs of any kind. I am skipping here my experience with the Panasonic DMP-BDT210 with a built-in WiFi (which can be read about here) and proceeding to the Panasonic DMP-BDT110, which is very similar, sans the built-in WiFi.

The Panasonic DMP-BDT110 with, Netlfix streaming and access to Amazon videos (among other things, like BluRay playback, DVD Video playback, mkv/avi playback, a from USB port and an SD card slot, 3D support, etc.) turned out a pretty good product..

What is Panasonic DMP-BDT110?

The Panasonic DMP-BDT110 is a wired Internet-connected BluRay (regular and 3D) player. It also plays regular DVD-Video discs (and upconvert them up to 1080p), CD-Audio, DVD /-R, DVD /-RW, MKV/AVI/AVCHD/etc. It has a USB port and an SD card slot in front. It has an Ethernet port (wired network/Internet access) and can stream Netflix video, Amazon video, access internet, show you weather forecasts, and even access files stored on your home network.

The BDT110 can output lossless audio from Dolby and DTS through its HDMI out. The player has an optical (Toslink) digital audio out as well as an analog stereo audio out and a composite video out. It does not have a component video out, but not many people need it now with proliferation of HDMI.

The player also supports Skype (with an optional camera) and can convert regular video to 3D. The player comes with a power cable, remote control and batteries, manuals and a rebate form for Avatar 3D BluRay disc. Among the unusual features is the ability to open/close the disc tray by swiping your hand over the top panel of the unit.

Upon Receipt

The BDT110 is very compact, not only smaller than my previous BluRay players (Sherwood, Insignia, etc.), but even smaller than my Pioneer Elite DV-48AV DVD player. Small in both depth and height, it is also relatively light, but appears well-built.

The front panel is covered by a lid that you can flip down. The power and disc tray open/close buttons are on the top panel, along with a centrally-located sensor that allows you to open/close the disc tray by swiping your hand over it. Just as with the BDT210, I disabled this feature in the menu immediately (since the player sits in the entertainment center).

As soon as I connected the player to the power outlet and to my TV (using HDMI) and powered it on, it went through an easy setup process, asking me to specify my language preferences, TV aspect ratio, internet settings, WiFi password, and other options.

Once connected to the Internet (using my LAN), it asked be if I wanted to update the firmware and the process completed on first try, unlike the update process of the BDT210 over the WiFi.
Remote Control

The player comes with a remote control that is sturdy and has good tactile response, but the arrow buttons and other frequently-used buttons are closer to the bottom, whereas they should be closer to top or center. The remote is powered by 2 AA batteries that are included.


The DMP-BDT110 is connected to a mechanical HDI switch, then to my Panasonic SA- XR57 receiver with an HDMI cable. The receiver is connected to my Hitachi P50H401 50-inch plasma TV with an HDMI cable. The speakers are Athena AS-F1 towers in front left and right positions, Athena C.5 in center and Athena S.5 as left/right surrounds. The subwoofer is Athena AS-P400.

I immediately discovered that the player is very easy to use, including its Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming features. While the menus are self-explanatory, the menu response speed is excellent (with the exception of some Amazon Prime streaming menus). The menus look good, are easy to understand, feature fast navigation (which I cannot say about my TV's menus) and provide basic adjustment functionality as well.

The Blu-Ray playback was excellent and the startup and disc load times were noticeably shorter than with the Insignia NS-WBRDVD. With Blu-ray playback, the images and sound were excellent. The video was sharp and detailed, the motion was fluid.

AVCHD Playback

The player played AVCHD discs (discs made using ImgBurn from folders muxed with tsMuxeR) from 1080p HD footage from my camcorder well.
DVD Upconversion and MKV/AVI

The DVD upconversion of this model is surprisingly good, seemingly better than my Pioneer Elite DV-48AV Universal Upconverting DVD Player's. Some MKV files as well as AVI played well, including HD content. Some clips that stuttered on my computer and/or on Philips DVP642, Philips DVP5990 DVD Player and Pioneer Elite DV-48AV Universal Upconverting DVD Player played perfectly on this player. But it only played about 25% of files that Insignia played; the other 75% didn't play, including some standard-definition content. I will have to keep using the Insignia for that purpose.

USB and SD Card Ports 

The front-located USB port supports USB drives of up to 2 TB. There is a front SD card port as well.

LAN Performance 

The WiFi connection would cause issues for the previous players I used. With the wired Ethernet connection, this Panasonic had no issues with Internet connectivity.There was no “rebufferring” or freezing in either Netflix or Amazon Prime playback.


The player produced excellent sound quality (output through HDMI as PCM since my receiver doesn't decode most advanced HD audio formats). It refused to play DVD-Audio discs, as was expected. I wish it did though, but this is what I have my Pioneer Elite DV-48AV for. And having an optical digital outs is a plus for those who intend to use a digital audio connection (I use HDMI and therefore don't care).


I don’t have a 3D-capable TV and don’t care for 3D in general so I haven’t tried it. But it is there.


Skype is available, but requires an optional camera. I haven’t used it, but might in future.

Netflix Streaming

The Netflix streaming works well. Unlike my other devices (Wi-Fi Panasonic model excluded), which required interaction with the Netflix web site to enter a code generated by the device, this player simply lets you enter your Netflix user name (email address) and password. The quality is noticeably better than Nintendo Wii's and the interface is similar to Insignia’s.

The stability of connection was great with no rebuffering. And the delays in navigating menus in Netflix are much less pronounced than in the WiFi player.

Amazon Video Streaming 

Unlike wireless players, the Amazon video streaming works quite well. I experienced no rebuffering or freezing, and the picture quality was great. Unlike Netflix credentials entry, Amazon video registration required interaction with the Amazon web site to enter a code shown on the TV screen.

The Amazon interface was quite fast. Since I can now view both Amazon and Netflix content, I canceled Netflix DVD mailing service and pay for Amazon Prime instead. The Amazon Prime selection is not great, but it is free with the Prime membership and there are some movies on it that are not available on Netflix streaming.

Also, I have gotten a credit for buying this player and was able to use $10 or of it so far “renting” movies on Amazon. You get to watch the movie for 2 days once you commence the watching. This is a great way to watch a movie you really want (but the one that is not available on Netflix or Free Amazon Prime) without having to go anywhere or wait for the disc in the mail.

More Web 

You can access weather forecasts from the VIERA CAST screen.Also available are Pandora, Cinema Now, YouTube, Facebook, etc. And you can access your media stored in Windows 7 servers, which sis something I haven’t tried yet.

I must admit that even though I was originally interested in checking the weather on this player, but never really turn it on just for that purpose. Most of the time it is for either Amazon on Netflix video playback.

Pros: Build quality, size, 3D, BluRay, Netflix and Amazon video, USB and SD card, Skype
Cons: Not many AVI/MKV files can be played, WiFi dongle is expensive

Bottom Line

With the stable Internet connection over Ethernet, Netflix and Amazon streaming, MKV and AVI playback of up to 1080p and good DVD upconversion (up to 1080p), USB and SD Card connectivity this player is an excellent choice. Although not cheap, the player is well-built and its Amazon Prime video streaming helps me fill the spaces where Netflix doesn’t have the titles I want.

Yokohama YK580 Tire - Quiet, Smooth, Grippy and Long-Lasting, But Not Perfect

After using Yokohama YK520 tires for almost 6 years, I got the updated version: the Yokohama YK580. Originally, my 2004 Infiniti G35 came with mediocre Bridgestone Turanza EL42 tires. I replaced them with the YK520 even before they wore out. The YK520 were good but got progressively louder and harsher as miles and years accumulated. For that reason and also because I didn’t want to compromise wet traction by driving on diminished tread, before they wore out I got the newer version of America’s tire-exclusive Yokohama YK580.

In addition to the YK520, my other points of comparison are the Yokohama TRZ, Bridgestone Turanza EL41, Goodyear Eagle RS-A, Bridgestone Turanza EL42 and others . I got the YK580 in 225/55VR17 size with 60,000 mile warranty and the premise of good ride, handling and free tire rotation/balancing for the life of the tire.

About the Yokohama YK580 

The YK580 is a Yokohama tire made exclusively for Discount Tire / America’s Tire. It is a high-performance all-season tire with an asymmetrical tread design, low rolling resistance and long tread life. In appearance I don’t see much difference (if any) from the YK520 I had before. Available in T, H, V and W speed ratings (based on size). I got mine in V rating.


Just as the YK520 before them, the Yokohama YK580 should be wearing very well. I will update this review once I have them longer. The Yokohama YK580, at least in my size offers 60K warranty. We will see how long these last. I don't drive on sandpaper-covered roads, but I do use throttle to improve the turn-in with a bit of power oversteer sometimes.

Since the YK520 could have easily lasted me over 60K miles and the YK580 have a better treadwear rating of 580 (vs. 520 of YK520), they should last me at least 60K. But your mileage may vary.


The Yokohama YK580 is an asymmetrical non-directional tire, which can be rotated to any position. The outer, middle and inner parts serve different purposes for dry, wet and light snow duty (the tire is an all-season one).

Initial impressions are deceiving, because new tires ride softer than worn ones. But once more I don’t have a harsh, noisy ride quality. The ride became very smooth and quiet, especially comparing with the worn YK520.

The traction in dry and wet weather is very good; comparable to the YK520 and much better than the EL42. The tire is speed-rated V and can go as fast as I can legally (and illegally) drive. Tires are speed rated to ensure the construction is robust enough to withstand the force that tries to rip it apart the faster the tire spins. The YK580 in V speed rating is more than robust for my purposes and the 60K mile warranty is enticing too.

Familiar Yokohama YK-series traits are visible in this tire as well. Despite the fact that the traction in turns, acceleration and braking are very good, the tires are not very suitable for spirited driving. They are not very responsive: it seems that the initial split second you turn/accelerate/brake nothing happens. Is it the fault of the progressive sidewall that gives you cushy/quiet ride? Maybe. With the YK520 this behavior diminished somewhat as the tread wore, but didn’t go away completely so there must be more to it than just the elasticity of the tread.

I do run recommended by Infiniti 30 psi and tried 34 psi with no noticeable responsiveness improvement. And in LA, when someone cuts in front of you (I have seen some of the worst drivers in the world right here in LA, and cutting in front of someone with no use of turn signals is what they do all the time), you want maximum deceleration or turning immediately. Perhaps more importantly, because of the relaxed nature of the tire, you tend not to perform abrupt maneuvres. It just doesn't inspire confidence otherwise.

For that reason, I would not get this tire if I were looking for super-sharp, responsive handling. But for the great balance of ultimate traction, comfort, long life and good MPG these are very good.

As mentioned above, the traction is very good. It doesn't rain here much so most of my driving is done in dry conditions. The speed I can sustain in turns is much higher than what I could do with Turanza EL42 (equating to high g-loads), same with ultimate acceleration and braking acceleration (or deceleration). And as most tires, these should grip even better when worn in dry conditions.

During thunderstorms (which are unfrequent here ) the tires provide excellent traction with no hydroplanning at freeway speeds and good traction in turns.

Behavior When Worn

This section will be updated once the tires actually develop any significant wear. So far, after 900 miles they behave like new. Handling in the wet weather is excellent. The inflation pressure is maintained at a factory-recommended 30 psi, both front and rear.

Low Rolling Resistance 

The YK580 is advertised as having low rolling resistance. No numbers are cited and I was eager to test this claim and, indeed, my mpg went up by about 1, which is about 5%. And since this is comparing new tires to old worn ones, the MPG is bound to improve more. So it looks like these are, indeed, low rolling-resistance tires, as advertised. And I will save some money and gas, even thouth the fuel consumption mostly depends on the driving style and speed.

A small note about the statements above: worn tires have lower rolling resistance than when new. So replacing a worn tire with a new tire reduces fuel economy whereas low rolling resistance increases it.

Another Yokohama Tire

I have another Yokohama tire on a Honda Accord; check it out: Yokohama TRZ.

Pros: Smooth, quiet, lasts long, asymmetrical design, good traction, mileage warranty, mpg
Cons: Not very responsive


The Yokohama YK580 is a quiet, smooth, long-lasting tire with very good traction in dry and wet weather (no snow here). It is an excellent choice overall, provided you want exactly that: smooth, quiet tire with good traction that will last long. A great replacement for any OEM all-season non-sport tire and possibly even for sporty tires.

Just as the YK520 before it, it is not for you if you want responsiveness and/or the best traction possible. I am no longer seeking that quality so the YK580 works well for me. And the low rolling resistance saves me gas, and therefore money as well.

Update: I replaced this tire with the Michelin Primacy MXV4.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Music playback quality comparison Nokia Lumia 521 (520), iPhone 5, Sony MP3 Player

Since I got 3 Nokia Lumia 521 cell phones for my family, I was satisfied with their features and functionality, according with their price. Sure, the Skype uses the speakerphone so you cannot use it privately and Google Chromecast is not supported. But what about music playback quality through its 3.5 mm headphone jack?

I compared my T-Mobile Nokia 521 (same as AT&T Nokia Lumia 520) in terms of music playback quality with an iPhone 5 as well as a dedicated Sony NWZ-S639F MP3 player. Results were disappointing, albeit hardly surprising.


I used several headphones for the test. I used larger enclosed Creative Aurvana Live! as well as a couple of portable models, including Koss KSC75. I played the same music through all three devices, including Aram Khachaturian, Camille Saint-Saens, John Williams and pop music.


Somewhat surprisingly, Nokia did rather poorly. Especially so with excellent Creative Aurvana Live! With all headphones, the sound lacked dynamic range, was lifeless and had noticeable holes in dynamic range. Instrument separation was bad also.

In contrast, iPhone 5 produced excellent instrument separation, dynamics and frequency response. It did have slightly lower ability than the Sony to drive larger headphones, especially noticeable in the bass region. At the same time, it sounded smoother than Sony, had better instrument separation and was more accurate.

Sony, for its part, although was less than $100 when I bought it 4 years ago, had no issue driving the Creative Aurvana Live! headphones as well as portables. It produced rich bass, dynamic sound and overall was pleasant to use.


The Nokia 510/520 is adequate only if you listen to music non-critically, listen to podcasts or listen in noisy environments where flaws in sound reproduction will not be as noticeable. iPhone is best in most other cases, as long as you don't attach it to large headphones that are difficult to drive and don't expect solid bass. And Sony is very good overall. It does not quite produce the last bit of excellence in the sound department, but comes close. Plus it produces excellent punch in the bass region, even when no equalization is set. And it has a custom graphic equalizer with presets as well.

For me, since I cannot use the iPhone, I will have to carry my Sony MP3 player in addition to the Nokia.