Why Microsoft Still has a Strong Mobile Strategy

February 19, 2018 § Leave a comment

By Jeffery Lewis

February 2018

The title of this article seems absurd on the surface, especially since Microsoft just announced last October that Windows 10 Mobile will be discontinued. In addition to announcing they will be discontinuing Windows 10 Mobile, they announced they will not be making any devices for Windows 10 Mobile. And also, it is very clear that Microsoft has failed to capture market share on phone devices. Then how can Microsoft have a strong mobile strategy?

Microsoft has a strong mobile strategy based on their current and future road map of their Windows 10 operating system and application development technologies. This article will make a case that Microsoft has a strategy to converge the form factors of desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone into a single version of Windows 10, and that this positions them for a strong, long term future with mobile.

We should first review the general trends in computing to get some sense of where the future of computing is headed. The computing power of smartphones in the ten years they have been around has increased dramatically, all the while maintaining a pocketable form factor. The specifications of current flagship smartphones read like that of a laptop computer. Smartphones now have multi-core, high clock rate CPUs, and a lot of RAM. The Samsung A8 sports 6GB of RAM. The OnePlus 5 sports 8GB of RAM. Even though they have specifications like a laptop, are current smartphones as powerful as a laptop? Over the years, PCs have prioritized shear computing power without really constraining their power supply. Phones on the other hand, have put energy consumption as an important priority. When one limits the amount of energy a CPU can consume, that will impact how much computing power it can produce.

To try to answer the question if current flagship phones are approaching the power of a laptop, I downloaded from the Microsoft Store the AnTuTu benchmarking tool. AnTuTu is a respected benchmarking tool originally used for Android devices. It is now ported to iOS and Windows 10. AnTuTu is a native implementation for Android (as opposed to Java virtual machine implementation). I would assume it is a native implementation on iOS. In Windows 10 though, if developed in C#, it would be similar in performance to a Java virtual machine implementation. So, though AnTuTu is ported to these platforms, you cannot be sure computing power is compared equitably because of the unknown differences in the final native execution of the benchmarking tests. The benchmarking results have to be used to just broadly compare performance between different platforms and hardware.

If you look at the AnTuTu’s web site, the iPhone 8 Plus gets a total score of 217,385 (October 2017 results). The OnePlus 5 get a score of 181,047. The Samsung Note 8 get a score of 178,079. Running the benchmarking tool on my Windows 10,  Intel i3 computer with 6GB of RAM and Intel integrated graphics, I got a score of about 151,000. This is a six-year-old laptop mind you. Running it on my Windows 10, Intel i5 with 8GB of Ram and Intel integrated graphics, I got a score of about 192,000. This is a four-year-old laptop. Running on my son’s Windows 10, Intel i7 with 8GB of RAM, solid state drive, and Intel integrated graphics, I got a score of about 275,000.

As you can see, current flagship phones are getting pretty impressive benchmark scores when compared to an older laptop. These phones still have some ways to catch up when comparing to current day laptops. I suspect PCs with a dedicated graphics card would get even higher scores. None the less, this little comparison shows that a phone could be used for the processing duties typically used on a PC.

Not only have phones been getting more powerful, time using a phone as compared to time using a PC has increased dramatically. This has led to higher and higher expectations from phone apps. People are no longer expecting watered down phone apps, but apps with complete feature sets so most workflow scenarios can be carried out on the phone.

So now with powerful phones and powerful apps, there is one problem that phones have. Phones are too small. The phone form factor is its current limitation on what you can productively do on a phone. Without a full keyboard and reasonably sized screen, it doesn’t matter how powerful a phone is or how powerfully designed the apps are; you still are limited by the form factor. It becomes too awkward to have to zoom and pan documents, keep switching web pages and/or apps, and to type with your thumbs.

This is where Microsoft, Apple, and Google seem to agree that what needs to happen is convergence between the various form factors present today. That is, there needs to be some form of convergence between desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones. Convergence will allow continuity between phone apps and their operating systems with that of larger form factors typically found on desktops and laptops.

So now I’d like to talk about Microsoft’s strategy on this convergence and why I believe Microsoft is considerably ahead in this effort. Windows 10 Mobile may be on its sunset, but that doesn’t really matter. Microsoft is building Windows 10 in a way they don’t need a specific mobile version of Windows 10 to run on a small device like a phone. They have to retire Windows 10 Mobile because it is not cost effective to maintain if it no long has any distinguishing features from the upcoming Windows 10.

Microsoft has been working on this convergence since at least Windows 8. They managed to get Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile to share what they called at that time OneCore. They also got a type of monitor connection called Continuum that allows a Windows 10 Mobile phone to give a desktop like experience when connected to a larger monitor, keyboard, and mouse. HP sold a phone called the Elite X3 that really took to spirit how Windows 10 Mobile could be used like a desktop with the Continuum feature. The Elite X3 had a docking station to hook up to a large monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The Elite X3 also had what they called a lapdock. This is something that looks just like a laptop, but only has display and power. It has no computing capability or storage. When you hooked up the Elite X3 to either the docking station or lapdock, Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps scale appropriately for the given monitor size. It does not look like just a phone app enlarged. I have a Lumia 950 Windows 10 Mobile phone that also has this Continuum capability. When you launch a UWP app on a larger monitor, it is very hard to tell you are not on regular Windows 10.

There are differences though between Windows 10 Mobile Continuum and the PC experience on Windows 10. For one, windows are not resizable with Continuum. The app window will fill an entire monitor. It seemed appropriate then to keep adding feature improvements to Continuum to bring it closer to a true desktop experience, but this would not be cost effective given Microsoft’s long-term plans.

Microsoft is working on a new Composable Shell (CShell). A shell control things like the start button, start tiles, taskbar, and window title bar with minimize, restore, and close controls. In other words, it is the binding UI framework that allows you to interact with Windows 10 and its programs. Windows 10 currently has a shell for desktop and tablet. Windows 10 Mobile also has a shell optimized for a phone size screen, touch interface, and the standard Windows 10 Mobile phone buttons. With the new CShell, it will be possible for a single device to take on multiple shells forms. Depending on the context of the display and input devices, Windows 10 with the new CShell will be able to be phone like on a small device, and PC like on a larger form factor. This is why they don’t need Windows 10 Mobile going forward. Windows 10 will be able to be phone like without the need for a separate mobile edition of Windows.

Microsoft has also just recently launched Windows 10 on ARM. ARM is the CPU architecture that nearly all phones run on. Windows 10 on ARM can run on the latest Qualcomm CPU and allows you to run older Win32 style applications. It allows you to run Win32 style applications using emulation similar to how x64 Windows can run x86 programs with the WOW architecture. Windows 10 on ARM also does not loose it connectivity when put to “sleep” (sleep is in quotes because I’m not sure if Windows 10 on ARM even calls it that). These laptops have continuous cellular connectivity through the Qualcomm cellular modem. So the “sleep” on the Windows 10 on ARM laptops is more like when you lock a phone; a lot of stuff is suspended, but connectivity stays up so communications can continue to arrive.

If you really think about all the building blocks Microsoft has, and the fact that todays phones are almost as powerful as a laptop, they are not far from being able to make a pocketable PC that is also a phone. If you take a Windows 10 on ARM laptop, add a telephony stack, add the new CShell, and then shrink it down to the size of a phone, you basically have a pocketable PC that is also a phone. They already know how to put a telephony stack on an ARM platform (e.g. what was already done on Windows 10 Mobile). The new CShell is the missing piece. To be fair though, it is a bit more complicated than that. Windows 10 still ships with a lot of accessory applications that use the older Win32 style of application. An example of this is File Explorer. Microsoft is working to port these accessory applications to Universal Windows Platform (UWP, to be explained in more detail further down). Having these accessory applications as UWP will complete the experience so they can be used on a small form factor.

What is not clear though is if such a pocketable PC is going to be able to run Win32 applications. This is where Microsoft is working on this thing called Windows Core OS. This will essentially modularize Windows 10 so that OEMs can pick and choose what modules they add to the deployed OS. On future devices with Windows 10, using the new Windows Core OS, the OEM can choose to not include Win32 support. The main reason to omit Win32 would be the resource demands Win32 support requires. For starters, Win32 support requires more storage space to install the OS. Also, Win32 support may not be as energy efficient given many scheduled tasks and services required of Win32. So there could be pocketable PCs that can run older Win32 application, and there could some that do not.

Microsoft has also a new development standard they introduced in 2015. It is called Universal Windows Platform (UWP). This development standard is modernized over the 20 some year old Win32 application standard. UWP is designed to write once, and deploy on many different form factors and device types. UWP apps can target Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, HoloLens, Xbox, IoT, and Surface Hub. UWP apps are more secure than Win32 applications, and have better transparency on the resources they are consuming. UWP apps also have better permission control for granting access to hardware resources such as sensors, and data such as contacts.

Unfortunately, there is the perception that UWP is just for mobile. This is very far from the truth. Microsoft is fully committed to UWP. The plan is to gradually retire Win32 and transition to UWP. New features are not being added to Win32. New features like inking and mapping are only being added to UWP. When Microsoft announced they were retiring Windows 10 Mobile, several companies soon there after announced they would be retiring their UWP apps. The reasoning being if there is no more Windows 10 Mobile, then why support their UWP app. UWP apps also run great on the desktop provided the app designer considered the desktop form factor in the UI design. I use many UWP apps on my laptop such as Edge, Mail, Calendar, People, Calculator, Maps, Sygic, AccuWeather, Sling, and Netflix, to name a few. I’m finding the UWP experience on the laptop form factor to be better than the equivalent web app. They load fast and interact fast. They also can run in the background to forward notifications and down load communications. And they are better to run on a laptop than a phone because the screen is bigger, and you have a full keyboard. In fact, since the UWP app on my Lumia 950 phone is essentially the same as the app on my laptop, the cognitive learning curve and usability is identical between the phone and laptop. I do not prefer a form factor just because I know how to use the program on that form factor better. They are identical. I pick a form factor to do something more on what is easier to use by nature of the form factor, and what form factor is currently accessible. If both the laptop and phone are both accessible (like when I’m home), I’m finding I am using the laptop form factor just because it is more productive on the larger screen and full keyboard. This is what starts to happen when the forces of platform convergence take shape. You don’t pick a platform just because that is where you have the app installed for a particular task. You pick a platform based on the most productive and accessible form factor. When a pocketable PC is available, and you have it connected to a lapdock or larger monitor, you will be able to do PC AND phone like tasks all in one experience. For example, you will be able to comfortably work on a document, AND text someone with SMS, or take a phone call. So app developers, please don’t think of UWP for just phone development. With the capabilities of convergence upon us, you have to think of UWP apps being used on multiple form factors; small and large.

So, is convergence really upon us? Microsoft is allegedly working on Project Andromeda, which has been associated with a Surface branded phone. Project Andromeda will be the first released versions of Windows 10 using Windows Core OS (e.g. the modular form of Windows 10). It will run on ARM using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 chip. I suspect Andromeda will have a CShell supporting a “phone” like experience, one for two small monitors, one supporting a tablet experience, and one supporting a laptop or desktop experience. The Andromeda device will have two phone size screens connected by a hinge. When the device is open, it will be a small tablet. The device will be able to fold in half, and when folded, will be pocketable. It will have a telephony stack, so will be able to do phone like things. When connected to a dock, it will use the desktop CShell and has the potential of replacing your PC. It is unclear if it will support Win32. Some sources are saying it will support Win32, but maybe not on the first release. This device sounds really great, but is it real? Microsoft has not made any formal announcements, but most reliable sources are expecting Andromeda to be released some time in 2018. And OEMs like Dell are on board with releasing their own version of an Andromeda like device in 2019. Convergence is coming!

Life with convergence will be simpler. I am really looking forward to this. Image having just one device for all your computing needs. You only have one device to purchase, configure, and maintain. You only have one device to purchase, install, and configure apps for. You only have one version of an app to learn how to use with one consistent experience. And sharing of data between platforms, like between a phone and desktop will be one less thing to have to set up. You will be able to do tasks for the best suited and accessible form factor. You won’t really have to think about how you have all your devices setup and configured to deal with all your workflow use cases and mobility needs. And with 5G coming in the near future, it is very likely users will just bypass WiFi for connectivity. 5G will have cellular connectivity forecasted in the gigabit speeds, which will be faster than what you can get with WiFi. So your one device will have the same connectivity where ever you go; away from home or at home. And only having one device is going to save you money. Think about how we purchase computing power today. We are paying a lot of money to have near similar computing power for three form factors (e.g. little phone, tablet, and desktop). Just as a basic estimate on what a family of three is paying for all this redundant computing power, say a family of three each has a laptop, tablet, and phone. Estimate $900 for a laptop that lasts four years. Estimate $600 for a tablet that lasts three years. Estimate a phone that costs $800 that lasts two years. Do the math. That comes to over $200 a month; or close to $2,500 a year; or $25,000 a decade! We need something simpler.

A pocketable PC is inevitable given the trends in computing power and miniaturization. What people are going to have to ask themselves, is what operating system are they going to want on this one device they own. Everyone has their own reasons, but let me share my thinking on this. Apple makes great devices. But that is their business model. They sell devices. When you go with Apple as your operating system, you can only choose between devices that Apple provides. I do not like having this limitation. I like for market competition to be able to make competing devices with different feature sets and price points. Android is a great operating system, but unfortunately, Android is an operating system for a throw away culture. OEMs love Android because it is free and they can modify it. Once they have provided maybe a few updates to a device, they have already moved on to the next great thing. They essentially abandon an older device, and the device will stop getting updates. This, in my opinion, is not acceptable. This one device is going to need updates in a world where hacking is common place. OEMs of Android device are not motivated to provided updates for the long term because it is not cost effective to keep maintaining these custom Android builds, and it allows them to differentiate OS features only available if you purchase a newer device. They want you to essentially throw away your old device and get a new one if you want it to be safe, and be able to run the latest stuff. These reasons are why I’m rooting for Windows 10 to be this one OS I will use for this one device. I think Microsoft can pull off this world of computing convergence.

So Microsoft has a strong mobile strategy because they have a strong strategy for computing convergence. We have to stop thinking that mobile means phone. Mobile just means small in size, connected with cellular, and can run on battery power. PCs of the future will be highly mobile and will be able to make phone calls. App developers will need to make apps that can deal with multiple form factors. Once we can all break this biased thinking that mobile means phone, we can enjoy and look forward to the world of computing convergence that is coming.

Copyright © 2018 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.
Published by WalletCard.org.

Benefits of Running You May Not Have Considered

June 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

by Jeffery Lewis

Everyone knows they should exercise. There is so much scientific evidence to show that exercise is good for your health. Regular exercise can significantly reduce the chance of cardiovascular disease. I would like to talk about some benefits of running that I have personally observed and are not commonly known.

I have been running since 2006. I began running because I wanted to start some form of exercise. My motivation was primarily for health benefits. I picked running as my form of exercise for its simplistic elegance. All you need to run is a good pair of shoes, you can do it just about anywhere, and you don’t need an expensive gym membership to just run. Running appealed to me because the time to prepare is short. You can change into your running outfit and step outside to run very quickly. I know my nature. If there is a large preparation time to do something, like having to drive to the gym, the chances of me sustaining the habit is lower.

So with the reasoning that running would benefit my health and is so simple, I literally just started running around my neighborhood without any knowledge of what I was doing. Slowly, I started to pick up some knowledge about running. I got better shoes, and I learned about injury prevention. But to this day, I would not consider myself a serious, competitive runner. I run about 10 miles a week at a relaxed pace. I keep running because I love it. In fact, health is no longer the primary motivation. Health is like a bonus motivation now. What keeps me running are these other benefits I have observed.

I have observed that running will enhance my mood. I feel great when I run regularly. I feel best right after my run, and this feeling will last for hours, and even days after the run. When I get back from a run, my love for my family increases dramatically. This can sometimes be funny. I want to hug my family when I get back, but they refuse because I am all sweaty. When I run, I also seem to have more energy overall. I feel more enthusiastic about doing things.

This testimonial observation of enhanced mood is now backed by science. The American Psychiatric Association is now including exercise as a treatment recommendation for major depressive disorder. Studies have shown this connection between mood and exercise.

I have observed that running will enhance my mental performance. When I run regularly, I can think more clearly, and solve problems faster. This is a great benefit since my occupation is purely intellectual. I can perform better at my job. But improved mental function helps with my personal life as well. Running gives my brain a small turbo boost.

This testimonial observation of enhanced mental performance is also backed by science. This connection between improved mental performance and exercise began surfacing in the early 2000s. Now, there are tons of studies to prove the connection. But I don’t need studies to know this. If you are a reasonably self-aware person, you will notice improved mental performance after about two months of running.

I have observed that running will enhance my sex drive. When I run, sex is on my mind more. This is beneficial for my relationship with my wife. Having sex more often makes us feel closer.

Again, this testimonial observation of enhanced sex drive is backed by studies. But again, I don’t really care about the studies so much. I care more about what I observe personally. But you might care about the studies to know if my personal observation is likely to be something you will observe. Thanks to the internet, you can easily find studies that back the connection between exercise and sex drive. I personally don’t put too much weight in any one study since a lot of them are very selective about what they look at, and are constrained by small sample size due to budget limits. Try it. That is the best way to know for you personally.

One thing I have observed as NOT being a benefit of running is weight loss. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people will exercise for this very reason. I have not noticed a connection between my running and losing weight. Running seems to help me maintain my weight though. I am less likely to gain weight when running regularly. When it comes to exercise for weight loss, you need to do the math. It takes about 3,500 calories to burn a pound of fat. When you run a mile, you burn around 100 to 125 calories, depending on your weight. So if your goal is to lose one pound a week from running, you would have to run about 31 miles a week! If you ran a 10 minute mile pace, that would require over five hours of running a week. Unfortunately, since the human body is so efficient, running becomes too time consuming to be a practical means to weight loss. If you have hours to run a week, then your experience may be different from mine. But for me, my week of running can easily be offset calorie wise just by having a piece of cake.

So I hope the benefits of enhanced mood, mental performance, and sex drive will motivate you to get out there and run. Anyone can run, but it will not be fun at first. I started to notice these bonus benefits after about two months of running. Sometimes I can take a break from running. When I come back to it, I notice the return of these benefits. That helps reinforce for me how important it is to run. Sometimes when I feel like I have so much going on, I try to step back and think about what running is doing for me. That helps me prioritize and make the time to run.

I hope this has motivated you to start running. I would get advice on fitting shoes, replace your shoes every 500 miles, and don’t run on consecutive days (for injury prevention). Running is such a simple and natural form of exercise that it is mainly common sense. Good luck!

Copyright © 2013 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.
Published by WalletCard.org.

Yamaha NTX700 Electric Acoustic Nylon String Guitar Review

July 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

by Jeffery Lewis

This post was initially published in an Amazon.com review I made last year. Updates to that review are made here.

In the Summer of 2009, Yamaha introduced their NX series of electric acoustic nylon string guitars. The NX series is divided between the NTX and NCX. NCX inherits many of the physical attributes of a traditional classical guitar with the exception of a cutaway and lower string height. The NTX has a more contemporary design to make steel string and electric guitarist feel more at home. There are four NTX models: NTX700, NTX700BL, NTX900FM, and NTX1200R. The difference between the 700, 900, and 1200 involves wood choices. The dimensions and electronics are identical for all NTX models. The 700 offers a solid spruce top with Nato back, sides, and neck.

The NTX700 is what some people are calling a crossover classical guitar. Besides the electronic pickups, what makes a crossover classical guitar is the physical characteristics of the guitar. The NTX700 has a narrower and thinner neck. The nut width is 48mm compared to 52mm for a traditional classical guitar. Most steel strings have a nut width around 42mm, so 48mm is about in the middle of a classical and steel string. The neck is thinner measured from the fretboard to the back of the neck. The thinner neck can be provided thanks to the adjustable steel truss rod. The truss rod also allows for lower action since the neck can be slightly curved to accommodate the sweep of the string vibration.

As a comparison, I measured string spacing at the nut and bridge on the NTX700 and then on my traditional classical guitar. I am measuring the distance between the 1st and 6th strings, center to center. The NTX700 has a 37.5mm nut string spacing and a 52.5mm bridge string spacing. My traditional classical has a 42.5mm nut string spacing and a 56mm bridge string spacing. I should let you know that I am a full breed classical guitarist, playing primarily classical and fingerstyle repertoire. Wider string spacing is generally beneficial to classical and fingerstyle repertoire due to the need to individually pluck strings with your fingers, and to have to let open strings resonate next to fretted strings. The latter can be a problem with narrow string spacing because the finger fretting a string can accidentally dampen the neighboring resonating open string. This can kill harmonies needed in solo arrangements. But I personally find a 52mm nut too wide for my hands. When I picked up the NTX700, I immediately noticed the narrower string spacing. It may only be a few millimeters, but it makes a big difference.

String spacing is a personal matter. The NTX700 has slightly narrower string spacing for a 48mm wide nut. There is considerable spacing above the 6th string and below the 1st string. I like this spacing because it prevents the 1st string from slipping off the fretboard in certain situations. Other may not like this spacing since it could impede using your thumb on the 6th string. With all that said, personal ideal string spacing is driven by matters such as hand and finger size, and the style of music played. For me, initially the narrower string spacing reduced errors from large stretches and awkward bars, but increased adjacent string dampening type of errors. I did adapt to the narrower neck over a period of a month or so. My left hand became more precise. Now I do not see going back to a traditional wide classical neck. I once went back to a wide neck and after only a day of playing, I developed pain in my left hand. The wide classical neck is not for me. Some may not be able to adapt to the narrow neck of the NTX700. If you have access to one, try this. My notation is as follows: fret number|string number|finger number. For example 3|2|4 is 3rd fret, 2nd string, using the 4th finger (i.e. pinky). Hold this chord 3|2|4, 2|3|2, 3|5|3. Do an arpeggio that involves the bottom 5 strings. Then switch to 3|1|4, 3|6|3 and do an arpeggio that involves all strings but the 5th. Switch back and forth between these two chords. Sorry, but it is not very musical. The point of this exercise is to see how often you dampen the 4th string on the first chord and how often you have a stretch error with the second chord. With this exercise, I actually have less errors on the NTX700 neck than with a wide classical neck. I have had the nut on my NTX700 modified though. I increased the string spacing by 1mm. This has helped reduce adjacent string damping errors. As I stated earlier, factory set string spacing on the NTX700 is on the narrow side for a 48mm nut. By increasing the string spacing by 1mm, the spacing is now typical for 48mm nuts of other guitar makers.

The NTX700 body joins at the 14th fret. This is common in steel string and electric guitars. It allows for easier access to the NTX700’s 22 frets. This ended up being one of the physical changes over a traditional classical that surprised me as being quite significant. A 14th fret body joint changes the distance between the bridge and sound hole. It is shorter on the NTX700. The distance from the bridge to the middle of the sound hole is 135mm on the NTX700. On my traditional classical, it is 180mm. How is that important? A classical guitarist can vary tone by playing at different distances from the bridge. When a string is plucked close to the bridge, it sounds thin. When plucked close to the sound hole, it is rounder and darker. With the NTX700, I can vary tone with just a slight movement of my right hand. It took me a while to figure out why the NTX700 seemed more expressive than my traditional classical. I have concluded it is more expressive because of the 14th fret body joint. Because of the 14th fret body joint, you should adjust your neutral right hand position. With a traditional classical guitar, I would put my hand just behind the sound hole for the neutral position. This produces the desired tone for most musical applications. If you placed your hand just behind the sound hole on the NTX700, the tone is too bright. The tone is too bright because your hand is much closer to the bridge. I have adjusted my neutral right hand position to be directly over the sound hole.

The NTX700 has curved frets, or has what is called a radius fretboard. Traditional classical guitars have a flat fretboard. I love the radius fretboard of the NTX700. I don’t see going back to a flat fretboard. Doing bars is a magnitude order easier on the NTX700. It is beyond me why classical guitars have not adopted a radius fretboard. Classical guitars are about the only type of guitar that still has a flat fretboard. Steel string and electrics have been built this way for decades.

The NTX700 has pretty low action. I took my traditional classical into the shop and told them to get the action as low as possible without having fret buzz problems. The NTX700’s action is lower than my traditional classical, but a bit higher than my flamenco. With all these things, the narrower and thinner neck, low action, and radius fredboard, after playing the NTX700 for while, and then going back to my traditional classical, I felt like I went from driving an Audi A4 to a 1950 Chevy truck with no power steering and manual transmission! The traditional classical now feels huge! The fretboard feels like a big wall! The NTX700 is a magnitude order easier to play. Passages that were once hard, are now much easier and I am less likely to mess up. I am also much more comfortable playing the NTX700. I play the guitar for pleasure. If I am straining to do a stretch with a big grimace on my face, I am not experiencing pleasure. So I want a guitar to be comfortable in order for it to be pleasurable to play.

Intonation on the NTX700 is very accurate throughout the whole neck. Also, I like that the NTX700 has marking on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 17th frets. Traditional classicals generally skimp on putting these little white dots. One dimension that is consistent with a traditional classical guitar is the scale length. The NTX700 has a 650mm scale length.

The NTX700 has a thinner body. Body depth measures 80-90mm compared to around 100mm for traditional classicals. The thinner body is cool. It has several benefits. It makes for better balance and positioning when using a strap. It also makes it easier to see the frets because you can hold the fretboard closer to your body. The thinner body acoustically will not have the same volume. I would say my NTX700 produces about 80% the volume and about 90% the sustain acoustically compared to my traditional classical. In some respects, this is a good thing because it helps reduce feedback. If you plan on using your NTX700 primarily unplugged, then you are buying the wrong guitar. The NTX700 has superb pickups that begs the guitar to be amplified. In my opinion, you should be using your NTX700 plugged in most of the time to get the full benefit of this wonderful guitar. If you play the NTX700 unplugged right after a full body classical, you will be disappointed. The NTX700 will be quieter and have less delicacy in regards to body resonance. The rather flat body resonance is probably due to heavy bracing and a thick soundboard. The NTX700 has less sympathetic resonance with other strings. I actually like this. It sounds less muddy. Others may think the guitar sounds less rich. The NTX700 sings plugged in though. It sounds so good, that I prefer the plugged in sound to the acoustic sound of a full body classical. This may sound like I’m over rationalizing, but having a guitar slightly handicapped acoustically helps with my performance. When I play acoustically, I put more force to the string on loud notes. This trains me to utilize full dynamic range in my playing. When I switch to plugged in, I am rewarded by the full frequency response of the pickups, and the full dynamic range of my playing.

I have since had the factory plastic saddle replaced with a bone one. Surprisingly, this made a noticeable difference in the acoustic quality of the guitar. It made no difference in the plugged-in sound though. The volume improved to about 85% the volume of a full body guitar from 80%. The sustain is now about the same as a full body guitar. Body resonance is richer. After getting a bone saddle on the NTX700, I am quite satisfied with the acoustic sound of the NTX700, even though the plugged-in sound, not the acoustic sound, is why I bought the instrument. I am playing the instrument about half plugged-in and half acoustically now with the bone saddle.

The NTX700 has a larger lower bout. Acoustically, I’m not sure what this does, but you should be aware, if you have a snug fitting classical guitar case, the NTX700 will not fit in the case because of the larger lower bout. The NTX700 is longer end to end than a traditional classical. This also could present case issues. With these dimension changes, the NTX700 still feels normal when resting on the left leg with a foot stool. It also feels fine on the right leg or with a strap. The NTX700 balances at the top strap mount. The jack doubles as the bottom strap mount. I ended up buying the “Gator GC-APX Deluxe ABS Acoustic-Electric Guitar Case for Yamaha APX models”.

The NTX700 has excellent pickups. They sound natural and do not have feedback problems. There are two pickups in the NTX700. One for the treble string, and one for the bass strings. These type of pickups have been offered in Yamaha steel string acoustics for a little while now. The NX series has a specially tuned version of the A.R.T (Acoustic Resonance Transducer) pickups optimize for the tone and dynamics of nylon strings. The pickups are coupled with a preamp. The preamp has a three band graphic equalizer, separate gain for the bass and treble pickups, a master volume, and a chromatic tuner. The preamp is reasonably low noise. When recording through the pickups, noise is not a problem. The tuner is great. It works plugged in or unplugged. The tuner has an auto shutoff feature. You can easily read the tuner in the dark. In comparison to my Intellitouch tuner, the tuner on the NTX700 is just as accurate. Specs on the NTX700 say the tuner is accurate to +-3 cents. When you plug in the NTX700, it automatically turns on the preamp and will use power from the 9 volt onboard power supply. The 9 volt battery can be changed without removing the strings. All you do is push a release and a compartment holding the battery pops out. The battery is rated to last about 70 hours. There is a low battery indicator. Also, the NTX700 comes with two accessories. You get a little wrench to adjust the truss rod, and a rubber sound hole cover that can be used for feedback reduction. It is good they provided the sound hole cover because the NTX700 has an elliptical, oversized sound hole. After market covers would not work.

Unfortunately I did not have access to a NTX900FM or NTX1200R to compare. As I mentioned earlier, the difference is in wood choice. If budget is an issue, my guess would be to put your money in your amp. I have a Fishman Loudbox 100. This amp cost more than the guitar, but it is responsible for a good part of what you hear so it makes sense to allocate a good part of your budget here. The NTX700 sounds wonderful through the Fishman Loudbox 100.

I was curious about the pickup design and placement. When the strings were off, I took a small mirror to look at the pickup installation. What I saw was two fairly large circular pickups. Each pickup is about an inch in diameter and about 3/16 inch thick. These are approximate dimensions since I’m just gauging off a view from a small mirror. The edge of the pickups exposes multiple layers of material. A wire is attached to a copper plate on the outer most layer of the pickup.

To explain the placement of the pickups, first I’ll explain some terminology. The saddle is the hard plastic or bone piece the strings sit on. The bridge is the wood component on the outside of the guitar that the saddle slides into a slot. The bridge is also where you tie the strings to. On the inside of the guitar, under the bridge, and on the inside of the soundboard, is a very thin piece of wood that spans the width of the lower bout. I assume this piece of wood is for reinforcement for the tension the bridge is supporting. I don’t know what to call this piece of wood. I think it is called the bridge plate. The fan bracing then attaches to the soundboard and bridge plate. The pickups are mounted on the bridge plate, directly under the saddle. It looks like the treble pickup is under the three treble strings, and the bass pickup is located under the three bass strings. So it goes strings, saddle, bridge, soundboard, bridge plate, and then pickups. The two pickups are pretty close to each other, and separated by the middle fan brace. The two pickups pretty much span the string spacing at the saddle.

In the land of acoustic guitar pickups, the pickups on the NTX700 classify as soundboard transducer pickups. There are basically three types of pickups for acoustic guitars: magnetic sound hole, undersaddle transducer, and soundboard transducer (a.k.a. contact pickups). Magnetic will not work on nylon strings. Undersaddle transducer is a small wire like piezo sensor that installs under the saddle between the saddle and bridge. Before the NTX700, I have had one classical with an undersaddle pickup, and one with a soundboard transducer. Of these two, the one with the soundboard transducer sounded much more natural. The soundboard transducer pickup was a K&K Sound Pure Classic. Comparing between the K&K and Yamaha’s NTX700 pickups, I would say the Yamaha sounds better. The NTX700 pickups sound natural, have very good bass response, and their response is even across all six strings. Now keep in mind, I am not a professional player, so feedback is not a major concern for me. I have never experienced any feedback problems with the NTX700, but I don’t play that loud. I can’t comment on live performance with a band. My opinion of these pickups is based on naturalness of sound, overall frequency response, and sensitivity. Yamaha is pretty generous on the NTX700 because they put the exact same pickup and preamp system in the bottom of the line NTX700 as they do in their top of the line NCX2000R with a retail price of $5,000. That makes the NTX700 a steal.

I have since sold my Juan Hernandez traditional classical. I paid over three times for the Juan Hernandez, but the traditional classical design, ergonomically speaking, needs to evolve.

Happy playing and thanks for reading!

Copyright © 2012 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.
Published by WalletCard.org.

Harmonic Tuning Exposed

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

by Jeffery Lewis

A friend of mine came over and picked up my guitar to play. He immediately started tuning in a way I have never seen before. He was using harmonics to tune the guitar within itself. Being that he was more experienced, I wanted to learn this exotic tuning technique. He was using the 5th and 7th fret harmonics to tune adjacent strings. After some practice, I was able to master the tuning method and felt good about using an advanced technique. Later, I found the technique written in several publications, and felt more confident on the validity of the tuning method.

Well, you may find this hard to believe, but using the 5th and 7th fret harmonics to tune adjacent strings is incorrect. The guitar is an equal tempered tuned instrument. Equal tempered tuning was developed at about the time of Bach to allow the relative interval spacing between notes to be identical in any key. With equal tempered tuning, a musician can play in various keys and not have to retune the instrument. Equal tempered tuning is a compromise though. Interval ratios are no longer perfect ratios, but shifted slightly so to give uniform interval spacing. The frets of a guitar are spaced using the mathematical relationships of equal tempered tuning. Tuning the open strings in a non-equal tempered fashion results in conflicts with the fretted notes.

The 5th fret harmonic sets the string vibrating in four equal lengths, which will quadruple the frequency of the note. The 7th fret harmonic sets the string vibrating in three equal lengths, which will triple the frequency of the note. The 6th E string when tuned to concert pitch should be at 82.41 Hertz (Hz). Playing the 5th fret 6th string harmonic will produce a note at 329.64 Hz. The 5th A string should be tuned to 110 Hz. Playing the 7th fret 5th string harmonic will produce a note at 330 Hz. There is a difference of 0.36 Hz. This may not seem like much, but the 5-7 fret harmonic tuning method is generally done one adjacent string after the other, resulting in accumulation of error. The 1st string is tuned to some reference. The 6th string is tuned to the 1st. The 5th string is tuned to the 6th. The 4th string is tuned to the 5th. The 3rd string is tuned to the 4th. And finally, the 2nd string is tuned to the 1st. Assuming the 6th and 1st strings are tuned properly, the 3rd string will end up being tuned to 195.34 Hz, off 0.66 Hz from the proper 196 Hz. The 2nd string will be tuned to 247.22 Hz, off 0.28 Hz from the proper 246.94 Hz. If you then did a check comparing the 3rd string 4th fret with the 2nd open string, there will be a difference of 1.11 Hz, or about 8 cents. This is definitely a noticeable difference. No matter how careful you are, things will not match up, and you may begin to think your guitar just will not tune right.

The lesson to be learned is not to use the 7th fret harmonic for fine tuning. Its tripling of pitch causes problems with equal tempered tuning. The 5th and 12th fret harmonics are fine to use for fine tuning since these produce octaves. Octaves can always be compared by ear since the ratio of frequencies will be perfect.

Copyright © 2012 by Jeffery Lewis. All rights reserved.
Published by WalletCard.org.