Cereal Killer, Phantom Phreak, Crash Override…if these handles appear on your computer screen, you’re beyond saving–consider yourself hacked. In this cyberpunk thriller, a renegade group of elite teenage computer hackers rollerblade through New York City by day and ride the information highway by night. After hacking into a high-stakes industrial conspiracy, they become prime suspects and must recruit the best of the cybernet underground to help clear their names.

Reviews

  • Review of the iPhone 14 Pro Max

    Review of the iPhone 14 Pro Max

    I am fortunate enough to be able to purchase a new iPhone every year since 2007 with the introduction of the original iPhone. In that time I have owned 16 different phones. Some years that are big changes, while other years there are some improvements but those improvements come with software. There are those times when it a combination of both hardware and software that ends up creating an overall better experience. The iPhone 14 Pro Max is an instance where the iPhone has both hardware and software changes that improve the overall experience.

    Starting in 2019 with the introduction of the iPhone 11 line, Apple began to differentiate the phones into two different lines, the “non-pro” line and the “pro” line of phones. This started with the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. 

    Some years there was very little that differentiated the non-pro and pro lines. Once thing that has been a differentiator, at least since the iPhone 11, the two has been the number of cameras on the device. The non-pro phones have had a dual camera system while the pro line has a triple-lens camera system. This remains true through the iPhone 14 line. One thing that has not been the case is that all new models of the iPhone have received the same processor across the line. The exception to this was the iPhone 5c, which had an A6 while the other phone introduced that year, the iPhone 5s, had the A7. Beyond that, all new phones have had the latest processors. 

    This year though, that changes. Now the processors are different between the non-pro and pro lines. The iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus have an A15 Bionic while the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max have the A16 Bionic processor. This bifurcation is the first time where there is a clear delineation between the two lines. I suspect that this will continue to be the case in the future.

    The hardware changes for this are exclusive to the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, but some of the features are also available in the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus. Before we dive into the actual device, the iPhone 14 Pro Max, let us look at my pre-order, pickup, and setup experiences.


    Pre-order Experience

    Pre-orders opened up on Friday, September 9th at 7am Central Time, or were supposed to start at that time, but as usual, due to caching and other issues, some were not able to order their devices in the first few minutes and up to 10 minutes after. My pre-order experience was a frantic one due to the many issues I had.

    When the Apple Store app finally refreshed to allow me to order, it prompted me to complete the pre-order information that I saved. I went through the steps and attempted to complete the transaction with picking up at my local Apple Store. I initially chose 9:15am. Upon check out it indicate that my contact information was incorrect, even though it has not changed in years. So, I changed it and went back to checkout, but when it completed, it was changed it to shipping instead of pickup. This in itself would not be a problem, except the delivery date range was September 27th to 29th. If the delivery was for launch day, I might have kept it. 

    When I placed the order that would have been delivered late, I also ordered a Midnight case. I opted to just cancel the entire order and I re-ordered the Apple Midnight MagSafe case separately. That did arrive early, as iPhone cases tend to do. The next thing that happened was the wait for pickup day, so let us look at that.


    Pickup

    The pickup for the Apple Store could not have bee smoother. I got there at 9:50, stood in line for 5 minutes, got helped and was out. I left the Apple Store at 10:12. It might have even been quicker, but I also wanted to pick up a couple of Apple Watch bands while I was there and it took a little bit of time for another Apple employee to bring them out. After I left the Apple Store I drove home and did the setup on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, so  let us cover that next.


    Setup and Transferring Phone to Phone

    The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the 16th iPhone that I have owned, so I am no stranger to having to move between devices. My typical approach is as follows:

    1. Unpair Apple Watch to perform a backup to my current phone.
    2. Plug iPhone into my Mac.
    3. Perform encrypted backup using Finder
    4. Plug in my new iPhone.
    5. Restore from encrypted backup.
    6. Pair new watch using Apple Watch backup from encrypted backup.

    However, this time I did something a bit different. Instead, I decided to do a Phone to Phone transfer. Last year, as mentioned in my review of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, I intended to do an iPhone to iPhone transfer, but canceled that because the amount of time was up to 7 hours and stayed there. So last year I went with my tried and true approach. This year, I decided to do the device to device transfer and let it run its course.

    As with many other device setups with Apple you bring your new iPhone next to your old iPhone and tap on the “Setup New iPhone” popup. After this you enter in your Apple ID credentials. Once this has been done you walk through the transfer. You will need to enter in your iPhone’s passcode during the transfer. 

    The iPhone 14 Pro Max, along with the other iPhone 14 devices, do not have a physical SIM card slot, at least not in the United States. Instead, all iPhone 14 models in the United States have an electronic sim, or eSm. iPhones have had an eSim option since the iPhone XS, except in China where physical SIMs are mandated by law. I have not used an eSim previously, so this has been my first experience doing so. Some people have used eSim previously, and a few have preemptively converted their physical SIM to an eSim before they got their iPhone 14s.

    Converting Physical Sim to eSim

    Photo of an iPhone 14 Pro Max on the "Set Up eSIM" screen.
    Photo of an iPhone 14 Pro Max on the “Set Up eSIM” screen.

    The setup of my eSim was fairly straight-forward, well it is supposed to be. During the setup there is a screen titled “Set up eSim”. The screen is supposed to allow you to transfer your phone number from a physical SIM on your old iPhone to the eSim on your new phone. However, it did not go as smoothly as you might expect.

    The first time that I tried to do the transfer it came back as “Failed, could not transfer the number”. When this happens there are three options, Back, Try Again, Setup Later in Settings. I was going to set it up later, but I decided to go back and try it again. The second time it was able to successfully transfer my phone number. 

    I know I am not the only who had this exact experience. Friend, and editor of my books, Barry Sullivan also got two iPhones on launch day and he let me know that he had the exact same experience when trying to activate his phones. The trick of going back and doing it again allowed both of his phones to transfer properly. It was a simple fix, but still a very odd one. I am not sure if the issue was an AT&T one or an Apple one. Regardless of the ultimate cause of the issue I hope Apple and AT&T are able to figure out the issue and correct it for future versions of iOS and people who are trying to convert their physical sims to an eSim. After this step the actual transfer began.

    Remaining Device to Device Transfer

    Once transfer was finished, which took just about an hour and 45 minutes, there was the last screen. I tried to wake up the screen, but the backlight would not fully turn up to a correct brightness. It was super difficult for me to see the screen. I had to hold the iPhone 14 Pro Max at an angle to see what was on the screen. I entered in my passcode and the phone restarted. Once that was done, my phone was ready to go with the next step, downloading everything.

    The phone to phone transfer is intended to transfer over all data, like app data, photos, and other similar data. What is not transferred is apps or downloaded songs. Once the data has transferred over then your apps and songs will be downloaded again. At one point while doing this, my phone was consuming a good 92% of all of my internet bandwidth by downloading at 277 megabits per second. 

    The downloading of apps and songs went perfectly, as did most of the phone to phone data transfer. There was one thing that did not transfer over, my Apple Watch. It never prompted me during setup either, even though I specified to transfer it over on the first step.

    Since it did not transfer over, When I opened the Apple Watch app on my iPhone 14 Pro Max, it kept saying “Pair Existing Watch” and when I tried to say “Pair Existing Watch” it would constantly fail. I contacted Apple, and the genius suggested unpairing the Watch from my iPhone 13 Pro Max. In itself un-pairing and re-pairing an Apple Watch is not a big deal. The problem I had is that given the length of time that the restore took, I got three standing hours in and I had burned 100 more calories. My Phone finished early enough in the day where  I could finish closing my standing rings. In reality, it was not really a problem, but an annoyance none-the-less.

    What was really odd, is that I went back and checked my activity information, those missing standing hours showed up on my watch, as did the missing calories and steps. What would be really nice would be if there was a way to force the Fitness app to synchronize data up to iCloud and then trigger a download, but Apple seems opposed to these types of things. Instead, “it just works”, except when it does not.

    Looking back there are two things that I could have done. The first would have been to unpair the watch entirely before beginning the transfer. This would have provided a backup to the iPhone and then it would have  likely transferred that data over to the Apple Watch. However, it likely would have resulted in me missing those two hours of stand time, as well as any other calories and steps earned during that time, due to the data not being transferred over.

    The second thing I could have done, which now in hindsight might have been the correct answer, would have been to just setup my new Apple Watch Series 8 and not worry about the missing data, because it would eventually synchronized. Again, I was not worried about the time of the day, because I had plenty of time to get the standing hours back, but it was a bit annoying. There is one downside to using the device to device transfer.

    Downside to Phone to Phone

    One of the biggest downsides to using the “Phone to Phone” transfer method is that you cannot use either device while it is transferring data. This meant that the two devices were just sitting there the entire time. An hour and 45 minutes was long enough, but if I had even more data it likely would have taken longer. There has to be some other sort of solution, like possibly even using a wired connection. I suspect that using a wired connection would have make the process faster because it could have used more bandwidth. I am guessing that I am an outlier by using this process. I am presuming that most people just use iCloud for backing up their iPhone and then restoring it. But there is just something to using a wire to do a transfer that makes it more reliable, at least to me anyway.


    Color

    When I purchase a new iPhone I have always gotten the “gray” variant of a phone. For the early iPhone this was not a problem, because there was only two choices, Black or White. The white iPhones always had a white bezel, and I did not like the look of those, therefore I ended up selecting the black or space gray option. With the introduction of the iPhone X the choice of color became less relevant, because all of the bezels on the Face ID phones have a minimal bezel, which is black. The one exception to this was with the iPhone 12 Pro Max where I got the Pacific Blue.

    There was the Deep Purple option for the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but I opted to go with my standard and ordered the “Space Black” iPhone 14 Pro Max. As you can see in the image below, there is a distinct color difference. The Space Black is a much darker than the Graphite of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. 

    Comparison of the back colors of an iPhone 13 Pro Max in Graphite and the Back of an iPhone 14 Pro Max in Space Black
    Comparison of the back colors of an iPhone 13 Pro Max in Graphite and the Back of an iPhone 14 Pro Max in Space Black

    Now that we have covered the setup, let us look at the actual features of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, starting with the biggest change, the Dynamic Island.


    Dynamic Island

    Back in 2017 Apple revolutionized the iPhone by introducing a whole new form factor for the iPhone. Gone was the home button, Touch ID, and most of the front bezel. Instead of the Home Button and Touch ID sensor, Apple replaced it with a new technology called Face ID. In order for Face ID to function a brand new set of sensors was needed, called a True Depth sensor. 

    iPhone 14 Pro Max - True Depth Sensor Array that shows the sensors as being separate elements
    iPhone 14 Pro Max – True Depth Sensor Array that shows the sensors as being separate elements

    The True Depth sensor contains an infrared sensor, the actual Face ID infrared camera, and the FaceTime camera. When FaceID was introduced on the iPhone X, the top of the iPhone’s screen was where the Face ID sensor housing was placed. Over the last five years, Apple has shrunken the size of the notch. Now with the iPhone 14 the notch has been moved to an area slightly below the top of the screen, that is entirely surrounded by pixels, hence the use of the term ‘island’. In the photo below you can see the notch on the iPhone X as compared to the notch on the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

    Photo of an iPhone X, iPhone 13 Pro Max, and iPhone 14 Pro Max for a notch comparison
    Photo of an iPhone X, iPhone 13 Pro Max, and iPhone 14 Pro Max for a notch comparison

    Now that the sensor array is not attached to the top of the screen, so it creates a cutout near the top of the screen. With the notch not being attached to the top of the screen, it needs a new name. The new area is called the “Dynamic Island”.

    The Dynamic Island will now look a lot like a pill, most of the time. The pill is not an actual pill, but it is two different sensors that are actually separated by a bit of spacing. A majority of the time this will appear as a single pill with the area between the two cameras being filled in with black pixels, thus making it look like a pill.

    The term “Dynamic Island” is an accurate name because the Dynamic Island will change based upon what you are doing at any time. For instance, if you are listening to audio, whether it be a podcast, audiobook, or music, it will be minimized to the Dynamic Island, as will all other audio apps. When an audio app is minimized to the Dynamic Island you will see a small version of the cover art on the left and a wave form of the playing audio on the right. This straddles the Dynamic Island.

    When an item is minimized to the Dynamic Island, the animation for the minimization will differ slightly depending on which direction you push the app. Here is a video showing various animations.

    Dynamic Island Animations for various animations

    As mentioned above the Dynamic Island will be a pill, most of the time. There is one exception to this. If there are multiple items that can be minimized to the Dynamic Island, the lower priority item will be moved to its own icon to the right of the Face ID sensor array. There will be some pixels shown between the two islands.

    Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro Max with two items, the Music app and a Timer
    Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro Max with two items, the Music app and a Timer

    When there is an audio app, or other app, minimized to the Dynamic Island, you can perform two different actions. You can either tap or you can tap and hold. When you tap on the item it will open the corresponding app. However, if you tap and hold on the Dynamic Island it will display a miniature interface. For an audio app it will just appear just like it would look like on the Lock Screen. For an app like the Timer, you will see the timer countdown with a pause and cancel button.

    I have been going back and forth on whether these two gestures are the right ones or not, and I think they should be reversed. I think tapping should bring up the miniature interface and tapping and holding should open the app. I think this is a more natural interaction to tap on the Dynamic Island and see the miniature interface. Even a toggle for allowing this would be sufficient, so then people can decide how they want to handle the interactions.

    Uses of the Dynamic Island

    There have been some interesting interactions created with the Dynamic Island. There are two apps in particular. The first is a game called “Hit the Island”, which is a breakout-type game where you try and hit the Dynamic Island with a ball. “Hit the Island” is not only limited to iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, but it also works on any Face ID-enabled iPhone as well.

    The second is within the Reddit app called Apollo. There is an option to add a cat that walks back and forth, as well as rests, on the top of the Dynamic Island. This does not have any functionality, but it does provide a bit of ambiance while browsing Reddit. I do not use Apollo, nor Reddit in general, but I saw it cross my twitter feed.

    Adjustments Needed

    One behavior that might take some adjustment is using the area below the notch to try and scroll up. With the Dynamic Island this does not work. You can still tap off to the left or right of the Dynamic Island it will scroll, but not directly underneath it. This is a minor thing that will take some time to get acclimated to, but it is something to be cognizant about.

    It will be interesting to see what developers do with the Dynamic Island in the future once the Live Activities APIs are available for all to use. Next, let us look at another new hardware feature, the Always-On Display.


    Always on Display

    Modern phones can differ in a variety of ways. These differences could be in size, storage, operating system, authentication mechanisms, and even cameras. One thing that has been same across all phones, at least since 2007, is that they all have a screen that takes up most of the front of the device. Depending on the size of your iPhone this can range from a 4.7-inch screen on the iPhone SE (2nd Generation) up to a 6.7-inch on the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

    If you needed to check something while your phone was locked you could hit the sleep/wake button or raise your phone to actually show your Lock Screen. Starting with the iPhone X you could tap on the screen to wake it up. This approach certainly does work, but having to constantly wake your screen to check for new information can become tiresome after a while. What would be even better is if there was a way of quickly glance at your screen and see if there is any new information without needing to do anything. This is now possible with the new “Always On” display.

    iPhone 14 Pro Max 'Always On Display' in a Locked State.
    iPhone 14 Pro Max ‘Always On Display’ in a Locked State.

    You might be wondering how the screen can always stay on, given that the screen is a huge use of battery power. The reason that the screen can always stay on is because the Always On Display on the iPhone 14 Pro Max works similarly to the Always On Display on the Apple Watch Series 5, and newer. This means that the screen is always on but it will be dimmed when not in use. Beyond dimming, the refresh rate of the screen will drop its refresh rate down to a rate of 1Hz, meaning it will refresh once every second. This is is comparison to the iPhone 13 Pro Max where it can refresh up to 120 times per second while the screen is on. The combination of the backlight not being at full brightness and the refresh rate being so low, it should not interfere too much with battery life.

    Even though the screen is an “Always On” display on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, this does not mean that the screen will be on 100% of the time. In fact there are some instances when the screen will turn off. The situations are:

    • When the phone is off (obviously)
    • During wind down. As soon as it starts the screen turns off.
    • When you are in a sleep focus.
    • If your iPhone is face down on a surface. There is no need to have the screen on at this point.
    • When you walk away from the iPhone and you are wearing an Apple Watch. Once the distance is far enough away the phone screen will turn off.
    • When you are using your iPhone as a continuity camera on your Mac. The screen is not needed for this.

    You can simply tap on the screen to have it activate again and interact with it as you normally would. If you do tap on the screen it will return to its dimmed state after 7 seconds. This is the same behavior as the iPhone 13 Pro Max. 

    Disabling Always On Display

    If you find that you do not like the way that the Always On Display functions, you can easily turn it off by using the following steps:

    1. Open Settings.
    2. Scroll down to Display & Brightness.
    3. Tap on Display & Brightness to open up the Display & Brightness settings.
    4. Scroll down to “Always On”.
    5. Tap the toggle next to “Always On” to disable the Always On functionality.

    When you do disable the Always On Display, it will act just like all previous iPhones, if that is more of your style. Next, let us now turn to another area that has seen some improvements and needs to be covered, the Cameras.


    Camera

    With each new iPhone Apple tends to improve the camera year over year, and there have been some improvements of the iPhone 14 Pro Max over the iPhone 13 Pro Max. I will go into most of the camera specifications in a bit, but let us look at a couple of the biggest changes, starting with the TrueDepth camera.

    The TrueDepth camera has gone from a 12megapixel ƒ/2.2 aperture to a 12megapixel camera with an ƒ/1.9 aperture. As with all photography, the lower the number means that even more light will be captured when using the FaceTime camera. In practice what this means is that you should be able to get better pictures when using the FaceTime Camera, including the ability to have more than one person’s face be in focus, even when using the FaceTime camera. The TrueDepth camera is not the only camera that has seen some improvements. The rear camera sensor has seen some improvements. Specifically, the Main camera has been significantly improved. The second item to talk about when it comes to specifications is the Wide camera.

    If you were to look at Apple’s specifications pages or the iPhone 13 Pro Max you may notice that there are three cameras, Wide, Ultra Wide, and Telephoto. Now, if you compare these to the iPhone 14 Pro Max there are actually four, but more on the fourth one in a moment. What you may notice is that on the iPhone 13 Pro Max specifications page there is no “Main” camera. Previous models called the Main camera the “Wide”. While the name of “Wide” was technically accurate, most people never called it the Wide camera, and instead just called it the Main, or primary, camera. Hence, it is now called the “Main” camera. Before we delve any further, let us look at the specification comparisons between the iPhone 13 Pro Max an the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

    For the first time Apple has listed the actual size of the sensors. Here are the sensor sizes, apertures, and zoom for the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

    Lens Zoom Megapixels Length Aperature
    Ultra Wide 0.5x 12 Megapixels 13mm ƒ/2.2
    Main 1x 48 Megapixels 24mm ƒ/1.78
    Telephoto 2x 12 Megapixels 48mm ƒ/1.78
    Telephoto 3x 12 Megapixels 77mm ƒ/2.8

    For comparison, here are the iPhone 13 Pro Max Camera specifications

    Lens Zoom Megapixels Length Aperature
    Ultra Wide 0.5 12 Megapixels 13mm ƒ/1.8
    Wide 1 12 Megapixels 26mm ƒ/1.78
    Telephoto 3x 12 Megapixels 77mm ƒ/2.8

    When you look at a the specifications you may notice a few things that jump out right away. The Main camera has gone from a 12 Megapixel ƒ/1.5 aperture camera to a whopping 48 Megapixel 24 mm, ƒ/1.78 aperture camera. This is four times the number of pixels. However, you do not get 48 Megapixel images, most of the time. Instead pixels are grouped into a set of quad-pixels. Each set of quad-pixels will allow more light into each photo, which should provide even cleaner and more crisp pictures. 

    One of the complaints about the last few iPhones is that they had three optical zoom options, 0.5x, 1.0x, and 3x. These are all great options to have, in particular if you do want to zoom in and have a super crisp picture, the 3x zoom would deliver that. However, there is a wide range between the 1x and 3x. What was missing is 2x. With the iPhone 14 Pro Max, you now have 2x zoom in addition to the existing 0.5x, 1.0x, and 3x options.

    When you use the 2x zoom, what is doing is it is actually using the central 12 Megapixels of the Main 48 Megapixel image. The image is still being taken at the standard 4K resolution, so you will still get the 12megapixels that you are expecting. There are no controls for which part of the sensor is used, it will use the central pixels. There is one use case when you can use the full 48 Megapixels within the sensor. That is when you use the ‘Raw’ mode in the Camera. When you do this you will get the raw information off of the sensor in Apple ProRes Raw format. This can then be used by various photo editing applications to tweak and get the images that you want. 

    Scaled down version of a 48 Megapixel image taken on an iPhone 14 Pro Max
    Scaled down version of a 48 Megapixel image taken on an iPhone 14 Pro Max

    Note: The above image is scaled. You can see the full resolution image. The image that is linked is a JPG, but it is the full 48 Megapixel dimensions.

    Be warned though, Raw images are rather large. As an example, I took two pictures using my iPhone 14 Pro Max. The processed HEIC photo is 998 Kilobytes, while the Raw image is 45.7 Megabytes. This should not be a surprise, but it is something to be aware of.

    One of the other photo-related changes to the iPhone 14 Pro Max is a new dedicated engine that will help process photos. That feature is called the “Photonic Engine”. Apple has not clarified if this is a set of hardware, software, or a combination of both. The purpose of the Photonic Engine is that that it will take your photos that have been captured in non-ideal lighting conditions and it can use the additional Focus Pixels to gather more light, and then use machine learning to help improve the lighting on your photos. According to Apple:

    “Through a deep integration of hardware and software, Photonic Engine improves mid- to low-light performance for photos across all cameras: up to 2x on the Ultra Wide camera, 2x on the TrueDepth camera, and an impressive 2.5x on the new Main camera. Photonic Engine enables this dramatic increase in quality by applying the computational benefits of Deep Fusion earlier in the imaging process to deliver extraordinary detail, and preserve subtle textures, provide better color, and maintain more information in a photo.”

    You cannot really get a feel for the Photonic Engine through words, so here are a couple of photos for comparison.

    Photo of the Moon from an iPhone 13 Pro Max using Night Mode
    Photo of the Moon from an iPhone 13 Pro Max using Night Mode
    Photo of the Moon from an iPhone 14 Pro Max using Night Mode
    Photo of the Moon from an iPhone 14 Pro Max using Night Mode
    Photo of the 'Big Dipper' from an iPhone 13 Pro Max using Night Mode
    Photo of the ‘Big Dipper’ from an iPhone 13 Pro Max using Night Mode
    Photo of the 'Big Dipper' from an iPhone 14 Pro Max using Night Mode
    Photo of the ‘Big Dipper’ from an iPhone 14 Pro Max using Night Mode

    Overall, the cameras on the iPhone 14 Pro Max are a huge improvement. The return of the optical 2x zoom is a very welcome feature that will allow people to take photos that are at the right distance. The addition of the new Photonic Engine means that pictures will be even better, particularly in low light. Ultimately though, which camera you are going to use depends on the current situation, but you should be able to get the picture you want from one of the cameras. No photo that you take with your iPhone is exactly what the sensor sees unless, of course, you are using the Apple ProRes Raw format. Now, let us move to the obligatory benchmark comparison.


    Obligatory Benchmarks

    As with all of my reviews I include some benchmarks for general comparison. All of the items below are based on Apple Silicon, in some manner. This could be the A-Series or the M-Series. I used Geekbench for all of these comparisons. Here are the results of the benchmark tests.

    Device Single Core Multi-Core Compute
    iPhone X (A10) 917 2462 3776
    iPad mini (6th Generation) (A15 Bionic) 1594 4523 11960
    5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro (M1) 1673 6455 21007
    Mac mini (Late 2020, M1) 1743 7619 21646
    iPhone 13 Pro Max (A15 Bionic) 1746 4410 14460
    Mac Studio (2022, M1 Max) 1765 12467 62662
    iPhone 14 Pro Max (A16 Bionic) 1902 4543 15106

    Closing Thoughts

    Each new release of an iPhone is not a huge leap in standards as compared to the immediately previous model. Even though it is not a gigantic change the iPhone 14 Pro Max is a big upgrade. There have been both hardware and software changes. Many do use their iPhones as a phone, but many also use their iPhones for all other tasks. One of the biggest uses is taking pictures. The iPhone 14 Pro Max bring a whole new main 48 megapixel camera. While it will only provide 12 megapixel images, the amount of light let in will be four times as much, meaning better low light photos. Low Light photos will look better with the new Photonic Engine, which is a combination of hardware and software that will enhance low light images and make them sharper.

    Beyond the camera, there is the new Always On Display. This display will allow you to easily see updated information on the Lock Screen including any widgets that you have configured on your Home Screen. The Always On Display can automatically reduce its refresh rate down to 1Hz, or only refresh the screen once a second, which will reduce the battery usage. If the Always On nature of the screen is not to your liking, you can disable it within Settings.

    The biggest change to the iPhone 14 Pro Max is the new Dynamic Island, which is currently exclusive to the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The Dynamic Island is a progression of the notch that began with the iPhone X in 2017. The Dynamic Island is an area in the display that is surrounded by pixels. Apple could have chosen to just leave this as is, but instead they created a whole new way to interact with applications that uses the fact that the Face ID sensor is surrounded by pixels to its advantage. If you tap and hold on the Dynamic Island while there is an application

    As of this review the current version of iOS is iOS 16 and third-party applications cannot create custom interactions with the Dynamic Island, but it will be available in iOS 16.1 and it will be interesting to see what uses third-party applications create with the Dynamic Island. The Dynamic Island is the biggest change to interaction methods since the iPhone X.

    Overall, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is a solid upgrade, should you want, or need, the 6.7-inch screen. If you want a bit smaller screen the iPhone 14 Pro may be the right option for you. If you have an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13, it might be worthwhile to wait for the iPhone 15 Pros before upgrading your device.

    A Space Black iPhone 14 Pro Max with an iPhone 14 Pro Max Case in Midnight in their respective boxes
    A Space Black iPhone 14 Pro Max with an iPhone 14 Pro Max Case in Midnight in their respective boxes
  • A Review of the Apple Watch Series 8

    A Review of the Apple Watch Series 8

    The Apple Watch is now a pretty mature product and it has come into its own, in terms of finding its primary use cases. The biggest uses for the Apple Watch are for fitness and health. The reason for this is that the Apple Watch is almost always on ones wrist throughout the day, including when someone is sleeping.

    With the Apple Watch being a mature product, it does not get nearly as many hardware advances as one might expect. However, there are a couple of new features for this year’s Apple Watch Series 8. Before we dive into those, let us quickly cover my pre-order experience.


    Pre-Order Experience

    Apple held their “Far Out” event on September 7th and Apple Watch pre-orders were available that afternoon after the event had concluded. Once orders were available, I ordered a 45mm Aluminum Series 8 in Midnight with a Midnight Sport Loop band. Due to my choice of band, the only option I had was delivery. If I had gone with another band, like the Storm Blue, I could have picked it up at my local Apple Store. However, delivery was fine with me since Fedex and UPS do not deliver until the afternoon, at least for me.

    Product photo of an Apple Watch Series 8 in Midnight with a Midnight Sport Loop
    Product photo of an Apple Watch Series 8 in Midnight with a Midnight Sport Loop

    Let us briefly look at the Midnight Watch and the Midnight Watch Band.


    Midnight Apple Watch and Midnight Bands

    Last year when they introduced the Apple Watch Series 7 they introduced a new color, “Midnight”. Midnight replaced the standard “Space Gray” or “Black”. Midnight is not a pure-black, but more of a really dark blue. Typically when Apple releases an Apple Watch they have a corresponding set of bands to go with it, however, they did not do that last year. This year though they have released a new Midnight Sport Loop as well as a Midnight Solo Loop.

    Apple classifies these as “black”, but they are not. Here is a comparison of the Midnight Solo Loop and the Black Solo Loop. In the picture below the Midnight Sport Loop is lying on top of the Black Sport Loop. The Black Sport Loop is on an Apple Watch Series 7.

    Midnight Solo Loop on top of the Black Solo Loop to demonstrate the color difference
    Midnight Solo Loop on top of the Black Solo Loop to demonstrate the color difference

    As you can see the Midnight Solo Loop is a slightly brighter shade and is more blue than black. Even though it is a brighter shade that does not mean that it is a bright blue, far from it. It is still a dark color, but just not as nearly dark as the Black Solo Loop.

    The Midnight Watch is the same shade as the Series 7 Midnight color. As mentioned above, the Midnight Sport Loop is a new band. The Midnight Sport Loop has alternating stripes of colors. One side is green, while the other is a light gray. There are stripes of blue, green, orange, and gray throughout the band. It was the most subtle band that Apple offered, hence the reason why I chose it when I did my pre-order. 

    Apple Watch - Midnight Sport Loop
    Apple Watch – Midnight Sport Loop

    What I would really like is a color-matched Solo Loop because even the Black Solo Loop is not as dark as Midnight Apple Watch. Now, that we have covered the color and bands, let us look at a couple of new features for the Series 8, Crash Detection, and the Temperature Sensor.


    Crash Detection

    One thing that everyone hopes to not be involved in is a crash. However, should a crash occur the Apple Watch Series 8 has the ability to detect when you are in a crash. This is done using the new accelerometer and gyroscope, along with algorithms for crash detection. The new accelerometer can handle up to 256Gs of force, which is way beyond what a human can withstand. If you are in a crash, the Apple Watch can contact emergency services, and your emergency contacts. The Watch will do so if you do not cancel out of the SOS emergency call.

    Back in 2016 there were reports about Apple doing testing in an area and there were complaints of excessive engine noise from neighbors near the facility. I am now thinking that some of that noise could have been testing of the Apple Watch, and iPhone 14, Crash Detection algorithms. If it was not that, it could have been testing to obtain data for the algorithms. This is pure speculation on my part, but the crash detection does make some sense. Features like this are not created in just a few days, but they do take significant testing and tweaking to get correct.

    Let us turn to another new hardware feature, the Temperature Sensor.


    Temperature Sensor

    The Apple Watch is designed with health tracking in mind. This includes fitness, mindfulness, and even sleep tracking. One area that can be health related is cycle tracking. Cycle Tracking was added to watchOS 6 in 2019. The Cycle Tracking features would allow women to track their menstrual cycle and record various aspects, like how much bleeding, any factors like being pregnant, lactating, or using contraceptives, or any other symptoms that they might be experiencing. 

    One area that the Apple Watch has not been able to help with is temperature. That changes with the Series 8 Apple Watch, because there is a whole new temperature sensor.

    Front Temperature Sensor on the Apple Watch Series 8
    Front Temperature Sensor on the Apple Watch Series 8

    The temperature sensor in the Apple Watch Series 8 has two different parts. The first is on the back of the Apple Watch that is in contact with your skin. The second is closer to the surface of the Apple Watch Series 8. The reason that this is needed is because temperatures can differ depending on sleeping environment. The sensor closer to the surface of the Apple Watch is used to detect the temperature of the environment, while the one on the back of the Apple Watch is used to detect your body temperature. According to Apple, “Wrist temperature data will be available after about five nights.”

    Rear Temperature Sensor on the Apple Watch Series 8
    Rear Temperature Sensor on the Apple Watch Series 8

    The temperature sensor on the Series 8 Apple Watch is designed to provide you with a baseline measurement and not the actual temperature. This information can be used to provide you with some possible insight into when you might have ovulated. This can help you with being able to assist you in possibly becoming pregnant. This is not a predictive feature, but a retroactive one. The feature is called “Retrospective Ovulation” and can only provide you with information about when you might have ovulated. It does not predict when you will ovulate. One thing to note about retrospective ovulation is that according to Apple, “retrospective ovulation estimates should be available after about two cycles.”

    Temperature Report from Apple Watch Series 8 within the Health App
    Temperature Report from Apple Watch Series 8 within the Health App

    That covers all of the new features that are for the Apple Watch Series 8 itself, but let us cover a couple of new features for watchOS 9 that are worth noting. These features are the new Compass app, Low Power Mode, and some notes about the Nike Apple Watch.


    New Compass App

    The Apple Watch has a had a compass feature ever since the original Apple Watch was released in April of 2015. Its functionality has been fairly basic with just providing a digital version of an analog compass. For many people this is enough, but watchOS 9 brings some enhancements to the Compass app.

    The Compass app has a new feature, called Backtrack. Backtrack is a way of being able to mark different points along a route so that you can make your way back, should you find yourself in a situation where you get off course.

    While this feature is primarily designed to help you when you are out in the wilderness, it could be useful in any situation where you might not be able to find your way back to a place. Some possible examples could be if you are out on a hike, but it could also be just as useful in a new city and you need assistance making your way back.

    Backtrack, and the new compass app, are not exclusive to Apple Watch Series 8, but they are new in watchOS 9. This is available for Apple Watch Series SE, and Apple Watch Series 6 and later. Next, let us talk about conserving power with Low Power Mode.


    Low Power Mode

    The Apple Watch has long had a feature called “Reserve Mode”. This mode is an extreme one that would shut off all functionality of the Apple Watch with the exception of being able to keep and display the time. Power Reserve was a binary choice, it was either on or off, there was no middle ground.

    The iPhone has long had a way of preserving battery through a feature called Low Power Mode. When you enable Low Power Mode on the iPhone many of the background processes are turned off, or their refresh rates are reduced.

    Starting with watchOS 9, Low Power Mode is making its way to the Apple Watch. Low Power Mode is designed to allow someone to extend the battery life on Apple Watch. Low Power Mode can be enabled by swiping up on the Control Center, tapping on the battery percentage, and then toggling the Low Power toggle.

    Low Power Mode toggle on watchOS 9
    Low Power Mode toggle on watchOS 9 with the toggle being off.

    When you enable Low Power Mode there are a number of items that are turned off, or reduced. The items that are turned off include:

    • The Always-on Display
    • Background heart rate measurements
    • Background Blood Oxygen measurements
    • Start Workout reminders
    • Irregular heart rate notifications 
    • High heart rate notifications
    • Low heart rate notifications

    If your iPhone is not nearby the following items will also be disabled

    • Wi-Fi connectiosn
    • Cellular connections
    • Incoming phone calls and their notifications

    Beyond these items being turned off, there are also other items that are affected including:

    • Phone calls taking longer
    • Siri may take longer to process requests
    • Compilations update less frequently
    • Background app refresh occurs less frequently
    • Animations may stutter more

    You can enable or disable Low Power mode as needed. Low Power is not a feature of only the newest watches. In fact, it is available for any Apple Watch that is a Series 4 or later. You can also view additional information on Apple’s website. Low Power Mode: Apple Support Article https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT213336. Next let us move onto Nike Watch Faces.


    Apple Watch Nike

    Since the introduction of the Apple Watch Series 2, in 2016, there has been a separate version of the Apple Watch specifically branded as the Nike Edition. The Nike Edition of the Apple Watch has had all of the same features of their corresponding non-Nike aluminum versions. The one thing that the Nike version came with is a set of exclusive Nike Watch Faces that would only work on Nike Watches, and not on non-Nike versions.

    Let us say that you had an Apple Watch Series 2 Nike edition and then you upgraded to a regular Series 4 Apple Watch, any Nike Watch faces that you had configured would no longer be available for you to use. This can be somewhat annoying for users of the Nike Watch who upgraded and wanted to continue to use those Nike Watch Faces. The only way to be able to continue to use those would be to upgrade to another Nike edition. This all changes with watchOS 9.

    With the release of the Apple Watch Series 8, there is no separate Nike version. Instead, starting with watchOS 9 you can use any of the Nike Watch Faces that you would like. You can add any of the Nike Watch Faces by doing so on your Apple Watch or by adding one from the Face Gallery section within the Apple Watch app on your paired iPhone. The Nike Watch Face options that you have available are:

    • Nike Analog
    • Nike Bounce
    • Nike Compact
    • Nike Digital
    • Nike Hybrid

    Each of these has its own layout, but each of them can be customized in terms of complications and colors. One of the differences with the Nike Watch Faces is that you have a limited number of options when it comes to color. This is because the faces are designed to correspond to Nike watch bands. As an example, on the Nike Compact and the Nike Hybrid faces you can select any color combination from Summer 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, and Fall 2022. 

    The Nike Analog, Nike Bounce, and Nike Digital watch faces allow you to select any of the colors from Spring 2017 going forward. 

    It is good to see the Nike Watch faces available to all Apple Watch users. I am sure that having separate watch models provided additional strain on supply chain, as well as trying to predict how many to manufacture. Beyond this, watchOS also had to know which models could use the Nike Watch Faces and which ones could not and that provided additional overhead for maintaining watchOS.

    In some respects it did not make sense to have these versions be entirely separate since they were the exact same as the Aluminum watch, but it is what Apple wanted to do in cooperation with Nike.

    The Apple Watch Hermès models still have their own unique Watch Faces. I do not expect the Hermès watch faces to come to other Apple Watches any time soon because the Hermès watches are a more expensive edition and have a more limited user base.


    Closing Thoughts

    The Apple Watch is focused on glanceable information, like notifications and complications on a watch face. Along with this, the Apple Watch is designed for fitness and health. The Apple Watch Series 8 is no exception for this. The Apple Watch Series 8 does add a few exclusive feature. The first of these is Crash Detection. If a crash is detected, Crash Detection will be able to contact emergency services and your designated emergency contacts that you have configured in the Health app, automatically on your behalf.

    Along with Crash Detection there is a new Temperature Sensor. The temperature sensor is a two-part sensor that is designed to work for being able to sense minute changes in temperature for women who are using cycle tracking. The temperature information can be used to provide you with retroactive ovulation estimates. This is a great addition for women to help them with their reproductive health. I would not be surprised to see the temperature sensing feature be enabled for everyone in the future, or be used for future features.

    The Apple Watch Series 8 is powered by watchOS 9. watchOS 9 has a bunch of new features, like Low Power Mode. Low Power Mode allows users to extend their battery life. When you enable Low Power mode some functions will no longer work, or the frequency in which they refresh will be reduced. These changes are made to help extend the battery life of the Apple Watch.

    Lastly, you have some new options for Watch Faces with the availability of the Nike Watch Faces now being available for all Apple Watch users, and no longer being limited only to the Nike Editions of the Apple Watch.

    Overall the Apple Watch Series 8 is a slight upgrade from the Apple Watch Series 7. If you have a Series 7, it may not be worth upgrading. However, if you do want, or need, the Temperature Sensor then it is worth the upgrade.

    If you have an Apple Watch Series 6, it would be a stretch to upgrade to a Series 8, that is, unless your battery is not holding enough of a charge to get you comfortably through an entire day. If you have a Series 5, or an even older model, then the Series 8 should be a solid upgrade and one worth looking into possibly upgrading your Apple Watch.

  • Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga: A Review

    Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga: A Review

    If you have been reading my site for a while, you might realize that I like video games. One thing you might not realize is that I also like Legos. You might expect that if you combine the two that I would be the target market, and you would be absolutely correct.

    Over the last 18 years of blogging I have written some reviews of Lego games, including Lego Dimensions and a list of my favorite games for 2017 . When I went back and looked, I thought I had done reviews of more of the games, but for some reason it turns out that I have not, but I absolutely played a lot of Lego video games over the years. Some of these include Lego City Undercover (on both Xbox and Wii U), Lego Marvel, Lego Harry Potter, Lego Indiana Jones, and, of course, all of the Lego Star Wars games. With Star Wars and Lego being two of the things that I like, I thought I would write a review of the “Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga” video game, so let us look at various aspects of the game.

    I played Skywalker Saga on the Xbox Series X, you can get a copy for any of the consoles Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, or Xbox One, as well. You can get the physical version or the digital version, deepening on your system and preference.

    Before we get into the game we need to take a brief look at the source material, the Star Wars film franchise.

    Star Wars Films

    Star Wars Logo
    Star Wars Logo

    You are likely aware that there are nine films that focus on the main characters within the Star Wars franchise. In fact, these nine films are three trilogies, the “Original” trilogy, the “Prequel” trilogy, and the “Sequel” trilogy. All of these comprise what is called “The Skywalker Saga”. There are other anthology films, but these are not included in the game. The complete list of films in the “Lego Star Wars: the Skywalker Saga” are:

    1. The Phantom Menace
    2. Attack of the Clones
    3. Revenge of the Sith
    4. A New Hope
    5. The Empire Strikes Back
    6. Return of the Jedi
    7. The Force Awakens
    8. The Last Jedi
    9. The Rise of Skywalker

    Throughout the game you will be able to play all nine films and use a variety of different characters. Some of these will be from the films that you can easily recognize, while others may be a bit more obscure. Before we dive into the game itself, let us look at its actual release.

    Game Release and Delays

    It is quite common for games these days to have an initial release date and end up being delayed. But the Skywalker Saga is an outlier, even for the norm. The game was initially announced at E3 in 2019. An initial release date for the game was set in May of 2020 with an expected release in October of 2020. However, events in August of 2020, it was announced that due to COVID-19 the game would be delayed with an expected release date being set to Spring 2021.

    Fast forward to April 2nd, 2021, and TT Games announced via Twitter that the game would be delayed indefinitely. The reason provided was to allow more time to work out the bugs since the game was supposed to be the largest and biggest Lego game to date. In January of 2022, TT Games announced that the Skywalker Saga would launch on April 5th, 2022. The game did in fact launch on April 5th, 2022.

    I am one who enjoys all sorts of Lego games and this was absolutely no exception. I had pre-ordered the game in December 2020. I opted to get the “Deluxe” version, which included the character pack as well as a Luke Skywalker mini-fig. This pre-order length is the longest that I have experienced, and I have been gaming for a long time. The number and length of delays were worth it though. This was one of the most stable, although no perfect, Lego video games that I have played to date.

    About the Game

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga Opening Screen
    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga Opening Screen

    The Skywalker Saga is an ambitious game. As the name states, it covers the entirety of the Skywalker Saga, which is all nine of the films, from “The Phantom Menace” to “Rise of Skywalker”. You might initially think that would have to start at the first film, “The Phantom Menace”, but that is not the case. In fact, there are you can start at any first movies of each of the trilogies. This means that you can begin at The Phantom Menace, A New Hope, or The Force Awakens, depending on your mood.

    For my play through I opted to start with The Phantom Menace. Within each film, you are not able skip ahead to another film, you actually have to play through the trilogy in order. Next, let us look at the game play.

    Game Play

    Within Skywalker Saga that are actually two different modes of being able to play through a particular level, Story Mode and Free Play. Story mode is a locked mode in which you will need to use the provided characters to complete the level. Free Play mode is very similar to Story mode, except you can choose any character that you have unlocked and can switch freely between them in order to accomplish the tasks required.

    Each class of character has its own unique abilities. Here are some benefits for each class:

    • Jedi – Jedi mind tricks, Jedi powers
    • Heroes – Hero Terminals, Grappling Hooks
    • Scavenger – Special Tools
    • Scoundrel – Special Targeting
    • Bounty Hunters – Enemy detection, grenades, and some can temporarily hover
    • Villains – Explosives, Access weapons caches
    • Dark Side – Jedi mind tricks, Jedi powers
    • Astromech – Special Terminal access
    • Protocol Droid – Translation, Break Apart, droid terminals

    Stud Collection

    There are a number of features within Skywalker Saga that features that you have come to expect from Lego games. Chief amongst these is collecting of studs. Studs are circular lego pieces that will provide you will various amounts depending on the color. The colors and their stud values are:

    • Silver – 10 studs
    • Gold – 100 studs
    • Blue – 1000 studs
    • Purple – 10000 studs

    Studs are used for a variety of things throughout the game. Some of these include purchasing upgrades, ships, characters, or even during quests. There are only a few quests that actually require you to pay for something using studs. If I recall correctly, the most expensive thing paid for during a quest was 10,000 studs.

    True Jedi

    “True Jedi” is a status where you collect a requisite amount of studs in each level. The amount varies level to level. For some levels it can be easily accomplished during story mode without any multipliers, while others are more easily accomplished with stud multipliers enabled.

    Levels

    Each of the nine movies has six levels to go through. These levels are re-creations of the movies with some additional elements. If you have seen the movies you will definitely recognize the various parts of each movie and which parts the game is recreating.

    Within each level there are some tasks that you need to accomplish. There are five mini-kits that you need to locate and obtain. These mini-kits are used to unlock various Micro ships. Some of the mini kits can be obtained while playing through the story using the characters provided to you, meanwhile there are others that will require you to use other unlocked characters in order to obtain these other mini kits and can only be obtained during free play.

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga - Level Select
    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga – Level Select

    Along with the mini kits there are also three challenges per level. Some of these you will inevitably get by accident, while others will require you to make a concerted effort to obtain them. There are 135 total challenges to accomplish, three for each of the 45 levels. Challenges are not identified in anyway, except for at the end of the level. For these challenges, you may want to find the information on the internet.

    Kyber Bricks

    Throughout the Skywalker Saga there are 1166 Kyber Bricks that you must obtain in order to get 100% completion. Within each of the levels of the nine films there are six Kyber Brick. These are awarded for each of the following:

    • Level completion
    • Obtaining “True Jedi” status
    • One for each of the three level challenges
    • Collecting all five minikits

    That means that within the nine films there are 270 Kyber Bricks that are possible just for going through the levels and completing all of the challenges and obtaining True Jedi and collecting the minikits.

    Kyber Bricks are used to make purchases that will help upgrade different character classes.

    Character Upgrades

    Character class upgrades will allow you to make improvements to various character classes. Some of these upgrades are for the “Base” class, which applies to all characters, while others are class specific. These upgrades cost a combination of Kyber Bricks and studs. As each of the upgrade levels goes up, it will cost both more in Kyber Bricks and studs. Studs are more easily obtainable.

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga - Class Upgrade
    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga – Class Upgrade

    Now that we have covered a few different aspects of the game play, let us turn to the Galaxy.

    The Galaxy

    In the Skywalker Saga you can go to any of the planets across the Star Wars galaxy at any time. You do not need to finish any levels to access the planets. On each of the planets you will have a variety of mini puzzles to accomplish and characters to obtain. There are 25 different planets with at least two specific areas that you can travel to, and likely more. One of these is the “Space” around the planet and another is on land. Many of the places that you can land will be familiar and are places you have played during story mode. The total number of areas you can travel to is 55, and even some of these have areas that you are not directly accessible, except by taking a taxi (free) between areas on the planet.

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga - Galaxy Destination Selection
    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga – Galaxy Destination Selection for Jakku

    Quests

    Throughout the Star Wars galaxy there are a number of different quests that you can perform. The list includes:

    • 140 Side Missions
    • 731 Puzzles
    • 38 Trials
    • 10 Challenges

    All of these items can be accomplished whenever you would like. As is the case with many other aspects of Lego Star Wars Skywalker Saga, some of these will be easy, while others will be challenging.

    As a note, the challenges listed above are different from the level challenges and are galaxy-wide challenges.

    Data Cards

    Throughout the Galaxy there are 19 datacards that can be collected. Each Datacard will allow you to unlock a special extra, like stud multipliers, or a special GONK companion. These are round in various worlds and will each cost studs to unlock. The stud multipliers are particularly expensive to purchase, but their cost will be made up somewhat quickly particularly if you have more than one multiplier enabled.

    Rumors

    Rumors within Skywalker Saga are a way of learning information. This information may be quest specific, but it may also be just general information. You can purchase any rumor, in the Holographic in-game menu. The types of rumors you can purchase are for any of the side quests, galaxy-wide challenges, level challenges, or even minikit information. Rumors are not free and will cost you some studs to obtain. Here are a couple of screenshots showing the process.

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga - Rumor not yet purchased
    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga – Rumor not yet purchased

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga - Rumor purchased
    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga – Rumor purchased

    Xbox Achievements

    No Xbox game is complete without at least some achievements. There are 45 achievements that can be triggered by completing actions. It is not likely that you will get all of them very quickly, in fact it will take a while. But, as you play it is inevitable that you will trigger at least some of them just through the natural course of the game.

    Bugs and Glitches

    No game is ever going to be 100% perfect, and the Skywalker Saga is no exception. However, compared to other Lego video games that I have played, this one did have fewer noticeable bugs, with the exception of those outlined below. One thing in particular that I did notice is that none of the achievements failed to trigger for me. All of them popped as expected, which has not been my experience in the past. Even though it was the most stable, there were still some bugs.

    I ran into a few issues while playing the game. This includes not being able to advance in some levels, some levels not being able to be played in “Free Play”, and my favorite, is having the game glitch so bad that I could not get out of a loop where I dropped through the floor, was caught, and placed right back to the same place. This was annoying because I could not even move or switch characters so I could get out of the loop. Here is the video showing that glitch.

    YouTube video showing the Capital Ship glitch which I could not do anything about without exiting the game.

    The second bug that I came across was in the level “C-3P-Oh No!”, in “The Rise of Skywalker”, where “Free Play” would not actually be work. Instead, it enters story mode. This bug only occurred when flying to the level and trying to select Free Play. If you use the Holographic level selection screen and select Free Play it worked as expected. Below is a video showing the bug.

    Here is a video of a last bug that I encountered. This one is just a bug, it did not affect game play. One of the many quests is to collect various characters for someone else and this is just a bug where the camera angle obscures the actual collection of the character. It did not affect game play.

    Video showing a couple of minor bugs that are strictly visual and do not affect actual game play

    Annoyances

    Beyond the bugs mentioned above, there is one thing that can be annoying. There are 1166 Kyber bricks to collect in order to get 100% completion. While I can appreciate a large game, having to do the same thing over and over does get monotonous after a while. If you are going to attempt to get 100% on the game, be prepared to spend a significant amount of time obtaining all of the items, collectibles, characters, and completing all of the levels and challenges.

    A second annoyance that I encountered is regarding characters. Before we dive into that, we need to cover another feature. One aspect to the Lego games is the ability to unlock stud multipliers. There are five possible multipliers within the Skywalker Saga. These are the 2x, 4x, 6x, 8x, and 10x multipliers. These can be used in conduction to allow you to get a lot of studs fairly quickly.

    With all of multipliers enabled you actually get 3,840 times the value of each studs that you collect. What this means is that for a silver (10) stud collected on the screen, you actually receive 38,400 studs. If you collect a 10000 stud, that means that you collect 38,400,000 studs. This can add up quickly and can be very helpful to obtain True Jedi status. Now, back to the characters.

    Regarding the characters, it is not that there are too many characters, although there are certainly quite a lot of them, the issue is that you have to “purchase” each one of them individually within the game. What would be nice to see is a way of being able to purchase all available ones in a single go.

    I can see where having this feature early in the game could easily go awry and have someone inadvertently purchase all of the available characters and then no longer have the studs to do perform other tasks. In order to avoid this, it could possibly be that the option would not appear until after you have unlocked all of the stud multipliers. This way, even if someone accidentally does this, it will not take long for someone to acquire the studs again.

    The same would also apply to ships, although there are significantly fewer of them, but it could be helpful to that option for those as well. However, this approach would not make sense regarding upgrading character classes because upgrading character classes does require a bit of thought depending on what functions you need at the time.

    The last annoyance is actually regarding some of the battles. For some of the battles, like when you are facing Count Dooku on the ship, your character has a particular perspective. While I understand the need for this, it can be quite annoying, particularly if you are attempting to get a Kyber Brick or complete a challenge. This is because you cannot change the perspective, and in this particular instance, even switching characters does not allow for freely looking around, the perspective remains the same no matter what character you are using.

    Tips

    As with any game you end up learning things as you play the game. Lego Skywalker Saga is no different and I thought I would provide you some tips that may come in handy for when you play.

    1. Unlock the stud multipliers as soon as possible. As outlined above, the sooner these are unlocked the quicker you can collect studs.
    2. Along with stud multiplier, the stud magnet is a good thing to unlock as well. This may be something you want to unlock after you unlock the 2x and 4x stud multipliers.
    3. Be sure to upgrade character classes as you go, there are some additional capabilities which may be useful in the game.
    4. Be sure to explore the capital ships. They contain some goodies.
    5. Make use of the mission tracking capabilities and do not be afraid of hopping from planet to planet.
    6. Do no expect to be able to do everything in order, it is just not possible.
    7. Talk to non-player characters no matter where you are. You can learn quite a bit from these characters.

    Closing Thoughts

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga does go through all of the nine films and does a pretty good job of recreating the experience of the films. While the game does have some bugs, at least as of this writing which is less than two months after it launched, it has far fewer bugs that previous Lego games. This makes the game quite a bit more enjoyable to play.

    Even though the game is enjoyable overall, it might start to feel like Groundhog Day when you are doing the same things over and over. It may be advisable to break up tasks and do various things throughout the galaxy. The game is ambitious and a giant galaxy. That being said, you will likely want to consult some walkthrough and hints to figure out how to achieve some tasks throughout the game play.

    If you have a significant amount of time that you want to use playing a game, you could possibly put it towards Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. There is a lot that the game has to offer. I have not calculated how long I have spent playing the game, but it is a significant amount of time. I looked at the amount of time that I spent on the game and it took me just under 129 hours total to reach 100% in the game. Therefore, if you do pick it up you will absolutely get your money’s worth when playing, unlike some other games.

    Lego Star Wars: Skywalker Saga - 100% Completion

  • Mac Studio: A Review

    Mac Studio: A Review

    If you were able to time travel back to 2007 and give someone the list of Mac desktops from March 17th, 2022, they would not see any differences. Not a single one. Back in 2007 there were three desktop models, the Mac mini, the iMac, and the Mac Pro. Yes, the form factor, designs, and internals have all changed, but someone the actual devices and their place in the lineup would be instantly understood and comprehended.

    It is not often that Apple introduces a new Mac model to the lineup. But, that is exactly what Apple has done. That device, is the Mac Studio. Before we dive into the Mac Studio, let us briefly look at recent Apple desktops.


    Brief History of recent Apple Desktops

    Apple has always had desktop computers. Their first computer, the Apple I, was a desktop. Apple has continually improved their desktops through the mid 1990s. The problem with the approach that Apple was taking in the mid-90s was that they were really no different than PCs. In fact, they were allowing companies to clone the Mac and as many who used the clones during the time would say, they are not very good. That changed when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs returned to the company. Shortly after his return to Apple, he introduced a new product, the iMac.

    The iMac was an all-in-one device that was self-contained, no separate monitor and computer. Apple continued to update and refine the iMac to include a flat-panel display. The iMac was the first device that Steve Jobs re-introduced after he returned to Apple and became interim CEO in 1997, after Apple purchased NeXT. The iMac has continued to be updated and changed since its introduction in 1998.

    In 2012 Apple introduced a new iMac size, to go with the 27-inch model. That size was the 21.5-inch model. In 2014 Apple introduced a revision that was the first retina version. The 27-inch iMac was updated in mid-2015, late 2015, mid-2017, early-2019, and mid-2020.


    High-end Mac Languishing

    Throughout the mid-2010s many Mac users were questioning what Apple was doing with the Mac. The reason that this was being questioned is because it seemed as though the Mac had stagnated and was not getting the attention that many thought it deserved. This was particularly true in 2015 and 2016 where the high-end of Mac line had not seen any meaningful changes in the Mac Pro. At the time, the model was last updated in 2013, but that model was a revolutionary design, a cylinder.

    In April 2017 Apple convened a roundtable for journalists that re-iterated the fact that the Mac was not dead and that they were still committed to the Mac. At the roundtable Apple indicated that “we’ll see improved iMacs that Apple feels will appeal to a segment of Pro users”. 

    Specifically at the Mac roundtable in 2017, Apple’s Phil Schiller stated:

    “As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a Pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.”

    While it would take a bit for the new Mac Pro, more on that in a bit, it was not long after that meeting where Apple would introduce a new product, the iMac Pro.


    iMac Pro

    iMac Pro 2019
    Late 2019 – iMac Pro

    Introduced at their World Wide Developer Conference in June of 2017, the iMac Pro was a more professional iMac. The iMac Pro had the same physical dimensions of the regular 27-inch iMac, but it had entirely redesigned internals. The iMac Pro was aimed at more professional users. The iMac Pro included workstation-level processors, the Intel Xeon line, as well as error-correcting code, or ECC, memory. 

    Beyond the workstation graphics and ECC memory, the iMac Pro also included a 1TB solid state drive, which was possible with the standard 27-inch iMac, but this was still during the spinning hard drive era of the iMac. There was 32GB of memory as a base, but could be upgraded to 256GB of memory, if desired. 

    The iMac Pro also included a dedicated AMD Radeon Pro Vega video card, with up to 16 Gigabytes of dedicated graphics memory. The iMac Pro was not an inexpensive machine. Not by any means at all. The iMac Pro had a starting price of $4,999, so nobody would buy this on a whim. The iMac Pro was a one-off product that continued to be sold until March of 2021, when Apple announced that they would stop producing the iMac Pro and would continue to sell the iMac Pro until supplies ran out. 

    Even though Apple stopped selling the iMac Pro, there was still the other professional Mac, the Mac Pro.


    Mac Pro

    2013 Mac Pro
    Late 2013 – Mac Pro

    When the iMac Pro was introduced, some had speculated that the iMac Pro was intended to be the top of the line Mac and that the Mac Pro was no longer going to be updated. But, that was not the case, because Apple explicitly stated that they were working on a new Mac Pro, but it would not be coming in 2017. In fact, it would not be introduced until two years after the introduction of the iMac.

    There is the 2019 Mac Pro, which was unveiled at WWDC in June of 2019 and went on sale in December of 2019. Introducing the Mac Pro at WWDC was the right decision because one large segment of power users are developers. 

    At the same event as the introduction of the Mac Pro Apple also released their first all-new standalone display in nearly 9 years, and three years after selling standalone displays. That product is the Pro Display XDR. 

    I could dive deep into the Mac Pro and the Pro Display XDR, but that is not the primary focus of this review. Even though it’s not the focus, it is important that we keep in mind both the iMac and iMac Pro, because they come into play with a new Mac desktop, the Mac Studio. We will look at the Mac Studio in a bit, but before we do, let us look at a bit more history. Let us turn to my personal history with Mac Desktops.


    Personal History with Mac Desktops

    March 28th, 2022 marked the 15th anniversary of me using a Mac. As I posted in my retrospective, my first Mac was the Late 2006 20-inch iMac that I purchased in March of 2007. According to some, including @TweetDowns, I am merely a “rookie”, when it comes to using Macs. I take no offense to being called a “rookie” even though I have been using a Mac for 15 years, because there are those who have been using them for far longer than I have.

    If you have been reading the site for a while you likely notice that I end up getting a new iPhone and a new Apple Watch every year. One thing that you may also notice is that while I end up buying a new iPhone and Apple Watch every year, I tend to use my Macs for quite a bit longer. In fact, in my time using Macs, I have owned four Mac desktops, all three have been iMacs. These models have been Late 2006 20-inch iMac (purchased in March of 2007), a Mid-2011 21.5-inch iMac (purchased in July of 2011), and a Mid-2017 27-inch iMac (purchased in July of 2017). On average I end up replacing my Mac desktop every five years. And it has been just about five years time to replace it. I do not exclusively use Mac desktops though, I also have owned some Mac Laptops. Unlike desktops I have only owned two laptops. These are the Mid-2007 13-inch Black MacBook and the early-2015 13-inch MacBook Pro.

    On a side note, astute and diligent readers may remember that I also have a base-model Mac mini (M1, 2020), and they may be wondering why I did not include that one in my list. Well dear reader, that is a good observation. The reason I did not include it is that the Mac mini has not been my “daily” computer. It use it exclusively for testing app builds and running beta versions of macOS. It uses an entirely different account and has none of my personal data. With that, I decided to not include it in my list of desktop Macs.

    When I started thinking about which device to replace, my mid-2017 iMac or my early-2015 MacBook Pro, I was initially leaning towards replacing my MacBook Pro, since it is now seven years old. While making these decisions I could not decide whether or not to just get one replacement machine, a MacBook Pro with higher specifications, or continue with my two-computer setup.

    It turned there was something that caused me to end up replacing my iMac. The thing that prompted the replacement was that the iMac screen began to crack. I noticed the initial crack in March of 2021 and at the time it was small crack and it was stable for almost a year. But, over the course of about month it started to expand from that one inch (2.54cm) crack to be 18 inches (45.72cm) overall.

    Once the crack started expanding, that is when I decided to replace the iMac. I ended up buying a Mac Studio with a Studio Display. I will not cover the Studio Display, at least not in-depth, because I did an entire review of the Studio Display. The Studio Display will absolutely come up in the review, but it will be in context of the Mac Studio, and now onto my review of the Mac Studio.


    Mac Studio

    Front of an Early 2022 Mac Studio
    Early 2022 Mac Studio

    Apple introduced the Mac Studio last month, in March of 2022 at their “Peek Performance” event. This is the first new all new Macintosh design since 2006 with the Mac Pro. After the event Apple also did something else, they quietly removed the 27-inch iMac from sale. This makes sense, given that they introduced a standalone display, the Apple Studio Display, at the same event.


    Design

    When Apple introduced Apple Silicon at their World Wide Developer Conference in 2020, many thought it would be an opportunity for Apple to redesign all of the Mac models. However, the first models with Apple Silicon did not have any redesign, not even some internals were changed. This makes complete sense to use this approach. The reason that this makes sense is that if you do not change anything then you can do all of your development in secret without anybody knowing that something new is coming. This is exactly what Apple did for their first round of Apple Silicon devices, the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac mini.

    Even though Apple used the exact same enclosures and ports for their first round of machines, they did not continue to do that for newer models. While the MacBook Pros were not the first ones to get a redesign, they were the most anticipated The most anticipated updates were the higher-end MacBook Pros. In particular, Apple redesigned the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the 16-inch MacBook Pro came a smaller model, the 14-inch MacBook Pro alongside it. The exterior of these laptops were redesigned including ports that users had been asking for, including MagSafe charging, HDMI, and an SD Card slot. 

    The first device to see a significant change was actually the 21,5-inch iMac. The 21.5-inch iMac got such a redesign that it was actually replaced with the 24-inch iMac. The 24-inch iMac was a radical change that included a set of new colors, an external power brick with a built-in ethernet cable, and a thin screen. While the 24-inch iMac was a great design, many were waiting for the replacement for the 27-inch iMac. That replacement is the Mac Studio. 

    The bottom of the Mac Studio is very reminiscent of a device that was unveiled in September of 2006 and released in March of 2007, the original Apple TV. The similarities are that they have approximately the same physical size, but the item that is most similar is that both of the devices have rubber element that is covering the entry point to the device. It is a full rubber pad for the original Apple TV and a rubber ring for the Mac Studio. Another similarity, the rubber ring, or pad, will be completely destroyed if you try to remove it. It was possible to remove the Apple TV rubber pad, but more often than not you would ruin it.

    The physical dimensions of the Mac Studio are 7.7 inches (19.7cm) by 7.7 inches (19.7cm) by 3.7 inches (9.5cm). The is the same physical footprint as Mac mini and the original Apple TV. The Mac Studio is significantly taller than the Mac mini, which stands at 1.4 inches (3.6cm). This is just a bit over two Mac minis tall.

    On the front of the Mac Studio is a power light indicator. This light is not super bright, which is good, but it is bright enough to be able to easily see no matter how much ambient light is available. I do not know if the light’s intensity is because it is how the type of light that Apple sourced is designed, or if Apple added a bit of diffusion within the case of the Mac Studio.

    Mac Studio stacked on top of an M1 Mac mini which is on top of an original Apple TV.
    Mac Studio stacked on top of an M1 Mac mini which is on top of an original Apple TV.

    Weight

    The Mac Studio is a somewhat heavy device, at least compared to the Mac mini. In fact, the Mac Studio is 5.9 pounds, or 2.7 kilograms. The Mac mini is 2.6 pounds, or 1.2 kilograms. The Mac Studio is 2.25x heavier. This somewhat makes sense because the Mac Studio is more than two Mac minis on top of each other. The difference in weight is partially the case for the Mac Studio but a majority of it is due to the fan assembly and heatsink. The M1 Ultra is slightly heavier at 7.9 pounds, or 3.6 kilograms. The reason for the M1 Ultra being even heavier is due to the copper heatsink that provides even better heat dissipation.

    It is not often that you will move the Mac Studio, but it is something to be aware of should you need to move it on a regular basis. Next, let us look at the modularity of the Mac Studio.


    Modularity

    When Apple introduced the Mac Studio they discussed that the Mac Studio is modular. When Apple mentioned this many likely thought “wait, this is the Mac Pro mini that was rumored”. Unfortunately for them, that is not the modularity that Apple was talking about. When Apple mentioned modularity they meant that the screen and computer are both modular. Meaning, that you could replace either of the items instead of needing to replace both at once.

    This approach does have its merits, in particular the fact that you are more likely to upgrade the Mac instead of the display. I know that is my intention for the Mac Studio and Studio Display. I intend to use the Studio Display for a long while and I am more likely to replace the Mac Studio before the Studio Display.

    There is another aspect to “modularity” when it comes to the Mac Studio. Unlike many of Apple’s other Macs, the storage is not soldered onto the logic board for the Mac Studio. This means that Apple can easily provide additional storage options, but more on that later.

    I think this was deliberately done. As my friend, and editor of my books, Barry Sullivan astutely pointed out, the Mac Studio is designed to be the replacement for both the 27-inch iMac as well as the iMac Pro. When he mentioned this, it instantly made sense that it was exactly what Apple had intended to do, and just reinforced Apple’s decision to remove the 27-inch iMac from sale. The best way to illustrate this is by explaining the two System-on-a-Chip, or SoC, options available for the Mac Studio.


    Apple Silicon on Mac Studio

    Apple Silicon is Apple’s replacement for using Intel processors in the Mac. The plan to transition away from Intel was unveiled at Apple’s WWDC 2020.  The first Apple Silicon machines, with the designation of M1, went on sale in November of 2020 with the introduction of three machines, the M1 MacBook Air, the M1 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the M1 Mac mini.

    Any Apple Silicon chip is significantly different than a traditional computer setup because it is a System on a Chip, or SoC. With Apple Silicon there is no difference between the system memory and the graphical memory. This means that there are significant improvements in speed due to both the main system memory and graphics memory being a single pool and there is no penalty for moving memory between the CPU and GPU, which requires time. With Apple Silicon there is no delay.

    One of the things that Apple has been able to do with the transition to Apple Silicon is to make the processor line up a bit easier to understand. The line up of chips is quite straightforward. There are four chips in the M1 line. These chips are:

    • M1 (no moniker)
    • M1 Pro
    • M1 Max
    • M1 Ultra

    As you progress the capabilities of each system on a chip changes and improves.

      M1 M1 Pro M1 Max M1 Ultra
    Total Cores 8 8/10 10 20
    Efficiency Cores 4 2 2 4
    Proficiency Cores 4 8 8 16
    GPU Cores 8 14/16 24/32 48/64
    Memory 8GB/16GB 16GB/32GB 32GB/64GB 64GB/128GB
    Neural Engine Cores 16 16 16 32
    Thunderbolt Ports 2 3 4 6

    If you look at the progression of the SoCs you will see that as the chips progress, the maximum amount of memory doubles. This is absolutely the case between M1 Max and the M1 Ultra.

    Apple M1 Chip Family Logos
    Logo of the M1 Family of Chips

    System-on-a-Chip Options

    The Mac Studio has two different processor options; the M1 Max and the M1 Ultra. The M1 Max has two variants, one with 24 GPU cores and another with 32 GPU cores. The M1 Ultra variants are exactly double that of the M1 Max, therefore the M1 Ultra has 20 CPU cores, with 16 performance cores, and 4 efficiency cores, and 32 Neural engine cores. There are also two variants, one with 48 GPU cores or the second with 64 GPU cores. 

    The M1 Ultra is actually two M1 Max chips paired together with a connector, called “UltraFusion”. When a developer hears or reads “two M1 Max chips together”, they are likely to instantly be put on guard. The reason for this is that when there you have two processors that typically means that you, as the developer, needs to handle addressing the various processors and memory on their own.

    However, that is not the case. From the perspective of macOS, the M1 Ultra is still seen as single processor, which means that developers do not need to perform any special programming to be able to take advantage of the additional bandwidth, cores, and memory. Instead, macOS can handle all of it for you.

    I think that Apple intentionally chose the M1 Max and M1 Ultra as the options for the Mac Studio, to directly replace the 27-inch iMac and the iMac Pro; with the M1 Max being the equivalent of the 27-inch iMac and the M1 Ultra being the equivalent of iMac Pro.

    The M1 Max and M1 Ultra both run at 3.2GHz, just as is the case with all of the M1 processors, including the M1 and M1 Pro. Next, let us look at what ports are available on the Mac Studio.


    Ports

    One thing that people often need to do with their device is attach devices. What is attached could be a variety of items, like external hard drives, thumb drives or any other external device. While some MacBooks and MacBook Pros have had a limited number of ports, including the single USB-C port on the 12-inch MacBook, Apple’s desktops have always had many ports. The Mac Studio is no exception to this.

    Early 2022 Mac Studio Ports
    Ports on the Early 2022 Mac Studio

    The Mac Studio has a number of ports. Unlike all other desktop Macs, and even the aforementioned 27-inch iMac and iMac Pro, there are ports on the front of the Mac Studio. There are actually a dozen ports for the Mac Studio. The entire list includes:

    Rear Ports

    • Four Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports
    • Two USB-A ports
    • One HDMI port
    • One 10Gbps ethernet port
    • One 3.5mm Headphone port

    Front Ports

    • Two USB-C (Two Thunderbolt 4 with the M1 Ultra)
    • One SDXC slot

    This is a large number of ports. In fact, this is the largest number of ports that are built-in on any Mac sold today. You can easily add more ports on the Mac Pro with add-in cards, but the Mac Studio has more built-in ports than even the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro has eight included ports, as compared to the Mac Studio’s 12 included ports. <b>Note</b>, the Mac Pro does have two ports on the top of the machine, so one might argue that these are the equivalent of “front” ports, because they are very convenient for users to plugin transient items.

    The front ports on the Mac Studio can vary depending on which SoC is in the machine. For the M1 Max you will get two USB-C ports, while the M1 Max will have two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports. The reason for this is that there is more bandwidth available to support Thunderbolt on those two ports.

    The nature of technology is generally a forward march of progress. However, sometimes that forward momentum requires some legacy ports to be brought along. In 1998 when the original iMac was released there were no “legacy” ports. At the time this would have included SCSI, parallel, 3.5-inch floppy, VGA, or even standard keyboard and mouse connectors. Instead, Apple went all in on USB because it was the future of technology. In hindsight, that was the right call. PCs had included USB for a while, but they still had legacy ports as well as USB ports.

    As much as we would like to get rid of old technology it is not easy to do. Even 26 years after its initial introduction, the original USB plug, called “Type A”, is still on the Mac Studio. There are only two USB-A ports and 6 USB-C ports. If you need more than two USB-A ports, you have a couple of options, you can either get an adapter or you can get a USB-A hub to add even more ports.

    The SDXC card slot is a port that not everybody will end up using. I know I am not likely to use it, not that I will never use it, but it is not a port that I need to use on a regular basis. Both my mid-2017 iMac and early-2015 MacBook Pro both have an SDXC slot on them, and I have used them on occasion, but the times when I do use it are few and far between.

    For those who do use it regularly though, it will be much more convenient to have the SDXC card slot on the front of the Mac Studio will make it remarkably more convenient. Most particularly if you need to import or expo video files to an SD Card slot on a regular basis.

    Now, let us see how much the Mac Studio costs, if you want to contemplate purchasing one.


    Pricing

    Normally, I would look at a price comparison between the 27-inch iMac and the Mac Studio with Studio Display, but I do not think that is necessarily an appropriate comparison. The reason for this is because the Mac Studio is not only an entirely different machine, you cannot directly compare them. Sure, you could try to make an approximation, but the devices are so fundamentally different products.

    The iMac is an all-in-one device meanwhile the Mac Studio is designed to be modular, where you can use any monitor with the Mac Studio, and as mentioned earlier, you can upgrade the display and computer separately as needed.

    The Mac Studio starts at $1999 for the 10-core CPU and 24-Core GPU model, with 32GB of unified RAM and 512GB of storage.. In 2022, a computer that starts at $1999 should have at least 1TB of storage. To me, 512GB does not seem like enough storage space for the price. Unfortunately, this is typical of how Apple prices their devices.

    If you want an M1 Ultra, you can get one, but be prepared to pay quite a bit. The Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra will get you 20-core CPU, 48-Core GPU, 64GB of unified memory, and 1TB of storage. Just as many other aspects of the M1 Ultra being double the M1 Max, the price is also double. The M1 Ultra starts at $3999.

    The Mac Studio with M1 Ultra, 40CPU Cores, 64 GPU Cores, 128GB of RAM, and 8TB SSD would come to a total of $7999. You can configure just about any price between $1999 and $7999. Now, let us look at what I actually ordered.


    My Configuration

    The configuration I opted for is the 10-core CPU, 24-Core GPU model and 32GB of unified memory, which is the base configuration. I did decide to make one upgrade. I upgraded the unified storage, and I went with 2TB of storage. The 2TB of storage is less than I have in my 2017 iMac, which was a 3TB Fusion Drive. The 32GB of unified memory is more than the 24GB of total memory I have in my iMac. 

    Front view of the Mac Studio on a desk
    Front View of an early 2022 Mac Studio on a desk

    I did think about going up to 4TB, but that would have added another $600 on top of the $600 for the 2TB. Instead, I decided to stick with 2TB and if I need more storage I can use an external drive, there are plenty of drives for that.

    Another reason I went with 2TB is that I store most of my documents using iCloud, so if it really comes down to it, I can just remove the items from my Mac and keep them in iCloud. Should I need them again I can download them again. I can also keep things on an external drives if needed, and this is in addition to my other cloud backups as well.

    The reason I went with the base processor is that it is way more than I think I will need for the next five years. 32 CPU Cores and 24 GPU Cores are way more than I have had in any Mac, let alone any computer, that I have used on a regular basis. Now, let us look at Apple Silicon as a daily machine.


    Apple Silicon as a Daily Machine

    Technically, the Mac Studio is not my first Apple Silicon machine. This is because I did purchase an M1 Mac mini back in November of 2020 when they were announced. I got the base model M1 Mac mini, no upgrades. I ordered this after a friend of mine tested my app, wwriteLite, on their M1 MacBook Pro and the app was crashing.  

    The M1 Mac mini has been a test and development machine. The M1 Mac mini came in handy for my book, “iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, tvOS 15, and watchOS 8 for Users, Administrators, and Developers“, last year. The way that the M1 Mac mini was very helpful was because there were a couple of features that were only available on Apple Silicon Macs, and it was my only M1 Mac. Along with this, my 2017 iMac and 2015 MacBook Pro did not get some of the features that were introduced with macOS Monterey, so it was handy being able to use those new features when writing my book.

    Even though I have owned an M1 Mac mini, I did not use, and have not used, it on a daily basis as my primary computer. The Mac Studio is my daily machine and this is the first time I have used an Apple Silicon machine regularly. So, I thought I would share my thoughts on a few things that I have noticed while using an M1 machine every day, starting with Xcode.


    Xcode

    My day job is to work on both web apps and develop and iPadOS app that is used at work. In order to build and iPadOS app you need to use Xcode. My 2017 iMac has been what I have primarily used to develop the app we use at work. Beyond this, my 2017 iMac has been the machine that I have done all of the work on my own app, wwriteLite, since I got the iMac in July of 2017.

    Xcode app Icon
    Xcode App Icon

    I did some benchmarks for how long it took to build my app. I ran three different trials to get an average amount of time to compile. These builds were full clean builds, not incremental ones. Here are the results of those trials:

    Device Trial #1 Trial #2 Trial #3 Average
    Early-2015 MacBook Pro 141.26 115.84 121.44 126.18
    Mid-2017 iMac 61.00 49.25 46.15 52.13
    Late 2020 M1 Mac mini 32.90 28.60 30.30 30.60
    Early 2022 Mac Studio 26.30 24.92 23.18 24.80

    You can clearly see the difference between the iMac and the Mac Studio. The Mac Studio takes half as much time compile my app, and this was just for full builds. Incremental builds did not always take that long to build, but they could still take some time. While I have not done any extensive testing, I suspect that incremental builds will also be a bit faster, but I do not expect the to be twice as fast.

    Xcode contains a huge number of features. One of the most power hungry, and most problematic ones, that I encountered when doing development has been SwiftUI Previews. In case you are not aware, SwiftUI is Apple’s Swift-only framework that uses a whole different approach than traditional programming. SwiftUI uses a declarative syntax. The declarative syntax can allow you to quickly iterate by allowing you to make changes and view them instantly. When doing development on my iMac whether SwiftUI Previews would work was severely hit or miss. 

    Having used the Mac Studio for a little bit and using Xcode I can say for certain that the Mac Studio is a much better platform for using SwiftUI Previews. The Mac Studio was not only able to render my SwiftUI Previews, but it was able to do so without making the fans spin up.

    When I did an actual build of my app to run in a simulator the power usage did spike to around 50 watts, but this was brief and intermediate and when the app was actually running in the simulator the temperature of the Mac Studio was hovering around 100 degrees celsius, and the power quickly ramped back down.

    As mentioned, SwiftUI Previews can be very power hungry. If I was able to use SwiftUI Previews on my iMac, the fans would almost invariably spin up to 100%. When the fans spin up, they can generate a lot of noise, and on the topic of noise, let us discuss noise with the Mac Studio.


    Noise

    When the Mac Studio was first in the hands of individuals there were some that indicated that they could hear the fans in the Mac Studio. The fan noise did not bother some, but the Mac Studio was loud enough that it caused some people to return their Mac Studio machines. I have not been able to hear the fans, no matter what I am doing. I have not been able to make the fans spin up in day to day usage. As I stated earlier I do have iStat Menus installed and I can manually make the fans spin up, and I did just to make sure that they were functioning. But in my day to day usage I have not been able to make them spin up. Not even when I was doing my encoding tests.

    Most of the time I have not heard much noise coming out of my other Macs either. I tend to have pretty good hearing and if there is even a slight change in the fans, I typically hear it. There is a caveat to this, in order for me to hear most changes I need to not be wearing my headphones.

    When I am wearing my headphones I am not prone to hear slight changes in fan noise. However, if the fans really spin up, I will absolutely hear them, even over my music, which is not that loud. When this happens, I know something has gone awry and I need to look at it. Typically the fix is to kill whatever process is causing the excessive fan noise. The major reason that the fans turn on is to remove any excess heat from the system. Let us now look at the temperature of the Mac Studio.


    Temperature

    Internal design of the Early 2022 Mac Studio from the front
    Internal design of the Early 2022 Mac Studio from the front

    One of the things that might make fans spin up on any device is the internal temperature of the device. The reason for this is that devices need to stay cool so they do not overheat. Overheating in the computer world can lead to rather disastrous results. While it is not likely to happen these days, too much heat can cause components to get damaged and can cause systems to fail. macOS is designed to automatically adjust the fan speed as needed.

    I have iStat Menus installed to be able to keep tabs on how warm my systems get. I do not normally need to worry about desktop Macs, and I am not at all concerned about the Mac Studio. I primarily use iStat Menus on my 2015 MacBook Pro, which can get a bit warm at times, particularly if I have any JavaScript heavy webpages loaded.

    Even though I am not worried about it on the Mac Studio, I did install iStat Menus to see what temperature ranges would be shown during normal usage of the Mac Studio. Most of the time the Mac Studio is between 92 and 96 degrees celsius. This is about the same range as my 2017 iMac, but 15 degrees cooler than my 2015 MacBook Pro. If I manage to stress the CPU cores, or the GPU cores, the temperature might reach around 140 degrees celsius. I saw the Mac Studio reach this temperature when I was doing my encoding tests. Even when the temperature was that high, the fans never spun up beyond their standard idling speed of approximately 1325 rotations per minute.

    The Mac Studio is designed to stay as cool as possible. The top half of the Mac Studio is a fan assembly that will pull air from the bottom of the Mac Studio over the components, forcing the hot air to rise and be pushed out of the back of the Mac Studio. Now that we have covered the fans, let us look at another item that might make some noise, but this one is likely to be more deliberately done. That feature is the speakers.


    Speakers

    Almost every computing device sold these days has some way of providing feedback. On an iPhone and Apple Watch this can be through haptics, or the speaker. On the iPad it has to be through the speaker since there are no haptics. The same applies to the Mac Studio which only has speakers for feedback.

    The speaker on the Mac Studio is, as you might expect, functional, but far from the highest quality, but this is expected. The Mac mini and Mac Studio are not devices that people typically buy for their speaker quality. The Mac Studio speakers are decent and do have more bass than the Mac mini, but cannot compare even to my 2017 iMac speakers. Even though they are not as good as my iMac, they are are a bit better than my early-2015 MacBook Pro speakers, in that they have more bass. This is not surprising given how much more room there is for the speakers in the Mac Studio.

    The Mac Studio speakers are very functional and serviceable, particularly if you only want to listen to stuff like podcasts, but you may want something else, like a HomePod or a pair of wireless headphones, if you plan on using the Mac Studio for listening to audio. The decision to not make the Mac Studio speakers the best out there makes sense, particularly since the Mac Studio is designed to be paired with the Studio Display. If you have a Studio Display connected to the Mac Studio, those speakers are absolutely a better choice, and the way to go. On the topic of the Studio Display, let us briefly turn to using dual Studio Displays.


    Dual Studio Displays

    Dual Apple Studio Displays connected to a Mac Studio
    Picture of Dual Apple Studio Displays connected to a Mac Studio

    When Apple announced the Studio Display, it is a product that many were waiting to be released. I was amongst those who were waiting. Since I had been waiting, I ordered a Studio Display as soon as the event was over. When I ordered the Studio Display I anticipated using the Studio Display as a second monitor for my iMac. 

    Prior to receiving the Studio Display, I had been using my iMac with a 27-inch Dell monitor, so I was accustomed to having a dual-monitor setup. The 27-inch Dell is model SE2719H. This model is not a 4K monitor and it can support a maximum resolution of 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels tall. I bought this monitor in June of 2020 as a second monitor for my iMac. As mentioned in my review of the Studio Display, I completely enjoyed having a two full 5K screens on my desk. 

    Having two displays with the same resolution and overall features make things easier to handle and less jarring when moving between the windows and items on the two displays.

    When I ordered my Mac Studio I also ordered another Studio Display. I ordered the exact same configuration for the screen, which is the Studio Display with the Tilt-Adjust stand. I will not lie, I went back and forth about whether to get the second Studio Display, because I thought it might be a bit too excessive, but I ordered it none-the-less. I also debated on ordering a Studio Display with Tilt and Height Adjustable stand, but I opted to get the same one I already ordered. Now, I will be the first to state that being able to afford two Studio Displays, along with a Mac Studio, is a privilege and this is not a normal configuration for most users.

    The Mac Studio arrived before the second Studio Display, which was not expected. The delivery date range for my second Studio Display was a full week before the Mac Studio itself, but the Mac Studio arrived first. Why it arrived first, I do not know, but it surely did.

    During the time without the second Studio Display I once again used the 27-inch Dell monitor as my second monitor. Having gone back to a single 5K screen with a 1080p display as the secondary screen was, suffice to say, less than ideal. Even in the brief amount of time that I had been using the Studio Display with my iMac, I had gotten used to having two 5K screens on at the same time, and having to go back to a screen with two different resolutions made me appreciate using two monitors with the same resolution. 

    One of the downsides with having a non-Apple supported monitor is that many of the adjustments on the monitor cannot be made through macOS. Chief amounts these is the brightness of the screen. Throughout the day I end up needing to tweak the brightness of my displays to either be brighter or dimmer depending on the amount of light. Even with True Tone and Night Shift, some adjustment is necessary.

    Not being able to adjust the Dell monitor’s brightness within macOS means using the cumbersome buttons underneath the display. Another downside to using the Dell is the fact that the two displays sit at two different heights. This latter issue is a minor one, but it can be hard to find something to place under the lower monitor to bring it up to the same height as the other monitor. 

    Now having had two 5K Studio Displays for a little while has only positively reinforced my decision to buy the second Studio Display. It is quite nice having two screens that are the same height and have the exact same feature set. I fully intend to use the Studio Displays for many years. It is quite likely that I will end up replacing the Mac Studio before either one of the Studio Displays, but only time will tell on that.

    Having two identical displays really is the way to go. Even if you do not want to spend the money on multiple Apple Studio Displays, but you want two, or more, monitors, I would recommend buying the same monitors so that everything can be the same and there is no need to adjust a lot of things just to make everything work in the expectant manner.

    Next, let us move onto something else, Touch ID.


    Touch ID

    Touch ID Logo
    Touch ID Logo

    The Mac Studio has two items in the box; the Mac Studio itself and a power cord. That is it. The Mac Studio does not come with a keyboard, mouse, or any other input device, which is a departure from the 27-inch iMac and the iMac Pro, but is keeping in line with the Mac mini. You may recall that I wrote a review of the Magic Keyboard Touch ID. I did that review with my base model M1 Mac mini, mostly because it was the only computer I could use the Touch ID keyboard on. When it was connected to the M1 Mac mini, the only time I used the Touch ID sensors  to sign into the Mac mini, when I did need to connect to it and not through Screen Sharing.

    Instead of buying a new Touch ID keyboard and mouse, which I may do at some point in the future because who does not like matching colors, I decided to use my existing Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and another Magic Mouse that I already had. Since the Touch ID sensor would not work with my 2017 iMac, nor on my early-2015 MacBook Pro, this is my first experience with using Touch ID regularly on macOS.

    When I started using Touch ID on my Mac Studio I did not realize just how often I would need to fill in passwords. The iMac never prompted me for passwords, they were just automatically be filled in. Obviously having passwords automatically fill in without any biometrics is significantly less secure, but it is significantly  more convenient. As is the case with all things in modern technology, there is a trade off between convenience and security. The more convenient you typically end up making something less secure.

    It has taken me a bit of time to get used to the fact that I can log into my Mac Studio with Touch ID. I have been using may Apple Watch to unlock my Macs since I could enable the feature. However, a Mac will not unlock if the Apple Watch is locked. I am sure using Touch ID to unlock my computer will just take a bit of time to get used to and eventually it will become second nature.

    Even though it is a bit more of an inconvenience to use Touch ID, it is definitely more secure. One area where Touch ID came in the handiest is when it came to logging into the Apple website. You can use your local account’s password to authenticate with your Apple ID account. Now, with a Touch ID keyboard, I no longer have to enter in my password and I can just use the Touch ID sensor to authenticate. This interaction is so much quicker and a very welcome change.

    Next, let us try and look at some of the speed of the Mac Studio, through encoding media.


    Encoding Media

    One of the features of the M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra, are that they are designed with video encoding and decoding in mind. The unified memory system on its own would help improve encoding speeds. The real speed improvement comes with the fact that there are dedicated video engines in these processors. Specifically, there are video encode engines and two ProRes encode and decode engines built directly into the processors. For the M1 Pro there is a single dedicated ProRes encode and decode engine. While on the M1 Max there are two, and there are four on the M1 Ultra. 

    I do not use ProRes in anyway, so I am not sure if they will ultimately go unused, I suspect they might. However, what will not go unused is the encoding engine. This is because I do like to convert my physical media into digital format so I can watch it on one of my Apple TVs. 

    Ripping a DVD

    There are a number of ways of doing this. You can use something like Handbrake or FFmpeg. I prefer Handbrake myself. When I set up a new machine, I end up downloading new copies of apps, and this was definitely the case with the Mac Studio. If you use Handbrake on an Apple Silicon machine, be sure to update to the latest version, 1.5.1.

    I ended up ripping one of the DVDs that I have. It was a standard 480p DVD. For the test I used HandBrake with an external USB DVD burner that I own. The DVD burner is USB-A and I connected it directly to my Mac Studio. As a side note, hardware makers, an 8-inch cable is not long enough, not by a long stretch. You really need to include more cable length on these devices, or make it detachable and replaceable.

    The encoding maxed out at 155.18 frames per second, with an average of 119.19 frames per second. The entire encode only took 12 minutes and 13 seconds. While the DVD was encoding the temperature, as reported by iStat Menus, got up to 120 degrees and you know what, the fans did not even spin any faster. They were at around 1336 revolutions per minute, which is where they idle at.

    Compare this to the 2017 iMac, which topped out at around 150.07 frames per second and averaged 118.19 frames per second. The total time took about 12 minutes and 16 seconds. This was the same USB DVD drive, with the same piece of media, using the same version of Handbrake with the same settings. These are comparable, which seems about right because the USB DVD drive was likely the limiting factor

    The iMac did get warmer, at about 134 degrees celsius and that was with the fans on 100% at 2705 revolutions per minute. Obviously, I could hear the fans going on the iMac. Ripping from a DVD is only one option, the is another option, ripping from an image of the DVD.

    Ripping from Image

    I did another test, ripping from an image. I did two different tests, the first was ripping from the image on the internal drive to an external drive and the second was ripping from the image on the internal drive to the internal drive.

    Mid-2017 iMac

    When ripping from the DVD to an external drive, on the iMac the maximum speed was 179.81 frames per second with an average was 151.40 frames per second. Again, the iMac fan went to 100% at 2705 revolutions per minute. The ripping was done from the internal drive to an external, just as it was when ripping to DVD, as to minimize variability and this time it took 9 minutes and 32 seconds. So, this is about 3 minutes, or 25% faster.

    Just to provide one last test, I ripped from the internal drive to another file on the same drive. The statistics for that were a maximum of 200.06 frames per second with an average of 149.24 frames per second and that encoding took 9 minutes and 40 seconds.

    Mac Studio

    Now, compared to iMac,, ripping the image to an external drive on the Mac Studio had a maximum of 402.27 frames per second with an average of 330.69 frames per second and it took 4 minutes and 22 seconds to rip. The temperature did rise to 146 degrees celsius but the fans never spun up beyond their idle speeds.

    Ripping the image to local drive, from the local drive, showed a maximum of 401.33 frames per second and an average of 329.66 frames per second, all in 4 minutes and 23 seconds. The temperature was 147 degrees celsius and as expected, the fans never spun up beyond their idling speed of 1300 revolutions per minute.

    As you can see, ripping a DVD image on the Mac Studio, whether to the internal drive or an external drive was 50% faster. I do not know if it makes sense to rip a DVD to an image and then rip it, because it would take a while to rip from the DVD drive to the image, much longer than just ripping from the DVD drive directly. Overall, I think I will use the Mac Studio for ripping DVDs to my library.

    Next, let us look at some other measurements of how fast the Mac Studio is. That is through benchmarks.


    Benchmarks

    Geekbench 5 app icon
    Geekbench 5 App Icon

    All of my reviews include the obligatory benchmarks. These benchmarks all used GeekBench 5. The devices include other M1 devices, Intel Machines, and even some devices that have A-series chips. The “ML” category is for iOS and iPadOS devices only, as GeekBench has yet to release a Machine Learning app for macOS, I wish they would though. So, onto the actual benchmarks.

    Device Single Core Multi-Core ML (CPU) ML (GPU) ML (ML) Compute (Metal)
    Early 2022 Mac Studio (Max) 1760 12238 59133
    Mid-2017 27-inch iMac 1752 7780 21812
    iPhone 13 Pro Max 1715 4409 926 2467 2722 14940
    5th Gen iPad Pro 1698 7203 1021 28837 2718 21256
    6th Gen iPad mini 1598 4637 892 1885 2537 12097
    Mid-2017 27-inch iMac 1065 4188 41184
    Late 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro 1099 5388 23194
    Late 2018 Mac mini 1022 4736 4677
    iPhone X 923 2568 502 885 435 4114
    Early-2015 MacBook Pro 742 1540 5151
    iPod Touch 7th Gen 503 1074 359 552 310 2311
    iPhone 6s Plus 466 1013 326 539 284 2530

    The results are what one might expect. The M1 family of chips is based on the A14, so all of those devices have roughly similar results. The one outlier is the 6th Generation iPad mini, which has an A15 in it. The M1 line of chips are based on the A14, and the A15 should have slightly better performance, look at the iPhone 13 Pro Max which also has an A15.

    I am not sure why there is such a discrepancy, but when looking at the other Geekbench submissions, these results are inline with other 6th generation iPad mini devices.


    Closing Thoughts

    The Mac Studio is not an inexpensive machine by any stretch of ones imagination. It starts at $1999 for the M1 Max version, but can range to $7999 for the M1 Ultra with 8TB of Storage and 128GB of unified memory, and almost any price in between. Even though The Mac Studio is designed to replace both the 27-inch iMac and the 27-inch iMac Pro, the Mac Studio is not an all-in-one machine. Instead, it is modular.

    The Mac Studio is a desktop computer that was introduced with an accompanying Studio Display. Taken together these pieces can be upgraded and replaced as needed. Modularity of the Mac Studio does not stop at just the device itself. The Mac Studio is also modular in terms of storage. It is not soldered on and allows Apple to easily replace or customize the storage in the Mac Studio without needing to create different logic boards with a variety of storage options. 

    The Mac Studio is a significantly faster machine than other M1 Macs available and if you are going to purchase one, you should be quite delighted by the speed. Along with the speed, the Mac Studio is replete with external ports, including four Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A, one HDMI, and one headphone jack. One thing that differentiates the Mac Studio from other Macs is that there are also ports on the front of the Mac Studio. On the front there are two USB-C ports that support USB 4 and an SDXC slot.

    If you are a developer and using an Intel-based machine, you should really look at getting a Mac running Apple Silicon. It will definitely be a game changer for development. If you prefer laptop, the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro is a good choice, but if you want a desktop you cannot go wrong with the Mac Studio as your machine.

    If you are looking to order a Mac Studio, you might want to place your order now, many configurations have a delivery range of 10 to 12 weeks, meaning as of this writing you are looking at August for a delivery date.

  • Apple Studio Display: A Review

    Apple Studio Display: A Review

    Apple touts that its products are of high quality. For the vast majority of cases, this is true. No matter how much quality assurance is done, there are always going to be individual exceptions to having quality products. I do not mean lines of products, although sometimes that happens. What I mean is that individual items end up going bad. No matter how hard a company tires, it is just the way with modern manufacturing. Apple started out as a computer company, and has since transitioned away from being a computer company to be a general technology company, and is attempting to move towards being a services company.

    Most of Apple’s modern devices are all-in-one devices. Some examples are the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, Apple Watch, and MacBook Air. These devices all come with displays built-in. For all of these, except the Apple Watch, you can plug in the device into an external monitor if you so choose. Most people who have an iPad or iPhone may use AirPlay, but sometimes that is not always possible and instead connecting directly is the way to go. Before we dive into Apple’s latest standalone display, let us look back at a short history of Apple’s previous displays.


    Apple Display History

    Standalone displays are not a new product line for Apple. The first computers that Apple created did not include a monitor and instead users were instructed to plug the computer into their television. This changed in 1980 when Apple unveiled the “Apple III”. The Apple III included a Cathode Ray Tube, or CRT, monitor. Apple would continue to offer CRT monitors for sale with computers until the late 1990s. At this point Apple began a switch away from CRT monitors to flat-panel monitors. These would not be the first Liquid Crystal Display, or LCD monitors. The first LCDs were used with the Mac Portable line of computers during the mid to late 1990s. Most did not have any experience with these because most users purchased desktop computers.

    Apple Studio Display from 1998

    The standalone displays produced by Apple have had a long history and have shifted over the years. Over the last 25 years there have been 16 different models of standalone display sold by Apple. Most have been flat-panel models, however there have been a few CRT-based models. Here is a list of all of the released Standalone displays with the introduction and end dates. The list includes:

    • Apple Studio Display – 15-inch – March 1998 – January 1999
    • Apple Studio Display – 17-inch (CRT) – January 1999 – May 2002
    • Apple Studio Display – 21-inch (CRT) – January 1999 – January 2000
    • Cinema Display – 22-inch – September 1999 – July 2000
    • Cinema Display – 22-inch – July 2000 – June 2003
    • Apple Studio Display – 15-inch – July 2000 – January 2003
    • Apple Studio Display – 17-inch – May 2001 – January 2004
    • Cinema HD Display – 23-inch – March 2002 – June 2004
    • Cinema Display – 20-inch – January 2003 – June 2004
    • Cinema Display – 20-inch – June 2004 – February 2009
    • Cinema HD Display – 23-inch – June 2004 – November 2008
    • Cinema HD Display – 30-inch – June 2004 – July 2010
    • LED Cinema Display – 24-inch – October 2008 – July 2010
    • LED Cinema Display – 27-inch – July 2010 – December 2013
    • Thunderbolt Display – 27-inch – July 2011 – June 2016
    • Pro Display XDR – 32-inch – December 2019 – Currently Available

    If you look at each of these displays, you may notice that each display type was not on the market for that long. The longest was the 30-inch Cinema Display, which was around for just over six years. The next longest available was the Thunderbolt Display, which was just about five years. Most models were only around for a year or two. We will not dive into all of these different models, but we will look at three models. In order we will look at the Thunderbolt Display, the LG UltraFine displays, and the Pro Display XDR. The reason for these two in particular will be shown. But before we dive into each of those, there is a quick side topic that I want to cover, Target Display Mode.


    Target Display Mode

    One of the features that Apple included in Macs between 2009 and 2014 was a feature called Target Display Mode. Target Display mode was a way of being able to connect a Mac to an iMac and use the iMac as a display for the other Mac. This function worked well when using a MacBook or MacBook Pro, and using an old iMac. Target Display Mode only worked for iMac between 2009 and mid-2014. You can check out the Apple support article all about Target Display Mode.

    The big change that happened with iMacs released after mid-2014 is that the screen resolution of iMacs improved to become “Retina”. The late 2014 iMac came in two sizes, 21.5-inch and 27-inch. The 21.5-inch was 4K and the 27-inch was 5K. Both of these required a custom timing controller. This timing controller meant that the iMac could no longer be used as a second display for a Mac.

    When I got my Early 2015 iMac, I remember using my mid-2011 iMac as a second display for the laptop. It worked quite well and when I needed a larger screen it was a nice thing to have. There are third-party solutions, like Luna Display, which can take an iMac and make it into a second display. Before you delve down this, you may want to read about Adam Engst’s experience at Tidbits.com or Allison Sheradin’s experience at Podfeet.com.

    Now, let us look at one of Apple’s standalone displays, the Thunderbolt Display.


    Thunderbolt Display

    Apple Thunderbolt Display

    The Thunderbolt Display was introduced in July of 2011 and Apple stopped selling it as of June 2016. The Thunderbolt Display was a 27-inch in-plane switching, or IPS, paneled display. It had a resolution of 2560×1440, so just slightly higher than High Definition. The Thunderbolt Display was an improvement over previous versions because it was intentionally designed to be used with a MacBook or MacBook Pro. It was not just designed to be able to connect to a MacBook or MacBook Pro, but the Thunderbolt Display included a MagSafe power adapter that would allow you to charge a MacBook Pro when it was connected to the Thunderbolt Display.

    One of the advertising aspects of the Thunderbolt Display is that there were two cables total, the Thunderbolt cable with MagSafe connector, and the power cable. The Thunderbolt Display was more than just a display, it was actually a hub. If you connected the Thunderbolt Display to a Mac, you could plugin some peripherals with the provided ports and the devices would be connected to the Mac. The available ports on the Thunderbolt Display were three USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire 800 port, another Thunderbolt Port, and a gigabit ethernet port.

    Ports on an Apple Thunderbolt Display

    Almost six years ago, on June 23, 2016, Apple announced, through a statement, that it was discontinuing the Thunderbolt Display and they would no longer produce standalone displays. At the time they stated,

    “We’re discontinuing the Apple Thunderbolt Display. It will be available through Apple.com, Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last. There are a number of great third-party options available for Mac users”.

    Apple would continue to sell the Thunderbolt Display until supplies ran out. Apple clearly stated that they were getting out of the standalone display business. Instead of making their own displays Apple decided to partner with LG to make some displays. Let us look the LG UltraFine displays next.


    LG UltraFine

    When Apple introduced the 27-inch 5K Retina iMac in 2014 many were hoping that Apple would eventually release an “iMac without the computer”, meaning just the screen. However, this did not happen. Instead, as mentioned above, Apple partnered with LG to make displays that were not only compatible with Macs, but also sold by Apple in its physical stores as well as their online store.

    The reason that they chose LG is because LG was already in the display manufacturing business. Secondly, LG was the company that built the actual panels that were used for Apple’s 4K and 5K Retina displays in the iMac; therefore it made sense to partner with LG to make the displays.

    The LG UltraFine monitors came in two sizes, a 21.5-inch 4K model with a resolution of 3840-by-2160, and a 27-inch 5K model with a resolution of 5120-by-2880 pixels. These resolutions are the same as the 4K and 5K Retina iMacs. The screens also included support for the P3 color gamut, meaning that colors are brighter and more vibrant than standard Red Green Blue color space.

    LG UltraFine 5K Display

    The LG UltraFine monitors also featured a Thunderbolt 3 connector and a USB Hub to connect up to three USB-C devices. The USB-C ports are USB 3.1 generation 1, which are capable of up to 5 gigabits per second. As you may notice, this is very similar to the functionality of Apple’s Thunderbolt Display, just by a third-party manufacturer.

    Also similar to the Thunderbolt Display you could charge a MacBook or MacBook Pro. The 4K model could charge up to 60 watts and the 5k Model could charge up to 85 watts. These two wattages means that you could easily charge any of Apple’s MacBooks.

    In May of 2019 some changes were made. The 21.5-inch 4K model was replaced by 23.7-inch 4K model. The power from the monitor was increased to 85 watts. The 27-inch model was updated in July of 2019. The changes for this model were increased power to 94 watts, and this added support for the iPad Pro.

    The LG UltraFine monitors were not completely well received, at least not by everyone.

    LG UltraFine Critiques

    There were some critiques of the UltraFine monitors. The most notable is that if you had a 27-inch LG UltraFine that was too close to a wireless router, including the Apple AirPort, the screen would go black and become unusable. LG did fix this by adding additional shielding to models produced after February 2017.

    There was another issue that has not been satisfyingly fixed, and that is that the monitor does not always sit properly on the stand. What happens is that the stand ends up wobbling whenever it is touched. This can make using the UltraFine less than ideal.

    In June of 2019 at their World Wide Developer’s Conference, Apple unveiled a brand new Mac Pro with its complement Display, the Pro Display XDR.


    Pro Display XDR

    Introduced in June of 2019, the Pro Display XDR was the first Apple standalone display in three years. The Pro Display XDR took the 5K Retina screen and made it bigger. The Pro Display XDR is a 32-inch 6K monitor with a resolution of 6016 by 3384. The “XDR” portion within the name stands for Extreme Dynamic Range. Dynamic Range, in relation to color, is the range from smallest value and the largest value. In this case, it is in terms of color range.

    Similar to the Thunderbolt Display and the LG UltraFine, the Pro Display XDR can also be used as a USB hub, USB-C to be exact. However, unlike the Thunderbolt and LG UltraFine these ports are USB 2 speed, except when using a 16-inch MacBook Pro, where they are USB 3.1 generation 1, or 5 gigabits per second. So, in reality these ports are better used for charging or for devices that are not speed-sensitive. The reason for this is because the bandwidth for Thunderbolt 3 is used up by the display to make sure it gets the full 6K screen resolution.

    Apple Pro Display XDR with stand

    When the Pro Display XDR was introduced Apple mentioned that it was a display that could be used as a replacement for $40,000 reference monitors that are used by video professionals to make sure they are getting accurate color within their video or photos. Color is not the only reference mode that you can do with the Pro Display XDR. The complete list of reference modes includes:

    • Pro Display XDR (P3-1600 nits)
    • Apple Display (P3-500 nits)
    • HDR Video (P3-ST 2084)
    • HDTV Video (BT.709-BT.1886)
    • NTSC Video (BT.601 SMPTE-C)
    • PAL and SECAM Video (BT.601 EBU)
    • Digital Cinema (P3-DCI)
    • Digital Cinema (P3-D65)
    • Design and Print (P3-D50)
    • Photography (P3-D65)
    • Internet and Web (sRGB)

    Beyond reference modes the Pro Display XDR has some additional features that can be found on other Apple devices. This includes, Night Shift and True Tone both adjust the color. Night Shift automatically adjusts the color temperature of the display as the day progresses to the warmer end of the spectrum, so this is easier on the eyes.

    True Tone will take the light levels around you and adjust the temperature of the screen to be close to the light in the area surrounding you. This is designed to make the color appear more natural.

    The Pro Display XDR also supports Dolby HDR 10 and Hybrid-Lag Gamma (HLG) playback for video. Along with this, the Pro Display XDR supports various refresh rates, including 47.95Hz, 48.00Hz, 50.00Hz, 59.94Hz, and 60.00Hz. These refresh rates are standards that are used for both National Television System Committee, or NTSC, and Phase Alternating Line, or PAL, standards.

    The Pro Display XDR is a standalone display that has some advanced features. The Pro Display XDR is designed for professionals and has the professional price. The Pro Display XDR starts at $4999 to be exact, and that is without a stand. You have two options for stands, the Pro Stand or the VESA mount. The Pro Stand will add an additional $999 and the VESA mount adds $199.

    There is an alternative screen technology, which is an option for the Pro Display XDR. That technology Apple calls “Nano Texture”. Nano Texture is an advanced glass technology that is etched directly into the glass and it is not another layer on the glass. Nano Texture is designed for those places that have direct sunlight or changing lighting conditions where being able to see the screen in all conditions is needed. For most users though, Nano Texture glass is not needed, but for those that need it, it is an option.

    Therefore, the base model Pro Display XDR and the professional stand brings the total price up to $5999 for both. The Nano Texture price will add another $1000. Many people want to get an Apple standalone display, but cannot afford, nor justify, the entry price. However, there is now a product that more people can afford called the Studio Display. Now, let us look at the Studio Display.


    Studio Display

    Apple Studio Display on a desk.

    As mentioned earlier, many Mac users have been hoping Apple to take the screen out of the 27-inch iMac and just put it into a standalone display, which is basically the iMac without the computer. When Apple announced that it was no longer making standalone displays, many figured that Apple would not end up doing this. Furthermore, Apple has done just this, and then some. Before we dive into the display itself, let us look at the name.


    Name

    The Studio Display was introduced at the same time as the Mac Studio computer, so the common word of “Studio” makes sense and the two products are very complementary. Long time Mac observers may recognize the name “Studio Display”, because it is not the first time that Apple has used the name “Studio Display” before.

    The name of “Studio Display” was used previously in 1998 when it was used for the 15-inch flat panel LCD that was introduced with the G4 Cube. This was the start of a series of flat-panel and cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors that ranged from a 15-inch screen to a 22″ model.

    Beyond the name, each of the Apple Studio Displays had a commonality between all of the displays. That commonality was that they were all in the same ratio, 4:3. The various models had different connections. Some had DVI, others had ADC. The 17-inch Apple Studio Display was the last model available, but was ultimately discontinued in 2004. The replacement was Apple’s Cinema Display line, which was a line of widescreen displays.

    It has been almost 18 years since the name was last used, and with a new display, it makes sense to use the name again. Now that the name has been covered, let us look at the devices that you can use with the Studio Display.


    Supported Devices

    There are a number of devices that fully support the Studio Display. These include:

    • Mac Studio (2022)
    • 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019 or later)
    • 14-inch MacBook Pro (2021)
    • 13-inch MacBook Pro (2016 or later)
    • 15-inch MacBook Pro (2016 or later)
    • MacBook Air (2018 or later)
    • Mac mini (2018 or later)
    • Mac Pro (2019 or later)
    • 24-inch iMac (2021)
    • 27-inch iMac (2017 or later)
    • 21.5-inch iMac (2017 or later)
    • iMac Pro (2017)

    Macs are not the only devices that support the Studio Display. You can also connect an iPad to the Studio Display. There are only a few iPad models that are supported. The complete list includes:

    • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation or later)
    • iPad Pro 11-inch
    • iPad Air (5th generation)

    The reason that there are only a few models that support the Studio Display is because each of the iPads has an M1 processor. The M1 has Thunderbolt support. In order to be able to support the full 5K resolution, as well as being able to support charging, you need enough power and bandwidth. Other devices, like the iPad mini, only supports USB-C, so it only has 5 gigabits per second for bandwidth. This just is not enough to handle 5K resolution. The 5K resolution for the Studio Display needs 14.75 gigabits per second. With this whole discrepancy you can see that USB-C just does not have enough bandwidth for the display.

    When you do connect one of the supported iPads to the Studio Display you will likely see the iPad screen mirrored to the display. It is possible that some apps will display a different screen than the main app, but the developer needs to explicitly code this into their app to fully support external displays.

    Now that we have looked at what devices can be used with the Studio Display, let us look at what drives the Apple Studio Display.


    Display Driver

    Every display that you use, no matter how small or large, nor how basic or how advanced, needs some sort of mechanism to actually run the display.

    You might think that a display is a very basic item. All that the display would need to do is take the video signal from the Mac and put it upon the screen. If this was the case, it might be easy enough to just use an off-the-shelf part. However, with the Studio Display that is not Apple’s approach.

    Apple could have developed an entirely custom chip, with its own custom firmware, just for the Studio Display, but it was not necessary to do, because Apple already had developed a chip that would be able to handle all most of the features of the Studio Display, That chip is one that Apple has used for a number of its products. The Studio Display has an A13 processor in it, and it is the same processor found in the 9th generation 10.2-inch iPad, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and 2nd generation iPhone SE.

    Even though Apple included an A13, they could have created a custom operating system, or firmware, just for the Studio Display, but they did not. Instead, they are using iOS, yes, iOS to run the Studio Display. You can actually check the firmware version of your Studio Display by using the following steps:

    1. Click on the Apple Menu.
    2. Click on “About the Mac”.
    3. Click on “System Report” to bring up the system report.
    4. Click on “Graphics/Displays”. Each of the graphics cards and displays should be shown.
    5. Under Studio Display, locate the line that says “Display Firmware Version”.
    Apple Studio Display information within macOS System Report

    This is the firmware version. As of this writing my Studio Display has Version 15.4 (Build 19E241). This is the same build as iOS and iPadOS 15.4. From time to time, you may need to update the firmware in your Studio Display, so let us look at that next.


    Updating Firmware

    The Studio Display will likely need to be updated to improve features and functions. It is possible to think that there might be a dedicated app to update the firmware, but that is not Apple’s approach to this. Instead, you update the firmware for the Studio Display as you would any other update to macOS, by going to Software Update. If there is an update it will appear in “Software Update” in system preferences. Once the update has been downloaded and installed, the Studio Display will reboot to complete the installation of the firmware.

    Studio Display firmware update

    There is an Apple support article that was published on March 19th, 2022 which outlines the process as well. The update took about 10 minutes total from the time I started the download to the time macOS booted up again. You will need to reboot your Mac, because the firmware on the Studio Display will need to be updated when macOS is not running. After I updated my Studio Display, it was running 15.4 (Build 19E241).

    There are a lot of things that the A13 is used for, and with iOS running on the display, it . One of the most important reasons that Apple included an A13 was for one of the features of the Studio Display, the camera, so let us look at that next.


    Camera

    One feature that the Studio Display has, that the Pro Display XDR does not, is a built-in camera. The camera on the Studio Display is a 12 megapixel ultra-wide camera, the same one that is on the 5th generation iPad Air.

    The A13 processor contains an image signal processor. The image signal processor is used to process the signal coming from the camera and then applying various filters, and then sends them to the display to be shown through whichever app needs the camera. On the topic of the camera, let us look at the specs.

    The camera has a 122 degree field of view with an ƒ/2.4 aperture. These specifications allow a device to support feature Apple calls Center Stage. Center Stage is a feature that will automatically follow anybody in the view of the camera, so they remain the focus of the view. This is possible because the camera will automatically move in and out as the focus of the screen changes. This is the same feature that is on the following devices:

    • 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro
    • 3rd Generation 11-inch iPad Pro
    • 9th generation 10.2-inch iPad
    • 6th generation 7.9-inch iPad mini
    • 5th generation 10.9-inch iPad Air

    The Studio Display is the first non-iPad device to support Center Stage. As of this writing, there are no Macs that support Center Stage, just iPhones and iPads. Even though the Mac does not natively support Center Stage, if you have a Mac connected it will support Center Stage through the Studio Display.

    I am not one who uses cameras for video calls that often. The only time I generally do is for work. For those I use my work issued MacBook Pro.

    I did do some testing with the camera, and I did see that the camera did seem to have some artifacts when I was using it. What I mean by this is that the the image did not seem to be as crisp as it could have been. Instead, it was blocky and not what many would suspect from Apple’s hardware.

    Other reviewers who had the product before me have stated that Apple has acknowledged that there are issues and they will be releasing a firmware update in the future.

    Let us now look at something that is related to the camera, or at least is used in conjunction with the camera. That item is the microphones.


    Microphones

    The Studio Display has an array of three microphones. These are used with the camera to provide audio for FaceTime calls, or any other app that uses the camera. According to Apple, the microphones have a high signal-to-noise ratio. What this means is that the higher the signal to noise ratio the clearer the audio will be.

    Beyond the high signal-to-noise ratio, the microphones also have directional beamforming. Beamforming is used to be able to cancel out background noise, all while picking up the person speaking. This will be very useful when on FaceTime or other video calls, because any background noise will be removed which should help make your voice as clear as possible.

    The microphones are not only used for video calls. The Studio Display has another feature, it supports “Hey Siri”.


    Hey Siri

    Back in April of 2010 it was announced that Apple purchased an app called “Siri”. When Apple purchased the Siri app it continued to be available on the store. With the introduction of the iPhone 5S in October of 2011 Apple released a version of Siri built into iOS.

    Starting in 2014 iOS and iPadOS devices could actually use a new feature called “Hey Siri”, without needing to touch the device itself. This was only supported on iPhone 6s and later. The list of supported iPads for “Hey Siri” include:

    • iPad Air (3rd generation) and later
    • iPad mini (5th generation) and later
    • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2nd generation) and later
    • iPad Pro (10.5-inch)
    • iPad Pro (9.7-inch)
    • iPad Pro (11-inch) all generations
    • iPad (6th generation) or later

    iPhone and iPads are not the only devices that now support Hey Siri. The other devices that support it are HomePod, AirPods 2nd generation or later, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, Apple Watch, various Beats models, MacBook Pros (2018 and later), MacBook Air (2018 and later), iMac Pro, iMac (2020 and later). You can add one more device, the Studio Display.

    As mentioned above, the Studio Display uses an A13. One thing that the A13 can do is be used for “Hey Siri” on the device. Having Hey Siri on the Studio Display means that you can get information regardless of which Mac is connected. This means that you can ask Siri to get the current weather, sports scores, or any of the general facts that Siri is able to retrieve for you.

    The Apple Studio Display is not only for displaying things or being able to use FaceTime, but it can also be used to connect things, so let us look at what you can connect to the Apple Studio Display.


    Connectivity

    Much along the lines of LG UltraFine displays, the Studio Display can be used for more than just a display. The Studio Display can also be used as a USB hub for connecting additional devices. You can connect up to three USB-C devices. The three USB-C ports are capable of handling up to 10 gigabits per second, which is twice as fast as the LG UltraFine monitors was capable of.

    Apple Studio Display Ports

    To make things easier, there is a Thunderbolt cable included with the Apple Studio Display. This cable is compatible with Thunderbolt 3 ports so you can connect the Studio Display to any compatible Mac or iPad. The maximum bandwidth for Thunderbolt 3 is 34.56 gigabits per second. The math is a lot of multiplication, but if you are not using any compression, running at the native resolution of 5120 by 2880, with 12 bits of color, the entire link can become saturated.

    It is not likely that the peripherals will get the full 10 gigabits per second throughput. This is because the video will get priority for the bandwidth from the Mac to the Studio Display. This makes sense because any configuration that would have the video become distorted would negate the entire purpose of having the display. Instead, it makes more sense to have the throughput of peripherals drop down and become slower, because you are less likely to notice a speed drop in peripherals, where you would if the display is distorted.


    Power Cord

    As of right now items without batteries still needs to be physically connected to power. Technology has not progressed enough to have perfected wireless power, and I do not mean Qi charging, that is more inductive charging than true wireless charging. The power cable on the Studio Display is directly connected with no way of being able to remove it. This is not the first time that Apple has used this approach with its products. There are two recent products that do not have removable power cables, the HomePod and HomePod mini.

    For the HomePods, one could argue that it makes sense because those two products are speakers that might cause some issues if the power cables were removable. It would also add some bulk to the product and likely interfere with the acoustics of the speakers if there was a bulky power cable coming out one of the sides of the HomePod.

    The thing with the Studio Display is that that argument does not hold up. The Studio Display is a large product, so it should also have a removable power cable. All of Apple’s previous displays, including the Pro Display XDR have had a removable power cable. Laptops, obviously, need to have them, but all iMacs have had a removable power cable.

    I have a couple of theories as to why there is no removable power cord on the Studio Display, plug placement. My guess is that there is not much space left on the interior of the Studio Display that would allow a power plug to be exposed to the back of the display. The second theory is that this may be the approach going forward. For devices like displays, HomePods, and other “appliance” devices that are not portable, have the cable built right into the device without being able to remove it.

    What I do find interesting with this is that Apple could have placed the power plug anywhere. They did not put it directly center on the Pro Display XDR, so it could have been an option to place the power cord anywhere along the back of the device.

    Friend, and editor of my books, Barry Sullivan has his own theory. He thinks it is a cost cutting decision. Having a power cord that is hardwired to the display is just plain wrong. The cost of repairing a damaged cord is expensive. What does one do for a display on their computer while waiting for repairs?

    Regardless of why Apple decided to do this, it could be problematic for some users. There are instances when you want to be able to have either a longer power cord, or a shorter one, depending on need. Since that is not an option with the Studio Display, there will likely be a loop of extra cable.

    That covers the connectivity, so let us move onto the speakers.


    Speakers

    If you were to look at all sorts of monitors, one thing that you might notice is that most monitors do not have speakers on them. This is the case for a couple of reasons. First, including them would make monitor and the internals a bit more complex. Secondly, for most people the price of the monitor is a factor when it comes to which monitor to purchase. Therefore, any speakers that would be included with the monitor would increase the price of the monitor, again price is a major factor for most users. Furthermore, any speakers that would be included would likely not be of the highest quality, because while a differentiation, it increases the price of the monitor. Lastly, and somewhat related, many who want good speakers will have a separate pair of external speakers, therefore including them are are not worthwhile. If you do manage to find a monitor that has speakers in it, they are very likely going to be basic stereo speakers.

    Unlike the Pro Display XDR, the Studio Display does have speakers built-in. Over the last few years Apple has steadily been improving the speakers in all of their products. The Studio Display has a six-speaker system, similar to that of the MacBook Pro.

    The speakers support Spatial Audio for music as well as video with Dolby Atmos audio. The Dolby Atmos support means that you can watch movies with pretty good audio right on the monitor. This is a significant improvement over using the built-in speaker on the Mac mini, and likely significant improvements over the built-in speakers in the Mac Studio.

    During my usage, I easily noticed that the Studio Display speakers are significantly better than the iMac speakers. They have more bass, and are louder in general than the iMac speakers. This makes complete sense given that there are six speakers in the Studio Display as opposed to the two speakers in the iMac.

    For additional comparison I tested the speakers on my iPad Pro and they sound better than the iMac, but not nearly as loud as the iMac. The Studio Display speakers sound a lot better than the iPad Pro, which makes sense given there is more space for the Studio Display to move air, and the are more speakers. However, when I compared to a HomePod mini, the HomePod mini has better sound than even the Studio Display. After thinking about it for a bit, I can understand why. The HomePod mini is designed to create the best sound for the environment that it is in.

    If you look at a System Report for the a device that has a Studio Display connected, you may notice that the there are actually 8 output channels. These are capable of outputting up to 48KHz, so it can provide high quality sound. The internal speakers on my mid-2017 iMac can only output at 44.1KHz, so this is definitely and improvement, just in output quality.

    Even though the HomePod mini sounds better, the Studio Display speakers are still really good, and much improved over the iMac speakers. Now that viewing things has been mentioned, let us look at the screen itself.


    Screen

    Throughout my time using computers I have gone back and forth between using two screens and just using one. The sizes of the screens have varied as I have purchased new computers and new screens.

    If you have used any of the 27-inch 5K Retina iMacs since their introduction in 2014, you may not initially notice that many differences between the Studio Display and the 5K Retina iMac Screen. You would be completely rationale to think that they are same screen. The reason you might think this is because the actual screen of the Studio Display is very, very similar. In fact, they are the exact except for one specification. The resolution as the 27-inch 5K iMac, of 5120-by-2880, it supports the P3 color gamut, True Tone, and supports for 1 billion colors, and support for Night Shift.

    The one area where the Studio Display screen has a slight improvement over the previous 27-inch 5K iMac is in its brightness. Instead of having 500 nits of brightness of the 5K iMac, the Studio Display has a maximum of 600-nits of brightness. This is a 20% improvement. What this means is that the screen can be brighter when needed.

    You may not initially notice any change, but that is not really a problem because you likely will not want to have the screen at its highest brightness setting. Having the highest brightness level can hurt ones eyes when used for a long time. Even if you do not want to use it at its brightest settings all the time, there may be times when you need it temporarily. For those times, there is a feature that can utilize the full brightness.


    Brightness

    It has been a while since I have had two Apple screens connected to a computer and I had forgotten that when you have two Apple displays connected, that many functions can be set independently. For instance, The brightness setting can be set differently for each screen. What this means is that if I want to have the Studio Display be a bit dimmer than the iMac screen I can do just that.

    There are a couple of different ways to adjust the brightness, using hardware keys and Control Center. When you want to use the dedicated keys on a keyboard you can do so just like you would for just an iMac or MacBook Pro. The thing to be cognizant of is that when you switch the second display, it needs to have focus before the hardware keys will adjust properly.

    The second option through Control Center is a bit different. Once you open up Control Center and click on the arrow next to “Display”, it will expand and show both of the screens independently. Here you can adjust the sliders to the brightnesses that you would like for each of the displays.

    While you might not need to have the brightness set all of the way up at all times, you may want to be able to make sure that some aspects of the item you are working on meets industry standards. There is a feature for specifically for that situation called Reference Modes, so let us look at those now.


    Reference Modes

    Reference Modes are not a brand new feature to macOS. They were actually introduced with the Pro Display XDR in 2019. The ability to use reference modes is also supported on the 14-inch and 16-inch M1 Pro/M1 Max MacBook Pros introduced in 2001. The same functionality now comes to any Mac with a Studio Display connected.

    A reference mode is a preset on the Studio Display that will allow you to make sure that you are matching the industry standard requirements for the particular mode. There are a number of presets that are possible with the Studio Display. The available reference modes are:

    • Apple Display (P3-600 nits)
    • HDTV Video (BT.709-BT.1886)
    • NTSC Video (BT.601 SMPTE-C)
    • PAL and SECAM Video (BT.601 EBU)
    • Digital Cinema (P3-DCI)
    • Digital Cinema (P3-D65)
    • Design and Print (P3-D50)
    • Photography (P3-D65)
    • Internet and Web (sRGB)
    Setting a Reference Mode

    There are a two different ways of setting a reference mode. Either through the mirroring menu item or through System Preferences.

    Accessible by using the following steps:

    1. Open System Preferences.
    2. Click on “Displays”
    3. Click on “Display Settings” at the bottom of the screen.
    4. Select the Studio Display
    5. Under Presets, select your desired preset.
    Apple Studio Display Reference Modes

    If you need to be able to quickly access different reference modes you can select specific modes to appear in the menu. You can so by following these steps:

    1. Open System Preferences.
    2. Click on “Displays”
    3. Click on “Display Settings” at the bottom of the screen.
    4. Select the Studio Display
    5. Under Presets, select “Customize Presets”. A popup will appear.
    6. In the list of presets, enable the checkbox next to each of the presets that you want to enable.
    7. Once finished, click the “Done” button to close the popup.
    8. Click “Done” again to close the Display Settings screen.

    The list of reference modes that you select with the “Show In Menu” checkboxes will be shown in Control Center, as shown in the example below.

    Customize Studio Display Reference Modes

    When you switch reference modes, the device will momentarily turn off and then turn back on. To me, it seems like the screen is doing a soft reboot. What I mean by this is that it disconnects from the host Mac, including stopping and switching audio, and then changes the reference mode, reconnects audio and shows the screen again.

    Most non-professional users are not likely to use reference modes, but for those that do need them they will come in handy and are a nice feature to have. And now, you do not need to purchase the Pro Display XDR or upgrade your MacBook Pro just to get the modes. Next, let us move onto the pricing for the Apple Studio Display.


    Pricing

    The Apple Studio display is somewhat reasonably priced. The Apple Studio Display starts at $1599. For this amount you can get a standard display, with either the tilt stand or with a VESA adapter. If you want the Tilt and Height adjustable stand, the price would be $1999.

    There is a second screen option, called Nano texture. Adding the Nano Texture option will cost an additional $300. Therefore it is $1899 for the Tilt adjustable stand or VESA Adapter, and $2299 for the Tilt and Height Adjustment stand.

    There is one thing to note about the Studio Display, the stand is not replaceable. This means that the stand you get when you purchase the Studio Display is the one it will have for its entire life. Therefore, if you do purchase one be sure to get the stand you want.

    One last thing to note is that if you do go with the VESA mount, you can put the Studio Display in portrait orientation. Therefore if you have the need to use a monitor in portrait mode, you might want to think about the VESA adapter.

    There is one other item related to pricing that you may want to know about. That item is AppleCare.


    AppleCare+

    When you buy the Apple Studio Display you may want to add on AppleCare for the display. You have two options. The first is to pay for three years of coverage up front for $149. You also do have an additional option of paying per year. The price per year is about the same as the up-front cost at $49.99 per year. Regardless of which route you go, the price will be about the same.

    If you do need to use the AppleCare+ for the Studio Display you will be charged $99 for screen damage or external enclosure damage. If there is any other damage it will cost you $299. With AppleCare+ you will get two incidents every 12 months.

    When I purchased my Apple Studio Display I opted to go with the yearly AppleCare+ coverage. This is the first time I am going with yearly payments for AppleCare. The reason I opted for this is that I will likely keep the monitor for well more than three years, probably closer to 5 or 6 years, before I replace it. I would rather pay $299 for getting a replacement or getting my Studio Display fixed after the three years. Furthermore, if for some reason I do not keep it for three years, I will only need to pay for the coverage that I need and not more. However, I did run into a problem.

    AppleCare+ Billing Issue

    When I have purchased AppleCare in the past I have always gone with pre-paying for AppleCare. As mentioned above this time around I decided to go with the annual AppleCare payment. This was the first time that I have opted to use the annual AppleCare option, and I ended up running into a problem with purchasing the yearly AppleCare+ for my Studio Display.

    When I went to order the Apple Studio I added AppleCare+ at that time. Apple’s policy on annual AppleCare is to bill it when the device ships or is picked up. This approach makes sense because lead times for devices can vary. As expected, I received an email stating that my Studio Display had shipped. Within a half hour of receiving that email, I received another email indicating that there was a billing problem with purchasing my AppleCare+. This is odd considering that Apple charged my card for the Studio Display with the same card. Immediately after receiving that email, the payment went through on my card, albeit in a “pending” state.

    Studio Display Billing Problem email.

    Because there was a problem, I called Apple support to verify whether the charge went through or not. Apple’s voice system initially sent me to technical support, despite me asking for billing (computers, gotta love ’em). The first person I talked to in tech support did a cursory check to see if they could see anything, but they could not see much on their end. So, they sent me over to the AppleCare team.

    The second support person I talked to thought it might have been a phishing email, which is possible. But phishing emails would not contain AppleCare agreement numbers, valid serial numbers, not to mention the last four of my credit card number. So, we ruled out the email being a phishing attempt. They continued to do some additional checking, but ultimately they ended up sending me to the Agreement Admin team.

    The third person I talked to did some more searching but they could not bring up the agreement and serial number combination in their system. There is an Apple site that you can use to add an agreement to your account if you have both the agreement and serial number. They asked me to attempt to add the agreement to my Apple account, but I could not add it to my account. The last check we did was to look up the coverage using checkcoverage.apple.com using the serial number. That site indicated that the Studio Display did not have active AppleCare plan.

    After discussing with the AppleCare admin support person, we decided to wait until the charge either cleared or was removed from my card. If it cleared, then I would call them back so they could figure it all out. If it was removed then I could sign up for AppleCare+ on the site or by calling them again.

    It turns out that the payment ended up going through about five and a half hours after I got the email saying that there was a billing problem. It took another 12 hours or so before the Apple site indicated that it was under warranty.

    Now that AppleCare has been covered, there are two other sets of items to look at. The first of these is what happened when I connected the Studio Display to some of the supported, as well as, non-supported devices, so let us look at that next starting with the supported devices.


    Usage with Other Devices

    I use the Studio Display with my mid-2017 iMac as a the primary display with the built-in iMac screen as the secondary display. As outlined above is the list of supported devices. Macs are not the only devices that are supported. One of the devices that is supported that I have is the 5th generation iPad Pro.


    5th Generation iPad Pro

    According to Apple’s page, the entire iPad Pro line can be used with the Apple Studio Display. So, I decided to try and connect my 5th generation iPad Pro to the Studio Display.

    When I initially connected the 5th generation iPad Pro to the Studio Display, nothing showed up. Instead nothing appeared. When something is not working, it is best to reboot a device. So, I ended up rebooting the iPad with the Thunderbolt cable connected to the iPad. When the iPad rebooted the iPad would not finish loading. It acted the same way as my iMac when there is a secondary bootable hard drive connected, where it would just stall. Once I unplugged the thunderbolt cable from the iPad the iPad booted right up. I then re-connected the Thunderbolt cable and the iPad screen showed up on the Studio Display.

    It might just be my device, but it seems as though unless the iPad is turned on and unlocked, the negotiation between the iPad Pro and the Studio Display fails at some point. For example, I plugged in the Studio Display to my iPad Pro when the iPad was closed. When I turned on the screen for iPad Pro, nothing appeared on the Studio Display. The only way to get it to work was to unplug the Studio Display and plug it back in, while the iPad Pro screen was on.


    6th Generation iPad mini

    Unlike the iPad Pro, I had zero issues connecting the iPad mini to the Studio Display. When I connected the iPad mini to the Studio Display the iPad mini screen showed right away without any issues. I was able to control the exact same things as the iPad Pro.


    Older Devices

    I did some looking around for what devices I could actually connect to the Studio Display. At first I thought that I could not connect anything except Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 devices, because I could not find any way to connect older Thunderbolt 1 and 2. I knew I had a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, but I thought that was a one way device, like so many other adapters. After thinking about it a bit, I realized that Thunderbolt is a two-way communication medium, so any connection from Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 should work without issue.

    I got out my Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter and a Thunderbolt 2 cable and proceeded to connect some devices. I connected my Early-2015 13-inch MacBook Pro, a mid-2014 21.5-inch iMac, and even a mid-2011 21.5-inch iMac, all with various results.

    The early-2015 MacBook Pro is running macOS Monterey 12.3, so it was able to connect, mirror or extend the display and function as a second monitor. The one function that did not work was that I could not adjust the brightness on the Studio Display with the function keys on the keyboard. However, I could adjust it using Control Center or in System Preferences, so you can use the Studio Display with any device that runs macOS Monterey 12.3.

    The mid-2011 21.5-inch and mid-2014 21.5-inch iMacs could not display anything on the screen. This makes sense given that neither of the devices is capable of running macOS Monterey. The latest operating system for these are macOS High Sierra (10.13) and macOS Big Sur (macOS 11) respectively. Given that all of these devices run Thunderbolt, both of these iMacs was able to see the USB-C drive connected to the Studio Display, so even if it cannot be use as a display, it can be used in a pinch for connecting devices.

    System Report showing Studio Display on an unsupported 2014 iMac

    The mid-2014 21.5-inch iMac was able to identify the display in system preferences, and even in System Report. So there was some communication between the Studio Display and older devices. But this all leaves me with some questions.


    Confusion

    As outlined above, the Studio Display has a limited number of iPads that it supports. What is not described is what features or functions that the the supported devices can utilize that other devices, like the iPad mini, might not be able to. I did some testing of connecting USB-C drives, playing music, and even adjusting the volume. All of these worked on both the iPad Pro and the iPad mini.

    I could not find anything that the iPad Pro was able to do that the iPad mini could not. It is possible that it could be that the iPad Pro can support Dolby Atmos over thunderbolt, where the iPad mini might not be able to, because it is USB-C. It should be noted that neither of these devices was on a beta operating system, both were using iPadOS 15.4 (19E241), so it is not a case of one device having improvements or a different set of software features, over the other.

    Furthermore on my early-2015 MacBook Pro, it was able to display the screen and I could use it in either mirrored, extended, and even as my main display.

    The common thing that I could not do with any of the devices, even the iPad Pro which is supposed to be fully supported, was adjust the brightness automatically. For the early-2015 MacBook Pro I could use the Studio Display without issue.

    So, the real question is what does Apple mean when they say “supported” devices with the Studio Display? It cannot be fully functionality, because the two iPads do not seem to have any difference even though the iPad mini is not officially supported. It is possible that I am missing something. Does anybody else have any idea?


    Possible Future improvements

    There are a couple of things that I could think of where the Studio Display could be improved. There are three areas total where I think there could be improvements are with Thunderbolt 4, Airplay, and the power cable.


    Thunderbolt 4

    Given the intention for the display, Thunderbolt 3 is sufficient. However, it could be nice to have Thunderbolt 4 for additional bandwidth for two reasons. The first being consistency between the monitor and the Macs that are connected and supported. The second is to be able to have the USB-C devices connected be able to run a their full 10 gigabits per second bitrate.


    AirPlay

    It would be nice to be able to have a Studio Display be an AirPlay receiver. I am sure this would require additional hardware, but it since there is already an A13, it might not be as much extra hardware. The Apple TV is an AirPlay receiver, and even the A10 can be an AirPlay receiver, so the A13 is not the limiting factor on that.


    Removable Power cable

    Similar to HomePod, the Apple Studio Display does not have a removable power cable. While this is not likely a problem for most users, it could become one. If any damage occurs to the power cable, then it would likely fall into the $99 accidental damage portion of AppleCare. Having to pay $99 to get a power cord fixed would be, in my opinion, absurd.


    Closing Thoughts

    On one of the biggest factors when it comes to purchasing anything these days is the price. At first when you see a monitor that starts at $1599 you might think that it is overpriced. Many users are not willing to spend that much on a monitor, but others will if it has the proper set of features. The Apple Studio Display is a 5K Retina screen. There are not many 5K Retina screens on the market today. There are a large number of 4K ones, but there is only one other 5K screen on the market, the LG UltraFine 5K.

    When you compare the features and price of the Apple Studio Display to the LG UltraFine 5K, you might reevaluate that the Studio Display is too much. The LG UltraFine has a retail price of $1299. So, for the $300 difference you get a number of features. You get an Ultra Wide camera with a 122 degree field of view that supports Center Stage, so everyone will stay in focus and the center of the screen.

    Instead of a set of stereo speakers, you actually get six speakers that not only sound better, but also supports music mastered for Spatial Audio as well as audio from movies that have a Dolby Atmos option.

    You can use the Studio Display as a USB-C hub and connect peripherals to the display. When you do you will be able to use them with your Mac as you would if they were directly connected. These will run at 10 gigabits per second. While this is not Thunderbolt speeds, 10 gigabits per second is fast enough for many peripherals like audio interfaces, external hard drives, and other accessories.

    Those who were asking for Apple to just take the screen out of the iMac and do nothing else with it, they would have been perfectly happy, but that is not what Apple did. Instead, they went above and beyond by providing features and functions that many users have come to rely on with their MacBook Pros. If you are looking for a new display, you might want to check out the Apple Studio Display.

  • VOCOLinc MistFlow Humidifier: A Review

    VOCOLinc MistFlow Humidifier: A Review

    Winter in the northern United States means that the temperature will likely be cold. Cold weather brings dry air. When you have dry air there are ways of rectifying this. If your heating system has a humidifier attached, you can use that to provide additional moisture throughout your place.

    However, not everyone has a humidifier on their heating system, I am one of those that does not. For those who do not have a humidifier that can be used throughout your entire home, you might want to need a get local humidifiers that can put moisture in the air. Most of the time, I do not need a humidifier, but there are those times when the air is just a bit too dry. For those times when I do need it, I needed get a couple of humidifiers.

    The first humidifier I purchased was a VOCOLinc FlowerBud Smart Diffuser. I purchased this back in November of 2020 and thought it would be sufficient. However, after using it for a month or so, it was not up to the job, at least not for the room I needed it in. Because this was not doing the job, I went looking for a different humidifier.

    I ended up buying another humidifier. This second one could hold a lot more water than the Flowerbud Diffuser. The second humidifier I purchased was a “Movtip Cool Mist Humidifier”. This one was a bit better suited for the room it was needed. The Cool Mist humidifier could hold 10 times a much water than VOCOLinc Flowerbud. The VOCOLinc FlowerBud can only hold 0.3 liters while the Movtip could hold 3 liters. This was a lot more water and could provide more moisture for a longer time.

    The Movtip humidifier is a basic humidifier with no smarts to it. In order for me to control it, I ended up using an Eve Smart Plug that I could control using HomeKit. One feature it did have was the ability to shutoff when there was no water remaining. Even though it could do the job, it still had its own drawbacks. The first amongst these is that it is not natively HomeKit compatible.

    The biggest downside to the Movtip is the fact that the fans in the device could easily get clogged. Not the bubbling feature, but the air intake at the bottom of the device would get clogged. When this occurred it would require cleaning. To add additional annoyance, it was not a straight-forward process. It would require disassembling the entire unit and then cleaning the entire interior. Another annoyance was that when it did get clogged, the fan would start making significant noise, to the point where it was difficult to ignore and could easily be disruptive if you were trying to watch something in the same room.

    Because of these issues, I went looking for another humidifier. I knew I wanted another HomeKit enabled humidifier. I looked at a bunch of humidifiers and ended up going with another VOCOLinc humidifier. This one is the VOCOLinc MistFlow Smart Humidifier . Let us get into the device itself.

    Device

    The VOCOLinc MistFlow Smart Humidifier is a large product. But this is for a good reason. This humidifier can hold up to 2.5 liters, or 0.66 gallons, of water. This allows the humidifier to run for a long time, similar to the Movtip. While this is less than the 3 liters in the Movtip one that I had, but 2.5 liters is plenty of water and allows the device to run for a long time.

    On the back of the humidifier there is a water gauge, with a mark indicating the maximum amount of water that the humidifier can hold. The humidifier has a translucent front that has two purposes. The first is to provide an easy way to see the amount of water remaining as well providing the mechanism for the light on the humidifier.

    VOCOLinc MistFlow Humidifier Controls
    VOCOLinc MistFlow Humidifier Controls

    Connectivity

    The VOCOLinc MistFlow Smart Humidifier connects via Wi-Fi. It can connect to a 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n, also known as Wi-Fi 2, Wi-Fi 3, or a Wi-Fi 4 network.

    Controls

    The VOCOLinc MistFlow Humidifier has only a few physical controls on the humidifier itself. These include a button to control the light and a button to control the mist. The light button will turn on or off the light. Meanwhile, the mist button will allow you to toggle between three settings, “High”, “Low”, and “Off”.

    Light

    The MistFlow humidifier has a built-in light on it. The light can be controlled separately, so you can have the light on without the humidifier or the humidifier on without the light. When I am using the humidifier, I typically do not have the light on, but if you need just a bit of light it can be useful. The light can also provide a bit of ambiance in order to set a mood, if you so choose.

    Those are all of the basics of the Humidifier, we will discuss more a bit later. For now, let us discuss the setup.

    Setup

    The VOCOLinc MistFlow humidifier is a HomeKit-enabled device. This means you can easily add the device through the Home app on your iPhone or iPad. This is done by scanning the code on the back of the device. HomeKit will communicate with the device, configure the wireless connection, and add the device to HomeKit. Once you add it, you can use Siri to control it or you can use the HomeKit app. You can also configure automation if you would like.

    Next, let us look at the options that you have once you have finished the setup through HomeKit.

    HomeKit Options

    As previously mentioned, The VOCOLinc MistFlow Humidifier is a HomeKit-enabled device. This means that once it is setup and configured you can manage it through HomeKit as well as changing the settings.

    When the MistFlow humidifier is added to HomeKit, you can configure it the light and humidifier to be shown as a single tile or as two separate tiles. I personally use have it configured as two separate tiles, because as mentioned earlier, I typically do not use the light, so it makes it easier to manage the humidifier on its own. When configured as two separate tiles you can control the mist portion separately from the light.

    Humidifier

    HomeKit Humidifier Mist Level Control
    HomeKit Humidifier Mist Level Control

    There are only two items you can control with the Humidifier tile, the intensity of the mist, and the power. There is a slider and a power button. You might think that the slider would control the intensity of the mist. However, it does not. The slider controls the target humidity level.

    There is no actual indication on this screen for what the current percentage that the slider is at. The only way to see the current humidity target is to actually close the popup and see the percentage. If you need to adjust it, you can open it up again and adjust the slider to the target humidity level.

    If you set the percentage to a number below the current humidity level, the unit will shut off automatically.

    Light

    HomeKit Humidifier Light Level Control
    HomeKit Humidifier Light Level Control

    When you open the light tile, you will see a slider. The slider controls the brightness of the light. You can slide it to anywhere between 0% and 100%.

    Below the slider are six different color options. You can tap on any one of them and adjust the color for the light. When you configure the color you have two different types of color options. These are “Color” and “Temperature”. With the “Color” option you can select from any color you want.

    For “Temperature” option you can choose from a color temperature. Here you will see a circle with some gradients that go between blue and orange. In theory, if you were to select the “Orange” you would expect the color to be orange, but this is not the case. Because it is a color temperature the orange means it will be a “warmer” shade of light. Similarly, if you select the dark blue it will be more of a “cooler” temperature.

    During my testing, it seemed like the best results were to select an actual color instead of using the color temperature wheel. You can select up to six presets and you can easily select any of the presets and the light will change to the select color.

    Even though there are some options within HomeKit, these options are limited in their functionality. You can actually configure a lot more options via the VOCOLinc app, so let us look at that next.

    VOCOLinc App

    As mentioned earlier, the physical buttons on the VOCOLinc MistFlow are meant to be limited. They only provide basic on/off functionality. The VOCOLinc app provides some additional options for both the humidifier itself as well as the light.

    Humidifier

    The VOCOLinc app allows you to select one of five different mist levels. The higher the level the more mist that will be put into the air and the faster the humidifier will reach the target humidity.

    If you are not aiming for a particular target humidity, but would prefer to set a specific amount of time, you can do so by tapping on the “Set Timer” button next to the “Countdown Timer” label. You can set any time frame between 1 minute and 24 hours.

    Light

    The VOCOLinc MistFlow Smart Humidifier comes with a full RGB light. This means that you can set the color to just about any color you want, depending on your mood. This means you can have a red, light, blue light, green light, lilac light, or any other color.

    VOCOLinc Light Brightness
    VOCOLinc Light Options including Brightness

    Besides the choice of color, you can also add one of three different effects. Thee effects are:

    • Flow
    • Blink
    • Breathe

    When you select one of these effects you will actually have the option of selecting up to six different colors to use for the effect. The default colors are:

    • Red
    • Yellow
    • Green
    • Light Blue
    • Dark Blue
    • Pink

    You can tap on any one of the colors and select one that you would prefer. If you want to remove any of the colors you can do so by tapping on the “…” button, which will put it into “Edit” mode. Once in the Edit mode you can then tap on the color you want to move.

    Next, let us look at each of the available effects, starting with Flow.

    Flow

    The “Flow” will slowly transition from one color to the next with a gentle transition between colors, similar to that of a gradient. The default interval for this effect is 3.0 seconds.

    The “Blink” effect will switch between each of the colors, like turning on and off a light. The color will stay shown for ever how long you have the interval set as. The default interval for “Blink” is 0.5 seconds.

    Breathe

    The “Breathe” effect is similar to “Flow” in that it will transition between colors, but it does so by starting at a low brightness of the color, moving to the maximum brightness set, and then transitioning back to zero. After it gets back to zero, it moves onto the next color. The effect is aptly named, because it just like breathing and you could even use the color change for breathing exercises if you wanted. The default interval for this effect is 1.0 seconds.

    Effect Options
    VOCOLinc Light Effects setting
    VOCOLinc Light Effect Setting

    Each of these has the same options available. You can set the interval between when the light will change, as well as the brightness. These are both set via a slider. The interval can be between 0.5 seconds and 10 seconds between when the effect changes.

    The second slider is for brightness, and this ranges from 0 percent (off) to full 100% brightness.

    There is an option available for each effect that will reset the effect back to its defaults, including the colors and interval. This reset is on a per-effect basis. There is one thing to note, the brightness setting is not reset when you reset an effect, and it is a single setting for all of the effects.

    Noise

    Every humidifier is going to make some level of noise. The VOCOLinc Mistflow is pretty quiet. While I can hear it, it is not too loud at all. It is not loud enough, even at the highest level, to interfere while watching in the same room.

    This significantly contrasts with the current status of my Movtip humidifier. I can hear the Movtip one when it is running, just about anywhere in my house, it has gotten that loud in just over a year.

    Downsides

    There are a few downsides to the humidifier. The first is that while it can have 2.5 liters, even when filled up to the maximum 2.5 liters, there looks like there is still room for more water. Therefore, it could be easy to accidentally overfill it. If you do overfill it, there will be no mist coming out of the top of the humidifier. If VOCOLinc were to do a revision, a different colored around the interior of the tank that shows the fill level would make it easier to know where the maximum is, without having to look at the back of the device. Either that or put a mark on the front to show the maximum level.

    Related to this is that the container is secured to the humidifier itself. This means that you cannot fill the water container without using another container to fill it. This is something to keep in mind. Given that I mostly stopped using the Movtip, and it has a 3 liter tank, I now use the Movtip tank to fill up the VOCOLinc container.

    This contrasts with the VOCOLinc Flowerbud humidifier that I have, because the Flowerbud comes with its own vessel to fill up that humidifier, and it exactly allows you to fill it up to the maximum for the Flowerbud. If one were to be included, it would not need to be a full 2.5 liters, but something that could fit inside the thank for shipping would be sufficient.

    There is one potential downside, depending on where you intend to use the MistFlow humidifier. On the front of the humidifier are LED indicators for the light and mist level. These light can be quite bright and there is no way to turn them off, without unplugging the humidifier itself.

    One of the best features of the VOCOLinc humidifiers is that they automatically turn off when the water level drops. However, on the Mistflow sensor leaves a good 1/4-inch of water left in the tank. This contrasts to Flowerbud model where the sensor sits below the bottom of the water container, so when the Flowerbud automatically shuts off there is very little water remaining. There is so little water that you could take a napkin and wipe up all of the water and the napkin would not be entirely saturated.

    Closing Thoughts

    Overall, the VOCOLinc MistFlow Humidifier is pretty decent HomeKit-enabled humidifier. The 2.5 liter tank provides enough water to last an entire day. It may be able to go even longer if you set the mist amount within the app.

    It would be nice for VOCOLinc to separate out the color and brightness in some manner. Maybe even with just a horizontal line below the color settings. This could also have a label above the brightness that says “Global Settings” or something similar. This is a minor thing, but given that the brightness is entirely separate.

    The effects are a nice though, if you want to use them, but the variety of color options is great if you want to create some sort of mood.

    The VOCOLinc MistFlow humidifier is not inexpensive, retailing at nearly $70. However, given the feature set, including the amount of water that it can hold, it is a decent value and the MistFlow humidifier could be the right solution for you.

  • Replacing My Apple AirPort Extreme Routers

    Replacing My Apple AirPort Extreme Routers

    There are a number of things needed in today’s technological world. These includes a device to use as well as a way to connect the device to the internet. If you have an iPhone you can easily use cellular data, however not everybody has unlimited data plans. More often you will likely connect to a Wi-Fi access point.

    Even though a vast majority of people simply use the wireless connection that is provided with their internet service provider’s DSL or cable modem. Clearly, this approach is the easiest for most users. However, there are some who prefer to use their own cable modem and wireless router. I am one of those that prefers to use my own cable modem and router, and I have been doing so for a long time. When it comes to wireless routers there are an almost infinite number of options available for purchase.

    Some possible manufacturers include D-Link, Netgear, TP-Link, Linksys, Asus, Google, and even Amazon. One option that used to be available was a line of wireless routers from Apple, called the AirPort line of products. Apple’s foray into wireless began in 1999 with the introduction of the AirPort Graphite router. This model provided the basics, but it was the start of a line of products that would last until April of 2018, or just about 19 years. At this point Apple announced that they were discontinuing the AirPort line of products, including the Time Capsule.

    6th Generation AirPort Extreme sitting on top of a 5th Generation AirPort Extreme
    6th Generation AirPort Extreme sitting on top of a 5th Generation AirPort Extreme

    Over the life of the AirPort line there were a total of sixteen different products. 2 AirPort, 3 AirPort Express, 6 AirPort Extreme, and 5 different Time Capsules. The final devices, the 6th Generation AirPort Extreme and 5th Generation Time Capsule included 802.11a/b/g/n/ac connectivity, four gigabit ethernet ports, with one of these being for cable modem or DSL modem, and the remaining ones being for local network connectivity. The only difference between the latest AirPort Extreme and the Time Capsule are that the Time Capsule included an enterprise-grade hard drive for using Time Machine backup.

    Even though they discontinued the AirPort line, the devices themselves continue to function. For many, their Time Capsule devices have begun failing due to the internal hard drive failing.

    I have owned an AirPort Express since 2007 when I needed to have a wireless network for my computers. In 2009 or early 2010 I purchased an AirPort Extreme (5th Generation) model to put into the house I moved into. I used the combination of the AirPort Express and the AirPort Extreme 5th generation until 2013 when Apple introduced the 6th Generation AirPort Extreme, which included 802.11ac radios. At that point I took the AirPort Express out of service and put the 6th Generation AirPort Extreme in its place. This set up has served me well for 8 years, but last week I took my AirPort Extremes out of service and replaced them with a single access point and router.

    The reason I decided to swap out the AirPort Extremes is because I was having an issue with my MacBook Pro from work while attending a webinar. The issue was not limited to just the MacBook Pro.Restarting the Mac did not fix the issue, nor did restarting the AirPort Extreme itself. Given that the AirPort is acting up I decided it might be time to looking into alternatives.

    The idea of replacing my AirPort Extremes is not actually a spur of the moment thing, it is something I have been contemplating for quite a while. The biggest reason for switching, outside of thinking the AirPort might be going flaky, is the fact that there are no new AirPort Extremes devices being released; thus meaning that the AirPorts will not be receiving any new features. Furthermore, the wireless industry has moved pretty far in the last few years.

    Combining the advances of wireless technologies and the fact that Apple is not introducing new AirPort Products, I replaced replaced both of the AirPort Extremes with a single Eero 6. (Affiliate link)

    What I Was Looking For

    The reason I went with the Eero is for a number of reasons. First, I wanted a product that would support the latest version of Wi-Fi, 802.11ax, commonly called Wi-Fi 6. I wanted this because I do not upgrade my network equipment that often, and having the latest standards is needed. Likewise, any device that I would purchase would need to support the latest wireless security protocol, Wi-Fi Protected Access 3, or WPA3.

    Secondly, I want to be able to manage them similar to the AirPorts, meaning through an app. Many wireless routers provide manage through a web browser, and this does indeed work. However, that does provide its own The last reason I went with that is the cost. The retail price of the Eero 6 is $129, but when I purchased it was on sale.

    Regarding administering my router, and network, via an app, it is not that I cannot handle advanced configuration through a web browser, or even via command-line, because I can. In fact more than 15 years ago, which seems like a lifetime ago now, I was actually CCNA certified, and even though I did not renew my CCNA certification when it came up for renewal in 2009, I still remember a lot of the things I learned during that time, a bit of which will be covered later.

    For now, let us look at the Eero 6.

    Eero 6

    Eero 6 box with Eero 6 in it.
    Eero 6 in box

    The Eero line of products are a set of networking devices that will provide an easy to setup and easy to use system for monitoring and managing all of the devices on your network. The Eero is designed so that anyone can confidently manage their entire network. There are many who may not think that they are not capable of managing a network, But with the Eero absolutely anybody can do so. When I say “anybody”, I truly mean anybody. Even from the most novice user all the way to the most advanced networking expert. Every single one can handle managing an Eero network.

    This post is designed to help walk you through setting up and managing your Eero system. Along with this, I will show you a number of features that the Eero networking system has to offer. Some of these features include:

    • IP address management.
    • Looking at Device Information.
    • Viewing device activity.
    • Configuring and managing Eero Secure

    The Eero system comes with a number of standard features that you get for free. This includes the ability to add and remove devices, block unknown devices, and manage the security of devices and your Eero network. Before we start diving into each of the different sections, let us look at how to setup your Eero.

    Setting Up an Eero 6

    The Eero 6 has three items in the box. These are the Eero itself, the accompanying power supply, and an ethernet cable. Setup is quite simple. You perform the following steps:

    1. Download the Eero app.
    2. Create an Eero account.
    3. Place the Eero where it will go.
    4. Plug in the Eero power supply.
    5. Connect the ethernet cable to your cable modem, or DSL modem.
    6. Open the Eero app to begin the setup.

    Once you have created your Eero account, you will then create your wireless network. If you have an existing Wireless network you can simply use that wireless network name (SSID) and password. When you do this, most, if not all, of your devices should automatically reconnect. Once the Eero system is setup and configured, if a device does not work you may have to restart the device, or at least turn off the wireless to the device, and then re-enable it.

    When I setup my Eero I setup a whole new Network SSID. I could have simply re-used the same network name that I had before. However, I had two AirPort extremes and a total of eight different networks. Four that worked with Wi-Fi 5 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac), one at 2.4GHz and one at 5GHz, with their corresponding “Guest” networks and another four networks that were Wi-Fi 4 (802.11a/b/g/n), again one at 2.4GHz and another at 5GHz, with their corresponding “Guest” networks. All of this has been cut in half. The primary network (running at 2.4GHz and another at 5GHz) and the guest networks (one running at 2.4GHz and another at 5GHz). Besides cutting it in half, I wanted to use an entirely different network name than the ones I had been using.

    One thing I discovered while reconnecting all of my devices is that you do not necessarily realize how many different devices you may have on your network until you start moving them from one network to another. As an example after I moved everything over it turned out I had over 50 different IP addresses active on my network. I knew that I had a lot of devices, but was not sure of the total number of devices that I actually had. 

    Some of these devices include more than one IP address, like my iMac and Mac mini, since they use both wireless and wired connections. One other thing I did find out while reconnecting everything is that not all of my devices would work. Specifically, I found five devices that were not compatible.

    Incompatible Devices

    The number of devices that I have found, thus far, that are not compatible is five. I suspect that there might be a few more. I suspect this because there are some older devices, like my Wii U, Wii, and Playstation 3 that I have not re-connected.

    Of the five known devices, four of these are iPhones, and the final one is my HP Printer. The four iPhone are original iPhone, the iPhone 3G, an iPhone 5 running iOS 10, and an iPhone 5S that is on iOS 11. In some ways, the original iPhone and iPhone 3G not being able to connect makes complete sense. I was a bit baffled as to why the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s would not connect. However, I do have a 6th Generation iPod touch that is on iOS 12.5.5, and that connects without any issues. 

    I opted not to do a deep dive into what changed between iOS 11 and iOS 12 that could be the reason why the older devices would not connect. It is not that I am not interested, but it is not a pressing issue. The Eero has the option of performing some suggested troubleshooting steps. However, those steps did not fix it.

    Overall, this is not really a problem because these devices are not ones that I use on a regular basis and are only used for testing. Even though the devices will not connect to my Eero network, there is a work around. In order to have these devices work when I need them to, I will keep one of the old AirPort Extremes around and just plug it in when I need to connect them to the network. All of my other devices were able to connect without a problem.

    Even though most everything connected via wireless, there is one problem that I experienced, and that was the items that require a wired connection.

    Eero Ports

    The Eero 6 only has two ports on the device. One for local network connections and another for connecting to your cable or DSL modem. This is half of the total number of ports available on any of the AirPort Extremes. The AirPort Extremes have four ethernet ports, one for connecting to the cable or DSL modem, and three for local network connections.

    Ports on an Eero 6
    Ports on an Eero 6

    I have a Phllips Hue Bridge, which requires a physical connection, so that would take up the only physical connection on the Eero. If someone only had a Phillips Hue Bridge, a single physical connection might suffice. I am not one of these people though.

    I being the nerd that I am need more than a single wired connection. I need more than one physical connection not only because I am a nerd, but I prefer to have as many devices physically connected as I can. To support this, I also need more physical connections because I have two ethernet connections that are coming from rooms in my house.

    In order to be able to connect all these ports, I need a physical switch. To further show how much of a nerd I am, I  already had an 8 port switch that I was using to connect one room to the old AirPort Extreme downstairs. So, I moved that 8 port switch downstairs, but I still needed another switch. that was there. To replace the switch that I used downstairs, I bought the 5-port version of the same 8-port switch I had. Specifically, I got the TP-Link TL-SG105. The reason I got the 5-port is because I do not need 8 ports. This is a similar model to the 8 port switch I already had.

    Hence, if you know you are going to need more than a single wired connection, you may want to get an external 5 port, or 8 port, switch before setting up your Eero. Next we will cover the IP addressing scheme used by the Eero, but before we do that, let us take a deep dive into network and subnets. If you do not want to read the extra nerdy stuff, feel free to skip to the “IP address on Eero” section.

    A Deep Dive into Networking

    When it comes to computers everything is ultimately expressed using binary, therefore any bit is either a zero or a one. In most instances you do not need to know how something is expressed in binary, however in the case of networking knowing how binary works in conjunction with networking.

    It is possible that you are aware of how Internet Protocol Version 4, or IPv4, address work, but let us cover that in case you are not aware. IPv4 addresses consist of “four octets”, or four group of 8 bits, for a maximum of 32 bits. 32 bits means that you can have a total of 4,294,967,296 actual IP addresses. When IPv4 was first developed 4 billion addresses seemed like they would never run out, but, they are starting to run out.

    The entire range of IP addresses goes from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255. An IP address is broken down into two groups, a “network” group and a “machine” portion. Which part is the network or the machine is deterred by the subnet mask. A subnet mask is expressed in a similar format of four octets. The subnet mask can have the exact same range of 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255. It is probably best to show an example of how an IP address and subnet mask work together.

    A subnet mask has the same four octets. Also like IP address a subnet mask octet can range from 0 to 255, or 8 bits. When calculating a subnet mask you will need to take 2 and raise it to the bits position, but only if the bit is set to 1. If it is set to 0, then you do not add it. The table below shows the position of the bit and its corresponding value.

    Position (2^n) 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
    Value if 1 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1

    As an example, if we take the subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 and convert it to binary, it would be 11111111.11111111.11111111.00000000. All of the bits are set to 1 for the 255’s, the last octet of the subnet mask is all zeroes. Let us look at two more examples, 252 and 240.

    If we have a subnet mask of 255.255.252.0, this would be represented in binary as 11111111.11111111.11111100.00000000. The first two octets are the same, all ones, or 255. What is different is the third octet, so let us look at the third octet. 

    Position (2^n) 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
    Value if 1 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1
    252 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0

    If you add all of these up you will get 252, which means that 252 expressed in binary would be 11111100.. Let us look at another example 240. We can use the same technique to calculate 240.

    Position (2^n) 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
    Value if 1 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1
    240 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0

    240 in binary would be 11110000. Therefore, if you had a subnet mask of 255.255.240.0, you would have 11111111.11111111.11110000.00000000. It is not often that you will actually need to use binary to calculate a subnet mask, instead you can rely on the standard values as follows:

    • 255
    • 254
    • 252
    • 248
    • 240
    • 224
    • 192
    • 128
    • 0

    There are a number of different networks that are defined within the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Request for Comments 1918 (RFC). This RFC is the ones that defines the networks that are considered non-routable, or private. These IP address range are 10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255, 172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255, and 192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255. Which IP address range you should choose depends on the number of machines that you need on a network.

    It is quite common for companies to use the 10, or 172 IP address range. For most home routers will typically use 192.168.0.0 or 192.168.1.0 for their IP address range. When they use either of these IP address ranges, the subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 is used. This subnet mask means that there are 256 possible addresses, 0 to 255. The first address, 0.0, is reserved as the network address and the last address, 0.255 is reserved as the broadcast address. This means that any subnet will have two fewer usable addresses than the total number of IP addresses available in the network, and if your network has a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0, that means you can have up to 254 potential devices.

    There are two different ways of representing a subnet mask. One is with the full subnet mask, like 255.255.255.0. The other is the Common Internet Domain Routing (CIDR), also known as the “slash”, version, where 255.255.255.0 is the same as a “/24”. The number following the slash is the number of bits for the network portion of the address, leaving the remaining portion for the machine. When you calculate a subnet mask, the further left the machine portion is, the larger the number of addresses. If the network consists of 24 bits, that means 8 bits can be possible for machines. Likewise, if you have a 16 bit network portion, then there is also a 16 bits for machines.

    Here is a table that how many addresses are on each subnet mask. The table contains the full subnet mask, the CIDR notion, and the number of devices.

    Subnet Mask CIDR Number of Devices
    255.255.255.255 /32 1
    255.255.255.252 /30 4
    255.255.255.248 /29 8
    255.255.255.240 /28 16
    255.255.255.224 /27 32
    255.255.255.192 /26 64
    255.255.255.128 /25 128
    255.255.255.0 /24 256
    255.255.254.0 /23 512
    255.255.252.0 /22 1024
    255.255.248.0 /21 2058
    255.255.240.0 /20 4096
    255.255.224.0 /19 8192
    255.255.192.0 /18 16384
    255.255.128.0 /17 32768
    255.255.0.0 /16 65536

    And it continues on in the same pattern. As the network portion gets smaller and the machine portion gets larger. Much like IP addresses, there are actually two reserved subnet masks. These are 0.0.0.0, or /0, and 255.255.255.255, or /32. 0.0.0.0 is meant as universal default route, or the default route for all traffic that is destined to be outside of the current network. Similarly, 255.255.255.255, or /32, means a single IP address. The /32 subnet mask is one that you are more likely to encounter due to it being a simple way of indicating a single IP address. There are a large number of packages that can use the CIDR notation. A couple of examples are Nginx and iptables both use the /32 to indicate a single IP address, as well as other CIDR notation to indicate other network ranges.

    IPv4 address are not the only type of IP address available. There is another standard, IPv6. IPv6 works on the same general principles, just on a much larger scale. Instead of being limited to 32 total bits for an address, IPv6 has 128 bits. At first glance you might think that four times the number of bits means that there are four times as many addresses. In fact, there are significantly more IPv6 addresses available, as compared to IPv4 addresses. In fact there are 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 unique addresses, or 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses. With this many addresses, this should be able to last for quite a long while. I will not espouse that it is an infinite number of addresses, because who knows what the future holds. Suffice to say that this number of addresses should last us for quite a while.

    Now that we have gone over IP addresses and subnet masks, let us look at how Eero handles its IP addresses.

    IP Addresses on Eero

    In case you skipped the last section, it was mentioned that most wireless routers use the IP address of 192.168.0.0, with a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. This combination results in up to 254 usable ip addresses. Twenty years ago when home networks were becoming more common the idea of having 254 devices seemed like quite a bit. Today though limiting a network to 254 IP addresses is probably not the best idea.

    The Eero system takes this into consideration and does something a bit different, as compared to other wireless router manufacturers. Instead of using 192.168.0.0 or 192.168.1.0, the Eero system uses 192.168.4.0, with a subnet mask of 255.255.252.0, or a /22. This means that you can have up to 1024 IP addresses, of which 1022 are usable. 192.168.4.0 is for the network address, and the broadcast address is 192.168.8.255. This results in the usable address range going from 192.168.4.1 to 192.168.8.254. The Eero itself needs an IP address, some network administrators use the last IP address as the default gateway, but Eero chooses to use 192.168.4.1 as the gateway address.

    At first you may wonder why Eero would set up a network with 1024 possible ip addresses. The answer is quite simple, “Smart” devices. In today’s modern technological society, it is quite feasible that someone would have 254 distinct devices connected to their network. These devices could be things like laptops, desktops, smart tvs, smart watches, smart lights, door bells, smoke alarms, humidifiers, lights, washers, dryers, refrigerators, and many other items. Therefore, a single network could easily have 254 devices.

    So, in order to minimize the problems that users will encounter, as well as minimize support calls, Eero has opted to go with allowing 1022 usable IP addresses. While this may not work for absolutely everyone, for 99.999% of users 1022 usable addresses should be enough.

    While the address range of 192.168.4.0 to 192.168.8.255 is the default, you do have the option of changing the IP address range and subnet mask. Unless you know that you will need more than 1022 usable IP addresses, you do not need to change it. Even though I could have changed the default, I opted not to change it. Since we have the IP address scheming covered let us turn to managing your Eero network.

    Managing your Eero Network

    All management of your Eero network is done through the Eero app. You can manage it on either an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, or any Android device. When you open the Eero App, you have four tabs at the bottom of the screen. These are “Home”, “Activity”, “Discover”, and “Settings”. Each of these tabs has its own usage. Let us go through each of them.

    Home

    Home tab in Eero app
    Home tab in the Eero app

    The “Home” tab is the tab that you are likely to use most often. That is because it is where you can see all of the devices that are connected to your Eero network. You can tap on any one of them and see some information about the device. This information includes:

    • The assigned profile
    • The wireless Connection
    • The Eero the device is connected to
    • The wireless protocol in use
    • Last activity, which could be the current usage or last usage date and time
    • Type of device
    • Device manufacturer
    • The device’s hostname
    • The IP address for the device
    • The hardware MAC address

    There are three of these options that can provide even further information. These are Profile, Type, and IP address. We will dive into Profiles in a bit. For now, let us look at device type and IP address.

    Single Device information in the Eero app.
    Single Device information in the Eero app.

    Type

    For each device that is connected to your Eero system you can assign the type of device it is. There are a large number of types in four categories. The entire list, broken down by group, includes:

    Computer & Personal
    • Desktop
    • E-reader
    • Hard Drive
    • Laptop
    • Phone
    • Printer
    • Network Equipment
    • Tablet
    • Watch
    Entertainment
    • Audio
    • Cable Box
    • Game Console
    • Media Streamer
    • Remote
    • Television
    Home
    • Air Conditioner
    • Air Purifier
    • Alarm System
    • Bed
    • Car
    • Coffee Maker
    • Digital Assistant
    • Door Bell
    • Door Lock
    • Exercise Bike
    • Fan
    • Garage Door
    • Hub
    • Light
    • Oven
    • Pet Devices
    • Plug
    • Refrigerator
    • Scale
    • Security Camera
    • Smoke Detector
    • Sprinkler
    • Thermostat
    • Toaster
    • Vacuum
    • Washer/Dryer
    Other
    • Default
    • Private

    The type that you assign does not have any actual bearing on the device itself. Each type has its own icon so you can easily identify the type of device with a glance. There is one specific type that needs to be covered, and that is a special type called “Private”. 

    “Private” Device Type

    Each device has a hard coded hardware address assigned to it. This is the Machine Access Code address, or MAC address. This address is burned into the wireless or bluetooth chip and cannot be changed. Since this address never changes it has become a mechanism used by some entities to be able to track devices both over the internet and between physical locations. In order to mitigate this type of tracking Apple introduced a new feature of a “Private” MAC address in iOS 14.

    When “Private Address” is enabled on a Wi-Fi connection, a random MAC address will be assigned to the device. That Private address will be remembered for that particular network. That way, that network will be able to identify you, but it will not actually be your real MAC address. When a device with iOS 14, iPadOS 14, or watchOS 14, or later, connects it will have Private address enabled by default. You can disable it if needed.

    When a device with a private address connects to an Eero network, the type will be assigned “Private”. The host name for the device may still be provided, but it’s MAC address will be masked.

    Now that we have covered the “Type” item, let us look at the “IP address” item.

    IP Address

    No matter what type of network, each device needs to be able to communicate with other devices, or at bare minimum with the internet. This is done through an IP address. The Eero system is the device that handles assigning IP addresses. You can read more in-depth information about IP addresses in the “Deep Dive into Networks” section of this post.

    Many modern devices can support both IPv4 and IPv6. If a device supports only one or the other, it will be shown in the IP address section. Each type of IP address has its own section. While most devices will only have a single IPv4 address, it is possible that you will see a device with more than one IPv6 address. There can usually be up to three IPv6 addresses per device.

    Each of the addresses for the particular device will be listed and grouped by the type of IP address. The IP address item is only used to view the particular IP address. This is useful if you need to connect to a specific device, say a printer, or if you want to connect to another device for some reason. If you need to change an IP address, or set an IP to be static, that is possible to do. The procedure for doing so will be covered later in the “Settings” section.

    Now that the IP address has been covered, let us look at another item under each device, called Activity.

    Activity Item

    The Eero 6 is capable of monitoring and reporting on each device that it is connected to it, regardless of whether it is wireless or wired. One of the items that is logged is the activity for the device. Specifically, the Eero tracks the amount of data that is uploaded and downloaded for each device and because of this tracking you are able to view data for a specific device by day, week, or month.

    When you view the activity by day you will get a breakdown of the activity for the device by hour for the specific day. You can look at any of the previous 99 days with the same layout. Each hour will have two pieces of data, the amount of data uploaded as well as the amount of data download for each hour. The download will be pink and the upload will be in blue. The day with the most transmitted data should be completely full, with other days being proportional to the day with the highest amount of data. 

    Likewise, the upload and download should be proportional to each other. What this means is that if there was three times as much data downloaded for a device, as compared to the amount uploaded, the pink section should be three times as large as the blue section.

    Similarly, when you view a device’s activity by week, you will see each day of the week in a chart that will display the total amount of data uploaded and downloaded, with the same colors, blue for upload and pink for download. The maximum number of weeks that you can go back is 17, or 119 days.

    The monthly view is just like the others, except that you will see all of days in a single view. You can go back up to 4 months, or just about 120 days. As is the case with the other views, the download and upload lengths will be relative to the day with the highest download and upload amounts. You can tap on any single day to see the specific data for that day.

    No matter which time period you select, directly below the charts views there will be a section called “Data Usage Categories”. As the name suggests this will show the total data used for the selected time period. This will show both the Downloaded amounts as well as the Uploaded amounts.

    That covers everything there is to cover in the “Home” section, at least for now. Next, let us look at the next tab, called “Activity”.

    Activity Tab

    Activity Tab in the Eero app on a 6th generation iPad mini
    Activity Tab in the Eero app on a 6th generation iPad mini

    The Activity tab, is quite aptly named. The Activity tab will allow you to get an overall view of the activity that has occurred on your network. When you load up the Activity tab you will potentially see three sections. These sections are:

    • Internet
    • Security
    • Privacy & Security

    For now, let us look at the “Internet” section. There are four different pieces of information. These are:

    • Fastest Download
    • Fastest Upload
    • Downloaded Data
    • Uploaded Data

    Fastest Upload/Fastest Download

    Both of these items take you to the same screen, the Speed Test screen. Here you can see the fastest upload and fastest download speeds that have occurred during the current week. You can see each of the speed tests that have been run and their corresponding results. Also on this screen is the ability to run a speed test, by simply tapping on the “Run Speed Test” button.

    Much like the Upload/Download items, the other two items “Downloaded Data” and “Uploaded Data” will bring you to the same screen.  This screen will show you a screen similar to screen where you can see an individual device’s uploaded and downloaded data. However, instead of just seeing a single device’s statistics, you can see the total usage data, as well as a list of all of the devices. You can tap on any of the individual devices and get the usage data for that specific device.

    The last of devices will be shown in descending order, starting with the device that had the highest usage percentage and proceeding to the lowest percentage.

    There is something to note about the totals. The amount of data displayed is not necessarily the amount of data that has been downloaded or uploaded to the internet. Instead, the data is for anything that has been transferred through the Eero system. That means that the total amount will include data that is transferred between devices, even if they are on the same network. 

    Here are a couple of data that is been transferred between devices. 

    Xbox Series X Upload and Download Activity
    Xbox Series X Upload and Download Activity

    In the picture above you will see that 82 Gigabytes of data was uploaded and 630 Megabytes of data was downloaded from the internet. This data was a bunch of updates for games, and included the downloading of Halo Infinite. Here is another image, this one of my server.

    Activity for a week from Server in the Eero app.
    Activity for a week from Server in the Eero app.

    In the picture above you will see that 23GB of data was uploaded and 4.5GB of data was downloaded to my server. My server has all of my ripped media on it. I have previously ripped all 11 seasons of M*A*S*H and I have been re-watching them. Besides this, some of the data is also ripped DVDs and Blu-rays that I have been watching. So, there is a significant amount of data uploaded from my server and that is in the total amount for the selected time period.

    Next, let us move to the security section.

    Security

    The Security section has two items, “Scans”, and “Threat Blocks”. The “Scans” feature will scan every request made by your devices. There data shown is the total number of scans that have occurred on a per-device basis, for the selected time frame.

    The “Threat Blocks” section will show you the number of Phishing, Malware, and Botnet attempts, on a per-device basis. When you select a device you will get a breakdown of each of three categories, as shown in the photo below.

    Blocked Threats for single device on an Eero
    Blocked Threats for single device on an Eero

    Let us look at the last section, “Privacy & Safety”.

    Privacy & Safety

    The Privacy & Safety section has one item that you can investigate, the “Ad Block” item. This item will provide you a count for the number of blocked ads that hav occurred for your entire network, with the ability to dive down into a particular device. As is the case with the other activity items, you can look at each individual device and see the number of blocked ads on a device. 

    As a note, you may not see the “Security” and “Privacy & Safety” sections if you do not have a subscription to “Eero Secure”. Let us check out those features next.

    Eero Secure

    Eero Secure is a subscription service that will provide you with extra options for providing security to your Eero network. There are two different subscriptions, “Eero Secure” and “Eero Secure+”. Eero Secure has the following features:

    • Advanced Security
    • Content Filtering
    • Ad Blocking
    • Activity Insights
    • Weekly Activity Reports
    • VIP Support.

    Eero Secure+ has all of the same features as well as four additional ones. The additional features are:

    • 1Password subscription
    • Encrypt.me VPN access
    • Malwarebytes Anti-virus
    • Dynamic DNS, used for remote access

    These are not free. Eero secure is $2.99 a month, or $29.99 per year. Eero Secure+ is $9.99 per month or $99.00 per year. When you first setup an Eero account for the first time, you will get a 30 day trial of Eero Secure. Therefore you can test out the content filter, ad blocking, threat protection, and use the reporting features completely for free during the trial.

    You might be wondering why you can only get a trial of the Eero secure features and not the Eero Secure+ features. That’s quite simple, the Eero Secure features are all handled by Eero. They dod not rely on third-parties to be able to set up and configure. 

    Possible Side Effects of Enabling Eero Secure

    There are some possible side effects for enabling Eero Secure. Most notably that all of your traffic will be intercepted by the Eero. This is because the blocking of websites occurs at the Eero level and therefore

    In many cases this will not be a problem, however, this does mean that you may see a privacy warning when viewing your Wi-Fi connection on your iOS device. The warning states:

    This network is blocking encrypted DNS traffic.

    The names of websites and other servers your device accesses on this network may be monitored and recorded by other devices on this network.

    Privacy Warning about Encrypted DNS not being available with Eero
    Privacy Warning about Encrypted DNS not being available with Eero

    Again, in most situations this is not a problem and you may prefer to make the trade off of not having Encrypted DNS and instead have the Eero secure features enabled.

    Will I subscribe to Eero Secure?

    Since I am still on my free trial, I do not know if I will pay for the Eero Secure subscription or not. The blocking and activity reports are nice to have, but I do not know if I like the fact that the Eero intercepts all of my DNS traffic, meaning that Encrypted DNS, also known as DNS Over HTTP, or DOH, will not be available on my network if I enable Eero Secure.

    If I do end up paying for Eero Secure, it will likely be the less expensive Eero Secure subscription and not the the Eero Secure+ plan. The reason for this is because I do not need any of the features that are being offered with the advanced security features.

    Everything with the Activity tab has been covered. This means that we can move on and take a look at the Discover Tab.

    Discover

    The Discover tab within the Eero app is used to manage certain aspects of your Eero system. The Discover tab has four items, these items are:

    • Eero Secure
    • Amazon Connected Home
    • Apple HomeKit
    • Eero Labs

    The “Eero Secure” item will provide access to the Eero Secure items in the “Activity” tab, as well as the Eero Secure+ features. Here you can also enable or disable Advanced Security and set the Ad Blocking preferences. For Ad blocking you can enable it for the entire network, or specific profiles. You can also select your Parental controls, which entrails Content Filters and Blocked apps. The last item you can manage is the list of Blocked Sites as well as Allowed Sites.

    The Amazon Connected Home item will allow you to enable the Alexa Voice assistant as well as Frustration-Free Setup. By default these are off. There is a third option, “Smart Home Hub”, this is enabled by default and cannot be disabled. This is enabled because the Eero 6 can support Zigbee devices and in order to do so, the Smart Hub feature needs to be enabled. The “Frustration-Free Setup” option is a way of being able to store your Eero credentials so that if you setup an Amazon “Human device” it will automatically be configured and instantly connect to your Eero network after it is powered up.

    The “Apple HomeKit” item will allow you to enable HomeKit Security with a specific Eero device. This will allow you to manage HomeKit settings for your smart devices directly from within the Home app

    The “Eero Labs” feature is the place where you can enable beta features. As of this writing there are only two options, “Optimize for Conferencing and Gaming” and “WPA3”. These features are not enabled by default, but you can enable them by tapping on the toggle button. For me, I have enabled WPA3 but not Cloud Conferencing and Gaming.

    Settings

    The last tab is the “Settings” tab. The Settings tab is where you go to make changes to your Eero account, Wi-Fi network name, Wi-Fi password, enable or disable the Guest network, perform software updates, manage notifications, and perform troubleshooting.

    Under the “Account Settings” item you can manage your email subscription information to Eero products and updates, as well as seeing your Eero Secure subscription information.

    If you need to modify the wireless network name or the password, or the Guest Network name or password this can be done by tapping on the appropriate field.

    The “Network” item is where you can view and manage the IP address for your internet service provider. Here you can also view the IP address for your Gateway Eero device, meaning the one that connects to your internet service provider.

    Under the “Network Services” section, within the Network item is where you can configure your Eero assigns IP addresses, or is in Bridge mode. By default it assigns IP addresses, but if you need another device to do so, then you can turn off DHCP on your Eero network. Also within this section you can set custom Domain Name System, or DNS, servers if you so choose. If you do not configure a set of custom DNS servers, your ISP’s DNS servers will be used.

    There is one item to focus on and that is within the “Network” section. That item is “Reservations & Port Forwarding”.

    Reservations & Port Forwarding

    As mentioned earlier, each device that connects to your network requires its own IP address. By default the Eero will use the next available IP address to assign to the device. In most instances, the automatically assigned IP address will be fine, particularly for devices like phones and tablets. However, there may be instances when you may want to select the IP address that will be used. This can be done by performing the following steps:

    1. Open the Eero app.
    2. Tap on the “Settings” tab.
    3. Tap on “Network Settings”.
    4. Tap on “Reservations & Port Forwarding”.
    Add Manual DHCP Reservation in Eero App.
    Add Manual DHCP Reservation in Eero App.

    Here the list of existing devices and their reservations will be shown. When you first setup your Eero, there should not be any reservations. You can add a reservation by performing the following steps:

    1. Tap on the “Add a reservation” button. The devices without a reservation will be shown.
    2. Locate the device you want to add a reservation for.
    3. Tap on the item to bring up its current configuration.
    4. If desired, modify the Nickname for the device.
    5. If desired, modify the assigned IP address.
    6. If necessary, modify the MAC address.
    7. Tap on the “Save” button to save the configuration.

    There is one thing to note, if you modify the existing IP address and there is another device with the same IP address, it is possible that the newly configured device will not work properly until one of the devices are restarted so that it obtains a different IP address. This is because each device must have its own unique IP address.

    Custom DNS

    As mentioned above, you do have the ability to customize the DNS servers that your network will use. There is one thing to note about this. You will not be able to modify the DNS servers unless all Eero Secure features are disabled. To me, this is a bit confusing considering that DNS should not be affected by any of the Eero security features, but that is how the Eero system is configured and setup.

    Now that we have finished the vast majority of items within the Eero app, there are two last items that need to be covered. These are “Eero and HomeKit” and “Profiles”. Let us start with Eero and HomeKit.

    Eero and HomeKit

    Eero app requesting access to HomeKit data.

    With iOS 13.2 Apple introduced a new feature called “HomeKit Secure Router”. HomeKit Secure Router is a way of being able to add security to your HomeKit devices. HomeKit Secure Router cannot be enabled without a supported router. The Eero is one of those supported devices. 

    A HomeKit Secure Router will allow you to individually configure any of your individual HomeKit devices and set one of three options. These options are:

    • Restrict to Home
    • Automatic
    • No Restriction

    By default everything is set to “Automatic”, which will automatically decide what should be allowed or prohibited, in terms of connections to external services. For the more popular smart devices there are a known set of addresses and domains that are contacted. Therefore, the “Automatic” setting will be kept up to date as data changes.

    HomeKit Secure Router settings for Philipps Hue Bridge
    HomeKit Secure Router settings for Philipps Hue Bridge

    The management for this is not done in the Eero app, instead this is done in Apple’s Home app. Before you can manage the network access for your HomeKit devices in the Home app, you do need to enable HomeKit support in the Eero app. This is accomplished by performing these steps:

    1. Open the Eero app.
    2. Tap on the “Discover” tab item.
    3. Tap on the “Apple HomeKit” button.
    4. Tap on the “Enable HomeKit” button.

    The process will take a couple of minutes, but once it is enabled you can then manage your HomeKit Smart devices in the Home app. Where this information is located is not intuitive. To adjust your Smart devices settings use these steps:

    1. Open the Home app.
    2. Tap on the House icon in the upper left corner.
    3. Tap on “Home Settings”.
    4. Tap on “Wi-Fi Network & Routers”.

    Here you can now manage any of your HomeKit smart devices by tapping on any of them and selecting the type of security you want to use. It should be noted that not every smart device is supported in the HomeKit Secure Router configuration. For my network there are only four items. These are:

    • Garage Door Opener
    • Philips Hue Bridge
    • Temperature Sensor
    • Humidifier

    The devices that you will have obviously differ, but you can assign any of the three roles for your device. There is an item that has been previously mentioned, but it has not yet been discussed, that topic is Profiles.

    Profiles

    Profiles are a way of being able to create a set of content filters, blocked apps, and blocked and allowed sites that fit your particular needs. Once a profile is created, it can then be applied to a set of devices. Once a profile is applied to a device, any of the settings defined within the profile will be applied.

    There are a number of aspects to cover regarding profiles. The items that we will cover include:

    • Parts of a profile
    • Creating a profile.
    • Applying a profile to a device.
    • Deleting a profile.

    Each of these will be covered in the order stated above beginning with the parts of a profile.

    Parts of a Profile

    There are a number of different parts that make up an Eero profile. These are two major parts, Name and Content Filters.

    Content Filters

    A Content Filter contains:

    • A list of Blocked Apps
    • A list of Blocked and Allowed Sites

    With each of these you can configure the list of apps that you want to block, as well as the list of sites that you want to either explicitly block or allow.

    Categories

    • Safe Search
    • YouTube Restricted
    • Adult Content
    • Illegal or Criminal Content
    • Violent Content
    • Chat and Messaging
    • Social Media
    • Games
    • Shopping
    • Streaming
    Blocked Categories for a Profile in the Eero App
    Blocked Categories for a Profile in the Eero App

    Let us look at how to add a new profile.

    Creating a Profile

    Creating a profile is a pretty straightforward task. You can create a profile by performing the following steps:

    1. Open the Eero app.
    2. Tap on the “+” button in the upper right corner. A popup will appear.
    3. Tap on “Add a Profile”.
    4. Enter in the name for the Profile.
    5. Optionally, select the devices to apply the profile to. This can be done later.
    6. Tap the “Done” button to create the Profile.

    Once the profile is created, you can add a “Scheduled Pause”, which will allow you to select the time when the profile should go into effect. This is very useful for limiting when kids are able to use their devices. When you configure a Scheduled Pause, you can choose a schedule name, start time, end time, and which days to apply the schedule. If needed, you can add additional schedules.

    Next, you can apply a Content Filter. An Eero has four profile templates that you can choose from. These templates are:

    • Pre-K (0 – 5 years)
    • Pre-Teen (6 – 12 years)
    • Teen (13 – 18 years)
    • Adult

    Each category has a pre-defined set of restrictions enabled. As an example for the “Pre-K” template has SafeSearch enabled and YouTube is restricted. The Adult content, illegal or criminal content, violent content, chat and messaging, and social media are all blocked. Meanwhile, Games, Streaming, and Shopping are allowed.

    You can select any of the templates and then tap on “Apply” and a customization screen will appear where you can modify the profile as necessary by toggling on or off category, or adding a blocked app or blocking a site. on the topic of Blocking or Adding a site, let us look at that specifically.

    Blocking or Allowing Domains

    There may be sites that you want to explicitly allow, like a child’s school domain, or maybe even google docs. To add a blocked, or allowed, domain follow these steps:

    1. Open the profile that you want to customize.
    2. Tap on “Block & allow sites”.
    3. Tap on “Add Blocked Site”.
    4. Type in the domain to be blocked.
    5. Tap on the “Done” button in the upper right corner.

    You can add as many blocked domains as you would like. In most instances the filter should be applied immediately. However, there may be times when it takes a bit for things to apply due to cache.

    Blocked Sites for a Profile in the Eero App
    Blocked Sites for a Profile in the Eero App

    This covers everything needed to configure, create, and manage profiles, which will allow you to control access to sites and apps are available on which devices.

    Lastly, let us look at something that I would like to see from Eero.

    What I Would Like To See

    I have been using my Eero system for just about a week now, and while the Eero offers a large number of features, there is one feature that is missing and one that I would like to see. That feature is a way to manage the Eero from a Mac. I used at least one of Apple’s AirPort products for more than 14 years now. One of the features of the AirPort is the AirPort utility. 

    The AirPort utility began life on the Mac because the AirPort product line was available well before the introduction of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Having used the AirPorts for so long, I have become quite used to managing my network from my Mac. I can understand not wanting to spend additional resources to develop a Mac app for the Eero. However, the iOS app works on both iOS as well as iPadOS. This means, that Eero would only need to enable running the iPadOS app on Mac with Apple Silicon. 

    The downside to enabling this feature is that the app would not necessarily look the best. However, as a user I am completely willing to make this trade off. Having the ability to manage my network is more important than the application looking the best it can. An alternative would be the ability to manage an Eero system via the web. Either approach would work for me.

    Closing Thoughts

    The Eero 6 is a fully featured wireless router that includes many of the features that have been added as wireless standards over the past few years, including but not limited to WPA 3, Mesh Networking, and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax).

    The Eero system adds some additional features that you may not see with other systems, like content filtering, ad blocking, and device-level statistics broken down by day, week, and month over the last four months. Furthermore, the Eero is a HomeKit Secure Router, which allows for integration of your router with HomeKit so you can restrict access of your Smart Devices if needed.

    As for content filtering, you are able to create custom profiles that will allow you to limit what sites, apps, and which devices are going to be filtered.

    In the case that you need advanced security features there are two subscription options that you can subscribe to. These are Eero Secure and Eero Secure+. With the basic Eero Secure subscription you can get activity reports, content filtering, and VIP support. The Eero Secure+ Subscription provides you with additional features like 1Password, Encrypt.me VPN, MalwareBytes Anti-Virus, and Dynamic DNS for remote access. These subscriptions are $2.99 per month or $29.99 for Eero Secure, and $9.99 per month or $99 per year for Eero Secure+.

    Overall, if you are looking for a replacement for an older wireless router, the Eero may be worth looking at. Even if you think you cannot manage an Eero network, you most certainly can because the app is easy to use and if you need some assistance, Eero support should be able to help you out.

  • A Review of the 3rd Generation AirPods

    A Review of the 3rd Generation AirPods

    Today’s modern society provides a ton of different ways to be stimulated. Some of the types of things that can occupy your time can include books, podcasts, music, movies, and games. Each of these can be experienced in a variety of ways. All of them can be done using a television, an iPhone, an iPad, or a gaming console. It is quite possibly that while you are using one of these that you could be using a pair of headphones.

    Headphones allow you to enjoy your media without interrupting anyone else. Headphones come a number of different styles. There are over ear, on ear, and in-ear headphones. The type that you use depends on the style that the manufacture has chosen to provide them in. Apple has headphones that are in each of the various styles. The type that you are using depends on your current situation and which ones you own. The most commonly purchased type of headphones are in-ear headphones. The latest in-ear headphones offered by Apple are the 3rd generation AirPods, which we will get to shortly. But first, let us look a brief history of all of Apple’s in-ear headphones.


    Brief History of Apple’s In-Ear Headphones

    Headphones are not a new market for Apple. In fact Apple has been making headphones for devices for twenty years, when they introduced of the original iPod in October of 2001. Since then Apple has created its own headphones steadily over the intervening years. Some of these are wired, and others have been wireless. The wired models include Apple earbuds, iPod In-Ear Headphones, Apple Earphones with Remote Mic, iPhone stereo headset, and EarPods. The wireless models have included iPhone Stereo Headset, Beats Studio Buds, PowerBeats, and PowerBeats Pro, and AirPods, including AirPods Pro.

    Each model of the Apple-branded headphones has provided its own enhancements, from the original rounded earphones that were introduced with the original iPod. The first improvement was with the iPhone Stereo Headset. This was meant to be used with the iPhone and included a microphone and a single button that could be used to control a variety of actions.

    The next change was the Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic. These were introduced in 2009 alongside the iPhone 3G. This improved on the previous headphones by adding two additional buttons, a volume up and volume down button. These headphones made it a much better experience when it came to using your iPhone, iPod touch, or even traditional iPod. 

    In 2012 Apple revamped the headphones again with the EarPods. The EarPods still had the same three buttons as the Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic, but the shape of the EarPods was a custom shape. In order to create this Apple scanned hundreds of different ears to try and find a commonality between them. This commonality allowed them to create a shape that would fit the largest number of ears. As the introduction video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44xXQI9b9vI) states, “EarPods are intentionally designed to direct sound into the ear canal”, without providing a seal like other in-ear headphones do, and yet, they were designed to fit comfortably. 

    The next change of headphones built on the design of the EarPods, but completely removed the wires, which they  called the AirPods. 


    AirPods

    AirPods are a wireless version of the EarPods. When introduced in December of 2016, they were not universally praised. Upon first seeing them many people criticized others for getting them. These critics stated that AirPods looked like “tiny toothbrushes”, “tampons”, or “ear cigarettes”. Some even stated that it took “courage” to wear them in public. I know I was ridiculed when I was wearing them, but I have been made fun of quite a bit in my life for various things, and this was just another instance of that occurring. 

    Without the wires, the controls need to be different. Actions can be performed by tapping on the device while in the ear itself. With two individual AirPods you can set an action for each ear. These actions can include:

    • Play/Pause
    • Siri
    • Next Track
    • Previous Track
    • Off

    As mentioned, the AirPods are wireless. This means that they need some sort of way to charge. The AirPods charge via their companion case. The first generation AirPods would have a listening time of 5 hours and up to 24 hours of charging time. The AirPods were introduced at $159 for a pair.


    2nd Generation AirPods

    2nd Generation AirPods with case open
    2nd Generation AirPods with case open

    The second generation AirPods were released in March of 2019. The 2nd generation kept the same shape, but added a couple of features. The biggest of these was support for “Hey Siri”, so you can Ask Siri to do something for you or request any information, or action, that Siri can provide.. The second feature is support for announcing messages. With this feature most messages can be read to you and you can even reply to messages all without touching your iPhone.

    The 2nd Generation AirPods also added an additional option, wireless charging. This was done through a Qi-compatible wireless charging case. The AirPods could either be purchased with the case or the case could be purchased separately. If you purchased wireless charging case separately, it would cost you $79. The AirPods with lightning charging case cost the same amount as the 1st genertation, $159. The AirPods with wireless charging case cost $199. The price has since been reduced to $129 for the AirPods with lightning charging case.


    AirPods Pro

    AirPods Pro
    AirPods Pro

    The 2nd Generation AirPods were not the only AirPods to be introduced. In fact, approximately seven months after the introduction of the 2nd Generation AirPods, October 30th, 2019 to be exact, Apple introduced the AirPods Pro. The AirPods Pro took the features from the 2nd generation AirPods and enhanced them even further.

    The AirPods Pro mostly kept the same iconic EarPods/AirPods shape, but expanded it to include silicone tips. These tips allowed the headphones to be inserted into the ear canal. This would create a seal that provided a new feature, noise cancellation. Noise Cancellation actually works by introducing a second sound wave that cancels out the background noise so that it seems like there is no other audio except the audio you actually want to hear.

    Along with Noise Cancellation there comes another feature called Transparency Mode. Transparency Mode is the opposite of Noise Cancellation in that it amplifies the background noise so you can hear everything else that is happening around you. This is a good option if you need to be able to hear things, like traffic, but still want to be able to hear your audio.

    The AirPods Pro also added support for a new feature called Spatial Audio. Spatial Audio is a technique that, according to Apple, “brings theater-like sound from the movie or video you’re watching, so that sound seems like it’s coming from all around you”. Spatial Audio will be discussed in-depth in a bit.

    To account for the different shape of the AirPods Pro devices themselves, the case that comes with the AirPods Pro also had a different shape. This case is much wider but also shorter. Because of the advanced features, the AirPods Pro have a slightly higher price of $249. Beyond the features already discussed you did get a Qi-compatible wireless charging case included automatically.

    At their October 2021 “Unleashed” event, Apple introduced the next version of AirPods, the 3rd generation AirPods. Let us look at these next.


    3rd Generation AirPods

    3rd Generation AirPods with case open
    3rd Generation AirPods with case open

    The 3rd generation AirPods take some cues from both the AirPods, as well as the AirPods Pro, to create a more distinct  hybrid product from the two. The case for the 3rd generation AirPods has the same general shape as the AirPods Pro. Similarly, the shape of the actual AirPod is similar between the two, with the 3rd generation AirPod being a bit smaller, since they do not have the silicone in-ear tips. Furthermore, since the width is smaller, the weight of each AirPod is less, as is the overall weight of the AirPods with the case.

    There is one feature that needs to be highlighted specifically, Spatial Audio with Head Tracking.


    Spatial Audio with Head Tracking

    Spatial Audio with Head Tracking is a feature that is on the AirPods Pro, as well as the 3rd generation AirPods. Spatial Audio will automatically adjust the audio that you are listening to in a way that simulates the audio being all around you. This is much akin to the way that a surround sound system works when watching a movie, provided the speakers are placed properly around where you are seated.

    The idea with Spatial Audio is to simulate the audio as though it is coming directly from the device. Therefore, Spatial Audio with Head Tracking will automatically adjust the sound to the movement of your head, in relation to the device. if you move your head to point left, the audio will move more of the audio to the right AirPod, similarly, if you move your head to the right, the sound will move more toward the left AirPod. 

    There are actually three different modes for Spatial Audio, these are:

    • Stereo
    • Fixed
    • Head Tracking

    “Stereo” is the same experience that you would get with 2nd generation AirPods, or any other non-Spatial Audio enabled headset. 

    The “Fixed” option provides Spatial Audio, but without the head tracking. This means that if you have an audio item with Dolby Atmos you will get the Spatial Audio, but the sound will not move as you move your head. This is good if you want to be able to hear the Spatial Audio but need to do something else at the same time.


    Changing Output

    When you connect your 3rd generation AirPods to your device, Spatial Audio with Head Tracking will be enabled by default. However, you do not need to always keep Spatial Audio on. You can turn it off when you want through Control Center. This is done by performing the following steps:

    1. Swipe down from the top, or bottom, of the screen to bring up Control Center.
    2. Tap and hold on the volume slider
    3. At the bottom of the screen, tap on the “Spatial Audio” button to bring up the various options.
    4. Tap on the preferred option.

    It definitely needs to be mentioned that not every piece of audio will support Spatial Audio with Head Tracking. The audio must be mastered for Dolby Atmos. If it is not mastered for Dolby Atmos, you will only get the stereo sound option.


    Dolby Atmos on Beats vs. AirPods

    The 3rd generation AirPods are not the only headphones that support Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio. In fact, there are a number of headphones that do. The complete list includes:

    • AirPods Pro
    • AirPods Max
    • BeatsX
    • Beats Solo3 Wireless
    • Beats Studio3
    • Powerbeats3 Wireless
    • Beats Flex
    • Powerbeats Pro
    • Beats Solo Pro
    • Beats Studio Buds

    I have actually had access to Dolby Atmos since it was introduced with Apple Music back in June of 2021, through my Beats Solo Pros. Spatial Audio on the Beats Solo Pros does indeed provide spatial audio, however, The Beats Solo Pros do not support the Head Tracking feature. Instead, when using the Beats Solo Pros with Spatial Audio, it is like using the “fixed” setting.

    The 3rd Generation AirPods have the best of both. The Head Tracking but you can still turn it off if you do not want to use it, but it is also there when you want to have the full experience.

    For me, I’m not sure how useful Spatial Audio with Head Tracking is when it comes to music. Spatial Audio in a fixed context is fine, but having the audio move when you’re listening to music seems like overkill. The only instance when it might make sense is if you are listening to a live concert and you want to simulate actually being there while you go on throughout your day. Then it might make sense because it might seem like you are there. The problem with this is that it is not likely that any live concerts will be mastered for Spatial Audio, so this is not all that likely to occur.

    Spatial Audio with Head Tracking makes a bit more sense when it comes to movies or possibly TV shows. Having the audio change when you move your head makes a lot more sense if you really want to immerse yourself in the media you are consuming. Of course the biggest downside is that spatial audio only works with Apple TV content, whether purchased or not. As far as I can tell there are no third-party streaming services that support spatial audio while playing media except for Apple TV+, and even then, not all content.


    2nd Generation vs. 3rd Generation

    2nd Gen and 3rd Gen AirPod cases side by side
    2nd Generation AirPods case compared to 3rd Generation AirPods case

    I have owned a number of different pairs of Apple’s in-ear headphones. The most recent type of in-ear headphones were the 2nd generation AirPods. Coming from the 2nd generation AirPods, there are some distinct differences as compared to the 3rd generation AirPods. There are two topics to cover, the fit, and force pressing compared to tapping. Let us start the fit.


    Comparing Fit

    The overall shape of the 2nd generation and 3rd generation AirPods are similar, but the 3rd generation AirPods are designed to put the sound more directly into the ear canal than even the 2nd generation; provided that your ears can fit the newer shape of the 3rd generation AirPods. 

    Even though the 3rd generation AirPods do indeed it in my ears, they do not sit as comfortably as the 2nd generation. The 2nd generation AirPods seem to just have an overall better fit where they rest easily on my ears. Meanwhile, the 3rd generation AirPods tend to stick out a bit more. The 3rd generation still fit in my ears, just not as well. As a tip, be sure to twist them forward after you have put them in your ears, this should help them fitting. 

    Your experience may vary though, depending on the shape of your ears. The fit it not the only thing that will take some time to adjust to, the controls might take some time to get accustom to as well.


    Adjusting to Force Press from Tapping

    The AirPods are small and they do not have a large surface area. Because of this AirPods are only able to support a limited set of controls. As mentioned earlier, with the 2nd generation AirPods you can only have one action that you can set. You can set one action for each AirPod. The available actions include:

    • Play/Pause
    • Next Track
    • Previous Track
    • Siri

    The 3rd generation AIrPods allow you to perform the same functions, but in a different manner. Instead of tapping you can perform presses on either of the two stems of the AirPods. The actions that you can perform are the same:

    • Play/Pause – Press Once
    • Next Track – Press Twice
    • Previous Track – Press Three times
    • Siri – Press and hold

    Having used AirPod since they were introduced in 2016, I have become quite accustomed to tapping on the AirPod in order to perform an action, so I have to keep reminding myself that I have to press on the smaller stem of the AirPod to perform any action. It is not like I do not have to press on headphones to perform an action. They exact same actions work on my Beats Solo Pros, so it is not like the actions are unfamiliar to me. I think the issue is that the stems are much smaller, so it takes a bit longer to actually perform an action, due to the smaller surface area. I am sure that I will eventually get used to it, but for now, it is still a bit cumbersome to adjust to.


    Find My

    AirPods are small and it is entirely possible that they could fall out while you are using them and they may become lost. This may not be outside of your house, but it is entirely possible that you might lose one. There is an option to be able to find any lost AirPods via the “Find My” network. This is enabled by default on your 3rd generation AirPods. 

    If you do manage to lose your AirPods, you can use the Find My app to try and find your AirPods. The Find My is similar to other Find My where it starts to find the AirPods in a general manner and as you get closer the color will change to indicate that you are getting closer to the AirPod. 

    The difference with the 3rd generation AirPods is that you can individually locate each AirPod. This can be very helpful should you only manage to misplace a single AirPod. Beyond attempting to locate your AirPods you can also play a sound so that you can more easily locate them.

    The inclusion of Find My should be quite helpful for those instances when you accidentally misplace an AirPod, no matter where it may happen to be located. There is one last item to cover about the 3rd generation AirPods, the charging case.


    Case

    3rd Generation AirPods Case
    3rd Generation AirPods Case

    AirPods are wireless, necessitating placing them in the case when they charge. I normally charge my AirPods on a Space Gray iPhone Lightning Dock. With the 1st and 2nd generation AirPods I could easily open the case and use one hand to place each of the AirPods into the case. However, with the 3rd generation in order to place the headphones in the case, for me anyway, requires two hands. For me, I need one hand to hold the case and the other to actually place the AirPods in the case. 

    I suspect that the shorter stems are the issue. The longer stems on 1st and 2nd generation AirPods allowed the AirPods to be drawn into case because the magnets on the bottom of the stems, in combination of the magnets in the bottom of the case, helping pull the AirPods into the case.

    Whenever I try to use one hand to place the 3rd generation AirPods into the case, the AirPod is drawn to the top of the case where the magnet to hold the case closed instead of the bottom. My guess is that this is happening because the magnets in the front of the AirPods case are stronger and the AirPod is attracted to closest magnet. 

    In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big problem, but it is something to be aware of, because it may be problematic for someone who has mobility issues.

    On the topic of magnets, we need to cover a feature that involves magnets. That feature is MagSafe.


    MagSafe

    3rd Generation AirPods on MagSafe charger
    3rd Generation AirPods on MagSafe charger

    As stated earlier, at the same time the 2nd generation AirPods were introduced, another accessory was also released, a wireless charging case. If you opted for a wireless charging case, it would either cost your $199 for the 2nd Generation AirPods with the wireless charging case, or you could buy the wireless charging case on its own for $80. While this was optional with the 2nd generation AirPods, there is a wireless charging case included with the 3rd generation AirPods.

    The 3rd generation comes with a wireless charging case, just like the AirPods Pro do. There is one additional enhancement with the 3rd generation case that was not on the 2nd generation wireless case, and that feature is MagSafe compatibility.

    MagSafe is Apple’s Qi-compatible charger that adds some of Apple’s own proprietary features. It is not that the 2nd generation wireless charging case would not work with a MagSafe charger, it definitely will. The MagSafe aspect comes into play when it comes to placing the AirPods case on the MagSafe charger. 

    Typically, when you place any Qi-compatible charger it is quite possible that you might misalign the device with the actual charging area. When this happens it might result in the device not actually charging, even though you think it is charging. One of the features of MagSafe is that you do not need to necessarily worry about exact placement of the MagSafe-compatible device. This is because there are a bunch of very tiny magnets in the MagSafe-compatible device. These numerous magnets will automatically align the device with the MagSafe charger so that you will always be sure that the device will charge.

    The magnets in the 3rd generation charging case are definitely stronger than any of them in the 2nd generation AirPods. This can be easily noticed by placing the 3rd generation AirPods on a MagSafe charger and picking up the charger with the AirPods case and having the MagSafe charging puck be lifted up as well. 

    Having wireless charging in the 3rd generation AirPods automatically will make it much easier for everybody, even if you do not charge your AirPods case wirelessly, there may be an instance when you need to do so and having it available will allow you to not have to worry about it, and be able to charge.


    Lightning

    3rd Generation AirPods USB-C to Lightning Cable
    3rd Generation AirPods USB-C to Lightning Cable

    The 3rd generation AirPods case needs to be charged, and if you do not charge it wirelessly you will need to plug in the charging case. All of the AirPods that require charging come equipped with a lighting cable. With past models this would have been a USB-A to Lightning cable. However, with the 3rd generation AirPods this is now a USB-C to lightning cable. 

    In most cases this is not a problem, because if you have an existing pair of AirPods and use a lightning cable, you can continue to use it. However, it does need to be noted because if you do not have another lightning cable you will need a USB-C charging brick, because one is not included in the box.


    Closing Thoughts

    If you have a pair of AirPods Pro, then the 3rd generation AirPods do not make a lot of sense for you. This is because the AirPods Pro actually have two additional features, Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode, to be exact.

    A good way to think about the 3rd generation AirPods is that they are like the iPad mini, but for AirPods. They have many of the same features of the more expensive AirPods, but they are not the top of the line, but they are still very capable and a great overall choice.

    If you do opt to get a pair of 3rd generation AirPods you will get support for Spatial Audio, up to six hours of battery life on a single charge, and even an IPX4 water and sweat resistance rating. If you do decide to get a pair of AirPods, it is possible that they might not fit as snugly as the 2nd generation AirPods, but they may be a better overall choice for you in the end.

    These are a great choice if you are looking to get something for someone for the holidays, or even just for yourself.

  • Apple Watch Series 7: A Review

    Apple Watch Series 7: A Review

    Much like the iPhone, the Apple Watch sees a new model being introduced every year, usually at the same event as the iPhone, but if not, then sometime very close to it.  Some years the Apple Watch will bring new capabilities through sensors, while other years there are other changes, like screen size. This year is one of the years where the latter has occurred.

    There are only a couple of new features to cover, the screen and color choices. We will get to those in due course, but let us look at the order process first.

    Order Process

    I think it is safe to say that this year’s Apple Watch Series 7 launch was bungled. The order process worked for me, and I did not have any hiccups, but it seems like the overall launch was bungled. The reason for this is quite simple, no details prior to pre-order day.

    Unlike in previous years there was no gallery to see the possible combinations there might be, nor was there any sort of pricing, at least not prior to the beginning of the pre-order time. I can completely understand not having a pre-order system like they did for iPhone 13 models, but the minimum benchmark should be having the possible color combinations and pricing available before pre-orders go live. This would have allowed many to determine what they were hoping to order once pre-orders did begin.

    Apple Watch Series 7 Midnight Box and Midnight Sport Band Box
    Apple Watch Series 7 Midnight Box and Midnight Sport Band Box

    With not having any time to look at models beforehand, anyone who might have wanted to get their Apple Watches as soon as possible had to frantically choose their watch case, color, and band as quickly as possible. Luckily, for me anyway, I was able to get the Midnight Sport model with Midnight sport band. The reason I chose this is because it was available for pickup at my local Apple Store on October 15th. I opted for pickup because, like the iPhone, I did not want to wait all day for it to arrive. I was able to get a 10am pickup time, so I could be one of the first in the store to pickup my order.

    Next, let us jump onto the into color choices available.

    Color Options

    The Apple Watch has always come in a variety of colors. Which colors are available depend on the case material you choose. The Series 7 is the first time that Apple has not offered either a Space Gray or Silver as an option for the aluminum model. For the Series 7 aluminum models the available options are Midnight, Starlight, Green, Blue, and PRODUCT(RED).

    Lack of Neutrality

    As you likely surmised, there is no Space Gray or Silver color option for the aluminum models. For many they opt for the Silver because silver can generally go with anything. Starlight looks to be silver, but more of a gold-tinted Silver. For many, this is acceptable, however it is not likely to be as neutral as a Silver model would be.

    Midnight 

    Midnight Sport Band in its box opened up.
    Midnight Sport Band in its box opened up.

    As mentioned, I opted for the 45mm Midnight Apple Watch with the Midnight band. When you first look at the ‘Midnight’ watch case you may think that it is a black. But there does seem to be a tint of blue in the case. If you compare the Apple Watch Series 6 Space Gray  to the Apple Watch Series 7 in Midnight, you will notice that the Midnight is definitely darker than the Space Gray and that the Midnight might be a better overall “go with anything” type of watch.

    While the Midnight case is darker, the pairing of the the Midnight watch band do not match. The Midnight band is more of a blue and it does work okay with the Midnight watch, but it is not the best pairing.

    This is not all that uncommon, because often the Space Gray watch bands do not match the paired black bands. At the same time the Midnight watch band does not seem to be a good match with the Midnight watch. The case of the Midnight Watch is more of a black than the blue-black of the Midnight watch band.

    Midnight Sport Band and Black Sport Band
    Midnight Sport band on the left and a Black Sport Band on the right
    Apple Watch Series 6 in Space Gray and Apple Watch Series 7 in Midnight
    Apple Watch Series 6 in Space Gray on top and Apple Watch Series 7 in Midnight on the bottom

    The ‘Midnight’ Apple Watch is not the only device with an accessory that comes in “Midnight”. There is also a MagSafe case for the the iPhone 13 line that comes in “Midnight”. At least when it comes to the “Midnight” color of the Midnight iPhone 13 Pro Max case and the Midnight Apple Watch Band, they are the exact same color. Therefore, if you are looking to match your Apple Watch band and your iPhone 13 case you can be assured that these two will match perfectly.

    Midnight Aluminum Sport Band and iPhone 13 Pro Max Midnight Case

    Now that we have covered the coloring, let us look at the actual setup of the Apple Watch.

    Setup

    If you are setting up a new Apple Watch and you have never owned an Apple Watch the setup process is pretty straight-forward because you do not have any existing settings or configuration to worry about. However, if you have a previously paired Apple Watch and you want to transfer its setting to your new Apple Watch it may be a bit cumbersome and require jumping through some hoops.

    Apple Watch 45mm Series 7 in Midnight with Midnight Sport Band
    Apple Watch 45mm Series 7 in Midnight with Midnight Sport Band

    The reason that it may be problematic is because if the version of watchOS on your old Apple Watch is newer than the version on the new Apple Watch you will not be able to transfer your current watch to your new watch. There is a workaround though. You can use the following steps to get your old Apple Watch settings onto your new Apple Watch.

    1. Begin Pairing new Apple Watch
    2. Setup as a new watch.
    3. Complete Setup of the Apple Watch
    4. Open Settings -> Software Update
    5. Update Apple Watch to latest version
    6. Unpair Apple Watch
    7. Begin pairing of the Apple Watch
    8. Use your current watch’s settings. It will have the text “(Current Watch)” next to your current watch. It will be similar to the image below.

    For most people setting up an Apple Watch as new may not be too much of a problem. This is because things like cards added to Apple Pay will all need to be added again anyway. This is because each card added to Apple Pay has its own unique device specific identifier and those cannot be transferred between devices. 

    It is important to make sure that you choose the proper device since there will also be a backup of your recently unpaired Apple Watch.

    Now that the Apple Watch is setup, let us see the most notable change with the Apple Watch Series 7, the screen size.

    Screen Size

    The screen sizes of the Apple Watches has only increased by a single millimeter, or about 0.04 inches. However, the screen resolution has increased from 368×448 to 396×484, which is a 16.3% increase in screen resolution. This increase in screen resolution is absolutely noticeable, no matter which previous model you had, including the Series 6. You will also see some slightly higher percentages for the 41mm Series 7 as well when upgrading from a 40mm or 38mm model.

    Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch Series 7
    44mm Series 6 on the left and 45mm Series 7 on the right

    The first screen size change for the Apple Watch was with the Series 4, when the sizes went from 38mm and 42mm to 40mm and 44mm. This screen size change was an increase of 35.5%. If you are going from an Apple Watch Series 3, or earlier, to a Series 7, you will see an increase of 57.5% increase in screen resolution, which will absolutely be noticeable. 

    42mm Series 3, 44mm Series 6, and 45mm Series 7 Apple Watch
    42mm Series 3, 44mm Series 6, and 45mm Series 7 Apple Watch

    When it comes to the Apple Watch any increase in screen size is welcome. This is because a watch cannot be nearly as large even the smallest iPhone and therefore the larger the screen size, the more easily you can see the time as well as the complications. This screen size increase has also allowed for one new feature, a full QWERTY keyboard.

    Keyboard

    The manner in which you are able to enter in text on an Apple Watch can vary, depending on the current context. You can use Scribble, emoji, Animoji, or even voice entry. With the new 41mm and 45mm screen sizes you can have the option of entering text in via a keyboard. 

    One thing I have noticed while doing this is that I am so accustomed to the standard iOS keyboard that I forget that the backspace button is in the upper right corner. The backspace key is the same place as with the previous Apple Watches when using Scribble. The full keyboard is in the same place where Scribble was previously.

    Apple Watch full QWERTY keyboard
    Apple Watch full QWERTY keyboard

    By default, Scribble is replaced by the full keyboard. This makes some sense given that you can be much quicker with the full keyboard than with Scribble. With the keyboard you can either tap on the individual characters or even use swiping between characters to enter in the text. When you use Swipe the Apple Watch will use predictive text to try and provide the correct word.

    Scribble is still available if you want to use it. This is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the Apple Watch to bring up the option of using Scribble or the full keyboard (Thanks to Michael @bearsfan34 on twitter for pointing me in the right direction). You can easily switch between the two depending on your preferred input method. 

    Series 7 Only

    Not having a full keyboard on the 38, 40, and 42mm makes sense given that the screens would be too small. Having the 41mm support a full keyboard does make sense given that the screen is more edge to edge. Yet, what seems odd is that the the full keyboard is not supported on the 44mm screen. Sure, it would be a slightly more cramped, but it would still likely be quite useable. My guess is that the full keyboard is designed to be exclusive to the Series 7 Apple Watch as a differentiating factor for the Watches.

    Personally, I do not know how often I will end up using the full keyboard, but it is inevitable that having a full keyboard on the Apple Watch Series 7 will come in handy at some point. Let us now look at the new watch faces on the Series 7 Apple Watches.

    New Watch Faces

    Add Watch Faces - New Watch Faces
    Add Watch Faces – New Watch Faces option

    The biggest aspect of the Apple Watch is the ability to customize the faces of the Apple Watch. All watch faces, regardless of them being digital or analog watches, have a thing called complications. Complications can display a number of things, like the current date, a calendar, or even the phase of the moon. Complications on an analog watch, as the name indicates, makes the watch more complicated to create. 

    Similarly on the Apple Watch complications allow you to show items on the face of the Apple Watch. There are a number of different complication sizes, small, medium, large. Apple has a set of built-in complications, but third-party applications can also provide their own complications for people to use.

    Apple adds new watch faces periodically. There are generally two instances when Apple adds new watch faces, either with a new version of watchOS or a when there is a new Apple Watch screen size. watchOS 8 includes two new watch faces, called “Portraits” and “World Time”. These watch faces are available to any Apple Watch that can support watchOS 8, meaning anything introduced after the Apple Watch Series 3.

    As mentioned, the second possible instance for a new watch face is with a change in screen size. When there is a new screen size it is likely that new watch faces are introduced, or existing watch faces are modified, to take full advantage of the new screen size. The Apple Watch Series 7 has a couple new watch faces that are designed for the new screen sizes. Let us look at each one individually.

    Contour

    Contour watch face
    Contour watch face with color dial

    The Contour watch face is an interesting one. The Contour watch face is an analog watch face that has the hours around the outside edge of the watch face. As the name suggests the hours contour to the screen while the analog watch hands move around the watch face to provide the current time.

    The Contour watch face allows you to set a specific color as well as add two sub-dial complications. One small complication that is towards the bottom of the screen as well a personalization complication. The personalization complication can be one of the following items:

    • Today’s Date (default)
    • Monogram
    • Stopwatch
    • Digital Time
    • Timer

    There are some other options that you can set, including the style as well as the dial color. There are two style options, “Regular” and “Rounded”. These watch face are different, but only subtly. The “Rounded” style takes the bottom portion of the hours and rounds them out so that the edges of each hour will be rounded. This is a very subtle difference. The easiest number to notice the difference is the “10”, but other numbers also change.

    There is one last option called “Dial Color”. The “Dial Color” option will allow you to set the entire dial to your selected color or even a multi-color. Let us look at the other new watch face, Module Duo.

    Modular Duo

    Apple Watch Modular Duo watch face
    Apple Watch Modular Duo watch face with Activity rings at the top, Weather in the middle, and Now Playing at the bottom

    One of the watch faces that has been available since the original Apple Watch running watchOS 1 has been the Modular face. The Modular face allows you to choose the complications that will appear on the watch face. You can choose up to six complications, four small, one large, and an optional date in the upper right corner. On the Modular face there are three complications on the bottom row, the large complication in the middle, and one more small complication in the upper left corner. 

    The Modular Duo face allows you the choice of three complications. There are two large complications and one small complication. The large complications take up the bottom two thirds of the Apple Watch face and the small complication is in the upper left corner. 

    The Modular Duo watch face is a decent face that will help you quickly see information if you only have two large items and one small item you want to be able to see at a glance.

    While I like the Modular Duo watch face, I think I am going to stick with my Infograph Modular watch face which was introduced with the Series 4. It provides me with the most number of complications so I can quickly get the information that I need. If you need only a couple of large complications, then the Modular Duo is a great choice.

    Both of these new watch faces work well with the new 45mm Apple Watch Series 7 screen. There is one last feature to cover and that is around charging.

    Fast charging

    Apple Watch charger with metal base
    Apple Watch charger with Metal Base that supports Fast Charging

    All of the Apple Watches have been capable of getting a decent level of charge fairly quickly. How quickly you can get an 80% charge, as well as a full charge, depends on the model. For the Apple Watch Series 3 you can get an 80% charge in about 90 minutes with a full charge in about 120 minutes. The Apple Watch SE takes about 90 minutes for an 80% charge and 150 minutes for a full charge. These charge times also similar for the other models as well. 

    The Apple Watch Series 7 is different. It is capable of charging to 80% in 45 minutes and a full charge in 75 minutes. This means that you can charge the Apple Watch in half the time. This is great particularly if you do not have a lot of time to charge your watch, but you want to make sure it has enough charge. There are some limitations to this though.

    First, you need a Fast Charge Apple Watch charger. This part is taken care of, because one is included in the box of your Apple Watch Series 7, so that will not cost you anything extra. The Apple Watch chargers that support fast charging can be easily identified because they have band of metal around the charging puck as well as around the USB-C plug.

    The second thing you need is a USB-C charger capable of supporting USB Power Delivery, or USB-PD. This will need to be 5-watts or higher. This does not need to be an Apple USB-C adapter, but some of those are supported as well. The list of Apple power adapters that is supported include: 18W, 20W, 29W, 30W, 61W, 87W, and 96W USB-C adapters. If you have one of these adapters it will work. 

    You can still use your other Apple Watch chargers, they just will not allow for fast charging. Therefore, if you have a favorite charger, you can continue to use it. You can replace them when the time is right for you.

    Fast charging is a great addition to the Apple Watch given that there are no new sensors on the Apple Watch Series 7.

    Closing Thoughts

    If you currently have an Apple Watch Series 5 or Series 6, I am not sure how much of an upgrade you would notice. There are no new “must have” features that most users would notice, outside of the screen and full keyboard. However, if you upgrading from a Series 4, or as one person I talked to at the Apple Store, a Series 2, this will be a fantastic upgrade.

    The increase in screen size will be very welcome and noticeable right away. The faster charging may not be immediately noticeable, but if you need to get a charge of 80%, it will take half the time, provided you use a compatible adapter that support USB Power Delivery, also known as USB-PD.

    If you are in the market for a new Apple Watch the Series 7 is a great choice, whether you go with the 41mm or 45mm, you cannot go wrong. As of this writing there are many models that have a delivery date of early December, so you should order an Apple Watch sooner rather than later, if you are intending to order from Apple in time for the holidays. If you are new to the Apple Watch you will not be disappointed.

  • 6th Generation iPad mini: A Review

    6th Generation iPad mini: A Review

    Everyone has their own approaches to working, communicating, and ways of relaxing in their off time. Some people prefer to watch TV shows or movies, while others prefer video games, and yet others prefer to read. Of course this all depends on the mood that one is in and what other obligations they may have. 

    One of the things that happens when someone watches a TV show or a movie is they tend to have a device with them, I know I am one of those people. As I write this I am watching an episode of a mini-series. What device I use depends on what I am doing at the time. If I am re-playing a video game, I typically have a podcast or audiobook going while I am playing. If I am re-watching a TV show, or watching a TV show that does not require all of my attention, say a show like House Hunters International, I might be using my MacBook Pro or iPhone. If I am using my MacBook Pro I am likely writing a blog post, writing a review, or just browsing social media. If I am not using my MacBook Pro, it is entirely possible that I am using my iPad Pro to perform some of the same tasks, or even possibly playing a game like Sudoku.

    At their “California Streaming” event Apple announced an update to the iPad mini. When it was announced I had not initially planned on buying one. The reasons why are two fold. First, I bought a new iPad Pro back in May when they were announced. Secondly, I was not sure where an iPad mini would fit into the things that I do. 

    I have owned a few iPads since the introduction of the original 9.7-inch iPad in 2010, I have owned four 9.7-inch iPads and four 12.9-inch iPad Pros, but I have never actually owned an iPad mini. I went back and forth on whether or not to buy one. In the end I did decide to purchase one. Specifically, I decided to get a 64GB Space Gray Wi-Fi only iPad mini.

    6th Generation iPad mini box
    6th Generation iPad mini box

    My decision for getting an iPad mini is two-fold. Firstly, having a device that is mostly dedicated to development of my app, wwriteLIte, could be quite handy. With this, the iPad mini has its own challenges when it comes to developing for the device. Secondly, when I am writing my books, it would be nice to have a device that can be on the previous version of iPadOS. Normally when Apple announces a new version of iOS, I install it on my iPad Pro, iPhone, and MacBook Pro on day one. I do this so I can get used to the operating system and its features and then I can write about all of the new features with actual experience. 

    When I have written my books in the past, including my latest book, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, tvOS 15, and watchOS 8 for Users, Administrators, and Developers, I have had access to multiple iPhones which has allowed me to easily compare between previous versions of iOS and the latest version. However, I have not had the same access for iPadOS. Having this iPad mini can help me with this.

    There are a number of specific items to cover in this iPad mini review, including the Size, Touch ID, Connectivity, and the Smart Folio case, but first, let us look at some specs.

    Specs

    When I do a review, I normally do not write about the specs that a device has. The reason for this is because in many respects it does not have a significant effect on the overall experience. The only exception to this is the amount of storage on a device, because the more storage space, the more you can have on a device. I will not go into depth about all of the specs, but I think it is a good idea to list do a comparison between the 5th Generation iPad mini and the new 64th generation iPad mini. The items listed are only the items that have changed.

      5th Gen 6th Gen
    Processor A12 Bionic A15 Bionic
    Screen 7.9-inches 8.3-inches
    Resolution 2048×1536 2266×1448
    Camera 8 MP ƒ/2.4 aperture 12 MP ƒ/1.8 aperture
    Digital Zoom 5x
    Flash Quad-LED True Tone
    Panorama 43 Megapixels 63 Megapixels
    Video (Maximum) 1080p @ 30fps 4K @ 24, 25, 30, 60fps
    FaceTime 7MP ƒ/2.2 12MP, ƒ/2.4
    Apple Pencil 1st generation 2nd generation

    The iPad mini is not updated nearly as often as the other iPad models, so when it does receive an update, it is usually a pretty big one. That is the case with the upgrade from the 5th generation iPad mini to the 6th generation iPad mini.

    Size

    The iPad mini, as the name indicates, is a smaller iPad than the standard iPad. It is actually the smallest iPad. The physical dimensions of the 6th generation iPad mini are 7.69 inches, or 195.4mm, tall, by 5.3 inches, or 134.8mm, wide, and 0.25 inches, or 6.3mm, thin. The 6th generation iPad mini is slightly shorter than the previous versions, which were 8 inches tall.

    The bezels around the iPad mini, just the like iPad Pro, are equal on each of the four sides. This has allowed for a different screen size. The first five iterations of the iPad mini had a screen size of 7.9-inches. Due to the change in bezels, this has resulted in a change to the size of the screen. The new screen size, with the change in dimensions of the device, and the new equal width bezels results in a new screen size of 8.3-inches. More screen real estate in a similar form factor is always welcome.

    5th Gen 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 6th Generation iPad mini, and iPhone 13 Pro Max stacked on one another.
    5th Gen 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 6th Generation iPad mini, and iPhone 13 Pro Max stacked on one another.

    The equally sized bezels has resulted in another change, the home button has been removed. With the 5th generation iPad mini and earlier models, the home button also included the Touch ID sensor. Let us look at Touch ID.

    Touch ID

    Apple devices have always been able to be secured with a passcode or passphrase. This security is needed to be able to protect the data on your device. If you use a simple passcode, unlocking your device does not take too much effort. However, if you use a long passphrase it can become cumbersome to have to continually enter in your passphrase. One thing that would be much easier would be to use some sort of biometric authentication on your device. This is exactly what Touch ID is intended to do.

    Touch ID was first introduced with the iPhone 5s in 2013. iPads have had Touch ID since 2014 when it was introduced with they iPad Air 2. This means that the first iPad mini to get Touch ID was the iPad mini 3rd generation which was released in 2015. The 6th generation iPad mini no longer has a home button, but it does not have Face ID either, yet it still supports Touch ID authentication. But now instead of being a dedicated button it is now integrated directly the Sleep/Wake button, just like the iPad Air.

    Having Touch ID in the sleep/wake button is convenient enough. But, I would be lying if I said that I sometimes forget that I have to actually have to place my finger on the Touch ID sensor. The reason for this is because I have become very accustomed to having Face ID on my devices. Face ID was introduced with the iPhone X in 2017 and made its way to the iPad Pros in 2018 with the introduction of the 3rd generation iPad Pro. 

    If you are used to using Face ID to unlock your iPhone or iPad Pro, you may end up having to retrain your brain to actually use the Touch ID button on the top of the iPad mini to unlock it, authorize payments, or other tasks. You can, of course, still enter in your passcode if you forget about Touch ID, but this may not be nearly as convenient if you have a longer passphrase.

    Now, let us look at how you can make connections with the iPad mini.

    Connectivity

    As mentioned earlier, the iPad mini is a similar form factor as the iPad Air, and in many ways can be thought of as such. One of the changes with the 6th generation iPad mini is that it no longer has a lightning connection. Instead, it now uses a USB-C connection. 

    Th USB-C connection can be used for charging, or connecting to devices. The USB-C to USB-C included in the box is a USB-C to USB-C cable, as well as a 20-watt USB-C power brick. As is the case with the iPad Air and iPad Pro, you can use the USB-C port on the iPad mini to plug in external drives, like the thumb drives, external hard drives, or any other mass storage device. You can also use any other device, like a Mac or iPad Pro to charge an iPad mii.

    No modern device is without the ability to connect via Wi-Fi. The iPad mini is able to connect to via 802.11AX, or more commonly known as Wi-Fi 6. This is the latest Wi-Fi standard available. I did not get a cellular model, but if you do opt for a cellular model you will get 5G connectivity, so you can use your 5G connection on the go if you need to.

    Being able to connect using Wi-Fi, which is a necessity, while using the USB-C connection for connecting to a Mac or iPad, or using it to connect to external devices, could be useful for those who need to do so. Next, let us take a look at the Camera.

    Camera

    One area where the iPad mini has significantly improved is the camera. As outlined above in the specs table, the camera has gone from an 8 Megapixel ƒ/2.4 aperture to a 12 Megapixel  12 Megapixel ƒ/1.8 aperture camera. In terms of cameras, the lower the aperture the more light that can enter into the lens. The more light that can enter the lenses the better the quality due to less noise being within the pictures.

    Is the iPad mini camera as good as an iPhone, actually yes, albeit it is not as good as the latest iPhone Pro Max, but the iPad mini camera has the same specs as the Wide-Angle camera on the iPhone X, so it can take decent pictures.

    Low light photo taken with a 6th generation iPad mini
    Low light photo taken with a 6th Generation iPad mini
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 13 Pro Max
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 13 Pro Max
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 7 Plus
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 7 Plus

    The rear camera can take 4K video, at 24, 25, 30, or 60 frames per second. This means that you can use the iPad mini to take some decent video. The fact that it can handle 24 frames per second means that you can shoot movie quality video on the device. 

    There is no optical zoom on the iPad mini, but none of the iPad mini models have had optical zoom. Instead, there is a 5X digital zoom on the 6th Generation iPad mini, which is good in a pinch, but given that it is a digital zoom it will introduce significant noise and distortion when you attempt to take a picture.

    Let us now turn to one option for a case for the iPad mini, the Smart Folio.

    Smart Folio

    The iPad mini does not need a case, but I like to protect the devices I purchase. So I picked up a Smart Folio for the iPad mini. Much like how I typically go for black, space gray, or graphite for an iPhone. I would normally go with a similar color for a case or cover as Its the iPad mini. However, the Smart Folio from Apple was backordered by two weeks. Instead I had to order one from Amazon. They only had two colors in stock, White and Electric Orange. Knowing that the White one would likely get dirty fairly quickly, as well as wanting to make sure I had a cover for it, I opted to get the Electric Orange.

    Electric Orange 6th Generation iPad mini Smart Folio
    Electric Orange 6th Generation iPad mini Smart Folio

    Purchasing a brightly colored accessory, whether it be a cover, case, or watch band is definitely out character for me. The color combination of the Electric Orange with the Space Gray is a decent combination. It is definitely not possible for me to mistake the iPad mini with its bright Electric Orange color with any other device I have.

    The Smart Folio attaches to the iPad mini via magnets along the back of the iPad mini. The Smart Folio cover is divided into three sections. The division of the Smart Folio allows you to position the iPad in two different positions. You can fold the Smart Folio on itself to  create a stand. You can either have the iPad standing at a slight angle or you can have it laying down. Which direction you want to have it depends on what you are doing at the moment. 

    There is one additional feature option with the Smart Folio. If you fold the Smart Folio into a stand, you can use the Smart Folio as a way to hold the iPad mini. And given that the iPad mini is very light so you can comfortably hold it with the Smart Folio for a while.

    Lastly, you can also fold the Smart Folio back on itself so it can be held or placed on a surface and used while playing a game, reading, or watching a tv show or movie.

    Other Thoughts

    A lot of features of the iPad mini have been covered, but there are a couple of other quick thoughts on some other aspects of the iPad mini.

    Typing on the iPad mini

    One thing that can be difficult on the iPad mini is typing. At least this is the case if you are used to typing on a normal size keyboard. When you are using the iPad mini in landscape mode, the keyboard takes up half the screen. While this does make the keyboard larger, I do not know if it makes it easier to type on. 

    However, if you hold the iPad mini in portrait view, you can more easily type with your thumbs. Even with this though, it is definitely not like typing on an iPhone, at least not when it comes to typing at the same speed. With an iPhone, including the iPhone Pro Max, I can type very easily. With the iPad mini I have to stretch my thumbs in order to hit the keys in the middle of the keyboard, like T, Y, G, H, B, and N.

    Apple Pencil

    The 5th Generation iPad mini line introduced support for the 1st generation Apple Pencil. The 6th Generation iPad mini still supports the Apple Pencil, but now it is the 2nd generation Apple Pencil. This brings some great functionality, like not needing to have a separate charger or remembering to keep your Apple Pencil charged. This is because the Apple Pencil will charge magnetically while connected to the iPad mini. This ultimately means that the Apple Pencil will always be ready to go.

    The Apple Pencil takes up the entire height of the iPad mini, which necessitated the volume up and down buttons being moved, and subsequently being placed on the same side as the Power/Touch ID button.

    Benchmarks

    Even though specifications do not necessarily means a whole lot due to such a variety of usages. Even so, it is good to have a comparison to other similar products and the best way to do that is provide benchmarks.

    These benchmarks were done using the latest version of Geekbench 5.

    Device Single Core Multi Core Geekbench ML
    M1 Mac Mini (Late 2020) 1753 7758 N/A
    iPhone 13 Pro Max 1739 4691 2744
    12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen) 1703 7316 2700
    iPad mini (6th Gen) 1603 4543 2543
    iPhone 12 Pro Max 1593 3726 2469
    iPhone X 930 2445 446
    iPhone 7 Plus 768 1397 419
    iPod Touch (7th Gen) 565 1077 308
    iPod Touch (6th Gen) 278 533 N/A
    iPhone 5s 259 498 N/A

    Now that we have covered the major things that I wanted to cover, there are a few other small things that I want to mention.

    Overall Thoughts

    The iPad mini is an interesting device. It is a small and compact device, but it is not small on performance. The A15 Bionic is the latest in Apple’s processor line up, so it can handle almost anything you throw at it. Even though the cameras do not match the quality of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it is not a problem because it is still quite capable for a variety of needs.

    The fact that can pair it with the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, you can use it with QuickNote or just to draw on the iPad mini. And since it supports the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, you can simply attach it to the iPad and it will both pair and charge.

    The physical size of the iPad mini is a great one for both size and weight. You can easily hold it in one hand, with or without a Smart Folio cover, for extended periods of time. The physical size of the iPad mini is really nice and the 5% larger screen in the approximate same size as the previous iPad minis.

    The integration of Touch ID in the power button has been an adjustment for me coming from devices that have Face ID. I have become so accustomed to turning on a device and having Face ID authorize, that I sometimes think the iPad mini is broken until I remember that I have to unlock it myself.

    Even though the iPad mini is small, it is still a great device that might be a good fit for your usage, particularly if you want to use it for reading or even browsing the internet. The combination of the size and weight make it a light and easily portable device. Overall, you cannot go wrong with the iPad mini.