movie-harry-potter-1.jpg
In this enchanting film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s delightful bestseller, Harry Potter learns on his 11th birthday that he is the orphaned first son of two powerful wizards and possesses magical powers of his own. At Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. He learns the high-flying sport Quidditch and plays a thrilling game with living chess pieces on his way to face a Dark Wizard bent on destroying him. For the most extraordinary adventure, see you on platform nine and three quarters!

Reviews

  • Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: A Review

    A screenshot of The Division 2

    It is not often that a brand new open world action game series is unveiled, and subsequently takes the gaming community by storm. But that seems to be what happened in 2016 with a new game by Electronic Arts titled Tom Clancy’s The Division. The sequel to the best selling game has been released and having played it for a while, I thought I would give it a review. Note: There may be spoilers for the game with this review.

    The Story

    The basis of the Division series is an interesting one, at least to me it is interesting. To quote Wikipedia:

    On Black Friday 2015, a smallpox epidemic, transmitted by a virus planted on banknotes, sweeps through New York City. The disease, known as “Green Poison” or “The Dollar Flu”, causes widespread chaos, and Manhattan is placed under quarantine. The U.S. Government activates sleeper agents in the population who operate for the Strategic Homeland Division, or simply “the Division”, to assist emergency responders, now called the Joint Task Force (JTF), in restoring order. In Brooklyn, the protagonist, a Division agent, assists the JTF before planning to depart for the Quarantine zone with fellow agent Faye Lau.

    In the first game you are a Division agent tasked with finding the source of the epidemic. During your travails you need to clear out different factions whom are trying to exploit the chaos and take control of New York City. The Division 2 takes place seven months after the release of the Green Poison from the first game. This time the game is focused on Washington, D.C.

    Seven months after the Green Poison outbreak, several Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) agents are defending a civilian settlement from a bandit attack when the SHD Network, the system controlling their advanced technology and communications, suddenly shuts down and they receive a Division distress call from Washington D.C. The player’s Agent makes their way to the city where the Division and the remains of the local Joint Task Force have set up their base of operations in the White House. After defeating an attack on the White House shortly after arriving in the city, the Agent is briefed on the general situation by Manny Ortega, the Division controller for D.C.

    There is a lot more to the story, but you will have to play the game to learn more.

    Similarities

    As with any game series, many aspects of each game will be familiar. This is the case with the Division series as well. As with the first game you are a Division agent who needs to clear out factions attempting to take over Washington D.C. The game mechanics are that you need to complete missions as well as side missions to clear out the factions and take back sections of the city. Throughout the game the enemies you face various levels of enemies.

    Each section has a variety of side missions, including Control Point takeovers, target training, hostage rescue, and more.

    Just as with the first game, within each area there is a Safe House that must be located. Safe Houses allow you to restock your ammo, health, and armor. Located in each Safe House is your stash, where you can put equipment that you cannot carry but might want to hold on to while storing away the items you may want later.

    With both of the Division games you level up your character by completing missions, side missions, finding loot, and eliminating the enemy. Some enemies will drop items upon their death. These items can include weapons, ammo, or crafting materials.

    Differences

    While the two games are similar in many ways, there are also some differences that create a slightly different game play with the Division 2.

    As you progress through the game you earn experience points, gain Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) tech points to gain skills. Skills allow you to employ different items to assist in your quest. These were present in the original Division, but they have been changed around.

    With the first game there were three broad categories, Medical, Tech, and Security skills. Now with the Division 2, there are no categories, but there are different options within each skill that can be used. You can equip two skills. Each of these skills can be one of 8 different types of skills. Instead of being a category, these are objects. These objects are:

    • Drone
    • Firefly
    • Hive
    • Launcher
    • Pulse
    • Seeker Mine
    • Shield
    • Turret

    There are variants of each of these skills that have different assets. You can select the ones that best match your play style. These unlock as as you play through the game and collect SHD tech.

    Specializations

    Once you have reached level 30, you will have the option of adding a “Signature Weapon”. A specialty is an additional weapon that will help you in missions. A Signature Weapon is a double-edged sword. With a Specialty, each weapon is extremely powerful, more powerful than standard weapons even with mods. However, with that extra power, your ammunition is quite limited. So it is best to use the Specialized weapon only when it is most needed.

    There are three different Specializations to choose from, and each has its own weapon. The Specializations are:

    • Demolitionist has a grenade launcher
    • Sharpshooter has a powerful rifle
    • Survivalist has a crossbow with explosive bolts

    Each of the specializations has its own attribute tree that can be unlocked. . You can only employ one specialization at a time, however you can easily swap between them at the Quartermaster within the Base of Operations.

    You earn additional specialization points by finishing some missions, after you have completed level 30. You can use these points to unlock different attributes for each specialization.

    There is an area of game play that also exists in the Division 2, the Dark Zone. Let us look at that one separately.

    The Dark Zone

    The Dark Zone is one of the areas of the first Division game that really excited players. The Dark Zone is a separate area than the main game play map. The Dark Zone is a mix of Player vs. Player (PvP), and Player vs. Enemy (PvE). Within the Dark Zone of the Division 2, you try to capture landmarks that are being held by hostile enemies.

    Unlike with the first game, there is not a single solitary Dark Zone. Instead there are actually three of them. East, South, and West. Each of them have a minimum level you need before entering each Dark Zone. Each of the zones has a different type of play style.

    Just like with the first game, some items that are dropped are “contaminated”. This means that they must be extracted via helicopter. If items are successfully extracted they are delivered to your stash.

    There has been a slight addition to the Dark Zone, there are no exploration missions. These are missions that help you explore each of the Dark Zone areas. These provide a way to level up in the Dark Zone.

    There are 50 levels for a user in the Dark Zone. This progression occurs much faster than in the main game, and it can help you earn perks that will help in the main game.

    One of the differences with the Dark Zone in the Division 2 is the way that you learn about the Dark Zone. With the Division 2, there is a quick walkthrough that helps you explore each of the areas. This allows you to get familiar with the zones and provides you an easy way to gain levels.

    Rogue Agents

    One of the areas of the Division that some players enjoy is the aspect of “going rogue”. In the first game this was done by attacking other players, stealing their extracted loot, or by other nefarious methods. This could occur both in the primary world or within the Dark Zone. While it occurred in the main mission area, it was definitely more prevalent in the Dark Zone.

    There is still the ability to go rogue, if you desire, particularly in the Dark Zone, but it is not something that I have seen as much of as in the first game. I am not sure why this is the case. It could be because there are not as many players, or it could be because going Rogue is not as interesting as in the last game.

    Downsides

    There have been some changes that are not necessarily for the better, at least in my opinion. The biggest of these is the way that the world tiers work in the Division 2. Once you level up to a World Tier there is no way to go back to a lower tier. You can only go up in tier. This makes it a bit more difficult should you want to do some scavenging or to complete projects.

    It is still possible to do the side missions and projects, but significantly harder once you go up a tier due to the increased difficulty.

    Even though there have been some changes to the game overall, they are not all downsides. With that through all of my playing I have compiled some tips that might be helpful for any Division Agent.

    Tips

    There are a few tips that I have learned by playing the game.

    Tip 1: While most missions can be done on a solo basis, some missions cannot be completed by yourself. Do not hesitate to use match making to get additional agents involved to help with a mission. You may only be in the group for the one mission, but they can be quite helpful in completing it.

    Tip 2: When taking over control points, be sure to make sure you are well stocked with ammo. Some control points will not be easy to take over. Be sure to make sure there are some allies in the area trying to take over the control point in case you die and need to get back to the control point. The allies will keep the enemies busy while you get back. At some control points there are stationary guns. These will definitely utilize these as well.

    Tip 3: Use grenades near clustered enemies. If your grenade is powerful enough you could take out a group of enemies with just one grenade. This can save on ammunition should you be running low.

    Tip 4: Use Fast Travel. You can fast travel between safe houses, control points, the base of operations, and settlements.

    Tip 5: Do as much exploration as you want before you tackle the last mission, which is the Level 30 Stronghold on the east side of the map. Once you complete this, you will be entered into Tier 1, which as mentioned earlier, you cannot undo once done.

    Tip 6: Be prepared for anything when going into the Dark Zone.

    Tip 7: Use the shooting range to test out different weapons, mods, and difficulties. This will be helpful in finding out what works best with which type of enemy.

    Tip 8: Make sure to listen to the audio collectibles, they fill in some of the story.

    Closing Thoughts

    There is a lot to do within Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. The sequel takes the best parts of the first game and expand upon them. The new Dark Zone exploration missions are nice additions. While there is still player vs. player available, it does not seem to be as prevalent as it was in the first game.

    The inclusion of “Signature Weapons” adds to the game play in some interesting ways. Using one of the Signature Weapon can be a game changer at a crucial point.

    If you enjoy in-depth games, you cannot go wrong with The Division 2. There are hours upon hours of game play, even after you have finished the main missions of the game, there is still more to do. If you include all of this with the expansions on the horizon, it is not likely that you will have nothing to do in the game. If you enjoyed playing the first Division game, then there it is quite likely that you will enjoy the second one.

    There are multiple versions of the game, Standard, Gold, Ultimate, and Gold Steelbook editions. The first three are available physically or digitally, with the Steelbook edition only being available physically. You can buy The Division 2 today for Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.

  • AirBuddy: A Review

    AirBuddy Today Widget
    AirBuddy Icon

    When Apple unveiled a new product in September of 2016 alongside the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, it was something that users were not necessarily expecting. The product was the AirPods. During the announcement Apple let us know that there was some very custom silicon in the earbuds. This chip was a wireless chip that they dubbed the “W1”.

    The W1 chip is an Apple designed chip that is specifically for being able to quickly pair with any iOS or macOS Sierra device. The W1 chip also enables is the syncing of the pairing information between all of the devices using the same iCloud account.

    The synchronization with iCloud is designed to allow your devices to automatically switch, without having to go through the tedious, “un-pair”, “re-pair” dance that is typical of Bluetooth enabled devices.

    Apple has made this entirely seamless when switching between iOS devices. And it is somewhat seamless on the Mac as well. However, unlike iOS there is no nice interface on the Mac for connecting to the AirPods. In order to connect to your AirPods, or Beats Solo 3 Wireless headphones, you have to select the headphones either within an app or from the Bluetooth menu. This is where AirBuddy can come in handy and makes things a bit easier.

    AirBuddy

    AirBuddy is an app that Apple should have created for macOS. Since they have not, macOS and iOS spelunker Guilherme Rambo, has written it. AirBuddy takes the look and feel of the iOS card that appears when you open your AirPods and it brings that to the Mac. The app uses the same services and graphics as on iOS and mimics the look and feel. The screenshots below show the comparison


    Prerequisites

    There are some requirements to be able to use AirBuddy. These include a Mac running macOS Mojave, and signed into the same iCloud account that your AirPods or Beats Solo 3s are on. The second requirement is that you will need a Mac that supports Bluetooth Low Energy, also known as BTLE. If your Mac supports Handoff and continuity it is quite likely that it will support AirBuddy.

    Preferences

    As with any good Mac app there are a few things that you can tweak. There are only two options. These are “Enable for AirPods” and “Enable for other W1 headsets”. By default “Enable for AirPods” is checked and “Enable for other W1 headsets” is unchecked. This is because most users of the app have AirPods, but may not have a pair of Beats Solo 3, or newer headphones.

    Today Widget

    There are different interaction methods on the Mac, including via the Today section of the Notification Center. With the Today Widget enabled you can not only view the battery levels for all of the bluetooth connected devices, but you can also click on a device that you want to connect and it should connect to your Mac.

    AirBuddy Today Widget

    Pricing

    AirBuddy has a slightly differentiated pricing model than most other apps. For many apps an author will provide a price and you can either agree to pay or not pay it. AirBuddy has this same idea, with a price of $5.00. However, if you so choose, you can actually pay more than the minimum. To quote Office Space:

    “Now if you feel that the bare minimum is enough, then okay. But some people choose to [pay] more and we encourage that, okay?”

    When I bought the app, I paid more than the minimum. This was for two reasons. The first is to support an indie developer and the second is because any native Mac app that is produced brings even more to the ecosystem. You can purchase AirBuddy at Gumroad.com starting at $5.00.

    Closing Thoughts

    AirBuddy is an app that cannot live on the Mac App Store. This is because it uses some system frameworks that will not allow it to be in the store. Even though it is a side project for Mr. Rambo, he does intend to provide meaningful updates and bug fixes, as time permits. If you use any W1 enabled headphones on your Mac AirBuddy can help make things easier. While it is a minimalist application, it does what you expect an all in a nice clean interface. AirBuddy is worth the entry fee, whatever you decide that fee is.

  • Apple Smart Battery Case for iPhone XS: A Review

    iPhone XS Smart Battery Case packaging.

    It is not often that Apple enters into a new accessory category of products, but it does happen from time to time. One area that people might not have expected Apple get into was the battery case market, but Apple did get into the market. They did so back in 2015.

    Smart Battery History

    Back in December of 2015 Apple unveiled a brand new product specifically for the iPhone. At the time the iPhone was the iPhone 6s. They called it the “Smart Battery Case”. The Smart Battery Case would provide additional battery for the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6s. The case came in two colors, Charcoal Gray and White. The case had a 1877 milliamp hour battery. This more than doubled the battery on the iPhone 6s. It would provide up to 25 hours of talk time, 18 hours of internets use on LTE, and up to 20 hours of video playback.

    With the release of the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled a version that would work with the iPhone 7. The case contained an even bigger battery, 2365 mAh, which is 26% bigger. With this bigger battery it provided even more usage, including up to 26 hours of talk time, up to 22 hours of internet usage on LTE, and up to 24 hours of playback. The iPhone 7 Smart Battery Case came in three colors; Black, White, and (PRODUCT)RED.

    Apple did not release a smart battery case for the iPhone 8, nor have they released a smart battery case for any of the Plus-sized phones. Apple has released a Smart Battery Case for their latest iPhones.

    New Smart Battery Cases

    iPhone XS Smart Battery Case in box.

    As mentioned in my post about the release, Apple has released some new Smart Battery Cases. Apple has done something a bit different. This year they released new Battery Cases for all of the iPhone models, the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. This is a first for the larger iPhone sizes getting a Smart Battery Case.

    When I received my case, it shipped with no charge. This is likely due to standalone battery shipping restrictions. First, they can only be shipped via ground shipping and are not eligible for shipping via air. The second reason that they ship without any charge is to reduce any fire hazard. The lack of charge means that you will need to charge the device before usage. This is different from most of Apple’s other devices, which usually ship with at least some charge in them.

    Charging

    One of the features of the Smart Battery cases for this year’s phones is the fact that the case can be charged on a Qi charger. You might expect that if the case is charging the iPhone would not be. This is not the way the Smart Battery Case is designed. It can in fact charge both the iPhone charges simultaneously with the case.

    If you have a Qi charger and it can support fast charging, which is 7.5 watts. The Smart Battery Case is capable of handling fast charging. The order of which items charges first depends on how much power you provide the case and iPhone. If you use the 5-watt charger that comes with the iPhone it will likely charge the iPhone and may not end up charging the case. If you increase this to 7.5-watts, the iPhone will be be charged first and then the Smart Battery Case. If you use a 10-watt or higher charger then both of the devices should charge simultaneously.

    Design and Feel

    The Smart Battery Case feels very similar to the iPhone Silicone case. The Smart Battery Case is made of the same material so this is to be expected. The interior of the Smart Battery Case is a soft microfiber lining. This is designed to help protect the back of the iPhone from scratching.

    The design of the Smart Battery Case has been tweaked from the previous ones for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6/6s. On the previous models the battery was approximately in the middle of the case with an equal amount of space on the top and bottom. The iPhone XS Smart Battery Case has the battery at the bottom. The edges of the battery at the bottom are rounded and the round edges also extend to both sides of the case. The top of the battery extends to between the volume buttons. This is where the hinge of the case is. The hinge allows you to put the phone into the case as well as remove it when necessary.

    I am not sure how many times the hinge can be pulled back before it breaks, and I am not about to test it to find out. With the new rounded design. the Smart Battery Case is great to hold. The Smart Battery Case does add some weight, and one might expect, given that it contains a battery.

    Usage

    When you connect the Smart Battery Case to an iPhone, the iPhone will show both the iPhone’s battery as well the Smart Battery Case’s current level right on the notification screen. Just as with other accessories, if either the Smart Battery Case or the iPhone is currently charging, it will have a small lightning bolt next to the device to indicate that it is charging. After I put my iPhone XS into the Smart Battery Case. I noticed that the iPhone is constantly be charged. At least that is what I have noticed during my usage of the case. The specifications indicate that you will get up to an additional 13 hours of talk time, an additional 7 hours of internet usage, or an additional 11 hours of Video playback with the Smart Battery Case. I cannot verify this information as I generally do not let my iPhone or the case get that low. I did let the battery pack get close to zero, but never all the way down to zero.

    I have yet to remove the Smart Battery Case from my iPhone XS except to remove some dust from the top of the screen. I am not sure if I really even need the battery case, but having it on there may come in handy if I am away from a charger for more than 24 hours.

    Closing Thoughts

    The Smart Battery Case from Apple will definitely allow your iPhone to last longer. While it is not an inexpensive item, nor is it for everyone, if you are one who could benefit from the use of a battery case, it may be a worthwhile investment. The iPhone XS Smart Battery Case is possible solution. While it does add bulk, it does not feel awkward to hold. I do not yet know if I will end up keeping the case on the iPhone XS when spring and summer come around. Right now keeping it in a hoodie or coat pocket is not a big problem right now. I can only speculate how well it will work in the summer, but I guess we will find out. The Smart Battery Cases for the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR are available now for $129.

  • Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe: A Review

    Nintendo is a company that elicits a large amount of nostalgia, in the true sense of the word, for many across the world. Nintendo is able to do this through their characters, like Mario, Luigi, and Toad. Through their existence as a gaming company, they have had some ups and downs, some systems have done well, others not so much.

    The Wii was a huge success. Its successor the Wii U, not so much. However, Nintendo has hit a home run with the Nintendo Switch. One of the ways that companies help boost the number of games for their platform is by re-releasing previous games, or providing enhanced versions of previous games. Nintendo has supplied a number of games for the Nintendo Switch by creating enhanced versions of games that were available for the Wii U, including the game “Super Mario Bros. U”, with its remastered version “Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe”.

    Gameplay

    Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe combines a couple of games, New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U all into one game. I never played Super Luigi U, so this was an opportunity for me to play it. By default you play the New Super Mario Bros. U game, but you can switch to Super Luigi U by scrolling up on the selecting the “Play New Super Luigi U” button on the Main Screen.

    New Super Mario Bros. U is a modern take on a traditional Mario game, with its worlds, levels, and castles. New Super Luigi U takes Super Mario Bros U and adds a twist to it. The character you select in New Super Luigi U has slightly different physics. The levels are also slightly different. They are a bit more challenging, but they are also a bit shorter.

    Characters

    Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe Characters

    With the combination of the two games, you can select from a number of characters. These include Mario, Luigi, Toad, Toadette, and Nabbit. Each of these characters has its own abilities. Mario, Luigi, and Toad are all just regular characters. Toadette and Nabbit have a couple of extra words with them. Toadette has “easier” and Nabbit has “easiest”. Using Toadette or Nabbit will make things a bit easier and may help you get past a particularly difficult level, so make sure to use them when appropriate. If you have little kids playing, using Toadette or Nabbit will definitely help.

    There is one additional character that you can use, from time to time, but only within certain levels. That character is Yoshi. Yoshi allows you to grab enemies for points or even Apples. Once you get five apples, with one Yoshi, you will get a power-up for the level.

    Areas and Levels

    New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe Levels

    The areas within Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe are the same ones in Super Mario Bros. U. You have Acorn Plains, Layer0Cake Desert, Sparkling Waters, Soda Jungle, Rock-Candy Mines, Meringue Clouds, and Peach’s Castle. As with other Mario games, each of the levels gets progressively harder as you progress through the game.

    Each area has a number of different levels, including castles. Throughout the levels you gather coins, once you hit 100 coins you get a 1UP. Which may be needed, particularly in later levels. Interspersed throughout the regular levels are mini castles. The castles are the only place where you can save the game, so it is best to take advantage of these when you can.

    Since the first Super Mario Bros 3. game, released in February of 1990, some of the Mario games have been some opportunities for extra items from Toad. Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe has these opportunities as well, but they are deluxe versions. These waypoints will provide you with power ups that might help you during some levels. You can only have 10 extra items at one time. When you get an additional item, and you already have 10 items, you will have to discard an item. This can be the one that is to be added to your inventory, if you want.

    Within each level there is a checkpoint flag. This flag will allow you to return to the flag if your character dies during the second half of the level, which makes it much easier to finish the second time around since you do not need to go through the entire level again.

    Each area has its own type of environment and each has a different set of challenges. It may take some time to figure out the best way to approach a level, but that is all part of the fun.

    Large Coins

    Each one of the levels have three large coins that you need to collect. These are not always in the obvious spot. Some of these coins are easier with certain characters. Each time you get a large coin, you will be awarded 4000 points for each one, including ones that you have already gotten while playing back through a level.

    Tips

    There are some tips that might help you through the game play. There are chances to use enemies, like turtle shells, to get rid of a large number of other enemies. When these opportunities arrive, try and take them. This is because each enemy you hit in succession doubles the number of points you are awarded. But, once you hit eight enemies in a row you will be awarded a 1 UP, or extra life.

    On the topic of 1 UPs, you can actually have a maximum of 99 lives. These lives are per character. This means that you can have 99 lives for Mario, another 99 lives for Luigi, another 99 for Toadette, and another 99 for Nabbit.

    You may find yourself having issues getting through a level. After you have died a number of times, either five or six, you will get a special box. This box will show you how to get through the level. In fact, it will actually do the level for you. You can exit the play through at any point and continue the level for yourself from that point. This can be a way to get through a level if you are having trouble making it through.

    Closing Thoughts

    It is always better to have more games for a platform than not have enough, as the case was with the Wii U. Some may feel as though it is easy money to just re-issue remastered versions of games, but in the case of Nintendo it is actually a way to extend their existing investment considering that the Wii U was not as successful as they had anticipated.

    If you have never played either of the games, but you enjoy playing Mario games and you have a Nintendo Switch, you cannot go wrong with Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. It is a fun game and well worth your time. Even after you finished the game, there is more playability by trying to get all of the large coins.

    Overall, Super Mario Bros U Deluxe is a great game, and with the ability to play with multiple people can be a great game for families to play. Super Mario Bros U Deluxe is available physically or digitally, depending on your preference. There is definitely more playability even after you have finished all of the levels.

  • Third Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro: A Review

    iPad Pro size comparisons, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro 3rd Gen, iPad Pro 2nd Gen

    It is now well known that before the iPhone, Apple was working on a tablet. While the iPhone was released first, a tablet did eventually get introduced. Since its first introduction in 2010, the iPad has seen some transformations. The original iPad had a screen that measured 9.7-inches, diagonally. In 2013, Apple unveiled the iPad Mini, which had a 7.9-inch screen. It was not until November of 2015 when the direction of the iPad changed again with the first generation iPad Pro.

    The iPad Pro, as the name suggests, is intended for professionals; however you want to define the word “professional”. The iPad Pro brought a few new features. The first was a larger screen size, 12.9-inches to be exact. The screen size also brought the ability to use two applications simultaneously, with each app taking a portion of the screen. The apps can take up 33%, 50%, or 66% of the screen. This change allowed users to be more productive on iOS, than they had been previously.

    In lieu of using multiple apps simultaneously, the iPad Pro also brought the ability for users to just glance quickly at some information., you could also use another feature, Slide Over, to have an application hover over another application. This could be used temporarily, or a longer term basis; depending on need.

    Even with the advancements of the iPad, and its software, the ultimately question is though, what does the 2018 iPad bring to enhance the iPad line? Quite a bit actually. Let us start with the physical size of the iPad Pro.

    Physical Size

    The biggest change with the iPad Pro is the bezels around the screen. The actual screen size has not changed, it is still 12.9-inches. However, the physical size of the iPad Pro has been reduced, because the bezels around the iPad are now the same around all sides. This means that the height has been reduced by an entire inch vertically. On the sides, it has been reduced by about half an inch total.

    After having become accustomed to the 2018 iPad Pro, I held the `d Generation model again and noticed that the weight of the older device seemed much heavier than as compared to the third-generation. Even though the actual weight difference being 59 grams, or 0.13 pounds, it seems like it is actually more than that. I can only attribute this to the physical size difference.

    2nd and 3rd Generation iPad Pro Depth comparison

    With the new size of the device, Apple has also adjusted the depth of the iPad Pro to be a consistent size, instead of being tapered as it was before. This change does make it easier to grip the iPad Pro. The reduced physical size also means that the iPad Pro has been reduced in weight. This reduction makes it nicer to hold for longer. Even though holding the iPad Pro is much easier to hold, it is likely that you will not always be holding it. For these instances, and as a means of protecting the iPad Pro, Apple has created a new case for the iPad Pro, the Smart Folio.

    Smart Folio

    The iPad Pro has had a cover since the original iPad. With the release of the iPad 2, Apple brought out a new cover, the Smart Cover. The difference with the Smart Cover is that it utilized built-in magnets within the iPad 2 and connected the cover to the iPad itself. The Smart Cover protected the screen and put the iPad to sleep when closed, or woke it up when the cover is opened. This has been a Smart Cover available for each subsequent iPad as well. The Smart cover provided more than just a protective cover. It also doubled a stand. With the stand you could put it into a few different positions.

    This is possible through the folds that are along the cover. They allow you to change the position of the iPad to best suit your needs. You can prop the iPad up almost vertically or you can lay it down so it a bit flatter.

    The original iPad Pro had a cover designed for it. It encompassed the entire device, the front as well as the back. However, there were no smarts within the cover, it was merely a protective mechanism. The 2018 iPad Pro also has a Smart Cover, but it does more than just cover the screen. It also covers the entire back of the iPad Pro. This is a combination of the original iPad cover as well as a Smart Cover. Since it is neither a case nor a Smart Cover, it has a new name, it is called the Smart Folio.

    The Smart Folio allows you to position the iPad Pro as you would with any other Smart Cover, but it encompasses the entire back by using magnets to attach the back of the Smart Folio to the back of the iPad.

    There is one additional change, which is a nice touch. When you used a Smart Cover for previous iPads, if you wanted to use the camera on the iPad you would have to hold the cover back the entire time you needed to use the camera. However, with the Smart Folio, and the magnets, the back of the Smart Folio will stick to the back of the iPad Pro, which makes using the camera on iPad Pro much better. On the topic of the camera, let us briefly turn to it.

    Camera

    When you think of the major uses of an iPad, using it as a camera may not be the first ing that comes to mind. The reason for this, for long time iPad users, is because when the iPad was first introduced, it did not contain a camera that most would consider a first-rate camera. They have been functional, but not the best quality.

    Through the iPad’s history, it took a while before Apple starting putting better cameras into the iPad. While the rear cameras steadily improved, however the Face Time camera did not really get much of an upgrade, until the first-generation iPad Pro.

    The camera on the third-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a completely redesigned lens, even though the specs are the same as the previous generation. The quality, on the other hand, is improved.

    Here are some examples of the same photo taken with different devices. You can clearly see the improved quality between the second-generation iPad Pro, and the third-generation. The improvement is even more prevalant when you compare the third-generation iPad Pro with the iPad Air 2.

    The rear camera is not the only one on the third-generation iPad Pro. There is also the front camera assembly, including the Face ID camera.

    Face ID

    As mentioned earlier, the third generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro has consistent bezels around all of the edges of the iPad. Housed within the top edge of the iPad Pro is the Face ID sensor array. The iPad Pro’s Face ID is slightly different than the Face ID found on the iPhone X, iPhone XS, or the iPhone XR. The difference is that the iPad Pro can be used in any orientation. This can be in either portrait or landscape, upside down or right-side up.

    With the ability to use any orientation, it is possible that you will be using the IPad Pro in landscape and holding either of the sides. If this occurs, your hand will likely be covering the Face ID camera. If this does happen, a message will be shown indicating that the camera is covered. The message will indicate where the camera is located, so you can uncover it.

    Having a consistent experience between an iPad and iPhone is very nice. Instead of having to try and remember that I am using an iPad and that I have to use Touch ID, I can just use Face ID. Just as with the iPhone, it is much more convenient to use Face ID. Just by looking at the iPad Pro, which I am likely already doing, any authentication that needs to occur, can do so automatically.

    It would be nice to see Face ID on the iPhone get the same treatment as the iPad, meaning that it can work in any orientation. It is understandable as to why it has come to the iPad Pro first. The primary reason for this is likely due to the iPad being used in landscape orientation significantly more than the iPhone is.

    With the iPad Pro, Apple introduced a new connector, the Smart Connector. The Smart Connector is designed to allow devices to be attached to the keyboard, but not over Bluetooth or Wifi. The connector allows devices to draw power from the iPad, which means that they do not need to contain any batteries in order to work. The connector has only been used for one accessory, keyboards.

    Keyboards

    Apple does have a Smart Folio Keyboard for the 2018 iPad Pro, but I did not purchase one. This is because I prefer to use the Magic Keyboard 2 for my keyboard needs with the iPad. I would like to see a wireless version of the Magic Keyboard 2 in Space Gray, so that it would more closely match the iPad Pro, but unfortunately there is not one available.

    I have been using an Apple Keyboard with the iPad since the original iPad. There has consistently been one issue with the iPad Pro and the Apple Keyboards. That issue is temporary loss of bluetooth connectivity. If you have been using the iPad Pro with a keyboard for a while, and if you do not touch the keyboard, the keyboard seems to disconnect. It will reconnect, but you need to hit at least three keys before any keystrokes are recognized. This happens in all applications, Apple apps as well as third-party applications. When it does occur, it usually results in missing letters, so that the word that you were expecting to type does not actually get put onto the screen. The errors can be corrected but it is quite inconvenient and it is not something that should occur, but alas, it does.

    I completely get that Apple might be aggressive in saving battery life, in order to provide the longest battery. But this is not the way to save battery. Maybe it is just me, but in a vast majority of cases if you have a keyboard connected it means that you intend to use it; Hence, the keyboard should not disconnect so quickly, or at all. This has been happening intermittently since at least the first generation iPad Pro. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to this, but it can be problematic.

    One of the other things that the iPad Pro introduced was a new input method, this time it is with a stylus. Apple calls their stylus the Apple Pencil. Let us look at that next.

    The Apple Pencil

    The 2018 iPad Pro brought with it a refinement to the Apple Pencil, the second generation Apple Pencil. Apple missed an excellent naming opportunity with the new Apple Pencil, they should have called it the “No. 2 Pencil”, but alas, they did not. But it does not stop me from doing so, and I will.

    The No. 2 Pencil has been completely redesigned. It now sports a flat surface on one edge. The edge now helps prevent the Apple Pencil from rolling off the desk when it is put down. The previous Apple Pencil was completely round and would easily roll off a desk. The flat edge actually serves a second function. The second purpose is how the No 2. Apple Pencil is charged. The Apple Pencil magnetically attaches to one edge of the iPad Pro. This is a big difference over the previous Apple Pencil.

    The first generation Apple Pencil required you to charge it over lightning, with the ability to charge it in the lightning port of the first, or second, generation iPad Pro. If you did not want to charge it with the iPad Pro, you could use the adapter that was included with the first Apple Pencil and a standard lightning cable. Many iPad Pro users who had purchased a pencil often found that when they wanted to use the Apple Pencil it was not charged, due to lack of usage. I often found this to be the case for myself as well.

    The Apple Pencil has had the ability to quickly charge, and it still does. But with the Apple Pencil being able to charge while magnetically connected, it is more likely that when you want to use the Apple Pencil, that it will already be charged. This has been my experience with the Apple Pencil and the third-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Because the Apple Pencil has always been charged, I find myself using it more often than before. Additionally, since it is always connected, I actually think about it, and end up using it, way more often than I did with the previous iPad Pros. In order for the Apple Pencil to work, or charge, Bluetooth must be enabled on the iPad Pro.

    While the No. 2 Apple Pencil has only one edge can connect, the direction of the point of the pencil tip does not make a difference. It can be facing either left or right. The tip of the No 2. Apple Pencil is the same as the previous generation, which means that if you had the previous Apple Pencil and had the spare tip that came with it, and/or bought some extra tips, you can use those previously purchased ones with the new Apple Pencil.

    When you do connect the Apple Pencil to the iPad Pro, you will see a notification on the screen indicating that the Apple Pencil is connected, as well as how much battery power is left. It will be similar to the example below.

    I use the Apple Pencil for a variety of things. These include, navigating the interface, using it to interact with items on the screen, scrolling through my twitter timeline, and even playing games, like Plants vs. Zombies, or Dissembler.

    There is one more feature with Apple’s No. 2 Pencil, that will make some interactions much easier. In the lower third of the No 2. Apple Pencil, the third closest to the tip of the Apple Pencil, you can double-tap anywhere in the area and you will have the ability to switch actions. These actions can be defined by the application. For instance, with the Notes application it will switch between a pencil and an eraser. Developers are encouraged to provide the different interaction options within their app’s settings.

    Overall, the Apple Pencil is a fantastic update, even though it cannot be used with any device, except the 11-inch or third generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The fact that it is almost always charged because it can be connected directly to the iPad means that it will always be available when you need it to be available. The flat edge does prevent it from rolling, and there is no longer a cap to lose, like on the last model. If you were a heavy Apple Pencil user with the previous iPads and you plan on getting a third-generation 12.9-inch, or an 11-inch, iPad Pro, you cannot go wrong with the No 2. Apple Pencil.

    My Overall Usage

    I cannot say for sure that my iPad usage has changed all that much from a month ago. What I can say is that I have tended to use my iPad more than my MacBook Pro. There are still times when I use my MacBook Pro instead of my iPad Pro. These times are typically when I need to do some development work, but also when I want to watch something on the TV.

    I am not that artistic, so using the Apple Pencil for drawing is not something that I tend to do. Although using it for navigation is quite handy, as well as for playing some games.

    This entire review, including uploading pictures, and editing all took place on the third-generation iPad Pro. There is one thing that did not take place on the iPad Pro was the stripping of the exif data from the photos. That was done on my Mac.

    Price

    There is one area that has not yet been tackled, the price of the new iPads. The new iPads are significantly more expensive than previous models. In fact, they are $220 more than the previous models, which is 20% higher. If you include Apple Care, that is an additional $30, or 30% higher. The Apple Pencil, likewise is $30 more, and also 30% higher. This means, that just to get the new iPad Pro, with Apple Care, and an Apple Pencil, you are going to spend $280 more, which is about 22% higher overall.

    The increase in price though, is somewhat justified not just by the advances in technology, but also because the devices that are built now last significantly longer than in previous generations. In addition to this, the need to significantly improve with each generation is slightly diminished. It is not that each generation will not bring improvements, they will, but the need to upgrade to the new version with each release is not necessary. Besides not needing to update each to each new revision, the increased price is likely a deterrent for many. Next, let us briefly look at software on the iPad Pro.

    Software

    No matter how intricate a piece of hardware is, it does depend on software to operate. The iPad Pro absolutely depends on software, in particular iOS, for any operation.

    Current Software

    With the new iPad Pro and the new bezels, software will need to be recompiled before they will take full advantage of the new sizes. Software that has not been updated will show a black ring on all sides, both while using the software as well as when looking at all open applications.

    Additionally, if you are using two applications in split view mode, and one of the applications has not been updated, then both will have black borders. This is because iOS cannot intuit the expected behavior of the previously compiled application. It will likely take a while for applications to be updated to take advantage of the new screen sizes. You can see a couple of examples below of how it will look if applications are not updated.

    Future Software

    Many people may use the idea of future software improvements as justifications for purchasing an iPad Pro. I would recommend against doing this, not just for the iPad, but for any piece of hardware. You cannot know the direction that software will take. It is best to make purchasing decisions based upon what the device can do now, and if the software does improve significantly, then its merely a bonus. That is not to say that software will not get improved, it will. But it should not be a primary motivation in a purchase decision.

    Closing Thoughts

    The third Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a solid update to the iPad Pro line. If you have a first generation iPad Pro and like the physical screen size, or if you are looking to upgrade from a 9.7-inch screen, you cannot go wrong with the third generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

    If you do upgrade, you will enjoy the reduced physical size as well as the consistent bezels. The inclusion of Face ID does bring with it consistency between iOS devices, and signals that Touch ID is legacy and will eventually be phased out, likely within the next few years.

    If you need a way to protect your new iPad Pro, the Smart Folio by Apple is not a bad way to go, particularly since it will cover the back of the iPad as well as the screen. The large number of magnets within the iPad, as well as the Smart Folio allows the cover to adhere to the iPad Pro without worrying about it sliding off.

    The third-generation iPad Pro is a solid update. If you are coming from a first-generation iPad Pro, or earlier, you will really enjoy the speed as well the new features available. Pairing the iPad Pro with a No. 2 Apple Pencil will create a great portable computing environment that may be just what you need.

  • A Review of the Apple Watch Series 4

    The Apple Watch is Apple’s first foray into a wearable product. When it was introduced in September of 2014 it was intended to be capable of replacing many of the functions of the iPhone. However, as the Apple Watch got into users hands, and after getting feedback Apple has reduced the overall scope of the Apple Watch to be more narrowed. watchOS now focuses on two major areas, Notifications and Health.

    I have owned an Apple Watch since the beginning and have used each generation of the Apple Watch, including the latest, the Series 4 Apple Watch. Here are my thoughts on the Apple Watch after about two weeks of usage.

    Size

    The Apple Watch Series 4 is the biggest redesign of the Apple Watch since the original, retroactively dubbed the Series 0. These changes somewhat mimic the redesign of the iPhone. The iPhone also saw its first radical redesign with its fourth release, the iPhone 4. The Apple Watch Series 4 comes in two sizes, a 40mm screen and a 44mm screen. These screen sizes are larger than the 38mm and 42mm options, which have been the sizes for all previous Apple Watches.

    I opted to go with the 44mm version, and I am glad I did. The way I determined which one to go with was by using the Apple Store app. Within the app there are actual sizes for the watches. You can get to these two sizes by performing the following steps:

    • Open the Apple Store app<.
    • Tap on “Apple Watch”.
    • Tap on an Apple Watch model, it does not matter which one.
    • Tap on “Compare Sizes” directly underneath the two sizes.

    Here you can actually place some paper on top of your iOS device and you can trace around the Apple Watch sizes and then you can place these on your wrist to see how well each size would fit on your wrist. This is the approach I used in order to determine which model I would buy. Ultimately, the 44mm was the right choice, for me. Here are the two Apple Watch sizes. Next let us look at the actual size differences.

    Screen Size

    When you think of the difference in size, 42mm vs. 44mm you would think that it is not a lot of space. However, the 44mm Apple Watch Series 4 screen is actually 32% larger than the 42mm version. The difference is not just noticeable, but quite welcome. Having al larger screen size makes everything easier to do, from tapping buttons to just being able to quickly glance at information. It really does make a difference with the larger screen.

    With a difference in screen size you might think that it would be a bit odd having a larger screen than before on your first, but you quickly become accustom to the size difference.

    Compatibility

    There are a few different ways that Apple Watch users can personalize their Apple Watch. The first is through the choice of watch band. In the last 3 1/2 years many users have amassed a number of different watch bands. The Apple Watch Series 4 allows existing watch bands work with the new watch, with a bit of a caveat. In particular the 38mm bands work with the 40mm watch. Similarly, the 42mm bands work with the 44mm Series 4 Watch. This means that all of your existing bands will work, provided you upgrade to the corresponding size. This is important to note because Apple’s site only shows 40mm and 44mm options and third-party sites like Amazon may have 38mm and 42mm sizes listed.

    Watch Faces

    The second way that users can make an Apple Watch their own is through the watch face that they choose, and there have been some additional options for watch faces. Let us look at some changes around watch faces now. watchOS 5 brings a number of new watch faces, four in total. These new faces are Fire & Watch, Liquid Metal, Infograph, and Infograph Modular. These are broken down into two groups, Materials and Infograph. Let us look at these two groups in turn, starting with the Materials.

    Materials

    The Fire & Water watch face and Liquid watch faces share some traits. The first is that there are different colors to choose from in each watch face. For Fire & Water you can choose between two materials, fire and water. With Liquid Metal there are three colors, Silver, Gold, and Black. These colors match the available colors for the Watch as well as the iPhone XS. Also with both the Fire & Water and Liquid Metal faces you can select if you want to rotate between the options or just stick with a single option. Besides the color selection you can also choose whether to use a Full Screen or Circular watch face. If you opt for Full Screen, you cannot set any complications. With the Circular faces you have three complication options, upper left corner, upper right corner, and the bottom. The two upper complications are circular while the bottom complication is one off the new rounded complications that typically include a line of text.

    These two watch faces are great if you want to use a watch face that only tells time, yet can take advantage of the smart aspects to the Apple Watch to provide a bit of animation. Let us now look at the other new watch faces. These two faces are “Infograph” and “Infograph Modular” and with these even more information can be shown. Let us start with Infograph.

    Infograph

    The Infograph watch face is an analog watch face, with hour, minute, and second hands. The Infograph watch face allows you to customize the color with over 50 choices, including using a white watch face. Besides the color you can customize up to eight different complications. There are the four corners which provide curved complications, and the four inner complications, called “sub-dial” complications. The sub-dial complications are the standard circular complications that most apps contain. You can use all of none of them. There are a lot of built-in complication options available. The entire list of available complications include: Activity, Air Quality, Alarm, Battery, Breathe, Calendar, Date, Digital Time, Earth, Favorite Contacts, Heart Rate, Monogram, Moon, Music, Reminders, Solar, Solar System, Stocks, Stopwatch, Sunrise/Sunset, Timer, UV Index, Walkie-Talkie, Weather, Weather Conditions, Wind, Workout, and World Clock.

    One of the unique aspects to the Infograph watch face is that the complications in the corner can be curved to follow the watch face itself. These curved complications are not limited to the Apple native complications, but they are available for third-party applications to use as well. With the ability to set up to eight different complications, the choices can quickly become overwhelming. If you opt to use the Infograph watch face, start with only one or two complications and then add more as you need more information. Let us now look at the Modular version of Infograph.

    Infograph Modular

    There is one watch face that many would consider the definitive “Smart Watch” and that would be the Modular watch face. The reason is because all of the information that you can see at a glance. The Infograph Modular face is very similar to the regular Modular face. The Infograph Modular face also shows a lot of information. You can have up to six complications on the Infograph Modular face. The available complications are: Activity, Air Quality, Battery, Breathe, Calendar, Date, Earth, Favorite Contacts, Heart Rate, Moon, Music, Solar, Solar System, Stocks, Timer, UV Index, Walkie-Talkie, Weather, Weather Conditions, Wind, Workout, and World Clock.

    With the Infograph Modular face the upper right complication can only be the current date or off. Just like the traditional Modular watch face, the time cannot be changed and is in one spot. Just to the left of the time is one of the four icon-sized complication areas available. The other three are at the bottom of the screen. The last complication area is reserved for large complications. The available options for this area are: Activity, Calendar, Heart Rate, Stocks, and Weather conditions.

    Missing Complication

    There are a number of complications that is available on the standard Modular watch face that is not available on the Infograph variant. Some of these make sense, while others do not. The one that seems like it is missing, to me anyway, is the “Now Playing” complication.

    The Now Playing complication allows you to see the currently playing audio. With this complication enabled, if you tap on the currently playing audio you will be brought to an interface that will allow you to adjust the volume, skip to the next or previous item, as well as play and pause the audio.

    I know for me this is a deal breaker with using the Infograph Modular watch face. This is only because when I am at work, I am typically listening to music. While I can often know which song is playing, there are times that I do not know. Hence, I need to be able to quickly glance and see which song is playing and the Now Playing complication on the Apple Watch is best at doing this. Alternatively, I could tap on the iPhone XS screen and see the current song, however that is not possible if the iPhone is not nearby.

    It would be really convenient to have an option for the Now Playing complication to be used on the Infograph Modular face. There is a handy guide for the Watch Faces and which ones are available at https://support.apple.com/guide/watch/faces-and-features-apd6ce85daf4/watchos. Now that we have covered the new watch faces, let us turn to another piece of the Apple Watch that has been updated, the Digital Crown.

    Digital Crown

    The Digital Crown on the Apple Watch Series 4 is entirely different from the Series 3 and earlier models. The Digital Crown has two new distinct features. The first is that the Digital Crown now provides haptic feedback. This is most present when scrolling long lists of items, such as your app list, music, or adjusting the volume. This is quite helpful for allowing you to know the you get to the top or bottom of a list of items. Along with this, it is useful for accessibility for those to be able to know when an action is occurring.

    ECG

    The second new feature that the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch Series 4 is that it can be used as the mens for completing the circuit for the included Electrocardiogram. The way that this works is by creating a circuit between the Crystal electrode on the back and the electrode on the Digital Crown.

    The ECG sensor is designed to possibly detect the appearance of Atrial Fibrillation, more commonly known as Afib. There is a great explainer about the health aspects and an explainer about Afib over at Tidbits. This explainer is by a paramedic and well worth the read.

    The fact that there is a way to detect Afib using a device that is right on your wrist will definitely help save lives of many individuals, beyond the ones that have numerous accounts of how the Apple Watch has saved lives.

    Currently the feature is not available, but Apple states it will be “available later this year”. It would not be a surprise to see additional health features come to future versions of the Apple Watch.

    Fall Detection

    The Apple Watch Series 4 has a brand new feature, Fall Detection. By default it is not enabled, unless you are 65 or older. Fall Detection will automatically contact emergency services, as well as the Emergency contacts that you have defined in the Health app should the Apple Watch detect a fall, and you do not move for over a minute. When you enable Fall Detection you will receive a popup that states:

    “The more physically active you are, the more likely you are to trigger Fall Detection due to high impact activity that can appear to be a fall.”

    So, you should take note when enabling Fall Detection, particularly if you do some high-intensity workouts.

    Pricing

    Unlike the iPhone X, the Apple Watch Series 4 is more expensive than its predecessors. The 40mm GPS Model starts at $399, while the GPS + Cellular model is $499. The 44mm prices are $429 and $529 respectively. Similarly, the price of Apple Care has also increased, from $49 to $79. This means that the overall cost has increased $100, if you include Apple Care. This increase will definitely mean more revenue for Apple.

    Other Tidbits

    There are just a couple of other tidbits that should be noted. Apple has never really discussed the amount of storage available on the Apple Watch, but with the release of the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model, the storage was 16GB, while the GPS-only model was a mere 8GB. With the Apple Watch Series 4, all models now have 16GB of storage. The Apple Watch has been used by many for water sports, well before it was advertised as being water resistant. The Apple Watch Series 4 is now rated as IP 68, which means it will be able to submerged in 2 meters of water for 30 minutes, this is up from IP 67, which is 1 meter for 30 minutes.

    The Wireless within the Apple Watch is still 802.11b/g/n at 2.4GHz, but the Bluetooth connectivity is now Bluetooth 5.0, instead of Bluetooth 4.2. The Apple-proprietary wireless connectivity uses the W3 chip, the next generation of their wireless chipset that was introduced with the AirPods.

    The next tidbit is that the Apple Watch Series 4 can detect low blood pressure. It will provide a notification if your heart rate falls below 50 beats per minute for 10 minutes, in addition to the existing high blood pressure, which is 120 beats per minute for 10 minutes, without being in workout mode.

    The last tidbit is that the red dot that indicated that a model was Wireless has been reduced to a red ring, this is because of the need for good connectivity for the ECG sensor.

    Closing Thoughts

    Overall the Apple Watch Series 4 is a worthwhile upgrade, provided you have an Original Apple Watch, a Series 1 or even Series 2 Apple Watch. The larger screen sizes will make interactions easier as well as provided more information on screen. Even with the larger screen, the overall depth of the Series 4 Apple Watch is thinner and it is noticeably so. If you are upgrading, you will be able to use your existing Apple Watch bands, from your 38mm watch, if you go to the 40mm version, or your 42mm bands, if you go to the 44mm Apple Watch.

    If you have considered getting a Smart Watch and you have an iPhone, you cannot go wrong with the Apple Watch Series 4. Whether you choose the GPS-only model, or the GPS + Cellular model, you will be able to use all of the new features while on the go.

  • The Early 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro: 3 Years Later

    Current MacBook Pros

    There has been much consternation over the direction that Apple has taken their laptops. While there have been those that have questioned the inclusion of the TouchBar, many have questioned whether or not the TouchBar is a useful tool in place of standard function keys. While the TouchBar has been controversial, there is a topi that has been even more problematic, and for good reason. That feature is the new keyboards. The issues that have been expressed are:

    • How little it takes for a key to stop responding.
    • The cost of an out-of-warranty keyboard repair, which is approximately $540 dollars out of warranty.
    • The suggested fix by Apple.
    • And most problematic, the rapidity of the issues.

    All of these have added to the hesitation of many pundits to recommend the 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pros.

    Early 2015 MacBook Pro

    A couple weeks ago the Apple Care on my Early 2015 MacBook Pro ended. When I realized it had been three years, it got me to thinking about how I never wrote a review of the MacBook Pro. I did post about the issue that I had when I first got the machine.

    As a brief recap of the issue, it would stop randomly and sometimes rebooting fixed the issue, sometimes it did not. At the time Apple offered to just return the computer and order another one. This was just about the time that the brand new 12-inch MacBook was released. I seriously considered ordering one, but since the laptop was just still so new, I opted to have them fix it. Ultimately, this was a better choice for me. The ultimate problem was a bad cable to the SSD. Once they replaced that, it fixed all of the issues.

    Selecting the MacBook Pro

    When I start looking at any computer, I end up creating a Numbers spreadsheet to allow me to compare many different factors, with just a quick glance. These include:

    • Storag
    • Memory
    • Price
    • Video Memory

    Storage, Memory and Price are the biggest factors that I look at. Screen size typically dictates the prices. I look at video memory, mostly for long term viability.

    Specs

    The MacBook Pro that I got is a mid-tier model. It is a 13-inch with a 2.7GHz Core i5 CPU and 16GB of memory with a 256GB SSD.

    The 2015 MacBook Pro was my first purely solid-state storage computer. Prior to getting the 2015 MacBook Pro I had a 2011 iMac with a 1TB hard drive traditional hard drive, a 2007 Black polycarbonate MacBook with a 500GB hard drive, and a 2007 20-inch iMac with the same specs as the Black MacBook.

    For just over two years after getting the MacBook Pro, it was effectively my primary computer. It is not that my 2011 iMac did not work, it did and still does. There were a couple of factors that lead me to use it as my primary. The first is that it seems like a faster computer. The second, and more importantly, the MacBook Pro has a Retina Screen.

    The Screen

    The MacBook Pro has a 2x Retina display which allows for resolutions that go between 1024 by 640 to 1680 by 1050. For my usage, I tend to go with the highest resolution of 1680 by 1050. When I first got the MacBook Pro I went with the default because it was new. As time progressed, and especially when the MacBook Pro became my primary computer,

    This has to do with needing as much space as possible when doing coding, particularly with Xcode. As mentioned above, the MacBook Pro was my primary computer for a while, so it is the one where I updated my app <a href=”http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wwrite/id366196225?mt=8&at=1000l5Yb’>wwrite and wwriteFree. While working on the code, and in particular in the Xcode Simulator, given the size and space needed for being able to develop and test the app.

    Over the years, the extra screen resolution has been quite handy. It has been nice having the extra screen size. There have been occasions when I need to adjust the screen resolution, but I have typically kept it at the maximum.

    Storage

    One of the changes that Apple made with the 2013 MacBook Pros was the removal of the optical drive. The lack of an optical drive allowed Apple to reduce the overall size and weight of the laptop. A byproduct of the decision to make the laptop smaller was that the option for a spinning hard drive was removed, resulting in only SSD storage.

    There are a total of four storage options, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB, depending on which model. My MacBook Pro has 25GB of storage. I debated on going with the base of 128GB, but knew that would not be enough. At the time, the cost of getting 512GB, or 1TB, was just a bit too much. So I settled on the 256GB model.

    The choice of getting 256GB was worth it. While I have not filled up the storage on the MacBook Pro, I do think that having 512GB of storage would have allowed for a bit more leeway with what can be stored on the MacBook Pro. In particular, for the pictures that I have in stored in Photos.

    Keyboard

    The keyboard on the 2015 MacBook Pro is one that may users would say are the the best laptop keyboards that Apple has manufactured in the last decade. The 2015 MacBook Keyboard is backlit. For me, it was the first laptop that had a backlit keyboard. While it has been nice, it is not always that useful for me since I do not generally use the laptop in the dark, so the backlight has not been that useful.

    After three years of usage, I have noticed one issue, besides having to re-accustom myself after using the Magic Keyboard for a while, I have two letters that have effectively worn off. These are the “A” and “R” keys. I am not sure what the reason that this has happened, but It could be the way that I hit the keys when I am typing. Here is an example of what it looks like

    Ports

    The 2015 MacBook Pro has a selection of different ports. These include:

    • Two Thunderbolt 2 ports
    • One HDMI port
    • Two USB 3.0 Type A ports
    • One SDHC slot
    • One headphone jack
    • One MagSafe 2 connector

    I think I have used all of the ports at least once. I know I used the SD Card reader to install a copy of macOS to test something on an older version of macOS. I would not recommend running macOS off of an SD Card. It is painfully slow.

    Since there is no built-in ethernet adapter, I had to purchase a thunderbolt to ethernet adapter. When I used the MacBook Pro as my primary computer, I would use the computer plugged in most of the time, so having Gigabit network connectivity did help quite a bit. Now, I use the laptop as a laptop. The portability is definitely nice when I need to change where I am sitting and working on my e-books.

    General Usage

    The general usage of my MacBook Pro has been for portability. I normally use the MacBook Pro for writing a lot of my blog posts, and for a significant portion of the writing of my e-books. The final compilation of my e-books is now done one my 27-inch iMac, mostly due to all of the space.

    The amount of storage that I got has not been too bad, in particular since the release of macOS Sierra, when Documents and Desktop storage was released. It has allowed me to not manually manage the storage on my MacBook Pro.

    The speed has remained pretty much the same since I first got the MacBook Pro, which is really nice considering that it is a three-year old computer.

    Closing Thoughts

    The 13-inch 2015 MacBook Pro has been a great computer. While the keys have begun to rub off, the keys still work well and I have not had any real issues with the keyboard, besides when I switch to and from this keyboard and the Magic Keyboard.

    Having a solid state drive in the MacBook Pro has been a great speed improvement over the 2011 iMac that I had previously. Having an SDD is much faster than a spinning hard drive and is noticeable. If you were to take the Geekbench specs from my 2011 iMac and this MacBook Pro, they would be about the same, except the multi-core, which is still better on the 2011 iMac.

    Overall, the 2015 MacBook Pro is a solid machine. I have not had any issues except for that first issue. I anticipate that the 2015 MacBook Pro will last for a few more years, until it can no longer support the latest macOS. If you want at 15-inch version, you can still buy the 15-inch 2015 MacBook Pro new from Apple today. However, if you were looking for a 13-inch model an online seller, like eBay, may be your best option but I would not be surprised if they go for a premium.

  • HomePod Review: The Sound, Siri, and Songs

    If you were to ask someone back in 2001, what type of products “Apple” made, they would likely say computers. Apple still makes computes, but today they are not primarily known for their computers. That is not to say that their computers are not iconic, and often sought after, but it is not their defining product. Instead, they are known for their consumer electronics, primarily the iPhone. Apple’s latest product is also a consumer electronic, but it is not portable. The new product is called the HomePod.

    The HomePod is first, and foremost, a music speaker. The HomePod is not just any music speaker, it has smarts. The smarts that is within the HomePod are two-fold. The first bit of smarts within the HomePod is computational in nature. The HomePod has an A8 processor to do its calculations. This is the same processor that is in the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and sixth-generation iPod Touch. This is a ton of processing power, particularly just for within a Music Speaker. The A8 is capable of handling all of the processing necessary to be able to create the best sound possible. The second bit of smarts, is Apple’s assistant, Siri. The latter will be covered in a bit. First let us look at how the HomePod sounds.

    The Sound

    I am no audio engineer, nor do I ever espouse to being one. The only qualifications I have for being a sound engineer is adjusting the volume on my headphones or my HomePod. Along with not being an audio engineer, it is not easy to describe how a speaker sounds using text. I could do an audio clip, but the fidelity that I would be able to provide is nothing like hearing it in person. Even with all of those caveats, I will attempt to describe, as best as I can via text, how the HomePod sounds.

    One of the areas in which the HomePod differs from traditional speakers is when it comes to the way the output sounds. With traditional speakers, depending on where you place them, you will not get sound all throughout the room. This is because most speakers are directional in nature, and while you can hear some sound from the sides, or behind, the speaker, it will likely be distorted. This is not the case with the HomePod.

    The HomePod is capable of producing sound that can be clearly heard from nearly all parts of a room. This is possible through the computational audio mechanisms as well as the arrangement of the tweeters, since they go all around the HomePod. The ability to have clear sound throughout an entire room means that if you are having a party, everyone should be able to hear the music without any issue, which is always a good thing.

    To me the HomePod produces great sound. It is by no means perfect, but it is the best speaker that I have heard. The sound is generated the one woofer, which points up from the top of the HomePod. The woofer works with the seven tweeters, which are located towards the bottom of the HomePod. The tweeters point outwards, which allows the sound to fill a room.

    The HomePod is not your typical speaker. This is because the A8 Processor uses “computational audio”. Computational audio is best used with the faster than real-time streaming to analyze the audio to create a better sound. Along with analyzing the sound, the HomePod also listens to the reverberation from the current audio to adjust the output with the feedback that it hears. The HomePod uses the response time to determine how close objects are to the HomePod. The HomePod will do its best to fill the entire room with sound. With control over the tweeters, the HomePod can reduce the echo that other speakers may produce by tuning the sound coming out of each of the tweeters to be able to reduce the echo, which only adds to better sound.

    Siri

    While the HomePod is primarily a speaker, there are some smarts within it. The smarts are provided by Apple’s voice assistant, Siri. While Siri is available on all of Apple’s iOS devices, as well as macOS, Siri on the HomePod has a smaller subset of functions of all of Siri’s capabilities. In particular, you can ask the HomePod to play music, add items to notes, and you can even send messages to individuals, if you opt to do so.

    When you ask Siri to do something on an iOS device, you have to be in close proximity of the device for Siri to hear you. This is definitely not the case with the HomePod. The HomePod has six far-field microphones that are designed to hear you no matter how loud the audio that is playing out of the HomePod actually is. During my testing, I was actually two rooms away and HomePod heard me without any difficulty and I did not have to raise my voice too much to get it to hear me. This is absolutely crucial for any smart speaker to be useful.

    When you do use the trigger phrase, “Hey Siri” all of your iOS devices, and the HomePod, will have a very quick conversation to determine which one of your devices will handle your request. One thing that must be done for this to occur, as anticipated, is to have Bluetooth enabled on all of your iOS devices. For those with an Apple Watch, it is likely that Bluetooth would already be enabled on your iPhone. However, if you have another iOS device, like an iPod or iPod Touch, it is possible that you do not need Bluetooth so it will be off.

    Siri Commands

    There are a lot of things you can do with Siri on the HomePod, but a new one has been added. You can say “Hey Siri, play some news”. The HomePod will then begin to play NPR News. There are a few other options for news. You can get news from CNN, the Washington Post, or even Fox News; depending on your preference.

    Siri can perform many of the same queries as other iOS-based devices, but there are some that the HomePod cannot do. One of these is ride booking, or identifying the currently playing movie.

    HomePod and HomeKit

    The HomePod is a HomeKit Hub, which allows anyone within your home to control any of your HomeKit-enabled accessories that are configured in the Home app. and due to its stationary nature may actually be the ideal HomeKit Hub. This is because the HomePod can provide auditory feedback to any request that you give.

    There are a couple of limitations to using Siri to adjust your HomeKit accessories. If you have things like a garage door opener or smart lock configured, you can use the HomePod to close or engage the locking mechanism. However, you cannot do the opposite, at least not without confirmation on an iPhone. This is a security mechanism because Apple does not think it should be possible for anyone to come up to your door and say “Hey Siri and have the garage door open.

    I only have a couple of lights configured within HomeKit, so my testing on this is limited. However, during my testing it does seem as though the HomePod responds much faster than when the Apple TV was the primary Home Hub, and when I would request Siri turn off my lights from my iPhone or Apple Watch.

    HomeKit Hubs

    There is a simple way to find all of the HomeKit Hubs that are in your home. Although the steps are simple, it can be somewhat hidden. To find all of your HomeKit hubs, perform the following:

    1. Open the Home app on your iOS device
    2. Tap on the arrow icon in the upper left corner. You should see a list of Home Hubs

    There are only two steps, but finding it is not super easy. Once you do click on the arrow, it should list all of your HomeKit Hubs. The photo below shows the three that I have, my HomePod, which is the “connected” one and the two standby hubs, which are both Apple TVs. One is my Apple TV 4K and the other is my development Apple TV.

    The HomePod will automatically be the primary HomeKit hub, if there are more than one hubs in a home. I cannot say for certain, but my guess as to why this is the case is because the HomePod can provide audio feedback and is constantly powered. Any other home hubs you have can still be used, but will say “Standby”.

    While using Siri on the HomePod is very helpful and useful, the best thing to play on the HomePod is music. Let us look at that now.

    Playing Music

    One of the most common functions on the HomePod, and what the HomePod is designed for, is to play music. The HomePod works best if you subscribe to Apple Music. If you do subscribe to Apple Music, you can play any of the 45 million songs available on Apple Music. You can specify an artist, an album, or even a playlist. Playlists are not limited to just those provided by Apple. Playlists can be from your own music library. Your playlists are available because by subscribing to Apple Music the music from your iTunes Library is automatically matched or, if it is not in the Apple Music catalog, it is uploaded to Apple’s servers so it is available from any of your devices.

    While third-party audio services are not natively supported on the HomePod, you can use Apple’s AirPlay protocol to send any audio from your iOS devices, or Mac, to the HomePod. There will be more on that in a bit.

    I tested the ability to play anything from your library. I have a playlist titled “Elton John”. I asked the HomePod to play this and it was able to find this without any issues and it played the songs on that playlist. I also tested playing something that it is not in the Apple Music Library. I have a recording of a The Ted Talk $8 Billion iPod, by Rob Reid. I attempted to play it by saying “Hey Sir, Play $8 Billion iPod”. It did not play initially. This is because the actual title in my library is “$8 Billion iPod (Copyright Math)”. Once I gave the entire title, it worked as I initially expected. Despite these successes, there were a couple of times when things did not work as expected.

    Specifically, I asked the HomePod to play “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves. The HomePod replied, “I couldn’t find ‘Golden Hour’ on Apple Music or in your library”. This is a bit odd, considering that I have been playing a couple of the songs from the album on repeat for the last few days, so I knew it was available.

    During my testing the album “Golden Hour” was only available for pre-order, and there is a song by the name of “Golden Hour” on the album. I tried the same thing on my iPhone and got the following response:

    Siri response of "Play gold an hour by Kacey Musgraves"

    I suspect that this is what Siri on the HomePod was also transcribing it to. Since there is no way to see what the HomePod is interpreting requests as, it make it heard to determine. If I said “Hey Siri, play the Golden Hour album by Kacey Musgraves”, it got it without a problem. I am thinking that the reason it was able to get it was because I specified “Kacey Musgraves” and it was able to translate “gold an hour” to “Golden Hour”. But this is simply a guess. Now, let us move on to other ways you can control music on the HomePod.

    Controlling Music

    The primary interaction method for the HomePod is your voice. You can use the trigger phrase “Hey Siri” to adjust the volume, amongst other things. While asking Siri to do things from time to time is fine. But, if you are really enjoying the music using Siri might not be the best experience. Luckily, there is an option for using your iOS device to control the HomePod. There are two locations that you can control the HomePod. The first is in Control Center, and the second is in the Music app.

    In order to control a HomePod using Control Center, perform the following:

    1. Bring up Control Center
    2. Tap and hold on the “Now Playing” section
    3. Scroll down to the HomePod you want to control
    4. Tap on the HomePod you want to control.

    Here you can adjust the volume, play and pause, and jump forward or backwards. In order to control the HomePod via the Music app perform the following:

    1. Open the Music app
    2. Tap on the “AirPlay” icon
    3. Scroll to the HomePod
    4. Tap on the HomePod to connect it
    5. Tap in the background to close the AirPlay selection window

    With the Music app, you can control using the same functions as within Control Center, but you can also choose any song from your music library and you can play any of the songs that you want. Additionally, you can also put any songs in the “up next” queue, so you can create the perfect playlist for your HomePod. This is perfect for parties, or in any situation where you want to play a list of music without having to constantly adjust it.

     

    Once you have performed the steps above, you can now play just about anything to the HomePod. When you do this, you are not using AirPlay to send the music over, instead the HomePod is playing the music directly, and the Music app is acting just like a remote.

    There is one specific thing to remember when trying to control music via your iOS device, you cannot connect to the Ho,prod without being on the same wireless network. Having Bluetooth enabled is not enough. You can control who is able to connect to you HomrPod. This is done via the home app. To set limitations on the HomePod perform the following steps:

    1. Open the home app.
    2. Tap on the arrow in the upper left corner.
    3. Under speakers, select “Allow Speaker Access”.
    Home Pod "Allow Speaker" access.

    Here you can choose what type of access to allow. The options are, “Everyone”, “Anyone On The Same Network” or “Only People Sharing This Home”. You can also require a password to be able to connect to the HomePod. Enabling a password provides a second layer of authentication. Enabling a password will allow anyone to see the speaker, but they would need the password to connect to it. The password option is only available with the first two options, “Everyone” and “Anyone On The Same Network”.

    Even though the Music app is controlling music, you can play any other audio on your iOS device. When you do this, the new audio will take over for the music that was previously playing on the HomePod.

    Stay Tuned

    This concludes the first half of my HomePod review. Keep your eye out for the second half, which will cover the HomePod and Apple TV, upcoming features, updating the HomePod, and feature requests.

  • iPhone X Review: Screen

    Normally I do a single large review of Apple devices. For products like the Apple TV, where the updates that have been made are minimal, and this approach makes sense. With the iPhone X, however, there are so many new features and so many aspects that have changed. To keep it to a short review would not be giving the iPhone X its due. With this information, my iPhone X review requires a different approach. To that end, my iPhone X review will be broken into multiple reviews with each focusing on a different feature. The first of the is about the screen, but before we delve into that, let us briefly look at the models of the iPhone that have existed.

    iPhone Models

    The iPhone X is not the tenth iPhone as one might expect. In fact it is actually the thirteenth iPhone model. That is is if you count the “Plus” models as the same as the standard sized phones. If you do count the Plus-sized models as their own, then the iPhone X is the seventeenth iPhone. In counting it as the seventeenth iPhone, that does not include the differentiation between the GSM and CDMA versions, nor does it count the various colors. The actual list of iPhones is as follows:

    • iPhone
    • iPhone 3G
    • iPhone 3GS
    • iPhone 4
    • iPhone 4s
    • iPhone 5
    • iPhone 5s
    • iPhone 5c
    • iPhone 6
    • iPhone 6 Plus
    • iPhone 6s
    • iPhone 6s Plus
    • iPhone 7
    • iPhone 7 Plus
    • iPhone 8
    • iPhone 8 Plus
    • iPhone X

    Each iPhone model has improved on the past ones and has brought its own new features to the iPhone lineup. The most common piece that is interacted with on each iPhone is indeed the screen.

    Screen History

    The history of smartphone screens is as varied as the history of computer screens. Different technologies have been used throughout the year. The iPhone has only used glass for the screen, in particular gorilla glass by Corning. Besides being the toughest glass available, according to Corning, it has helped shape the iPhone into what it has become.

    The underlying technology for the iPhone has been LCD. The first three iPhones, the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS, all had 480 pixels by 320 pixel screens. This was the exact number of pixels on each screen. The screen was upgraded to a 960 by 640 pixel screen with the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s increased the screen resolution to 640 pixels by 1136 pixels; making it slightly taller.

    The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus changed the sizing again, to two entirely new screen sizes, 1334 pixels by 750 pixels for the iPhone 6; and for the first time on an iPhone a true 1080p screen, at 1920 by 1080 pixels, with the iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 Plus and subsequent releases, the iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7 Plus, and iPhone 8 Plus, assets needed to be at 3x resolution. These models then scaled these assets to accommodate the actual size of the screen.

    This is where the iPhone stood, until the release of the iPhone X.

    The Iconic Features

    While the iPhone was definitely not the first smartphone on the market, far from it. However, the original iPhone, when it was unveiled in January of 2007, was shown as the first smartphone to go screen only with no physical keyboard. While there were definitely those who doubted that the iPhone would sell and last, they were wrong. Beyond becoming a best selling series of phone as well as the most profitable, the original iPhone became the iconic representation of a smart phone. The iconic features included the square screen, rounded corners on bezel, and the home button.

    The size of the iPhone remained unchanged until the iPhone 5, when the screen size went to a 4-inch screen, up from the iconic 3.5-inch screen. The size was the same for the 5s, but changed with the introduction of the next iPhone, the iPhone 6 and its larger version the iPhone 6 Plus. These two sizes then became the iconic smart phone depictions.

    This definition of an iPhone has been updated again with the iPhone X. The iPhone X has removed the home button and significantly reduced the front bezels. The entire front is now glass with no home button. The removal of the home button changes not only the look and feel, but also the interaction methodology.

    iPhone X Screen

    Besides the edge-to-edge bezel of the iPhone X, there is another change to the iPhone X screen, it is an OLED display. Apple calls the screen on the iPhone X a “Super Retina HD” display. One of the benefits of OLED is that the blacks that are shown can be even darker than those on traditional LEDs. What this means is that when you see a pixel, or set of pixels, that is black in color it is a bit darker than a black pixel on an LED screen. The same goes for white pixels as well. Ultimately, this means that the colors that can be shown can be even better.

    One of Apple’s other products, the Apple Watch, has had an OLED screen since its first model. One of the recommendations from Apple is to make sure that the background of any watchOS app is black. This is not only done to make watchOS applications aesthetically pleasing but it is also for an additional reason.

    The benefits of OLED over traditional LED includes lower power usage, versus traditional LEDs. OLED is able to only turn on the individual pixels as they are needed. By not always having to power on every pixel, battery life can be extended. While nobody will argue that any iPhone that can get better battery life is a good thing, having more battery life on a wearable is even more important.

    There is another feature that is new to the iPhone that has not been in an iPhone before, but is present on the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and the 2nd generation iPad Pro. That feature is High Dynamic Range, or HDR. HDR allows colors to be go beyond the traditional limits and uses a wider color gamut to make colors even more rich and vibrant. While HDR is easily noticeable with photos and with video. If you have a movie that support HDR, or Dolby Vision, you will be able to watch it with the enhanced colors.

    The Notch

    One of the most prominent features of the iPhone X, and the one that most users immediately notice, is the notch. The notch houses a number of sensors, which will all be discussed in a later article. But the notch itself is absolutely new. Never before has an iPhone had an edge to edge display, and one of the decisions that Apple had to make was how to be able to get everything onto the screen of the iPhone X. One possible way was to just have a black strip above the screen, but taking this route would create an asymmetrical and would wholly out of place.

    There is no doubt that Apple attempted to get the sensors that occupy the notch, under the screen. However, Apple was not able to accomplish this, like they may have liked. Instead, the notch creates two areas where there is some areas for controls.

    The notch does create a very distinct and unique look to the iPhone. It is very likely, that in a matter of time, when someone thinks of an iPhone, they will think of the screen design of the iPhone X.

    Screen Size

    With the iPhone X being effectively sans-bezel, the physical size of the iPhone X is defined by the size of the screen. On the iPhone X the screen is 5.8-inches diagonally. This is three tenths of an inch larger than the screen on the iPhone 7 or iPhone 8. The iPhone X is closer in size to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, much much closer.

    The iPhone 8 is 5.45 inches tall by 2.65 inches wide. The iPhone X is 5.65 inches tall by 2.79 inches wide. If you take the size of the iPhone X and compare to the iPhone 8 Plus, at 6.24 inches tall by 3.07 inches wide, you will notice that it approximately 18.8 percent smaller. This is a significant decrease in size. This size fits in between the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus sizes.

    There is one last aspect to the screen that should be noted. The actual screen itself is different in one last way. The screen itself has rounded corners. Each of the previous iPhones has had rounded glass, but each of the previous screens has been square. The rounded aspects were the bezels and the glass was the same radius as the corners of the iPhone.

    With the iPhone X, this is the first time that the screen itself has been rounded. The new design introduces some new design challenges for developers. This aspect of the screen will be covered in another article.

    Final Thoughts on the iPhone X Screen

    The iPhone X’s screen is the best screen that Apple has ever put on any of their products. The OLED display on the iPhone X really does make a huge difference when using the phone. The inclusion of HDR is absolutely noticeable if you are coming from a previous iPhone, and is seen particularly well when watching an HDR-enabled video.

    The iPhone X’s screen size provides the largest screen on any iPhone, up to this point, and all in a slightly larger package than the iPhone 8. This will not be much of an adjustment for those who are accustom to the mid-sized phones of the iPhone 8, but may be an adjustment for those who have been using a plus-sized phone. There will be more about that in a later article. The next topic to be covered is a new feature that is exclusive to the iPhone X, for now. That feature is Face ID.

  • Lucky Boys Confusion’s Stormchasers: A Review

    I do not normally write reviews of music. This is for a couple of reasons. The first is that I do not listen to that much new music. The second is that I generally just end up adding single songs from albums. However, this is a different situation. I am going to review the new album by Lucky Boys Confusion Stormchasers

    History of the Band

    It is possible that you have heard the name “Lucky Boys Confusion”, also shortened to LBC, is likely a band you may have heard of before, but cannot place. The is because they had a single Hey Driver back in 2003 on their album Commitment. In fact, prior to Stormchasers, there were 8 previous albums.

    The band hails from Naperville and Downer’s Grove, both of these are western suburbs of Chicago. The fact that some of the band went to the same school as I did, does not hurt. There is something that makes their latest album special; it is their first album since 2009.

    The previous songs from the band have had a variety of styles. These range from pop, to rap, to ska, and even rock and roll.

    If you listen to a lot of LBC’s songs, you will get a sense of what they are about. In the beginning of their career, a number of the songs revolved around two primary topics, “Life” and “Drugs”, specifically weed and alcohol. The latter is not covered as extensively as it has been in their past songs, but the former is absolutely a primary focus of the new album.

    The Songs

    Stormchasers consists of 12 all new songs. They range from “traditional LBC” styles to more contemporary topics.

    Growing Up

    Some of LBC’s older songs covered “growing up” and maturing. There are a couple of song on Stormchasers that elude to more maturing. The two songs that most exhibit this are “Sun In My Eyes”, and “White Collar”.

    For “Sun in my Eyes”, the following line exemplifies this.

    How did we go from being so high to being so shallow?
    

    This song describes the mellowing aspects to life, but also tackles the clarification of realizations as one ages. This song seems to capture the essence of how many individuals feel about their life.

    The sun in my eyes doesn't bother me like it used to
    
    The gossip and lies, they don't shake my world like they used to
    
    And I don't need no paradise
    I don't need careless points of view
    

    These lines all express how as we get older the things that used to seem like the biggest concerns, are no longer areas of concern.

    White Collar is likely my favorite song from the album. It is one of the top songs that I have listened to from the album. As the title implies, “White Collar” goes on to describe experience as a White Collar worker, with a twist.

    “White Collar” in particular describes how many feel about their job:

    Aren't we all stressing out without any meaning?
    Chasing goals, put to you without any feeling
    Show up, get paid
    Hold on to your breathe while you plan your escape
    Show up, get paid
    

    These previous lines directly sum up how some people feel about their job. I also think there may be a hidden meaning in this song, somewhat of a lament of what could have been. Which brings us to the next set of songs, ones that reflect on life experiences

    LBC’s Experience

    One of the the mainstays of LBC’s music is their experience with record companies. This is most prevalent in the title track of their 2003 album, “Commitment”. The “Commitment” song describes the limitation that record labels can put on artists. There are actually two spiritual successors to the song “Commitment” on this album. The first is “Name in Lights”, the second is “Good Luck”.

    “Name in Lights” is what one might call a cautionary tale. What I mean by this is “Name in Lights” describes, what I surmise an experience that LBC went through when they became more mainstream and garnered national attention. The cautionary portion is most apparent in the line

    I lost sight of the target
    I got my name in lights
    

    In this I think the band wants others to realize that while being a headliner is great, you can easily become distracted from the ultimate goal; playing and making music that the band and others enjoy. The advice within the song comes in the stanza:

    Take ten shots at the half-moon
    Remember not to fall in love
    'Cause after the buzz, the chase kid
    You'll get your name in lights
    

    The song “Good Luck” is also a somewhat auto-biographical song about their experience with mainstream media. Most particularly the lines:

    They skipped off to college
    We got a van from a record company
    

    This is exactly what happened to the band. While their peers were going off to college, the band went to California in a van from their Record Company in 2000. One of the other aspects to LBC songs is a somewhat “screw you” attitude. This is shown most appreciably in the lines:

    Burned out they call us
    Screw 'em, we got endless memories
    Punk Rock and the polish
    I hope it gave you something to believe
    

    Even with the “screw you, I do not care what you think” attitude, there is still a bit of the “even though you are knocking us down, I still hope the songs meant something” feeling.

    Songs about Life

    There is one subject matter that prevails in LBC songs more than any other, “songs about life”. This is covered in three songs, the title track “Stormchaser”, “Burn a Little Brighter”, and “A Candle in the Window (Please Come Home)”.

    Stormchaser is about two people, Johnny and Jamie. Both of these individuals are looking for a way to “feel alive”,

    When nothing's beautiful
    You just want to disappear
    

    Instead of doing something that they may regret, they decide to do something that changes this and likely outside of their comfort zone. So “Johnny built a rocket ship”, and “Jamie had the nerve to quit”. I think both of these lean towards a moral of the song. That moral is sometimes you have to do something drastic to make everything better in the end. This is definitely shown in the lines:

    Stormchasers and stars
    Find out who you are
    Thinking like this can make life dangerous
    Thinking like this can make life dangerous
    Thinking like this can take life
    

    On the subject of life, “Burn a Little Brighter” is one that I cannot tell if it is based on an actual incident, or merely captures a feeling about the state of America.

    The song is about someone reminiscing about their fondest memories about a fallen classmate. I suspect this from the following.

    And the best times that I remember 
    Sneaking out the fire escape
    Playing "Never Surrender"
    But I never forget the officer said, 
    "That you didn't come home from school today"
    

    What this song is really about is school violence. Whether this is the shootings that make it into the national news, or just violence that many experience every day, I do not know. What makes me think this is the quote above along with this one:

    There's something circling here on our street
    Everybody's got a taste for more
    It's a re-run, it's no mystery
    I've seen this one before
    
    All the outpour and the outrage was a spectacle to find
    The pretenders and grifters, yeah just left me so resigned 
    Grandma saw this part of his jacket and said he'd want it to be mine
    Now Chicago burns a little brighter
    Yet tonight she burns a little brighter
    

    If you take the quotes above and pair them with the following one, I think it paints the entire picture.

    It was later on the corner
    The whole gang was getting high
    And when we talked about it, everyone had alibis
    Grandma always said there are different ways to say goodbye
    Now Chicago burns a little brighter
    I clench my fists a little tighter
    

    This is only my interpretation of the song, but I think it is a plausible one. Regardless of what the actual meaning is, “Burn a little brighter” is a powerful song that can hit you on many levels.

    The last song on the album is “A Candle in the Window (Please Come Home)”. This song is a song about a woman whose husband is off to war. She is remembering all of the good times when he was at home. This is captured in these lines:

    Days flew by when you were with me
    Now missing you almost hurts
    Until the siren sound
    And feelings disperse
    

    The song emphasizes that it will end at some point and to take solace in the dawn of a new day.

    Sunrise don't cry
    Listen to the birds they sing that everything's all right
    He'll be home again to hold you
    He'll be home again to hold you tight
    
    The war is over
    Finally we can sleep
    The war is over
    Finally we can sleep
    

    There could be another interoperation of this song. “A Candle in the Window (Please Come Home)” may not be about an actual war, but could be about an internal war, or struggle, about losing a loved one, whether that is due to death or just due do a breakup. It is also possible that the song fits both interpretations.

    Final Thoughts

    If you are a fan of previous Lucky Boys Confusion music, then Stormchasers will not disappoint. It is a whole new set of brand new songs. While everyone will have their own personal favorites, there are absolutely songs for everyone on the album. Stormchasers mixes what fans have come to expect from Lucky Boys Confusion, but also takes it all to a whole new level.

    While I do not want to wait another eight years for a new album, I think the time has allowed the band to really hone its skill and create one of the best, if not the best, album they have done to date.

    In the intervening eight years since their last release, technology has changed significantly. Most notably, the modern era of streaming. Even though streaming has become the norm I purchased the album. I did this not only to support the band, but also because I knew I would likely end up listening to the album many times. I recommend that everyone go and give it a listen today. I think you will be glad that you did.