A mere 11 months passed between the release of Lover and its surprise follow-up, but it feels like a lifetime. Written and recorded remotely during the first few months of the global pandemic, folklore finds the 30-year-old singer-songwriter teaming up with The National’s Aaron Dessner and longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff for a set of ruminative and relatively lo-fi bedroom pop that’s worlds away from its predecessor. When Swift opens “the 1”—a sly hybrid of plaintive piano and her naturally bouncy delivery—with “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit,” you’d be forgiven for thinking it was another update from quarantine, or a comment on her broadening sensibilities. But Swift’s channeled her considerable energies into writing songs here that double as short stories and character studies, from Proustian flashbacks (“cardigan,” which bears shades of Lana Del Rey) to outcast widows (“the last great american dynasty”) and doomed relationships (“exile,” a heavy-hearted duet with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon). It’s a work of great texture and imagination. “Your braids like a pattern/Love you to the moon and to Saturn,” she sings on “seven,” the tale of two friends plotting an escape. “Passed down like folk songs, the love lasts so long.” For a songwriter who has mined such rich detail from a life lived largely in public, it only makes sense that she’d eventually find inspiration in isolation.

Technology

  • Replacing My Apple AirPort Extreme Routers

    Replacing My Apple AirPort Extreme Routers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What I Was Looking For

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

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

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

    For now, let us look at the Eero 6.

    Eero 6

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

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

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

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

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

    Setting Up an Eero 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Incompatible Devices

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

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

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

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

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

    Eero Ports

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

    Ports on an Eero 6
    Ports on an Eero 6

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

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

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

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

    A Deep Dive into Networking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    IP Addresses on Eero

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

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

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

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

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

    Managing your Eero Network

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

    Home

    Home tab in Eero app
    Home tab in the Eero app

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

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

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

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

    Type

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

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

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

    “Private” Device Type

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

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

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

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

    IP Address

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

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

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

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

    Activity Item

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Activity Tab

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

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

    • Internet
    • Security
    • Privacy & Security

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

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

    Fastest Upload/Fastest Download

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Next, let us move to the security section.

    Security

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

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

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

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

    Privacy & Safety

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

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

    Eero Secure

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Possible Side Effects of Enabling Eero Secure

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

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

    This network is blocking encrypted DNS traffic.

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

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

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

    Will I subscribe to Eero Secure?

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

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

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

    Discover

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Settings

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Reservations & Port Forwarding

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

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

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

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

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

    Custom DNS

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

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

    Eero and HomeKit

    Eero app requesting access to HomeKit data.

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

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

    • Restrict to Home
    • Automatic
    • No Restriction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Profiles

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

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

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

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

    Parts of a Profile

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

    Content Filters

    A Content Filter contains:

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

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

    Categories

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

    Let us look at how to add a new profile.

    Creating a Profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blocking or Allowing Domains

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What I Would Like To See

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

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

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

    Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

  • A Review of the 3rd Generation AirPods

    A Review of the 3rd Generation AirPods

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

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


    Brief History of Apple’s In-Ear Headphones

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

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

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

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

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


    AirPods

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

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

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

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


    2nd Generation AirPods

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

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

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


    AirPods Pro

    AirPods Pro
    AirPods Pro

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

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

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

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

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

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


    3rd Generation AirPods

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

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

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


    Spatial Audio with Head Tracking

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

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

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

    • Stereo
    • Fixed
    • Head Tracking

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

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


    Changing Output

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

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

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


    Dolby Atmos on Beats vs. AirPods

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

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

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

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

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

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


    2nd Generation vs. 3rd Generation

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

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


    Comparing Fit

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

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

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


    Adjusting to Force Press from Tapping

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

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

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

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

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


    Find My

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

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

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

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


    Case

    3rd Generation AirPods Case
    3rd Generation AirPods Case

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

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

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

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

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


    MagSafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Lightning

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

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

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


    Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

  • Apple Watch Series 7: A Review

    Apple Watch Series 7: A Review

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

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

    Order Process

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

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

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

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

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

    Color Options

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

    Lack of Neutrality

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

    Midnight 

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Midnight Aluminum Sport Band and iPhone 13 Pro Max Midnight Case

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

    Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Screen Size

    The screen sizes of the Apple Watches has only increased by a single millimeter, or about 0.04 inches. However, the screen resolution has increased from 368×448 to 396×484, which is a 16.3% increase in screen resolution. This increase in screen resolution is absolutely noticeable, no matter which previous model you had, including the Series 6. You will also see some slightly higher percentages for the 41mm Series 7 as well when upgrading from a 40mm or 38mm model.

    Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch Series 7
    44mm Series 6 on the left and 45mm Series 7 on the right

    The first screen size change for the Apple Watch was with the Series 4, when the sizes went from 38mm and 42mm to 40mm and 44mm. This screen size change was an increase of 35.5%. If you are going from an Apple Watch Series 3, or earlier, to a Series 7, you will see an increase of 57.5% increase in screen resolution, which will absolutely be noticeable. 

    42mm Series 3, 44mm Series 6, and 45mm Series 7 Apple Watch
    42mm Series 3, 44mm Series 6, and 45mm Series 7 Apple Watch

    When it comes to the Apple Watch any increase in screen size is welcome. This is because a watch cannot be nearly as large even the smallest iPhone and therefore the larger the screen size, the more easily you can see the time as well as the complications. This screen size increase has also allowed for one new feature, a full QWERTY keyboard.

    Keyboard

    The manner in which you are able to enter in text on an Apple Watch can vary, depending on the current context. You can use Scribble, emoji, Animoji, or even voice entry. With the new 41mm and 45mm screen sizes you can have the option of entering text in via a keyboard. 

    One thing I have noticed while doing this is that I am so accustomed to the standard iOS keyboard that I forget that the backspace button is in the upper right corner. The backspace key is the same place as with the previous Apple Watches when using Scribble. The full keyboard is in the same place where Scribble was previously.

    Apple Watch full QWERTY keyboard
    Apple Watch full QWERTY keyboard

    By default, Scribble is replaced by the full keyboard. This makes some sense given that you can be much quicker with the full keyboard than with Scribble. With the keyboard you can either tap on the individual characters or even use swiping between characters to enter in the text. When you use Swipe the Apple Watch will use predictive text to try and provide the correct word.

    Scribble is still available if you want to use it. This is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the Apple Watch to bring up the option of using Scribble or the full keyboard (Thanks to Michael @bearsfan34 on twitter for pointing me in the right direction). You can easily switch between the two depending on your preferred input method. 

    Series 7 Only

    Not having a full keyboard on the 38, 40, and 42mm makes sense given that the screens would be too small. Having the 41mm support a full keyboard does make sense given that the screen is more edge to edge. Yet, what seems odd is that the the full keyboard is not supported on the 44mm screen. Sure, it would be a slightly more cramped, but it would still likely be quite useable. My guess is that the full keyboard is designed to be exclusive to the Series 7 Apple Watch as a differentiating factor for the Watches.

    Personally, I do not know how often I will end up using the full keyboard, but it is inevitable that having a full keyboard on the Apple Watch Series 7 will come in handy at some point. Let us now look at the new watch faces on the Series 7 Apple Watches.

    New Watch Faces

    Add Watch Faces - New Watch Faces
    Add Watch Faces – New Watch Faces option

    The biggest aspect of the Apple Watch is the ability to customize the faces of the Apple Watch. All watch faces, regardless of them being digital or analog watches, have a thing called complications. Complications can display a number of things, like the current date, a calendar, or even the phase of the moon. Complications on an analog watch, as the name indicates, makes the watch more complicated to create. 

    Similarly on the Apple Watch complications allow you to show items on the face of the Apple Watch. There are a number of different complication sizes, small, medium, large. Apple has a set of built-in complications, but third-party applications can also provide their own complications for people to use.

    Apple adds new watch faces periodically. There are generally two instances when Apple adds new watch faces, either with a new version of watchOS or a when there is a new Apple Watch screen size. watchOS 8 includes two new watch faces, called “Portraits” and “World Time”. These watch faces are available to any Apple Watch that can support watchOS 8, meaning anything introduced after the Apple Watch Series 3.

    As mentioned, the second possible instance for a new watch face is with a change in screen size. When there is a new screen size it is likely that new watch faces are introduced, or existing watch faces are modified, to take full advantage of the new screen size. The Apple Watch Series 7 has a couple new watch faces that are designed for the new screen sizes. Let us look at each one individually.

    Contour

    Contour watch face
    Contour watch face with color dial

    The Contour watch face is an interesting one. The Contour watch face is an analog watch face that has the hours around the outside edge of the watch face. As the name suggests the hours contour to the screen while the analog watch hands move around the watch face to provide the current time.

    The Contour watch face allows you to set a specific color as well as add two sub-dial complications. One small complication that is towards the bottom of the screen as well a personalization complication. The personalization complication can be one of the following items:

    • Today’s Date (default)
    • Monogram
    • Stopwatch
    • Digital Time
    • Timer

    There are some other options that you can set, including the style as well as the dial color. There are two style options, “Regular” and “Rounded”. These watch face are different, but only subtly. The “Rounded” style takes the bottom portion of the hours and rounds them out so that the edges of each hour will be rounded. This is a very subtle difference. The easiest number to notice the difference is the “10”, but other numbers also change.

    There is one last option called “Dial Color”. The “Dial Color” option will allow you to set the entire dial to your selected color or even a multi-color. Let us look at the other new watch face, Module Duo.

    Modular Duo

    Apple Watch Modular Duo watch face
    Apple Watch Modular Duo watch face with Activity rings at the top, Weather in the middle, and Now Playing at the bottom

    One of the watch faces that has been available since the original Apple Watch running watchOS 1 has been the Modular face. The Modular face allows you to choose the complications that will appear on the watch face. You can choose up to six complications, four small, one large, and an optional date in the upper right corner. On the Modular face there are three complications on the bottom row, the large complication in the middle, and one more small complication in the upper left corner. 

    The Modular Duo face allows you the choice of three complications. There are two large complications and one small complication. The large complications take up the bottom two thirds of the Apple Watch face and the small complication is in the upper left corner. 

    The Modular Duo watch face is a decent face that will help you quickly see information if you only have two large items and one small item you want to be able to see at a glance.

    While I like the Modular Duo watch face, I think I am going to stick with my Infograph Modular watch face which was introduced with the Series 4. It provides me with the most number of complications so I can quickly get the information that I need. If you need only a couple of large complications, then the Modular Duo is a great choice.

    Both of these new watch faces work well with the new 45mm Apple Watch Series 7 screen. There is one last feature to cover and that is around charging.

    Fast charging

    Apple Watch charger with metal base
    Apple Watch charger with Metal Base that supports Fast Charging

    All of the Apple Watches have been capable of getting a decent level of charge fairly quickly. How quickly you can get an 80% charge, as well as a full charge, depends on the model. For the Apple Watch Series 3 you can get an 80% charge in about 90 minutes with a full charge in about 120 minutes. The Apple Watch SE takes about 90 minutes for an 80% charge and 150 minutes for a full charge. These charge times also similar for the other models as well. 

    The Apple Watch Series 7 is different. It is capable of charging to 80% in 45 minutes and a full charge in 75 minutes. This means that you can charge the Apple Watch in half the time. This is great particularly if you do not have a lot of time to charge your watch, but you want to make sure it has enough charge. There are some limitations to this though.

    First, you need a Fast Charge Apple Watch charger. This part is taken care of, because one is included in the box of your Apple Watch Series 7, so that will not cost you anything extra. The Apple Watch chargers that support fast charging can be easily identified because they have band of metal around the charging puck as well as around the USB-C plug.

    The second thing you need is a USB-C charger capable of supporting USB Power Delivery, or USB-PD. This will need to be 5-watts or higher. This does not need to be an Apple USB-C adapter, but some of those are supported as well. The list of Apple power adapters that is supported include: 18W, 20W, 29W, 30W, 61W, 87W, and 96W USB-C adapters. If you have one of these adapters it will work. 

    You can still use your other Apple Watch chargers, they just will not allow for fast charging. Therefore, if you have a favorite charger, you can continue to use it. You can replace them when the time is right for you.

    Fast charging is a great addition to the Apple Watch given that there are no new sensors on the Apple Watch Series 7.

    Closing Thoughts

    If you currently have an Apple Watch Series 5 or Series 6, I am not sure how much of an upgrade you would notice. There are no new “must have” features that most users would notice, outside of the screen and full keyboard. However, if you upgrading from a Series 4, or as one person I talked to at the Apple Store, a Series 2, this will be a fantastic upgrade.

    The increase in screen size will be very welcome and noticeable right away. The faster charging may not be immediately noticeable, but if you need to get a charge of 80%, it will take half the time, provided you use a compatible adapter that support USB Power Delivery, also known as USB-PD.

    If you are in the market for a new Apple Watch the Series 7 is a great choice, whether you go with the 41mm or 45mm, you cannot go wrong. As of this writing there are many models that have a delivery date of early December, so you should order an Apple Watch sooner rather than later, if you are intending to order from Apple in time for the holidays. If you are new to the Apple Watch you will not be disappointed.

  • 6th Generation iPad mini: A Review

    6th Generation iPad mini: A Review

    Everyone has their own approaches to working, communicating, and ways of relaxing in their off time. Some people prefer to watch TV shows or movies, while others prefer video games, and yet others prefer to read. Of course this all depends on the mood that one is in and what other obligations they may have. 

    One of the things that happens when someone watches a TV show or a movie is they tend to have a device with them, I know I am one of those people. As I write this I am watching an episode of a mini-series. What device I use depends on what I am doing at the time. If I am re-playing a video game, I typically have a podcast or audiobook going while I am playing. If I am re-watching a TV show, or watching a TV show that does not require all of my attention, say a show like House Hunters International, I might be using my MacBook Pro or iPhone. If I am using my MacBook Pro I am likely writing a blog post, writing a review, or just browsing social media. If I am not using my MacBook Pro, it is entirely possible that I am using my iPad Pro to perform some of the same tasks, or even possibly playing a game like Sudoku.

    At their “California Streaming” event Apple announced an update to the iPad mini. When it was announced I had not initially planned on buying one. The reasons why are two fold. First, I bought a new iPad Pro back in May when they were announced. Secondly, I was not sure where an iPad mini would fit into the things that I do. 

    I have owned a few iPads since the introduction of the original 9.7-inch iPad in 2010, I have owned four 9.7-inch iPads and four 12.9-inch iPad Pros, but I have never actually owned an iPad mini. I went back and forth on whether or not to buy one. In the end I did decide to purchase one. Specifically, I decided to get a 64GB Space Gray Wi-Fi only iPad mini.

    6th Generation iPad mini box
    6th Generation iPad mini box

    My decision for getting an iPad mini is two-fold. Firstly, having a device that is mostly dedicated to development of my app, wwriteLIte, could be quite handy. With this, the iPad mini has its own challenges when it comes to developing for the device. Secondly, when I am writing my books, it would be nice to have a device that can be on the previous version of iPadOS. Normally when Apple announces a new version of iOS, I install it on my iPad Pro, iPhone, and MacBook Pro on day one. I do this so I can get used to the operating system and its features and then I can write about all of the new features with actual experience. 

    When I have written my books in the past, including my latest book, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, tvOS 15, and watchOS 8 for Users, Administrators, and Developers, I have had access to multiple iPhones which has allowed me to easily compare between previous versions of iOS and the latest version. However, I have not had the same access for iPadOS. Having this iPad mini can help me with this.

    There are a number of specific items to cover in this iPad mini review, including the Size, Touch ID, Connectivity, and the Smart Folio case, but first, let us look at some specs.

    Specs

    When I do a review, I normally do not write about the specs that a device has. The reason for this is because in many respects it does not have a significant effect on the overall experience. The only exception to this is the amount of storage on a device, because the more storage space, the more you can have on a device. I will not go into depth about all of the specs, but I think it is a good idea to list do a comparison between the 5th Generation iPad mini and the new 64th generation iPad mini. The items listed are only the items that have changed.

      5th Gen 6th Gen
    Processor A12 Bionic A15 Bionic
    Screen 7.9-inches 8.3-inches
    Resolution 2048×1536 2266×1448
    Camera 8 MP ƒ/2.4 aperture 12 MP ƒ/1.8 aperture
    Digital Zoom 5x
    Flash Quad-LED True Tone
    Panorama 43 Megapixels 63 Megapixels
    Video (Maximum) 1080p @ 30fps 4K @ 24, 25, 30, 60fps
    FaceTime 7MP ƒ/2.2 12MP, ƒ/2.4
    Apple Pencil 1st generation 2nd generation

    The iPad mini is not updated nearly as often as the other iPad models, so when it does receive an update, it is usually a pretty big one. That is the case with the upgrade from the 5th generation iPad mini to the 6th generation iPad mini.

    Size

    The iPad mini, as the name indicates, is a smaller iPad than the standard iPad. It is actually the smallest iPad. The physical dimensions of the 6th generation iPad mini are 7.69 inches, or 195.4mm, tall, by 5.3 inches, or 134.8mm, wide, and 0.25 inches, or 6.3mm, thin. The 6th generation iPad mini is slightly shorter than the previous versions, which were 8 inches tall.

    The bezels around the iPad mini, just the like iPad Pro, are equal on each of the four sides. This has allowed for a different screen size. The first five iterations of the iPad mini had a screen size of 7.9-inches. Due to the change in bezels, this has resulted in a change to the size of the screen. The new screen size, with the change in dimensions of the device, and the new equal width bezels results in a new screen size of 8.3-inches. More screen real estate in a similar form factor is always welcome.

    5th Gen 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 6th Generation iPad mini, and iPhone 13 Pro Max stacked on one another.
    5th Gen 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 6th Generation iPad mini, and iPhone 13 Pro Max stacked on one another.

    The equally sized bezels has resulted in another change, the home button has been removed. With the 5th generation iPad mini and earlier models, the home button also included the Touch ID sensor. Let us look at Touch ID.

    Touch ID

    Apple devices have always been able to be secured with a passcode or passphrase. This security is needed to be able to protect the data on your device. If you use a simple passcode, unlocking your device does not take too much effort. However, if you use a long passphrase it can become cumbersome to have to continually enter in your passphrase. One thing that would be much easier would be to use some sort of biometric authentication on your device. This is exactly what Touch ID is intended to do.

    Touch ID was first introduced with the iPhone 5s in 2013. iPads have had Touch ID since 2014 when it was introduced with they iPad Air 2. This means that the first iPad mini to get Touch ID was the iPad mini 3rd generation which was released in 2015. The 6th generation iPad mini no longer has a home button, but it does not have Face ID either, yet it still supports Touch ID authentication. But now instead of being a dedicated button it is now integrated directly the Sleep/Wake button, just like the iPad Air.

    Having Touch ID in the sleep/wake button is convenient enough. But, I would be lying if I said that I sometimes forget that I have to actually have to place my finger on the Touch ID sensor. The reason for this is because I have become very accustomed to having Face ID on my devices. Face ID was introduced with the iPhone X in 2017 and made its way to the iPad Pros in 2018 with the introduction of the 3rd generation iPad Pro. 

    If you are used to using Face ID to unlock your iPhone or iPad Pro, you may end up having to retrain your brain to actually use the Touch ID button on the top of the iPad mini to unlock it, authorize payments, or other tasks. You can, of course, still enter in your passcode if you forget about Touch ID, but this may not be nearly as convenient if you have a longer passphrase.

    Now, let us look at how you can make connections with the iPad mini.

    Connectivity

    As mentioned earlier, the iPad mini is a similar form factor as the iPad Air, and in many ways can be thought of as such. One of the changes with the 6th generation iPad mini is that it no longer has a lightning connection. Instead, it now uses a USB-C connection. 

    Th USB-C connection can be used for charging, or connecting to devices. The USB-C to USB-C included in the box is a USB-C to USB-C cable, as well as a 20-watt USB-C power brick. As is the case with the iPad Air and iPad Pro, you can use the USB-C port on the iPad mini to plug in external drives, like the thumb drives, external hard drives, or any other mass storage device. You can also use any other device, like a Mac or iPad Pro to charge an iPad mii.

    No modern device is without the ability to connect via Wi-Fi. The iPad mini is able to connect to via 802.11AX, or more commonly known as Wi-Fi 6. This is the latest Wi-Fi standard available. I did not get a cellular model, but if you do opt for a cellular model you will get 5G connectivity, so you can use your 5G connection on the go if you need to.

    Being able to connect using Wi-Fi, which is a necessity, while using the USB-C connection for connecting to a Mac or iPad, or using it to connect to external devices, could be useful for those who need to do so. Next, let us take a look at the Camera.

    Camera

    One area where the iPad mini has significantly improved is the camera. As outlined above in the specs table, the camera has gone from an 8 Megapixel ƒ/2.4 aperture to a 12 Megapixel  12 Megapixel ƒ/1.8 aperture camera. In terms of cameras, the lower the aperture the more light that can enter into the lens. The more light that can enter the lenses the better the quality due to less noise being within the pictures.

    Is the iPad mini camera as good as an iPhone, actually yes, albeit it is not as good as the latest iPhone Pro Max, but the iPad mini camera has the same specs as the Wide-Angle camera on the iPhone X, so it can take decent pictures.

    Low light photo taken with a 6th generation iPad mini
    Low light photo taken with a 6th Generation iPad mini
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 13 Pro Max
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 13 Pro Max
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 7 Plus
    Low light photo taken with an iPhone 7 Plus

    The rear camera can take 4K video, at 24, 25, 30, or 60 frames per second. This means that you can use the iPad mini to take some decent video. The fact that it can handle 24 frames per second means that you can shoot movie quality video on the device. 

    There is no optical zoom on the iPad mini, but none of the iPad mini models have had optical zoom. Instead, there is a 5X digital zoom on the 6th Generation iPad mini, which is good in a pinch, but given that it is a digital zoom it will introduce significant noise and distortion when you attempt to take a picture.

    Let us now turn to one option for a case for the iPad mini, the Smart Folio.

    Smart Folio

    The iPad mini does not need a case, but I like to protect the devices I purchase. So I picked up a Smart Folio for the iPad mini. Much like how I typically go for black, space gray, or graphite for an iPhone. I would normally go with a similar color for a case or cover as Its the iPad mini. However, the Smart Folio from Apple was backordered by two weeks. Instead I had to order one from Amazon. They only had two colors in stock, White and Electric Orange. Knowing that the White one would likely get dirty fairly quickly, as well as wanting to make sure I had a cover for it, I opted to get the Electric Orange.

    Electric Orange 6th Generation iPad mini Smart Folio
    Electric Orange 6th Generation iPad mini Smart Folio

    Purchasing a brightly colored accessory, whether it be a cover, case, or watch band is definitely out character for me. The color combination of the Electric Orange with the Space Gray is a decent combination. It is definitely not possible for me to mistake the iPad mini with its bright Electric Orange color with any other device I have.

    The Smart Folio attaches to the iPad mini via magnets along the back of the iPad mini. The Smart Folio cover is divided into three sections. The division of the Smart Folio allows you to position the iPad in two different positions. You can fold the Smart Folio on itself to  create a stand. You can either have the iPad standing at a slight angle or you can have it laying down. Which direction you want to have it depends on what you are doing at the moment. 

    There is one additional feature option with the Smart Folio. If you fold the Smart Folio into a stand, you can use the Smart Folio as a way to hold the iPad mini. And given that the iPad mini is very light so you can comfortably hold it with the Smart Folio for a while.

    Lastly, you can also fold the Smart Folio back on itself so it can be held or placed on a surface and used while playing a game, reading, or watching a tv show or movie.

    Other Thoughts

    A lot of features of the iPad mini have been covered, but there are a couple of other quick thoughts on some other aspects of the iPad mini.

    Typing on the iPad mini

    One thing that can be difficult on the iPad mini is typing. At least this is the case if you are used to typing on a normal size keyboard. When you are using the iPad mini in landscape mode, the keyboard takes up half the screen. While this does make the keyboard larger, I do not know if it makes it easier to type on. 

    However, if you hold the iPad mini in portrait view, you can more easily type with your thumbs. Even with this though, it is definitely not like typing on an iPhone, at least not when it comes to typing at the same speed. With an iPhone, including the iPhone Pro Max, I can type very easily. With the iPad mini I have to stretch my thumbs in order to hit the keys in the middle of the keyboard, like T, Y, G, H, B, and N.

    Apple Pencil

    The 5th Generation iPad mini line introduced support for the 1st generation Apple Pencil. The 6th Generation iPad mini still supports the Apple Pencil, but now it is the 2nd generation Apple Pencil. This brings some great functionality, like not needing to have a separate charger or remembering to keep your Apple Pencil charged. This is because the Apple Pencil will charge magnetically while connected to the iPad mini. This ultimately means that the Apple Pencil will always be ready to go.

    The Apple Pencil takes up the entire height of the iPad mini, which necessitated the volume up and down buttons being moved, and subsequently being placed on the same side as the Power/Touch ID button.

    Benchmarks

    Even though specifications do not necessarily means a whole lot due to such a variety of usages. Even so, it is good to have a comparison to other similar products and the best way to do that is provide benchmarks.

    These benchmarks were done using the latest version of Geekbench 5.

    Device Single Core Multi Core Geekbench ML
    M1 Mac Mini (Late 2020) 1753 7758 N/A
    iPhone 13 Pro Max 1739 4691 2744
    12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen) 1703 7316 2700
    iPad mini (6th Gen) 1603 4543 2543
    iPhone 12 Pro Max 1593 3726 2469
    iPhone X 930 2445 446
    iPhone 7 Plus 768 1397 419
    iPod Touch (7th Gen) 565 1077 308
    iPod Touch (6th Gen) 278 533 N/A
    iPhone 5s 259 498 N/A

    Now that we have covered the major things that I wanted to cover, there are a few other small things that I want to mention.

    Overall Thoughts

    The iPad mini is an interesting device. It is a small and compact device, but it is not small on performance. The A15 Bionic is the latest in Apple’s processor line up, so it can handle almost anything you throw at it. Even though the cameras do not match the quality of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it is not a problem because it is still quite capable for a variety of needs.

    The fact that can pair it with the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, you can use it with QuickNote or just to draw on the iPad mini. And since it supports the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, you can simply attach it to the iPad and it will both pair and charge.

    The physical size of the iPad mini is a great one for both size and weight. You can easily hold it in one hand, with or without a Smart Folio cover, for extended periods of time. The physical size of the iPad mini is really nice and the 5% larger screen in the approximate same size as the previous iPad minis.

    The integration of Touch ID in the power button has been an adjustment for me coming from devices that have Face ID. I have become so accustomed to turning on a device and having Face ID authorize, that I sometimes think the iPad mini is broken until I remember that I have to unlock it myself.

    Even though the iPad mini is small, it is still a great device that might be a good fit for your usage, particularly if you want to use it for reading or even browsing the internet. The combination of the size and weight make it a light and easily portable device. Overall, you cannot go wrong with the iPad mini.

  • iPhone 13 Pro Max: A Review

    iPhone 13 Pro Max: A Review

    When Apple introduced the original iPhone in 2007, no one outside of Apple knew how often there would be a new iPhone model. The cadence turned out be every single year. Since 2007, they have introduced at least one new iPhone every year, with some years having more models than others. On average though, it is closer to two per year, with the last two years being the outliers with five iPhones introduced throughout 2020, and four new iPhones this year. Each new iPhone brings its own set of features and enhancements.

    Even though Apple has an increasing number of products and services in its repertoire, with desktops, laptops, iPads, and accessory hardware, and an ever increasing number of services, the biggest product for Apple is the iPhone. The iPhone is the largest portion of all of Apple’s revenue and since the fourth quarter of 2009 this has been the case. At that point, the iPhone overtook the Mac for the largest percentage of revenue for Apple and has remained there since then.

    2021 actually marks the 15th year of iPhone releases. This year’s iPhone 13 lineup make it a total of 33 different phone models. The iPhone has seen its share of changes over the last 15 years, and the biggest amongst these was not the flat sides of the iPhone 4 in 2010, or even the first new screen size with the iPhone 5 in 2012. The biggest change came two years later.

    Starting in 2014 Apple eschewed the standard single screen size for its flagship phones by introducing two brand new sizes. These were the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. These phones set a demarcation point that marked a shift to use larger screen sizes Each subsequent year introduced either two or three discrete screen sizes.

    As has likely been the case with many people, how I use the iPhone has changed over the years. At first its primary usage was as a phone and music player. Soon, it shifted to being a game and app platform, music player, and social media consumption device. My usage of the iPhone has not expanded too much beyond that, except for the fact that it is also the camera that I use most often.

    I have been lucky enough to be able to purchase a new phone every year since the original, and I have either picked up or received it on release day. From 2007 to 2013, the model of phone, storage size, and color have all varied, depending on the year. Here is a complete list of all of the iPhone that I have purchased over the years:q

    Model Color Size
    iPhone 4GB
    iPhone 3G Black 16GB
    iPhone 3GS Black 16GB
    iPhone 4 Black 32GB
    iPhone 4S Black 32GB
    iPhone 5 Space Gray 32GB
    iPhone 5s Space Gray 32GB
    iPhone 6 Plus Space Gray 64GB
    iPhone 6s Plus Space Gray 128GB
    iPhone 7 Plus Space Gray 128GB
    iPhone X Space Gray 128GB
    iPhone XS Max Space Gray 128GB
    iPhone 11 Pro Max Graphite 256GB
    iPhone 12 Pro Max Pacific Blue 256GB
    iPhone 13 Pro Max Graphite 512GB

    Since I upgrade every year, I am not on a typical upgrade path. Most people do not upgrade every year. When the iPhone was first released it had subsidies from the carriers, so It is more likely that they upgrade their iPhone every two or three years. Now though most people keep their iPhones for a longer amount of time, typically for two years, but possibly three to four years.

    As you can see I typically opt for Black, Space Gray, or Graphite. With the introduction of the iPhone X in 2017, the phone color itself became less important to me because the bezel on all of the phones was the same color, black.

    Last year I purchased an iPhone 12 Pro Max in Pacific Blue. This was the first departure from the Space Gray, Black, and Graphite choices I made previously. The reason I opted for the Pacific Blue is two fold. The first is because the color was a dark shade of blue that I did not mind. The second is that it is getting handed down to someone else, who had some input on the color choice and if I didn’t like the color it would be likely gust I would only be using it for a year,

    The iPhone 13 Pro models come in four colors, Graphite, Gold, Silver, and Sierra Blue. I thought about getting the Sierra Blue, but the product photos indicated that the phone was a bright blue, and it looked to be a bit too pastel for my liking, so this year I opted to go with the trusty Graphite.

    As you can see the last few years I decided to get 256GB of storage. This is generally enough storage space for my needs. But this year I moved up the storage to 512GB of storage. The reason for this is future proofing, not necessarily for myself, because it is quite likely I will end up buying a new phone next year and the iPhone 13 Pro Max will get handed down to someone else, and they will continue to use it until it is their turn for another handed down phone.


    Picking Up the iPhone

    Given the times that we live in, I debated on doing delivery or an in-store pickup. Last year I opted for delivery. The downside of this is that there is no way to know when my phone would actually be delivered. If I recall properly, it was almost 5pm when it was delivered last year, so instead I opted for in-store pickup. I got the earliest pickup time possible, so I would have a ton of time to do the actual setup of the phone.

    Given that this is the 15th year that iPhones have been released, the physical Apple Stores have a quick and orderly process for being able to get everyone through the store. Part of the quick process is that they were not allowing any setup of phones in the store. This meant that they could get more people through the pickup process even quicker because they would not be staying in the store very long,

    If you want to know how popular picking up an iPhone is, at the store I picked up my iPhone there were over 800 in-store pickups for launch day, and that was just what already scheduled. They still had slots open for those who wanted to see if they could manage to get a phone on launch day. Many were able to, but, as you might expect, there was a limited supply and limited quantities of phones to purchase on launch day.

    This is not my first time picking up a phone from the Apple Store, so I knew what to expect. From the time I entered to the time I left it was a total of 5 minutes, from start to finish. So, it was definitely orderly. Next, let us look at setting up the device.


    Setup

    When you get a new iPhone, you will need to do the initial setup. If you are buying a new iPhone for the first time, and do not have any Apple devices, then you can do the setup as a new phone. Even if you have had an iPhone previously, this is always an option.

    However, most opt to transfer the information from their old phone to their new phone. There are a few different approaches to restoring data onto your new iPhone. These options include:

    1. Restoring from an iCloud Backup.
    2. Performing a device to device transfer.
    3. Restore using an encrypted backup from your computer.

    Each of these options has its own benefits and downsides.

    iCloud Backup

    It is likely that many users restore using their iCloud Backup. This is the method that usually takes the least amount of time, which is a plus. However, you do need to re-download all of the apps and media that were previously on your phone. So this can take a while, however you will be able to use your new device much faster, even if you have to wait for the apps and media to download.

    Device to Device Transfer

    A device to device transfer is a newer option where you scan a code that will pair your two devices and transfer all of your data from your old iPhone to your new iPhone. The data includes all of the apps, media, photos, and app data. The biggest downside of this method is that it can take quite a while to transfer the data, depending on the amount of data on your old iPhone. While you are transferring data, you cannot use either device, so your old iPhone will be out of commission until it finishes.

    Encrypted Backup

    The encrypted backup is the oldest and least used method. This method is very similar to the Device to Device transfer, but requires a Mac or Windows PC to transfer the data. Along with this, you need enough space on the device to do a full backup of your old iPhone.

    Those are the available options for restoring your iPhone. You can, of course, start completely new with your iPhone as well, if that makes more sense for you.

    How I transferred my data

    I ultimately ended up doing the third option, restoring an encrypted backup. Initially I had started doing a Device-to-Device Transfer, but the estimated time started at 2 hours, but quickly jumped to 7 hours and was staying there. Instead of waiting out that length of time, I opted to do a restore from an encrypted backup.

    I was going to do another backup of my iPhone before starting the restore, but the backup I had was from the night before, and anything that would not be updated could be replicated again. The initial restore that I had done failed, and this was after two and a half hours of attempting to restore. I then attempted to do another restore. This one too also took approximately two and a half hours, but did finish properly.

    One thing I would like to see with this approach is an estimated time until finished. Even if it is not 100% accurate, even an estimate would be helpful. There is an indicator within Finder, but it is a simple progress indicator and does not have any indicator for how much time is remaining until the restore is complete.

    Once I had the iPhone up and running, it was time to actually use the device. The first feature we will cover, is definitely one that you cannot miss, ProMotion.


    ProMotion

    One of the more prominent features of the iPhone 13 is ProMotion. ProMotion is not a new feature to Apple’s ecosystem. ProMotion first appeared on the 3rd generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and the 1st generation 11-inch iPad Pro, both introduced in May of 2018. However, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max are the first iPhones to have a ProMotion display.

    ProMotion is a technology that can intelligently adapt the refresh rate of the screen, depending on the content that is currently being displayed. In terms of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the refresh rate can range from 10 Hz to 120Hz. This adjustment is done automatically depending on the action being taken. For instance, if you are scrolling the refresh rate will go up to 120Hz. Conversely, when you are not scrolling and you are just reading content, the refresh rate will reduce down to 10Hz. If you are watching a movie, the rate should be around 30Hz, but while playing a game it may be 60Hz, if the game is designed to run at that frame rate.

    When you first see ProMotion on the iPhone 13 Pro Max it may be a bit jarring. For me, at least, this was the case. What I find strange though, is that I do not have any issues with ProMotion on the iPad Pro. I am not sure if it is due to being acclimated to ProMotion on the larger screen and not yet being accustomed to seeing it on the smaller screen.

    ProMotion does make some people ill, or have some other sort of side effects. If you need to disable it, you can do so by using the following steps:

    1. Open Settings.
    2. Scroll down to “Accessibility”.
    3. Tap on “Accessibility”.
    4. Locate the “Motion” Accessibility setting.
    5. Tap on “Motion” to open the Motion-specific settings.
    6. Locate the “Limit Frame Rate” setting.
    7. Tap on the toggle next to “Limit Frame Rate” to disable ProMotion.

    When you disable ProMotion the frame rate will be limited to 60 frames per second, or 60Hz. This should help reduce the sickness that some experience when using ProMotion.

    Upon first realizing what ProMotion is doing, you may think that the constant switching of frame rates might use more battery, where in fact, it can actually save battery power, because the screen does not need to be refreshed as frequently. And since the screen is one of the biggest power draws on an iPhone, instead of refreshing at a constant rate, the adaptive rates of ProMotion will ultimately preserve battery life.

    Not all apps will be able to take advantage of the full 120Hz refresh rate right out of the box, some app developers will need to add support for the screen resolution in order for their apps to be able to take full advantage of the technology,

    ProMotion should make a significant change for many users, particular if you want to be able to view 120Hz videos that you have recorded. On the topic of battery, let us look at that next.


    Battery

    One of the areas of an iPhone that might, or might not, change between each version of a device is the amount of battery life. Of course everyone’s experience will differ depending on what the user does with their iPhone. Games will naturally use more battery power, as will using cellular data.

    It is Apple’s intention to be able to have at least the same amount of battery life as the previous year’s phones. This is the case this year as it has been for every previous release. This year’s entire line of iPhone 13 models have seen improved battery length. Here are the reported battery lengths (in hours) according to Apple:

    Model Video Video (Streamed) Audio
    iPhone 12 mini 15 10 50
    iPhone 12 17 11 65
    iPhone 12 Pro 17 11 65
    iPhone 12 Pro Max 20 12 80
    iPhone 13 Mini 17 13 55
    iPhone 13 19 15 75
    iPhone 13 Pro 22 20 75
    iPhone 13 Pro Max 28 25 95

    As the tables show, the improvements range from 10% for the iPhone 12 mini for audio playback to 108% improvement in the iPhone 13 Pro Max streamed video playback length. Of course these numbers will vary, but even if the iPhone 13 Pro Max only gets 20 hours of video playback, that is still a significant improvement over the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

    Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, not everyone upgrades their phone every year. Therefore, if you are upgrading from an older device, say an iPhone XS or earlier, the battery life improvements will be significant over your current experience.

    Battery life is not the only change, a much bigger change has been the Cameras. Let us take a look at those changes next.


    Cameras

    As mentioned earlier, 2016 marked a big turning point in the iPhone. Beyond screen sizes there was another major change that took place that year, one that focused on the camera that were in the iPhone. It is not that the camera was not important prior to 2014, but it was not the highest priority and not much effort was put into making sure that the camera was the best it could be. The increased size of the phones did allow more that just additional screen real estate. The increased size also allowed for larger chips, additional battery, which all means more space for cameras lenses.

    The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus began a trend for the iPhone where the camera would bugle outside of the back of the iPhone. The reason that this was needed was to allow the camera to be able to improve. If Apple had decided to keep the camera lens flush with back of the iPhone, the camera would likely not be able to improve a whole lot just due to limited space due to the depth of the phone.

    At the time there were many who thought that the camera protruding was not a good idea because the phone would not be completely flat when it was on a surface. For any though, it is not a problem because they put their iPhones in a case, and a almost every case would protrude just beyond the camera lens. The camera bulge, while seen as a negative to many, ultimately lead to the cameras we have today, which are absolutely fantastic.

    One of the biggest uses of the iPhone, for me anyway, is as a camera. I know I am not alone in this. My biggest use for the camera is taking pictures of nature. I also use the camera to take pictures of items that I review. Therefore, I always want to have the best camera possible. The iPhone Pro Max will likely always have the best camera available on an iPhone, regardless of the year.

    The camera on the iPhone 13 makes a number of improvements over the iPhone 12 line of cameras.

      iPhone 12 Pro Max iPhone 13 Pro Max
    Telephoto ƒ/2.2 aperture ƒ/2.8 aperture
    Wide ƒ/1.6 aperture ƒ/1.5 aperture
    Ultra Wide ƒ/2.4 aperture and 120° field of view ƒ/1.8 aperture and 120° field of view

    The camera on the iPhone 13 is an improvement in many ways. If you compare the two tables above, you can see that the Wide and Ultra Wide cameras both have lower apertures. When it comes to cameras, the lower the aperture the more light that is able to enter the lens. Subsequently the more light means that pictures should be a bit better and have a bit less distortion, or noise, in the picture.

    • Picture of a lake taken with an iPhone 12 Pro Max
    • Picture of a Maple tree taken with an iPhone 12 Pro Max
    • Picture of a leaf with dew taken with an iPhone 12 Pro Max with 2.5x zoom
    • Picture of a lake taken with an iPhone 13 Pro Max
    • Picture of a Maple tree taken with an iPhone 12 Pro Max
    • Picture of a leaf with dew taken with an iPhone 12 Pro Max with 3x zoom

    The aperture on the Telephoto lens has gone from 2.2 to 2.8. This means that less light will be able to enter into the lens, so when you are in a low light situation the results may not be as good as you might hope. But you likely won’t be using the telephoto lens at night, at least not without a lot of light.

    even though the aperture is not as good as the iPhone 12 Pro Max, there is a good trade off for this. The telephoto lens now has a 3x zoom, which is the equivalent of a 77mm lens. This compares to the 65mm equivalent, with the 2.5x optical zoom on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

    In practice, it is not likely that you will need the telephoto lens while in low light. If you do use it, you may notice a bit more grain and the zoomed in photos may be less clear. Overall though, I think that this is a very worthwhile trade off to make.

    Cinematic Video

    One of the features of the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the new “Cinematic Video”. Cinematic Video is a new feature that can allow you to create videos much like larger and more professional cameras. Cinematic Video will allow you to add depth of field effects to your videos.

    With Cinematic Video you are able to set your desired ƒ stop, between 2.0 and 16, with the default of 2.8. When you switch the ƒ stop the amount of blur of the background will change. The lower the ƒ stop the more blur. Similarly, you can also adjust the exposure for the video. This range is for the exposure can be between -2.0 and 2.0.

    When you select the ƒ stop for the background blur, or for exposure, this data will be saved with the video. This data is not baked into the video, but instead it can be adjusted later so you can get just the right effect that you are going for while you are in the post-production phase of your video editing.

    In order to use Cinematic Video, you will need to choose Cinematic Video mode in the carousel. Once you have selected this mode you can make the adjustments to the depth of field and the exposure by tapping on the arrow button to expand the options. Here you will find both of the buttons. Tapping on either of the will allow you to make the necessary adjustments for the selected option.

    Here is a video example of some Cinematic video that show the focus changing between two Lego minifigs.

    After you have taken your Cinematic Video, you may need to do some editing. While the iPhone 13 models are the only devices which can take Cinematic Video, you are not limited to editing Cinematic Video on your device. You can use any of the following devices for editing including:

    • iPhone XR, iPhone XS or later
    • iPad Air 3rd generation or later
    • iPad Pro 12.9-inch 3rd generation or later
    • iPad Pro 11-inch 1st generation or later
    • iPad mini 5th generation or later

    Complete instructions for Cinematic Video can be found on Apple’s support site. Cinematic Video is not the only new Camera mode, let us look at the next mode, Macro Mode.

    Macro Mode

    The 3x Zoom Telephoto lens allows for a new mode for photos, called Macro Mode. Macro Mode will allow you to more easily take Macro photographic pictures. This mode is not one that you can manually trigger, it is an automatic mode that the iPhone 13 Pro Max will switch to if an object is detected and if you are extremely close to the object.

    When the iPhone 13 Pro Max goes into Macro photography mode, the screen will switch focus to Macro mode. What is actually occurring is that the lens it adjusting its focus in order to be able to capture the detail. When the iPhone 13 Pro Max enters into Macro Mode you will be able to take photos that are super close. Normally when you would do this, the resulting photos might be blurry, but not with Macro photography mode. Instead, they subject of the photo will be very much in focus. Here are a few examples of the results of Macro photography mode.

    One of the downsides of Macro photography is that there is no way to identify which photos were taken using Macro mode. The only way to be able to tell is by looking at the Exchangeable image file, or EXIF, data. From what I can tell, any photos that are Macro should be 77mm with an ƒ stop of 1.5.

    Macro photography mode is not the last camera change, there is one more, called Photographic Styles.

    Photographic Styles

    The iPhone’s camera is capable of being able to take some fantastic photos, without any sort of manual processing or any adjustments at all. Despite this, everyone has their own preferred look for photos. If you do perform some editing after the fact you may have a standard look that you attempt to go for with each picture. With the new Photographic Style, you can possibly save some post-processing.

    Photographic Styles are a means of being able to automatically have each photo you take have the same overall style. There are five different styles to choose from. These are:

    • Standard
    • Rich Contrast
    • Vibrant
    • Warm
    • Cool

    Each of these styles has its own look to them. These looks are accomplished by altering two different values. These values are tone and warmth. The tone and warmth values are modified from the default value of “0” in order create each of the styles. For example, the “Rich Contrast” style has a -50 Tone, and Warmth of 0, while the “Warm” style has a Tone value of 0, and a Warmth value of +50. Standard, has a value of 0 for tone and 0 for warmth.

    Photographic Styles are not filters that are applied after the fact. Instead, the style is applied to each of the numerous individual photos that are taken and combined to create the final overall picture.

    You can choose your default preferred style by performing the following steps:

    1. Open Settings.
    2. Scroll down to the “Camera” settings.
    3. Tap on “Camera” to open the settings for the camera.
    4. Scroll down to the “Photo Capture” section.
    5. Tap on “Photographic Styles”. The available styles will appear.
    6. Scroll through each of the style to find your preferred style.
    7. Tap on the “Use Style” button at the bottom of the screen to enable the specific photographic style.

    After you have set a particular photographic style, it will be automatically applied to all of the photos that you take. Once a cinematic style has been applied to a particular photo, it cannot be changed after the fact. This is because the style is embedded into the photo itself.

    When you select a particular style as your default, that does not mean that you are stuck using that particular style all of the time. You can actually choose the style on a picture by picture basis and even make individual adjustments. To choose a different style, perform the steps:

    1. Open the Camera app.
    2. Tap on the arrow near the Face ID sensor to open up the options.
    3. Tap on the triple square with a slash through it. This will bring up the various styles.
    4. Swipe through each of the styles to select the style you want to use for that photo.

    While you have the settings open you can also tweak the Tone and Warmth individually to your liking. Each of these values can range from -100 to 100.

    If you have changed the values and you want to reset it back to the default for that photographic style, you can tap on the reverse circle with an arrow at the end to reset it back to the particular styles default values.

    The new Photographic Styles allows iPhone users to apply their own individual style to each of the photos that they take. If you have a default style that you prefer, you can set that as the default, but it still leaves room to tweak the options to provide just the right style.

    There are some final things that need to be covered, so let us look at those next.


    Other Changes

    The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a lot of headlining features. However, there are some other smaller changes that have also been made that you might not notice right away. These include changes to the Face ID notch, the weight of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, and some changes around the eSim. Let us start with the Face ID Notch.

    Face ID Notch

    One of the changes that appears on the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a smaller notch. Apple was able to do this by moving the top speaker to above the Face ID module and then moving all of the lenses to be closer together. The notch is technically a bit taller, which is not likely noticeable. What is noticeable though is that the notch is a smaller width. This means that the “ears” around the notch are a bit bigger and can provide additional space for icons or buttons, if an app decides to utilize the space. Below is a comparison of the notch on the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is on the left and the iPhone 13 Pro Max is on the right.

    The notch on the iPhone 12 Pro Max compared to the notch on the iPhone 13 Pro Max

    Despite being the prominent feature of all Face ID-enabled iPhones, at this point I do not notice the notch at all. The only time I even really notice it is when I am watching a video in full screen and if I zoom in to watch the video full screen. This is because some of the video is being covered, and then I end up noticing the notch. When I first got the iPhone X, the notch was brand new and not something anyone had become accustomed to yet. Now four years after its introduction, the controversy with the notch has become a non-issue

    Weight

    For me the iPhone is the most used device throughout the day. No matter what else I am doing it is very likely that I am using my iPhone for one reason or another. This is very likely listening to something Luke music, a podcast, or an audiobook.

    Most of the time it is lying on a surface, but there are those times when I am carrying around with me. Having carried the heaviest devices introduced over the last four years, I am not going to notice a 12 gram, or 5 percent difference in weight. However if you are upgrading from an earlier phone to an iPhone 13 Pro Max, you may notice the difference in weight.

    In the overall scheme, the iPhone is not a heavy device. Yet, in comparison to other iPhones that have been introduced, it is quite heavy. Throughout the entirety of its lifetime the iPhone line has ranged from 112 grams with the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, to 240 grams with the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The bulk of the weight is due to the battery being significantly larger than previous models. The battery improvements were covered earlier in the review.

    eSIM

    Throughout the history of the iPhone, each phone has had a physical slot for a SIM card. There have been dual physical SIM models of the iPhone, but these are only available in Mainland China where users are required to have a physical SIM for their carrier plans, therefore Apple has had to create custom phones just for Mainland China. Starting in 2018, with the introduction of the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR, Apple included an electronic SIM, or eSIM, in addition to the physical SIM.

    With an eSIM you can add an existing carrier plan, or you can add an additional one along with the carrier that you have with your physical SIM. The iPhone 13 line has expanded beyond a single eSIM to now have dual eSIMs. This has ramifications in two ways.

    The first being that it has benefitted Apple because they do not need carrier-specific models because all iPhones 13s activated on a U.S. carrier will be activate on one of the eSIMs. The second, is that you no longer need to have a SIM ejection tool, nor visit a carrier, to upgrade your device.

    This change can allow you to activate carrier plans without needing to have a physical SIM card at all, which means you may not need to contact your carrier if you needed to in the past.

    If you have a physical SIM card you can use the physical SIM and an eSIM simultaneously, provided your carrier supports it. It should be noted, that even though there are two dual eSIM cards and a physical SIM, you can only have two carriers activated at a single time. Furthermore, if you have a Physical SIM, you can only activate one eSIM.

    The addition of two eSIMs will make it much easier for those who need to activate an account either while they travel or just on a daily basis. I know that this would have been great when I traveled to London in 2010, because no carriers were able to get me a sim because the iPhone 4 switched to a micro-sim. If I had an eSIM I wouldn’t have needed to try and get a SIM card.

    Benchmarks

    No iPhone review is completely without some benchmarks. Here are some benchmarks to compare the iPhone 13 Pro to various other devices. These benchmarks are not meant to be definitive, but as a means to provide a comparison to other Apple Silicon-based devices. These benchmarks were all run using the latest version of Geekbench 5. I did not run any comparison to Intel-based Macs, because it would not be a worthwhile comparison.

    Device Single Core Multi Core Geekbench ML
    M1 Mac Mini (Late 2020) 1753 7758 N/A
    iPhone 13 Pro Max 1739 4691 2744
    12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen) 1703 7316 2700
    iPad mini (6th Gen) 1603 4543 2543
    iPhone 12 Pro Max 1593 3726 2469
    iPhone 7 Plus 768 1397 419
    iPod Touch (7th Gen) 565 1077 308
    iPod Touch (6th Gen) 278 533 N/A
    iPhone 5s 259 498 N/A

    As you can see the iPhone 13 Pro Max with its A15 processor came in just under the M1 Mac mini in terms of single-core performance and does significantly better in multi-core as compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. There is one last thing to cover, the Apple Silicon Case.


    Midnight Silicone Case with MagSafe

    Box of an iPhone 13 Pro Max Case in Midnight

    Purchasing an iPhone is not generally a tasks that someone does on a whim, mostly due the cost of the device. The price of an iPhone ranges from $399 for a 64GB iPhone SE 2 all the way up to $1599 for 1 TB iPhone 13 Pro Max. Regardless of how much you pay for an iPhone you will likely want to protect it. This is typically done by purchasing a case. There are endless choices available when it comes to selecting a case for your iPhone. I typically go with the Apple Silicone cases. Not only because I know that they will fit, but because I like the feel.

    I am not one who typically goes for a color that varies too wildly from the color of the iPhone. Much like the color of iPhone, I have purchased a color that was very similar to the phone color, typically a Black case. Last year with the iPhone 12 Pro Max I stuck with a similar color, specifically the Deep Navy silicone case. I have continued sticking to a close color, this time I went with an Apple Silicon Case with MagSafe. There are no physical differences in the features or the feel for case from the iPhone 12 Pro Max version. Where it does differ is in the look, and not just the fact that this case is not a shade of blue.

    The Midnight case looks like it is dark gray, but at some angles you can absolutely see hints of blue in the case. Here is an example of where it looks blue, as opposed to dark gray.

    The Midnight case is aptly named because at midnight it is not actually black because there is still faint light, thus making it a very deep shade of bluish gray.


    Closing Thoughts

    At first glance you might think that the iPhone 13 Pro Max is just a slight upgrade over the iPhone 12 Pro Max. However, there are a number of features that make it worth looking at. This includes the ProMotion display, the battery, and the cameras.

    The new ProMotion display can adaptively adjust the refresh rate of the screen to be able to match the content that you are consuming, whether it is a video, game, or an app. if you are not doing anything but just reading the screen, the refresh rate will drop down to 10Hz. What this ultimately means is that battery should improve.

    The battery levels on the iPhone 13 Pro Max have increased significantly. Specifically for the streaming video has improved 108% or 25 hours, up from 12 hours with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Similarly, watching video has improved 40%, and audio listening has improved 18%, to a whopping 95 hours. These are significant improvements. The trade off of this improved battery life is the iPhone 13 Pro Max is 5% heavier at 240 grams, up from 228 grams.

    The most important reason that people upgrade their iPhone is for the cameras. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a slew of new camera features, like cinematic video, photographic styles, and macro photography mode.

    Cinematic Video will allow you to create videos similar to those you see out of Hollywood. Photographic styles allows you to create customized looks to the photos that you come out of your iPhone.

    The last big change with the cameras is the new macro photography mode. Macro Photography allows you to take close up photos that are detailed. Macro photography mode is an automatic mode that the iPhone will switch to when it detects an object.

    If you are upgrading from an older iPhone, like an iPhone 11 or earlier, the iPhone 13 Pro Max will be a fantastic upgrade. If you are looking to upgrade your phone I recommend giving the iPhone 13 Pro Max a good look, while it may be the heaviest iPhone ever produced, the weight may be worth upgrading, even if it is just for ProMotion and the new cameras.

  • Review of ElevationLab’s TagVault Keychain and MagBase

    Review of ElevationLab’s TagVault Keychain and MagBase

    ElevationLab is a company that has created a lot of third-party accessories. While many are designed for Apple products, the do have some other accessories for Android and even some general headphone accessories. Specifically for Apple, they have things like iPhone stands and docks. There are two accessories that I have purchased and thought I would review. These two items are the TagVault: Keychain and the MagBase. Let us start with the TagVault.

    TagVault: Keychain

    One aspect to most of Apple’s product is that most products provide a market for third-party accessories. One of the products that provides the largest variety of options is the AirTag. Apple provides some accessories that you can purchase for the AirTag, however the ones that you can buy from Apple may not be usable in all situations.

    The TagVault: Keychain is an AirTag holder that can be put on a keychain, which is very similar to Apple’s AirTag Leather Keychain. One of the possible downsides of Apple’s AirTag holders is that they may not hold up to abuse. That is where the TagVault can shine.

    The TagVault: Keychain is an AirTag holder that encloses the entire AirTag in a water proof case. The waterproofing is accomplished by having two hard plastic outer halves, with a waterproof ring between the two halves.

    ElevationLab TagVault: Keychain opened up.

    The two halves of the case are secured with four screws. When these are tightened down, this will protect the AirTag and with the ring, it will be secure the AirTag. Now, you may think that you would need to have a screwdriver that will fit the screws that come with the TagVault, but that is not the case.

    Included with the TagVault is a tool to be able to easily remove the screws and put them back in place. This is quite helpful and a small touch which adds to the overall appeal of the product.

    Having an AirTag enclosed in a water proof case will have some effect on the functioning of the AirTag. The biggest impact is that the sound on the AirTag will be reduced. According to ElevationLab it should be two-thirds of the decibel level of the AirTag outside of the TagVault. This is a trade off that has to be made for waterproofing.

    Tip

    TagVault Keychain included tool

    When I was putting an AirTag in the TagVault I realized that many might think that you should completely remove all four screws. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, you may only want to fully remove three of the screws and leave one mostly removed.

    Possible Future Improvement

    One slight improvement that I would like to see with this product is that I would like to see screws that cannot be removed from case, but would still allow the back half of the case to be removed. This way, the screws would not have a possibility of being lost.

    Now that we have covered the TagVault, let us move onto the MagBase.

    MagBase

    MagBase with extension cable

    When Apple introduced the iPhone 12 line of phones, there was a feature that can make life a bit easier. That feature is MagSafe. MagSafe allows you to use the magnets that are in the iPhone 12 line and magnetically attach accessories. There are a number of accessories like the MagSafe Battery Pack, Wallets, and even PopSockets. The benefit of MagSafe is that nothing is permanent, since it is only magnetically attached.

    MagSafe is not exclusively used for accessories, but can be used to charge the iPhone as well. Through the aforementioned MagSafe Battery Pack or by using a specially designed Apple accessory called the MagSafe Charger.

    The MagSafe charger is a charging puck that will allow you to charge your iPhone through the built-in Qi charging. There are two downsides to MagSafe charger. The first is that it has a completely flat bottom. This can lead to the charging puck moving around when you want to place your phone on it. The second downside is that the cable from the Charging Pad is only 1 meter (3 feet) long. This is often not long enough.

    ElevationLab has an accessory specifically designed for the MagSafe Charger called the MagBase. The MagBase solves both of the issues mentioned above. It includes a base for keeping the charging pad in one spot as well as a USB-C extension cable.

    The USB-C extension cable is also one meter long, which makes the overall length 2 meters or 6 feet. This makes it much easier to place the MagSafe charger where you need. The extension cable works well and can be used for whatever you need because it is a USB-C to USB-C cable.

    The MagBase itself is a medical-grade silicone that uses micro air bubbles to be able to keep the MagBase adhered to the surface that you place it on. When you place the MagBase you need to make sure that it is firmly pressed to the surface. It may sound like you are permanently attaching it, but you are not. You need to press firmly because this is where the micro air bubbles will be able to attach.

    After you have placed the MagBase you can then place your MagSafe charger in the base. You are able to easily pick up the phone with the MagSafe charger attached to use it while charging. Alternatively, if you need to remove the iPhone from the MagSafe charger entirely you can slide the phone off of the charger. This is possible because the micro bubbles will keep the MagBase in place.

    As mentioned earlier, the MagBase is made of medical-grade silicone. Because of this, your iPhone will not get scratched when you slide it off of the MagSafe charger while it is in the MagBase.

    Longevity

    The MagBase in itself is useful, however I have encountered an issue which may reduce its overall effectiveness. After about a month of usage the MagBase stopped staying in place on the night stand that I have it on, without me moving it at all. Cleaning off both the bottom of the MagBase and the nightstand allowed the MagBase to stay in place again.

    Closing Thoughts

    Both of these accessories work well. The TagVault will allow you to have a super sturdy AirTag holder that can stand up to the elements. Even though the sound that is emitted from the AirTag is diminished when in the TagVault, it is still audible.

    The MagBase is useful if you want to be able to keep your MagSafe charger in one spot without

    Neither of the accessories is expensive. The TagVault is $12.95 for a single item, $39.95 for a four-pack and $74.95 for a pack of eight. There is only one color available, black. This is likely the color that most will want anyway. Similarly, the MagBase is $12.95. It only comes in white.

    I hope that ElevationLab is able to come out with additional colors in the future for each of these products. If you need a waterproof AirTag case, definitely take a look at the Tag Vault. If you think the MagBase might work well for your situation, definitely consider it as an option.

  • Apple’s Magic Keyboard With Touch ID: A Review

    Apple’s Magic Keyboard With Touch ID: A Review

    Ever since the original Macintosh, introduced in 1984, there have been peripherals, like the a keyboard and mouse, included with most desktop computers. Some of the peripherals, in particular the mice, have not always been the most well received.

    As time has gone on the Mac line of computers have received a set of upgrades that enhance a user’s experience. One of these upgrades was brought over from the iPhone and iPad. That feature is Touch ID.

    Touch ID uses a fingerprint for this authentication, however, it is not an image of your fingerprint. Instead, it is a mathematical hash that cannot be directly accessed by the system and securely stored in a place called the Secure Enclave.

    When you attempt to authenticate with Touch ID, the Touch ID sensor computes a hash of your finger and compares it with the fingers stored in the Secure Enclave and if there is a match, then the authentication request succeeds. If it does not match, then it fails and you have to try again.

    On Intel Machines, Apple built some custom silicon, called the T2 chip, that would be the interface between the Secure Enclave and the built-in Touch ID sensor.

    At their World Wide Developer Conference in June of 2020 Apple announced that they would be moving away from Intel chips to their own custom silicon. The first of these chips was introduced in November of 2020, and the System on a Chip is called the M1. The M1 is similar to the A-series of chips found in the iPhone and iPad.

    There were three devices introduced as the first machines, the 13-inch MacBook Air, the lower-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the lower-end Mac mini. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have built-in Touch ID sensors on their keyboards. The Mac mini does not have a keyboard included.

    In April of 2021, the first desktop machine with Apple Silicon was introduced, it was an upgrade to the 21-inch iMac, a new 24-inch M1 iMac. The 24-inch iMac included a new set of colors, a new profile, and a new accessory, a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.

    When it was introduced, many wondered how long it would be until Apple released a standalone keyboard with Touch ID. Apple has done just that.

    Magic Keyboard With Touch ID

    Magic Keyboard with Touch ID (2021)

    There are only two different types of Magic Keyboards, the Magic Keyboard and the Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. There is a variant of these two that includes a Touch ID sensor. This review will cover the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, although everything in this review also applies to the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad.

    The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is not the first Magic Keyboard, far from it. The first Magic Keyboard was introduced in October of 2015. The Magic Keyboard does not have any external batteries and connects via a lightning cable.

    The same still applies to the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, except instead of it being a USB-A cable to lightning cable, it is now a USB-C to lightning cable. The reason for this is because all of Apple’s modern devices have USB-C ports and do not have USB-A.

    The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is charged via a lightning cable. You can use either a USB-A, or USB-C to lightning cable.

    USB-C Cable

    USB-C to Lightning Braided Cable

    There is one thing to mention about the included USB-C to Lightning cable. It is significantly different than a normal USB-C to lightning cable. The difference is that the outer jacket has a braided sleeve. It is not known whether or not these cables will last longer than standard cables, but my initial take is that they should last longer, because they do seem to be a it better constructed. But, as I stated, only time will tell if this is truly the case.

    Design

    Standalone Magic Keyboard with Touch ID

    Beyond the actual connections for connecting the keyboard to your Mac, the keyboard itself has seen some slight changes. Most notably, the edges of the keyboard is now rounded. As a side note, the Magic Trackpad and other refreshed Magic Keyboards also have this same rounded look.

    When you are using the keyboard, you may notice that some of the keys have changed. Most notably, the four corner keys, Function, Right arrow, Touch ID, and Escape are all rounded to match the corner radius of their respective corners, as to match the keyboard.

    Beyond the rounded keys, the font on the keys themselves is a bit darker than on previous models, which should allow the letters to be easier to see.

    Beyond the font being darker, there have been tweaks to the symbols on the keys. The Function, Control, and Option keys all have their corresponding Mac Menu symbols on the keys. These are 🌐 , ^ and ⌥, respectively. This is a big plus because if you do need to use a key combination it will be a lot easier to figure out the proper keys to use.

    Magic Keyboard With Touch ID as compared to older Magic Keyboard

    The special keys are not the only ones who received some new iconography. Three other keys, F4, F5, and F6 also have new icons. F4 has a magnifying glass, which indicates searching, F5 has a microphone, which indicates Siri. F6 has a half moon, which indicates quick access to sleep.

    The darker font, new icons, and rounded keys to mirror the radius of the corners are all nice additions and provide a nice set of updates. Now, let us move onto Touch ID itself.

    Touch ID

    Touch ID Logo

    The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, as the name implies, has Touch ID. The Touch ID sensor will only work on Macs with an M1, or newer, chip. Meaning that the Touch ID sensor will not work on Intel-based machines.

    You can still use the keyboard on any bluetooth-enabled device, but the Touch ID will only work on a Mac. Additionally, even though the latest iPad Pro models have an M1 in them, they cannot use the Touch ID sensor. The reason for this is likely due iOS expecting a Touch ID sensor to be directly connected, and not available over wireless.

    Touch ID Prompt setup

    When you connect the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID to your M1 Mac for the first time, you will need to securely pair the two devices. This is done by pressing the power button twice in rapid succession. The reason that this is needed is so the Magic Keyboard can exchange its public hardware key with the Mac. This pairing can only be performed when the on screen steps indicate to do so.

    Enrolling Fingerprints

    As mentioned earlier, Touch ID fingerprint hashes are stored in the Secure Enclave on the Mac. This is true whether it is an Intel or Apple Silicon machine. There is a limit to the number of fingerprints that can be stored in the Secure Enclave at a single time. The limit is three fingerprints. This differs from an iOS device that has Touch ID because those devices can store up to five fingerprints at a time. You can enroll the same fingerprint more than once, but that might not be the best decision.

    Enrolling a fingerprint using the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is the same as enrolling a fingerprint on a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iPhone, or iPad with Touch ID.

    In order to enroll a finger perform the following steps:

    1. Connect the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID to the Mac using a USB-C, or USB-A, to Lightning cable. A Notification will appear.
    2. Tap on the notification to begin the pairing process.
    3. When prompted press the power button on the Mac in rapid succession.
    Touch ID Mac and Keyboard Pairing Prompt
    1. Open Up System Preferences.
    2. Locate the “Touch ID” system preference.
    3. Click on the “Touch ID” system preference.
    4. Click on the “+” fingerprint icon. You will be prompted for your password.
    Touch ID Mac Start
    1. Enter in your password.
    2. Follow the prompts for placing and lifting your finger.
    3. Again, follow the prompts for lifting and placing your finger to get the outer edges.

    Once you have gotten all of the angles of your fingerprint, the fingerprint hash will be saved and you will get a screen similar to the image below.

    Touch ID on the Mac -- Enrollment Finished

    Options for Touch ID

    In the Touch ID system preference you can choose which system options are able to use Touch ID. The full list of options are:

    • Unlocking your Mac
    • Apple Pay
    • iTunes Store, App Store, & Apple Books
    • Password Autofill
    • Use Touch ID sensor for fast user switching

    By default all of the options will be checked. However, you can control which actions will be available for Touch ID to best suit your needs.

    Touch ID on the Mac -- Options for using Touch ID

    Pricing

    If you have a Mac mini, or could really use Touch ID on an external keyboard for your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, and you have an Apple Silicon Mac, the Magic Keyboard with Touch might be a good solution. However, be prepared to pay for the convenience.

    The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is, in a word, expensive. The standard Magic Keyboard is $99, but if you want Touch ID as well, it will be another $50. So, it is $149. If you really need Touch ID it is the only solution. Otherwise though, I do not know if this price is worth the overall cost.

    Closing Thoughts

    The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is a standard Magic Keyboard, so it can be used with any Mac you want, or even a PC if you would like, but the Touch ID sensor will only with Macs with Apple Silicon. The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID may be a great solution for those who use a MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro, in clamshell mode so you can still use Touch ID.

    When you begin to pair the Magic Keyboard with your Apple Silicon Mac, you will need to perform an initial handshake between the two devices by pressing the power button twice at the appropriate time, which will be provided to you when it is needed.

    The keyboard has some new design features, like the rounded corners for not only the keyboard, but also for the four corner keys. Beyond this, there is a darker font, some new iconography, and symbols on special keys. All of these changes will make it easier to use the Magic Keyboard in all situations.

    Overall, the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID seems like it is quality, but it is not cheap. If you know you really need Touch ID for a particular Mac, be prepared to pay for it. If you just need a keyboard, the non-Touch ID version might be a more worthwhile purchase.

  • Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack: A Review

    Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack: A Review

    It may seem a bit odd that Apple released a new battery pack for the iPhones a full 10 months after introducing the devices, but that is what they have done. In fact the MagSafe Battery Pack was quietly released just over a week ago. The world is opening up a bit more and people are beginning to travel, so it may actually be the right time to release it.

    The MagSafe Battery pack is reminiscent of the older Battery Cases that Apple created for the iPhone XS in that it will provide some extra power for your iPhone. The biggest difference with the battery pack, as compared to the battery case, is that it is magnetic and does not need to be attached to your phone all of the time.

    The MagSafe Battery Pack is designed to be able to change any MagSafe iPhone. This includes the entire iPhone 12 line from the iPhone 12 mini, to the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

    The MagSafe Battery Pack

    Magnetic side of the MagSafe Battery Pack

    The editor of my books, Barry J. Sullivan, provided a review and it is short and to the point. His review is: “The battery magnets are strong and the phone and battery aren’t going to separate easily. The battery and phone combined is heavy.”

    In reality, that is probably the best summation of the MagSafe Battery Pack. The magnets are indeed strong, and the battery pack and iPhone it is on will not separate during normal use, and the combination is indeed quite chunky.

    The MagSafe Battery Pack has only one port, a lightning adapter, to plug in the lightning cable to charge. The MagSafe Battery Pack also has a light indicating whether the MagSafe Battery Pack is charged, or charging. If it is charged it will be green, otherwise it should have an orange light.

    The MagSafe battery pack has a matte finish to it, which does provide a bit of grip. And when it is connected to the iPhone 12 mini, it will go edge to edge. However, with the iPhone 12, or iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro ax, the battery pack will be within the edges of the device.

    Even though it does not go edge to edge, it can actually be an advantage. This is because it can provide a bit of a lip so you can rest your finger underneath the battery pack while holding it.

    Using the Battery Pack

    MagSafe Battery Pack on iPhone 12 Pro Max

    If you are charging your iPhone from the MagSafe Battery Pack you will only get 5-watts of power. The reason for this is likely to minimize the heat and provide the maximum change of your device. This is because any excessive heat will cause the battery to drain faster, resulting in less of a charge overall.

    It should be noted that the MagSafe Battery Pack is not a pass-through charger, meaning that you cannot charge the phone, charge the battery pack, and then charge something else. There is no MagSafe charger on the back of the battery pack that would be needed to make this possible.

    However, if you are charging the battery pack itself, that is a different story.

    Charging the Battery Pack

    The MagSafe Battery Pack has a lightning port on it. This is designed to allow you to charge an iPhone. However, the MagSafe Battery Pack itself needs to be charged. There are two different ways of changing the MagSafe Battery Pack. One is to charge it by plugging a lightning cable into it directly. The second is to plug in an iPhone with the MagSafe Battery Pack attached.

    Either method will charge the both the iPhone and the MagSafe Battery Pack, provided that you use a 20-watt power adapter.

    When you charge the MagSafe Battery Pack through an iPhone, it is possible that your iPhone will charge to 80% before the MagSafe Battery Pack begins to charge. This is to make sure that your iPhone has enough charge before the MagSafe Battery Pack.

    When you are charging your iPhone with the MagSafe Battery Pack, it will charge at a maximum of 15 watts when plugged into a powerful enough power brick, meaning that the small 5-watt charger just is not going to cut it.

    Checking the Charge

    While the MagSafe Battery Pack does have a light to indicate whether or not it is charged, there is no way to see the percentage of charge on the battery pack itself. Instead, you will need to use your iPhone. This is done by checking the charge by using the Battery Widget on the iPhone.

    The Battery Widget will show you the charge of the MagSafe Battery Pack and whether or not it is currently charging.

    Possible Tip

    The MagSafe Battery Pack is designed to attach to the back so there is none of the battery pack showing. However, given that it is magnetic, and the magnets are strong, you can technically attach the MagSafe Battery Pack at a 90-degree angle so it sticks out one of the sides. When in this configuration, you can technically use your iPhone with one hand.

    It should be noted, that this is not the designed behavior and is likely not recommended by Apple.

    A second thing to note is that the MagSafe Battery Pack is indeed a MagSafe charger, meaning that you can charge other Qi-enabled devices, like AirPods. While the MagSafe Battery Pack is quite useful, it does have a couple of downsides.

    Downsides

    The MagSafe Battery Pack is not perfect, and it does have some flaws. The chief amongst these is that it cannot provide a full charge an iPhone 12 Pro Max. You would think that a battery pack that is designed for the entire iPhone 12 line would be Abel to provide one full charge to the entire line, but that is not the case.

    The second downside is the limited color choices. You can have any color you want, provided it is white. Do not get me wrong, if Apple is going to provide only a single color, it will absolutely be white, but it does seem like a lost opportunity to at least match the iPhone colors that are in the iPhone 12 line.

    There is one last thing that is not directly related to the MagSafe Battery Pack, but also applies to many of Apple’s other devices. On the battery pack there are the required registration markings. The problem is not that these are there, in reality, it makes sense that they are where they are, because they are hidden most of the time. The problem, as I see it, is that there is absolutely no contrast between the gray used for the battery pack and the gray used for the text is effectively non-existent. While in most cases this is not a problem, it can become one should you ever need service and you cannot read the text on the battery pack.

    Closing Thoughts

    The MagSafe Battery Pack is great idea in concept and has been executed pretty well. The fact that it only charges at 5 watts can be problematic if you just needed a quick charge. If that is the case, then you might just want to plug your iPhone in using a cable.

    The MagSafe Battery Pack is primarily used to charge an iPhone, but since it is a MagSafe charger it can be used to charge other Qi-compatible devices. When charging an iPhone it will not full charge an iPhone, but it can provide enough charge to get you through the day, if you need it.

    The MagSafe Battery Pack is $99, or the equivalent in your local currency, and is available now. It is only available in one color, white.

  • A Review of the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro

    A Review of the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro

    It is odd to think that the iPad has been around just over 11 years now. In the intervening time, the capabilities of the iPad have significantly improved. Not every iteration of the iPad hardware has been a giant leap, but they have all had some sort of improvement. It is now well known that Apple began working on the iPad before the iPhone. However, that project was put on hold because the technology was not yet ready. Once ready, Apple decided to show it to the world. 

    Unlike the iPhone, I have not personally owned every new model of the iPad. I have owned seven iPads. Here are  models that I have owned:

    • 32GB Original iPad – Wi-Fi Only
    • 32GB iPad 2nd Generation – Wi-Fi Only
    • 32GB iPad 3rd Generation – Wi-Fi Only
    • 64GB iPad Air 2 – Wi-Fi + Cellular
    • 128GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro (1st Gen) – Wi-Fi + Cellular
    • 256GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2nd Gen) – Wi-Fi + Cellular
    • 256GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro (3rd Gen) – Wi-Fi + Cellular

    As you can see, as time has gone on I have increased the amount of storage that I have purchased as well as including cellular on the later models. Some of this comes with the amount of storage increasing over time. Apple has not always provided the ideal amount of storage for the base models. This is, of course, by design. Apple tries to generate additional revenue by using the “good, better, best” approach to pricing, where you provide a variety of price points. For some, the base model is sufficient, while most will buy the “better” model, and those who want the most will go for the “best” model. The way that Apple typically does this is by providing different storage sizes. 

    The storage is not the only way that can provide choices for users. A second way is by providing options for cellular. Cellular models always have an additional cost to them, but being able to use your iPad anywhere, can be a major benefit for some users. While I do not use cellular that often, it is a nice to be able to use cellular in those cases when internet goes out at home or if I am out and about and want to use the iPad for something.

    As you may have also noticed, while I have owned a fair number of iPads, I have not purchased one for each generation. In particular, I did not buy a 4th Generation iPad Pro. The reason for this is because the upgrade was not enough of an upgrade to justify buying one. I also did not upgrade to the 4th generation iPad when Apple released the that in September of 2011. In that instance, while it would’ve been a bigger upgrade, I had just purchased the 3rd generation in March of 2011, and I could not justify spending the money to purchase another iPad so soon.

    With Apple releasing a new iPad Pro, I have decided to upgrade my iPad to a 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. As mentioned earlier, I do not go with the base model. The same continues this time around as well. The last two iPads that I have purchased have had 256GB of storage. On my 3rd generation iPad, I have about 78 GB free, so I am not really in need of a larger iPad. 

    However, I did buy a 512GB 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro to replace my 3rd generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The reason I went for the larger size was for future proofing. While I may not need additional storage now, I might need it in the future and I would rather spend a bit more on the extra storage now instead of replacing the iPad or having to manage the storage. Before we dive into my thoughts and information about the latest iPad Pro, we need to look at a short history of the iPad.

    Brief History of iPad

    The first iPad was announced in January of 2010 and released three months later in 2010. Prior to the release of the iPad, there was speculation on the price of the iPad. At the time, many suspected it would cost $999. However, Apple shocked everyone with a price of $499. By today’s standards the original iPad was woefully underpowered, yet at the time, the iPad worked quite well and did exactly what it said. 

    The second generation iPad, released in March of 2011, improved a bit on the original, mostly in design. Gone was the hump in the back. In its place, a flat back and a faster processor. The first significant change was the 3rd generation iPad. Besides being slightly faster, it had a significant improvement, a Retina screen. The Retina screen allowed for higher fidelity of video as well as better graphics for the system and apps.

    A mere six months after the release of the 3rd generation iPad, Apple released the 4th generation iPad. The changes were better graphics processor, because many complained about the jittery scrolling when using graphics heavy apps and games. The bigger change was the connector. Gone was the 30-pin connector and in its place was the new connector. A smaller and reversible connector that Apple called Lightning. 

    For the first three versions of the iPad, they all had the same screen size of 9.7 inches. At the same event where Apple announced the 4th generation iPad, they also made another change, a new device, the iPad mini. The iPad mini used the same internals as the 4th generation iPad, but in a smaller size of 7.9 inches, and it was still a retina screen.

    In 2013, Apple decided to append a suffix to the name of the regular 9.7-inch iPad. They called it the iPad Air. The iPad Air was named such because the weight of the device was significantly reduced, by 25%. This made it the lightest and easiest iPad to hold and use. 

    The iPad Air’s successor, the iPad Air 2, was released in October of 2014. The device maintained the same light design, but was even thinner than its predecessor. The original iPad Air was 7.5 mm, or 0.3 inches, thick whereas the iPad Air 2 was 12% thinner at 6.1 mm or 0.24 inches thick. Despite being introduced in 2014, the iPad Air 2 is still supported by the latest version of iOS, as of this writing, iOS 14. 

    Apple unveils the newest version of the operating systems at their World Wide Developer Conference, or WWDC. At the WWDC following the release of the iPad Air 2, Apple unveiled iOS 9. The biggest change with iOS 9 was two new way of interacting, called SplitView and Slide-over. These two interactions allowed you to run multiple applications at a single time. 

    Throughout its 4 year life, the iPad was primarily a consumption device. However, the additional of Slide-over and SplitView allowed the iPad to be used for even more of a creation device. As much as the iPad Air 2 was capable of being a creation device, the device for which iOS 9 was created was released in November of 2015. That device, was a whole new iPad, called the iPad Pro.

    iPad Pro (1st Generation)

    1st Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro

    The iPad Pro was a significant improvement over the iPad Air 2. The first of these was the size of the screen. The iPad Pro has a 33% larger screen at 12.9-inch. This sized screen allowed for two full-size iPad apps to run side-by-side, and a third with SlideOver. Being able to use multiple applications at a single time is great, you can definitely be more productive. However, there is one addition to the iPad Pro that allowed you to be even more productive and create even more on the iPad Pro. That item was a new iPad Pro accessory called the Apple Pencil.

    The Apple Pencil is a Bluetooth device that allows for precision drawing including pressure sensitivity and it can even sense which angle the pencil is being held at and adjust accordingly. Six months after the release of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple released another iPad Pro, this one was the same size as the original iPad, at 9.7-inches. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro had the same internals as the 12.9-inch version, and supported the Apple Pencil. The main difference is that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro could support two full-size iPad apps, but only in landscape.

    iPad Pro (2nd Generation)

    The iPad Pro was followed up by the 2nd Generation iPad Pro. The 2nd Generation iPad Pro was released approximately 18 months after the first iPad Pro, specifically June 2017. The 2nd Generation iPad Pro improved on the original iPad Pro, just like the 2nd generation iPad improved on the original. The 2nd Generation iPad Pro kept the same screen size, but the device was thinner. The 2nd generation iPad Pro also came with another iPad Pro, but not with a 9.7-inch screen. In order to differentiate the iPad Pro from other iPads, it had a 10.5-inch screen. Along with the different size, there was a new screen technology called Pro Motion. Pro Motion is a 120 Hz screen that provides even smoother motion and allowed for improved Apple Pencil support. 

    iPad Pro (3rd Generation)

    3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro

    The 3rd Generation iPad Pro was been the biggest change to the iPad Pro line. Apple unveiled the 3rd Generation iPad Pro in November of 2018, approximately 18 months after the 2nd Generation model. The 3rd Generation iPad Pro was not a small update. The first change with the 3rd Generation iPad Pro was that it has a much smaller bezel. The screen used a new edge-to-edge display. 

    The smaller bezel allowed a consistent edge around all of the edges. With the bezels being smaller, and consistent, the home button was removed. In its place is the Face ID sensor. The Face ID sensor was first introduced with the iPhone X in 2017. 

    The new bezels also supported a new shape. The 3rd Generation iPad Pro took its design cues from the iPhone 5. By this, the sides of the device are square, as opposed to tapered as the previous models had. This allowed for a few other changes. 

    The chief amongst these is a revision to the Apple Pencil, the Apple Pencil (2nd Generation). This version of the Apple Pencil still connects via Bluetooth, but there is no connector on the Apple Pencil. Instead, it charges via magnets that are on one of the edges of the iPad Pro. Placing the Apple Pencil on the top of the iPad would perform two things. First is that it would pair the Apple Pencil to the iPad Pro, and it would begin charging of the Apple Pencil.

    The next change is the type of connector. With the introduction of the 3rd generation iPad Pro, the lightning connector was removed and replaced with a USB-C connector. This connector allows for faster connectivity and also allows for additional devices to be connected directly to the iPad. 

    The last change was that the 10.5-inch iPad Pro was no more. In its place was an 11-inch model. This had the same exact features as the 12.9-inch model, just smaller. 

    iPad Pro (4th Generation)

    The 4th Generation iPad Pro, as well as the 2nd Generation 11-inch iPad Pro, were more minor upgrades. These were introduced in March of 2020. There were only two changes with this model. The first is that the processor was slightly upgraded from an A12X in the 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro to an A12Z in the 4th Generation model. The difference with the processor was that there was one additional graphical processing unit core, 8 in the A12Z as opposed to the 7 in the A12X.

    The second change was a bit more of a change. This one is around the camera. There is a whole new camera system. This one includes a LiDAR Scanner. Over the last few years Apple has been pushing augmented reality, and the LiDAR scanner allows for faster calculations and object detection. The LiDAR camera system appeared in the iPad Pro before coming to the iPhone 12 line.

    Now that we have covered the history of the iPad Pro line, it is time to discuss the latest in the line, the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

    5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro

    5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro

    The 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro was introduced at Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event. Many suspected that Apple would introduce a new iPad Pro, and they most certainly did. The 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro has made a significant set of improvements to the iPad. Some of these include, the internals, the screen, and connectivity changes. It is difficult to decide which upgrade is the biggest change to the iPad Pro, but let us start with the screen.

    Screen

    5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro Liquid Retina XDR Display

    There are a variety of different ways to interact with an iPad. You can use the Apple Pencil, a Magic Keyboard, or even Siri. Each of these has its own positives and negatives. The primary interaction surface for almost any iPad is the screen. The screen on the 5th generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a whole new display technology. Apple calls this display the “Liquid Retina XDR display”. 

    The Liquid Retina XDR display is currently exclusive to the 12.9-inch iPad and uses a newer technology called Mini-LED. mini-LED. Mini-LED is a newer technology that takes standard LEDs and shrinks them. On the 12.9-inch iPad there are 120x smaller than previous LEDs. The iPad Pro has 10,384 individual LEDs that are grouped into 2,596 local dimming zones. 

    These dimming zones allow the iPad to provide even more precise color control. In fact, the screen has a standard brightness of 600 nits, which is the same as the previous models. However, the full brightness is 1000 nits when the screen is at full brightness. If you add in the High Dynamic Range capabilities, the maximum brightness of 1600 nits. This is the exact same specs as Apple 32-inch Pro Display XDR monitor. 

    What this results in is that people can have the same XDR experience across all of their devices. No longer will you need to use an XDR device only at the end, in order to fix any color differences. Instead, you can use the iPad Pro to get the proper coloring throughout your entire workflow. The Liquid Retina XDR display will still support Pro Motion and run at 120Hz, as well as True Tone and the P3 Color gamut. 

    It is not easy to articular in words the differences between the new screen and the old screen. It is much easier to show in pictures. So, here is a picture of the 5th generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro as compared to the 3rd generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

    3rd Gen 12.9-inch iPad Pro vs. 5th Gen iPad Pro Screen comparison
    Comparison of the screens between the 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Left) and the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro (right)
    3rd Gen 12.9-inch iPad Pro vs. 5th Gen iPad Pro Screen comparison
    Comparison of the screens between the 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Left) and the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro (right)

    The screen is a significant improvement over the previous models. There is another item that is an improvement, but may not be as noticeable to many users, and that is changes to the connectivity.

    Connectivity

    There are a few different types of connectivity on the iPad Pro. This includes a physical connector, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and if you opt to get it, Cellular. Let us start with Wi-Fi and Cellular.

    Wi-Fi and Cellular

    Each model since the first iPad back in 2010 has had the option of either purchasing an iPad with Wi-Fi only or with Wi-Fi + Cellular. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Generations of iPad all had 802.11 a/b/g/n and optional 3G connectivity in either CDMA or GSM models.

    Starting in 2013, with the iPad mini 2, the cellular models came with support for LTE, which provided even faster cellular connectivity over the 4G connectivity.

    The original 12.9-inch iPad Pro brought 802.11AC connectivity, which would allow for faster connections over Wi-Fi. Each subsequent iPad has has the same, until the 4th Generation iPad Pro. The Wi-Fi connectivity was upgraded to Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11AX. The benefit of Wi-Fi 6 is that you can connect wireless connectivity speeds up to 3.5Gbps, in ideal conditions. This is accomplished by aggregating multiple connections to the same base station. 

    The 5th generation iPad Pro has improved the cellular connectivity beyond LTE. The cellular models now support 5G connectivity, just like the iPhone 12 line. The 5G connectivity can, again in ideal conditions, provide a maximum speed of up to 1Gbps. If you connect to a millimeter wave, or mmWave, service then you are more likely to get faster speeds.

    While you may not see much difference in speeds between LTE and 5G in many places, it is likely over the next few years that 5G will become even faster and more ubiquitous. Given that iPads generally last longer and are kept longer, investing in 5G now could pay off down the road.

    Physical Connectivity

    No iOS or iPadOS device has ever had more than two physical ports. These have been a headphone jack and the power connector. Starting with the 3rd Generation iPad Pro, the headphone jack was removed and the lightning connector was replaced with a USB-C connection.

    Even though there is as physical connection on the iPad Pro, a vast majority of users will almost never physically connect anything to their iPad. However, the iPad Pro, as the name implies, is aimed at professional users. Professional users are one group who might actually connect items to their iPad Pro. The 3rd and 4th Generation iPad Pros had USB-C connectors. 

    On the 3rd and 4th Generation iPad Pros you were able to connect a variety of items via the USB-C connection. This could include thumb drives, card readers, and cameras. Furthermore, you could also connect a powered, or non-powered, USB Hub that has a USB-C connection, so that you could connect multiple drives at the same time. 

    The USB-C connection on the 3rd and 4th generation iPad Pro utilizes USB 3.1 Gen 2. This protocol has a maximum speed up to 10 Gbps. In most cases, this is sufficient in terms of speed. However, if you are working on 4K video and want to be able to do work on a large video directly from a drive, it may not be sufficient. 

    The 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad changes this arrangement up a bit. The device still has a USB-C connection, however it is no longer strictly USB. Instead, it is a combination Thunderbolt/USB4 connection. The connector is till the same USB-C type of connector and you can still connect the same USB devices as before. 

    The speed that these will be able to connect at depends on the connection type. Most current devices are USB 3.1 Gen 2, or earlier, so these devices will have a maximum speed of 10Gbps. If they are USB4 devices, then you will be able to connect at speeds up to 40 Gbps. 

    The fact that the port supports Thunderbolt means that you can connect any thunderbolt device, provided it can connect using a USB-C connector.  When you do connect a Thunderbolt device, you ill be able to have connectivity of up to 40 Gbps. This is a significant speed increase over most USB devices.

    You might think it is a bit odd to have an iPad with Thunderbolt, because why would Apple want to include Thunderbolt on the iPad. It is possible that Apple wanted to further differentiate the iPad Pro from the iPad Air, but Apple was able to provide it because of the bigger change to the iPad, the processor.

    Processor

    Each of the previous iPads has had an A-Series processor. The original iPad had an A4, and the 4th generation iPad Pro had an A12Z. You could not be faulted if you were to suspect that the iPad Pro would use the slight variant of the processor as the latest iPhones. The iPhone 12 uses the A14, so it would make sense that Apple would include an A14X. However, Apple did not do that. Apple decided to go a different direction.

    At their World Wide Developer Conference in 2020 Apple announced that were creating their own processors for the Mac. Apple was able to take what they learned from developing the iPhone and iPad to be able to tailor the processor to provide an overall experience. In November of 2020, Apple announced the first devices to use their new Apple Silicon processor. Apple called the processor the M1. The M1 is a faster processor compared to almost anything else on the market, and significantly faster than the Intel processors that were used in the Macs. 

    The M1 is not just a processor. Instead it is a System on a Chip, or SoC. The M1 is not Apple’s first custom SoC. In fact all iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices that have been equipped with an Apple A-series chip have been an SoC. This is also the case for the Apple Watch, Apple TV, and HomePods.

    For the M1, the SoC consists of more than just the central processor. In fact it includes the processor, graphics, and a 16-core Neural Engine. Along with this, comes the Unified Memory Architecture, or UMA. In traditional computer configurations, you have memory that is a separated from the rest of the system and on their own dedicated chips that connect to the system on the motherboard. A Unified Memory Architecture is one where the the processor, graphics, and in Apple’s case, neural engine, all share the same memory. 

    In a traditional computer, each subsystem would have its own memory. For instance, there is the main system memory, which is accessed by the central processing unit, or CPU. The graphical processing unit, or GPU, has its own dedicated memory. There are some tasks that are better suited for a graphics chip while others that are better suited for the CPU. In order to be the most efficient and process things most efficiently, different segments of the memory need to be transferred between the two processors. This transfer, while it takes very little time in reality, it can still take some time.

    With the M1, this processor, graphics processor, and neural engine all share the same memory pool. What this means is that there is no delay in switching between using the CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine. This results in the system processing items significantly faster.

    The M1 chip is an 8-core chip, with four performance cores and four high efficiency cores. When you do not need top performance the efficiency cores will be utilized. However, when you need speed those processors will be used. This is beneficial for all Macs running the M1, but there is a specific benefit for portable systems. While this is not the case with the iPad, it still has the same “all day” battery life, which is approximately 10 hours, it is absolutely the case for the Macs running an M1 processor.

    As of right now, I have not really noticed any significant difference in the overall speed of the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, as compared to the 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, in every day usage, at least how I use the iPad Pro. That may change as time goes on, depending on the advances in iPadOS.

    Physical Size

    The physical measurements of the iPad Pro are almost the same as the 3rd and 4th generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro models. The have the same height of 11.04 inches, or 280.6mm, and a width of 8.46 inches, or 214.9mm. There is a slight difference in the depth. The older iPad Pro models had a depth of 0.23 inches or 5.9mm; whereas the 5th Generation iPad Pro is 0.25 inches or 6.4mm. 

    The 0.5mm difference is needed to accommodate the new Mini-LED screen and the 2596 local dimming zones. It is likely that future models will possibly be thinner again, but it cannot be guaranteed.

    This is a slight difference, which most users will not notice in day to day usage. However, for certain accessories this will become a problem. For example take the Kensington StudioDock that was just released in January of 2021. This device allows you to connect your iPad and also charge your other devices, like the iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods using the base of the device. Due to the thickness change the new 5th Generation iPad Pro is not compatible with the StudioDock.

    The Kensington dock is not the only accessory that might have this issue. Apple’s own Magic Keyboard, which was just released a year go, in May of 2020, also has the same issue. If you try to put the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro into the 2020 Magic Keyboard, it will fit. However, the Magic Keyboard will not close all the way. Trying to force the Magic Keyboard to close will likely cause either the Magic Keyboard to break, or it will cause damage to the iPad Pro.

    2nd Generation 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard

    Neither of these devices is cheap. The Magic Keyboard is $349 and spending an additional $349 when you just bought one last year might be a bit much for some people to spend. The StudioDock is is not an inexpensive accessory either.. For the 12.9-inch Model, the Kensington StudioDock is $399. 

    I am a bit irritated by this. I understand that the increased thickness is a limit of the current technology, but with Apple knowing that this might have happened, the first generation Magic Keyboard could have been a bit thicker to accommodate future products, but that is not the way of Apple.

    Storage

    Apple offers the iPad at various price points. There could be a variety of ways to differentiate prices for an iPad. Unlike the Mac, the iPad only has one processor option. Apple uses storage size as a differentiation in their pricing. Over time Apple has added additional size options. Each generation of iPad Pro Apple seems to make a change to the storage options available. 

    The 1st Generation iPad Pro had three storage options, 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB. The 2nd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro kept the same number of storage options, but they were doubled to 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB. The 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro  added a fourth option, a 1TB option. 

    The 1TB option in the 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro came with more RAM than the other models. It had 6GB instead of the standard 4GB. The additional RAM was needed to accommodate the larger file system tables needed by the 1TB SSD. 

    The 4th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 2nd Generation 11-inch iPad Pro doubled the base storage again to 128GB. The options were 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. One additional change was that all of the 12.9-inch models came with 6GB of RAM. This additional memory was needed to accommodate the LiDAR sensor and its processing.

    Staying with the previous trends, the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, has added yet another storage tier bringing the total to five. These options are:

    • 128GB
    • 256GB
    • 512GB
    • 1TB
    • 2TB

    There is one thing that Apple does not generally do when announcing iPhones, iPod touches, or iPads and that is provide the amount of RAM within the devices. The reason provided is that the amount of RAM does not need to be known to end-users. For the 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro Apple did not specify the RAM, instead users went looking and found out it had 6GB of RAM. 

    While this has not been the case in the past, this actually changes with the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Apple has actually provided the amount of memory in each iPad. The 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB models each have 8GB of RAM, while the 1TB and 2TB options each have 16GB.

    There is a lot of speculation as to why the difference. My guess is that the additional memory is needed on the larger sizes. My speculation is that additional memory is needed for the same reason to accommodate the additional file system table for 1TB and 2TB models. The reason that it is 16GB instead of say 12GB is because Apple is already manufacturing M1 processors with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, so instead of created a wholly separate processor just for the iPad, it is probably cheaper, and simpler, to use the existing processors that they are already making.

    Pricing

    When the original iPad was released, it was widely rumored that the cost would be $999. Apple surprised the world by having the base model cost $499. Since then, there have been various price points for various models. 

    The original iPad Pro, introduced in 2015, had a price of $799 and would have a maximum price of $1299. While the base price has remained the same, this is for the 11-inch iPad Pro, and not the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Over the years, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has increased to a starting price of $1099.

    One thing that has remained consistent is that the Wi-Fi + Cellular models have cost more. This is because there is a cost for the cellular modem. While this has typically been $130, that has changed with this latest iPad. Instead, the cellular models now cost $200 more.

    Here is the breakdown for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro based on storage size, and Wi-Fi only compared to Wi-Fi + Cellular:

    Size Wi-Fi Only Wi-Fi + Cellular
    128GB $1099 $1299
    256GB $1199 $1399
    512GB $1399 $1599
    1TB $1799 $1999
    2TB $2199 $2399

    As you can see, there is a wide range of pricing. Once you get above 256GB there is a $200 additional cost to go to the next tier of storage. 

    These are the most expensive iPad Pros that Apple has ever produced. However, it may be justifiable due to the inclusion of the M1 and the new and  improved screen, yet it might be a lot for someone to spend on an iPad. 

    This is particularly noticeable if you were to compare it to the MacBook Air. A MacBook Air with the same specs of 16GB of memory and 2TB of storage is $2049. This means that the largest iPad Pro with 2TB of storage and 16GB of memory is $150 more expensive. 

    Issues

    I did run into some small issues, specifically with one of Apple’s Arcade games, Sping. The graphics for this game seems to stutter a bit. The problem with this is that the game requires precise tapping in order to gather the gems and bounce the collection gems. I presume that the game isn’t optimized for the M1 iPad and that is the cause of the stuttering. I presume that there will be additional games that are in the same state. Beyond Sping, I also noticed the same issue with MobilityWare’s Solitaire app with the animations.

    The second issue that I experienced had to with the backlight on the iPad Pro. Specifically, at some points the screen would dim, but once I touched a key, or tapped the screen, the screen would not come back to the expected brightness. Even adjusting the actual brightness would not return. 

    It should be noted that this did not happen all the time, nor even consistently enough to be able to say what was the cause. There was a simple enough to fix though. Once I put the iPad to sleep and then woke it up again, it went back to normal. I am sure that I am not the only one experiencing this, and it will likely be fixed in an update.

    Next, let us look at the software that runs the iPad Pro, iPadOS.

    iPadOS

    The iPad needs an operating system to power the iPad. Throughout the life of the iPad, there have been instances when it seemed like Apple knew which direction to take the iPad. this was particularly true in 2010 when the iPad was first released, and then again in 2015 with the release of the iPad Pro. However, it does seem as though the iPad has not always received the attention that it deserves.

    The hardware for the iPad Pro has outstripped the software since 2018, with the release of the 3rd generation iPad Pro. Apple hinted at big changes at their WWDC 2015 with Split Screen and Slide Over. These features were supported on the iPad Air 2, which was the latest iPad at the time, but were designed for the iPad Pro, released in 2015.

    I am writing this review just a couple weeks before Apple unveils iOS 15, and iPadOS 15. While I am hopeful that Apple has a lot in store the M1 iPad Pro in iPadOS 15, I cannot guarantee that it will provide any meaningful improvements. Because of this, it is not a good idea to buy a product based upon its future usage, but what it is capable of, at the current moment. 

    Benchmarks

    No review is complete without a bunch of obligatory benchmarks. For previous reviews, it was straight forward to compare the current model with the previous model. However, in this case it is not so simple. The reason it is not simple is because there is a significant processor change. Even with this significant processor change, the benchmarks below will still show comparisons to as many different machines, and devices, that I have access to.

    Device Single Core Multi-Core
    12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen) 1718 7272
    12.9-inch iPad Pro (3rd Gen) 1104 4619
    iPhone 12 Pro Max 1299 2295
    iPhone 7 Plus 778 1408
    iPod touch (7th Gen) 559 1016
    Mac Mini (M1 Late 2020) 8GB 1748 7696
    27-inch iMac (Mid-2017) 4.2GHz Quad-Core Core i7 24GB 1124 4703
    16-inch MacBook Pro (Late 2019) 2.6GHz 6-Core Core i7 1059 5442
    13.3-inch MacBook Pro (Mid-2015) 661 1420
    Mac mini (Late 2018) 8GB 3GHz 6-Core Intel Core i5 973 4469
    iPod touch (6th Gen) 661 1420

    The best comparison is the 5th Generation iPad Pro and the Mac mini that I have. The reason this is best is because they are both an M1 with 8GB of RAM. The only difference is that the 5th Generation iPad has more storage. Outside of that, all of the other specifications are the same between the two devices.

    It is quite interesting to see how the Intel Macs compare to the M1. As I said in my review of the M1 Mac mini “In Single Core performance, the M1 mac mini is 8.4% faster than my iPhone 12 Pro Max, 54% faster than my iPad Pro, and a whopping 62.8% faster than my 2017 iMac.  Even crazier though, is the multi-core benchmarks. The M1 Mac mini is 57.4% faster than my iPad Pro, 68.2% faster than my 2017 iMac, and 71.4% faster than my iPhone 12 Pro Max. This difference is absolutely noticeable.” This is still accurate. Every time I use my Mac mini I notice the difference with the iMac.

    While the scores that were recorded on the 5th generation iPad Pro are a bit lower, therefore the percentages are a bit lower, there is still a significant performance difference between the two devices.

    CoreML Scores

    Geekbench has a newer app strictly testing machine learning. The settings used for the results below are TensorFlow Lite and using Core ML.

    Device CoreML CPU GPU
    12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen) 2609 1018 2841
    iPhone 12 Pro Max 1939 719 1389
    12.9-inch iPad Pro (3rd Gen) 1349 692 1906
    iPhone 7 Plus 411 407 707
    iPod touch (7th Gen) 295 337 555

    Geekbench ML is only available for iOS and not yet available on macOS, so the results are strictly for those supported iOS devices.

    Closing Thoughts

    If you have 3rd generation, and particularly a 4th generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the upgrade may not be worthwhile, depending on your needs. The biggest reason to upgrade to the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, at least at this time, would be for the screen. However, if you have a 2nd generation iPad Pro, or even the original iPad Pro, this would be a fantastic upgrade, even just for the speed increases alone.

    The fact that the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro now an M1 processor is a huge step because this is the same processor that is in latest Macs. The iPad is an ideal device to use the processor, given that the iM1 is a power efficient processor that is capable of handling much more than the previous iPad Pro.

    While the M1 processor may be the biggest change, it is not the only change to the 5th generation iPad Pro. There is an entirely new screen system. The new screen is a mini-LED. Mini-LED technology provides a lot more dimmable zones, 2,596 as compared to the 72 on the previous model. This means that the 12.9-inch iPad can more accurately make certain areas of the screen brighter than others. This results in darker areas being darker and lighter areas being lighter. The screen makes watching High Dynamic Range movies a better experience. 

    Beyond the screen, there are some additional hardware changes including an updated Thunderbolt/USB 4 connector, so you can connect thunderbolt devices directly to your iPad Pro. For many, this will not be all that useful, but for those who do need it, it can be a lifesaver.

    While most may not use thunderbolt, it is possible that they will need to connect while on the go. If you need to connect while out and about, you can use cellular data, if you purchase a cellular model of the iPad. If you do opt for the iPad Pro Wi-Fi + Cellular model, it will have 5G connectivity.

    As mentioned above, it not necessarily wise to purchase a device for its possible future uses, however, it is more prudent to buy a device for what it can do today. As I write this, Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference 21 is just over a week away, and it is likely that there will be some improvement to iPadOS, even if it is not exclusive to the 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, there will likely be something that the next version of iPadOS will bring to the iPad. 

    If you are looking to get a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, there will be a bit of a wait. As of this writing there is a six to eight week wait to receive a 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. If you really need one sooner, you can try looking at a local Apple Store, or even a an Apple authorized third-party reseller. If you opt for one, I doubt you will be disappointed regardless of which model you purchase.

  • Review of the Apple TV 4K (2021)

    Review of the Apple TV 4K (2021)

    In today’s modern world there are infinite ways of spending free time. You can go for a walk, bike ride, take a hike, or play a sport. If you are more inclined towards a more laid back experience idea you can spend your time chatting via social media using sites like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Clubhouse, and Twitter. Alternatively, you can play games on your iPhone, iPad, or a dedicated gaming console like the Xbox, Playstation, or Nintendo Switch. 

    Each of the activities listed above is one that typically requires active participation. In today’s “go go go” world, there is the need to take a more passive approach. For these times, you sit down watch a movie or tv show. 

    There are a number of different methods of doing just that. While you could use an iPhone or iPad, and many people do, yet there are those times when you want to minimize digital distractions and just focus on the show or movie. 

    Almost every television sold today is a Smart TV and in this case “smart” means that it is capable of running applications. For most people, this is an adequate solution. However, there may be those who want a bit more of a nice experience. For those individuals, there are dedicated devices. These can include a Roku Box, an Amazon Fire Stick, or a Google Chromecast stick. Apple has its own solution for this called the Apple TV.

    History of Apple TV

    Original Apple TV, 1st generation

    Back in September of 2006, at its iPod event Apple provided a preview of a brand new product code-named iTV. This product was a modified Mac mini that ran an Intel processor and had an HDMI output as well as component cables. This Mac mini ran a modified version of macOS, at the time named Mac OS X. Having had one of these it did do what it was intended do. When it was introduced, in February of 2007, it was officially named the Apple TV.

    The fact that the original Apple TV was introduced at the iPod event was quite appropriate. The original Apple TV was effectively a large iPod. The device had a 4200 RPM hard drive that came in 40GB or 160GB options. Given that the Apple TV was effectively a giant iPod, it was handled just like an iPod. You would connect it to iTunes on your Mac, or PC, and you could then watch your movies and TV shows.

    No streaming box is complete without a way of controlling the device. The original Apple TV included a white infrared remote, the same one that was included with the Macs. This remote included a volume up, volume down, fast forward, rewind, a play/pause, in a d-pad configuration, and a menu button directly below that. The remote layout was very reminiscent of the iPod click wheel, although there was no touch surface on it. 

    The original Apple TV was not a one and done product, it has definitely had some successors.

    2nd Generation Apple TV

    2nd Generation Apple TV

    It was approximately three years after the release of the original Apple TV when Apple released a new and improved Apple TV, the 2nd Generation Apple TV. This would be a compete rethinking of not only the hardware, but the software. 

    The biggest change was that you no longer synchronize media. Instead all media would be streamed. This could be streamed from a computer, or using one of the apps. The operating system also changed from running a version of macOS to running a custom operating system, called Apple TV Software.

    The 2nd generation Apple TV switched from the Intel Pentium M processor to a custom Apple processor, the same one that was in the original iPad, the A4. This processor changed a few other things. The size of the Apple TV box shrank from 7.7 inches square, and 1.1 inches high, to 3.9 inches square and 0.9 inches tall. The physical size change required a change from a standard hard drive to a solid state drive.

    The second generation Apple TV was a vast improvement over the first generation and set the stage for future Apple TVs. The remote that came with the 2nd Generation Apple TV also changed. It was very similar to the white remote, but it was made of aluminum. It was a bit taller, yet still very functional. 

    3rd Generation Apple TV

    The 3rd Generation Apple TV was released in 2012, approximately two years after the release of the 2nd generation. The 3rd generation Apple TV was a slight improvement over the previous model. Hardware wise, the processor was swapped to a single-core A5 and twice as much RAM at 512MB. The other change for the hardware was that it supported 1080p, whereas the previous models supported 720p.The physical size of the box remained the same, at 3.9 inches square by 0.9 inches high. The aluminum remote was included with the 3rd generation Apple TV.

    4th Generation Apple TV

    Apple TV 4K, 5th Generation

    In 2015, Apple unveiled the 4th Generation Apple TV was a major shift in not only hardware, but also in software. Let us start with the hardware. 

    The first change is the physical size. The Apple TV remained 3.9 inches square, but it was a bit taller, half an inch to be exact, to 1.4 inches high. The internals also changed to use an Apple A8 processor. The A8 process provided a significant improvement over the A5. 

    Sometimes it is easier to let benchmarks provide the data. The data is from Geekbench 3:

      A5 A8
    Single Core 218 1623
    Multi-Core 415 2910
    AES Single Core 14,800 Mbps 993,000 mbps
    Overall 784 1678

    The processor, as well as the solid state storage, was needed to be able to run the software for the device. It was not the standard Apple TV software, it was a new operating system that Apple calls tvOS.

    tvOS

    tvOS Interface

    Previous versions of the Apple TV software was somewhat limited. Not necessarily in its capabilities, but in the fact that the entire experience was controlled by Apple. New apps could not be installed by end users and instead were pushed by Apple. This approach made it a bit easier to add new services as they became available, because it could be pushed form Apple’s servers. The downside to this though, is that there was no control by end users, nor any way for third-parties to add new services.

    tvOS changed all of this. Built with the knowledge Apple gained over the years of building iOS, Apple was able to take this knowledge and put all of it into an operating system designed for the largest screen in most homes. 

    tvOS is capable of running applications, just like on iOS and watchOS, but these apps are designed to provide games, video service, or other application. The first version of tVOS, tvOS 9, provided an opportunity for third-party application developers to provide their own applications. 

    Apps are not the only function that the Apple TV with tvOS is capable of doing.

    Home Hub

    With so much power in the Apple TV, there may be some extra power available for other tasks. One of these is that the Apple TV can do is be a Home Hub. A Home Hub is a home-based device that can control your HomeKit-enabled devices. The Apple TV is able to function a a central spot for controlling all of your HomeKit devices. The purpose of a HomeKit hub is to make controlling your Smart devices faster.

    In order to control the Apple TV you need some sort of way to control the Apple TV. Apple did not include the standard remote with the Apple TV, at least in most markets.  Instead, this new Apple TV required a new remote. Apple called this new remote the Siri Remote.

    Siri Remote

    The Siri Remote is a remote that is more than just a standard remote. The top third of the Siri Remote is a touch pad, below this are the buttons. There are six, the Menu button, a TV button, a microphone button, a play/pause button, volume up, and volume down. 

    The Microphone button is a dedicated button for Siri. Given that tvOS is built on iOS, that means that tvOS has access to Siri. This means that you can ask Siri questions, to find movies or tv shows, and even to control aspects of the Apple TV, like jumping ahead or backwards, or even control your HomeKit-enabled devices. 

    The 4th Generation Apple TV was not the last Apple TV model.

    Apple TV 4K (5th Generation)

    Apple TV 4K, 5th Generation

    The 4th Generation Apple TV is a decent set of hardware. However, there was one feature that many users would really like, and that was the ability to watch 4K movies and 4K TV shows. The 5th Generation Apple TV did just this, and Apple named the product the Apple TV 4K. 

    The Apple TV 4K was released in September of 2017, just a couple of years after the release of the 4th generation Apple TV. In order to be able to display 4K properly, the processor was upgraded to the A10 Fusion processor. While this did not provide as much of an improvement as from the 3rd generation to the 4th generation, it was still an improvement. 

    When the Apple TV 4K was released, the 4th Generation Apple TV remained on sale. This model was retroactively renamed to be the Apple TV HD. This was done in order to more easily differentiate the two models.

    Users of the Apple TV HD did have some issues with the Siri Remote. One of the bigger complaints was that the remote was not able to be easily recognize the orientation. In order to help users easily identify the orientation, Apple added a white ring around the Menu button. While this would help, in some respects, it did not appease all users.

    At the April 2021 “Spring Loaded” Apple unveiled a new Apple TV 4K, let us look at that now.

    Apple TV 4K (6th Generation)

    Apple TV 4K 6th Generation Box

    The 6th Generation Apple TV 4K improves upon the 5th generation Apple TV. The 6th Generation Apple TV is a minor update, compared to the previous upgrade. The Apple TV 4K keeps the same physical size of 3.7 inches square, by 1.4 inches high. 

    What has changed is the internals. The Apple TV 4K now has an A12 Bionic processor.  While it may seem as though a jump of two processor generations, the improvement is quite a bit. For starters the A12 has a total of six cores, two performance cores and four high efficiency cores. This is an increase of two efficiency cores over the A10 Fusion.

    While the processor is a significant improvement, that is not the only aspect that has seen improvement. There has also been an improvement to the wireless chipset. Specifically, the new Apple TV 4K supports W-Fi 6, also known as 802.11AX. Wi-Fi 6 can provide even faster connectivity for devices, provided your network is compatible. Even if you do not have a Wi-Fi 6 network, the Apple TV 4K will still be able to connect to other 802.11 networks.

    HomeKit Hub

    One of the functions of the Apple TV is to act as a HomeKit Hub. As with any new technology, there come competing standards. Some of these are Zigbee and Z-Wave.  These two standards each have their own positives and negatives. One of the requirements of Zigbee and Z-wave is that require a hub in order to communicate with devices. These hubs are needed to connect between a network and the devices. Typically, this is done with a hard-wired ethernet connection.

    There is a newer smart device standard that is implemented in the Apple TV 4K, called “Thread”.

    Thread 

    Thread is a mesh-based protocol that allows for direct connections between the Thread Hub, in this case the Apple TV 4K, to the end devices. This eliminates the need for a second hub, like those you would see with the Hue lights. This will not only free up spots in a power strip, but it will also allow a wider range of devices. With Thread, no longer will you need to worry about which protocol a device uses. 

    Beyond this, Thread also has an additional benefit, it uses a mesh network for connecting all of the devices. This allows the devices to connect to each other, meaning that if one device cannot be found, other devices can pick up the slack and take over and relay communications, if necessary.

    Having Thread embedded right in the Apple TV should make connecting smart home devices even easier than before. Yet, this is not the last of the hardware changes within the new Apple TV 4K.

    The Apple TV 4K also includes support for HDMI 2.1. In most cases, this will not have much of an impact. However, HDMI 2.1 is needed for a new feature called High Frame Rate High Dynamic Range.

    High Frame Rate High Dynamic Range

    High Frame Rate High Dynamic Range, or High Frame Rate HDR, is a technology that will allow playback of video at 60 frames per second, for video that includes High Dynamic Range. There are not many videos that shot in 60 frames per second with High Dynamic Range. If you have a capable iPhone you can watch any of your 60 frame per second videos with high dynamic range.

    High Dynamic Range HDR should make any video that you watch even better. Beyond fast-moving video, this should also help with things like gaming. 

    Gaming on the Apple TV

    Lego Battles on Apple TV

    On the topic of gaming, the Apple TV 4K also supports game controllers, like the Playstation 5 controller as well as the Xbox Series X|S controller. For those who want to play games with a controller, this is great addition.

    Since the release of the 4th generation Apple TV in 2015, Apple has positioned the Apple TV hardware as a viable gaming box. When the Apple TV was first released, Apple had a requirement that all games support the Siri Remote, but could also support a gaming controller. 

    It did not take long before Apple changed this requirement. The reason this was changed is because not all games can be played effectively with only the Siri Remote. 

    However, controllers are not the only way to control items on the new Apple TV 4K. There is another way, and the one that is primarily used, the Siri Remote. With the 6th Generation Apple TV this has received a huge change, a complete redesign.

    Siri Remote (2nd Generation)

    Each of the remotes included with each Apple TV oldest on the left and newest on the right.

    As mentioned above, each Apple TV included a remote. The original had the white Apple remote, while the second and third generation Apple TVs included the aluminum remote. The fourth generation had the original Siri Remote, and the fifth generation Apple TV included the Siri Remote with the white ring around the menu button.

    When the Siri Remote first got into people’s hands, it quickly became divisive. Some people, like myself, do not have any problem with the Siri Remote. Yes, it did take some time to get accustom to, but eventually got used to using the remote and navigating the tvOS interface with the touch sensitive remote.

    Even though some had no problem with the remote, there is a contingent of users who do not think the Siri Remote is a good remote and that the remote was a mistake. Many expected Apple to change up the Siri Remote with the Apple TV 4K, but they only did a minor upgrade. With the 6th Generation Apple TV 4K, there is a new Siri Remote.

    The 2nd Generation Siri Remote is a complete redesign of the Siri Remote. The remote harkens back to 2nd generation Apple TV remote in that it is aluminum. The 2nd Generation Siri Remote is a different size than the first Siri Remote. 

    However, the differences are only slight. The height of the Siri Remote is 5.44 inches, or 136mm, the width is 1.4 inches, or 35mm. The first generation Siri Remote was 4.88 inches, or 124mm, in height and 1.5 inches, or 38mm, wide. These are slight differences, but noticeable. 

    Button Layout

    The biggest change to the Siri remote, besides the build materials, is the button layout. There are seven buttons and a five way touch surface. There are still a volume up and volume down button, as well as the TV button and the play/pause button. 

    There are a couple of new buttons though. The “Menu” button has been placed by a left arrow button. This button still behaves the same as the Menu button, but better represents its overall function. The Back button functions the exact same way as the Menu button did. The back button is concave, which should help you orient the remote when you pick it up.. This covers the existing buttons. However, this is only five buttons, which means that there are two new buttons. 

    The two new buttons are ones that will make many users very happy. These are a dedicated mute/unmute button and a dedicated power button.

    The mute/unmute button is a great addition because there are those times when you want to be able to mute the audio but not necessarily pause what is playing; which was the behavior with the first generation Siri remote, but no longer.

    Power Button

    There is a similar thing when it comes to powering off the Apple TV. With the 1st generation Siri Remote the way that you would power off the Apple TV would be to hold down the TV button to bring up the Sidebar, and then scroll down to the Sleep button to put the Apple TV into sleep mode.

    With the 2nd Generation Siri Remote you now hold down the power button to turn off the Apple TV, as well as your TV, provided your TV supports HDMI Consumer Electronics Control, or HDMI-CEC. Now, with the dedicated power button you are able to turn off both your television as well as the Apple TV all with one button. This is a huge improvement and a much welcome one. 

    Five-Way Directional Pad

    The last change is that the top of the Siri remote it is that the top of the Siri remote has changed. With the previous Siri Remote, the entire top portion was a touch surface. This is no longer the case. In place of the touch surface is five-way directional pad that has a touch surface.

    The directional pad has four directional buttons, up, left, down, and right. The directional pad is circular and with the entire directional pad supporting touch means that you can use the outside ring as a jog wheel. 

    With the outside circle you can quickly scrub through video, or to move between items on the screen. Additionally, you can use the button clicks to quickly move jump forward and backward. 

    Siri

    In order for the Siri Remote to live up to its name, it needs to be able to access Siri. On the 2nd Generation Siri Remote there is a dedicated button, like on the previous version. However, the placement of the button has moved. Instead of being on the face of the remote, it is now on the side. You can bring up Siri just like you would on an iPhone. You can simply hold down the Siri button and it will appear on the Apple TV as you would expect. 

    Now that we have covered all of the new buttons, let us see which devices the 2nd Generation Siri Remote is compatible with.

    Compatibility

    Typically, when you have a new accessory it is only compatible with the device that it comes with, or new devices. However, that is not the case with the 2nd Generation Siri Remote. In fact, it is actually compatible with both the 4th Generation Apple TV as well as the 5th Generation Apple TV. This means that you can create a consistent experience between all of your Apple TVs. 

    Weight and Feel

    Every generation of a device is likely to have different characteristics from the generation before. The Siri Remote is no exception. The 2nd generation Siri Remote is actually heavier than the 1st generation. In some respects this makes sense, given that the entire 2nd generation remote is made of aluminum. 

    Even though the Siri remote is heavier, it still has a good feel to it. When you are holding the remote, it has a natural fit in your hand. The slightly rounded back feels a bit more natural than the straight back of the previous generation of Siri Remote.

    Missing Features and Issues

    It should be noted that the Siri Remote does not have a U1 chip. The U1 chip is used to  help you locate the exact position of a device. It seems a bit strange that the 2nd Generation Siri remote does not have at least some method of being able to locate the remote. While it is possible that some do not lose their remotes, there are probably more than a few who will lose one from time to time. There are various reasons why a Siri remote may go missing, but the remote being misplaced by someone, including kids, is quite possible. 

    I would hope that there might eventually be a revision of the Siri Remote to include at least a speaker that can be used to have the remote make noise so it can be found. However, if there is going to be a revision, a U1 chip, as well as a speaker, similar to an  AirTag. This would allow a user to use an iPhone to locate the Siri Remote.

    I did run into an issue while using the Siri Remote. This is not an issue with the remote itself, per se. The issue I ran into was the fact that I kept hitting the mute button instead of the play/pause button. This is because the mute button is in the same place as the previous play/pause button. I am sure it will take some time to retrain my brain, and muscle memory, but eventually I should stop hitting the mute button instead of play/pause, but even a week on, it is still a problem.

    I have a 5th generation Apple TV 4K, and I have not had any issues going between the two Siri Remotes. I know there are some that have opted to replace all of their Apple TV remote with the 2nd generation Siri Remote. I have not ruled out doing this in the future, but I have not ordered any additional Siri Remotes yet.

    Apple TV and Siri Remote Pricing

    The 6th Generation Apple TV is available in two different storage sizes, 32GB and 64GB. The 32GB model is $179, and the 64GB model is $199. Both of these are available to order today, and ship within a week or so.

    The Siri Remote is available on its own for $59. It is available to order today. This also has the same shipping time frame of a week or so for shipping, at least as of this writing.

    Closing Thoughts

    The 6th Generation Apple TV 4K is not a huge change, externally, there are no changes at all. Instead, all of the changes have been made on the internals. There is a new processor, the A12, which is the same processor that is in the iPhone XS. This is a two generation jump from the previous A10. The A12 processor provides the ability to display High Frame Rate video. High Frame Rate Video is 60 frame per second video that has High Dynamic Range.

    The biggest change with the new Apple TV 4K is the 2nd Generation Siri Remote. The new Siri Remote is a complete redesign of the remote. The new remote is aluminum and the top portion is no longer a full touchpad. Instead, there is a circular touch pad, with directional buttons. The directional pad allows you to navigate up, down, left, or right. The ring around the touch pad will allow you to navigate as well as scrub video, or navigate through the interface. 

    The 2nd Generation Siri Remote is a big heavier than the 1st generation model, but I suspect that many people will prefer the newer remote over the older one. Even if you do not purchase a new Apple TV 4K, you can use the Siri Remote with the 5th Generation Apple TV, as well as the 4th Generation Apple TV. it may take some adjustment given the difference in the button layouts as compared to the previous Siri Remote, but the second generation is a significant improvement.

    Both the new Apple TV 4K and the Siri Remote are both available today. The Apple TV 4K is available in two sizes, 32GB and 64GB. These cost $179 and $199 respectively. The Siri Remote is available for $59. 

    If you have a 4K TV and you want a standalone box from Apple, you cannot go wrong with the Apple TV 4K.