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

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 in Graphite

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

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

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.