Tag: Review

Apple Watch Series 5: A Review

It is strange to think that only five years ago Apple introduced a whole new product line, the Apple Watch. While it was introduced in September of 2014, it was not actually available for purchase until April of 2015.

In the past almost five years, both the Apple Watch hardware, as well the accompanying software, watchOS, has seen some significant upgrades. If you owned an original Apple Watch, retroactively dubbed the Series 0, you knew that it was not exactly the fastest piece of hardware around. Besides the hardware being slow, all of the interactions relied upon the paired iPhone for communications.

If it was merely a matter of having slow hardware and slow software, it may have been tolerable, given that it was a first-generation product. However, to add even more third-party applications were very limited in what they could do even on the watch. The overall experience for the first Apple Watch was, in a word, limited.

Apple recognized this limitation by creating the Series 1 Apple Watch, which was effectively a Series 0 watch, but had double the processing power. This upgrade vastly improved the functionality. At the same time, the Apple Watch Series 2 was released. The improvements with the Series 2 included water resistance, GPS, a brighter screen, and Nike+ Editions.

The next big upgrade was with the Apple Watch Series 3 when Apple introduced a cellular option for the Apple Watch, Blush Gold, and a barometric altimeter. Last year’s Series 4 Apple Watch included a new ECG sensor, with a companion digital sensor, a whole new set of sizes, 40mm and 44mm, and a gyroscope.

Series 5

The Apple Watch Series 5 does not have nearly as many new hardware specific features that the Series 4 watch did, However, there are a couple of very welcome improvements. The improvements with the Series 5 watch include an Always On Display, a Compass, and additional storage. Let us look at each of these.

Always On Display

One of the features that traditional watches have is the ability to always see the time. This has not been available on the Apple Watch, until the Series 5. The Always On Display, is, as the name states, always on. The Always On Display was definitely not possible on the original Apple Watch, the Series 1 nor the Series 2 Apple Watch. The battery life on the Series 4 could have handled it, but it likely was not ready with the Series 4.

When you have the “Always On” display enabled a few things will happen. First, the display will always be on. Secondly, any complications that have “sensitive” data will be hidden when your wrist is down. Sensitive Data is defined as health, calendar appointments, mail, and heart rate. The reason for this is to make sure that your private information is not shown to others. In the case of Activity data, all of the rings are turned black, so the data cannot be seen.

Additionally, when your wrist is down, the size of the screen will shrink a bit and the display will dim. This allows you an easy way to recognize that the display is off. Furthermore, when your wrist is down, you are not able to take screenshots. Again, this is to protect your data.

You can disable the Always On display, if you so choose to do so. To disable the Always On display perform the following steps:

  1. On the Apple Watch,, or use the Watch app on an iPhone,. open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down “Display & Brightness”.
  3. Tap on “Display & Brightness” to open the setting.
  4. Tap on “Always On” to open the Always On setting.
  5. Tap on the “Always On” toggle to disable the “Always On” display.

If you disable the Always On display, your Apple Watch will work similarly to the Series 4, and earlier models, and the display will only be turned on when you raise your wrist.

The last change with the Always On Display, while your wrist is down, is that the screen will refresh much slower than the Series 4. In fact, the screen refresh rate may be reduced to as low as 1 Hertz. This means that the screen will refresh once per second, which should, in theory, significantly improve battery life. On the topic of battery life, let us look at that next.

Battery Life

With each subsequent version of a product, it is quite likely for the battery life to improve. This is typically done by improving efficiency, increasing battery size, or both. In the case of the Series 5, the size of the battery has increased, but not for the 44mm watch, just the 40mm one.

As alluded to above, the battery life on the Series 4 Apple Watch was absolutely tremendous. I could easily go all day without needing worry about the battery running low. Most days the battery would be at above 50%. That has not my experience with the Series 5.

While I would suspect the Series 5 to have slightly worse battery life, due to the Always On Display, my battery life has been significantly worse than the Series 4. There are some days that my 44mm Series 5 Apple Watch is down to 25% when I put it on the charger. I have not been using the Series 5 in any different manner than I did with the Series 4.

To me, this is not acceptable. Yes, there is technically enough battery life to get through the day, that is only with approximately 30 minutes of exercise. If I end up doing a longer workout this results in even less battery life remaining. If I had been running a beta, I might have expected this, but this is the release version of watchOS, so it is not that. Hopefully, Apple will be able to improve the battery life with a subsequent update. Let us look at the another new feature, the Compass.

Compass

The Compass is a brand new feature of the Series 5 Apple Watch. The Compass allows you to determine your current heading; just as a handheld compass would do. The digital compass provides more than just the current heading. You can also see the current degree of inline, elevation, latitude and longitude. Even though this is a great feature, there may be some possible issues with it.

Possible Issues

The compass is not foolproof. This is because the Compass in the Apple Watch Series 5 can be affected by any magnet. This includes magnets within Watch Bands.

Per Apple’s support page for the Compass:

The presence of magnets can affect the accuracy of any compass sensor. Apple’s Leather Loop, Milanese Loop, and earlier Sport Loop watch bands use magnets or magnetic material that might interfere with the Apple Watch compass. The compass isn’t affected by Sport Loop bands introduced in September 2019, or any version of the Sport Band.

What this means is that if you have a Milanese Loop, a Leather Loop, and older Apple Watch Sport Loop, and possibly even third-party watch bands, they may interfere with the Compass on the Apple Watch. It is not guaranteed to do so, but it might cause a problem. This is something to be aware of, in case you need to rely on the Compass.

Storage

The storage for the Apple Watch has steadily increased since the original Apple Watch. For the first three generations you had 8GB of storage on the Apple Watch. If you had a Series 3 Cellular model, this was doubled to 16GB. The Series 4 made 16GB standard, and the Series 5 Apple Watch has 32GB of storage standard.

This rapid increase in storage has is great if you want to store additional media, like voice memos, music, and photos. I do not see Apple adding additional storage beyond 32GB, unless there is a significant reason to add storage. There is one last thing to cover, the included watch band.

Purchasing Experience

Apple has done something different when you purchase an Apple Watch. With the release of the Series 4 Apple Watch, you had to choose one of the pre-defined Apple Watch and Watch Band. Even if you did this, the two items would come in separate boxes. That is not the case with the Series 5. You can now pair any Apple Watch with any Apple Watch band.

This has a couple of different benefits. The first is that you can get the exact pairing that you want. This means that you can get the exact pairing of Apple Watch and band that meets your style. Additionally, this also means that you will not need to have a band that you will not end up using. This is not only good for your wallet, but also for the environment, because Apple does not have to produce an additional watch band that may just end up in the landfill. Next, let us look at the Sport Loop.

Sport Loop

I will not do a whole review of the Apple Watch Sport Loop, because I did one in 2018. Instead, I want to comment on the design of the 2019 Sport Loops.

This year Apple has gone with a two-tone color scheme for the sport loops. The sport loop that I chose this year is the Anchor Gray. In the picture this looks like a black and gray band, however when you look at it in person, it is actually two different shades of gray. The darker of the two colors is on the outside while the lighter of the two is on the inside of the band.

This is a nice look overall and I think the two-tone color scheme has a second utility, besides new colors. I think it is related to the Compass feature and allows Apple employees to easily identify the band as one that does not interfere with the Compass feature on the Series 5 Apple Watch.

Closing Thoughts

The Apple Watch Series 5 is a decent upgrade, particularly with the Always On display. While the battery life has been significantly degraded, it still does make it though the day. The battery life may improve with a software upgrade, but only time will tell on that.

The new Compass is a nice feature, particularly since it provides you with the current latitude and longitude. The new 2019 Sport Loops will not interfere with the compass, but some other bands may interfere. The additional storage that is available should come in handy if you want to load up your Apple Watch with any type of media.

If you have an original Apple Watch, a Series 1, or even a Series 2, the Apple Watch Series 5 will be a great upgrade. If you have a Series 4, it may not be necessary to upgrade, unless you absolutely must have the Always On display.

iPhone 11 Pro Max: A Review

Every year Apple releases at least one new iPhone and this year is no different. In fact they released three new models. The iPhone 11, the iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It has been the case that I have purchased a new iPhone each year. I have done so again this year.

Over the course of its history, the iPhone has been available in six different screen sizes, ranging from 3.5 inches to 6.5 inches. The biggest change occurred in 2014 with the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The old 4-inch screen size, introduced in 2011 with the iPhone 5, was replaced with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens, respectively. The next big change occurred in 2017 with the release of the iPhone X and its 5.8-inch edge-to-edge screen.

Last year, when I purchased an iPhone, I decided to stick with the 5.8-inch screen size. I did this because I was not sure if the 6.5-inch screen would be too large. In contrast to last year, I decided to get the iPhone 11 Pro Max. If I do not like the screen size I can always downgrade the next time I get a phone. Normally when I review a phone, I would talk about a bunch of its features. However, this year, I will focus on a few of the new features. The first of these will be how my upgrade went.

Upgrading

Having had an iPhone since 2007 and having done 12 upgrades and countless restores due to various issues, I have developed an upgrade path which has worked for me with very few problems. That upgrade path is as follows:

  1. Unpair my Apple Watch. This will create a backup of the Watch on the iPhone.
  2. Perform an encrypted backup using iTunes of the iPhone after the watch has been unpaired.
  3. Restore the new phone using the encrypted backup that was created.
  4. Pair the watch with the newly restored iPhone.

I use this procedure because it restores everything, including Health data, two factor codes, and other private data. This procedure has worked quite well. I debated on using this same procedure, but this year I decided to do something different. I used the Direct Transfer method that was introduced in iOS 12.4.

Direct Transfer

Direct Transfer is a method where you allow your old iPhone and your new iPhone to directly communicate with each other to transfer your data from your old phone to your new phone. There are a few things to understand about the process.

The first is that this will create a direct connection, using wireless between the two devices. This means that you will not be able to use wireless during the transfer.

The second is that you will not be able to use the devices while the data is transferring. This is because the transfer interface will take over the whole screen. If you have an Apple Watch paired to your iPhone, you will be able to control any audio that is playing and you can change it as well.

On the topic of the Apple Watch, if you have an Apple Watch paired it should be transferred in the process. However, for me this did not actually occur. I had to open the Apple Watch app and then it recognized the Watch and then the transfer process began.

Fourth, the last thing to realize is that it will take a while for the transfer to actually occur. For me it took approximately 2 1/2 hours to complete. This was after it failed once and the process had to be restarted. Once it was stopped there was no way to resume it, so it had to be started again. This is faster than the way I had done this before. When I upgraded my iPhone XS to the release version of iOS 13, it screwed up half way through and I had to restore it from an encrypted backup. This process took 6.5 hours, so this new process was significantly faster.

The Direct Transfer process does have some significant advantages, besides being faster. The biggest among these is that while my downloaded music did not transfer, the fact that it was downloaded on my old iPhone did transfer. So after the transfer process finished the downloaded music began re-downloading. I actually prefer the songs to re-download, as compared to just transferring over. It turns out that a large number of the songs that had been downloaded to my old iPhone were corrupt. I did not really notice until I started hearing songs that I had not heard for a while, despite them being downloaded. What it turned out to be is that

The last thing that happened after the transfer completed, and is the case with any restore, my applications downloaded. In case you are wondering, the reason that this occurs is because the apps that are downloaded from the App Store are tuned specifically for your device. This includes, but is not limited to, asset sizes and optimizations specifically for the processors in your device.

Now that we have covered the upgrade process, let us look at the biggest change and the primary reason I upgrade each year, the Cameras.

Camera and Photos

This year iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, come equipped with three cameras. These are the Wide, Telephoto, and Ultra Wide lenses. These are equivalent to a 26mm, 52mm, and 13mm lens respectively. The Ultra Wide is new on the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. It has been interesting trying to figure out the best use for the Ultra Wide lens. The Ultra Wide camera does add a bit of a curvature to the image, so it can be a bit distorted when you do take a photo.

Camera

The Camera app on iOS 13 is specifically designed with the three different cameras in mind. As an example, if you select the Wide or Telephoto lens, the Camera app will actually show the view that the Ultra Wide camera can see. This can help you not only identify which lens you are using, but also assist you to determining the best shot. This is because of the extra information provided by the Ultra Wide camera will be shown behind the control areas of the Camera app’s interface.

Here are some examples of the Wide, Telephoto and Ultra Wide Photo examples from the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Night Mode

Throughout the history of all iPhones one of the more difficult times to get a good photo is when you are in a low light situation. In order to accommodate for this, Apple has introduced Night Mode. Night Mode does some machine learning to pull in as much light as possible and generate a picture that simulates daylight. Here are a couple of examples.

You can actually see the subject of the images taken with the iPhone 11 Pro, as opposed to the iPhone XS. You are not able to enable Night Moe on your own. Instead, when there is not enough light the Night Mode will automatically be enabled. You do have a couple of options with Night Mode, when it is enabled. By default the duration is 3 seconds, but this can be adjusted to be 2 or one second. Whichever setting you choose, the Camera will take a series of photos. All of these photos will be consolidated into one single image that will produce an image that will bring out the brightest colors possible. Because the image is a composite, it is possible that there may be some noise in the photos.

You should keep in mind that Night mode is not night vision. This means that Night Mode does requires some light in order to function. It is not possible for Night mode to work in a completely dark room. If you take a picture with Night Mode in a completely dark room, you will get, a black image. The Night Mode on the iPhone 11 will allow many people to take photos that they may not have been able to get otherwise. Next, let us look going back to the larger phone.

Back to the Max

In 2014, Apple did something that it had not done before. It introduced 2 new sizes of iPhones instead of just one, the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. These two new size of phones were 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches respectively. In 2017, Apple changed everything again with the release of the iPhone X. As you are likely aware, the iPhone X only came in one size, a 5.8-inch screen size.

I am not entirely sure why I opted to go back to the larger size this year. I think part of me wants to see whether or not the larger phone is the right choice. Only time will ultimately be able to tell, but my initial thoughts are that the larger screen is nicer. Each year, I end up getting a case, next we will look at a case that I got.

Clear Case

Many people are willing to risk using their iPhone without a case. I can understand wanting to show off the iPhone in its unadorned site. I am not one of those people. Instead, I purchase a case with each new iPhone. This year I actually purchased two cases. I bought a Black Apple Silicone case as well as the Clear case.

The Clear case is made of acrylic and as most other acrylic super slippery. The Clear case is not designed to be removed as easily as the Silicone case is. The Clear case is more difficult to put on and take off as compared to other cases. Of course the Clear case’s biggest assets is the clear nature of the case. This allows the back of the phone, as well as the steel bands, are visible. The clear case is definitely good for showing off your phone, but it is not necessarily the best choice due to its slipperiness. The last feature that we will look at for the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the battery life.

Battery Life

The iPhone 11 Pro Max supposedly has 4 more hours of battery life over the iPhone XS Max. I did not have the Max last year, so I can only compare it to the iPhone XS. With my normal day to day usage the battery is around 75% when the day is over. Of course the amount of battery life left varies depending on what I am doing with the phone. If I play some Apple Arcade games for a while, the battery will be drained quite a bit more than if I am merely listening to music, browsing the web, or listening to audiobooks. Overall, this is significantly more battery life than I would have at the end fo the day with my iPhone XS.

I cannot say for certain, but it could be difficult for Apple to maintain this type of battery life in iPhones going forward. It will not be easy to do, particularly with any transition to 5G, where there has not been the necessary time to perform optimizations for battery life.

Benchmarks

In today’s computing world, Benchmarks do not have as much weight as they once did. This is because of the dynamic nature of processors and their power draws. What Benchmarks are good for is proving a relative measurement compared to other devices. I have run a set of benchmarks on 6 different devices, for comparison purposes.

Geekbench 4 Single Core Multi-Core
iPod Touch 6th Gen 1302 2314
iPad Air 2 1848 4512
iPod touch 7th Gen 2719 4541
Mid 2014 iMac 3072 5556
Mid 2011 iMac 3504 8750
Early 2015 MacBook Pro 3766 7031
iPhone XS 4840 10496
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd Gen) 5017 17879
iPhone 11 Pro 5489 13863
Mid 2017 27-inch iMac 5680 19651
Geekbench 5 Single Core Multi-Core
iPad Air 2 384 1071
iPod Touch 6th Gen 384 1071
iPod Touch 7th Gen 529 929
Mid 2014 iMac 652 1278
Mid 2014 iMac 720 1934
Early 2015 MacBook Pro 709 1636
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd Gen) 1111 4613
iPhone XS 1114 2766
Mid 2017 27-inch iMac 1214 4664
iPhone 11 Pro 1337 3494

As you can see from the results, the iPhone 11 Pro is one of the fastest, in terms of single core. My 2017 iMac and 12.9-inch iPad Pro are still faster in terms of multi-core performance.

As a note, the Geekbench 4 scores are calibrated using a Microsoft Surface Book with an Intel Core i7-6600U processor as a baseline with a score of 4,000 points.

Similarly, the Geekbench 5 CPU scores are calibrated using an Intel Core i3-8100 processor as a baseline. Geekbench 5 measures the performance of your device by performing tests that are representative of real-world tasks and applications. Higher scores are better, with double the score indicating double the performance.

Both of these statements are from the Geekbench knowledge base.

Closing Thoughts

The iPhone 11 Pro Max, and by extension its younger sibling the iPhone 11 Pro is a solid phone. This is particularly true if you use your iPhone as your primary camera. The screen of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is definitely a plus. Yet, at the same time, the size can definitely be unwieldy and a bit bulky. I must have forgotten what it was like having a larger phone after owning the iPhone X and the iPhone XS for the last two years. It has been a re-adjustment. The battery life is absolutely incredible and you can easily use an iPhone 11 Pro Max all day without any issues.

If you are updating from an iPhone X or any earlier model, this will be a great upgrade. The speed increase that you see will be significant and the inclusion of night mode will make the photos that you take in low light that much better. If you are in the market for a new phone, then the iPhone 11 Pro Max could be the phone for you.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: A Review

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

The Story

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

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

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

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

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

Similarities

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

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

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

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

Differences

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

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

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

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

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

Specializations

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dark Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rogue Agents

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

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

Downsides

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

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

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

Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Second Generation AirPods: A Review

Technology affords various things to occur, instant communication, in-depth research, and personalization. This last one has become expected by many users. Instead of getting the same experience as everyone else, users have come to expect that their experience will be different than most others. With that customization comes the need to be able to partake in that personalized service apart from others. One way that this is possible is through the use of headphones. There are a large number of headphones from different manufacturers available. These headphones also come at various price points.

Somewhere on the higher end is Apple’s wireless earbuds, the AirPods. Apple’s first AirPods were announced in September of 2016 and were released in December of the same year. In the more than two years of availability the AirPods have gained popularity and have become more and more common.

Apple released the second-generation of their popular wireless earbuds on March 20th. You could place an order for the second-generation AirPods, with or without the wireless charging case, for delivery between March 27th and the 29th. When I found out there was a new pair, I immediately ordered a set, with the Wireless Charging case. My delivery date was between March 27th and March 29th. However, it seems like I am destined to have issues with my first pair of AirPods for each generation. At least that has been the case for my first generation as well as this generation.

The Issue

As I mentioned above, I ordered the AirPods on March 20th, for delivery on the 27th. UPS attempted to deliver them on the 27th, but I was not home at the time. I was notified that they it could not be delivered and would try again the next day. I knew that I would not be home on the 28th either. So I asked to have it delivered to a UPS store, so I could pick it up from the store.

I went to the UPS Store on the 28th, and they indicated that they did not have it. One of the UPS employees called corporate support to make sure that the package would be delivered on the 29th. This took about 15 minutes on the phone with them. The support person indicated that the package should be there on the 29th. The UPS Staff member who helped me indicated that they typically receive packages around 11:00 am. I figure, okay, I can pick them up then. So I go back to the UPS store on the 29th, again no package. While I was at the store a UPS truck drove up, and a staff member asked if they had any packages for delivery, but they did not. At that point the UPS Store staff indicated that I had to contact customer services and start a claim for a lost package.

So I drove home and then called UPS customer support. After explaining the situation the representative and the story, the representative indicated that the package is considered “lost” and that I could not initiate an investigation, the shipper had to do that, so I would have to call them.

I called Apple and explained the situation. The Apple representative needed to get some information to start the investigation. When Apple initiates an investigation, they refund the money and then handle the issue with UPS. So I got my money back, which is fine, however I did not have a pair of AirPods. To go with this, the second-generation AirPods, at that time, would take 2 to 3 weeks before they should ship.

I looked to see if I could a pair and pick them up from the Apple Store, but no nearby Apple Stores had the AirPods with Wireless Charging case. However, my local Apple Store did have the AirPods and Wireless Charging case separately, for “Pickup Today”. This is the route I ended up going. It cost more, but I was able to get them sooner.

I am disappointed in that UPS manage to lose a package, I know things happen and that the number of packages that end up lost is probably way less than 1, given the number of packages that they deliver. I recognize that it was just my turn to have this happen, but it seems like it should not have disappeared given that it arrived back to the depot. Now, onto the actual review.

Second-Generation AirPods

If you were given a pair of first-generation AirPods as well as second generation AirPods and you were asked to tell the difference just by looking at them, you would not be able to do so. That is because there is no physical difference between the two generations. All of the changes have been inside the AirPods themselves.

I do not use my AirPods the entire day while I am at work. However, whenever I am at home I generally am using them. The second-generation AirPods have an all new wireless chip, called the H1, which is specifically designed for headphones. This replaces the W1 wireless chip present in the first generation.

The benefits of the H1 over the W1 start off with offering 30 percent lower latency and is Bluetooth 5.0, instead of Bluetooth 4.2 with the first generation. This directly translates into one of the most noticeable benefits of the second generation AirPods, faster switching between devices.

It is not often that I switch devices, however there are instances when it does happen. With the first-generation AirPods it seemed like it would take an awfully long time to have the headphones switch. During my testing it is approximately 7 seconds for the switch to occur between two iOS devices. When switching from an iOS device to a Mac, it is a bit longer, closer to nine or ten seconds. In reality this is not a long time, but in today’s fast-paced world it can seem slow.

With the second-generation AirPods, the switching has been significantly improved. When going between iOS devices the amount of time is less than half, at about 3 seconds. When switching between an iOS device and ac Mac it is about half at five seconds. This is a significant improvement and a very welcome one.

The H1 chip also enables an additional feature, Siri.

Hey Siri

Siri is Apple’s digital assistant and now Siri can be with you in your ears. This is the case with other earbuds as well, but only if an iOS device is nearby. With Siri in the second-generation AirPods, your phone does not need to be near by in order to use the digital assistant. That is not the case with the second-generation AirPods.

When you activate “Hey Siri” on the second-generation AirPods, Siri will be activated on the device that the AirPods are connected to and it will use that device to process the Siri interactions.

If you have multiple iOS-based devices and say “Hey Siri, all of them might light up but only one will respond. The devices will determine who has precedence and that device will handle the request. If you are a household that has a HomePod, it will typically be the HomePod that will handle the request. The second-generation AirPods will now also participate in the determining precedence of devices. Specifically, the AirPods will take precedence over all devices, including the HomePod.

This order makes sense given that if you are using the AirPods and want to use Siri you likely want to use the AirPods to handle the request. You can still manually trigger Siri on a specific device if you want that one to handle the request. What would be even better is if you were able to set different trigger phrases for different devices. This could be a selection from a pre-defined list.

Charging

The first-generation AirPods created an interesting take on charging headphones. Whereas most wireless headphones require you to plug in a cable to charge them, the AirPods used the case as the charger. The AirPods themselves charge via induction while in the case. The case itself would have to be charged via a lightning cable.

For the second-generation AirPods, this changes, but not necessarily for everyone. With the second-generation AirPods you have the option of purchasing them with or without a wireless charging case.

The wireless charging case is a Qi-compatible charging case. This means that you can use any Qi-compatible pad to charge your AirPods case. Having a wireless charging case does change things a bit. The case itself is a bit heavier as well as bit bulkier. The differences ar slight, and may not be noticeable.

There is one other change with the case. In order to know the status of case and the earbuds, the AirPods case has an indicator light on it. For the first-generation AirPods this was under the top and in between the two AirPods. With the non-wireless charging case you could connect a lightning cable to the case and then flip the case open. If you did this, the indicator light would stay on indefinitely. This is not a scenario that would occur for most users, however it would occur for some.

The location of this indicator light has changed with the Wireless Charging Case. The light is now on the front of the case. This is necessary in order to be able to quickly see the status when the Wireless Charging case is on a Qi-compatible charging pad.

You might think that with the light being on all the time would be a problem. But Apple has anticipated this and the light will turn off after about 10 seconds. This is the case for either wireless charging or when you plug in the Wireless Charging case to a lightning cable.

Closing Thoughts

If you already own a pair of first-generation AirPods, then it may not necessarily be worthwhile upgrading to the second generation. There are of course some exceptions to this. If you purchased the AirPods when they were first available the battery is not likely as strong as when you first got them, so purchasing the second-generation may be a sound investment.

Right now, if you want to purchase a pair of second-generation AirPods with the Wireless Charging case, you will have to wait for a bit. The second generation AirPods with Wireless Charging case will currently ship in 3-4 weeks, when ordering from Apple, although they may be available for pickup from your local Apple store sooner than that.

As a side note, as of this writing, UPS is still trying to locate the package. You would think that given that their entire business is built on package delivery and tracking that they would be able to find the package, but it does not seem to be the case.

AirBuddy: A Review

AirBuddy Icon

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

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

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

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

AirBuddy

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


Prerequisites

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

Preferences

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

Today Widget

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

AirBuddy Today Widget

Pricing

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

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

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

Closing Thoughts

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