Categories
AirPods Apple

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.

Categories
Apps Review

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.

Categories
Apple iPad Pro Review

Third Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro: A Review

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Size

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

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

2nd and 3rd Generation iPad Pro Depth comparison

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

Smart Folio

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

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

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

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

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

Camera

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

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

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

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

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

Face ID

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

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

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

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

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

Keyboards

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

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

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

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

The Apple Pencil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Overall Usage

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

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

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

Price

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

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

Software

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

Current Software

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

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

Future Software

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

Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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Apple Apple Watch Review watchOS

A Review of the Apple Watch Series 4

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

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

Size

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

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

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

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

Screen Size

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

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

Compatibility

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

Watch Faces

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

Materials

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

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

Infograph

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

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

Infograph Modular

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

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

Missing Complication

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

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

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

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

Digital Crown

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

ECG

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

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

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

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

Fall Detection

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

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

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

Pricing

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

Other Tidbits

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

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

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

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

Closing Thoughts

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

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

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Apple iPhone

iPhone XS: A Review

While it may seem as though the iPhone X has been around a long time, it was introduced just last year. In fact, it has only been available for about 11 months. The iPhone X has radically changed the iPhone line. The biggest changes were the edge to edge screen, which necessitated the removal of the home button. With the home button gone, Touch ID is also gone. In place of Touch ID came gestures for navigation and the all new Face ID.

Face ID takes an infrared scan using a random pattern of infrared dots on your face. This pattern is unique to every iPhone. If the points taken match the same pattern as expected, Face ID will unlock the iPhone. Face ID also brought with it more security. Excluding having a twin, it is very unlikely that someone else will be able to unlock your phone. In fact, 1 in a million chances with Face ID versus one in a 50,000 chance while using Touch ID.

As you might expect, the successor to the iPhone X has been released, the iPhone XS. Here are my thoughts on the iPhone XS after having used it for just about 9 days. You may not think it would be enough time, but given the updates over the iPhone X, it is enough time. Let us look start with speed improvements.

Speed

Every year, Apple increases the speed of new devices. This is typically done through the inclusion of new processors. The iPhone XS has a new A12 Bionic processor. The processor itself is may not seem that much faster than the A11 Bionic, however it is much faster. There are a couple of features that do actually make it faster. The first is the storage speed. Similar to how the latest MacBook Pros have faster storage, the new iPhone XS has similarly fast storage. This increase in speed allows for faster reading and writing, which should make all applications faster.

The processor itself is up to 15% faster than the A11 Bionic. This is possible because the A12 Bionic has six-cores instead of the previous four cores. The processor includes two performance cores, which 15% faster, but consume 40% less power. The second aspect to the CPU are the four efficiency cores. These handle the less intensive tasks and even these cores consume 50% less energy.

iPhone X Speed Benchmark
iPhone XS Speed Benchmark
iPad Pro 2nd Generation Speed
iPad Pro 2nd Generation Speed Benchmark

Along with the CPU is the companion graphics processor unit, or GPU. This is the first Apple-designed GPU. The A12 Bionic GPU comes with four cores, and is 50% faster than the A11 Bionic. This will allow experiences like multiplayer Augmented Reality gaming to be even better. Let us turn to one of the larger improvements to the A12 Bionic, the Neural Engine.

Neural Engine

The biggest is change for the A12 is the inclusion of a “next generation” Neural Engine. The Neural Engine is a specialized processor that is used to handle machine learning. The Neural Engine in the A12 is able to do 5 trillion operations per second. That is 8.3 times as many operations per second than the A11; which was able to handle 600 billion operations per second. That is a significant increase. The next generation Neural Engine is used for processing machine learning algorithms including Face ID, Animoji, and some camera algorithms. The camera will be covered in a bit, but first let us look at the speakers and microphones.

Speakers and Microphones

The iPhone XS still consists of the stereo speakers that have been present since the release of the iPhone 7 in 2016. They also located in the same place, at the bottom right and in the true depth camera sensor housing. During my test of the speakers, they are actually louder than my second-generation iPad Pro at the same volume location on the slider. I do not use the speakers that often on my iPhone, as any audio is usually going through headphones, but it will be nice to have overall.

The iPhone XS has four microphones. These microphones are used for a couple of different functions. The first is to pickup voice and sound that you want. The second function is for noise cancellation, which should eliminate unwanted noise. The additional microphones allow for a new feature with the iPhone XS, the ability to record video in stereo sound. This will make it your videos that much better. Let us look at the most popular feature of any iPhone, the Camera.

Camera

One of the biggest reasons that users upgrade their smartphone is due to improvements with the Camera. For a vast majority o people their smartphone is their primary camera, myself included. While it was not clearly explained by Apple in its unveiling of the iPhone XS, the camera is a substantial improvement over the iPhone X. There are a couple of overall reasons for this. The first is that the camera itself is actually over 30% larger. It goes from a 4mm lens to a 4.25mm lens. While 0.25mm does sound like a lot, it actually is quite a bit in practice. The larger sensor means that the lens can pull in more light, which will make things brighter in low light situations, and your images look better in all situations. The biggest reason for this is that the camera has a new improved processing system, called Smart HDR.

iPhone X Low Light Non-HDR Photo
iPhone X Low Light Non-HDR Photo
iPhone XS Low Light Example
iPhone XS Low Light Non-HDR Example

Smart HDR

With the iPhone XS Apple is employing the use of a new technology they are calling “Smart HDR”. HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range”. High Dynamic Range is a technique that takes multiple pictures at different exposure levels and then processing combines them into the best overall picture. This is how HDR has worked for all iOS devices until the iPhone XS. What is different with Smart HDR is that it is not just one picture that is being taken, in fact it is a total of nine photos.

Four of the images are being taken simultaneously so that any movement in the subject of the photo can be minimized. The second set of four images are inter-frames that are taken between the first four images so that the details can be highlighted. The second set of two images use a different exposure level, which allows the details to be brought out. The last photo take is a long exposure which is used to gather all of the shadow detail. All of these photos are then passed off to the Neural Engine.

The Neural Engine and processor then take the best of all of the photos that were taken to create the best photo it possibly can. The result of the processing is the photo that you see when you snap a picture.

The capabilities of the Smart HDR system are all thanks to the new Neural Engine. As mentioned above, the Neural Engine is able to handle 1 trillion operations per second, which is how all of the Smart HDR is able to take and process photos so quickly. There is one new feature that comes with the camera that will allow you to get just the right look that you want and that revolves around the Depth of Field.

Editing Depth of Field

The camera system on the iPhone XS now allows you to do something you could not do before, you can edit the Depth of Field on a Portrait photo to be able to get the best background bokeh effect possible. In order to do this you can perform the following steps:

  • Open Photos.
  • Locate the Portrait Mode photo you want to adjust.
  • Tap on the Edit button.
  • Adjust the “Depth” slider at the bottom to your liking.
  • Tap the “Save” button to save the changes.

The slider for the Depth of Field can go from ƒ1.4 to ƒ16. The higher the ƒ-stop the clearer the background. Because the depth information is separated from the rest of the photo, it can be adjusted as often as you would like, which is helpful to be able to get just the proper look you want. Here are some examples of the different depth effects on a portrait photo.

iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/1.4 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/1.4 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/4.5 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/4.5 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/16 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/16 Selected

Examples from the Camera

The best way to show the power of the camera, in comparison to the iPhone X is to show a set of photos.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, the iPhone XS is a fairly minor update, but it is still a solid upgrade. It is typical of what we have come to expect for an “s” year for an iPhone. While the processor changes may not show substantial daily usage improvements, for specialized cases they will be substantial. The biggest change is with the Neural Engine. The Neural Engine will help process the machine learning algorithms that developers deploy. Apple has its own algorithms. One of which is the processing of images. The new Smart HDR algorithms will allow your iPhone XS to be able to take the best picture possible. This all done through the use of Smart HDR, which is enabled by default. You can disable it, if you so choose, but a vast majority of the time this is not needed.

If you have an iPhone X or an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, it may not be a worthwhile upgrade, unless you are on the iPhone Upgrade Program, or if you take a lot of pictures. The iPhone XS comes in two screen sizes. The first is the same 5.8-inch screen as the iPhone X and the second size is a larger 6.5-inch screen, called the iPhone XS Max. The storage sizes are 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB, depending on your storage needs. The prices for the iPhone XS range from $999 to $1349 and for the iPhone XS Max it is $1099 to $1449.