The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

iPhone

My initial impressions after briefly using the iPhone X

No, I didn’t buy one. (Though I could have; the nearby Apple store has had them in stock each day.) But I did spend about 20 minutes playing with one, just to compare it to my 8 Plus. Here then are my thoughts after that extensive hands-on period…

The Good Stuff
  • The screen is lovely (most of the time; see below). Very high pixel density makes for incredibly crisp text, and the OLED tech means blacks are black, and colors in images look stunning.

  • The 120Hz sample rate on the touchscreen makes for very snappy interactions.

  • Compared to my 8 Plus, the narrower iPhone X feels nicely sized in my hand.

  • I don’t think it would take too long to get used to the gesture-based interface; I already find myself wishing that the “short drag up” to activate the app switcher worked on my iPhone 8 Plus.

  • Face ID is very easy to set up, much more so than Touch ID. (The store phones have a demo setup so you can see how it works and test it, but not really apply it as you would on your own iPhone.)

There’s more, of course, but they’re things that apply to the iPhone 8/8 Plus, too: The glass design feels good in the hand, much improved cameras, speedy CPU, etc. The X has all of that, though with an even better camera, thanks to stabilization on the zoom lens, too.

So much for the good…

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Just some slow-motion snow…in early October

I find slow-motion video of falling snow oddly compelling, and was looking forward to filming some snow with my new iPhone 8 this winter. Little did I know that winter would arrive this morning, at least briefly in central Oregon (where I am for a few days).

It was too warm to stick, but we had a good 30 minutes of these huge, fluffy flakes falling early this morning. Here’s a decent-quality brief snippet in slow-mo (240fps at 1080p)…

I uploaded the original version (1:13, 122MB) if you’d like to watch a longer version—though I don’t know that anyone else finds this as visually interesting as I do.

The iPhone 8 Plus’ glass is not all it’s cracked up to be

This morning, I was thinking about putting a clear screen protector on the iPhone 8 Plus, just because I had one that came with one of the cases I purchased. While cleaning the glass, though, I noticed something disconcerting: My iPhone 8 Plus is already showing fine scratches on the glass.

Compare my year-old iPhone 7 (top) with the weeks-old iPhone 8 Plus (bottom)…

Both phones are in similar cases that extend above the edge of the glass—I tried two minimal cases on the iPhone 8 Plus, but have only used the full-sized cases out in the “real world.” Both phones have been used in similar ways, sitting in my pants pocket or in a tray in my car. After a year of such treatment, the iPhone 7 glass looks practically brand new. The iPhone 8 Plus glass, however, is already showing fine scratches. (There are similar scratches near the bottom of the phone, too.)

These scratches aren’t—yet?—visible in day-to-day use, but it concerns me that they’ve developed to this degree after only a couple weeks’ use. How bad will things get after a few months?

Are any other iPhone 8 (Plus or non-plus) users seeing such scratches on their displays? I’m tempted to go visit the Apple Store with my phone, because I can’t believe this is normal, especially given how well the iPhone 7 (and all my prior phones) have resisted scratching.

Making some marks on some iPhone 8 benches

With the arrival of my iPhone 8 Plus and its A11 Bionic CPU, I thought it’d be interesting to compare its benchmark performance (for the CPU and GPU) with some of the other gear in our home—iOS devices, Macs, and even a PC and a Linux box. In total, I tested 15 devices.

How did I test? I turned to Geekbench, which you can run on MacOS, Windows, and Linux (anywhere from free to $99), as well as on iOS ($.99). It has tests for both the CPU (using single and multiple cores) as well as the GPU (OpenCL and Metal on iOS/macOS; OpenCL and CUDA on Windows; CUDA on Linux).

What follows is far from a scientific study; I was just curious how the CPU and GPU in the iPhone compared to other tech gear in our home. As such, I didn’t run the tests under “ideal lab conditions,” I just ran them—one time per machine, with no special setup other than some basic stuff…

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A handful of iPhone 8 Plus case mini-reviews

Across these years of plus-sized iPhones, I’ve never owned one. But with the release of the iPhone 8, I decided I really wanted the dual cameras, so I chose to get the Plus. I did a lot of pre-testing in the Apple Store—using an iPhone 7 Plus— before I ordered. The size seemed doable, but the phones were definitely slippery—except for jet black, which was nicely grippy.

So I knew I wanted a case (no jet black iPhone 8), but I also knew I didn’t want to make the iPhone much larger than it already was. In advance of my phone’s arrival, I did some shopping on Amazon, looking for relatively thin and inexpensive cases to test. I wound up ordering five…

It’s important to note that none of these are specifically designed for the iPhone 8 Plus, though most mention that phone in their description. The size differences between the 7 Plus and the 8 Plus are minimal—the 8 Plus is .1mm both wider and thicker—aren’t great, and with a couple noted exceptions, I had no size-related issues with these cases.

Total cost for all five was $65—not dirt cheap, but certainly well under the $40 to $80 you can spend for a single “nice” iPhone Plus-sized case. Given that I’ve had the phone for only a few days, what follows are not full-on case reviews, but some initial thoughts on each of the five…

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What to do if Spotlight in iOS11 seems out of focus

I’ve updated three devices to iOS11, and on my iPad mini and iPhone, Spotlight was behaving very strangely. How strangely? While trying to launch the sports score reporting app theScore, Spotlight apparently thought PCalc was the best match:

(And no, the 9:41am time indicator was not planned!)

If I finished typing out the entire name, then Spotlight would match…but that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

To make things more confusing, this was happening with only some searches—others worked just fine. My iPad, on the other hand, had a fully functional Spotlight; all searches worked as expected. At first I thought Spotlight was somehow broken on the two devices, but a quick trip into Settings > Siri & Search revealed the problem…

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Configurator covers (some of) iTunes’ lost app features

On the same day that Apple announced the new iPhones and such, they also released iTunes 12.7, which has a number of minor changes, and one very major change (here’s a nice summary). The major change is the removal of pretty much anything related to iOS apps: You can’t sync apps, you can’t browse the store, and you can’t reorder your iOS device’s app icons.

As someone who is Mac-bound for the majority of the day, this is a horrible change, and I absolutely hate it. Apple does provide one workaround, the ability to manually sync data from your computer to your iOS device. But this method isn’t really user friendly, and offers almost nothing in the way of actual app management. Further, it doesn’t let you rearrange your apps, which is one of the most awful tedious tasks one can undertake on an iOS device.

Enter Apple Configurator 2, a free Mac app that Apple says “makes it easy to deploy iPad, iphone, iPod touch, and Apple TV devices in your school or business.” But here’s a secret—shhhhhh!—you don’t have to be a school or business to use Configurator, nor do you have to use it for multiple devices—it works just fine for a single user with a single iOS device. And as an added bonus, it does some things that iTunes 12.6 and earlier never did.

In summary form, using Configurator, I can…

  • Easily view (customizable) device info for multiple devices at once.
  • See a summary screen for any given device, containing lots of useful tidbits about the device.
  • Rearrange icons on any device’s screens.
  • Change the wallpaper on any device.
  • View info on all installed apps, and sort by name or seller or genre, etc.
  • Update installed apps.
  • Install apps from either purchase history or from a folder on my Mac.
  • Install configuration and provisioning profiles (for beta software, etc.).
  • Install documents and assign them to applications.
  • Create backups (open or encrypted) and restore them.
  • A whole bunch more…

The one thing it can’t do—and for which there’s still no alternative I’m aware of—is browse and purchase apps from the iOS App Store. For that, you’ll still need to use your iOS device…or a virtual machine running iTunes 12.6. (Configurator requires a physical connection via USB cable; it won’t work over WiFi. Configurator also grabs any connected devices it sees, so don’t launch it while iTunes is syncing other iOS content, for instance.)

Keep reading for a slightly deeper look at a few of Configurator’s features…

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My thoughts on the new Apple Watch, Apple TV, and iPhones…

In their September 2017 keynote, Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 3, the Apple TV 4K HDR, and three new iPhones—the 8 and the 8 Plus, and the X.

Here are my quick thoughts on each, and my buying plans…

Apple Watch Series 3

This is a nice evolution of the watch. The LTE doesn’t really interest me, as I’m sure it’ll require another $5 or $10 a month to my wireless carrier, and I almost always want my phone with me. (If I swam regularly, I might feel differently about that.) The much-faster CPU would be a nice upgrade over my original-generation watch, but the Series 3 is nearly a full millimeter thicker than the original…and honestly, I think the first version was already borderline too thick.

Will I buy? At this time, the outlook is doubtful; my watch is working fine, and a faster CPU isn’t worth the added thickness and $359 of my money.

Apple TV 4K HDR

Support for 4K is welcome, and long overdue. I’m not so sure about HDR; sometimes I find HDR images tend to look artificial, and I don’t know if I’d find the same issue in moving images. A real added bonus was Apple’s decision to provide the 4K version of movies you’ve purchased for free—this from a company that charged us to upgrade the quality of our music files a few years back.

I wish Apple wasn’t so damn set on streaming everything, though—I would much prefer to store movies directly on the device, to make it more portable and not subject to the vagaries of wifi, device positioning, and network load. Those times are gone, though, so now the only choice is whether or not to spend $20 more for the 64GB version.

Will I buy? Yes, and I’ll spend the extra $20 for the extra 32GB. I’ve been moving an Xbox One back and forth from the game TV to our 4K TV to watch 4K content, so this will be a simpler solution.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and iPhone X

Let me get this out of the way: I do not like the iPhone X. Well, that’s not true. I think almost all of it is absolutely stunning, and I really want one. Unfortunately, that’s “almost all,” and there are two things that aren’t perfect that will keep me from buying this phone…

The Notch. I absolutely, positively hate the cutout at the top of the phone for the sensors. In case you (somehow) missed it, this is the notch…

I would have much preferred if Apple just blacked out that entire region, giving up that marginally-usable pixel space for a cleaner appearance. I understand that videos can play cropped, so as to not be “notched,” but it’s the presence of the notch in other normal views that really gets to me. It’s everywhere.

Many people won’t notice, or won’t care about the notch. I wish I could be one of those people, but I can’t. During the keynote, all I could focus on whenever the phone appeared was the stupid notch. It simply grabs my eye, and I cannot unsee it when it’s there. (Maybe a future software update will stop drawing the desktop up there, which would make it look much nicer to my eye.)

Face ID. Apple has told us facial recognition is more secure, and I have no reason to doubt them. They also told us it’s fast, and it seemed to be in the demo. But secure and fast can’t override the absolute convenience of Touch ID. I can use Touch ID as I remove my phone from my pocket (press plus press-click), and it’s ready to go as soon as it’s out of my pocket. I don’t have to look at my phone unless I want to; if I have to look at my phone every time I want to unlock it, that’s going to get annoying. Very quickly.

Apple Pay is even worse. Today’s system is as near-magic as any tech I’ve ever used: Hold the phone near the register, rest finger on the home button, and you’re done. With Face ID, it appears (based on the demo in the keynote), I’ll have to both double-tap the side button and look at the phone to use Apple Pay. Ugh.

There are also some security considerations with Face ID, as pointed out by Ian Schray. The police cannot compel you to put your finger on your phone without a warrant…but can they compel you to simply look at your phone?

Other than these two no-go items, I really like everything else about the iPhone X. It’s only marginally larger (.20 inches taller, .15 inches wider) than an iPhone 7, yet has a screen that’s 30% larger and has more pixels than the gigantic Plus model phones. It also has the double cameras, which I would love to have on my next phone.

While you may not consider the notch and Face ID as deal breakers, they really are for me. I’ll go look at one in person, of course, but I simply cannot unsee the notch, and I hate the idea of having to look at my phone to unlock it, and taking more steps (and time) for Apple Pay.

So that leaves me with the 8/8 Plus versus my current 7. I think the new CPU, faster Apple-developed GPU, better cameras and sensors, 240fps slow-mo 1080p video, wireless charging, and the glass design make the iPhone 8 a compelling upgrade. As noted, I’d love to have the dual cameras to work with, but I think the Plus-size phone is just too big for daily use, so I think that’s out of the question. (I will visit the Apple Store again to see the 7 Plus before I decide for sure.)

Will I buy? As of now, yes, I plan on buying an iPhone 8, and hoping that…somehow…Touch ID survives for a long time to come, lest that iPhone 8 be my last new iPhone.

Apple giveth, and Apple taketh ($50) away

The new iPhones—both the 8/8 Plus and X—now come with either 64GB or 256GB of storage space. On the low end, the move from 32GB to 64GB is long overdue, and makes a ton of sense. Most iPhone users I know who have 32GB phones are always bumping up against the storage limits, so thank you Apple.

However, on the other end, the move from 128GB to 256GB is harder to understand, especially in a phone. 256GB is a lot of apps and videos and music and photos. I’ve yet to meet someone who said “I wish my iPhone had more than 128GB of RAM.” My personal phone is a 128GB model, and even after a year, I’ve yet to come close to filling it up—it’s at roughly 90GB today. But I’ve always got over 64GB of stuff on it, so the small phone isn’t an option.

The bad news is that the now-192GB step up (vs 96GB before) from the small to large capacity means you’ll be paying $150 for the upgrade, instead of the old $100 charge. I understand Apple has higher costs for this, and on a cost per gigabyte basis, the new upgrade is much cheaper than the old ($0.78/GB vs $1.04/GB). But I dislike paying an extra $50 for space I’ll more than likely never use, so this strikes me as nothing more than a move by Apple to drive up their average selling price.

What’s the answer? I really would have liked to see Apple keep the 128GB option; it’s the perfect size for many iPhone customers…and the cynic in me says that’s why they killed it, so they can drive all those consumers to spend an additional $150 on their next phones.

Browse Apple’s clearance aisle

Back in August of 2015, Apple removed the distinct online store from its web site. The new store is integrated through all the pages of the site, which is a change for the better. However, I used to enjoy simply browsing the store itself, but this change mostly ended that pasttime.

The one (good) notable exception to “no store browsing” is the Refurbished and Clearance Store, which is still linked at the bottom of every page on Apple’s site. This is a great spot to look for deals on used but reconditioned Apple gear, typically for 15% to 20% less than brand new.

The site is nicely laid out, with links on the side of the page to each type of equipment. Click in, click around, browse at will.

To make it easier to jump into a given section of the refurb store, I took the top-level links and tossed them into a Keyboard Maestro macro group set to activate a pop-up palette:

You can download this simple macro for your own use, if you wish.

Now a browse of the refurb store is only a keyboard shortcut away. Good for me, bad for my wallet.

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