Kindle Paperwhite 2018 first impressions

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Buying a new Paperwhite is a bit like buying the one you already own. Not much changes and the overall experience feels so familiar that you are left wondering what you spent the money on. It is, however, a product that many, including myself, feel nailed its intent from the very first release and if it ain’t broke…

The latest release adds serious water resistance (IPX8 rated) which is ideal when on holiday and a must have feature which is long overdue. For such a simple product I am surprised it took this long.

It is also lighter (182 grams) and slightly smaller (167 x 116 x 8.2 mm) than the previous generation and this is noticeable at first. It doesn’t take long though to forget that and to feel that the new Paperwhite is just the size it should be. The only other noticeable hardware change is the flatness of the display with no bezel ridges anymore. Theoretically this is an improvement, but for me I kind of like the dip in the middle.

You can now pair it to Bluetooth headphones to listen to audiobooks which is a nice bonus and of course your place in the book is synchronised whether you are reading or listening, a feature that still impresses me to this day.

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There are also some software adjustments including the ability to save settings for multiple people which makes it a useful reader for the whole family and besides that it all feels, as I said before, very familiar.

The fact that I cannot write much about the new Paperwhite is a compliment. It has always been my preferred reader of choice, even above real books, and the latest version is a subtle improvement that keeps it high up in my list of products that are worth every penny. I only bought this because my current Paperwhite was damaged in a fall and it had served me perfectly for many years and many many books. I fully expect this new Paperwhite to be just as good and truth be told I don’t really want it to change much.

Fitbit Charge 3 first impressions

The Charge 3 is a step forward for Fitbit, a very small one.

First impressions show that it wears and looks extremely similar to the Charge 2 and that the physical advantages are at first glance not indicative of a big jump forward. It is slightly smaller which is noticeable for someone like me who wears it on his dominant wrist upside down, in deference to a real watch on the other wrist. I don’t like wearing something on each wrist, but needs must I suppose.

The screen is better than on the Charge 2 and is now touch sensitive whereas previously you would need to tap the device, physically, to achieve a response. The problem, however, is that the touch sensitivity is not particularly natural and I find myself often times having to tap and tap again to get a response. Technically this is an improvement, but in the real world it still feels somewhat clunky.

You do get more information than before and some nice animations, a glitter ball for example when you hit your step goal, but these are novelty aesthetics that do not actually add functionality. Overall it feels almost exactly like the Charge 2 with little extra information on screen at any one time which at this moment feels like a missed opportunity. Add to this the fact that there is only a handful of watch faces available at launch and that these are minimal at best. For example, I used to show the time, step count and floors on my Charge 2 watch face and that is now not possible on the Charge 3. Indeed, to see the floors you have to scroll multiple times to get to the data, when the screen accepts the scrolling gesture that is.

On the subject of floors the Charge 3 is displaying the same problems as the Versa. I managed 13 floors just by driving to work for 30 minutes – it is the exact same problem that many Versa users complain about in the Fitbit forums and they are already doing so with regards to the Charge 3. Fitbit has a serious problem with its floor tracking in the latest devices and is coming up with stock answers time and time again, and not resolving what is becoming a more evidenced problem by the day,

Oh, I should also add that the Charge 3 also counts too many steps, just like the Versa, and my step count is at least 10% up from all other trackers. This is not good enough for a company that makes fitness trackers. If there are obvious problems in the sensors why are they being continued on the latest devices?

The one good point is the battery life which is exceptional, but this does not offer enough of an advantage to make the Charge 3 a worthy upgrade over the Charge 2, and mainly because the Charge 2 is accurate while the 3 is not. It’s as simple as that.

The Charge 3 may offer more watch faces and apps over time. It may be fixed to resolve the floor and step tracking issues, but today it is not worthy. Sorry Fitbit, but you need to sort this out once and for all.

Related-

Charge 3 counting too many floors

Versa counting too many floors

APPLE WATCH SERIES 4 – FINAL THOUGHTS

I feel like a man in 2007 who doesn’t want to give up his basic Nokia phone. I can see the future coming and I don’t want to admit that one day I may need a smartphone.

The future will overtake me and I will own an iPhone or Android phone like everyone else and wonder why I ever thought my Nokia was enough for me.

I kind of feel this way about the Apple Watch. I can see a time when it could be essential, when it could be a product group that is viewed as an oddity if you do not have one strapped to your wrist. With time and the advance of technology it is conceivable that smartwatches will offer so many benefits that they becomes a must have item, and at that point they will also become fashionable and potentially luxurious.

It is hard to imagine at this time, that a device so small can be so essential, but open your mind just a little to consider the advancement of voice control, the miniaturisation of technology and the progression of power management, and it feels possible that the usefulness of such devices will outweigh the pleasure some of us get from mechanical timepieces.

Balancing gaining pleasure from a mechanical object against the sheer utility of a gadget is not easy because it is like comparing oranges and bricks, but with only two wrists and the propensity to cover just one of them at a time, something has to give.

While it is possible that a watch on one wrist and a smart device on the other could become normal, I suspect that will not happen. The inconvenient truth is that the smart one will make the elegant one feel redundant, even for those of us who love mechanical watches, and it will be a no-brainer for the rest of the population (98% minimum) who care little for watches.

There is, however, a difference between watches and phones, and history cannot be a completely accurate guide here. No one had emotional connections, not strong ones, to their basic mobile phones. There is no sense of real history, no passing down through the generations and thus they are automatically replaceable. You will never see a vintage Apple Watch that is valuable or that can even be used in the future, and at no point will one ever be seen as an emotional object which is kind of strange for something you wear.

I suspect that the Apple Watch, and the other smartwatches, have come along at the right time. In a moment when young people tell the time with their phones and when even many older people do not bother with a watch. The time is ripe for a new product category and those of us who love the tradition of mechanical watches are in the most minor of minorities.

Onto the Apple Watch itself.

I was hugely disappointed with the Series 4 at one point because of the battery, but that seems to have settled to the point that 45 minutes of charging per day will likely be enough to keep it running the rest of the time. It still irks me when compared to the likes of Fitbit and Garmin, but it is manageable.

The Series 4 is a huge improvement design-wise over the previous four models and that screen matters more than you may expect for making touch points feel natural and for displaying the information you require without the need to squint. The way it hugs the wrist has been improved a great deal with a flatter sensor at the bottom, the Series 3 sensor lifts the entire watch from the wrist, and a more consistent form throughout.

It is extremely fast, extremely convenient and for a variety of tasks could be considered essential. For runners who want music and podcasts on the move and who do not want to carry a phone with them, the cellular version will be close to perfect.

For those who are new to fitness and who do not realise that Fitbit and Garmin do a ‘much’ better job in this area it could help them become much more healthy. And for those who for whatever reason find the iPhone impractical to use when working, the notifications and basic interactivity will feel more than a little useful.

Apple has moved the Apple Watch up a huge notch with the Series 4 and it feels like the iPhone 4 to me. The sudden design change and extra usability will make it more appealing to more people, just like the iPhone 4 did, and look what followed. If the Apple Watch Series 4 is the iPhone 4 equivalent, I am very curious to see what the Apple Watch Series 10 will be.

For the moment, however, it is still not for me and for two reasons. Firstly my love for mechanical watches which may be on borrowed time and secondly the fact that the Fitbit Versa, Ionic and various Garmin smartwatches are more practical on a day to day level, mainly because of the battery life. They most certainly have their faults, of that there is no doubt, but they have been designed to give the user what they need without the requirement to charge it too often and to mess about making it work how they need it to.

I have moments of clarity where I just sit and think. Moments when I don’t want to be interrupted and just need to consider what happens next, and as silly as it sounds in those moments I like to look at my watch, play around with it and just enjoy it. The Apple Watch is not for those moments and it is not for people who want a zero hassle experience, and if they did want a smartwatch I would still have to recommend one that does not require a daily charge to get through the day.

This is not an Apple Watch

I have owned a few Apple Watch models since release, mainly to facilitate freelance work, and to date I have been less than impressed by almost everything the device offers.

From the form factor (too square, too thick, too fiddly) to the limited customisation options to the unambitious fitness implementation, it ticks none of the wrist-based boxes for me and falls into a place that just doesn’t fit my tastes or my needs.

Throw in a battery that requires a daily charge, even if it is a short one, and I struggle to understand why it is so popular. Indeed, it is the only Apple product that doesn’t appeal to me in any way. Apart from the HomePod, AirPods and iPad, but that’s another story. For me, Apple is the iPhone and the Mac and that’s about it, but boy do I enjoy using both of those products every day.

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Because of the above the time had come to try something new and so I was given the opportunity to test the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier watch, which is perfect timing considering that the new Galaxy Watch is imminent?

The testing ended up being cut short sadly due to battery performance that was beyond poor. It moved from 100% at 10pm to 0% at 4am and as such failed to track my sleep. I re-charged it and it was gone again by midday.

The watch was reset and I followed all of the online tips to resolve this issue, but it simply would not improve and the end result was half-day battery life which is of course unmanageable.

Aside from this I genuinely really enjoyed the Frontier when it worked. The faces on offer are visually quite impressive, some of the apps actually make sense on the wrist and there is a sense that this is a ‘watch’ rather than a small computer.

The debate surrounding what shape a smartwatch should be continues with some saying that square is the way forward because it makes more logical sense to build it this way. You get more real estate to cram small app interfaces into and it just makes things easier all round. However, for some of us a watch should be round if possible to break up the notion that it is in fact a computer.

This simple change of shape actually means a lot to the experience and in my case I found that I much preferred the Frontier to the Apple Watch on the wrist.

Fitness is catered for well with sleep tracking, steps etc and a heartrate sensor, and with Samsung Health you have the ability to track trends and aim for improvements. The main problem I see though is that it is very standalone with no way to import data from other fitness software. So, if you move from a competing product to this you will effectively be starting over, and the solution is not good enough (in my opinion) to allow that.

As I said, my time with the Frontier was cut short, but I do see something here which reinforces my view that the wrist will become smart and that the age of traditional watches, at least those below £500, is time limited. The Apple Watch may well be selling the most, but in my view there is much better out there, if some of the irritations are fixed.

Fitbit Versa: two days in (vs Apple Watch)

I have been using the Versa for two days now and feel that this is enough time to start to understand the good points, the bad and the meh…

Overall I am very impressed with the Versa as a fitness tracker, which should obviously be expected considering that this is what Fitbit does. It is in no way of the same build quality as an Apple Watch, but the gap is not that small when it comes to comparing it with the non stainless steel models. The lightness causes an immediate negative impact in terms of how the build is perceived, but it is actually an advantage. With the standard strap it is simply not noticeable when worn. Also, there is nothing obviously wrong with the Versa in terms of fit and finish because it is well made and does what it needs to without trying to be something else.

This is my overriding impression of the Versa in these early stages. It is a fitness watch that will help you to understand what you do each day without the need to pretend to be luxurious or some kind of status symbol. The Apple Watch, on the other hand feels completely different. To me, the Apple Watch is for those who go to the gym to be seen at the gym or to tell the people at work that they went to the gym last night. The Fitbit Versa is for those who go to the gym to get fit, quietly.

That is obviously a huge tongue in cheek generalisation and smart watches are meant to be about more than fitness, but the fact is that they are about fitness and notifications, and telling the time. Nothing else at this time. Find me a third party app that works well enough on a smart watch to make it worth installing and I will still challenge it because (logically) I have found no apps that work on a watch better than on a phone or that benefit the user because they are on the wrist. With this in mind, the fact that the apps on the Versa are poor means little to me because I am unlikely to use them. Just as I used no third party apps on the Apple Watch.

As a fitness tracker the Versa is brilliant whereas the Apple Watch is not. Filling rings takes me back to the thoughts of gym people because it feels like dabbling with getting slightly more active than before. It feels as though Apple doesn’t quite get the true idea of fitness and instead looks at it as a lifestyle thing to do at the end of a busy day in the office. Don’t get me wrong, filling rings is nice and all that, but to me doesn’t offer a sense of improvement or the detail needed to truly understand how and why you can improve. Some of you may disagree completely, but I know of four people who owned the Apple Watch and who now use Fitbit’s because of the superior tracking. I can only go on my experience and those of people I know.

The battery life is an obvious advantage on the Versa which again offers a sense of ‘tool’ rather than ‘style’ and from a practical sense the Versa ticks all of the boxes. The Ionic almost did, but the Marmite design is a killer for too many people, and it’s also too big for most women.

It would be nice to be able to store more than one watch face on the watch and to not have to use the phone to change them, but I am hoping that I will find one I stick with so that will not be a problem. Seriously, I must have tried more than 30 faces so far and am kind of enjoying messing around with them. The whole clock face thing really is the majority of the customisation available on the Versa, unless you want to play around with the apps and games, but the less is more feeling is to me another advantage because you end up just using it and not thinking about it too much. In a grown up tech world, products that benefit you without the need to fiddle are what most people want.

The Versa is not exciting and it is not complex. It is not jewellery and it offers no statement about the person wearing it. It just works (a phrase Apple would do well to remember).

An old PDA in a new world

I watched Steve Litchfield’s review (below) of the Gemini PDA yesterday and as much as I have fond memories of the original Psion PDAs, I couldn’t help but think that the world has moved on. Such a device just doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

In a world where the MacBook is portable enough for many daily activities (working on a train, in a coffee shop and elsewhere) and with much more power, the Gemini feels like a half-way house we do not need. And one which doesn’t do too much more than the smartphones that dominate portable technology today.

If we needed keyboards still on ultra-portable devices, the BlackBerry would still be king of the hill and the lesson has not been learned with the release of this product.

It may build into a niche industry that makes some money and there is a part of me that wants to try it to see if it does offer something that I have been missing for a couple of decades, but the logical part of me can’t find a place for it in 2018.

Longines HydroConquest (L3.742.4.96.6) review

Full specifications. Price £840.00

My watch got too big for me. My beloved Oris Aquis Date which ticked all of the boxes for me suddenly felt ridiculous on my wrist and I knew I needed to change it.

I have lost a lot of weight recently, just hit 84lbs gone since June, and this has meant changing my wedding ring to one that is 3 sizes lower and removing a full 4 links from my Oris bracelet. The end result was a watch that looked silly and that just did not suit me anymore.

It was more than that, however, because the larger size alone was not the only problem. It reached the point where I felt self-conscious about wearing it and so I had an overwhelming desire to buy something smaller. After much research that something smaller turned out to be the Longines HydroConquest.

It uses the same base movement as the Oris Aquis, is of a more traditional and slimmer design, and just about ticks the boxes I need ticking in a watch. I had reservations concerning the overly large 6, 9 and 12 digits and the actual Longines logo which is a bit too Breitling for me, but I decided to make the purchase anyway because something was telling me that it would work for me.

As it happens I was right and a few weeks later I am absolutely loving this watch, as much for its imperfections as the excellent finishing. The Oris feels like a more substantial watch and is arguably even better finished and better engineered, but the Longines offers more of a traditional watch experience that feels right when worn every day.

There is a sense that the Longines is built to a price, which is actually low for the brand and movement included, and it’s not easy to see what is going on, but the movement inside is tried and tested and over the past 3 weeks has lost 12 seconds in total. This can happen with brand new watches and a knock or two, or even resetting the time, can affect accuracy a great deal, but first impressions on that side are very positive.

Less positive is the lume which does not work well with the shape of the hands and which does not glow anywhere near as brightly over time as a Seiko or an Oris. This is still an £800 watch and to my mind if you are going to include lume, what is the point in not offering the best experience you can?

The included metal bracelet is also engineered to be very difficult to remove in places. Changing the strap is tough because you have to push both ends of the pins in at once and this normally requires a tool that costs well over £100 to accomplish. Once I had battled the strap off I stuck the pins in a box and replaced them with standard ones that are much easier to remove. It’s also difficult to undo and can hurt your fingers- secure no doubt, but a bit of a pain. The bracelet itself is sweet though and fits the watch design perfectly with come rattling occurring now and then to let you know it is there.

Overall, the HydroConquest has grown on me great deal in a short space of time and I suspect I will be wearing it for some time to come, and it cost less than my Oris has already sold for so I am not out financially. It is ironic that the Oris is to me a better watch in so many ways, but that the Longines is a better watch for me.

386 hours with the iPhone X

After 2 weeks the iPhone X it has reached that point where I wonder why the £1,150?

It is actually a good place for it to be because the novelty wears off and work, my kids, my wife, my dreams, writing and the rest of my life continues as before, but with a new phone.

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A phone is of course not important in any way in comparison to the real world, but it is also very important because it has integrated itself into so much of what I do.

The iPhone X feels like the iPhone 7, only better. The screen is just so useable for me and the addition of True Tone is a game changer- I will never turn that feature off.

Battery life is, to me, the same as the past few iPhones in that it needs a charge during the day and again overnight. No great shakes, but not groundbreaking either.

The camera is superb, quite superb. I haven’t managed to get the new portrait still feature working properly in any shot yet, but maybe that will have to wait for the Summer.

Overall, however, I am pleased with my purchase and see no reason to change. The novelty may be gone, but the iPhone X remains the best phone I have used to date.


Apologies for the lack of updates recently. This is not likely to change much as I have a few things to deal with which take priority.

72 hours with the iPhone X

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Well it has been quite a ride so far and I find myself internally echoing a lot of what I have read online about the iPhone X so far.

The screen, speed and form are unquestionably great so there is not much point writing about them again. The notch, however, seems to have disappeared in my consciousness and is only noticeable when using an app that does not support it properly. Kindle and Instapaper, at this time, are culprits, but for everything else I do it seems to have drifted away into ‘too familiar to notice’ territory.

The home button is a memory that feels way longer than 3 days ago because swiping from the bottom is done without even thinking about it, already. Face ID still hasn’t failed me once and is perhaps the most impressive of all implementations in the iPhone X.

To sum up the positives, the iPhone X feels incredibly familiar already. It feels as if it has been with me for months and there are 2 reasons for this-

1/ iOS is so embedded in my daily usage that it is easy to carry on using it as I always have.

2/ This is the most impressive part. The removal of the home button, Face ID and the other changes have been implemented so wonderfully that they are familiar in a relative instant. I hear people moan about the fact that some Android phones already have face recognition and a lack of bezels, but it’s not what. It is how.

The implementation is brilliant, it really is, and Apple should be applauded for the way the new features work. They are above and beyond anything I could have expected.

The iPhone X is a BRILLIANT smartphone, the best I have used by far. There are, however, a few minor quibbles that would be nice to see resolved-

Let us use the Control Centre from the bottom of the screen.

Let us see the battery percentage all of the time.

Use the wasted space below the keyboard for commonly used emojis etc.

Allow third party developers to change the colour of the virtual home button bar at the bottom. It can be jarring in book-style apps and at times stands out like a sore thumb.

I think that’s about it. Seriously impressive positives vs mildly irritating negatives still makes for a stunning phone, albeit an expensive one.

24 hours with the iPhone X

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Apple doesn’t get enough credit for the way it has taken commodities and turned them into products that people actually want to own. Think back to the beige boxed PCs of 2 decades ago and the attempts at tablets and music players from others and you get a sense that Apple always saw these objects as being more then mere bundles of technology designed to do things.

Mobile phones have always been different in that regard. They have been fashionable, fascinating to millions and in some cases lusted after. The iPhone, however, has taken that to a whole new level which some are entirely consumed by and which others sneer at. Apple’s pricing does not help when it comes to the negative view of the product from many and this has been magnified by the iPhone X. At a minimum price of £999 there is a sweeping sense that a threshold has been breached and that no phone could possibly be worth that much money.

Well, there are many counter-arguments to negative thoughts such as the price of the Galaxy S8 (£779) and Galaxy Note8 (£869) which… actually, as I quickly looked up the prices of the Samsung offerings I realised that they were cheaper than I had expected. My iPhone X cost £1,149 which is 1.5 times the price of the S8 and 1.3 times the price of the Note8 which is quite a leap. 3 Galaxy S8s for the price of 2 iPhone Xs puts it into perspective and reinforces my thoughts about the iPhone X pricing. Were it not for my freelance writing I would never in a million years pay this much money for a phone. I just could not justify such a cost because the ‘number’ sticks out to me as extreme even though there are easy ways to justify the price.

It is my sat nav, music player, portable games console, web browser, emailer, social networker and even a phone sometimes. My iPhone does so much that it is easy to justify in my head why I should have the best, and I could take that even further- it’s my alarm clock, torch, calculator blah blah.

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Then again, an iPhone 6s can be all of those things and cost a third of the price so I go back to feeling that the price is not justifiable on any practical level. An expensive Mac can be justified because it can offer benefits for close to a decade, but not a phone. Never a phone.

For all of the innovative development, design care and use of high-end materials the fact remains that the iPhone, any iPhone, is a tool to use and is not a piece of jewellery to display to others. My watch may cost more than the iPhone X, but that could be on my wrist in 20 year’s time and still serve a purpose which makes the price reasonable in the long run. There is no long run with phones apart from the fact that iPhones hold their value much better than other phones. In theory you could buy an S8 and an iPhone X today and then sell them both in a year. What’s the betting that you would end up with at least the same financial loss on each and more likely lose more money on the S8?

People, however, do not think like that when they buy a phone. They buy what they want and for many that means the iPhone regardless of cost because they have used one for many years now and see no reason to change. When you use a product for multiple hours a day you are much more likely to spend more than you need to on the best version of that product, and it’s likely that you use your phone for more hours than any other product you own.

I shall stop rambling now and offer some first impressions.

The notch

It is noticeable, of that there is no doubt. It does depend on the app, but at this time there are differences in how the notch has been approached by third party developers. For example, Instapaper chooses to show text right to the top which is disconcerting if you have a habit of not using pagination and read near the top of the screen. Medium, however, adds a small bar which does not get in the way, but it does make the reading experience far more natural.

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Screenshots don’t show the notch, but Instapaper gets the implementation wrong.

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Medium uses a minimalistic bar which works well.

You notice it in Photos and YouTube the most and some apps, Kindle for example, have not received the update as yet. It is jarring to see apps like this that have not been updated and they really do not look right, especially a book reader.

Overall, however, the notch is not the end of the world. It is odd, necessary and far from being a deal breaker.

Was there ever a home button?

It took 1 minute to get used to the lack of a home button. The gesture works perfectly and is so well executed that I actually prefer it to the button I have become accustomed to over the past decade.

The screen

Stunning. There is talk of burn in and problems from acute angles, but so far it is much better than the iPhone 7 screen I have been using and True Tone is a huge bonus.

Speed

So so quick. Nothing else to say.

Form

It is smaller than I expected and does not feel bigger than the iPhone 7 to me, but boy is the difference in screen size obvious. After 5 minutes I picked up the iPhone 7 and didn’t want to use it again, ever.

Face ID

Again, there have been reports of problems, but all I can say is that I have not had a moment yet where it does not recognise me. Even better, I don’t even notice that it is working each time I pick up the phone because by the time I swipe up it is already unlocked and ready to use. I really did not expect to say this, but it is better than Touch ID and Apple Pay is even easier than before.

Annoyances

Swiping from the top for the Control Centre feels unnecessary and is awkward. Not sure why we cannot swipe from the bottom left for it, but hope that this option appears in the future. You can no longer see the battery percentage in the status bar, but you can if you activate the Control Centre, awkwardly. It’s a tiny annoyance, but seems easy to fix which is why it is annoying.

Everything else

The camera and everything else will have to wait for the next article. The iPhone X feels familiar in the places that count, but new and exciting everywhere else. It is a leap forward and a seriously superb phone which makes the iPhone 8 and everything before it look like products from the past. I am not going over the top here, it really is superb, but the price remains the only real negative in a product that is genuinely special.

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It has only been 24 hours so there is always the danger of coming to long term conclusions based on short term novelty, but I have been trying and testing phones long enough to know that this is something new which is just the beginning of what is to come.