72 hours with the iPhone X

Photo 04-11-2017, 11 53 47

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

Photo 04-11-2017, 11 53 40

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.

Photo 04-11-2017, 11 53 57

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.

Photo 04-11-2017, 13 18 05

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

Photo 04-11-2017, 13 17 45

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.

Photo 04-11-2017, 11 53 31

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.

Fossil Q Crewmaster review

Photo 19-10-2017, 08 16 27

A hybrid watch on paper sounds like the perfect solution for those who prefer a traditional looking watch, but who also want notifications and fitness tracking as extras. For many men in particular a watch is the only jewellery they wear and so a smart watch like the Apple Watch or an Android Wear timekeeper may not quite work for them. Also, hybrids are on the whole indistinguishable from a normal watch and this is quite important when it comes to fashion.

Fossil recognises the fashion side of course, but when it comes to women there is still work to do. The smart watches the company lists as for women are coming in at 42mm which is likely too big for most and the hybrid watches are doing the same. Michael Kors (please don’t ever buy a Michael Kors watch) are also offering 42mm fashion focussed smart watches and so we are ‘still’ looking at a world where smart watches are for men outside of the 38mm Apple Watch.

Kudos to Apple for doing this because it means they dominate 50% of the potential market straight away, but at some point maybe the competitors will be able to do the same. It does seem odd that the Hybrid watches are still so big because the vast majority of the form is taken up by the huge battery and I am sure that many women who want a traditional watch with smarts would happily take a 1 year battery life over the current 2 years for a smaller form.

Anyway, we are where we are and so I got to try out a Crewmaster from Fossil which is currently retailing for £103.

The box contents are very simple; an instruction booklet, a large metal Q and that’s about it really. You also get a Fossil tin which you get to choose and although it’s not spectacular, it is a nice touch.

Photo 19-10-2017, 08 15 01

The Q is there for you to change the battery when the time comes and is exceptionally easy to use. Simply insert it and twist to reveal a waterproofed cavity at which point you slip in a new battery and carry on for another 2 years. This is obviously much more convenient that charging every other day, but boy is the batter huge. As I said, there may be scope to make it smaller and to do the same with the watch itself.

Another smart practical move is the strap which can be removed by simply pulling a small lever in the pin. It is just as easy to re-insert and you get the added benefit of being able to use normal pins and any other strap of your choosing. Fossil sells a large range of straps as well and presents them very well in their stores. The emphasis on watches in a Fossil store is hard to miss and there is no doubt that the company is headed the smart watch way in the near future.

The watch itself is decent actually and at its current price point is a steal. It’s far from small at 46mm x 14mm, but it does not feel big on the wrist. The lugs are quite long which would normally suggest that people may struggle, but for my 7.25” wrists it looks really good. Again, I can’t see many women wanting to wear a watch this big.

Photo 19-10-2017, 08 13 55

The build quality is good for the price, as you tend to find with Fossil products, and it feels like a carefully created product that is not built to a price, but to an ethos. The crystal is not sapphire (at least I don’t think it is), but it is clear enough and better than many other lower-end watches. You would not expect sapphire at this price point to be fair.

On the face, the indices and general legibility of the hands etc is excellent. With the coloured bezel and dive style, I found myself growing attached to the look of the watch and purely from a ‘watch’ perspective I am more than impressed with the Q Crewmaster.

I was also impressed by the simplicity of the notifications and their subsequent usefulness. You get to select a number for your main contacts and the watch will move the hands to that number when a new call or text is received. I used 1 for my wife, 2 for my son and 3 for my daughter and within half a day I found myself looking at the watch first to see who the message was from.

You can also choose how the 3 crowns work- set one for another time zone, to show the date by moving the hands to the corresponding day on the inner bezel, click to see who the last notification was from and so on. The options are limited, but are enough for basic use and are a decent addition to what is a real watch.

The only downside I can see at this time is the fitness tracking. Steps and sleep are not really enough for most people and it feels like a nod to fitness rather than an actual solution. Admittedly I am on a fitness thing at the moment, but the fitness tracking here is rather basic to the point that it feels starkly out of place with the rest of the watch which has a sense of much time being put into its creation. Accuracy was also hard to judge, but I suspect it is not good when compared to the likes of FitBit and Apple.

File 20-10-2017, 17 32 16

There were also some problems syncing at times and I had to exit the app fully and re-open to get a sync started. From the reviews on the App Store this is not uncommon.

Conclusion

I like the hybrid idea because it marries the old and the new well, and Fossil has ensured that the old is by far the most visually dominant here. The subtlety of the notifications is clever as well and as a watch a Fossil Q is a very, very positive solution.

However, much more needs to be done with regards to the fitness side and with time (excuse the pun) this may happen. Stick a heart rate monitor on one of these, set up a partnership with the likes of Fitbit and hybrid watches could represent the best of all worlds. Until then I remain 80% impressed and really do like the intent here.

Fitbit Ionic review

onic

My recent experiences with the Fitbit Blaze highlighted to me that the company really does struggle to make good quality hardware that is equal to the quality and density of the fitness tracking software every Fitbit device uses.

And so it was with little expectation that I received a Fitbit Ionic for review.

The sense that an Apple product costs more because it is ‘better’ is deep within me and I don’t consider the Apple Watch to be overpriced. For the same reason, I look at the Fitbit Ionic, run it around in my hands, and it appears expensive for what it is. £329 for a series 3 Apple Watch and £299 for the Ionic is not miles apart at all.

Apple’s watch comes in a decent box, looks the part and for many is a decent timepiece that they are more than happy, almost proud, to wear. As you know, I am a watch snob so both products are commodity products to me, but there is no doubt at all that Apple gets the watch industry to an extent whereas Fitbit appears to have released a plastic fitness tracker that just happens to tell the time.

All of the smarts that make a smart watch are either missing in the Ionic or not implemented in a way that makes them worthwhile.

Hardware

There is an immediate problem with the Ionic that rules out at least 50% of potential buyers. I have asked 5 women to try the Ionic on their wrists and it looks ridiculous! It is far too large to look right on a normal woman’s wrist and at 36mm diagonal on the screen with the diagonal lugs and completely square form it looks too long to site properly. The straps do not help at all at this time, but even when a decent selection of mesh straps can be bought the problem will remain.

Photo 04-10-2017, 18 46 37

Two of the women I asked to try it on wore 38mm Apple Watches and the difference is stark in every way. The Apple Watch appears to be elegant by comparison and certainly fits people of all sizes with the 2 options available. As I said, Apple gets watches more than Fitbit.

The other issue that many have raised is the design which looks like a space age concept from the future. It kind of works, however, and I for one quite like the starkness of the form. It is certainly comfortable on my 7.5” wrist and light enough to not be noticeable when worn throughout the day. Overall I am positive on the form of the Ionic and like it much more than I expected.

There are no complaints with the screen which is bright and visible in all conditions. This is expected with amplified brightness up to 1,000 nits, but I can’t help feeling that it looks better than the Apple Watch display. The slight dome is impressive even with larger than expected bezels in 2017. Where is falls down, however, is the auto-display setting which is not great at all. You have to flick your wrist and not just lift it up to see the time which the Apple Watch never suffered from. This is disappointing for a new release and symptomatic of countless unfinished or poorly implemented features in the Ionic.

Photo 04-10-2017, 18 46 33

Battery life is very good and you will get 4-5 days of normal use without too much effort which makes it a practical option and the charging time is very short in my experience. The bespoke charger is OK I guess, but it does not really matter as you will not use it often.

Overall I find the Ionic to feel cheap, to be lightweight and comfortable, and designed in a Marmite way that will cause conversation when spotted by others. It’s adequate without doubt, but I can’t shake the sense that it looks and feels like a fitness tracker above all else, and as such does not merit the £300 asking price in an emotional sense.

Software

Now it starts to get more interesting because the software is quite frankly terrible. I’m not being dramatic here either, I shall explain.

Photo 04-10-2017, 15 13 37

Firstly, you are given the option of using Wi-Fi for the first software update when you use the Ionic, but no matter what I tried it didn’t work and then the software lost the Fitbit altogether. Eventually I used Bluetooth instead and waited (forever) for the update to install.

So, here I was playing around with the newest device from Fitbit and I started to explore the smartness that makes this a smart watch. It took all of 2 minutes. I am not going to go into detail so here is a summary-

Apps: there are hardly any included and those that are remain incredibly basic. You can get the weather in a unit we do not use in the UK and with no way to change it. Timers and alarms are useful I suppose, but Pandora for music seems like a strange choice. I mean, who uses Pandora?

Photo 04-10-2017, 16 55 49

Payments: at least the Ionic includes the ability to pay for things. Oh no, only if you like in the US or Australia and use a supported bank. So that’s out as well.

Clock Faces: The ones on offer are fine, but I would hope to see many more coming in the near future. They are currently basic at best and in some cases fairly ugly.

Photo 04-10-2017, 16 56 43

Music: You have to move music to the Ionic fusing extra software and then through Wi-Fi, if you can connect it to Wi-Fi. It did work eventually, but was a bit troublesome at first.

Notifications: One way only sadly. You can read, but not send.

OS: It feels like using an Android phone after an iPhone. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it isn’t buttery smooth and it feels just a little unfinished. Also, there are bugs that mean it freezes now and then and swiping does not always work.

Final Thoughts

Photo 04-10-2017, 18 28 58

Strangely, despite all of the above I enjoy wearing the Ionic. There is something close to compelling about the design and the comfortable way it wears on my wrist. I much prefer it to the Apple Watch as an object, but of course the finish does not match the pricing. It works extremely well on the fitness side and is peerless in this regard with the Apple Watch offering baby fitness novelties in comparison.

The fact is, however, that this is a fitness tracker and at this time nothing more. A handful of not very useful apps, no payment facility for the majority of users, a design that does not look like a watch at all and just fitness at the centre of everything. If you want the best fitness tracker available this could be it, but when I look at the Charge 2, Blaze and other Fitbit trackers, they offer 95% of what the Ionic does.

This is not a smart watch at all. It is a fitness tracker that may turn into one if Fitbit manage to add some serious functionality, but if you buy one today you will not be buying a smart watch (for £300).

Fitbit Blaze Review (bad timing)

Photo 29-09-2017, 11 49 52

Reviewing the Fitbit Blaze a day before the Fitbit Ionic is released seems daft, but the Blaze does offer some indications as to the struggles Fitbit may face in building a ‘watch’.

I have only been using it for a couple of days and must say that I am 50% positive and 50% perplexed by the hardware and the software onboard. It feels just right in some areas and lacking in others which is maybe why many are concerned that the Ionic will be a miss when compared to the Apple Watch.

For me, the Fitbit software is the one hook that makes me use the hardware and that feels unlikely to change anytime soon. The good news is that I can buy a simple Fitbit tracker for under £100 or spend £300 on the Ionic from tomorrow so there is choice which is a good thing, but I know deep down that I will settle for a tracker and wear a real watch on the other wrist. For the Blaze, which is described as a watch, it needs to offer something special to take the left wrist space just as the Apple Watch does and any other device designed to help you check the time as well as do smart things.

I have written before about the variety in the Fitbit app and how it has helped me (57lbs lost in 4 months so far) and with this comes the need for hardware of which the Blaze is arguably the only watch Fitbit has released to date.

In use it is an oddity. The design is kind of nice and I personally like the angular nature of the form. It is noticeable and while some look at it and voice their lack of positivity towards it, I still kind of like the science fiction look which has been taken even further by the Ionic. Is the design lazy? Yes it is in terms of originality and the way it will need to be made in a factory, but it does retain some merit.

I am not so convinced by the large bezels which make the screen look smaller than it already is and the feel of the buttons. There is a sense throughout that this has been made to a price and that a lot more could have been done to validate the cost. In actual fact it feels like a Fitbit tracker with a bigger screen and in a different form, nothing more and nothing less.

It is very comfortable to wear thanks to the soft strap and the lightness of the case and the battery life claim of 4 days feels accurate. You could wear this and forget it is there which is the goal of any decent watch or fitness tracker.

Notifications come through without fail and everything works as it should, but the lack of a quality hardware finish remains strong and I do hope that the Ionic changes that because it is priced comparatively to the Apple Watch. Fitbit hardware has historically felt relatively cheap and just maybe it is time to stop that.

If you do not wear a watch and want a reliable and adequately priced fitness tracker the Blaze will suit. If you do not care how your watch looks or have a limited sense of style, the Blaze will suit. If, however, you simply need comprehensive fitness tracking and want to save some money, the Charge 2 may be a better option.

BeatsX: long term

File 07-07-2017, 21 25 48

I have been using my BeatsX for a few weeks now and can safely say that they have become my most used accessory. In my initial review I was impressed, but as time has passed that positivity has grown which is rarely the case in modern tech. It is too easy for the novelty to fade away and for products to either become invisible or less alluring, but in this case I am finding them more impressive every single day.

It is fortunate that I can use them at work when I really need to concentrate and this has offered the opportunity to really test out the audio quality and the battery life, which have both remained excellent in my opinion. The point has been reached where they sit around my neck for three quarters of every day and I often forget that they are there. However, when a call comes in or when I want to quickly listen to a video or something else, I just unclip them (magnetised) and pop one in my ear.

This alone makes them more practical than the AirPods for me and from an audio perspective, they most certainly sound better. They also do not look silly either which helps and the W1 chip means that connections are flawless.

They may be Beats, a brand I always avoided, but boy am I taken with them. One of the best products I have ever bought.

Fitbit flex 2 review

Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 11.14.45.png

This particular product from Fitbit appealed to me because I am back to wearing a normal watch and wanted something that was as small and unobtrusive as possible. With sleep monitoring, step tracking and call and text notifications, it does offer the minimum of what I want in a tracker, but this is theoretically just enough to replace the functions I used the most in Apple’s offering.

At £69.99 (£62 from Amazon), it is not too expensive given the features it offers and there are a number of accessories available that allow you to wear it in a variety of ways. From pendants to sleek metal wristbands, this is the first tracker from a big brand I have seen that can be hidden in what could loosely be described as jewellery.

I am wearing it as it should be on my right wrist and to be honest I don’t notice it most of the time, but as ever I am not convinced by the clasp which really does not feel secure in any way. Yes, it has two connectors which should help, but I can’t shake the feeling that a slightly hard pull on it will see it pop from my wrist, which it has done twice already.

The notifications are decent enough and cover call and texts, including iMessages, well with only a slight delay. It would, however, be nice if this could be enhanced to cover all notifications. I say that without considering the fact that I would still need to refer to my iPhone to see the content so maybe it isn’t the best of ideas. Maybe when a tracker has no screen it needs to stick to the basics and just alert me to a new call or text and be a halfway house solution.

Photo 02-07-2017, 15 12 48

The tracking is fairly accurate and does what was expected of a fitness tracker 2 years ago, but without a heart rate monitor I am struggling to see this as anything more than mere information. Steps are an indicator of how much you move and the active hours is useful, but surely the effort you are putting in should be measured. This is not a criticism as such because it does not measure the heart, but I am pondering the usefulness of such products in 2017.

Sleep tracking is more useful because this is an area that is much more important than many realise and I do like being able to see how much I have slept and woken up during the night from time to time. It is a very difficult thing to improve, but without the numbers available to you it would become impossible.

The app is as I remember it. Clean, simple to use and somewhat lacking in personality. Just like almost everything else about standalone fitness trackers, this is an area that Apple has nailed and all others that I have seen feel bereft of that connection that the Apple Watch Activity monitoring offers. Yes, the majority is the same, but this is a classic example of Apple taking something that is already there and doing things with it that no-one else had ever considered. Using the Fitbit app feels like stepping back in time.

Battery life is supposed to be rated at 5 days and it may be that I have a faulty product, but within 6 hours of full charge it drops to ‘medium’ which is presumably not what is supposed to happen. I will keep an eye on this and am guessing that I will get a few day’s of charge regardless.

Overall the flex 2 is a decent product that does what it says it should, but I can’t help feeling that it feels outdated in the most crucial area which is fitness. I am not expecting it to behave like a smart watch because it has no screen, but for a fitness focussed product I would expect a more robust and precise experience. It is a budget product of course so I am likely aiming too high which leaves only one question. Is it even worth investing in low-end fitness trackers anymore?

Amazon Echo Show review

DSCF6321

A big part of the value I found in the Echo Show was how useful it was to… well, have the device show me information. When I asked about the weather, Alexa would respond and show me the forecast for the next few days. When I asked about my to-do list, I could see it and hear it as well. Having some time to sit there and digest the info in a visual way was immediately useful. It’s not necessary, but it is nice. And if you’re not right in view of the screen, you can still talk to the Echo Show and get the info you’re looking for… More at enagdget.

My wife and I discussed our Echo Dot over the weekend and realised that none of us had spoken to it for over a week.