The iPad Air

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I bought a Wifi only 32gb iPad Air a couple of months ago and would like to share my impressions on it. For the last year I have been using a Verizon 16GB iPad mini which I loved for many reasons and hated for a few. Before that I had a Wifi only 32GB 3rd generation iPad. So what made me go back to the big iPad? The number one reason I upgraded was that I needed more space. 16GB just doesn’t cut it for me anymore on an iPad. I am fine with a 16GB iPhone but with the amount of magazines, comics, & blueprints (work related) that I have on my iPad, I need at least 32GB. I found myself constantly having to manage the storage on my mini. I also recently got tethering enabled on my iPhone so having a cellular iPad was no longer necessary. If I need data on the go I can easily get it from my phone now.  Another reason why I upgraded is that I read a lot on my iPad and the non-retina screen on the iPad mini was really starting to bother me, especially for comics and blueprints. All that being said why not just upgrade to the new iPad mini with Retina display? It was a very tough decision to be honest. The iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display are both incredibly good tablets. They both have the same A7 processor, cameras, retina display, battery life, etc. They have never been more similar. It really comes down to just two things.

  1. Screen Size – The iPad Air has a 9.7″ display where the iPad mini has a 7.9″ display.
  2. Price – The iPad Air being $100 more than the comparable iPad mini.

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There were advantages to both iPads for me and I will list them below.

iPad Air

Advantages:

  • The iPad Air is incredibly thin and light with an all new design. It weighs just 1 pound. It is unbelievable how much lighter it is compared to previous full-sized iPads.
  • The 9.7″ Retina display on the iPad Air is ideal for comics and magazines of which I consume a lot of.
  • The larger iPads are much better for typing in my experience. The iPad mini is just not very comfortable to type on for long periods of time.
  • The iPad Air’s battery seems to last much longer in standby than my iPad mini did.

iPad Mini

Advantages:

  • The iPad mini is extremely portable. For example, when I had my mini, I would take it to a lot more places as it would fit in my back pocket where now that I have the Air I end up just using my iPhone more.
  • The iPad mini is much better for one handed use. While the iPad Air has lost a significant amount of weight, it is still a two-handed device.
  • The iPad mini is $100 cheaper than the iPad Air. You can basically get twice the storage for the same price by going with the mini.

Lastly, I want to talk about accessories. I picked up a blue smart cover for my iPad Air. I like it quite a bit better than the same smart cover that I had on my iPad mini. It doesn’t collapse near as easily. I also picked up a Belkin Shield back cover. I like it fine though it is a tad loose. That is all I have bought for my new iPad but I have been using my Cocoon Gramercy bag with it that I loved using so much with my 3rd Gen iPad. It is still the best bag for an iPad, a few accessories and a phone in my opinion. When it is not in the Cocoon, it is in my bigger but still small bag, the Tom Bihn Ristretto 11″ which I really need to write a blog post on.

In conclusion I am very happy with my iPad Air. I am enjoying the large retina screen, the reduced weight, & the bigger storage capacity very much. I would hesitate to recommend it completely to everyone else though. If you are looking to buy a new iPad consider both the Air and the mini and buy the one that best fits how you would like to use it.

The iPhone 5S

SONY DSCI purchased an AT&T 16GB Space Gray iPhone 5S on launch day (September 20th 2013) and would like to post my thoughts on it. First off a little backstory. For the past 2 years I have been using an AT&T 16GB White iPhone 4S. It was my first smartphone and I loved it dearly. It had begun to slow down a little with iOS7 installed on it & it wasn’t getting quite the same battery life that it once had but other than that it was still a very usable phone. I have used my new 5S heavily in the last month and a half and have posted my thoughts below.

  • The Design: The first thing I noticed with the 5S coming from my 4S is how much lighter the 5S is. This is because the iPhone 5 & 5S have aluminum (a-loo-minium) backs compared to the iPhone 4 & 4S, which had glass backs. I would describe the weight difference as feeling like the 5S’s battery had been removed from the phone. I am slightly torn on how I feel about this. On one hand I like that it is lighter and it is less likely that the back will break if it is dropped but on the other hand the glass back on the 4S made the phone feel a little more like a premium product to me.  The 4S had a good heft to it. The screen is also really nice. I appreciate the jump from 3.5″ to 4″ even though that is still a relatively small screen size for phones these days.  Other than that I love that it has a lightning connector instead of the old 30 pin dock connector. I really like the Space Gray color on the back. It is supposedly much more resistive to scratches and scuffing compared to the Slate Black colored back on the iPhone 5. The hardware buttons are fine but I do think the ring/silent switch on the left side is a little worse than the one that was on the iPhone 4 & 4S. It works fine but it’s just a little harder to toggle if you have fairly big fingers. One more note, I’m not sure but it seems like to me that the vibration on the 5S is also not quite as strong as it was on the 4 & 4S.

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  • The Camera: The camera is simply incredible on the iPhone 5S. Between the excellent low light performance, improved flash, burst mode shooting (10 photos per second!), and slo-mo video recording, it is a very nice upgrade from my previous iPhone’s camera. I still use my Sony NEXc3 as much as I can but the iPhone 5S’s camera is very capable on  it’s own.
  • The A7 Chip: The iPhone 5S is powered by the first 64bit processor ever in a cell phone. It is a substantial jump from the A5 chip that was in my iPhone 4S. I’m not going to go into detail about the processor, if you interested in more I would point you to the excellent AnandTech review.  Simply put this phone is fast. Everything just loads so much faster than my last phone. Apps, webpages, emails, etc. all just load nearly instantly. I am very happy with the performance of this phone. Apple has upgraded all of their apps to 64bit and it shows. Once 3rd party developers start updating their apps to 64bit, we should see even more performance improvements. I ran the Geekbench 3 app and have posted my results below.

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  • The Touch ID Sensor: The iPhone 5S comes with Apple’s Touch ID Sensor which is built into the home button. This sensor allows you to simply place your finger on the home button to unlock your phone as well as to authorize purchases on the App Store. It is a feature that nobody actually needs but is very convenient & very cool. Also, when it works it is nearly instantaneous. It is a very “magical” feeling when it scans your fingerprint & unlocks your phone for you. I go to a lot of Apple related sites and by all accounts Touch ID seems to work 90% to 100% of the time for the vast majority of people. As for me, I had some trouble initially getting it to work reliably but it now works for me about 75% to 80% of the time.
  • The LTE Speed: I know LTE is nothing new but this is my first phone that supports it. The AT&T speeds where I live are very good. I routinely see speeds of 15 Mbps up & 15 Mbps down. It is very nice to have speeds like that when you are out and about.
  • The Battery Life: I am very satisfied with the battery life in the iPhone 5S. I charge it every night and it rarely is under 40% by the end of the day.
  • The Software: The iPhone 5S comes with iOS7 installed. iOS 7 is a major departure from the previous iOS releases. It replaces the skeuomorphic designs of the previous OS’s with a clean, simple, & more modern look. For the most part I really like it. High points include the control center which comes up from the bottom, new voices and functionality for Siri, a much improved Weather app, FaceTime audio calls, & better multitasking. Overall I am very happy with iOS7. It’s not perfect but I like where Apple is going with it.

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In conclusion, I am very happy with the iPhone 5S and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. Yes, it is not a perfect phone but between the improved camera, the A7 processor, great battery life, & most of all the incredible app ecosystem, I can’t think of a phone that I would rather have. It is the best iPhone yet.

The nGroove Snap By Mountek

SONY DSCI wanted to talk about my new favorite phone/tablet mount for my car. As some of you may know I have been a big fan of Mountek’s nGroove Grip for the last year or so. It is great for nearly any size smartphone and was the best mount that I could find. I love that it is easily installed and removed with no tools required.  I love how solid it mounts as well, I never worry that it will come unmounted or that it will allow my phone to fall out. The only drawbacks in my opinion were that it could not hold my iPad mini and that you could only angle it so far to either side.  Some people don’t like Mountek’s mounts as they mount into the cd slot of your car and therefore render your cd player useless. I however love that it mounts where it does. I never listen to CDs and while you can easily find a suction cup mount for any device they all have their own set of drawbacks. Most of these mounts gradually lose suction after a while and will eventually fall if you don’t remember to reapply them. Also, I live in Texas where any device mounted to the windshield will get extremely hot, which I am not a fan of. So the mount being secured in the cd player slot is a big win for me. A few months ago I found out that Mountek was developing a new mount, the nGroove Snap, and had put it on the crowdfunding website indiegogo. I backed the project and received the new mount about a month and a half ago. I have been using it every day since. It is simply the best mount that I have ever seen. It installs the same way as the nGroove Grip but improves on it in every way. Gone are the adjustable arms on the side. Instead you now simply place your phone onto the flat surface and your phone just attaches to it. It’s really quite magical. IMG_8790Mountek includes a couple of very thin magnetic badges which you stick to the inside of your devices case. These magnets are incredibly strong for their size, it’s really impressive. It’s kind of hard to explain how nice it is to get into your car, simply set your phone against the mount, and be able to easily glance at your screen but it makes me smile to this day. The new mount also fixed my other complaint about the older one, it tilts side to side a lot further. I have the two magnetic badges stuck to my iPhone 5S case and my iPad mini case and both devices mount great to the Snap mount. The iPhone is very secure and the iPad mini is slightly less but still works. Needless to say I am extremely impressed with the Snap mount and would recommend it to anyone looking for a mount that doesn’t mind giving up their cd slot. My wife just bought one as well. She replaced her old nGroove Grip that I had bought her. She absolutely loves the Snap as well. If you are interested in purchasing one of your own, it is available now to the public on Mountek’s website as well as Amazon.

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The Incase Terra Sleeve

I just ordered and received the 11″ Terra Sleeve by Incase for my new 11″ MacBook Air. I really like it. It provides great protection and has a pocket on the front which I slip my iPad mini into. I believe you could slip a full sized iPad in the pocket as well. While it retails for $44.95, I was able to snag one on Amazon for $17.99 plus shipping. It is definitely worth it for that price in my opinion. The main compartment has an oversized zipper which seems very tough. This is the perfect sleeve for my needs. I can bring this with me on the go and use the iPad mini as a wireless hotspot for the MacBook Air. If I had one complaint it would be that there is no way to use a shoulder strap with this bag, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker. Bags/Sleeves for 11″ laptops are somewhat hard to find compared to other size laptop bags but I would definitely recommend it to someone in the market (Incase also sells 13″ and 15″ versions). I took a few pictures of the bag which I will put below this post.IMG_1261 IMG_1262 IMG_1263

The Pebble Smart Watch

The Pebble Smart Watch

The Pebble Smart Watch

I recently purchased a Pebble Smart Watch and have been using it for several days now. I wanted to give my thoughts on it for those interested, but first a little back story on the subject. The Pebble started as a Kickstarter project on April 11th, 2012 with a $100,000.00 fundraising goal for the project to be made. It quickly became one of the most successful projects ever on Kickstarter with a total of $10,266,845.00 raised by May 18th, 2012. The Pebble started shipping to backers on January 23rd, 2013. As of July 4th, 2013 they have sold over 85,000 watches. I followed the Pebble on Kickstarter but I did not back it myself. I wanted to learn a little more about it before spending the money on it. Several reviews have been posted by people & tech sites who have received their Pebbles in the last several months and after some research I had decided that I indeed wanted to purchase the Pebble. I just needed to find out how to get my hands on one. This proved to be harder than I had anticipated. The only place you could buy one was through Pebble’s website, which would let you pre-order one, with no real idea of how long you would have to wait to receive it. Thankfully about a month and a half ago, Pebble announced a partnership with Best Buy for them to be the first (and at the time of this post, only) retailer to stock the Pebble. It would be available in stores on the 7th of July, 2013 for $149.95. It would be available in two colors – Jet Black & Cherry Red. I decided this was the best way to get my hands on one. Unfortunately, my local Best Buy was receiving very limited shipments and were selling out of them as soon as they arrived in stores. After numerous phone calls &  several visits to my local store, I purchased a Jet Black Pebble a little over a week ago. Read on for my thoughts on the Pebble Smart Watch.

So what is the Pebble exactly and what does it do? The Pebble is a watch that connects over Bluetooth to your smartphone. You can use it with either an iPhone or an Android phone. As most people probably know, I am an iPhone guy so my thoughts on the Pebble will be based on using it with an iPhone running iOS6.1.3. It has a low power 1.26-inch 144 × 168 pixel black and white “e-paper” display and runs about a week on a full charge. The Pebble has a backlit screen that can be activated by pressing a button or by flicking your wrist.

Doing this never gets old!

Why push a button when you can do this!

It charges with an included magnetic USB charger that snaps onto the left side of the watch.  The Pebble will of course tell the time & date but it has several other functions as well. After you pair your Pebble with your smartphone over Bluetooth you can add quite a bit of functionality to the watch. You can receive text messages and phone call alerts to the watch with very minimal setup. Text messages come with a vibrating alert and phone calls show up as the phone number calling you, or if the person who is calling is in the contacts on your phone, as their name.

Text Message Notification

Text Message Notification

Phone Call Notification

Phone Call Notification

The buttons on the side of the Pebble allow you to either take the call or ignore it. Now, you can’t actually talk on the phone through the watch. You still need to be connected to your phone either by having ear-buds with a built in mic like the ones you get with an iPhone, by wearing a Bluetooth headset, or being connected to the Bluetooth in your vehicle. As I have Apple’s earpod headphones in my ears the entire time I am at my job, it is very handy to not have to take my iPhone out of my pocket to see who is calling or texting me. This functionality worked flawlessly in my testing. You can also enter in your email account information into the companion Pebble app on your phone to get email notifications sent to the Pebble watch. This however does not seem to always work. Sometimes I get my emails sent to the Pebble & sometimes I don’t. (EDIT: Pebble released an update to the Pebble iOS app & I now receive all of my email notifications. Yay software updates!)You can also get notifications from your other apps pushed to the Pebble as well, but it is not without its kinks. I like to get sports score alerts from the MLB & ESPN apps sent to my Pebble, as well as Twist updates, reminder alerts, Twitter alerts, etc. To accomplish this you have to perform what is affectionately referred to on the  Pebble forums as “the finger dance”. Basically, if you lose the Bluetooth connection from your phone to your Pebble, you have to go into the notification settings on your phone and toggle alerts on and off for each app that you wish to receive notifications for. This kinda sucks but it is due to certain limitations in iOS6. iOS7, which is due in less than a month will according to rumors drastically change the Bluetooth permissions and allow notifications from any app to be sent over Bluetooth. I do hope that this is the case, as this is the one half baked feature at the moment.

You can also use the Pebble to control your music playback. It will display song information on it’s screen and allow you to pause and skip whatever is currently playing. I really like this feature. Another fun thing to do is go to http://www.mypebblefaces.com and download some new watch-faces and apps for your Pebble. You can store a total of 8 watch-faces or apps at a time. It is unbelievable how many different watch-faces you can find there. I will share a few of my favorites below.

Futura Weather Watchface

Futura Weather Watch-Face

The Futura Weather watch-face is the one I like the most. I use it 90% of the time. I love that it shows the current weather. You enable the weather by downloading the free httpepple app from the app store. This is a great little app that expands the functionality of the Pebble.

Mario Time Watch-Face

Mario Time Watch-Face

I love the Mario Time Watch-Face as well. Every minute he jumps up and changes the time.

Pebblis aka Tetris

Pebblis aka Tetris

I also installed the Pebblis app to my Pebble. It is just Tetris with a different/punny name. It is fully playable although you would have to be kinda crazy to spend more than a few minutes with it.

Overall I am very satisfied with my Pebble Smart Watch. Don’t get me wrong nobody needs to buy one of these for their life to be complete. It is a very first world product, much like heated seats in a car or wifi on a plane. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a nice thing to have and enjoy.  I recently bought a screen protector for my Pebble (it is not very scratch resistant) and had to leave it home as it needed to sit for 24 hours. I really missed having it with me that day. While it is not without its quirks. It drastically cuts down on the amount of times I pull my phone out of my pocket throughout the day. I think that over time it will become a better and better product.

Update: I found a cool iOS app called Smartwatch Pro which is $2.99 and adds quite a bit of functionality to the Pebble. I highly recommend it.

The iPad mini

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My Shiny New iPad mini

I have very recently purchased an iPad mini & I would like to share some of my thoughts on it. This is actually the 4th iPad that I have bought. I bought the OG iPad ( 16gb Wifi Model ) shortly after it was released, upgraded to the iPad 2 ( 16gb Wifi as well ) again, shortly after it had been released, & then waited in line for the midnight release of the 3rd Gen iPad ( White 32gb Wifi ) in the spring of this year. I always sold the previous iPad shortly before the new one came out, as Apple products hold their value really well. The 3rd Gen iPad was really great. It was white, which is the best color for tablets in my opinion, and the retina screen on it was just amazing. It really is something to behold. So why did I recently sell it and pick up an iPad mini? As most people probably already know the iPad mini has a slightly older processor in it ( the A5 chip ) than the 3rd Gen iPad (A5X), & the new 4th Gen iPad (A6X). It also has the same 1024 x 768 screen resolution as the iPad 1 and 2, not the far clearer 2048 x 1536 retina resolution of the 3rd and 4th Gen iPads. So why would anybody want an iPad mini over one of the newer full size iPads? It wasn’t a hard decision for me at all. The iPad mini has some stuff going for it that really suited the way I want to use my iPad. The first thing you notice when you pick up an iPad mini is how incredibly thin & light it is, especially compared to the slightly heavy 3rd Gen iPad I am used to. I’m not trying to say that the regular iPads are too big & bulky. They are not. But this iPad mini is jacket pocket or put it in your purse and forget it’s there portable! I have been carrying mine with me pretty much wherever I go. It also has just as good battery life in my estimation as the full size iPads. If you own an iPad you know how great the battery life is on these devices. I would not want to purchase something that took a step back when it comes to the battery performance. But the big difference in this iPad mini for me is that I purchased the Verizon LTE version. This has been a game changer for me. (Note – You can get an LTE version of the regular iPads as well, I just never had personally.) It is hard for me to explain how convenient it is to have a constant internet connection on my iPad mini. I find myself using it over my phone most of the time now. Also worth noting, the speeds of Verizon’s LTE network are nothing short of amazing. I’ve gotten 24mps down and 17mps up on their network. It’s basically as fast as my home network only I can take it anywhere I go. Another benefit to buying the cellular version of the iPad mini is that you get a GPS chip inside. With it’s great battery life, 7.9″ screen, & GPS capability, the iPad mini makes for an awesome GPS in the car! Overall, I am very happy with the mini. While I miss the retina screen from my previous iPad, that is the only thing I miss about it. Everything else in my opinion is better on the mini. I have purchased a couple of accessories for my new iPad. I bought the Blue Smart Cover from Apple and the SwitchEasy CoverBuddy back cover. I love that they protect the front & back of my iPad while adding only minimal thickness and weight to it. I have added some pictures below of the accessories on my iPad.

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iPad mini With Blue Smart Cover

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Smart Cover Folded Into Stand

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SwitchEasy CoverBuddy Back Cover