Wednesday, November 02, 2016

My impressions of the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple Watch Series 2 and more

It's been several weeks since I last blogged and I wanted to share my impressions of several new devices I purchased:

Apple iPhone 7 Plus (black, 128GB, Verizon)
I had been using a 2 year old iPhone 6 that was due for an upgrade. While it took almost 2 months for my iPhone 7 Plus to arrive, it was worth the wait. I like the size, form factor, performance (3GB RAM), battery life, screen, haptic TouchID sensor, water resistance, dual camera and new portrait mode with iOS 10.1. I'm not missing the headphone jack.

I splurged for the Apple iPhone 7 Plus black silicone case ($39) and I'm really glad I did. It looks, fits and feels amazing.

I keep my iPhone 7 Plus charged and ready on my nightstand using the iPhone Lightning dock which also allows me to use standard headphones while charging.

I also signed up for the Barclaycard Visa with Apple rewards to earn 3x points for purchases at Apple as well as special financing. I already earned my first $25 iTunes gift card.  Even the employee at the Apple store was impressed when I cashed out via ApplePay on my Apple Watch with the Apple credit card.

Apple Watch Series 2 (42mm with Silver Aluminum Case with Pearl Woven Nylon)
I had been using the original Apple Watch since it was first released last year and liked it. Earlier this year, IBM began offering a free Series 1 38mm Apple Watch to all US employees with a high deductible/HSA insurance plan to encourage fitness. The "Vitality Today" app even tracks your steps which you can redeem for prizes (e.g. iTunes gift cards). The only charge to IBMers is a $80 tax withholding. I decided to take advantage of the offer and upgrade to the Series 2 42mm for $135 additional. A little more than a month later, the watch arrived.

The Series 2 watch is slightly thicker than the original but offers much faster performance, a brighter screen and is water resistant. Thankfully, the bands are interchangeable with the original. My favorite band remains the Penom Milenese Loop - a steal at only $10.99 on Amazon with free Prime shipping.

I continue to be a fan of the Spigen S330 Apple Watch stand which keeps my Apple Watch charged and accessible on my night stand.

Amazon Echo Dot (second generation)
Another Amazon purchase and a steal at $49.99 with free Prime shipping. The Echo has found a home in my kitchen and is perfect when I'm cooking and have my hands full. The voice recognition is amazing.

Redesigned Apple MacBook Pro
Apple released new, thinner, more powerful Apple MacBook Pro laptops with a new Touch Bar at an event last week. My current MacBook Pro, purchased last year, works just fine and I don't plan to upgrade at this time. My all time favorite laptop, a 5 year old MacBook Air 11.6 inch remains my trusty backup.

New TV app for Apple TV
At the same Apple MacBook Pro event last week, Apple announced a December software upgrade for the Apple TV which includes a new TV app. The new app provides a portal through which you can browse movies and TV shows across content providers. Apple didn't specify which providers would be included but Netflix announced that they would opt out of the new TV app. Perhaps Netflix doesn't want to share their usage data with Apple. The standalone Netflix app will still be available. I always carry an AppleTV in my work backpack as it remains the best device to view Apple content or deliver a client presentation wirelessly.

Google Pixel
I'm a big fan of my Nexus 5X but I was a bit disappointed with the price of the new Pixel smartphones. While the Pixel is clearly a big step up from the Nexus, they lack key features like waterproofing and a removable SD card. I was also bummed that Nexus users won't be getting the new Pixel launcher and Google Assistant with Android 7.1. I wish Google had continued to make a lower cost Nexus/Pixel phone. I'm in no rush to upgrade the Nexus 5X I purchased earlier this year.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My visit to the US Open Tennis 2016

Earlier this week, I attended the US Open tennis tournament in Queens, NY with my son.  IBM is a sponsor of the event and I also volunteered at the IBM Cognitive Court, an interactive event
showcasing Watson technology.

I attended the Monday evening opening ceremonies in Arthur Ashe stadium with its new high-tech retractable roof . Phil Collins performed "In the Air Tonight" and Leslie Odom Jr performed the national anthem to a capacity crowd filled with celebrities.

Novak Djokovic, the reining US Open men's single champion, defeated Jerzy Janowicz in four sets in a hard fought match.

On Tuesday, I staffed the IBM Cognitive Court exhibit along with a dozen of my IBM colleagues. The interactive exhibit, located next to Louis B. Armstrong stadium, showcases Watson cognitive technology.  It was a great opportunity to interact with tennis fans one-on-one through a variety of interactive exhibits from make a robot move using mind control, making music with Watson, a virtual reality bike ride and managing a basketball team using analytics.  From the US Open mobile app, the website, match statistics and analytics, IBM technology is making an impact at the tournament.  Learn more in this PC Magazine article.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Apple schedules September 7 event; expected to launch new iPhone 7

Apple sent out invites to members of the press for its September 7 event in San Francisco. While Apple didn't specify on what would be announced, its widely expected that the new iPhone 7 and iOS 10 are likely to take center stage.  The event can be streamed online at the Events app on and Apple TV starting at 1PM ET.


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tap to speak time on Apple watchOS 3.0 beta

Apple watchOS 3.0 beta offers a number of new features including improved app performance (faster app launches), a new app launcher, activity sharing, new Breathe app, new watch faces and Face Gallery, scribble feature feature to reply to text messages.

Additionally, watchOS 3.0 beta offers a new "Tap to speak time" feature for both the Mickey and Minnie Mouse watch faces as shown in the video below

 Enable this feature by opening the Apple Watch app on an iPhone running iOS 10 beta and enabling "Tap to Speak Time" under "Sounds and Haptics"

"Tap to Speak Time" option in the "Sound & Haptics" settings in the Apple Watch app on iPhone

My next task is to enable the ability to unlock my Apple MacBook running macOS Sierra with my Apple Watch instead of a password.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Apple WWDC 2016 and iOS 10

Just one month after Google IO, Apple's World Wide Developer (WWDC) conference took place in San Francisco last week.  Watch the videos on  Key announcements included:
  • iOS 10 includes a redesigned lock screen, Siri SDK, a new an improved Messages app with a new app store, HomeKit app, improved Apple Music and Maps app, the ability to delete several iOS installed apps, Cisco VoIP integration (Enterprise)
  • watchOS 3 includes improved app performance (faster app launches), a new app launcher, activity sharing, new Breathe app and new watch faces (e.g. Minnie Mouse), scribble feature feature to reply to text messages
  • macOS Sierra, the new name for OS/X, includes Siri integration, auto unlock with Apple Watch, deeper iCloud integration, Universal Clipboard with iOS (Continuity), deeper iCloud integration
  • tvOS 10 includes improved search, expanded Siri capabilities, single sign-on authentication, and new Apple TV Remote app for iOS
As expected, there was no mention of new hardware (e.g. (new Macs, new Apple Watch, new iPhone) as the event is focused on software. New hardware announcements are coming. 

Overall, it was a solid but not knock-your-socks off event. As is typical, Apple didn't show all the new features.  The developer betas have even more than what Apple was able to show on stage and even more features are expected when the new operating systems ship this fall.  Public betas are scheduled for next month.

I liked that Apple acknowledged improvements are needed (e.g. Apple Music) and the focus on integration with other Apple devices (e.g. Continuity) which is a key strength and advantage over Android.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Google IO 2016 and Android N

Google hosted its annual developer conference, Google IO last week.  Key announcements included:
  • Android N 7.0: successor to Marshmallow
  • Google Assistant: replaces Google Now
  • Google Home: smart speaker system (similar to the Amazon Echo)
  • Allo: messaging (similar to Apple iMessage)
  • Duo: video chat (similar Apple FaceTime)
  • Daydream: virtual reality (similar Oculus Rift)
  • Android instant apps: use apps without downloading them
  • Android Wear 2.0: connect to wi-fi, support for iOS

I upgraded my Nexus 5X to Android N beta over the air and it was the easiest Android upgrade so far.  I registered for the beta on my Mac/PC and within moments, I received a notification on my Nexus 5X to upgrade with one tap.  I've been impressed with how stable the beta is and the number of new features including improved notifications and split screen multitasking.  I'm looking forward to trying the new instant apps that launch immediately without downloading.  A good list of the new Android N features can be found on Android Central.

Apple's annual developer conference, WWDC, kicks off on June 13 in San Francisco.  I'm looking forward to Apple's announcements.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Android Nexus 5X smartphone - thumbs up!

I recently purchased a new, Nexus 5X 16GB unlocked smartphone on eBay for $229 (deal of the day).  The phone itself is made by LG and uses Google's Android reference architecture including a native Android 6 Marshmallow experience. After using the Nexus 5X for over a month, I'm a fan.

The new Imprint fingerprint reader is easier to setup and quicker to use than Apple TouchID. Initially, I didn't like the placement of the fingerprint reader but I quickly got used to it. Using Imprint to unlock the Nexus 5X is much easier than entering a passcode.  However, there are relatively few apps that support Imprint for app authentication at this time.

  • Low cost
  • Just the right size - not too big and not to small; can be used with one hand
  • Very nice LCD screen and build quality
  • Nice camera
  • Native Android 6.0 Marshmallow experience
  • Android Imprint fingerprint reader
  • Native Android experience
  • Lots of security updates from Google that are installed automatically
  • USB C connector

  • Buttons for power and volume are awful - way too small 
  • Dual speakers look great but sound awful
  • Security updates take a long time (20 minutes+) and have to process each app installed on the phone - the more apps the longer the updates take
  • No integrated visual voicemail

  • 5.2 inches
  • 1920x1080 LCD at 423 ppi
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Fingerprint- and smudge-resistant oleophobic coating
  • Rear Camera 12.3MP, 4K (30fps) video capture
  • Front Camera 5MP
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 Processor, 1.8GHz hexa-core 64-bit
  • Memory & Storage RAM: 2GB LPDDR3
  • Internal storage: 16GB or 32GB.  No external storage options

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Apple iPad Pro review - Thumbs down!

I've been testing the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch for the past several weeks and while I appreciate the incremental improvements, it's not worthy of a separate "Pro" model and the extra cost. The iPad Pro 9.7 brings even more enhancements but is still just an incremental upgrade to the iPad Air 2.

  • Larger 12.9 inch screen. While not for everyone, it's great to have choice - small (7.9 inch), medium (11.7 inch) and large (12.9 inch).  While most apps aren't optimized for the large 12.9 inch screen, they are coming. Slide Over and Split View, introduced in iOS 9 provides multitasking capabilities and work great on the large 12.9 inch screen. 
  • Apple finally eliminated the base model with 16GB of limited storage and replaced it with 32GB.  I hope Apple follows suit with the new iPhone and also increases the paltry 5GB of free  iCloud storage.
  • Smart Connector.  While I'm not a fan of the Apple Smart Keyboard (there are much better and less expensive third party keyboards with backlighting and support for multiple screen positions), I am a fan of the new Smart Connector as it eliminates the need to charge a Bluetooth keyboard and it delivers "instant on" capabilities. 
  • Faster A9X processor, 4GB RAM (12.9 inch) and improved front and back cameras (9.7 inch).
  • Improved four-speaker design sounds great. 
  • Improved cameras. The iPad Pro 9.7 inch now has support for 4K video and an improved FaceTime camera

  • Additional cost. Apple hasn't delivered enough enhancements to warrant the extra cost or the "Pro" moniker 
  • Too many models. Apple makes the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4 and iPad Mini 2.  Apple needs to consolidate and simplify the product line.  Why not just call it the iPad and make it available in three sizes?
  • Apple Pencil. There are plenty of excellent third-party styli and the Apple Pencil seems like an afterthought.  There is no eraser, no way to turn off the Apple Pencil to conserve battery life, no magnet to attach the Apple Pencil to the iPad for travel/storage and charging using the Lightning port is awkward.  However, it's unforgivable to ship the Apple Pencil without handwriting recognition in iOS.  The Apple Newton had this feature in 1993. 
  • Smart Keyboard.  Only one position and not backlit
  • Apple marketing.  Apple touts the iPad Pro as a Windows laptop replacement. Why isn't the iPad Pro also positioned as a Mac replacement?  The sad truth is that the iPad Pro isn't a replacement for a Windows or Mac PC for most users. 
  • Software. iOS hasn't been optimized for the larger 12.9 inch screen. Finally, Apple's focus on new hardware is overshadowing software and quality has suffered as Walt Mossberg and others have noted.

Like the original Microsoft Surface, I expect the iPad Pro to improve with future updates.

Monday, February 08, 2016

What tech accessories do I use for work?

In my previous posts, I shared the smartphones, tablets and PCs I use for work as well as how I have my Apple iDevices configured.  In this post, I share my favorite tech accessories:

High Sierra Business Elite backpack is my everyday gear bag for all my electronic devices. I've owned several High Sierra backpacks and I've found them to be well made with plenty of pockets to keep all my gear organized

Amazon basics laptop sleeves are affordable, high quality and keep my gear protected and free from scratches and dents

Velcro cable ties keeps my cords under control

Vaultz mesh bags keep all my cables and dongles together

Beats Studio Wireless headphones are a great way to listen to music, watch movies on flights and keep out the noise. Yes, they are expensive, but there are deals to be had online (I picked mine up new on eBay for $120)

Pencil by Fifty-three is an excellent stylus for the iPad Air 2 and works with several apps including Paper and Microsoft OneNote as well as others.

Anker PowerCore 20100 is an outstanding external charger to keep all my mobile devices charged and ready to go

EasyACC 4 port USB charger is inexpensive, small and charges 4 USB devices

Ergotron LX desk mount LCD arm is relatively inexpensive, easily adjustable, well made and frees up precious desk space in my home office.  I recently upgraded to the Acer B286HK 28 inch 4K monitor and it pairs well the the LCD arm.

There you have it. My favorite tech accessories. What are some of yours?

Monday, January 18, 2016

What laptops, smartphones and tablets do I use for work?

As a follow up to my earlier post on how I have my Apple iDevices configured, I thought I'd share details on the hardware I use for work:

Apple MacBook Pro (13 inch) my primary work laptop. When I work out of my home office, I connect my MacBook Pro to a 24" external monitor and an external Apple keyboard. I have other Macs (MacBook, MacBook Air) that I use for testing as well as several Windows laptops and tablets that I use for testing

Apple iPhone 6 (64GB) is my primary work smartphone. I have several other smartphones that I use for testing.

Apple iPad Air 2 (64GB) is my primary work tablet. I have several other tablets (Nexus 7, HP Stream) that I use for testing.

Apple Watch is my primary smartwatch and I use it to read alerts, flip Microsoft Powerpoint slides and more.

Apple TV (Gen 3) is my primary streaming device since I use Apple products. I always keep an Apple TV in my work backpack to deliver wireless presentations to colleagues and clients. At home, I use an Apple TV Gen 4