Star Wars: The Force Awakens .. and how!

Note: Some potential spoilers within, so avoid/skip this post if need be.

I took myself off to London yesterday to watch the brand new installment in the Star Wars saga.  I decided that such an occasion required watching this film on the biggest cinema screen available.  So it was at the Empire Leicester Square that I spent a small fortune (20 quid) on watching the exploits of the new rebel alliance.

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I won’t give much of the plot away other than to say that this is Star Wars, not Star Peace.  The film borrows/recycles quite a few elements from the original 1976 Star Wars: A New Hope.  That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but what I will say is that you’d think the bad guys would have learnt their lessons by now.  Clearly the Dark side of the force makes people incredibly stupid.  Also I’m not sure why a certain character goes around wearing a mask for the majority of the time when he doesn’t actually need to.  It’s a bit like superheroes demanding they have to go around wearing capes and lycra.  That doesn’t make you a superhero, merely a costume fetishist.

Many familiar faces are brought back, and we’re introduced to quite a few new ones – who, hopefully, will be joining us throughout episodes VIII and IX.  BB-8 has featured significantly in the media and is every bit as good as you think he is.  He gets all the best lines too.

Overall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wonderful new addition to the saga and long may Disney/Lucasfilm continue producing them IF this standard is kept up.

Super quick review of the iPad Pro

Update: A few notes after using the device daily for a couple of weeks can be found here.

A much more in-depth review will be posted later, but..

Ruddy hell, it’s HUGE.

It’s the broadsheet of tablets.  And because of that, you need to use two hands to be able to hold this thing comfortably while reading anything.  I do not recommend reading books on this device because you’ll have arms like Popeye by the time you’ve finished reading a reasonably sized novel (and if you’re reading War & Peace, you’ll be able to lift a tank by the time you’ve finished reading it on an iPad Pro).

Reading comics from ComiXology, on the other hand, is a pure delight. There is no need for Guided View(TM) – the whole page can be viewed without the need for pinch/zooming – all artwork and text intact as you would find a normal comic book.  Services like Zinio or iOS magazines that don’t both bother to optimise their publications for reading on a tablet device also come out outstanding.  But it’s the broadsheet experience of reading these comics or magazines, so there will be achy arms at some point if you’re holding the device for any length of time.  So investing in a cover that can act as a stand or just a plain old stand is something I would highly recommend for potential new iPad Pro users.

It’s not because the device is particularly heavy.  Without any cases, it’s quite light and that its internal arrangement allows for a balanced weighting.  But when you add a back cover, things start to get a bit weighty.  Add the Smart Keyboard cover and you’re coming close – if not exceeding – the weight of Apple’s lighter MacBook and MacBook Air laptops.

As the iPad Pro’s resolution is the highest of any iOS device to date, you’ll get the desktop version of any website visited with Safari or Chrome.  With the iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 4, you’ll just get the mobile version (if they exist), so that extra resolution and screen estate pays off for those that work with web design or publishing.  For bloggers such as myself, it works very well indeed.

When using Microsoft Word on the iPad Pro, Word has the tendency to zoom text to the point where I feel like I’m going blind.  The default landscape viewing mode of Word for iOS is HUGE.  I do hope Microsoft allows us to save pinch-zoom in/out views as default, or allow us to specify a percentage like you can with the desktop version of Word.

Which takes me to the Apple Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro.  It does add a bit of bulk, but as a cover, it works as well as any other Apple Smart Cover.  The keyboard itself feels a bit like typing on cardboard.  It feels quite weird at first, but once you get past the limited keypress travel (which I understand is a similar experience with the new Apple Macbooks), I found that I was soon bashing out words as well as I can on any other keyboard.  While there is only one position for the screen when using the keyboard, it’s perfectly good and comfortable for my purposes. I wouldn’t want to use this set-up on my lap, but it’s certainly possible.

The biggest problem with the iPad Pro, and for that matter the iPhone 6 (S) Plus devices, is that there are still many, many, MANY developers that have yet to release apps that fully support the higher resolutions (and thus bigger screens) of these devices.  Viewing some apps on the iPad Pro brings back a certain nostalgia to when we all used to run Windows at 800 x 600 resolution when everybody was running at 1024×768, and everything looked HUGE in comparison.  Much more work has to be made to get these devices to the point that the extra money people will spend on them is worthwhile.   When you do come across an app that supports the iPad Pro, it’s utterly gorgeous.  4K it may not be, but the PPI makes things look super sharp.

Finally, the Apple Pencil.  I’m not an artist.8A2DD93C-97C3-4E23-A6EB-9C9166890246-1-2048x1536-oriented

My principal use is for text editing and photo editing.  Drawing is not going to be a productive use of my time (see above).  Text editing isn’t bad – one can double tap with the Pencil and then select/drag the text that needs altering.  It’s faster than using the keyboard cursor keys and does allow for slightly more accurate selection than just using one’s fingers.

Haven’t tried any photo editing yet, so look out for a review sometime in the near future.  If I remember.  Similarly, I’ll be testing 4K video editing using iMovie and the Apple Pencil together to see how they both work together.  Hopefully very well.

My concern is where to put the Apple Pencil when not in use, or if I’m carrying the Pro about.  There isn’t anywhere that it can stick to.  So for now, I’m just keeping it in the original packaging until I can find a nice sturdy pencil case, so I don’t accidently destroy/snap it, or lose the darn thing.  Apple is currently heavily into their accessories at the moment, so overlooking this is going to cost them money.

Overall I think the iPad Pro is a great device.  Definitely a potential as a laptop replacement, but more work needs to be done – both by Apple and iOS developers.  Let’s sort out the screen resolution issue.  Let’s get more Pro apps out there.  While the Pro is unlikely to be used for any heavy video editing, the impression I get is that the screen and Apple Pencil could easily lend themselves to more professional use alongside a laptop/desktop editing system.

As a writing device, the iPad Pro works very well.  But let’s get zoom/default zoom modes and controls fixed in Microsoft Word for iOS.  I’d like to be able to use the Apple Pencil to quickly and easily highlight or  select text when proofreading documents (unlike this blog, I do try with proper Word docs).  Would be cool to see such things if Word for iOS becomes collaborative.  Another excellent potential application would be the use of filling in forms (PDFs, perhaps) with handwriting recognition.  Or collect signatures.  Huge potential for enterprise use there, I reckon.

Video from the major streaming services or iTunes is excellent, as one would expect from a screen and resolution this size.  Photos (using the iCloud Photo Library) also look superb, and this makes for a great show and tell device.  The iPad Pro is an all round good presentation device.

With a bit more work under the hood (and much can be made just by tweaking iOS a bit), the iPad Pro is a good all round workhorse.  But if you’re also consuming books and newspapers, you may want to consider either the iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 4.  It’ll save achy wrists (and arms).