A short iPhone 8 Plus review..

I took the day off today to await the delivery of my new iPhone 8 Plus and Apple Watch Series 3 watch.  The first thing to note is that I’m coming from an iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch series 2.  So why do this?  All devices run iOS 11 and WatchOS 4, so what’s new?

The iPhone 8 Plus has the A11 “Bionic” processor which is, according to benchmarks, the fastest processor ever in a smartphone – on par with the performance of my MacBook Pro 13″.  As this article quotes, “it is legitimate to directly compare scores across platforms” but “laptops are better at delivering sustained performance over a longer period, as opposed to the shorter max burst performance that benchmarks like Geekbench 4 are designed to measure. In other words, the iPhone 8 simply doesn’t have the thermals and heat dissipation necessary to replace your laptop.

Holding the iPhone 8 Plus you’ll notice that it is heavier than the 7 Plus.  This is because Apple has returned to using glass on the back – necessary for wireless (read: induction) charging to function properly.  But the extra weight feels right, and it makes the whole phone look very professional.  That said, I’ve stuck it in my old 7 Plus Apple leather case.

Moving to the 8 Plus couldn’t have been easier.  As soon as the phone had switched on, the 7 Plus knew its time was up.  It immediately offered to transfer its data to the new phone, and I didn’t have to do very much.  So within about 10-15 minutes, I had a fully working iPhone 8 Plus.  Passwords for the various services one uses don’t transfer – so you’ll have to re-authenticate.  That was the longest part of the process.  Setting up two-factor authentication again is a PITA.

The 8 Plus’ True Tone display is brilliant.  Formally only an iPad Pro feature, you won’t notice it in day to day use – but comparing it against the 7 Plus was like night and day.  The 8 Plus display looked so much better regarding colour balance.

The camera on the iPhone 8 Plus is perhaps one of the biggest features I wanted.  And no wonder – it’s just been rated the best smartphone camera on the image quality rating site, DxOMark.  It comes in with a mark of 94.  I’m sure that the iPhone X will outdo that a little, but for now, you’re getting the best smartphone camera on the market.

I’m not going to do much testing of the camera myself until next week – I’m waiting for MacOS High Sierra to be released.  The iPhone 8 Plus uses the new JPEG container format, HEIF (high-efficiency image format) which compresses photos up to 2 times without losing any quality.  And likewise, it also uses HEVC (high-efficiency video codec) for video – which is fast becoming the de facto standard for video (and especially 4K / UHD).  High Sierra will support that out of the box, but in the meantime, the 8 Plus can export to older formats for systems not capable of handling HEIF/HEVC.  I’m not holding my breath for Google (such as Chrome) to support it – they’re using their own codec, and this is a contention point for the new Apple TV 4K – it won’t be able to play YouTube videos in 4K because Google uses something called V9, and Apple uses HEVC.  I do think Google is being silly here since all TVs support HEVC.  I don’t know any that supports V9 or at least both HEVC and V9.

Overall, I like the familiarity of the iPhone 8 Plus.  I use it as I would the 7 Plus, but under the hood is a beast of a system that will keep on top of things for the next couple of years.

Poll: Can I cancel my Virgin Media package?

This is a letter I’ve received from Virgin Media about a week ago, telling me that the price of my package is about to go up (by £3.99) after my special offer has finished.  Special offers usually apply to new customers, but Virgin do occasionally run special offers for existing customers.  And this is where things become very blurry…

.. I want to leave Virgin Media.  After 7 months use, the Tivo 6 box is pretty rubbish.  Stuck recordings.  Recordings that have failed to record correctly, and so on.  And it’s not just the box – that Virgin doesn’t carry Sky Movies fully in HD is a persistent problem that is not going away anytime soon.  And where is the 4K / UHD content?

Broadband has been fine for the most part, but I question whether I really need the 300Mbs and the contention that I have to fight with on a daily basis to get it.  The telephone service has been okay, but I don’t use it that often. So if Virgin were going to offer a cancellation fee-free way to get out of the contract before the price goes up, I’d take it. I’d look to move to a broadband-only account – no more TV subscriptions. I’ve decided that I’ll stick with the Apple TV 4K and various streaming services. That’s more than good enough for me these days.

ALAS!

As I’ve been told three times now by various phone operatives at Virgin Media, I can’t cancel the entire package without penalty as I’m still within the first 12 months of my contract, plus the fee isn’t going up until my special offers run out next year (they run alongside the minimum contract length).

So have Virgin Media contradicted themselves?  Could I still leave Virgin Media without a penalty fee now?  Could I pay the penalty fee and then pursue them through the courts?  I have no idea.  But when I see a letter like what Virgin Media has sent, it does suggest that I could.

Here’s the letter.  I was testing out the scan document feature in iOS 11, and I didn’t do a very good job of it.  You might need to click on the image to read it properly…

 

The iPhone X factor – not for me

Nope.  Not yet, anyway.  But I’ve decided to go ahead and switch networks again anyway.  Now seems a good time to do so.

I’m moving back to EE, and I’m picking up an iPhone 8 Plus and Apple Series 3 Watch with cellular to go with it.  I’m getting a whopping 100Gb of monthly data (the watch gets unlimited data – principally you can’t really do that much with it – e.g. you can’t watch movies or use other data-intensive applications), Apple Music for 6 months (£60 value), and the ability to roam in the EU as well as the USA and Canada (which Three doesn’t cover, strangely enough).

I’m ditching the monthly iPad Pro data and moving to pay-as-you-go (also via EE).  I don’t use 3G/4G data much on the iPad and it doesn’t make much sense to pay monthly for something I don’t use.

I chose the iPhone 8 Plus for the reasons I’ve already mentioned in my last post.  I think the iPhone X is too big an expensive gamble at this time.  I’m sure Face ID will be fine, but I still think it’s a little early. What’s app support like, for example?  How will existing apps that utilize Touch ID work with Face ID?  How much work will developers have to do to replace Touch ID with Face ID?  Do they have to develop two methods?  Or do you even have to do anything at all?  This should have been announced back at WWDC.  But then again, that would have spoilt the surprise.

Besides which, my new contract with EE also includes an annual upgrade – so if Apple produces an iPhone XI next year with everything fixed from the iPhone X – all will be well. Until then, I personally cannot wait to try the new camera sensor in the iPhone 8 Plus.  I am big on smartphone photography and even though I love my Sony RX100 V to bits, I tend to use the iPhone to “mark” geographical locations so that when I import footage from both the iPhone and RX100 V, Apple’s Photo apps groups them all under one geographic heading.  I’m terrible at annotating my photos after taking them, and this is one little hack that works for me.  Which is probably why I’ve never moved over to Adobe Lightroom…

And of course, there is wireless charging.  When I next visit The Hub by Premier Inn in Edinburgh, I’ll be able to charge my iPhone on their wireless charging pads whilst I eat breakfast.  I think that this, for me, is the biggest and more important new feature of the new iPhone generation.

As for the CPU, it’s rumored that the A11 Bionic processor meets or slightly exceeds the processing power in my 2017 13″ MacBook Pro.  Which is just insane.   A phone having the potential to beat a general purpose computer.

Reviews coming as I get the kit.  If I get the kit.  Delivery times are dependent on supply, and we all know what that’s been like in the past! (That I’ve only managed to pick up AirPods in the past month despite being released nearly a year ago is just insane – imagine what the supply constraints of the iPhone X will be!)

Apple’s September 12th presentation – some thoughts..

As a massive Apple fan who occasionally wishes he wasn’t (hence my failed attempts to go back to Windows, move to Android, etc.), yesterday’s announcements of the Apple Watch series 3, the Apple TV 4K, the iPhone 8/8 Plus and the iPhone X made for interesting viewing.

I think I may well be replacing my current 4th generation Apple TV with the 4K model for several reasons:

  • Apple is finally showing commitment to UK TV content.  Maybe they had to step on a few feet at a number of UK broadcasters to do this, but regardless of however they did it, us Brits are getting access to the Apple TV app at long last.
  • 4K HDR content that costs the same as HD content.  That’s a HUGE deal for two reasons – we should be able to get more 4K content and it won’t cost us the kind of prices being charged on UHD Blu-Ray.
  • Following on from the above – if you buy a Apple 4K TV, if there is any matching content you’ve purchased that’s available in 4K – you’ll get an upgrade from HD to 4K absolutely free of charge.

So I’m happy.  Or rather, I’m not entirely happy, as the prices of the boxes are rather steep.  But hopefully, an Apple TV 4K should last a good number of years without having needing another major hardware refresh.

The Apple Watch series 3.  For me, this isn’t that important.  I’m happy enough with my series 2.  I don’t need a cellular connection.  The one and only thing that’s of interest is the ability to charge it wirelessly.

Which brings us onto the iPhones.  I’m a bit confused with what Apple is trying to achieve here with the iPhone X and the iPhone 8/8 Plus.  The iPhone X seems very experimental.  While I’m sure Apple has solved the biggest problems with facial recognition (which Samsung absolutely has not), I think there will be problems.  The iPhone X is the first generation of its kind, and there are bound to be a few issues here and there – and while the OLED display with super thin bezels is appealing, the lack of a touch ID (at least as a backup/alternative for Face ID) and the silly pricing puts it out of my reach.

What really has put me off the iPhone X are people inevitably using Face ID at the barriers of London Underground stations and when boarding London buses.  I can just see it now – the phone doesn’t unlock, or they’re leaving the unlocking until the last minute and it delays the flow of traffic through the barriers or boarding the bus.  This is the first generation of Face ID.  I expect there will be issues.

Then there is the iPhone X’s Super Retina Display.  One of the biggest problems I have with iOS at the moment is that there are still too many developers not updating their apps to make full use of the FHD (full high definition) iPhone 6/7 Plus display.  Take National Rail’s iOS app, for example – it looks big and chunky because the development team hasn’t updated the app to take advantage of the higher resolutions of recent phones.  There are quite a few other developers guilty of this.

What I think will happen is that we’ll see one last iteration of the iPhone 6/7/8 form factor in the iPhone 9, then we’ll see the iPhone 11 which will merge everything together and will see a much lower price point as Apple fixes everything from what’s been gleaned from the public using the iPhone X.  I do not wish to be a paying beta tester for Apple (not while I have to pay through the nose for their equipment – hence why I never run any of their public betas), so the iPhone X is out for me.  Which is cool.  It’s not for everybody.

But the iPhone 8 Plus.  Now that’s tempting.  While it looks like an iPhone 7 Plus (which in itself is no bad thing), it gets wireless charging.  When I’ve briefly had Samsung phones, the ability to charge the device wirelessly was a tremendous benefit.  Now Apple is going wireless charging, this is going to be HUGE.  The True Tone display of the 10.5 iPad Pro is beautiful, so I’m glad that the iPhone 8 Plus is getting that (though it’s a shame that none of the new iPhone models are not getting the 120Hz ProMotion technology).  I’m also pleased to see the cameras get some subtle upgrades too, including new sensors and filters.  Will it surpass that of the Galaxy Note 8?  I’m not so sure, but Apple has always had pretty decent cameras and they’ve been good enough for me.

The next few months are going to be very interesting indeed as people get their hands on these new devices.  I really do hope that Apple has solved the facial recognition problem – but it’s far too early, and far too expensive, to be taking a gamble at this time.

The Joys of Commuting

Last week’s commute was just horrific.  It took me three hours to get home on two days out of the five, with one of those days seeing the bus between the railway station and my village break down 10 minutes into the journey.  I had to get an Uber to get home.

But there is one thing that makes my commute a little better.  I managed to source Apple’s Airpods a couple of weeks ago from a store in Wimbledon.  And they’re just terrific.  I’ve spent a happy week listening to the audio book version of Terry Pratchett’s Thud! via Audible, and these things made carrying a pair of earphones a breeze.  They live in my trouser pocket, and I just have to whip them out whenever I need them.  No cables.  No fuss.

They look flippin’ odd, but their portability more than makes up for it.

The only problem with the AirPods is that they don’t block out the sounds of trains whizzing past, nor do they block the sound of the train guard announcing things at every station stop.  Otherwise, they’re brilliant for listening to audio books, and they’re not bad at listening to music.

If only they’d get rid of :

  • Signalling problems across the South Western Railway network
  • Disruptive passengers
  • Broken down trains

and improve:

  • More direct trains from Woking to Wimbledon and vice versa
  • Lazy people not putting their discarded coffee cups and rubbish in bins mere meters away
  • My memory – I left my umbrella on a train a couple of weeks ago – the day it absolutely hammered down with rain