I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble..

.. except there’s a decent amount of treble in Apple’s new HomePod “smart” speaker.  But that bass!

The press has certainly not been wrong in stating that this is perhaps the best quality of speaker of the current generation of “smart” speakers.  The bass and response of the sound emanating from this tiny, yet tubby speaker definitely has put my now redundant Alexa-enabled Echo Plus to shame.

The fibre mesh is lovely to touch, it’s almost difficult not to walk past and give it a bit of a stroke..

Set-up was extremely easy – just plug it into the mains and then hold your iPhone (it must be an iOS device – forget buying one of these if you’re not heavily tied into the Apple iOS ecosystem) near the speaker.  Set-up begins on your iPhone and ends when Siri fires up and prompts you to try her out.

The biggest weakness of this speaker aside from no physical inputs or outputs, plus no Bluetooth support?  Siri.  It has yet to get any of my requests of songs or playlists right (I’m an Apple Music subscriber – albeit using the 6 months free subscription with EE at the moment – I’ll have to start paying again in April) – but I can AirPlay stuff directly from the phone without any bother.

However, what Siri can do is interact with my Philips Hue lights far more quickly via Apple’s HomeKit than Amazon’s Alexa ever could.  I have been extremely impressed with HomeKit’s performance on iOS and Siri so far.  While HomeKit support is still fairly limited within the “smart” devices industry – for example, British Gas’ Hive could REALLY benefit from such support – it does mean that for many devices would have to be refreshed in order support a specific chipset that HomeKit requires.  So we may not see Hive support for quite some time.

If you’re curious to know what’s going on inside the HomePod, this iFixit teardown will show you that it’s next to impossible for the average consumer to fix.

It’s funny how the music industry has changed over the past few decades.  When I was a kid growing up in North East London, I was over the moon with the hand-me-down Amstrad tower system which compromised of a turntable, an FM/AM radio/tuner, dual deck tape deck (Amstrad was famous for this).  I didn’t even have a CD player for quite some time.

Now we tend to subscribe (monthly or annually) to music services rather than paying for individual tracks or albums, listen on mobile phones or computers, or stream music to speakers.  While many people who take music seriously will still have an amplifier with built-in equaliser (another thing that the HomePod does away with – it’ll automatically “equalise” the music for you), a great many people will still be using these smart speakers in place of a traditional hi-fi set-up.

I’ve been a big fan of Apple’s audio products over the years.  I started off with a 3rd generation click wheel iPod and have made my way up to the iPhone X.  I’ve also bought three types of Beats headphones – the Beats Solo 3 wireless, the Beats EP and the granddaddy of them all, the Beats Studio 3 wireless – and perhaps my favourite of all – the AirPods.  None of these is cheap, and none are the absolute best in class, but I’ve always found a use for them (the Studio 3 wireless is ideal when the neighbours are doing late evening DIY, the Solo 3 for general computing use, the AirPods for daily commuting, and the EP for anything else (I originally bought it in Edinburgh when the Solo 3 unit suffered a charging problem and I had to send it to Apple for repair).

Why I’m going to be reverting back to SIM only pay monthly once my contract with EE is up..

.. because I feel they haven’t made it significantly clear as to the ownership / rights of the mobile phone you take out with them on a fixed monthly contract.  In my case it’s 24 months, and you’re essentially tied into the EE ecosystem for upgrading even if you take them up on the annual upgrade plan.

In trouble with the Imperial Forces.. again!

My problem?  I caved in after three months of using the iPhone 8 Plus and bought the iPhone X – despite the many, many times I’ve said to people I wouldn’t – including an article or two here too.  As it so happens, I bloody love it.  The screen, the size, the battery life, the Face ID – all of it.  It is definitely the best iPhone Apple has ever produced, and I thought the iPhone 8 Plus was a pretty damn excellent beast.

So now I’ve bought the iPhone X – untethered from the shackles of EE or any other provider’s contract lock-in – I thought I could sell the iPhone 8 Plus through one of my usual go-to companies, Envirofone.  They’ve been excellent in the past – but generally because I’ve been selling them phones that I’ve bought without any contract to any of UK telecom companies.  I haven’t been on a pay monthly contract with a phone for well over 3 years that I’ve forgotten what it’s like.  I’ve preferred to buy the handset outright and just buy a SIM only contract.

Haven’t heard anything from Envirofone for 4 days after they’ve received the device,  I today received an email which read:

Thanks for trading-in your old device with Envirofone.

We’re very pleased to tell you that we’ve received your old device(s). However, we need to let you know that there’s a difference between the value you were originally quoted and our final offer.

Here are the details:

Item Quoted Price Revised Price Notes
Apple iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EE 570.00 0.00 • Software or Hardware Faults : Device has been blocked or stolen

This is because one of your items hasn’t passed certain checks carried out by Checkmend. Every item we receive has to pass these checks before we can process your payment.

Unfortunately, following these checks, we can’t pay you for the following device(s).

Item Reported Checkmend Certificate ID
Apple  iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EE Reported failed XXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXX

If you think we’ve made an error, please email [email protected] and use the certificate ID above to find out more about why it hasn’t passed.

What concerned me more is what they didn’t say – what was going to happen to the phone that they have in their possession?  So I first of all called EE and explained that I had bought the iPhone X and, in order to recoup the cost a bit, sold the iPhone 8 Plus to Envirofone, but it has come back as being “blocked or stolen”.  The operator checked and confirmed neither was the case, only that the phone couldn’t be locked until after 6 months had passed.  That’s fine, I said, they know it is locked to the EE network.

So I called Envirofone next.  The operator there told me that EE still considers the iPhone 8 Plus their property and have been talking to such companies about the preventing of these still-in-contract devices from being sold.  Yet, I am pretty sure that having read the terms and conditions of signing back up to EE, I did not see this clause.  Indeed, you’ll be hard pushed to find it on the EE website itself.

I will be getting the handset back (via Special Delivery – thank goodness), and I’m still deciding what I’m going to do with it.  Given I’m locked solidly into a two-year contract with EE and have never once missed a payment with them, I find the situation a farce.  Luckily I can recoup the costs through other means, and it does give me a backup phone, but what an enormous pain in the rear end it is.

I’m annoyed with Envirofone as this stipulation is not mentioned anywhere during the point of sale process, nor is it made clear in the email above.  The web site doesn’t mention it either.  And neither does competitor Mazuma Mobile whom I emailed and received the following reply:

We have been notified by network providers that a high number of contract devices are being sold into the second-hand market (high street traders, recyclers etc)

As you may be aware, a network provider has legal title over a mobile device for the first 6 months of a new contract or upgrade and it will state within the contract terms that the device cannot be sold within this time.

We have been instructed to ensure any model received is thoroughly checked and to reassess the IMEI after the device is received.

So the telecoms companies are enforcing contractual obligations through third-party companies like Envirofone and Mazuma Mobile.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand I can see why they have to do this, but similarly, as you’re paying off the mobile phone through the contract which you’re obligated to pay until such time the contract is either terminated by either party or the commitment period is over.

I was told by another operator at EE that I wouldn’t be able to use my iPhone X to upgrade next September – they’d only accept the iPhone 8 Plus.

Definitely going to terminate EE contract in 2019 and will either look at an alternative company or just switch to a SIM only contract and I’ll deal with the handset upgrades myself as and when.

EE’s a lovely company – technically very good and reliable – but I’m not keen on their contracts very much anymore.  And EE – don’t expect me to buy anything new from you for a very long time now.

Do I regret buying the iPhone X?  Not at all.  But it’ll just take me a bit longer to pay it off than I would have liked.

(The bloody irony of all this is that I’m a member of EE’s “Listening Post” survey emails – the most recent of which is what should be done about mobile phones when you want to upgrade; I feel like re-answering that survey again with some carefully chosen words)

Forget the iMac Pro..

.. this beast was the bee’s knees of its time.

It got me through my BTEC National Diploma with flying colours (well, in this Apple IIe’s case – green) thanks to its built it assembly code/debugging environment.  Three disc drives.  Expandable slots.  Introduced me to spreadsheets.

I was an Apple fan long before it was fashionable to be so…

The Apple IIe also didn’t cost £12,428 fully maxed out – unless it did.  I have no idea.  It was a freebie.

Apple gadgets update: October, 2017

iPhone 8 Plus

Still happy with the phone.  Does what it says on the tin.  The beauty of it is that when paired with an EE contract, you’re getting a good all-rounder.

In many areas I’ve visited, I often get between 40Mbs – 100Mbs 4G connectivity.  When connected to Wi-Fi the device switches to Wi-Fi Calling which is a significant battery saver (unlike Three’s implementation of Wi-Fi calling which will only kick in if there is insufficient cellular strength).  Plus there is the new higher quality HD voice calling – available only through EE at this time.  Haven’t had a chance to give that a go as yet since it requires the other person to also have another iPhone 8 (or better).  Plus EE fully supports Visual Voicemail too.

I had a chance to give the free inclusive London Underground calling function which kicked in automatically as soon as I got to the platform at Waterloo’s Bakerloo line station.  Wi-Fi just kicked in automatically – no need to configure or select the Wi-Fi hotspot – It Just Works(tm).  Really handy.

The quality of the camera is something I’m still undecided on.  Yes, it is better than the iPhone 7 Plus, but many photos are still very “painting-like” in comparison to say, the Galaxy Note 8 or the forthcoming Google Pixel 2 XL.  I’ve enclosed a small sample of unedited photos, shot in the new HEIC format and exported to JPEG.

(Click any of the following photos to get full-size image – but a reminder – all these photos are copyright and I have all rights reserved on them – if you want to use them, please get in touch first)

The video quality looks okay, but I’ve found that with the release of MacOS High Sierra, Photos does not automatically import videos.  If I AirDrop a video to my Mac, it inexplicitly saves it as H.264 – especially odd as one can only shoot in HEVC at 4K 60fps.  I’m hoping that whatever is causing the block in automatic video importing via Photos/Photostream will be fixed in an iOS or MacOS update shortly.   I will say I am particularly disappointed in Apple for not releasing an update to Final Cut Pro X to enable HEVC before or after iOS 11/iPhone 8 was released.

Battery life is good – especially if the phone is using Wi-Fi Calling – and having bought a Belkin induction charger, I just plonk it on the charging pad each evening that sits just under my monitor.  And I can continue to use the phone while it’s charging – and just pick it up without entangling myself in wires.

Oh, and EE’s 6 months free Apple Music and streaming data is good.  One has to make sure that if you have let your direct-with-Apple Apple Music subscription expire, after applying the EE offer, you’ll need to log out of iCloud Music Library and log back in otherwise weird stuff will happen within your desktop iTunes application.

Apple Watch Series 3 with Cellular (LTE)

Very happy with the new series 3 watch.  It’s faster than its predecessor (app switching and general app usage is now usable!), has more storage, and the new cellular capability means that I can make and receive phone calls in the toilet(!) or on the way to the local supermarket to pick up lunch whilst leaving my phone at my desk.  Yes, the watch is still tethered to one’s iPhone, but it gives the watch a much bigger range away from it.  One problem I’ve noticed is that whenever I enter and leave the Wimbledon branch of Sainsbury’s, I always set the alarm off.  It can’t be the watch, surely?

Apple TV 4K

As a 4K/UHD owner, getting access to 4K content can be a little tricky.  So Apple’s foray into the 4K space was always going to be welcome.  Especially the free upgrade to 4K streaming of existing iTunes Movie library content.

The first thing I noticed was that ALL video had significant motion blurring.  This was because my LG 4K TV has a number of picture “enhancements” that I had to find and turn off.  I’ve had the TV for over two years and I hadn’t even noticed them buried within the myriad of options.  But turning them off – including disabling 4K upscaling on my amplifier/HDMI switch – did the trick.

I don’t have HDR, so the video output from the Apple TV 4K is always 4K SDR.  And with the TV’s motion enhancements out the way, the picture quality is excellent to the point I’m using the Apple TV’s Netflix app as my default, along with NOW TV (whose app is now looking a little decrepit now and isn’t near as useful as that on the LG TV, but Apple TV’s performance is far better) and BBC iPlayer.  Like NOW TV, the BBC iPlayer too is looking a little long in the tooth and really should get an interface update to make it more like other platforms.  That said, Apple probably enforces UI policies on these things, so there’s that.

Are 4K iTunes movies worth it?  The answer is: yes.  They do look better to my eye than HD.  I do not care about HDR.  My TV doesn’t support it and even if it did, given the age, it probably wouldn’t support the right type.

I’ve relegated my forth generation Apple TV to the bedroom which is ruddy useful as I can pick up where I left off upstairs or downstairs – whenever or wherever I feel the most comfortable at the time.

MacOS High Sierra

It’s okay-ish, but shutting down the 2017 MacBook Pro attached to the LG UltraFine 4K monitor results in the monitor showing a cyan screen every time.  Automatic Time Machine backups are rather spurious – I have to untick and tick the automatic backup flag to get it to work, only for the backup to complete and the Time Machine Systems Preferences panel telling me the next backup will only happen when the disk is next connected.  It’s almost always connected!  Then there is the issue of Photos and iCloud Photo Library’s Photostream.  Not all photos transferred automatically from the phone, and absolutely no videos transfer.  I have to AirDrop them and import.  And using AirDrop to High Sierra does not result in HEVC video files for some bizarre reason!

High Sierra is not Apple’s finest moment, I have to say.

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.