The ultra-wide lens is a bit of a disappointment

I’ve had the opportunity to take a few photos with the new camera set-up of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and I’ve mixed feelings. The ultra-wide lens is somewhat of a disappointment. It isn’t optically image stabilised, and the sensor looks to be smaller than that of the other two lenses.

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Ultra-wide angle lens
Standard wide-angle lens
Ultra-wide angle lens
Standard wide-angle lens

If you open the Ultra-wide photos and blow them up to 100%, you can see that the level of detail is quite a bit poorer than the standard wide-angle lens. Even with decent light, this isn’t brilliant. It’s not completely awful, but it’s not terribly good either.

I’d show you the company photo featuring all of our local employees (we’re rebranding today to align with our German partners). I took one photo ultra-wide and one with the standard wide-angle lens – the ultra-wide is absolutely atrocious. Sure, the lighting could be better, but give the lack of OIS, the picture comes out grainy and people’s facial features are .. lacking. And you can’t make out the sign with the name of one of our meeting rooms. I’d show you an example of this, but since the photo isn’t publically available yet – I’d rather keep both versions offline for now. The standard lens photo was much, much better.

Apple has some work to do. Whether through computational photography and/or hardware improvements (well, hardware improvements – definitely – this puppy needs OIS). But I guess it’s a start. I won’t be using the ultra-wide-angle for anything less where there is decent light – but I’d want to take standard/telephoto versions as well.

Next up is a video test. I’ll let you know how that goes.

The first mistake I made was to order the wrong size case for the iPhone 11 Pro Max – I bought the iPhone 11 Pro case. So that’s got to go back to Apple sometime this week. Meanwhile, I’ve got to use the phone without a case until Monday when the replacement (which is the correct size) turns up. Without a case, I feel that I could drop the phone at any moment. The glass on the back is very nice, and it may be made from tougher materials than the previous generation, but even so, these phones cry out for a decent case.

Set-up took about three hours. I tend not to perform any transfers from the old phone and set up iPhones as new. The biggest bugbear is the Google Authenticator – one usually has to disable two-factor authentication, re-enable it and then scan the barcode for the new token again. But with more sites and apps using Google/G Suite for authentication, I don’t need to keep as many two-factor authentication tokens as I once did.

The display is much brighter than the iPhone XS Max. Gone is the 3D Touch system which provided context-sensitive menus when you pushed down hard on the display. Now we have haptic feedback. I found it much more difficult to re-arrange icons on the home screens as a result – it takes a much longer press to re-arrange icons. Or you could just select the option from the context-sensitive menu that pops up. Either way, the extra waiting time between pressing down and moving an icon is annoying.

Battery life is something I’ve yet to measure, as are the rear cameras. But I’ve been playing with the front camera and portrait mode and I’m quite impressed with the studio portrait mode which removes the background and replaces it with a white backdrop. The following portrait photo of a serious-looking me is an example of this. But note that due to the (poor) lightning, the shirt texture on (my) the left shoulder differs than the right.

Front-facing camera Portrait mode with Studio filter

Hopefully sometime this week I’ll get a chance to get out and use the rear cameras in anger. I’ll also perform a comparison of image quality versus the previous iPhones that I’ve used. You can see from the Apple Photos smart albums below, I didn’t have the iPhone 8 Plus for long given the number of photos in that album..

Photos sorted by iPhone model (part one)
Photos sorted by iPhone model (part two)

Apps load much faster than the previous generation, and Wi-Fi (which is now updated for use with Wi-Fi 6) gives me a speed boost of around an extra 20-30Mbs on my home AmpliFi system. It’s definitely a noticeable difference. I can’t speak for improved 4G speeds yet – but this is something I should be able to test later this week.

The few improvements I’ve been able to test so far have been impressive. Plus as this is a new phone, I should be able to claim a free year’s worth of Apple TV+ when it’s released in November – and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Stay tuned for more updates. The whole upgrade has only cost me about £14 (£7 for delivery, plus another £7 to return my old phone back to EE). I get an Amazon Prime Video subscription as a benefit of my renewal, so that’s another bonus. And more data than I can ever know what to do with. And not forgetting roaming in the US and Canada. All this is down to EE’s Smart Plan.

I’ve taken advantage of my EE plan to upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I got a bit of a shock, however, in that the EE app and web site said I had to pay £267 and trade my current phone to upgrade. But I decided to give EE a call on 150 and no mention of that fee ever came up. I only had to pay the £7 delivery fee (and also fork out £45 for a new case).

EE’s app and web site confused the hell out of me

While EE now offers unlimited plans, I’m still going to be on a 100Gb/month plan. This is no bad thing because (a) I go nowhere near 100Gb and (b) I transfer data (or “data gift”) to my iPad Pro 11″ tablet which only has a 20Gb allowance. This will increase my monthly cost by about £5 per month, but for this I get an Amazon Prime Video subscription for the duration of my contract which saves me having fork out for that each month.

Does not having 5G bother me? Not at all. It’s all far too early, and I’ve read many reports that devices that support 5G tend to drain the battery faster and generally tend to get hotter rather quickly. Coverage is still patchy too. Plus there is the matter of additional frequencies. Early devices are not likely able to support any additional frequencies as and when they become available – giving your 5G device a big disadvantage in the years to come.

My main reason for upgrading to the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the battery life. With a claimed extra 5 hours of use, that alone would be worth it for me. But additionally, the phone comes with a better display and of course, improved camera lenses and sensors. The ultra-wide lens/sensor is apparently not as good as the other two lenses/sensors, but would still prove useful.

So we’ll see how good an upgrade this is. I will, of course, be posting updates – including raw footage from any photos and videos that I take.

Apple is a strange company. It has come up with some rather lovely designs during its history. The Apple Magic Mouse 2 isn’t one of them. It’s a mish-mash of superb usability and horrible ergonomics combined with very decent battery life. I’ve been using them pretty much ever since I’ve had a Macintosh.

The Space Grey version of the Apple Magic Mouse 2 is very shiny!

I have been tempted by other Bluetooth mice before, and indeed earlier this year I bought a couple of Logitech MX Master 2S wireless mice. They’re ergonomic, chunky and feel great in the hand. My only complaint has been the scroll wheel has always felt either too loose in quiet mode, or when the ratchet mode is on, too noisy. Whereas the Apple Magic Mouse 2 has a surface area which acts like a touchpad which makes scrolling pretty much flawless. Plus the Apple mouse can scroll sideways much more easily.

The Logitech MX Master 2S – which can be used when charging

The MX Master 2S can also be charged whilst it’s being used, whereas with the Apple mouse you’ll need to turn it upside down in order to plug in the Lightning cable – thus it’s incapacitated whilst it is charging. This is made up, however, by a much better battery in the Magic Mouse. The Logitech MX Master 2S only seems to last 2 days before the battery runs out whereas the Magic Mouse lasts several weeks. Well, I’d say that my home MX Master 2S only lasts a couple of days – my work MX Master 2S does tend to last a couple of weeks, and both tend to get the same kind of use.

But I’ve had to go back to using a Magic Mouse 2 again because Apple do NOT make it easy if you ever need to reset your Mac’s PRAM, or go into recovery mode with non-standard Apple kit. The following image demonstrates:

Cables, dongles and non-Apple kit – oh my!

I wanted to reset my work 2018 Mac Mini’s PRAM as the USB-C (acting as a DisplayPort cable) to HDMI connected monitors tend to play Russian Roulette every time I switch the Mac on. Sometimes the Mac remembers the right order, and other days it doesn’t. Or sometimes the Mac doesn’t send the signal to the right monitor, necessitating cable fiddling. A PRAM reset might fix that, I thought.

First of all, the Magic Keyboard 2 wasn’t able to get the bloody Mac into PRAM reset mode wirelessly – not without physically attaching the keyboard to the machine via a Lightning to USB-A cable (thankfully the Mac Mini has two USB-A ports). That seemed to work. Then I needed to go into recovery mode to sort out something, but the MX Master 2S mouse wouldn’t work. As you can see above, the Mac’s firmware wanted me to connect an Apple wireless mouse. Any Bluetooth mouse that’s Bluetooth capable (and not an Apple mouse) and has been paired with the Mac beforehand will not work in recovery mode. I had to hook up the MX Master via a micro-USB cable to USB-A to get anything done.

So it’s a mix of battery life, being able to scroll properly on a Magic Mouse 2, and being able to move the mouse pointer effortlessly in Mac’s firmware/recovery mode that’s brought me back to the Magic Mouse.

First, it was Good Omens. Now it’s The Boys. Amazon Prime Video has been available on Apple TV devices for a while now. Not long, but long enough. I bought the 4K version of the Apple TV because I have a 4K TV.

I have the Amazon Prime Video app on my LG 4K TV, but I don’t tend to use the built-in apps for the TV because the TV is getting old now and the app and WebOS updates are few and far between. An Apple TV device should continue to receive OS and app updates regularly for many years to come – and one only has to replace one component when Apple stops supporting that device, rather than having to replace an otherwise good working TV. This is why I despise the “smart” in Smart TV.

Amazon’s 21st century equivalent of adjusting a TV aerial

Amazon, like Netflix, has been commissioning original TV shows in UHD (4K). With Netflix and the right subscription, you’ll get the highest resolution out the box without any fuss. If it’s 4K, you’ll get 4K. If it’s HD only, you’ll get HD only. With Amazon, you’re relying on them to put the 4K version of the title on the home page. Except they rarely do. No, with Amazon, you have to dig deep to find the bugger and then add it to your wishlist so that you don’t lose it again.

I had tremendous difficulties playing Good Omens in 4K when it was first released. Error galore. And I had even more difficulty trying to find the link to get help with Amazon (though it turns out when you do find the help page, the contact us section is bottom left-hand side – it’s not as obvious as you think it is when you’re trying to look for it). We then spent about an hour going through a scripted support process before the case was escalated to Amazon Prime Video’s specialist support team.

The thing is, the LG TV could play the 4K version of Good Omens just fine. Yet the newer Apple TV running Amazon’ s own app couldn’t. Eventually, Amazon managed to fix it, but it left a bit of a bad taste.

And now we have a new Amazon series called The Boys. It’s a very good black comedy about a world where superheroes are vile and managed by a massive agency who look after their PR, which comes in handy whenever collateral damage from a superhero rescue comes into play. It’s an exceptional series, but again, I can’t play it in 4K on the Apple TV.

Here are things I’ve tried:

  • Signed out of Amazon, then signed back in again
  • Restarted the Apple TV
  • Signed out of Amazon, deleted the Amazon Prime Video app, restarted the Apple TV, downloaded the Amazon Prime Video app, and then signed in again
  • Sacrificed a small goat to the tech god, “Sodslaw”
  • Admired the extremely impressive Apple TV 4K screensavers when attempting to escalate the issue with Amazon

The reason I got angry about this in the first place was that the TV app on Apple TV made it clear it was a 4K show. But when you clicked on the link to open it, an error from Amazon’s Prime Video app popped up.

I tried to search for The Boys within the app. No joy. And I tried on the web site – again no joy – until today (one day after the release). I added it to the Watchlist so that I wouldn’t lose it again.

I’ve been in touch with Amazon, and I think they’re escalating this – but they also wanted me to restart my router. I said that I didn’t think that was going to be necessary, but they insisted. And that’s when I lost my temper and left the chat.

Some thoughts:

  • Apple and Amazon need to work more closely together
  • Amazon needs to put more developers onto the tvOS app
  • Amazon needs better QA testers for the tvOS app

If these so-called “cord-cutting” services are to succeed, they need to work flawlessly across the many platforms that they’re on. And support for these services needs to be beefed up. Streaming is only going to get more complex – especially if 8K is around the corner (my prediction: won’t see anything serious for the next 2-3 years and even then we’ll still be struggling with 4K like we are right now).