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.

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!)

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is the Note 7 I wanted..

.. but, alas, it is too late.

(Update: Having thought about it, plugged in some figures into a spreadsheet, I am able to switch.  I am giving Samsung one more chance.  So I’ve pre-ordered the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and the Gear S3 Frontier smartwatch.  Stand by for a review at a later date.)

I would have absolutely remained on the Note 7 had it not been for the battery issue.  But it forced me back to Apple’s iPhone and Apple Watch ecosystem as I was already familiar with it, and given that I went back to the Mac, it made sense at the time.

The Note 7 was a beautifully designed phone – it felt good in the hands, the display was absolutely gorgeous, and Android felt properly polished.  And looking at what Samsung has done with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, they’ve absolutely taken the best design parts of the Note 7 and put them in the design of their new phone (obviously without the S-Pen).  The display is bigger, and the shape and size of the S8+ feels as though it’ll fit into my hand without any issues.  Well, maybe one.  I’m not entirely convinced that the fingerprint scanner is positioned well.  And I have my doubts about the face and iris scanner recognition – the iris scanner on the Note 7 wasn’t accurate (since I wear glasses).  It’s possible that Samsung may have fixed it for the S8 series, however.

So the S8 series looks to be lovely phones.  But I still cannot switch because I’m still too heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem at this time – which includes any possible upgrade to the iPhone 8.  Of course, if Samsung were feeling generous and felt like giving me an S8+ and a Gear 3 Frontier smartwatch – it may convince me to switch (since no outlay on my part until the next cycle of Samsung devices).  But the chances are so remote that it is highly unlikely I’ll switch back to Android for another 3 years.  By then Google will have had the Pixel 2 out on the market.  Possibly even the Pixel 3.  The Pixel was a lovely Android phone too – let down by flaws in the camera lens (lens flare galore) and wireless issues (Bluetooth).

Anyway, here’s hoping that Samsung turns around the misfortune of the Note 7 with the S8.  There’s certainly much to love with with the S8 for those that loved the Note 7 as much as I did.

BTW, the upgrade to iOS 10.3 is well worth doing.  Apple have switched to a new filesystem called APFS which replaces the 30 year old HPFS+ and the whole system feels a lot more responsive (of course, Apple have also tweaked animations too).

Vitality Insurance’s Apple Watch Offer fails to reliably read Apple Health data

Update: Having submitted Apple Health data from the past few months (via a series of screenshots) direct to Vitality by email, they added it to my account and the system now appears to be working by itself. However, it’s too little/too late because I’m going to pay the balance off manually and move over to Samsung Gear S3 + the Galaxy S8+.

Technology.  It can be such a pain in the gluteus maximus at times. And no more so when as an insurance company, you’re trying to innovate within the health insurance market by offering customers a heavily discounted Apple Watch in exchange for the user getting fitter (which means they’re less liable to make a claim).

For that very reason I sold my old Apple Watch and traded it in for the Vitality Apple Watch – a 42mm series 2 Nike model for £99.  I figured that an incentive like this would help me walk (including fast walking) more if I didn’t have to pay any more than I already had.

In terms of the watches, there is very little difference between the regular Apple Watch and the Nike branded model other than the straps and watch face, which I love.

Along with the Withings smart scales, I’ve been recording my steps within Apple Health and it’s been working just fine.  But I’ll be darned if I can get the Vitality app on my iPhone 7 Plus to read data from Apple Health so that they can track my progress and decide – if at all – I need to pay any further for the watch.

Things have got to the point where BBC News has picked up on the problem. The app tells me that it’s connected with Apple Health, but no data is ever exchanged between both apps.   You’re supposed to collect 10 points for connecting Apple Heath and the Vitality app, but nope.  Absolutely nothing.  Nada.  Kaput.

Vitality released an app update yesterday, but that did nothing.  So we may be in for a long wait before things start working properly.  I’ve already been in touch with Vitality about this, so they are aware that I’m having problems – as to what they’ll do with the payments remains to be seen.

As a side note, why is the Vitality main web site hosted in South Africa?  Member details appear to be stored within a datacentre based in Slough, however.  Very odd.  But at least my health data remains in the UK.  Hopefully.  I doubt my health data on the Watch or iPhone is shared with Apple in the US.