iPad Pro 10.5″ is getting closer to replacing your computer

I am a big fan of Apple’s tablet range, and having owned the previous generation 12.9″ iPad Pro and the 9.7″ iPad Pro, they were pretty decent beasts.  But they were not enough to replace my laptop.

A year and a bit on since the 12.9″ iPad Pro was launched, Apple have jazzed up the the iPad Pro range with a new 12.9″ model, and a brand new 10.5″ model replacing the 9.7″.

I have just replaced the 9.7″ with the 10.5″ model which now comes with a staggering 512Gb of storage.  I’ve already filled it with 200Gb of TV shows (ready for my upcoming cruise).  The A10X Fusion chip that’s driving the new 10.5″ and 12.9 iPad Pro is nothing short of remarkable.  The benchmarks alone put this thing up into the MacBook Pro processing range for some tests.

But what’s particularly special about the new 10.5″ and 12.9″ iPad Pros is the display.  The ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate is nothing short of a revolution in tablet display tech.  Heck, even most modern monitors can’t achieve this level – not unless you go for specialist gaming or creative monitors costing many hundreds of pounds.  “Smooth as butter” is probably the aptest description I can give to anything utilising 120Hz refresh.  Swiping between pages or scrolling up and down in Empire Magazine’s app gives you a whole new experience of reading material on this device.  The Times and Sunday Times electronic newspapers are similarly impressive when scrolling through articles or swiping through pages.  The additional inch of screen real estate also makes reading electronic comics much easier too.  And the whole thing – especially as Apple no longer provide back covers for the iPad Pros – feels lighter than the previous gen. It feels very comfortable in one hand.

The 120Hz ProMotion feature also comes into play if you’re drawing or writing with the Apple Pencil.  Latency has been reduced to 20ms, and it’s as close to instantaneous response as you’re going to get (well, until the next generation of ProMotion at least).  I can provide a better signature with this thing.  Writing on the iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil is a much better experience.

The only thing I would mention is that everything feels a little too big when it comes to icon arrangements on the home screen.  I’ve made the text smaller, but there’s still a lot more space between the icons.  I’d like a feature like the iPhone Plus 7 where I can condense the space a bit more.  Similarly, the smaller font I’ve selected makes the tablet font rendering in some apps look a bit odd.  At times it feels like I’m using .. da da daaaa .. Android.  So I think Apple has got to do a bit more work smoothing out font rendering a bit more.  That said, this problem may go away in iOS 11 – an OS that will take iPads to a whole new level (seriously, this WILL make the tablet looks and feel like a proper computer from what I saw during the live WWDC video stream) .

(Note: the 10.5″ Ipad Pro’s display is a little too large to read novels, so I’ll always carry my e-Ink Kindle with me, but it’s ideal for reference material.  As I have taken advantage of a few Humble Bundle reference books over the past couple of years, I have quite a few O’Reilly and other technical books which render fantastically well on this device under iBooks)

So to the naysayers that thought the iPad had run out of steam.  Oh no.  No, no, no.  Apple have only just started.  I am delighted with the 10.5″ iPad Pro.  The storage space, the display, the lightness, AND with the leather pouch (ooer-missus), to protect both the device and the Apple Pencil will ensure that it’ll be a brilliant second computer to carry around with me – and will be used daily.

Guardians of the Galaxy S8+ Vol. 2

Unfortunately, while I have genuinely liked the Galaxy S8+, I’m swapping it back for the iPhone 7 Plus.  The biggest issue I’ve found with the S8+ was the lack of Android Pay support in some apps which somehow worked with the OnePlus 3T (Starbucks, IIRC) and the Arriva Bus Ticket app keeps crashing with alarming regularity – and at the most inconvenient times.  Never happened with the OnePlus 3T.  Plus the size of the phone means that many apps can’t take full advantage of the screen size.  Yes, in time, this will change – especially as the LG 6 shares the same aspect ratio.  We’re going to see a lot more phones adapt this kind of size/ratio in the future.

So why not just stick with the OnePlus 3T?  Well, I think it’s a very fine phone, but the battery life just isn’t great.  It ran out of juice on one of my trips out of Edinburgh and I rely fairly heavily on the likes of Google Maps to get me around. It’s good enough for a backup phone, but I can’t say it’d be very good for a daily driver.  Especially if one is doing on-call.  And that reminds me – the Galaxy S8+ speaker isn’t that great – and I found myself missing on-call alerts.

So Apple it is.  I can’t say I shall be trying this again – two years in a trot with Android and Every. Single. Time. I come back to IOS.  That either says something about the strength Apple’s ecosystem, or how well iOS has been designed.  I don’t know.  Much of it is down to marketing, and to be fair to Samsung, they pulled off a very good campaign.  But has not been helped by the lack of the Gear 360 or the VR headset at the time of the S8’s launch either.

By heading back to iOS, I regain the ability to use iMessage again.  Many friends and family have this – and it’s particularly useful for those abroad.  Getting everybody on WhatsApp has been difficult.  I have other contacts on Skype.  So it’s all a bit fragmented.  Also Wi-Fi Calling.  The S8+ is not compatible with Three’s Wi-Fi Calling service at this time, so there’s that too.

There is a part of me that desperately wants to love and use Android full time, but there are too many inconsistencies.  Both in rolling out security updates (the Galaxy S8+ is still on April security updates), features (S8+ on version 7, the OnePlus 3T is on 7.1.1), and app performance.  iOS fixes many of these issues, and thus after the great swaparoos of 2016 and 2017, I declare iOS as the recommended mobile platform.

Now, I had a bet with somebody about all this, and I owe them a crate of Budweiser beer…

Moving from iOS to Android, part one of many – moving to Samsung’s Galaxy S8+

As I await my Samsung Galaxy S8+ pre-order to arrive later next month, I have started planning the migration from iPhone’s iOS to the Galaxy’s Android OS.  Setting up a new phone always takes forever and a day, so getting prepared is always a good thing.

One thing that I love what Google have done is that the Play store remembers all previous purchases and downloads.  I had to use a special SMS application on Android (though I believe this is handled natively) to be able to trigger repeat SMS notifications – for when I’m on call.  I couldn’t remember what it was called, but I’ve just gone into my account at the Play store’s web site and found it (Textra, in case you’re interested).  The major advantage of accessing one’s previous accessed apps this way is that you can then install them via the web too!

I had considered switching from Apple Music to Spotify, but then remembered that Apple Music is also available on Android.  So I don’t need to make any changes to my subscription, nor do I need to ditch iTunes completely – which isn’t something I’m prepared to do.  I’m definitely keeping the Mac – it’s merely the phone and watch that are changing.

In terms of photos, I used to keep everything in the iCloud Photo Library.  My biggest worry was something happening at Apple that could have wiped the entire lot – so I’ve disabled the service, downgraded by iCloud storage, and intend to move everything over to Adobe Lightroom (which forms part of my Photoshop subscription) which has its own Android app for accessing photos.   To transfer to the Mac, I just need a USB-C to USB-C cable, and import them directly into Lightroom.  I’m so glad that Samsung have stuck with USB-C .

I don’t think there are specific apps that I use on iOS that aren’t available for Android.  The main issue may be that some apps look a bit odd on the Galaxy S8+’s longer display, but as Google is actively encouraging developers to adapt their apps to this format, we should start to see some truly attractive apps.

What I’m REALLY looking forward to, and what is pushing me most towards the S8+ is that I felt that with the Note 7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, the cellular performance was far, far better than the iPhone 7 Plus.  It is no exaggeration to say that at times I find connectivity on the iPhone to be sluggish.  But it was never an issue with the Note 7, S7 Edge and even the Google Pixel.  Are Intel’s modems that much worse than Qualcomm’s?  I don’t know, but it sure feels like it.  When you’re out and about, you don’t want sluggish network performance.

Also: wireless charging.  I still have my fast wireless chargers and hope that they will work with the S8+.  They’re incredibly useful to have around.

The only downside, I guess, is that I’ll lose access to iMessage.  This messaging service from Apple allows two iPhone users to directly message each other without utilising the SMS network (or if one user is out of range of internet access, it will revert to SMS).  As most of the family are on WhatsApp, this will make things much easier – but there are still a few people I need to convert.

Other things that I hope to experience with the Galaxy S8+: Virtual Reality.  In the US, Samsung are bundling their VR headgear and controller along with a nice pair of good quality earphones as part of the pre-order deal.  In the UK?  Nope.  Nada.  Diddly squat.  But I’m sure that at some point I’ll get a chance to check it out. VR is the Next Big Thing(tm) and I would like to be a part of it.  The 360 4K video camera is certainly intriguing.  How I’d love to take that with me to Iceland in a few months time.

So lots to look forward to, and lots to do when I do get the kit (including then selling everything else to pay for it!), but I’m somebody who doesn’t stand still when it comes to technology.

The new MacBook Pro – dongles galore!

Having had some time to digest yesterday’s Apple event regarding the new MacBook Pros, I’ve to conclusion that Apple have gone completely stone bonkers in a good and bad way.  Let me explain.

The Good – USB-C

USB-C is the future.  It’s a reversible connector that can handle up to 10Gbs throughput through the USB 3.1 specification.  When you add Thunderbolt support to that, the throughput can reach up to 40Gbs.   The old USB-A ports have gone, and you now have FOUR USB-C ports. Additionally they can be used as DisplayPorts (for connecting to monitors), and also to charge the machine.   Which is fantastic, since you can now charge on either side of the machine.

The Bad – USB-C

USB-C devices are a bit thin on the ground, but more are coming.  The really silly thing is that the iPhone 7/7 Plus comes with a USB-A to Lightning port cable.  This means if you want to charge or connect your iPhone to your new MacBook Pro, you’ve got to buy an adaptor.  Remember: the iPhone 7 was released in September.  So Apple knew these changes were coming and did nothing to ensure that iPhone users who would want to buy it are looked after.

This is going to lead to a lot of more adaptors hanging off those USB-C ports until the tech industry starts standardising on USB-C connectors.  That will take a good few years to come to fully come to fruition.  So accessory makers are going to sell loads and loads of dongles in the mean time.

Speaking of charging through USB-C – this does mean that the supplied charger will not feature one of the most popular features of the MacBook/MacBook Pro lines – the Magsafe connector.  This means that the power connector is anchored into place with magnetics.  If something (or somebody) trips over the power cord – the power lead is pulled out safely, without taking the entire laptop with it.  So people are going to have to be a lot more careful about where and how they charge the new MacBook Pro.

The Good – The Touchpad

It’s a LOT bigger.

The Bad – The Touchpad

This means the keyboard is smaller.  Apple have used the second generation keyboard from the refreshed MacBook.  When I had a chance to play with it earlier this year waiting for Apple to replace the bricked iPad Pro, I have to say I didn’t like it.  The key travel felt as if you’re simply typing on a virtual keyboard. But apparently this 2nd gen version is meant to be better.  We’ll see how people take to it.

The Good – The Touch Bar

Perhaps the most radical change to the MacBook Pro range is the Touch Bar.  This is a vertical OLED touch-sensitive strip that sits above the number keys of the keyboard.  It can be made to display keys, images and a lot more.  It also holds the Touch ID sensor which means that you can unlock the Mac with your fingerprint (rather than password – I assume that maybe users will be allowed to do both for extra security) and pay for stuff with Apple Pay.  It also serves as the power button.  The Touch Bar itself will adapt to individual applications.  If you’re using Final Cut Pro to edit a video, the Touch Bar will display the timeline which you can use to “scrub” through video, and so on.

The Bad – The Touch Bar

No physical “Escape” key.  An engineer’s friend, the “escape” key is used heavily in coding and for us sysadmins, accessing serial consoles.  Apparently there are specific Touch Bar keys that will come into play when Terminal is being used.

The Good – The Display

Better colour gamut means that photos and videos will look much more vibrant than before.  Additionally the bevel has been reduced considerably, making for a smaller device.

The Bad – The Display

No changes to the resolutions supported.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’d have been nice to see Apple up the max resolution to UHD/4K and scale it down appropriately for the 13″ and 15″ display.  Apple are THE best when it comes to scaling higher resolutions, and was the reason for me going back to the Mac.

The Good – Everything Else

For the 15″ MacBook Pro, Apple has jumped two generations of Intel processors from Broadwell to Skylake, bumped up RAM speed, and given almost 2-3x performance boost to the SSDs.  This was a long time coming, and is most welcome.  While Kaby Lake chipsets/processors are now available, I doubt we’ll see those in MacBook Pros until mid-late 2017.

The 13″ MacBook Pro comes with the Intel Iris 550 graphics, which based on my experience of the 540 on the Dell XPS 13 is excellent.  I wouldn’t rely on it to play the super latest games, but it sure as heck gets things done.  For the 15″ MacBook Pros, you get the Intel Iris graphics along with the AMD Radeon Pro 450 or 460 – the next generation of Radeon graphics.  Very worthy inclusion.

The Bad – Everything Else

The price.  Oh dear Gods, the price.  A fully tricked out 15″ MacBook Pro will cost you over £4,000.  Apple has raised the prices and aligned them to the weak pound, so you’re definitely going to be smacked in the face if you’re going to go for one of these things.  But as with most high end laptops, this is something that’s going to last for a good three to four years.  I love Apple for their ability to create computers that actually last that long – often without ever needing repair.

The Good – Selling & buying a Mac

Now is the perfect time to pick up a second hand Mac.  As people sell their Macs to get the next generation, you’ll often be able to pick up a bargain.  Definitely a buyer’s market right now.

Game of Phones: Apple iPhone 7 Plus is out, Google Pixel is in

A while back I posted something (now deleted) about the new Google Pixel XL going too much in the direction of Apple.  Then I thought about things for a bit. With Microsoft having now firmly established themselves in the hardware sector with their Surface range of laptops (and now desktop PCs), it seems that the major players in the tech industry have effectively decided that yes, doing an Apple – designing both hardware and software – is the most efficient thing to do.

I initially wrote off the Google Pixel and Pixel XL as Google aping Apple.  Similar design, similar principals.  The user would get the latest and greatest feature updates and timely security updates as Google designed both the software and hardware themselves.  I was concerned that Google would not look favourably to other flagship Android manufacturers as a result, and Android – as an ecosystem – would become insular.  I was concerned because my experience of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was the best thing I ever had with an Android phone.  The Galaxy S7 Edge was nice, but felt super bulky and – dare I say it – almost cartoony alongside it.  The Note 7 was slim, had a beautiful screen and screen layout, packed full of features .. and the potential to explode at any time.

So my reaction to that was to go back to Apple.  Apple is safe.  Apple is good.  But the thing is, Apple just isn’t as good as they used to be.   They occasionally come up with some products that are truly excellent (their Beats Solo 3 wireless headphones are the bees knees, for example – the battery life of that thing is incredible), but I’ve notice that over the past couple of years, more and more bugs and other issues have crept into their products which has put a bit of a downer on things.

It’s expected that new MacBooks and MacBook Pros will be announced today, and given leaks from the MacOS system itself, it appears there will be a lack of a physical “escape” key.  As a sysadmin/engineer, the “escape” key is one of the most important keys on a keyboard.  I spend a great deal of time on serial consoles which require a combination of ‘escape’ key combinations to diagnose and bring servers online.  If Apple does take away the ‘escape’ key – or turn into a virtual key through the much rumour OLED touch bar – this is going to be a problem.  I am super glad that my return to the Mac is with a design that has served Apple very well for the past 8 years or so.  I shall let others figure out whether the new design is going to work out or not.

The iPhone 7 Plus is good all round pocket computer.  But it’s not great.  The CPU is the fastest in the industry as demonstrated many times over.  The optical zoom is a nice feature to have, but I find that iPhone 7 Plus photos are too soft and looking at images at 100% resolution yield too soft (almost paint-like) qualities to it in comparison to something like the Samsung Galaxy lines.  But my biggest bugbear with the iPhone 7 Plus has been the cellular capabilities.  With the Samsung phones, the reliability of 3G/4G has been superb.  Handover between Wi-Fi and cellular and back again – no problem.  iPhone 7 Plus with iOS 10 – many problems.  Many are blaming Apple’s use of Intel modems for this (whereas with the iPhone 6/6S phones, Apple used Qualcomm).

So I’ve made one more exchange.  I’ve turned my SIM only contract into an phone contract and gone for the Google Pixel XL.  The iPhone is going.  The brief time I’ve had with the Pixel XL has sold me that even if it took Google just 9 months to get this thing out, it’s still done a better job than Apple has with the iPhone 7/7 Plus.  With the Google Pixel XL, cellular connectivity is spot on, the raw Android OS does everything I want of it, and the camera is just superb – lens flare issues or not (again, bringing up the concept of improving imagery with smaller sensors using computational photography – Photoshop before you Photoshop so to speak).

I can live without iMessage and the recent update that allows people to place stickers and animated GIFs all over the shop.  I hate it, to be honest.  There’s a lot of UI associated with that I’d rather see gone.  I can live without iCloud Photo Library.  Google’s Pixel provides unlimited free storage for photos and videos shot/taken on the Pixel, and given that I can backup my entire Google Account through the use of Spanning Backup – no problem!  I’m also a lot more confident of Google’s cloud infrastructure than I am of Apple’s.

Google is definitely aiming to get iPhone users to convert, and I think they’ve done a pretty ruddy good job here.  Given that a lot of my personal workflow goes through Google’s G-Suite for Business, it makes more sense for me to use a device running Android that can make the best use of it.  The problem in the past has been that Android was never completely there for me.  It is now.  And having Google take the lead over other Android flagships gives me a major advantage.  Perhaps now Samsung and Co. will do more to ensure they get out security and feature updates to their Android phones faster.  My initial analysis was wrong – Google is showing others how Android should be done.  And long may it continue.

But Martyn, you may ask yourself, what about the iPhone 8 (or whatever they’re going to call it) next year?  Well, next year is next year.  Providing Google continue to roll out updates, and providing they’re committed to Android and Pixel, I think I’ll be a proper Android convert for a very, very long time.

Where do we go from here?  The next big thing in IT that’s going to shake things up a bit: artificial intelligence.  There’ll be a blog post on that soon.

P.S. – no, definitely no more phone swaps for me for at least a year (and if I do, it’ll be through the phone contract).  I’m keeping the iPad because I’ve still yet to see an Android tablet that renders books, newspapers and magazines as well.