Game of Phones part.. oh, I’ve lost track now.. and the big screen experience at home

September is traditionally the time in which the two biggest players in the smartphone market release (or at least announce) their newest flagship phones to the masses.

Apple is due to announce the new iPhone 8 range of phones on September 12th, whereas Samsung is releasing the new Galaxy Note 8 a few days later.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve really struggled to move to Android and have always returned to iOS.  When I got the Galaxy Note 7, I absolutely loved that phone, but the whole battery/recall situation was unpleasant enough (which also took me to the Galaxy S7 Edge and Google Pixel XL) that I just bit the bullet and went back to an iPhone.  Earlier this year I had a brief encounter with the Galaxy S8+, but one of my most valued (and most used) applications kept crashing under Android and that forced me back to the iPhone – again.

Right now I’m thinking the best strategy would simply to keep using the iPhone 7 Plus that I have and wait it out until later next year to see what’s happened between the Note 8 and iPhone 8.  But I really like the look of the Note 8 – it’s square shape, the S-Pen and the dual cameras (both of which feature optical image stabilisation – a first for any smartphone) all appeal.  I liked that I could jot down phone numbers or write notes when the screen was off with the Note 7.  That’s great value to me.  With the iPhone 8, I stay within the Apple ecosystem with the Apple Watch and the MacBook Pro 2017 Kaby Lake (13″).

Speaking of the MacBook Pro, I decided that, as I will be occasionally working from home with my new job (which is going great, BTW – there’s a LOT to keep me occupied) to buy myself a monitor.  I’ve been using laptops almost exclusively close to nearly 15 years, and I’d never thought about buying an external monitor to use with them.  Back at Memset, I had a single monitor (21″) that kept me going for 5 years (whereas colleagues had multiple monitors) that I hooked up to my MacBook Air.  It was okay, and as such, I felt that I didn’t really need that sort of set-up at home.  This new job, on the other hand, gives me two 21″ monitors out the box on a desktop based Ubuntu OS (it was running Windows).

So last week, having endured two weeks where I had to work at least one day per week at home due to the South Western Railway signal/Waterloo upgrade situation, I decided that what I really needed to be able to work comfortably at home with a trillion SSH sessions going on, a web browser or three, and a Slack session all running at the same time was a monitor.  I had a look at Ultra HD/4K monitors and ruled them out due to cost.  I think it may be another year or two before costs are driven down.   So I had a look at a decent 21-24″ full HD monitor that would be both cost-effective and last me for a couple of years (or more).

I looked at a Samsung curved monitor, then ruled that out as it looked too odd.  Then there was the LG 25UM58-P-25 21:9 aspect ratio ultra-wide monitor, which looks incredible, but I wondered if it would fit on my desk.  I finally settled down on a Dell 2418H InfinityEdge display from John Lewis. £200.  It’s a lovely display and comes with its own speakers (tuned by Waves Maxx Audio) that sit within the stand.  The quality of the image is fantastic.  Yes, you can see the pixels in text given that it’s only a Full HD display and the Mac is capable of driving much higher resolutions – but for my needs it’s perfectly fine (the laptop screen runs at 1600×900 and this display runs at 1980×1080 – then when you combine both screens, I have substantially more real screen estate to play with now).

I also had to buy a new dongle for the Mac because of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports don’t allow me to directly hook up to an external monitor without one.  I settled for a Cable Matters USB-C to 4K HDMI multiport adapter.  This also gives me a gigabit ethernet port and two USB 3 ports.  And it works brilliantly.  It also works with my Dell XPS 13 (9350) too.

Speaking of the Dell XPS 13 9350, I think it may be time to say goodbye to the only decent Windows machine I’ve used in the past year.  Dell is just about to refresh the line with the brand spanking new 8th generation Intel processors which bring quad core processing to 13″ notebooks for the very first time.  So if anybody is looking out for a very good Windows laptop with 16Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD, and still carries an on-site warranty until 2019 – please get in touch (details in the About Martyn page – link on the left).

When mobile phones outsmart DSLRs

I’ve always enjoyed taking photographs and have owned a number of standalone cameras in my time.  I never enjoyed 35mm film cameras because of the fiddly nature of spooling the film into the camera, so was very happy when I got my first ever digital camera way back in the year 2000.  It was a Sony Cybershot.  It was a big clunky camera.  My most recent was another Sony Cybershot (the well received RX100 MkIII).  Tiny thing.  But I’ve just sold that.

Why?

I’ve come to realise that I just don’t like carrying around two devices that now do the same thing.  In fact, the device that’s replacing it does more – it can automatically tag photos with location data which makes it much easier to identify where a photo was taken.

So..

I’m buying a Samsung Galaxy Note 7.  I already own the Galaxy S7 Edge (which will be sold to make up the shortfall when the Note 7 arrives), and both devices share the same camera optics.  The S7 Edge has taken some of the most impressive photographs I’ve seen from a camera phone to date.  It uses dual pixel technology as found in the Canon 70D camera (which has only just found its way into the new and pricey Canon 5D Mark IV) which means super fast auto focus.  It behaves extraordinary well in low light situations.  In Pro mode, one can generate RAW files.  In short – you’ve got professional camera features in a mobile telephone.

Let them eat cake - photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (full auto) - click image for full size
Let them eat cake – photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (full auto) – click image for full size

But why the Note 7 in particular when the S7 Edge and Note 7 share such similar specifications?  The first is the S-Pen.  Steve Jobs has always dismissed styluses for phones, but the Note 7 is more than that.  With the Note 7, you can write directly on the screen when the phone isn’t in use and save them.  As I’m always taking down notes, this is going to be a much-used feature.  The second is the curved screen isn’t pronounced.  My biggest problems with the S7 Edge is that I whenever I grip the sides, it results in accidental app launches and whatnot if the phone is unlocked.  Then there’s the slightly larger size over the S7 Edge (a whole .2 inches).  I have large hands, therefore a larger phone suits me better.  Then there is the refined user interface, the iris scanner (though as I wear glasses, I don’t think I’ll get much use of that feature).  The Note 7 is the first Samsung phone to incorporate blue light reduction which I find very useful before heading off to sleep.

I have made the decision to stick with the Samsung Galaxy Note series for future mobile phone tech.  Samsung has taken the lead over Apple (who are currently embroiled in the iPhone 6/6 Plus “touch disease” fiasco).  In particular, I trust Google’s services far more over Apple’s (especially given I have a proper SLA with Google for Google Apps for Work – no such SLA exist with any of Apple’s online services;  I fear that one day,  as Apple integrates its online services even more tightly into MacOS and iOS, they will seriously muck it up, leaving vulnerable Apple users with lost data).  I’m also with Intel in saying that if you’re going to go down a fully digital audio route for headphones and the ilk, USB-C is a better medium than Apple’s own ecosystem.

All these features within a single unit that I carry about every single day and hardly leaves my side.  It’s strange to think how far mobile phone technology has become.  The S7 Edge/Note 7 processors contain neural net technology for crying out loud!  It is a computer, it is a phone, it is a compass, it is a satnav, it is a pro camera.  It’s no wonder why mobile phones have become so popular.

 

Breaking Bad Apple: Firmware update bricks my iPad Pro

I have a 9.7″ iPad Pro to go along with the 12.9″ model, because if you’re reading magazines, books or anything that requires holding the device more than 5 minutes, your arm will ache when using its bigger brother.

So you imagine how extremely hacked off I was when Apple rolled out a new firmware update for iOS last week which worked perfectly well against my iPhone and bigger iPad, but subsequently bricked the newest member of the team.

When I say bricked, it bricked it good.  It’s completely unusable at the moment. I can’t restore from backups, and I can’t restore from an earlier firmware (especially after Apple rolled out a new version of iTunes).  As such, and as I’ve been unwell, I’ve made an appointment to go to London after work tomorrow to get the iPad replaced (reports indicate that Apple are swapping out the units after their own restore processes have failed).

The thing about the restore process, BTW, is that it requires a Mac or PC.  So much for Apple advertising the iPad Pro range as replacement computers.  How can that be if you need a blasted PC to be able to restore firmware?!

Having invested heavily in Apple over the years (although one should say I should have invested in shares, not the gadgets), I am finding myself losing faith and trust in the company every time something bad happens.  And it’s been happening a lot of late (especially with Apple Music, which has been a massive disaster in my eyes).  Recent iOS and to a lesser extent, OS X, updates, have been bug ridden piles of nonsense which should never have seen public release.  I can’t imagine how much testing goes on, but clearly it’s not enough.

The only thing is that unless you’re actively reading tech news, you might not have known there was a problem with the 9.3.2 update for 9.7′ iPad Pros.  Apple sure as hell will email the hell out of you to try and buy their latest product – but if they subsequently remove firmware for a product you own (that’s in warranty) after they’ve discovered a problem – no matter the scope of the problem – forget it.  They rarely apologise for their muck-ups.

So now I’ve got to pay more money to take the train to London and get somebody to swap out the product.  It may well be a refurbished model at that.  Marvellous.

I’d like to go back to a Windows based PC and move to Android, but neither platform is able to do what I want it to do.  At least not completely.  And without cost.   I appreciate nothing’s perfect, but I expect much higher standards from Apple who go out their way to convince you they care about the customer.  This appears to no longer be true.  Apple need to step up to the plate, admit they’ve caused significant problems for customers (regardless of how small or big the problem is) and get it fixed – without cost to the customer.  It’s their ecosystem, their responsibility.

Music streaming is a steaming pile of..

.. nonsense.

Apple Music is now seriously beginning to get on my .. feathery friends.  Not everything is its fault, but plenty of it is.  You see, the biggest problem with music streaming is in the licensing of tracks and albums.  Once a license runs out, the tracks are removed without any notice to you, the subscriber.

None of the services I know of (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc.) provide any warning or expiry date as to when tracks or albums will be removed.  They just vanish!

But perhaps what’s worse (I’m typing this on an iPad Pro with no easy access to the image concerned, but that’ll come a bit later – thanks, Apple, so much for “PC replacement”!) is that Apple Music will offer albums, but many are incomplete.  Take the case of the soundtrack to the new film, Florence Foster Jenkins (music by the wonderful Alexandre Desplat).  Only ONE track from the album is available on Apple Music.  Add the album to your collection, that one track is there sticking out like a sore thumb.

ONE track available out of an entire album.  This was the straw that broke this camel's back.
ONE track available out of an entire album. This was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Also take the Deadpool album.  It too is on Apple Music, but one of the iconic themes is not available on that album, but it is available on another.  Apple Music makes absolutely no effort to link to the same tracks available elsewhere within its catalogue.  Spotify has no problem with this.

I’ll have to reconsider my options towards the end of this month.  Not sure I can justify £9.99 a month to a service which is still just too buggy, still too incomplete to be a non-beta service.

Update: Cancelled iTunes Match and Apple Music.  Gone back to Spotify, and I’m using STAMP Premium to convert my Apple Music playlists to Spotify.  Apple need to give their developers a big kick up the arse.  There has been so little improvement to how the catalogue operates, and when you’re still encountering server errors, this is completely unacceptable.