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.

The Great Apple Break Down

It’s been an absolute pain in the arse this past month for all things tech-related.  We’ve had Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 recall shenanigans, and now Apple’s new IOS release caused temporary bricking as soon as it was released due to a corrupt over the air image.

I was pretty miffed when I updated the 9.7″ iPad Pro OTA (over the air) and found it wanted to be connected to iTunes.  Apple advertises this as a standalone computer.  A standalone computer shouldn’t need another computer to be able to fix update problems.  Does Apple expect us to own two or more computers as a consequence?  Even if you had two iPad Pros, it wouldn’t have fixed the issue – it must be a full on desktop machine (MacOS or Windows) running iTunes.

Except because when I got home, Apple’s iCloud services were in a mess.  In order to perform a manual update/restore of the iPad, iTunes had to download version 9.3.5 of iOS first.  Took well over an hour.  Couldn’t update iTunes via the normal means because Apple’s servers were completely borked.  But thankfully when 9.3.5 downloaded and was applied to the iPad Pro via a USB cable connected to the Dell, the iPad eventually sprung back into life and all settings and data was preserved.  Unlike last time, when the hardware was completely knackered and I had to get entire iPad replaced. So a big phew! there.

As iTunes (with a vastly improved interface for managing Apple Music) wasn’t updating, it was actually quicker to download the installer file from Apple’s web site and update it that way.  I could then update both iPads to version 10 of iOS.

How I do wish Apple would take better care of iOS releases.

To ease the pain somewhat, I discovered that Apple has added practically every single Studio Ghibli soundtrack album to Apple Music, and spent a very happy evening listening to some classic Joe Hisaishi music.

The Smartphone Games: Catching Fire

Catnip Everready prepares to fight the evil President Lith-Ion in the sequel to ever popular The Smartphone Games: The Smartphone Games.

– Description of my new novel, The Smartphone Games. LOL.

Samsung has made available an IMEI checker that tells you if your phone is affected by the battery defect.  But then again, it may just be a list of phones that haven’t been returned to them yet.  In any event, this is what happened when I typed in my phone’s IMEI:

2016-09-13_10-12-34

The Galaxy Note 7 was a truly lovely phone, but with more reports coming in (including reports that other Samsung phones may be affected too), I thought it best that I returned the unit to Carphone Warehouse and get a refund.  Which I did. Amazingly, despite the recall and the press, they told me that this was still a phone very much in demand.  Unfortunately, I think that the reputation of this brand is now tarnished sufficiently that if I were to go travelling with it, it’d attract too much attention.

Update: As if exploding batteries weren’t enough, the S7 and S7 Edge are suffering with a caching bug which is causing all manner of problems.

So I’ve now gone for the iPhone 7 Plus.  It seems a safe(r) bet than many flagship Android phones at the moment anyway.  I was especially encouraged after reactivating my Apple Music subscription.  It’s proving to be a much smoother experience than last time (I think they key thing here is the lack of iTunes Match) – indeed, I downloaded a 456 track, 21-disc version of the D’Olye Carte Company’s recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan without any issues at all.  In one sitting.  So very promising.

Generally speaking, Apple isn’t a bad company at all.  I still have reservations for their cloud services and the dependency that many of its operating systems have on it, but ultimately providing one can take backups of everything on a regular basis, it really shouldn’t be a big concern.  I still say Apple should offer an AppleCare+ like product for iCloud, however.

iPhone 7 Unboxing Day

Update: Meanwhile, in Australia, Galaxy Note 7’s are banned on three Australian airlines. For how long is anybody’s guess, but as nobody can be sure that somebody is carrying a non-defective replacement, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.

After iPhone7-mas, we’ll soon have iPhone Unboxing Day.  That’ll be September 16th.  But will I be trading my Samsung Galaxy Note 7 for a fancy pants iPhone 7 Plus?  Very likely given the very slick presentation, the phone’s telephoto lens, quad-core A10 processor (one pair for performance, another pair for efficiency), cinema colour optimised display, and – for me, this is perhaps the most important – a static force-touch home button with haptic feedback.

Very likely given the very slick presentation, the phone’s telephoto lens, quad-core A10 processor (one pair for performance, another pair for efficiency), cinema colour optimised display, and – for me, this is perhaps the most important – a static force-touch home button with haptic feedback. When I’ve used previous iPhones, I’ve always felt the home button to be something that could just stop working at any moment.  And indeed, this actually did happen (iPhone 5, I think).  So Apple to incorporate from other products (Mac’s touchpad) within its flagship smartphone product is a darn good move IMHO.  The fewer moving parts, the better.

Personally not bothered by the lack of a headphone socket.  Bluetooth has been a regular thing for me for over a year.  Like Apple, I believe the fewer cables the better.  Not interested in AirPods because I can imagine that even with the case they’re going to get lost.  Also, as somebody remarked on Twitter, it looks as though you’ve got tiny dicks in your ear (their words, not mine).

My journey back and forth between iOS and Android has been a very good learning experience.  There are many, many things I like about Android – but there is still the problem of fragmentation.  It’s considerably better than it used to be, and indeed the Galaxy S7 Edge has just received the September security update from Google (but missed out on the August one).  That I can swap out the default SMS/messenger software for a third party one is also commendable – although the Gear smartwatch software will have a right old moan about it.  I think next time I’ll invest in a second, cheaper Android phone (such as the OnePlus Three) as an Android device to ensure that I’m kept up to date with developments (also handy for dating purposes – I get very nervous handing out my phone number, and I’ve changed my number twice over the past three years).

One thing that interests me about going back to iOS, and also one of the thing that makes me the most nervous given my experience with Apple online services – is the use of iCloud to store one’s entire photo archive.  I still think Apple should – maybe as either part of AppleCare+ or similar – a paid SLA that protects the content of anything uploaded to their servers.  And/or allow third parties to be able to use all iCloud services to take backups of data (in the same way I pay a third party a nominal fee to backup my entire Google Apps account – email, Drive contents, etc).  Apple’s Photos app is still one of the strongest photo management tools I’ve come across and it makes it very easy to split photos into separate events.  With Adobe Lightroom, I find it to be a massive PITA organising photos into events.

Then there’s the dual lens system in the iPhone 7 Plus.  One wide angle lens, the other a telephoto lens to offer optical zoom for the first time in an iPhone.  With the promise of superior digital optical zoom thanks to a reworked Apple Image Processor combined with the optical zoom, photography on an iPhone looks to have been taken up quite a significant notch.  But what REALLY caught me eye was the (future) ability to take DLSR quality Bokeh photographs.  Just how well this is going to work in the real world has yet to be seen, but the demonstration photos shown in the presentation were extremely impressive.  I doubt that the iPhone 7 Plus’ camera will have an autofocus system as fast as that implemented by Samsung in its S7/Note 7 series, but I’ve never found it to be a big problem in the past.

The one thing that Apple really needs to work on is wireless charging.

As an aside, but still relevant, the Apple Watch Series 2 looks to be an excellent incentive to get swimming again.  Waterproof up to 50m with built-in GPS, you can now go running (and not get lost, or at least, track where you’ve been) and swimming (where a GPS won’t be much good – unless you’re planning on swimming the English Channel, I suppose) and keep a complete track of your activity.  It also tells the time.  But like the previous generation, the battery life is of similar strength.  You will have to charge the thing every 24 hours.

Meanwhile in Sonyland.. the PS4 Pro was announced.  UHD gaming, but absolutely no UHD Blu-Ray player.  Well done Sony (the creators of the Blu-Ray format).  They’ve said that “the PS4 is a primarily gaming machine”.  My argument to that is that if you’re providing the ability to playback Blu-Ray movies on disc, if you’re going to offer a UHD version, you should have UHD Blu-Ray player as a consequence….

Happy iPhone 7-mas everybody!

Today Tim Santa Cook will take to the stage to show us the brand new iPhone 7 and what it can do.

With Samsung announcing that the earliest it’ll be swapping out Note 7s with new models using batteries not made by its own manufacturing facility (apparently Samsung will be using a third party for the time being until they can bring it back in-house) on the 19th September, I’m tempted to hand back the phone, get my money back and just bite the bullet and buy the iPhone 7 Plus.

The Galaxy S7 Edge uses a Samsung manufactured battery, so I’m now quite nervous about keeping that one around.  Not that there’s been any reports of an S7 Edge exploding.  But it does make me wonder about Samsung’s confidence in its own manufacturing facilities.

Update: Another two Note 7 explosions – one in Australia, and another in the US.

But we’ll see.  Mr. Cook has seriously got to wow me with the iPhone 7 before I can make that decision.  If he does, then I’ll have to start making arrangements for the return of the Note 7 and selling the S7 Edge.  Fun!  If this is the competition, I might as well just stick with Apple..

How I love technology at times…

In other news, I’m trialling Apple Music again after a three-month absence.  Since then, Apple has rolled out two new iTunes updates (bear in mind I’m still using Windows 10), and have made a couple of changes to the backend logic with regards to Apple Music/iTunes Match.  I won’t touch iTunes Match again with a 50ft bargepole.  Why they’re still offering it given reports that they’ve essentially duplicated the functionality with Apple Music and removed DRM from uploaded non-Apple Music files when using multiple devices, is beyond me.

Apple Music is still a little buggy, even under Windows 10 and Android.  But Apple are slowly getting there. There are still issues with syncing, and I still see error 502s and similar when downloading quite a few files – but it’s much better than it was.  I’ll continue to experiment.