Category Archives: Tech News
First Impressions: iPhone 6 Plus
The newest iPhone is out and people are clamoring to get their hands on it. The fact that Apple sold over 10 million units in the first weekend seems to indicate at least some level of consumer interest. If you google iPhone 6 you will find no shortage of reviews about Apple’s newest phone offering. You’ll see things about design and durability. But, like many tech sites, many of these reviews can become quite technical. What you’ll find here are my first impressions of the iPhone 6 Plus, and how I think it can make life easier, or harder, as the case may be.
iPhone 6 Plus – Disclaimer
The iPhone 6 Plus is BIG. I’m saying that from the perspective of a guy who used a 5 inch HTC One (M8) for a period of time, and thought that was big. If you are at all leery about having a huge phone, read no further, the iPhone 6 (with it’s 4.7 inch screen) is your best choice. But if you are okay with a phone that won’t fit in your pocket (unless you bend it!) and a phone that will constantly require a second hand to use it efficiently, read on.
The Cup Half Full
So how does the iPhone 6 Plus make the phone experience better? First off is the design. Compared to the Note4 or LG G3 (two competing phablets), the iPhone 6 Plus is a beauty. It’s super thin. It’s smooth aluminum back and rounded corners are an absolute delight to look at and it feels great in the hand (though I recommend a case to avoid it slipping out of your hand, here’s mine). The long held design of the screen (with an app bar at the bottom, and stat information at the top) make much better use of the space compared to rivals, which only makes the screen seem larger and more useful.
The phone has a larger battery, which should allow for much longer periods between charges. Only time will tell though. The device also has an improved camera with image stabilization. This could be a big deal. In simplest terms, the camera in the iPhone 6 Plus is designed to help those of us with shaky hands. Not a feature to underestimate. Finally, the iPhone 6 Plus has some innovations in the way the screen works, taking full advantage of the larger screen. This means that some apps (like email and messages) will actually look different than the apps on the smaller iPhone 6. Also when the phone is in landscape mode, the “app drawer” will move from the bottom to the side. Seems funny to me that the iPad Mini doesn’t even do that. So there are no shortage of good things going on with the iPhone 6 Plus, but the pendulum still swings both ways, and this is where the device starts to worry me.
The Cup Half Empty
While beautiful in design, the iPhone 6 Plus has one “big” problem. This device is huge. But here’s the trick; it’s supposed to be. It’s a phablet, which is the horrid word somebody came up with to describe a device that is part Phone and part Tablet. When the phablet device came into it’s own with the Samsung Galaxy Note, the device had a very specific purpose. It was a device competing more with the 7 inch tablets than against 5 inch phones. It was and is a device for “power users”. You know the corporate types that used to live in their blackberry screens. The phablet is trying to be more than a phone. In terms of regular consumers, the phablet is a good choice if you don’t already own a tablet device (iPad, Nexus 7, etc.) If you don’t want two devices, the phablet bridges the gap (which is even more relevant when cost is factored in). And that’s what the iPhone 6 Plus is. It’s a phablet. But I worry that through a combination of factors, both on the part of Apple and consumers, people don’t realize this. And that could be a problem down the road. I’ll explain.
By launching both iPhones together, Apple made it look like they were selling two sizes of the same device. When in fact they are selling the next iPhone (iPhone 6) and their first phablet (iPhone 6 Plus). People jumping from the 3.5 inch screen of the iPhone 4/4S or the 4 inch screen of the iPhone 5/5S are in for serious culture shock when they try to wrap their hands around the case holding the massive 5.5 inch screen of the iPhone 6 Plus. I believe that Apple set the precedent a year ago when they released the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C at the same time. The iPhone 5C was clearly the silver medal to the gold of the iPhone 5S. So most people think the same is the case with the current generation of the iPhones. That reasoning would lead people to conclude the iPhone 6 Plus is the one to get if you want the “best” one. And that’s why the backorders for the larger device stand at 3-4 weeks, where you can get your hands on the iPhone 6 in 7-10 days. And after waiting all those agonizing weeks, these new iPhone 6 Plus users are going to realize that their new phone requires two hands for most of the things it can do. And while we might think that’s a small thing, that’s probably because we’ve grown so accustomed to single handed cell phones we take that convenience for granted.
Both iPhone 6 models have a new feature to help address the increased screen size, and it’s called Reachability. Basically you double TAP (not click) the home button and the screen lowers itself about 1.5 inches, bringing the top of the screen closer to your waiting thumb. On the iPhone 6 this functionality works very well. But based on my hands-on experiences with the iPhone 6 Plus, based on where we generally place our hand when holding the phone, the size makes it virtually impossible to reach either the home button (for the tapping) or the top of the screen (to pull down notifications). You must either move your hand down or up, or use your other hand to tap the home button. And that is a problem that “reachability” on the iPhone 6 Plus didn’t fix.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
So think carefully as you consider the iPhone 6 Plus, over the iPhone 6. While you get increased batter life, a better camera, and a larger screen, you also must contend with a massive phone in your pockets and in your hands. That’s my biggest beef with the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s so much like the iPhone 6, just much much bigger.
Apple has designed a beautiful phone, no doubt, but I believe the 4.7 inch design of the iPhone 6 is the current sweet spot as far as comfort and usability. But if you want the larger screen, the iPhone 6 Plus certainly has enough to offer to make it worth it. Though one of these thumb extenders might come in handy…
Coming Soon: iPhone 6 and 6 Plus – First Impressions
If you are an iPhone user, there are some new posts coming in the next week that you might want to take a look at. I will be doing a “first impressions” review of both the iPhone 6 (my new phone), and the iPhone 6 Plus. My reviews are always written with the casual user in mind, so if you aren’t a tech geek like me, but are debating about Apple’s new offering, hopefully I can help you out a bit.
From Sam Goody to Songza – The Evolution of Music Listening
I am a musichead. Basically that means I am constantly listening to music of a wide variety, and I have a strange obsession with music in general. I’ve always been a musichead, so when I attempt to map out the evolution of music listening, you can trust that I’m speaking from first hand experience. To really understand how we listen to music today, it’s helpful to see how things have changed over time (at least my time as a music junkie).
Disclaimer: I was too young to experience much of the 8-Track and Record days (except for the recent resurgence of vinyl among a sub-set of the musichead community). So my history begins in the mid-1980’s in the age of the cassette.
Sam Goody, Musicland, and the Radio DJs
There was a time when radio DJs held much more power than they do today. These were the days when the only way to know the name of song or band was if the DJ mentioned it after playing a tune on the radio. I can recall sitting anxiously through a tune I was really digging, only to be left empty-handed as the DJ moved on to the next tune without a word. Those were frustrating days!
If you could get your hands on the song title, or band name, then you were off to a record store like Sam Goody, Musicland, or Best Buy to scour the racks of cassettes or CDs in hopes that the album would be available. If it wasn’t you were again at the mercy of the store employees to order it for you and call when it arrived (requiring another trip to the store to pick it up).
But around the turn of the century everything changed with the rise of digital music, via a website full of scandal.
Napster: Digital Music Pioneer
Back in the days of dial-up internet access, Napster came into existence, providing music to the masses for the first time. The internet also gave us the ability to search for the names of bands and songs. Of course this was still rather rudimentary, being years before google would dominate the landscape of web searches. With Napster’s piracy platform people could get the tunes they wanted. No more buying an entire album for the two good songs. You could just “rip” the two good songs and be done with it! But legal challenges resulted in Napster being a short-lived experiment, and while music piracy continues to be a challenge on the internet, the spectrum of music listening moved on to the next evolution.
iTunes: Buying digital music online
The rise of digital music faced one major setback in those early years. Regardless of how many tunes you could download on your computer, you were still stuck burning the tunes to a CD to listen to them on your disc player. The world needed a portable player for digital music, and after several expensive low capacity models were released, Apple blew a hole in the competition with the iPod. Originally released in 2001, just as Napster died, it wasn’t until 2004 when the iPod Mini was released that the product gained a large audience. And with the introduction of the iTunes Store around the same time, Apple had provided the solution to the problem with digital music. For the first time, your entire music collection could actually fit in your pocket.
The years that followed were dominated by the iPod and iTunes. While other MP3 players existed (most notably Microsoft’s failed attempt, the Zune), the casual user knew of only one MP3 player, and the iPod became the device of choice, and iTunes became the source for purchasing music. While this period of music listening was thrilling, it didn’t represent a major change in how we collected music. Instead of trips to the record store, or mall, we could access the music online. But, after the brief flash of Napster, the majority were buying their music again, amassing digital libraries versus physical libraries. And instead of walkmans and discmans, we’d moved on to iPods and other MP3 players, but the overall approach to music listening hadn’t really changed. But then came a whole new way of listening, something truly revolutionary.
Streaming Radio: Yahoo Music, Pandora, and Internet Music
We tend to take streaming music for granted these days, as the advent of smartphones has blurred the line between what we own and what we “rent”, but in those early years music streaming was an amazing new way to listen to music. Yahoo Music was one of the first services offered in the early 2000’s, providing a catalogue of music to listen to online. In 2004, Pandora Internet Radio was launched and it remains to this day one of the dominant players in Streaming Radio. The new piece of data Pandora brought to the market was the ability to create custom playlists based on artists or songs you like. This was the first “music discovery” tool, which would come to dominate online music applications. Now musicheads had an entirely new way of discovering new artists, versus reading music websites, or (gasp) the variety section of the local newspaper!
Pandora has been joined by other services like IHeartRadio, Rhapsody, and Grooveshark; all services offering customized music experiences for their listeners. Most provide free content, supporting revenue through ads, and premium services, which remove ads and bring additional functionality, like offline listening. Those premium service wouldn’t have been possible without the newest tool in the music listeners belt, the Cloud.
Music in the Cloud: RDIO, iTunes Radio, and my Favorite, SONGZA
The news is dominated these days by stories of hackers breaking into different retailers and stealing consumer information, which is only heightening the casual user’s fear about what exactly “the cloud” is, and whether it’s a good thing to use. I can tell you simply that the cloud isn’t something you can avoid, and the benefits of online storage (which essentially is what the cloud is) far outweigh the potential risks. Anyone who shops online is at risk from identity thieves and hackers, and using the cloud does little to increase your risk. So with that little diatribe aside, I can also tell you that the cloud is an amazing tool for music listeners, and not just for musicheads like me, but for everyone.
Smartphones are dominating the consumer marketplace right now, led by the iPhone, and a vast array of Android phones. All of these devices use apps, including music apps. Premium services from Spotify, Rdio, Google Music, and Beats (to name a few major players) offer offline listening, which basically means you can store the music from these services on your phone, and you don’t need the internet to listen to it. In essence, you are borrowing a library that can easily masquerade as your own music. I have used Rdio for almost all of it’s four year existence, building a library larger than my own CD collection through the service. I’ve recently experimented with Google Music All Access, which takes the library building one step further by integrating your personal collection with your online collection (all available offline).
I feel that these services have brought us full circle to the way I collected and listened to music in the cassette era. I have a large library of music that I can listen to on the go with a piece of hardware (smartphone/iPod). This is both good and bad. If 15 year old me could see how things are today, he would do backflips about having all that music at his fingertips. When the music discovery tools baked into these same apps were revealed, he’d probably have a stroke. All of these apps offer similar “radio stations” like Pandora to figure out new bands to listen to. But there was a problem with my hundreds of CDs, which I continue to have with my thousands of online CDs. It’s just too much music! And so despite having access to more tunes than I could ever have imagined, I tend to listen to the same ten albums (or playlists), which makes me feel like I’m still stuck with those ten CD’s that fit in the sun visor of my old Pontiac.
I’m a musichead! I should be listening to way more music! I could put myself in the hands of Pandora and tell them a band I like, but I’ve found limited results there. That’s when I discovered Songza. A more detailed review of this app will follow, but I’ll just say that through this internet radio app, I’m now listening to a wider variety of music and discovering new things. And for the first time in a long time, I find myself listening for the pure joy of listening. I’m not building a collection of music that I’ll end up so overwhelmed with I revert back to my top ten list again. I’m simply experiencing music of a wide variety of genres, and loving every minute of it.
The Evolution of Music Listening
We have come a long way from the day of DJ dominance and mix tapes. I’m sure people my age and older remember the days of listening to the radio with that blank tape queued up with the record button pressed, along with pause, ready to snag that awesome new tune (for free!) And while the ways we get our music and the actual devices we use to listen to our music have changed dramatically over the past 25 years, the goal has always been the same. To have the music you want to listen to, when and where you want to listen to it. To have new ways to discover new music, and bottom line, to enjoy the experience the music provides.
Songza has a variety of categories to determine what you might want to listen to, and one is “moods” (Spotify has something similar). If you’re Happy or Gloomy, Trashy or Trippy, they got ya covered. Feeling “campy” like I was yesterday afternoon? A couple clicks and you are drowning in Survior, INXS, Deff Depard, and other awesome 80’s bands. And that’s the pure joy of being a musichead. To be in a place, and have the soundtrack that brings it all together.
Happy listening to all you musicheads, and all you music listeners too. With all the options technology now provides, you have little excuse but to start listening. And soon you’ll be a musichead too.
Review Links – Apple Watch, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Pay
By now you’ve probably heard all about the new products that Apple announced on Tuesday, and you want to learn more. The internet can be a daunting place when you go looking for good reviews of new consumer technology.
Below you will find links to some of the product reviews I’ve read for each new Apple product and service, so you can evaluate any future tech purchases you might be considering. Enjoy!
APPLE WATCH REVIEWS
Apple Watch Hands On – The Verge
Apple Watch Hands On – Engadget
Apple Watch Hands On – MacRumors
iPHONE 6 REVIEWS
iPHONE 6 PLUS REVIEWS
iPhone 6 Plus Hands On – The Verge
iPhone 6 Plus Hands On – Gizmodo
APPLE PAY REVIEWS
Apple Pay Hands On – TechRadar
Apple Pay (How It Works) – Digital Trends
Apple also announced the release dates for the iPhone/iPad operating system iOS8 on Wednesday, September 17th. It will be compatible with iPhone 4S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad 2, iPad with Retina, iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPad Mini with Retina. If you have an iPhone 4, you’re out of luck. There’s no cost for the upgrade.
iOS 8 REVIEWS (BETA VERSION)
iOS 8 (everything explained) – iMore
September Big Consumer Tech Announcements
If you are considering a new smartphone or phablet (i.e. giant smartphone), or if you’re interested in being an early adopter of the smartwatch industry, this September has several new products you’ll want to consider. Motorola, Samsung, and Apple are all releasing new smartphones and smartwatches. There’s sure to be a lot of competition, so do your homework before jumping into any device. Each company has pluses and minuses to consider. And smartwatches are probably going to be clunky for a while, so don’t slap down cash for those unless you’re prepared for the headaches of an early adopter (I know from experience!)
It’s going to be an exciting first couple weeks of announcements, and I’m looking forward to reading all the “hands-on” reviews afterwards. Will the iPhone be a major update (bigger screen, different body style)? Will there be an iWatch? Will one of these smartwatches be priced at anything other than premium rates!? $200 seems to be the lowest price so far. All these questions and more will be answered in the next two weeks! Stay tuned for some “first impressions” here at “Have a Cup of T(ech)”!!
|Galaxy Note 4 (phablet)||ZenWatch||Moto X+1 (smartphone)||iPhone 6 (smartphone)||Nabu(Smartband)|
|Galaxy Gear S (smartwatch update) ANNOUNCED 8/28/14!!!||Moto 360 (smartwatch)||iWatch (smartwatch)|
|Moto G (smartphone)||iOS 8 release date|
|OSX Yosemite release date|
Kindle Unlimited – The dawn of something new for digital readers??
One of the biggest stories this past week in the tech blogs was all about Amazon’s new offering, “Kindle Unlimited”. I have been a Kindle user since the Kindle 2 was released in 2009. And I’ve had a couple different models since then, including the Kindle Paperwhite, which is my current device.
Of all my gadgets and gizmos, I have always held the Kindle to be my favorite. I believe our personal tech should constantly amaze us. And while I use my smartphone and my iPad more often, it is the Kindle that causes that excitement again and again. There’s a hilarious bit Louis CK did on Conan about people flying on airplanes. Passengers were told that the plane now offered free high-speed Internet. When the service failed mid-flight, a fellow flier was immediately pissed. Louis CK’s response to his frustration was “We are FLYING PEOPLE!!! Isn’t this AMAZING?!? You are sitting in a chair IN THE SKY!!”
Our tech should cause us to feel that kind of wonder. And after years and years of reading physical books in dimly lit rooms, and struggling to keep track of notes for book groups, I now have a device that fits in my back pocket, holds thousands of books (a little overboard, I’ll admit), lights up, manages my notes, and provides dictionaries and Wikipedia links to help me keep track of more complicated story plots and characters. One click and I’ve downloaded a thousand page book right into my device. It’s a wonder. And after five years, it is still just as amazing as “sitting in a chair in the sky”!
Kindle Unlimited is supposed to be a big deal, a game changer, and I would look like the target audience. But I’ve been reading blogs like crazy and I’m ready to give my initial reaction. To keep with the site’s theme, I’ll break it down with “the cup half full” (good stuff), “the cup half empty” (bad stuff), and the “whole cup summed up” (summary).
The Cup Half Full
Who can argue with access to 600,000 books of all categories, and 150,000 audiobooks via whispersync? It’s important to bear in mind that while this gives you access to the “Audible” service, it’s only a 3 month trial for the 150,000 books, and afterwards you will be restricted to a smaller group of 2,000. It’s also important to note that in order to take advantage of the audiobook function, you’ll need a device with audio output. The Kindle Fire line will work (and any other tablet computer or smartphone), but the average Kindle, like my Paperwhite, does not support audio.
For $10 a month, the ravenous reading crowd will find great value. There are even a few big name books that almost anyone would find value in. Examples: All the Harry Potter books are present, Lord of the Rings Trilogy (if you can stay awake), and the Hunger Games books are there. It’s a great step in the same direction that Spotify and RDIO took music subscriptions services, and Netflix took film “rentals”. But it’s only a first step.
The Cup Half Empty
As a subscriber to amazon’s Prime service, I’ve had access to the “Kindle Lending Library” for quite some time. This service allows Prime members to access one Kindle book from a specific selection per month. What Kindle Unlimited does, in effect, is make the lending library available to everyone, for the first time allowing the service on non-kindle devices, like the iPad. I suppose that could be an item for the “good” list, but the problem is that the lending library has never provided a wealth of great reading options. This is clearly seen just by looking at the marketing of Kindle Unlimited on Amazon’s own website. The three main books you’ll see are the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games series, and Lord of the Rings.
Those are all great books (which became decent movies, wink), but don’t expect the soil beneath these best sellers to provide similar fruit. The lending library offers a great way into lesser known works across a wide genre range. But for the majority of readers that won’t be good enough. Amazon has been in many well publicized fights with a variety of book publishers, and those battles have resulted in Amazon launching Kindle Unlimited without a single major publisher on board. So if you want to read the New York Times best seller list, don’t expect this service to help you out.
That’s my biggest concern with Kindle Unlimited. While many are calling it the “Netflix of books” that’s only true if Netflix didn’t have any deals with major studios (which is far from the case). Amazon must find a way to either make peace with the publishing houses, or force them to finally change their business model (to favor amazon, interestingly enough). That’s no small task, and until amazon figures that out, this service will be constrained by its lack of titles.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
Are you a voracious reader? Do you chew through books the way some people fly through the new season of “Orange is the new Black” over on Netflix? If so, this service is perfect for you. Do you like to discover new things, and aren’t reliant on best seller lists to determine what book to crack open next? Then slam down that $10 and get started, it’s a no brainer. But for the rest of us, it might be best to hold off until the program grows a bit. Of course it’ll only grow if people show an interest in it. So there is a potential “investment opportunity” if you’re playing the long game.
I’m going to keep my 30 day trial going, and see what I find, how much I actually get read, and whether the cost is realized in actual value. I’m particularly interested in understanding how the Audible trial works. I’ll report back, at the end of the trial, as to whether I continue with the service, or if I just head back to my one book a month from the Prime lending library. For now, I’m skeptical, but still hopeful this is the beginning of a whole new way to be a reader in the digital age.
Have a Cup of T(ech) will begin posting sporadically in July 2014, with regular weekly posts beginning in August 2014. In the meantime, feel free to check out my twitter feed, where I’ll be re-tweeting tech stories I come across, with occasional original tweets as well.
My twitter feed is @twolumpsoftech
Stay Tuned, there’s more to come…