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Review: Ember Mug 2

Posted in Products with tags on November 30, 2021 by itnerd

App controlled devices are everywhere. But an app controlled coffee mug is kind of different. The coffee mug in question is the Ember Mug 2:

Here’s the deal. This mug will keep your hot beverage of choice warm. If you’re using the mug alone, it will keep your beverage warm for up to 1.5 hours because of the built in battery. If you use the included charging coaster you can keep your beverage warm all day. All of this can be controlled by an app that is available for iOS and Android. So how well does this work? Let’s find out. Starting with what’s in the box:

Open the box and you see the mug right at the top of the box. It’s made of stainless steel coated with FDA food-grade ceramic. It also comes in two colours. Black and white as well as metallic colours at a higher price.

Underneath the mug is the charging coaster.

Underneath that is the power adapter for the charging coaster.

Finally you get the usual documentation, including this:

In an Apple like move, you get some stickers to let the world know that you have an Ember Mug.

The Ember Mug 2 that I got holds 10 fluid ounces (there is a 14 fluid ounce version available as well as a 12 fluid ounce travel mug). Out of interest, I decided to compare this in terms of weight to a “regular” mug that holds a similar amount of liquid. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Regular Mug: 333 grams
  • Ember Mug: 412 grams

So the Ember Mug 2. is marginally heavier. Presumably because of the battery. While it does feel heavier, it isn’t a deal breaker in my mind as it really doesn’t affect how the mug is used.

Setting it up is easy, I plugged the coaster into the wall and placed the Ember Mug 2 on it. I then installed the Ember app on my iPhone 12 Pro which then after pairing it via pressing and holding the power button on the bottom of the mug for 5 seconds prompted me to update the firmware. Once that was done, I noted that it was at 27% of a charge. So I let it charge while I did some work. Once charged, I got my wife to roast and grind a coffee for me. Yes, my wife and I take our coffee so seriously that we have the gear to roast and grind our own coffee so that we can have the best quality coffee possible. Then we do the pour over method using a reusable filter to get the perfect cup of coffee:

The water was boiled to 96 degrees celsius which is clearly too hot to drink. Fortunately, the Ember Mug can help you with that as it you can pick the hot beverage that you are drinking via the app and keep it at that temperature:

You’ll also note that there’s a tea timer that will allow you to properly steep your tea. Nice touch! Plus you can add your own presets between 50 degree celsius and 62.5 degree celsius.

Once the beverage reaches the desired temperature, you’ll get a notification on your phone.

I can verify that sipping coffee over a two hour period and using a thermometer to check the temperature, it was half a degree off the stated temperature in the app. That’s perfectly acceptable to me. And the taste of the coffee remained constant because of the fact that it was always at that temperature. Thus if you take your coffee or tea seriously, this mug will help you to up your game.

When it comes to cleaning, you need to hand wash it and make sure that the bottom is dry as that’s where it charges from. After all, electricity and water don’t mix.

Other observations include the following:

The app had a recipe section. But these five recipes are the only ones that are available at present. Hopefully more recipes are added over time.

There’s an LED light that you can alter the colour so that if you have multiple Ember Mugs, you can tell them apart. I set mine to blue. In case you are wondering where the LED is, here’s a picture:

Finally, you can also control the mug from your Apple Watch which is handy if that is your preference. Alternately, the Ember Mug 2 is fully functional without the Ember App. In this case, it will maintain a default temperature of 57 degrees celsius if that is your preference.

So what’s the downsides of the Ember Mug 2? The only thing that I can see is the price. At $99.95 USD for the 10 fluid ounce version, it’s a big price tag to have the perfect cup of coffee or tea. And the prices only go up from there for the larger or travel versions, not to mention the metallic colours. But the flip side to that is that if you take your coffee seriously, which my wife and I do, the Ember Mug 2 may be be worth it to you as from what I can tell it works exactly the way the company says it does and the result is good coffee as nothing good happens in the world unless you have good coffee.

Review: JBL Go 2

Posted in Products with tags on November 29, 2021 by itnerd

Regardless of how good your laptop or phone speakers are, there are times where you need a speaker that gives you more sound that those can provide. Or you need a more robust speaker for going to the beach with. JBL has you covered on that front with their Go 2 speaker:

Here’s what you get in the box:

Besides the speaker, you get a USB-A to micro USB cable. Which in the age of USB-C is a #Fail. And the usual documentation that nobody will read. The speaker itself has these controls and connections:

There is a very thick rubber flap that covers these ports:

You get a micro USB connector and a 3.5mm input.

You get controls on the other side of the speaker including power and volume. The speaker is pretty compact and is easy to carry. It takes up little room in a backpack, laptop bag or purse.

The Go 2 supports Bluetooth 4.1 and have a battery life of 5 hours and takes 2.5 hours to charge. The speaker is IPX7 waterproof which means taking it to the pool or the beach is not an issue as it means it can be fully submersed in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes.

The question is, how does it sound? To find out, I paired it to my 16″ MacBook Pro and played one of my audio torture test playlists that I use when I evaluate car audio systems. Paring it is dead easy as I was able to turn the speaker on and have it pop up in the Bluetooth menu of my MacBook Pro. Once paired, there’s a white light that goes from flashing to solid as well as some sounds that you hear when it is powered up and it is paired. Once I did that, I had to hurriedly turn down the volume as the Go 2 is loud. It also has a surprising amount of bass, though you’re not going to shake windows with this speaker. Even at full volume. Beyond that, the sound is pretty good and I suspect that you will have no complaints. And just in the interest of pushing the envelope a bit, I played a couple of videos and found zero issues in terms of having the audio synced with the video. It also performs reasonably well as a speakerphone as there’s a built-in microphone. But I am not sure that I would use this in a noisy environment as background sound was picked up and was audible on my test calls.

My verdict is that the JBL Go 2 is a speaker that will provide you with decent sound at a decent price. Which is $35 USD as I type this. Though mine is black, there are a number of colours available. One thing that I should point out is the Go 3 is now available from JBL so you might want to either look at that, or look for the best deal on the Go 2 that you can find. Regardless, the Go 2 is worth a listen to if you are in the market for a portable Bluetooth speaker that is waterproof.

Two Week Challenge: Ekster Aluminum Cardholder – My Final Thoughts

Posted in Products with tags on November 27, 2021 by itnerd

I’ve come to the end of my two week challenge of using this super slim Ekster Aluminum Cardholder. In the first part of this challenge, I was able to get all the cards that I need into it. And I think that’s due to the fact that a lot of cards these days are digital (as in they are on your phone for example) rather than physical. That highlights that you don’t really need to have a big wallet to carry your stuff along. And related to that, I found that the stuff like parking receipts don’t collect inside my wallet. That’s a good thing as well.

In the second part of this challenge, I decided to use the Ekster Tracker Card. I think the concept is solid because it is thin, recharges the internal battery via light, and gives me a decent shot at finding this cardholder if I lose it. My only suggestion is that Ekster, or more accurately Chipolo who makes the tech behind this card have a version that works with Apple’s Find My network. Seeing as I have a few AirTags in use, it would be nice to not have to run an another app to keep track of the cardholder. And I am sure that other Apple users would appreciate it.

Related to this, a reader who owns a Ekster Cardholder emailed me with his hack to use an AirTag. He uses this AirTag holder for dog/cat collars on his cardholder. He claimed that it doesn’t add that much bulk and is secure. So for giggles, I ordered one.

The AirTag added some amount of bulk, especially in my pocket. But it’s a kludge and not a solution as the whole point of having this cardholder is to keep the bulk to a minimun. Though I can see someone in the iOS ecosystem deciding to use this method as they really want to have this cardholder and an AirTag.

Here’s the bottom line. The Ekster Aluminum Cardholder really slims down your pocket and almost feels like it’s not there. While the camo design doesn’t match the matte black/carbon fibre vibe that I tend to use with my gear, I am absolutely going to make this part of my everyday carry. If you want to slim down your wallet, this is absolutely the way to go. If Ekster comes out with a Find My compatible Tracker Card, it would be perfect. But even without that, I would highly recommend the Ekster Aluminum Cardholder without question.

Follow Up Review: AirPods Pro With MagSafe Case

Posted in Products with tags on November 24, 2021 by itnerd

After reviewing the AirPods Pro With MagSafe Case, I have found a few observations that I’d like to share, as well as a feature that I didn’t cover in my original review.

The first observation is that when I used these to watch some YouTube videos using my 16″ MacBook Pro, I noticed that the spatial audio was live. When I turned my head away from the screen, the AirPods Pro would trick my brain into thinking that the audio was coming from the left or the right. It’s kind of cool. While I might not leverage this feature every day, I may use the free trial of Apple Music that came with the AirPods Pro to try some tracks with Dolby Atmos and spatial audio just to see how good this feature really is.

The second observation is with this case, I found this case to be insanely slippery. Especially if your hands have moisture on them. My concern is that if they slip out of my hands, the case will crack or scratch. Thus I was forced to get this case to protect the case and give it some extra grip. Apple might be well served to come up with a case that didn’t have this issue.

Then there’s a fit. I spent this week trying all the sets of ear tips that come with the AirPods Pro and settled on the large ones. This was a good combination of comfort and having them stay in my ears. In my case, the medium ear tips were not snug enough, and the small ones were way too loose. I would suggest that anyone who buys these spend some time to find the ear tips that works best for them. One other thing on this front. Removing them will scare the crap out of you as you really have to pull on them to remove them. But once you do this a couple of times, you’ll have no issue going forward.

Finally there’s transparency mode. I have to admit, it’s kind of freaky how good it is. And compared to the wireless earbuds that I used as a comparison as it has a similar feature, it crushed those rather easily as it sounded really natural. So this in my mind push the AirPods Pro further ahead.

The bottom line is that the AirPods Pro is still a good pair of wireless earbuds. They’re expensive, but given the features that they come with, the sound quality, and how well they work with the Apple ecosystem, they are worth it.

Review: Spigen Rugged Armor AirPods Pro Case

Posted in Products with tags on November 23, 2021 by itnerd

I’ve had my AirPods Pro with MagSafe case for just under a week. And the number one complaint that I had since reviewing it is the case is super slippery. In fact, when I handed the AirPods Pro in the case to her to look it, it slipped out of her hand. Thus the possibility that the case would scratch or crack would be on the table. That told me that I had to put a case on the case to stop that from happening. That sounds counterintuitive. But there is an active market for AirPods and AirPods Pro cases. In my case, I chose the Spigen Rugged Armor AirPods Pro case.

It comes in three colours. Matte Black, Charcoal Grey, and Military Green. Each with a hint of carbon fibre. The Matte Black was the one for me. Here’s what you get in the box:

You get the top and lower half of this case, a piece of adhesive, a carabiner, and instructions that you won’t read as it’s pretty clear how to put them together. Before I do that, let me highlight something on the upper half of the case:

It has adhesive installed on it as I have to assume, opening and closing the case will be enough to have the upper half fly off the case if this adhesive wasn’t there. I didn’t use the optional adhesive for the lower half because it was quite snug fitting. Two minutes later, this was the result.

It’s made of thermoplastic polyurethane and has a rubber feel to it. So you’re not going to drop these. And if you do drop them, it will absorb the shock of hitting the ground. The only downside is that it does pick up dust as you can see here. It’s also doesn’t add any amount of bulk to the AirPods Pro. Which means that it can still live in your pockets just fine.

On the back you can see that it has a duplicate reset/pairing button on the back. And you will note that this case doesn’t cover the AirPods Pro case 100%. But there’s no way it could as it would not be able to hinge open. This shot also highlights the carbon fibre look that this case has.

Finally, you’ll note that this case doesn’t interfere with wireless charging as I tested that with this wireless charger. You can also see the slot for the Lightning port at the bottom if you want to plug a cable and charge that way. One thing that I will note is that the light on the front of the case can be hard to see at certain angles.

Do I have any gripes about this case? No. It does everything that I need a case for AirPods Pro to do without adding a lot of bulk. But at the same time adding a bit of style. I consider this worthy choice for those who want to protect their rather expensive AirPods Pro. I got these on Amazon for $22.99 CDN, which is a good price for the level of protection that this case provides.

Two Week Challenge: Ekster Aluminum Cardholder – One Week In

Posted in Products with tags on November 20, 2021 by itnerd

So I am one week into my challenge to use the Ekster Aluminum Cardholder which I have previously reviewed here as my daily wallet. Last week I figured out how to get all my cards into it and discovered that I was able to get everything that I actually used into this cardholder. I also found that it was much thinner than what I was used to carrying in terms of a wallet.This is a win for me as I never realized how bulky my wallet was because I was so used to it.

Now one question that I got over the last week was how do I carry cash? I have to admit that since the start of the pandemic, I rarely carry cash. But here’s how I do it with this cardholder:

I don’t think I will be carrying a lot of cash. But fitting 3 or 4 folded up bills doesn’t seem to be a problem.

One other thing that I did this week is that I pulled the trigger in terms of using the Ekster Tracker Card.

Here’s a look at the card by itself:

It’s powered by powered by Chipolo technology and it replaces the AirTag that was in my previous wallet. Setting it up amounted to downloading the Chipolo app for iOS and pairing it by pressing the button on the card. That’s the Ekster logo in the middle of the card. It’s thin and doesn’t take up a lot of real estate. And it will give me a shot at finding my wallet should I lose it. My one suggestion for Ekster would be to have a version of this tracker card that integrates with the Find My app on iOS. I say that because I have been transitioning to using AirTags which uses the Find My app on Apple products, and it would be nice if I don’t have to run one more app to keep track of my items. There’s also the fact that Chipolo has done exactly this with one of their products, so I assume that it must be possible with this card. Plus Ekster does make a fair amount of gear for Apple users. So it would be a natural fit in my mind.

Any complaints or grips? Not really at this point. Though I have to admit that I miss the ability to put things like parking receipts and the like in my wallet. But the flip side of that is it means that the wallet no longer becomes a black hole for stuff that stays in there for months for no good reason. So by having this cardholder, I am forcing myself to become more disciplined about what I keep and what I throw away.

I have one more week to go in this challenge and so far it’s been pretty positive thus far. I’ll report back in one week’s time with my final thoughts and if I will keep this cardholder as my daily driver. Stay tuned for that,.

Two Week Challenge: Ekster Aluminum Cardholder

Posted in Products with tags on November 14, 2021 by itnerd

Back in May, I had the chance to review the Ekster Aluminum Cardholder. The thing was that my wife took it off my hands and I never saw it again. So it was really great that Ekster sent me another one. And I decided to do something really different which is to challenge myself to replace my current wallet that I highlighted in my EDC write up for two weeks.

Let’s have a look at the cardholder.

It’s a camo color which isn’t usually my thing as I like black or dark coloured things. But I can still make this work as it’s not over the top in any way. In my case, I have following in the cardholder:

Inner slot:

  • Two credit cards
  • A debit card proximity card
  • A CAA card
  • A Presto card

On the back:

  • A proximity building entry card

On the outer slot:

  • My drivers license
  • My OHIP card
  • Two supplemental insurance cards

I had to leave out of two cards from this cardholder. But it wasn’t an issue for me. One was my Aeroplan card as that’s replicated in Apple Wallet. The other thing was a Kernel’s rewards card which I no longer use. Getting all my stuff into it from my normal wallet was my main concern.

The other thing that I had to ditch was my Apple AirTag which was in my old wallet. I could replace it with Ekster’s Tracker Card though. The tracker card is powered by powered by Chipolo technology and is recharged by sunlight. It takes 3 hours of charge and lasts 2-3 months on a charge. That allows you to find the wallet via Bluetooth LE 4.0 from up to 200 feet away. Using the Chipolo app you can ring the tracker card so that you can play a game of “Marco Polo” to find it, or see it’s last location that it was near your phone if you do lose it. I don’t presently have it on my wallet. But I may add it later as it doesn’t add too much to the cardholder.

Speaking of thickness, here’s a couple of shots of the cardholder next to my old wallet:

The Ekster Cardholder has way less bulk and is much slimmer than my wallet. Granted there’s nothing in the wallet. But even empty there’s a significant difference. And that’s a difference that I can feel in my pocket as I sometimes have to check to see if it’s there. Plus I can see scenarios where I can carry this cardholder because of the size. For example, when I cross country ski, or go out on my bike where a normal wallet was way too bulky to carry. Even just having it in my pocket is great as I barely notice it.

Over the next two weeks, I will be using the cardholder full time and I will see if this could be a great replacement for a regular wallet. To be honest, I am not sure what to expect from this challenge. But it will be interesting to find out. Stay tuned.

Review: Apple 2021 MacBook Pro 16″ – Part 2

Posted in Products with tags on November 3, 2021 by itnerd

If you saw the first part of my review of my new 2021 16″ MacBook Pro, I found it to be very powerful with a retro vibe to it. But how does it perform in the real world? Let’s start with battery life. This is a very individual thing based on how you use a notebook. In my case, I devised a test that fits my work pattern.

  • Disable the ability for the screen to go to sleep.
  • Connect to a VPN to maintain a constant network connection.
  • Unplug the MacBook Pro and use it as I normally would when I work from home.

This started at 8:02 AM. Except for lunch and some breaks, I was constantly using it. I watched a few videos on YouTube for mental breaks, I used the VPN to work on a client’s network. I also did my video export test. More on that later. And I did the usual surfing and answering email. At least until I got a low battery prompt at 8:17 PM.

That’s 12 hours and 15 minutes. And I likely could have got another 45 minutes to hour out of it. While this is not the 21 hours that Apple came up with in a high unrealistic and contrived video playback test, it is close to the 14 hours of web browsing that Apple promises in that highly unrealistic and contrived test. Regardless, this 100 watt-hour gives this MacBook Pro legitimate all day battery life. Or put another way, It’s a flight from Toronto to Hawaii with at least 2 hours of power left over. That was pretty impressive. So was charging. Apple claims that you can get a charge of 50% in 30 minutes. And I watched it charge that fast. That was pretty impressive as well.

Now over to that video export test. Using iMovie, I strung together two 4K 60 FPS HDR clips lasting 30 seconds with a 1080P 60 FPS clip and exported it to both Pro Res and MP4 format. Both in best quality. Here were the results:

MP4: 1:04

Pro Res: 15.97 seconds

Pro Res exports way quicker because Apple put dedicated Pro Res encoders and decoders on the M1 Pro. And if you get the M1 Max, you get two of these. Which means that if you’re a video editor and your workflow includes Pro Res, you simply should buy these machines without question. Another note, if I did this on my 2015 MacBook Pro with an Intel processor, it would have taken up to 10 minutes, and the fans would have spun up to jet engine loudness and the notebook would have gotten hot to the touch. On this M1 Pro MacBook Pro, the fans never spun up and the notebook remained cool. Actually, now that I think about it, I have never heard the fans spin up the entire time I have had this MacBook Pro.

Now over to the screen. It’s what Apple calls a Liquid Retina XDR display. The best way to describe it is that it is a scaled down version of the Pro Display XDR. It is an excellent screen and you will have a hard time running this MacBook Pro with any external monitor if you have it in clamshell mode as no monitor will measure up to this display. It also comes with ProMotion which ramps the display rate from 120 Hz down to 24 Hz depending on what you are doing. This balances having a great looking and fluid display with battery life. And it works. Switching between full screen apps to a normal desktop was insanely smooth. Scrolling web pages is smooth.

That leads me to the notch. Now when you see the notch, you’re seeing it in a 16:10 display. But if you watch video in full screen (which if it’s a HDR video will be a treat), or use a full screen app, you get a 16:9 screen with a black bar at the top. But honestly, it’s mostly a non factor as you will get used to it very quickly. I say mostly because if you have a lot of menu items or you use something like iStat Menus, there is the chance that some of the menu items will go behind the notch. Hopefully that behaviour gets fixed as I would expect things to go around the notch and not through the notch. Though if this really bugs you, there are apps that can address this. Having said that the trade off is that you get insanely thin bezels which I welcome as I get more screen real estate (16.2″ to be precise) as a result. That’s more than the previous 16″ MacBook Pro.

Inside that notch is a long overdue 1080P webcam. Thanks to the image signal processor and a new four-element lens, a and wider aperture you get much better video for your Zoom or Teams calls. Even in lower light conditions. And no, there is no Face ID. Apple claims that the fingerprint sensor is more convenient for users. But I would not at all be shocked that Face ID makes an appearance in the next year or two. Speaking of the keyboard, it’s fantastic. I love the feel and the amount of travel. And the removal of the Touch Bar, which Apple introduced and really didn’t give developers a reason to adopt, and almost no end user liked, in favour of function keys is welcome. I should note that the escape key is bigger as well. And the blacked out look is sweet.

MagSafe makes a welcome return to the MacBook Pro. It’s a connector that magnetically attaches to the laptop’s power adapter port, and it breaks away if you give it a good tug. It’s a great safety feature that I really missed, especially as someone who has tripped over the plugged-in cable more than a few times. Another nice touch is that the included USB-C to MagSafe cable is braided, so it’s a bit more durable than the regular vinyl it uses on its other cables. Though I will warn you that if you need to replace it or get a spare, it will be pricy. I should note the MacBook Pro can still charge via USB-C if that works better for you.

Next there’s the speakers. The new sound system with six speakers is currently the best system you can get in a mobile device, Period. You can enjoy a very rich and powerful sound, and only a real subwoofer would be an additional improvement. The MacBook also supports 3D audio if that’s your thing. As for that headphone jack, if you’re an audio professional you can leverage this for your high impedance headphones. And Apple nailed this as those headphones are loud. Oh yeah, Apple calls the microphones “studio quality”. I wouldn’t go that far, but they do work very well in a pinch if you don’t have a microphone or a pair of AirPods Pro handy for a Zoom call.

Finally, this MacBook Pro feels solid and while it is heavier than some of its competition, it’s not a deal breaker. It’s also a bit bulky, but that too isn’t a deal breaker.

So let’s get to the bottom line. Who is this MacBook Pro for? Well, should you be able to utilize the additional performance for video editing or anything that graphics heavy, this is the notebook to get. And if you need even more performance, there’s always the M1 Max processor. If however if you simply check your email and surf the Internet, this machine is total overkill for you. It is a really impressive laptop, despite some minor quirks and issues. And the fact that you can get it in a 14″ model as well as the 16″ model that I have really gives it a lot of flexibility. The 14″ model starts at $2499 CDN. the 16″ model starts at $3149. My 16″ MacBook Pro with 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and an M1 Pro processor comes in at $3899. And you should get AppleCare as repairs to this MacBook Pro will likely not be inexpensive. It’s not cheap, but if you can fully utilize what it is capable of, it’s worth it.

Review: Apple 2021 MacBook Pro 16″ – Part 1

Posted in Products with tags on November 2, 2021 by itnerd

October 27 2016 is a day that will live in infamy for many Mac users. That’s the day that Apple announced the 2016 MacBook Pro. That would be the one that ditched things like the HDMI port and SD card slot for USB-C everything. Forcing everyone to buy a dongle for every function that they needed. It was also the one that introduced the butterfly keyboard. The one that was horrifically unreliable. And it introduced the TouchBar, and deleted real function keys. Those along with other changes made Apple users irate. Some even abandoned the platform for Windows laptops that gave them what they wanted. And it seemed that Apple didn’t care as they kept sticking with all of these changes. Though they eventually did back away slowly from the butterfly keyboard in 2019 when the costs of failed keyboards and class action lawsuits from ticked off Apple users started to add up. It also likely didn’t help that people like me kept their 2015 MacBook Pros that didn’t have these flaws and also said 2015 MacBook Pros increased in value because it was thought of as the last good Apple MacBook Pro. That must have cost Apple a few bucks over the years.

That changed earlier this month when Apple released the 2021 MacBook Pro. You might call this the apology MacBook Pro as it is the closest thing that you will get to Apple apologizing for angering pro users. But there’s more than that. It’s also a MacBook Pro that kills anything with an Intel processor.

Now this review will be split up into two parts. Today, I’ll be looking at the design and feature set of the MacBook Pro, along with doing some benchmarking. Part 2 of this review will have some observations after using it for a few days, and some final thoughts. But first let’s get to the MacBook Pro that I have. The MacBook Pro comes in two screen sizes. 14″ and 16″. It also comes with two processors. The M1 Pro and the M1 Max. I explain the differences between the two processors here. But with that framing the discussion, here’s what I ordered less than ten minutes after the end of the Apple event that announced these machines:

  • 16” MacBook Pro
  • M1 Pro with 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine
  • 1TB storage
  • 32GB of RAM

Why did I go with this configuration? There’s a handful of reasons why I went this rout: 

  • Both the M1 Pro and the M1 Max utterly destroy almost anything with an Intel processor. More on that in a bit. But I don’t have a reason to use the power that the M1 Max is capable of. Specifically, video editing in ProRes. Nor do I render graphics on a regular basis. So I went with the M1 Pro.
  • I have 512 GB of storage in my Intel MacBook Pro. And I have only filled 55% of it. So 1TB is more than enough for me. 
  • I have 16GB of RAM in my Intel MacBook Pro. Thus 32GB of RAM is more than enough for me.

And Apple made the unboxing experience interesting:

The UPS guy dropped of this box to me. There’s a pull tab in the middle which you have yank on:

From there the box unfolds to reveal your rather expensive purchase:

Now this is where I start to criticize Apple. It’s wrapped up in plastic. For a company that claims to care about the environment, and made a big deal of removing the plastic from the packaging of the iPhone 13, why wrap this MacBook Pro in plastic? Surely they could have come up with some other way to seal the box? It really makes their environmental efforts look like greenwashing.

End of rant.

Pull the tab at the top of the box to easily remove the plastic wrapping that will be in a landfill site shortly. You can then open the box to see this:

You get to see your new MacBook Pro wrapped in some sort of wax paper like wrapping. I’m going to put that to the side for a second so that you can see what else in the box.

At the top you get your usual books. To quote Flossy Carter, pluck them and file them to the side, but not before getting these out:

Black Apple stickers instead of white ones that are usually included. I guess nothing says pro like black Apple stickers.

There’s a 140W GaN charger that can be used to charge the 100 watt-hour battery (Fun fact: It’s the largest battery that you can put in a notebook and legally take onto an airplane) to 50% in 30 minutes.

It also comes with a woven detachable cable that has USB-C at one end and MagSafe at the other. Yes, this comes with MagSafe. While you can charge via USB-C, which was the only charging option on the 2016 MacBook Pro, MagSafe which is a magnetic connection that detaches under force allows you to charge and protect yourself from tripping over the cable. Which in turn would send your notebook flying. That’s the first part of Apple walking back changes that angered it’s user base. Here’s another:

Apple brought back the HDMI port as well as the SD card slot. And you get a USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 port. But I will point out that the HDMI port is HDMI 2.0 which maxes out at 4K 60 FPS instead of HDMI 2.1 which support 8K 120 FPS or higher. And the SD card slot is a UHS-II slot with a theoretical maximum transfer speed up to 312MB/s and not the faster UHS-III with a theoretical maximum transfer speed up to 624MB/s. So are you getting cutting edge stuff? No. But it is more than serviceable.

On the other side you get two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports. The MagSafe connector, and a high impedance headphone port which you can use with high quality headsets that are often used by audio engineers. I’ll give Apple points for that.

One other thing that I’d like to point out. During the Apple event where this MacBook Pro was announced, Apple said this:

The only reason why this MacBook Pro has the most advanced connectivity in a Mac notebook ever is because Apple took all the ports away from users in 2016 forcing them to live “the dongle life” only to put those ports back now.

Yes I am still salty about that. I bet so are many others. But I digress.

Here’s what the MacBook Pro looks like fully set up:

I’ll cover some quick items here:

  • About that notch. I noticed it when I first powered it on and then stopped caring after about an hour. It’s a total non factor for me.
  • The screen is outstanding as it is bright when playing back HDR content, it’s sharp, and everything looks stunning. You can thank the mini LED display which Apple calls a “Liquid Retina XDR” display. In short, it’s basically a scaled down version of the Pro Display XDR which you might remember as Apple’s $5000 USD monitor with a $1000 stand. It also comes with a ProMotion 120Hz display which is buttery smooth. Once you notice how smooth this display is, you won’t go back to a 60Hz display.
  • The Magic Keyboard is fantastic! As someone who learned to type on a typewriter back in the Stone Age, I love the tactile feedback that it provides. Not to mention that I get full sized function keys and a larger escape key instead of that Touch Bar that really was not useful to anyone. The backlighting of the keys is totally on point as it has the right brightness regardless of the lighting conditions in the room.
  • The Force Touch trackpad is the usual Apple feel and size and the haptics (seeing as the keypad doesn’t actually move) are top shelf, so no complaints there.
  • The speakers are simply the best speakers that I have ever heard in a notebook. Windows, Mac, anything. Any piece of music that I tossed at it sounded crisp, clear, well balanced without any distortion.
  • A lot has been made about the weight. I don’t find this to be heavy as it’s not any heavier than my 2015 MacBook Pro. Though if you have newer MacBook Pro, I can see how you would find this to be heavier that you are used to.
  • The venting that this MacBook Pro has is insane. Besides a vent on each side, there’s a massive vent below the screen. There’s seriously no excuse for this notebook not to keep cool. The large feet also help with keeping the MacBook Pro cool. And so far, I have not heard the fans. But I haven’t really pushed this machine yet.
  • The aluminum chassis being squared off really gives off a early MacBook Pro or even perhaps a PowerBook vibe to it.
  • I haven’t fully tested the 1080p webcam which replaces the rather craptastic 720p webcam that Apple had been including for years. But early tests show that the quality is great.

I’ll refine those items for part two of this review, but the real question that you have is how fast is this machine? Let’s head over to Geekbench and find out:

Well, those are some interesting numbers, but what do they mean relative to other Macs. Here’s a list of the fastest single-core scores that Geekbench has recorded:

In single core performance, it’s the fastest Mac out there. Which means for simple tasks like checking your email or surfing the web, this machine is going to be fast. And here’s a list of the fastest multi-core scores that Geekbench has recorded:

Well, this MacBook Pro plays in the same space as iMac Pro and MacPro models. That’s not bad company to be in. Which means that if your job involves doing things that require a fast machine, the MacBook Pro is up to it. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s the graphics performance in OpenCL to be considered:

And here’s how that score stacks up to the fastest graphics cards around:

Okay. At the top end of the food chain, the MacBook Pro isn’t in the same league. But if you compare it to cards that have a similar score, you’ll notice something:

A lot of these cards have been used in Macs before. So while the MacBook Pro is not the out and out fastest, it isn’t too shabby either. Now here’s the disk performance via BlackMagic’s disk speed test:

The disk read and write speeds are insane. What this means is that any disk intensive operations such as editing 4K or 8K video is a total non-issue.

At this point, the next thing for me is to use this MacBook Pro for a few days so I can get a feel for overall feel, battery life, and the like. Then I can provide my final thoughts about this new MacBook Pro. Stay tuned for that.

Review: iPhone 13

Posted in Products with tags on October 12, 2021 by itnerd

My wife got a new iPhone 13 to replace her iPhone XR. Now my wife doesn’t usually replace tech unless she is forced to. So I did the forcing by buying her the iPhone 13 as an early Christmas present. And after having her spend two weeks with it, I have some interesting observations to report.

In the box you get a USB-C to Lightning cable, SIM ejector tool, paperwork, and a single Apple sticker. I should note that it is not color matched with the phone. And for the second year in a row there’s no AC adapter in the box. There’s no use complaining about that now as clearly Apple is making you buy their adapter so that they can line their pockets with more cash. But that’s the cynic in me talking. And if you do need an adapter, there are other options like this one that you can get instead. You also get no plastic wrap around the box. Now the lack of a plastic wrap and the lack of an AC adapter in the box are according to Apple in the name protecting the environment. But seeing as that the iPhone 13 is not only not easy to repair, and the fact that Apple has attempted to dissuade repairs outright by making parts swaps impossible for non-Apple repair shops, on top of the fact that Apple is hyper aggressive about fighting right to repair laws, it’s hard to take their environmental claims seriously. In fact, I would call what Apple is doing “greenwashing”. But I digress. Back to the iPhone 13.

Here’s a look at the phone itself:

This is the Product Red version. My wife calls it a “proper” red because it not only is a deep red, but it aligns with her cultural values as to what red should look like. You’ll note that it still looks like an iPhone 12 and it still has a Lightning port. Everything else is pretty much the same. Though I would note that it is a bit thicker, a bit heavier, the buttons have been shifted slightly, and the camera bump is bigger. All of this is enough that your iPhone 12 case won’t work with it. The chassis is a glass front and back, with a aluminum band around the side. The screen has Apple’s “Ceramic Shield” tech on it to stop it from shattering if dropped. Though that should not stop you from putting a screen protector on it like this one as it will protect the screen from scratches at the very least as “Ceramic Shield” won’t help you with that as shatter resistance is inversely proportional to scratch resistance. Nor should it stop you from putting it in a case like this one as there is no “Ceramic Shield” on the back which means that the back will shatter if you drop it.

The screen is a 6.1″ OLED screen which significant upgrade over the LCD screen that was on my wife’s iPhone XR and even last year’s iPhone 12. It’s 2,532-by-1,170-pixel with a wide color gamut and Apple’s True Tone color management. Typical brightness is now 800cd/m2 as compared with 625cd/m2 on the iPhone 12. One of the differences between this iPhone 13 and the iPhone 13 Pro models is that the 13 has a 60Hz display, while the Pro phones have 120Hz displays. If you’ve never experienced a 120Hz display, this won’t be a big deal. In the case of my wife, she’s never had a 120Hz screen before. So the fact that this is a 60Hz screen is a total non issue for her. And Apple has tended to make the most fluid and smooth 60Hz phones around. So I suspect that this screen will be fine for most.

The new iPhones has a notch at the top that is 20% smaller from side to side. But a bit wider. Sadly, Apple didn’t see fit to add any additional information at the top of the screen seeing as they had more real estate to play with. Would it have killed them to add a battery indicator for example? I don’t think so. This is a missed opportunity as far as I am concerned.

The display is very easy to read in most lighting conditions including bright sunlight. The iPhone 13 is capable of HDR playback. And the test videos that I played on it looked stunning. If that’s not enough, the iPhone 13 is also capable of recording Dolby Vision HDR in 4k60, which is mind blowing considering that this is a phone and not a cinema quality video camera. To illustrate this, I recorded a pair of videos. One on my iPhone 12 Pro and one on my wife’s iPhone 13. Here’s the iPhone 12 Pro video:

Now here’s the iPhone 13 video:

There’s very little in it between the two iPhones. But I think that the iPhone 13 is a bit smoother despite all the shaking. That’s like due to the fact that the iPhone 13 has in body image stabilization from the iPhone 12 Pro Max from last year. I also think that the contrast is slightly better in the iPhone 13 video. Likely due to the improvements in the camera system.

Speaking of cameras, the iPhone 13 has two 12-megapixel cameras on the back:

  • A main f/1.6 camera
  • A 120-degree ultra-wide f/2.4 lens.
  • On the front, there’s a 12-megapixel camera with depth mapping sensors for Face ID and augmented reality.

The main place you will notice the difference is low light or at night. Take for example this iPhone 12 Pro shot:

Note the flaring in a couple of places. Notably the building on the left and the light in the center of the picture. That is a common occurrence on the iPhone 12 Pro. Compare that with the iPhone 13 shot:

Because the iPhone 13 cameras let in more light because their bigger lenses (relative to the iPhone 12), you get a much better photo at night or in low light. The same thing is true for more favorable lighting conditions. Take this photo that was taken with the iPhone 12 Pro:

There’s noting wrong with this picture per se. But compare it with the same shot with the iPhone 13:

There’s a lot more contrast in this picture and the picture “pops” a lot more. Even in ideal lighting conditions, this is true. Again, this is the iPhone 12 Pro:

And this is the iPhone 13

In short, Apple has made the cameras much better. Especially if you are coming from an older iPhone or perhaps even one from last year in this case. Thus if you want a great camera system outside of the iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max which has a telephoto lens and other camera tweaks, this is it.

In terms of speed, the iPhone 13 gets the A15 Bionic processor. Benchmark tests say it is up to 20% faster. You won’t notice the difference unless you are coming from a much older phone like the XR. But it does power a bunch of new features that the iPhone 13 introduces. Specifically two. The first is Photographic Styles which are basically like iPhone photo preferences that are baked into the photos that you take. Which put another way, once you take the photo you can’t change it after the fact. So it’s not a filter but a preferred look that you want your photos to have. You can adjust the tone and warmth of each style to suit your preferences and tastes. These stylistic effects won’t affect the skin tones of people in your photos. There are four preset Photographic Styles:

  • Rich Contrast
  • Vibrant
  • Warm
  • Cool.

And you can also create your own. I suspect that most people won’t touch this feature unless they want to tweak their photos to look like what you get with a Samsung or Pixel phone for example.

The last new feature is Cinematic Mode. Cinematic Mode is designed to act like a virtual focus puller. This is someone who might work alongside a camera operator, ensuring that the right parts of the picture are in focus, and perfectly sharp. Except that the iPhone itself is able to focus on faces and blur out the rest of the background. If there are multiple people in the shot, it will focus on the closest person. If that person looks away, it will focus on the next closest person. And you can edit this effect after the fact, but only if you use Apple made editing software just in case the iPhone gets it wrong. For me this is a bit of a party trick that is likely to be used once, but never to be used again. But in the interest of science, I tested it and here’s the video proof.

Because the figurine was the only thing in the shot, it was basically video portrait mode. And it’s limited to 1080p and not 4K. While it’s better than the attempt that Samsung made at doing this a couple of years back, It’s far from a must use feature for my wife and I personally consider it to be version 1.0 of this feature. Maybe it will be different in a few years and a few revisions from now.

The iPhone 13 has better 5G connectivity versus the iPhone 13 thanks to updated tech from Qualcomm. My wife and I tested this by running a few tests from our balcony on the TELUS network. Here’s my iPhone 12 Pro:

And here’s the iPhone 13:

While the downstream speed is somewhat slower on the iPhone 13, the upstream speed is somewhat faster. This was a repeatable result and I am guessing that Apple is trying to balance downstream and upstream speed to give you a more consistent 5G experience. To stop you from chewing through your battery life, Apple has a feature that will switch between LTE and 5G depending on your data needs to save power that they ported over from the iPhone 12 series.

Speaking of Battery life, it’s insane according to my wife. Here’s a few examples of her usage over a few days:

On this day she got almost 8 hours of battery life and didn’t even use 50% of her battery.

On this day she had just over 7 hours of battery life using just over 50% of her battery.

She also used the phone on 7 hours on this day with roughly 50% of the battery life used. These examples pretty much destroy the battery life on her previous iPhone XR. So when Apple said that they improved battery life, they meant it. You will get much better battery life by going to the iPhone 13 versus any older iPhone.

So, should you buy the iPhone 13? Well, let’s start with why you might want to consider the iPhone 13 Pro instead: 

  • If you want better photo quality because of the telephoto lens and other camera enhancements found in the iPhone 13 Pro, then the iPhone 13 Pro would be worth it. 
  • If you want to leverage the upcoming ProRes video format from Apple, then the iPhone 13 Pro is worth it.
  • If having 2GB extra RAM over the iPhone 13 which comes with 4GB of RAM is worth it to you, then buy the iPhone 13 Pro. 
  • If you want a bigger screen, then the iPhone 13 Pro Max is your only choice.

However, if you want pretty good photos, and you are coming from an older iPhone like a iPhone X, XR, or XS or earlier, then this iPhone 13 is the one to go with. Here in Canada the iPhone starts at $1099 CDN with 128GB. My wife 256GB version was $1239 CDN, but if you can get 512GB for $1509. My recommendation would be to choose 128GB or 256GB as those are the best values. I’d also recommend AppleCare+ which is $199 CDN as fixing any iPhone out of warranty is not cheap.

The iPhone 13 is a great iPhone which is a great upgrade from last year’s iPhone 12, and one that I would recommend to most people. Just make sure that your bank account can support the purchase as it isn’t cheap.