Archive for the Products Category

Review: Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Posted in Products with tags on February 24, 2017 by itnerd

I needed a new phone for a few reasons. First, I have been bouncing between a couple of phones over the last year. Specifically, the Apple iPhone 5s and Apple iPhone 6. Second, I wanted a phone with more storage as 16GB (the iPhone 6) doesn’t come close to cutting it from a storage perspective and 32GB (the iPhone 5s) is usable but doesn’t give you much runway for the future. Finally, I wanted a bigger screen as that would be much easier on the eyes as using a 4″ screen when you have 40+ year old eyes which also are affected by Keratoconus isn’t workable. But a 4.7″ screen at the very least is workable. After much deliberation and even enlisting the help of my followers on Twitter, I got an Apple iPhone 7 Plus unlocked from the Apple store. Specifically the matte black 128GB model. I went for 128GB because that would give me the room for whatever I needed to install or store on the phone for the next couple of years that I own the phone. But you’re likely asking “why did you go for the Plus model?” The answer is a bit more complicated.

The first reason is the screen. Now Apple was late to the game when it came to a big screen “phablet” style phone. But at least in the iPhone 7 Plus, that delay seems to have been worth it. The 5.5″ screen does 1080p and colors are sharp and vibrant. Plus text is easier to read and I really appreciate that the entire user interface rotates when I rotate the phone from portrait to landscape. That helps to make this the “device to rule them all” that those in the market for a “phablet” are looking for.

The second reason is battery life. This thing lasts and lasts and lasts. For example, I can easily make it through a full day with plenty of charge to spare. As in something north of 65% of a charge. That’s something that I was never able to do with any other iPhone that I’ve owned. On top of that, when I use apps like Runtastic Pro to measure my efforts while cross country skiing, the battery hit after a two hour workout still leaves me with a 70% charge. Of course the fact that this is a bigger phone allowed Apple to shove a bigger battery into it, which of course helps with that. But you have to imagine that there are some power saving tweaks that work into getting results like this as well.

Now over to the size of the phone. One of the main reasons why I have resisted getting a phone with a screen over 5″ is that I always thought it would be difficult to hold and use. Having used the iPhone 7 Plus for a week, I can say that I was mostly wrong. It is easy to hold and use for the most part. And the fact that Apple has a gesture called Reachability that slides the entire user interface downwards so that you can get to the top part of the screen one handed helps greatly. It also fits into loose fitting pants fine, but is snug in shirt pockets. I also had issues popping it into my cross country ski jacket which has pockets at the back that now just hold the phone without becoming uncomfortable. I should also mention that the phone is lighter than I anticipated which is welcome as I try to travel light whenever possible.

I can’t review this phone without touching on the one thing that caused the Internet to explode when it was announced. The removal of the headphone jack which apparently required courage on the part of Apple to do. Apple claims to have done this to facilitate IP67 water and dust resistance (in the case of water it means submersion in up to 1 metre of water for 30 minutes as opposed to being waterproof). And Apple would rather that you use wireless headsets like the AirPods or BeatsX which leverages their new W1 chipset which makes using headsets that support this chipset painless, or a set of Bluetooth headsets to extract more cash from your bank account. To be fair, Apple did include a Lightning to 3.5 mm adapter in the box which of course won’t help you if you want to listen to music and charge the phone at the same time without resorting to using a dongle like this one. This is likely to create two camps. One will go the wireless route and not complain. I however am in the other camp who won’t do that because I often take flights that last 14+ hours where I often listen to music while charging the phone. Most wireless headsets won’t last that long. Thus on my next flight I suspect I will be living the dongle life. Plus I will not replace my great sounding RHA’s that I own simply because Apple thinks I should.

Other things that changed include the lack of a physical home button that does Touch ID. Instead, you get a “button” with haptic feedback. Meaning a fake button click is generated to fool you into thinking that you pressed a real button. This is the expansion of the 3D Touch features that were introduced with the iPhone 6s series which I am using for the first time and I growing to like. You can customize the feel of it and once you get used to it, you don’t really notice it. But it is kind of weird for the first day or so. You also get dual speakers on this iPhone as well. They are loud, but there’s very little if any stereo separation. Likely because they are too close together which is understandable. They’re decent, but the lack a bit on the low end. Thus audiophiles will want to invest in quality external speakers and use the built in ones in a pinch.

Performance from the iPhone 7 Plus is pretty impressive. It has the new A10 Fusion core processor which has four cores. But it doesn’t use all four of them at once. Two of the cores are powerful and used for things like 3D gaming, multitasking and the like. The other two are low powered and are used for less demanding tasks. But it all comes together very nicely to make the iPhone 7 Plus the fastest iOS device I’ve ever used. Particularly with games. The fact that the iPhone 7 Plus also comes with 3GB of RAM which is 1GB more than the iPhone 7 comes with likely helps with that.

The biggest change is the camera. Both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus utilize the same rear facing 12-megapixel camera and front facing 7 megapixel camera. They can take 1080P and 4K video and Apple has jacked up the brightness on the flash too. Finally, both models include optical image stabilization (OIS). But things get more interesting with the iPhone 7 Plus as it has a second telephoto lens that serves two purposes:

  • 2x optical zoom function as opposed to doing “math” to simulate zooming in which can negatively affect the quality of the picture.
  • It allows for “Portrait Mode.” By capturing photos with both lenses simultaneously and analyzing data from the resulting images, the iPhone 7 Plus can create a blurred background effect similar to what you get when shooting portraits with a DSLR camera.

So, how well does this all work? To find out, I first went to Pearson Airport in Toronto to shoot some stills and video. First let’s look at some stills. Click to enlarge:

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Now here’s a video shot in 4k resolution. One thing to note is that you can take stills at the same time you are shooting video. Set it to full screen and 4K to view:

Back to the stills. Here’s two more stills to demonstrate portrait mode. First one with portrait mode. Click to enlarge:

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And the same picture without portrait mode. Click to enlarge:

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The difference between the two is easy to spot if you look at the legs of the woman in the top center of the photo.

In the end, the iPhone 7 Plus is clearly the iPhone Apple wants in your hands and that goes beyond the fact that Apple makes more money on each one that they sell. It’s also because the iPhone 7 Plus is pretty much better than the iPhone 7 in every way possible. Camera, speed, screen, it’s all top shelf stuff. If you have to choose between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, go for the latter unless you find it too big for you in terms of size or price seeing as my particular iPhone 7 Plus is $1179 CDN. Trust me, you will not regret it. At least not until the next iPhone comes out.

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Review: Belkin ScreenCare+ Screen Protector For The iPhone 7 Plus

Posted in Products with tags on February 22, 2017 by itnerd

I have only had my iPhone 7 Plus for less than a week, but one thing that I wanted to do right out of the gate is protect the screen. On top of that, I am not a fan of glossy screens as I tend to use my phone in the outdoors where glare can become an issue. The thing with screen protectors is that if you do it yourself, you have to clean the screen perfectly and apply it perfectly or it looks terrible. Seeing as this was a brand new phone, I decided to go another route. I decided to get a ScreenCare+ Screen Protector from Belkin which offers professional and perfect installation at your local Apple Store. By that I mean that Belkin has developed a machine that applies the screen protector perfectly every single time. After they clean it of course. So I handed my phone over to an Apple Specalist who cleaned my phone of dust, smudges and fingerprints and then watched them put the screen protector on using the device that’s in the video below:

The result was a perfectly applied screen protector with no air bubbles or dust underneath it. It was pretty impressive to watch and I have zero complaints about the screen protector. Now in my case, I chose the Anti-Glare model as I wanted to protect the screen and mitigate the glare issue. But Belkin also offers and Invisiglass screen protector that offers better shock protection while still being glossy. So you’ve got a couple of choices depending on what your use case is. In my case, the ScreenCare+ Anti-Glare screen protector cost me $24.95 CDN which included installation. That’s a pretty good price to keep your iPhone’s screen in great conditon. If you buy an iPhone at your local Apple Store, you should really consider having them install one of these before you walk out the door. If you’re an existing owner of a iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s Plus, you should also consider taking a trip to your local Apple Store to get one installed as well.

Review: OtterBox Statement Case For iPhone 7 Plus

Posted in Products with tags on February 22, 2017 by itnerd

I recently became the new owner of an unlocked iPhone 7 Plus. Seeing as it is one of the matte black models, and I use the phone to record my efforts when I cycle, hike or cross country ski, I wanted to protect it from drops and the like. But I also wanted a case that didn’t make the phone any bigger than it was. I recalled that I had previously used the OtterBox Statement Case for the iPhone 6 when I had that phone. So I decided that I’d try the version for the iPhone 7 Plus.

One of the things that I like about this case is that it is thin. The iPhone 7 Plus isn’t a small phone, and having this case on it still allows me to put it in my pocket comfortably. It has a bit of a lip around it that makes sure the screen is less likely to come in contact with whatever surface you put it on if you lay the phone on a table with the screen facing downwards, or if the phone drops and lands screen first. But the main reason why I wanted this case is that it is Drop Plus Certified. Meaning that they test it to make sure it will survive drops and bumps. That’s important when you’ve just shelled out $1200 on a phone. It also has redundant buttons for the volume controls and the power button. The latter I found harder to press which may be a good thing as your phone would be less likely to switch on in your pocket. All of this comes in a very minimalist package which adds to the look of the phone rather than subtracts from it.

The OtterBox Statement Case For iPhone 7 Plus is available from OtterBox directly or from the Apple Store and other retailers. I got mine for $49 CDN. You should seriously consider getting one if you want great protection in a minimalist package.

Review: ZTE Grand X 4

Posted in Products with tags on February 16, 2017 by itnerd

ZTE has proven that they can make a phone for a low price that packs a lot of value. Their latest effort is the ZTE Grand X 4. Let me get to the price right off the bat. If you’re on Freedom Mobile, you can get it for $99 on a two year plan if the plan is $45 or more. What do you get for that price? A lot actually. Here’s the specs:

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow

  • 5.5-inch 1280×720 LCD

  • 1.4 GHz quad-core processor

  • 2 GB RAM

  • 16 GB Storage

  • microSD slot

  • 13MP rear camera

  • 5MP front camera

  • USB-C

  • Bluetooth 4.2 LE

  • 4G LTE

  • 802.11b/g/n WiFi

Those aren’t lightweight specs.

The ZTE Grand X 4 is not a small phone. That said, the curved edges, textured back and a solid in-hand feel make the phone much easier to handle than you might expect. It’s also light. I used it all day to shoot pictures and video at the Canadian International Auto Show media day and I never found it to be bulky and heavy. It also feels solid and well constructed. 

Some features stand out to me. First is the fingerprint scanner. A smartphone with a fingerprint scanner isn’t common at this price point. This this is a plus. The second is the screen. Okay, you will notice the pixels on it. But colors were vibrant and images seemed bright to me. I seriously doubt that anyone who sees it will complain. Fingerprints on the screen are a bit of a problem though.

Performance is pretty good. Apps open quickly and I never noticed any significant lag or real slow-downs during casual usage. I have no complaints on this front. But what’s missing is NFC which is understandable as you have to cut costs somewhere to hit this price point. For the record, another area that ZTE saved a few bucks on is WiFi. It only has 802.11b/g/n WiFi in an age where 802.11ac is common. The software is pretty much stock Android with some slight (yet helpful) additions. The most obvious difference will be on the notification area, which does look rather unique.

The camera on the Grand X 4 is pretty decent. I used it to shoot this 1080p video at the Canadian International Auto Show. Set it to 1080p and full screen to see what I mean:

Sound quality is a bit tinny. You’ll also note the fact that it constatly tried to autofocus. To be fair, you can turn that off if it bothers you which is a good thing. In terms of stills, they were decent. Here were a few examples:

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There is some pixelation. However, these pictures are decent. Considering that this is a $99 phone, that’s to be expected.

Battery life was great. I started using it at 7:10 AM to tweet, take photos and videos almost non stop, and upload a video to YouTube and got to 3PM with 46% of the battery left. That’s pretty impressive as I was hammering the phone pretty hard. That means that battery life under normal usage will be in the two day range. Pretty impressive from a $99 phone.

The bottom line? If you want a phone at this price point, the ZTE Grand X 4 is hard to beat. Sure it’s not perfect, but this phone has a lot going for it. Enough that you should put it on your shopping list.

Review: Noyce 4m Lightning To USB Cable

Posted in Products with tags on January 30, 2017 by itnerd

I have a very unique cable in my possession to review. It’s the Noyce 4m Lightning To USB cable. Here’s a look at it:

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This cable has a bunch of things going for it. Let’s start with the fact that the cable is 4m long. That’s 13 feet in old money. That’s an insanely long cable which makes it perfect for desks, or your bedside, or any use case where length matters. Here’s another item that this cable has going for it:

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To keep things neat and tidy, not to mention looking classy, there’s this Brazilian leather strap.

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The ends are apparently tested to be able to bend 5000 times for durablity. Not only that, I found that this connector fit into the cases that I tried it with.

What’s missing from this cable? MFI certification. That’s clear when I check this Amazon page which says this:

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Thus if you buy this cable, be prepared for it to not work with your iDevice. Though in my testing, it worked with every iPhone I tried it with. This cable costs $19.90 on Amazon. In short, I love the length, the leather strap, and the fact that it’s durable. But the lack of MFI certification gives me cause to pause as that is important. Thus you should keep that in mind if you choose to buy this cable.

Review: 2016 15″ MacBook Pro

Posted in Products with tags on January 9, 2017 by itnerd

I don’t think that Apple has put out a product that has attracted so much negative press as the 2016 MacBook ProIt’s ports force you to live what has become known as “the dongle life”, it is apparently short on battery life, and it’s more expensive. So I managed to get my hands on one for a week to see if all of this is true or not. 

The model that I got was the 15″ MacBook Pro. It came out of the box with these specs:

  • 15.4-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology and 2880-by-1800 resolution

  • 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz

  • 16GB of RAM (which is not upgradable)
  • 256GB SSD (which is not upgradable)
  • Radeon Pro 450 with 2GB of memory and Intel HD Graphics 530

  • Four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports
  • 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2

All of this sounds pretty decent. And it comes in a package that is thinner and lighter than the 2015 MacBook Pro that I currently own. But in my week with the 2016 MacBook Pro, I find that I have to give up a lot or seriously make changes to my workflow if ever wanted to use it as my daily driver. For example, there’s no SD card slot. That’s an epic fail as this is a “pro” machine, and many pro users need an SD card slot to transfer video and/or pictures to their MacBook Pros for editing purposes. So to do that here, I’d need a SD card adapter. Now I know that Apple really wanted to make this laptop thin. But seriously, adding an SD card slot doesn’t add bulk.

Pro users also typically use external monitors to do editing. This despite the fact that the built in display that comes with the 2016 MacBook Pro is absolutely outstanding. Thus you need another dongle for that. In fact you need a lot of dongles that are of the USB-C variety as you will not be able to use any Thunderbolt 2 dongles that you might own. You’ll grumble and complain. But you’ll buy them and get over it. Plus, in a couple of years, USB-C will likely be the standard and this will not be an issue. But today is not that day which will be frustrating for users of this MacBook Pro.

Another thing that was really puzzling was the lack of a MagSafe adapter. The fact is that MagSafe adapters are designed to disconnect if the cables are tugged, saving your expensive Mac from flying across the room. It’s omission and replacement with USB-C while understandable on one hand, is something that is going to cost users money in the long run in the form of broken laptops that could have been saved by a MagSafe adapter.

Now there are some things that are cool. Touch ID is one thing that is included with this MacBook Pro and I loved having it. You can use it to unlock your Mac if it is already booted, or to purchase things using Apple Pay. Then there’s the touch bar which I was skeptical of at first, but I loved having. It replaced the function keys and it also gives you a dedicated Siri button too. I suspect that as developers exploit the capabilities of the touch bar, it will become even more useful. The rest of the keyboard feels very comfortable. In fact it was more comfortable than the keyboard on my 2015 MacBook Pro.

Performance was mixed. While I found that I could edit 4K video with ease, opening 15 browser tabs in Safari could make it stumble. That was very odd to me. The other thing was the battery life. When I set up the MacBook Pro, I let it sit for a couple of days as per this Apple support document and then used it as my daily driver. I used it to answer e-mail, use Microsoft Office and write blog posts which are the typical things that I did while on battery on my 2015 MacBook Pro. I never got more than 6 hours of battery life. Apple promises 10 hours which is one hell of a difference that previous MacBook Pro users will notice immediately. In my case, If this was my 2015 MacBook Pro I would get around 7 to 8 hours which is close to the 9 hours that Apple promised on that notebook doing exactly the same things that I tried on the 2o16 model. And that is the biggest reason that I didn’t plunk down my credit card to get one and decided instead to hold on to my 2015 MacBook Pro.

So, what’s my bottom line? It’s thinner, lighter, and has an outstanding display. You’ll get over having to live “the dongle life.” But it’s mixed performance from a power perspective, the lack of an SD card slot, and it’s rather disappointing battery life make it difficult to recommend. I’d say that you should skip this iteration of the MacBook Pro until Apple gets these issues sorted so that it deserves you spending your hard earned money on it.

 

Review: Matias Quiet Pro Keyboard

Posted in Products with tags on January 4, 2017 by itnerd

I grew up learning how to type on a real typewriter. Then when PCs came out, their keyboards felt like typewriters when you typed on them because they gave real feedback when you typed on them. Then that changed with the latest Apple keyboards which do not come close to feeling like a keyboard that I was used to. So I have had to make due and adapt to that as best as I could. But I could never really feel comfortable with them no matter how much time I spent with them.

That changed when I discovered the Matias line of keyboards. They had a reputation of making keyboards with high quality mechanical switches that feel like what I was used to. I went up to their office which is located just north of Toronto and had a look at what they had to offer and settled on the Quiet Pro Keyboard for Mac. Though, I will note that they also make a version for PC

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It’s a solidly built full size keyboard with a plastic housing and a very long USB cable to enable you to place the keyboard wherever you need it without needing to resort to extension cables. It also is heavy and feels like a quality product. 

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On each side of the top part of the keyboard is a USB 2 port which is similar to what Apple offers in their wired keyboards. USB 3 support would have been nice, but it’s intended for wired mice and USB sticks, so USB 2 is more than acceptable.

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There’s also a third USB 2 port on the back. That’s handy, and something that’s missing from Apple keyboards.

The key point of the Quiet Pro keyboard is that you get tactile feedback while not annoying those around you. The ultimate win win as far as I am concerned. I really like the feel of it and felt right at home immediately. Another thing that helps me feel right at home is the fact that it is sclupted so that it feels really great and makes it easy to type and keep my fingers in a natural position. But a cool key feature is that it has anti-ghosting circuitry. What is ghosting? Most keyboards allow only a few keys to be pressed at once, so they can’t keep up with very fast typists. The net result is that you end up with letters missing from what you actually typed. This is called ghosting. I type at 60 words a minute so this is a big plus for me. 

Now a quality keyboard like this doesn’t come cheap. It’s $150 CDN. But well worth every penny if you know how to type and you want a quality keyboard. If that’s you, consider this keyboard a must have.