Reviews

2018 iPad Pro (3rd Generation)

The new iPad Pro’s are here, and they are beautiful. The industrial design team at Apple is doing some amazing work these days – I’m just absolutely impressed at the quality of products they are putting out – the iPhone X/XS, the Apple Watch Series 4, the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil, and now the new iPad Pro’s. Apple has always excelled at this, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. The refresh of the iPad Pro’s is the first major design overhaul of the iPad lineup in 5 years, and it is incredible.

Speed Daemon

Geek Bench scores are out for the new iPad’s and the numbers are just off the charts. The new iPad Pro’s are nearly twice as fast as any other iOS device that Apple has ever made – including the iPhone XS Max that was just released about 45 days ago. On top of that, it’s even nearly as fast as Apple’s most current top-of-the-line 15” MacBook Pro – all in a fan-less device that’s about 5mm thin. Everything flies on this thing – including the initial setup. I restored from the backup of my previous 10.5” iPad Pro, and it was the fastest restore process I’ve ever seen. I am convinced that we are less than 24 months away from Apple launching a Mac OS based device that runs solely on their custom silicon – and when they do, I have no doubt that it will absolutely fly. Just think what they could do in a larger enclosure with a fan and 32GB or 64GB of RAM.

The Pencil is Waiting

The new magnetic resting and charging location for the Apple Pencil is brilliant. Not only will it keep it charged for whenever you need it, you also don’t have to worry about losing the cap, or breaking off the lightning connector like you did with the first edition Apple Pencil. Having the Apple Pencil always with the device is absolutely key to using it more often. So many times in the last year I wanted to use the Apple Pencil for something, but it was across the room in my laptop bag, zipped up in the pencil pocket, and contained in it’s leather sleeve. Unless I absolutely needed the Pencil for something specific (like photo editing) I would be unlikely to go and get it. But now, the Pencil is always there, just waiting to be used. And in fact, since it’s always there and in sight, I find myself reaching for it far more often for a whole selection of new tasks.

Easy-Fold Smart Keyboard

When I picked up the iPad Pro last year along with the Smart Keyboard, it completely transformed the way that I used the iPad. In the past, I would avoid anything that involved long-form text on the iPad because the on-screen keyboard took up half of the screen real-estate. With the Smart Keyboard, using the iPad became such a different experience. The new “easy-fold” Smart Keyboard is a great evolution of an already great product. My favorite aspect of the Smart Keyboard is not having to pair or charge them – they just work. The new 2018 Smart Keyboard has a much stronger and sturdy magnetic attachment, and I like that it now covers the front and back of the iPad. My only wish is that they add backlighting to the keys in the next iteration.

This is what comes next

Using the new iPad Pro feels like the future. Being able to switch to something that feels a bit like a laptop with the Smart Keyboard attached, to a perfectly weighted mix of aluminum and glass that you can carry around with you, or read with on the couch feels futuristic. I’m not saying the iPad will replace the desktop computer or traditional laptops anytime soon, but I do think this type of computing is what truly comes next. I don’t think my daughter will be asking for a laptop when she’s in high school, but instead will be asking for a device more similar to the iPad. And yes, I do believe that VR goggles are also in our future, but I think we’re a bit further out from them being mainstream. The next big push for home “computers” will be tablet-like, and the iPad is there at the forefront leading the way.

What I’d like to see next

  • Backlit keys on the Smart Keyboard
  • An ESC key on the Smart Keyboard 🙂
  • Color options for the Apple Pencil 1
  • Haptic feedback for the Apple Pencil 2

I honestly can’t think of much else that I’d like to see from a hardware perspective. What else is there? Even thinner bezels? Better cameras? Longer battery life? Those things would be nice of course, but more iterative in nature. My guess is that the hardware for iPad Pro’s won’t change much for another 5 years, and I think that might be just fine!


  1. Rene Ritchie also mentioned this in his Apple Pencil review ↩︎
  2. As heard on The Talk Show with John Gruber ↩︎

iPhone X

I decided to review the iPhone X in a slightly different manner than prior reviews. Rather than going through all the new features and specs of the phone, I’ll just be giving a few of my opinions on various aspects of the phone after using it for a little over 3 months. Enjoy!

Size

I was really looking forward to the size of the iPhone X – having used the 7 Plus for the past year, while it was great having more screen real estate and longer battery life, it was quite unwieldy at times – specifically when using it one-handed while walking, and when carrying it in your pocket. So the fact that the iPhone X packed a larger screen size (technically) in a smaller form factor was really exciting to me. The first week or so of using it, it felt small – at times too small – mostly in screen width though. However, after getting used to it, and using it day-to-day, you realize that most of the things you do on your phone are vertically laid out – meaning top-to-bottom real estate is more important than side-to-side. I would almost always choose the larger size iPhone though – so if an iPhone X Plus comes out next year, that would be my choice.

Screen

Being the first iPhone to ship with an OLED screen, I was excited and slightly nervous at the same time. Excited for the benefits of OLED – deeper blacks, richer colours, longer battery life – and nervous for the unknowns – will the quality be as good? what about the rumoured “burn-in” that is associated with OLED panels, etc. I was confident though that Apple wouldn’t let it ship without addressing these issues. I have only noticed a deficiency in OLED in one instance – when scrolling images or white text on black backgrounds – when you do it quickly you can notice some ghosting. But it’s really only noticeable if you’re actively looking for it. Overall, the screen is phenomenal just like all of Apple’s screen technologies have been since the retina iPhone 4.

120hz Touch Input

This is something that has to be experienced to really appreciate. And to me, this is my absolute favourite feature of the iPhone X, next to Face ID. Not to be confused with 120Hz display refresh rate – the 120Hz touch input allows the iPhone X to register touch twice as fast as ever before. This leads to the interface feeling absolutely buttery-smooth – which is crucial for a device that relies so heavily on touch input – swiping to unlock, closing/exiting apps, swiping between apps, and more. I cannot say it enough – this truly is amazing!

Face ID

Face ID is a game-changer. After a while, using the iPhone X feels like using a first-gen iPhone without a passcode. It’s unbelievable how well it works under 99% of conditions. There are a few times when Touch ID would work a bit better, but let’s be honest – 99% of the time when you pull your phone out to use it, you intend on looking at the screen. Overall, I’m a huge fan of Face ID and I can’t wait until it’s ubiquitous on all (or most) of Apple’s devices – mainly the iPad and the MacBook lineup.

Wireless Charging

Another convenience factor that I love. Most people complain that wireless charging is too slow – and while they’re right that it’s slower – they’re thinking about it wrong. I use wireless charging at night when I go to bed – easy, just place it on the pad and away you go. I also use it throughout the day at my desk – so instead of placing it down on the desk and not charging, I simply place it on the charging pad, and it’s constantly getting a few extra percent battery life here and there throughout the day. However, If you’re at 5% battery before heading out for a few hours, don’t expect to get a significant boost in battery charge by placing it on your wireless charger for 15 minutes while you get ready. In this case, it’d be better to plug it in to charge to get the best bang for your buck. I believe in tactically recharging your battery when possible, rather than waiting until you get that “low battery” warning and then scrounging around for a charger – but that’s just me.

Other

TrueDepth Camera: The front-facing TrueDepth camera system is excellent and cutting edge for 2017. I rarely take selfies, but when I do it’s nice to have the best possible camera available to do so. It really is truly phenomenal how far we’ve come in mobile phone photography in just 10 years, but it’s also exciting see where we can take it over the next 10 years.

Augmented-Reality: We’re not really there yet – there are not really any breathtaking apps available that people see – and just need to have. It’s more a marketing buzzword at this point in time – but I do believe in the backbone that Apple is laying here – and look forward to what comes next here.

Build Quality: This is the nicest iPhone that Apple has made in terms of build quality. The runner-up in my opinion would be the iPhone 4/4S, followed by the iPhone 6/6S/7. Every detail is meticulously crafted with precision that is unmatched by any smartphone manufacturer in the world. They continue to pay attention to the things that most people don’t even notice – and this is one of my favourite things about Apple. The iPhone X proves they are continuing to push forward in this regard – which makes me extremely happy.

Lock Screen Shortcuts: This is another one of those touches that is so convenient for day-to-day use. Being able to switch on the flashlight or get to the camera from the Lock Screen with a virtual button (which feels just like the virtual home button of the iPhone 7/8) is such an awesome feature. The combination of seeing those icons there every day, combined with how convenient they are to access, makes using older iPhones seem older than they are.

Summary

It seems obvious that every new iPhone will be my new favourite iPhone – due to the fact that it will nearly always be better in every way than the iPhone before it. However, the iPhone X is a little different than each iteration over the years since the original iPhone. This is the first iPhone that really breaks the mould of what we know as the iPhone. No more top & bottom bezels and the biggest change of all, no more home button. So using the iPhone X for the first time truly felt different – and the fact that Apple pulled it off so seamlessly with Face ID and 120Hz touch input truly makes the iPhone X a delight to use. As always, I’m looking forward to seeing where the iPhone goes next year!

Apple Watch – Series 3

This review will be split into two parts. Part 1 will focus on the Series 3 watch hardware changes, while part 2 will focus on the new LTE capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 3. Because Rogers in Canada is not offering LTE service for the Apple Watch yet, I’m unable to comment on this just yet – but I will update this review at a later date once I have LTE service enabled.

Part 1

LTE – Overview

By far the biggest change this year is adding LTE to Apple Watch. This allows you to stay connected at a basic level for times when you leave your phone behind – like going for a run for instance. This is great for emergency situations where someone needs to reach you, or vice versa. It’s also great for those rare times when you forget your phone at home. Personally, I’m excited to go for a run without my phone, knowing that I’m still connected – not for the purpose of staying connected the whole time – but knowing that if I needed to be connected, it’s an option. And also for streaming music through Apple Music.

Improved Hardware

The Apple Watch Series 3 is approximately 70% faster than Series 2 thanks to a new dual-core S3 processor – making things like Siri respond noticeably quicker. It also has better Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity thanks to the new W2 wireless chip. This allows for better battery efficiency, and increased range over the Series 2. Apple has also added a barometric altimeter to better track altitude – this will be specifically useful for when you are out on a run without your iPhone (which also has a barometric altimeter).

Siri

Siri can now talk back to you on the Apple Watch Series 3! Previous generations were limited to on-screen Siri only, but now thanks to the improved processor, Siri is able to provide voice feedback – which is very handy in many situations, where you don’t want to stare at your watch any longer than necessary to confirm that Siri understood your request.

Design

The only significant design change with the Series 3 is that the LTE models have a red dot on the Digital Crown. The sensor housing is also just barely thicker than the series 2 – approximately 2 sheets of paper thicker – not enough to even notice. Overall, the basic design has remained unchanged since the first generation watch was released.

Summary

The Series 3 Apple Watch is a great step forward. In my opinion, it will likely best suit first time buyers, or people upgrading from the original Apple Watch (informally referred to as Series 0). If you bought a Series 2 Apple Watch last year, and you don’t need to have LTE just yet (or can’t because your carrier doesn’t support it yet), waiting until the Series 4 comes out next year would be advisable.

Part 2 – LTE In-Depth

Coming soon… (Hurry up Rogers!)

iPhone 8 Plus

While slightly overshadowed by the impending launch of the iPhone X, the iPhone 8/8 Plus is still an absolutely phenomenal device. And aside from a familiar looking form factor, it packs a ton of new features under the hood – including an updated processor, better cameras, Qi wireless (contact) charging, True Tone display, Apple designed hardware image signal processor, portrait lighting, glass back, louder speakers, 4k 60fps video, fast charging, and more! Note: I picked up the iPhone 8 Plus on launch day, so my review notes will be specific to this device.

A11 Bionic Processor

The A11 Bionic chipset is a huge update over the A10 Fusion, with 6 cores now (instead of 4), and a brand new Apple designed performance controller which allows all 6 cores to be used in parallel. This is a huge difference from last year’s A10, where only 2 of the cores could be used at any given time. After using the device for just over 4 days, I can say that the raw horsepower of the iPhone 8 Plus is my favourite new ‘feature’. Every interaction with iOS absolutely flies on this thing – it felt like I jumped up two or three generations – not just one.

Better Cameras

My wife and I went to a concert this past weekend, and it was the perfect time to test out the new cameras on the iPhone 8 Plus. This thing rocks at capturing low-light images and video! And one thing that is often overlooked in other iPhone 8 reviews, is the new slow-sync flash for low light shots – this is a game changer! I took a photo of us with the stage in the background, which resulted in both of us being evenly lit (no hotspots), and the stage and all the lighting effects of the background were captured as well! In the past, this type of shot would have had some hotspots on our faces, and the background would have been so dark it would be hard to make anything out. We also compared the video shot from the iPhone 8 Plus to the video shot with my wife’s iPhone 7 Plus. While comparable, the iPhone 8 Plus was able to pickup more colours in the scene, deeper blacks, and clearer audio. Overall, the iPhone 8 Plus offers a very noticeable increase in quality and capability (including 60fps 4K video!) over the iPhone 7 Plus – which was already an excellent camera to begin with. Apple continues to push the envelope with mobile photography, and this year is no exception!

True Tone Display

I’ve had experience with the True Tone display since I purchased my 10.5″ iPad Pro, and I’m pumped that this has now come to the iPhone as well! Many people incorrectly correlate the True Tone display with Night Shift – which is a big mistake. Night Shift reduces the amount of blue light coming from your device – which is handy at night time when you’re looking to wind down. The result of this is a much warmer looking display regardless of the type of lighting in the room you are in. This can be off-putting (and frankly pointless) if you have white LED’s in your bedroom or living room. What True Tone does, is actually measure the ambient light temperature of the room that you are in, and adjust the display accordingly – the end result is having the white point on your screen match the white point on an inanimate object in the room you are in – resulting in a very natural looking display that looks like it belongs in the room and is responding accordingly. Put another way, if you bring a blank piece of white printer paper into a room lit with fluorescent tube lights, and bring that same piece of white paper into a room lit with incandescent lights, it will look drastically different to your eye in each scenario. However, it will look completely natural to you in both situations. This is what True Tone is able to do – adjust and adapt – just like real objects do in the real world. I promise you that this is a fantastic feature, and you will soon realize this in a few years when you look back at an older device and wonder why the display looks so odd/harsh.

Qi Wireless Charging

A new case design this year with a glass back allows for Qi wireless charging to come to iPhone. And while Android has had this capability for a few years now, this is the first time Apple has brought it to the iPhone. Wireless charging is more of a convenience option as opposed to a revolutionary new feature. The upside of being late to the Qi game is that there is a plethora of available Qi enabled chargers available on the market now. In fact, I just installed some drop-in puck style Qi chargers from IKEA into my desk at work, and they work great! I just simply rest my phone on the desk, and it’s topping up just like that. I also bought a Qi charging pad for my bedside, and the convenience is the same when going to bed – just place it on the pad and it’s charging. The downside of Qi charging vs. charging by the lightning cable is speed. However, for topping up during the day, and overnight charges by the bedside, it’s a non-issue. I’m happy Qi charging has come to the iPhone, as I believe this will push the adoption of Qi charging pads/mats into more and more places – restaurants, coffee shops, hotel rooms, etc.

Other

Other new advancements this year include an Apple designed hardware ISP (image signal processor), portrait lighting mode, 25% louder speakers, fast charging (requires 29w power supply), and an all new glass back.

  • I commented on the improved camera above, and the dedicated hardware ISP is no doubt a major contributor to these improvements!
  • Portrait lighting mode is a great feature for showing off what the iPhone 8 can do that none of it’s predecessors can do, thanks to the A11 Bionic chip and hardware ISP. However, it still requires optimal conditions and a basic understanding of photography to get the best results.
  • Louder speakers are always a good thing – and not for the reason that you might think. It’s not so that we can blast our music over these tiny little iPhone speakers while trying to enjoy a backyard BBQ (PSA – don’t ever do this). The main benefit from louder speakers, is that this years 75% volume is last years 100% volume – which means the speaker doesn’t have to strain so much to get the same volume as last year. This leads to a more natural sound throughout – which is great for phone calls using the built-in speaker. In my experience, 100% volume never sounds optimal.
  • Fast charging is available this year, but requires different hardware than what is shipped with the phones. A minimum 29w USB-C power block ($59 CAD), along with the required USB-C to lightning cable ($35 CAD) is required to take advantage of this feature. So you’d be looking at a minimum additional investment of $94 to have access to fast charging. Quite steep, but if you’re looking to charge your device in the least amount of time, the option is now available to you 🙂

Overall, while the iPhone X has gotten much of the attention, it’s certainly important to remember that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have essentially the same internal hardware, while maintaining the familiar home button and form factor that we have gotten used to over the past 10 years. If you’re like me and enjoy being on the bleeding edge of technology, then you’re probably more interested in the iPhone X. However, for many others the iPhone 8/8 Plus is going to be an incredible device which will server them extremely well for some time!

AirPods

I’ve been using my AirPods for about 3 months now and my overall impression of them is positive. In this review I’ll cover the pros and cons of this revolutionary new product by Apple.

Price

The first thing I’d like to address is the price. Many people think that they are overpriced, however when you consider how much technology goes into these earbuds, you will likely change your mind. First off, the W1 chip is a true leap forward for bluetooth connectivity. Typical pairing procedures for bluetooth devices is terrible – but with the W1 chip on board the AirPods, it makes all of this much easier. After your first connection to your iPhone (or iPad/Mac) the AirPods are linked to your iCloud account, and will automatically show up as an available output on all of your iCloud devices (except the Apple TV). Going forward, you can easily switch between your devices in an instant. This type of setup is simply not possible with any other bluetooth headphones. The next breakthrough in technology comes from the fact that the AirPods must act completely independent of each other while staying perfectly in sync. Typical bluetooth headphones are connected with either a wire or a headband, and while one earpiece acts as the bluetooth receiver, the other earpiece is simply connected via a wire to keep audio in sync – this greatly reduces the amount of technology required. So in order to compare the AirPods on price to other headphones, you must compare apples-to-apples. Once you start looking for truly comparable products, you will realize that AirPods are more than a fair price. In fact, it’s my opinion that Apple wants to drive the cost of these down as quickly as possible, so that one day soon they will be including them with every new iPhone sold – the same way they did with the iconic white wired earbuds in the past with all iPods and iPhones.

Battery Life

In 3 months I have never had to worry about battery life once. According to Apple, they will last 5 hours of continuous use before requiring a recharge. In the time since I’ve purchased them I haven’t listed to them for 5 hours straight. However, I have listened to them for a full 10-11 hour workday. Here’s how – I listen to them for a couple hours, at which point I’ll stop for a break/food/whatever. Before walking away from my desk I put them in the charging case so I don’t lose them. If I’m gone from my desk for 5-15 minutes, they’ve sufficiently charged enough to listen for another 3-4 hours! At which point I would have taken a break. The same pattern would hold true on an international flight. Watch a movie, listen to a podcast, then get up for a stretch and a bathroom break. By the time you’re settled back into your seat, you’re good to go for another few hours. Unless you’re in a marathon working session where you refuse to get up to eat, or go to the bathroom at least once in 5 hours, you will be likely have very few instances where the battery dies and they are unusable – unless of course you forgot to charge the case which is a whole other issue. Battery percentages are available for the AirPods and the case via the Today View widgets on iOS which should further help you manage your battery life.

Build Quality

In 3 months I’ve only dropped the case once, and an AirPod once – both on to concrete floors from about 3 feet. Because they are relatively light and well built, I didn’t have any issues. However, if you step on them or roll over them on your chair, you will likely break them. Luckily Apple will replace each piece individually, so you can avoid having to buy the whole package over again. Overall, I have been satisfied with the build quality. I do hope apple will one day make the charging case out of aluminium though 🙂

Sound Quality

Last but obviously not least – is the sound quality. If you liked the sound quality of the EarPods, you will definitely like the sound quality of the AirPods. In my opinion, they offer improved sound quality over their predecessor. I’m not an audiophile by any stretch, but I can still notice the slight improvement between the two. I was already happy with the audio from the EarPods, and the AirPods are no different. If you want to get a feel for what the sound quality will be, test out some readily available EarPods, and you’ll have a good idea of what they will sound like (and fit like as well!).

Issues

The main issue I have experienced with these is remembering to carry them with me. I want to use them at the office, and again when I get to the gym. This requires me to always make sure I put them in my jacket pocket before I leave the office. Sometimes I forget and have to resort to EarPods – which is painful when you have experienced the freedom of no wires at the gym! The other (albeit superficial) issue is how they look – some people think they look like earrings, and someone thought I had a cotton swab in my ear one time. In general, they are a bit futuristic for some people, but I’m hoping the perception of them will change in the near future – until then, you will get a few stares here and there.

Overall, I am very happy with the AirPods. I am curious to see where Apple will go next with these. Different colours? Different case/AirPod materials? Advancements in the W-series chip line? Time will tell. For now, I will continue to use these daily, and carry them with me everywhere.