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!

Apple Keynote – 09/12/17

This week’s keynote from Apple was probably the most highly anticipated one for me since the launch of the original iPhone. Other notables were the iPhone 4 keynote, the original iPad keynote, and the iPhone 6 keynote. One thing that made this keynote extra special was that it was the first one at Apple Park, and the first event to be held in the Steve Jobs theatre. I thought it was absolutely perfect that the keynote began with the voice of Steve Jobs – he truly was the guiding force that brought Apple to where it is today.

Aside from all of the anticipation, this year was also one of the worst years for leaks – and in my opinion, even worse than when the iPhone 4 was lost in a bar. So going in, many people who follow Apple closely knew roughly what to expect – a new 4K Apple TV, LTE Apple Watches, iPhone 8/8 Plus, and the iPhone X. However, this did not take away from my excitement for the keynote as I still had a ton of questions about these devices beyond what they look like, or what they are named. Not to mention getting to see the new devices in action for the first time, and learning about all the technologies that goes into them is always the most exciting thing to me. So here are my initial & brief thoughts on the announcements.

Apple TV 4K

It was just a matter of time before Apple brought 4K to the Apple TV, and now is a great time. Walk into any major electronic store, and you realize that there are now more 4K televisions for sale than 1080p – which tells you that over the next 2 years many consumers will have 4K televisions in their homes. But the most exciting thing about the new Apple TV for me is HDR! 4K is incredibly nice to look at, but HDR is where things truly begin to shine.

Apple Watch – Series 3 (LTE)

Adding LTE to the Apple Watch shows that Apple is truly investing a lot in to the wearables space. And while people who run, swim, or surf will likely benefit the most from having cellular connectivity on their watch, there will always be a few times here and there when you forget your phone at home, or the battery dies, etc. where having that cellular connection would come in handy! On top of the addition of LTE, the Series 3 Apple Watch is also getting some advancements in heart rate monitoring, as well as some processor improvements, and some nice new bands.

iPhone 8 & 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are the next iteration of the iPhone lineup, and while they look similar in design to the iPhone 7, the new all-glass back will really set them apart. On the inside, we see a whole spectrum of changes including:

  • 25% louder speakers
  • True Tone display
  • Hardware multi band noise reduction for photos
  • Portrait Lighting (iPhone 8 Plus and X only)
  • 6-Core A11 Bionic chip with dedicated Neural Engine
  • Quad LED True Tone Flash with Slow Sync
  • 4K video @ 60fps
  • 1080p Slo-mo video @ 240fps
  • Qi wireless charging
  • Fast charging (up to 50% battery in just 30 minutes)

iPhone X

The iPhone X (pronounced iPhone “ten”) is Apple’s vision for where the iPhone is going – a fullscreen display that blends technology with the real world. I’m extremely excited about this phone, and can’t wait to get my hands on it on November 3rd! In addition to all the new features coming to the iPhone 8, here is a summary of the new features coming exclusively to the iPhone X:

  • Super Retina Display – A 5.8” OLED display with a resolution of 448 pixels per inch – the highest pixel density Apple has ever shipped on an iPhone! Also includes a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, wide colour gamut support, 3D Touch, and True Tone.
  • 6-Core A11 Bionic Chip with dedicated Neural Engine
  • FaceID – 20 times more secure than Touch ID, in theory
  • New f/2.4 Telephoto Lens w/OIS (Compared to f/2.8 lens on iPhone 8 Plus which does not have OIS)
  • TrueDepth front facing camera system, allowing for the new Animoji (can’t wait to play around with this!)

Summary

I loved this keynote – it had a special, and somewhat nostalgic vibe to it – 10th anniversary of the original iPhone, first event at Apple Park, first event in the Steve Jobs theatre, a giant leap forward with the iPhone X, and just an overall positive atmosphere. Apple truly is a company that thrives on making the world a better place, through and through – from their products, to their culture, to their commitment to the environment, and their attention to detail – Apple employees put their heart and soul into everything they do, and it shows. So thank you to all of them for all of their hard work. I believe the iPhone X marks a turning point in the history of the iPhone in many ways, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

WWDC 2017

As I was watching the keynote for WWDC 2017, I wrote down the things that got me the most excited throughout the presentation. Here they are in no particular order.

  • Apple Pay in Messages! Though this will likely be US only 🙁
  • Siri Translation
  • APFS for Mac OS X – High Sierra
  • HEIF for images
  • Updated control center
  • Improvements to Watch workouts, including quick music access
  • New photo improvements – including simulated motion!
  • DND while driving
  • Airplay 2
  • Apple HomePod

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.