Apple Watch – First Thoughts

I know that it seems everyone wants to blog about their experience with an Apple Watch, so why would I need to too? Well, I’m not a professional journalist (as if you can’t tell) – just an everyday person with an interest in technology, so perhaps I’ll offer a different perspective.

So after 3 weeks, what does a ‘normal’ technology enthusiast think? Well… I went for the 38mm black ‘Sport’ Model as I figured fitness would be my main usage scenario.

Wearing a watch

I’ve always loved watches. Not for the bling factor – for me something being expensive doesn’t equate to it being stylish or useful. Ever since my Granddad introduced me to a Casio watch at the age of 8 I’ve loved a good gadget watch, and so the Apple Watch was right up my street. I actually have a Casio which I wear at weekends. It’s a radio controlled analogue/digital hybrid. I don’t wear it to work during the week since I’m usually at a computer all day long, it doesn’t really add much utility. So wearing a watch isn’t a habit I’ve had to get back in to.

 

With the classic buckle strap

Needing the phone

So a major factor in anyone’s purchasing decision is going to be ‘do you own an iPhone 5 or newer’ – if you don’t you can’t make much use out of an Apple Watch. My two and a half year old iPhone 5 still does the job (and until Apple increase the base storage from 16GB, I won’t be upgrading), so I was fine.

The iPhone is needed for a number of things – most apps require the phone to either be in Bluetooth range or the watch to be on the same WiFi network as the phone. This is fine for me as my office has WiFi throughout the building, so I can easily leave my phone in a draw and walk anywhere in the office (even outside) and receive notifications – pretty cool. Some apps don’t even need your phone, they only need a WiFi connection. Messages is one of those apps – I left my phone in my car at the gym, but was able to send and receive iMessages from the watch no problem. Siri also works like this. Maps didn’t work, although it was able to determine my location (from the WiFi base station, I assume), just not show me the map.

Overall the ‘need’ to be tethered to an iPhone is overstated in my opinion, though one thing to note is that the watch will only connect to a WiFi network your phone has previously connected to. So you can’t just head to a coffeeshop with only your watch and expect to get online.

Apps

Most of the built in apps seem well thought through, though with some annoying limitations. I can reply to text messages, but not emails. Both the BBC News and Guardian apps only show me a paragraph before requesting I take my phone out. I’m sure people can make that choice for themselves, so why not show the whole article?

Battery

If you use it like a watch, the battery will easily last you all day. If you use the Workout app or play with apps a lot, you’re going to struggle to get through the day. My Casio is solar powered, so I’m used to feeling the warm rays beat down on my watch and thinking about all that goodness it’s doing charging the battery, however that’s sadly not the case with the Apple Watch. If anything the heat will kill the battery’s longevity. I do hope Apple add solar charging in future iterations.

Workout

It seems to be pretty accurate (once trained by running outside with your phone’s GPS). I tested it on a treadmill and it was a few percentage points out. I have a tendency to rest on the side of the treadmill for 10 seconds while I switch tracks, it knows I’ve stopped running unlike a treadmill. The ability to leave you phone at home when you go for a run is great, you can play music from the watch via Bluetooth headphones. Unfortunately changing a track while running is not easy (it made me pine for my iPod classic). You have to exit the ‘Workout app’ by pressing home, tap the Clock icon and then swipe up to get to glaces, then swipe across to the ‘Now Playing’ glance. You could also open the music app from the home screen, but it’s way too complex and an odd oversight from Apple.

The daily activity goals are good, however the recommendations are a bit basic. For example I had a daily active calorie burn goal of 400 – On 5 out of 7 days in a week I exceeded it, however it took my average calories over the entire week and suggested a new daily goal of 220 (I had a very lazy weekend). It seemed more logical that it would know that a lot of people will have different behavioural patterns on weekends and suggested something a bit more realistic.

Run

 

Style/Cost

I went for the cheapest option, the black Sport model (I went 38mm not for price but because I have skinny wrists). I looks pretty nice, even with the leather buckle. I probably wouldn’t wear it to a  formal occasion such as a wedding, but for business, or social it’s absolutely fine.

Calendar

Notifications

The best thing about notification is I never have to check my phone any more, since I know I will have gotten a tap on the wrist if anything of note has happened. I had to make sure all but the most critical apps were turned off however, I don’t really want to be interrupted because someone followed me on Twitter.

Text Input

The only way to input text is via voice-dictation. This is fine if your a technology journalist who works from home, or an exec who has their own office – but for the average person who works amount other people (this applies to social occasions too), it’s not polite to start dictating messages to your girlfriend in front of other people. I value my privacy, and so unless I’m alone I generally don’t enter text into the watch. What this device really needs is a way to enter text, Microsoft have the right idea, and I’m disappointed Apple haven’t even included this in watchOS version 2. (I guess it did take the iPhone OS 3 iterations to get copy and paste).

 

The Watch

One of the coolest things about the watch is the customisable watch faces. You can add widgets that show the weather, sunset time, battery life, next appointment and more. In this sense, the watch really has utility that makes it worth wearing. I can look down on my wrist and see my next appointment or the current weather conditions.

Watch Face

This is the one I use when I’m not at work – it shows me sunset time (how much time I have left to go out for a walk or run before it gets dark), the battery level,  the day of the week and my activity for the day.

Watch Face

When I’m at work I like to use this face, which gives me the timezone of our other office, in addition to putting the date front and centre.

Overall, I’m impressed and don’t regret the purchase. Plus, future versions of the device can only get better .👍🏻

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iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 5 – HDR

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Who would have imagined a day where you can get better photos on a tablet than a phone (admittedly a 2 year old phone, but still.. most reviews of the iPad Air 2 have compared the camera to that of the iPhone 5).

Print vs Digital Magazines

For the recycling...

 

I’ve been a subscriber to various magazines over the years. Since 2006 and to this day I’ve had a subscription to New Scientist (that’s just over 400 magazines delivered to my door alone), previously .Net Magazine and PC Pro.

New Scientist is a weekly periodical and appears in newsagents on a Thursday. Back in 2006 (and for many years) this meant it would arrive on a Thursday in the post. Unfortunately as time went on, it became Friday…and then Saturday. Recently I’d been receiving some issues on the Monday, 4 days after I’d seen it on the newsstand and 3 days before the next issue. This seemed a bit bizarre to me, so decided to switch to the cheaper subscription ‘digital only’ subscription.

I read a lot on my iPad, but i’ve always enjoyed the feeling of ‘switching off’ that comes with picking up a real, printed magazine. That said, I’ve found the NewScientist iPad app a vast improvement on earlier attempts at magazines on tablets. Unlike a lot of earlier magazine apps I tried when I first got an iPad in 2011, the NewScientist app is not a scanned-in image of the printed page. That means text is infinitely sharp, and you can select words to look them up (or even copy and paste them). A push notification alerts me when a new issue is available to download, although so far is hasn’t downloaded in the background as iOS NewsStand are apparently able to do. Being mostly text this does mean the downloads are relatively small, so that’s not a big deal.

One thing that does strike me as odd, being ‘digital only’, is the concept of an ‘issue’ itself. Does The Verge have ‘issues’, does the BBC News website? Of course not, they’re digital publications. I wonder whether magazines of the future will either. There is, however, something to be said for having a completed body of work that can be enjoyed as a whole, and having it delivered on a regular schedule and to be able to refer to back to an article based on its issue number and page rather than URL.

So glad I made the switch. Not sure I’ll be taking my iPad with me to the beach though. Sand and screens have never been a great mix. For that I’ll resort to good old paper.

iPhone OS 3

While self confessed geeks and technology enthusiasts like myself may get 2 or 3 years out of a device (if that, I know many people who switch phone multiple times a year), normal people expect to get a bit more out of these expensive gadgets. I found a first gen iPod Touch in my dad’s glove box today and thought I’d reminisce about how much iOS (then called iPhone OS) had changed, yet in some ways hasn’t much at all.

Home screen

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This was how it looked from iPhone OS 1 through to 3 – the metallic dock. The iPod Touch always had separate ‘Music’ and ‘Video’ apps, whereas iPhones has a single app called  ‘iPod’. No wallpaper, but apart from that it stayed pretty much the same until iOS 7 moved Spotlight search to the top instead of being on the left.

Lock Screen

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The lock screen stayed exactly the same until iOS 7 – the only minor change was the additional of a camera button in iOS 5.1.

Home button

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The days before ‘multitasking’ (aka recent task switching) meant the home button ‘double tap’ action could be customised. I always remember having it be set to launch the music player. If you had ‘Show iPod Controls’ selected then you would get an alert box with music controls, no matter which app you were in. Multitasking.

iTunes Store

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The iTunes Store was a major selling point of the iPod Touch. Being able to wirelessly buy and play an album within minutes was pretty darn mind blowing at the time.

Wallpaper

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The bundled lock screen images seem very ‘of their time’ – silhouettes with white ear buds.  

No Speaker

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This setting is a carry over from the classic iPod. The original iPod Touch had no loudspeaker. The noises it could make were on par with a Casio watch.

About

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Released in 2007, the iPod Touch got its last software update on February 2nd 2010.

Xbox One – Initial Thoughts

I was lucky enough to be bought an Xbox One for Christmas, so I thought I’d post some of my initial thoughts.

The games look amazing

I have one game (Forza 5) and at £50 a pop I will likely only have one game for many months to come. That said, together with the new controller that has vibration motors in each trigger (lets you feel feedback from the brakes), speeding around Circuit de la Sarthe has never felt so real. Whether it’s being blinded temporarily by the sun, or seeing a glimpse of the driver in the windscreen, it just feels so real.

The Interface is Confusing

While I wanted to love ‘Metro’ on the PC, after trying it for just over a month on my main development machine, I had to revert to using Start8 – it didn’t work out for me (loved it on the Surface RT, however) – so how does it stack up on the Xbox One? My view is that it could work, but the current execution isn’t great. On the main screen the positions of apps move about too often, so it’s impossible to remember where anything is. After a while I realised the tiles on the main screen amounted to a ‘recently used list’ the with exception of the left and right columns, which are fixed. There’s no visual differentiation, barley any visual hierarchy (the currently running app is the largest, everything else just looks like it was thrown in) and so it all gets rather confusing. To get to Settings for example, you have to go to ‘My Games & Apps’.

Apps for the sake of Apps

No device these days would be complete without an ‘App Store’ – however the Xbox One has taken this to extremes. For example, if you’re in a game and you get an achievement, in order to see the full details of that achievement you need to leave the current game and open another app (complete with an awful “splash screen” which makes the effect of leaving one app and going to another feel even slower), if the Xbox 360 could do this, surly the Xbox One should be able to? Another example of this was when browsing the video store, in order to view ‘TV Deals’ I had to install the Xbox Video app. It seems a bit ridiculous that this isn’t just built in.

Kinect is impressive if still work in progress

Having Kinect recognise you and automatically log you in is very clever. The speech recognition however is limited. Unlike Siri on an iPhone you need to keep to a precise syntax, and it’s not very forgiving. Say to Siri “Hello my friend, could please turn on the Bluetooth thingamajig” and it will turn on the Bluetooth radio. Ask your Xbox to “switch off” rather than “turn off” and it does nothing. I really hope this gets improved. That said it is still very useful, especially the “record that” function that lets you record the last 30 seconds of gameplay and share it online. I can’t imagine using the Xbox One without the Kinect plugged in, it just feels like work in progress still. I don’t have any Kinect games, so I can’t comment on how good it is for games, which I guess is its main purpose after all.

Everything is fast and fluid, it multitasks like a dream

The Xbox 360 despite being able to render Skyrim at a decent frame-rate was seemingly unable to load a simple system menu without a few seconds delay. Game updates would block the entire interface and it just felt very sluggish, The Xbox One however always feels snappy. Even mid game I was able to press the ‘home button’ and get straight back to the Start Screen, compete with a smooth transition and sound effect. Subsequently opening an app such as Skype or Internet Explorer was very quick. I was also able to install a demo from the store and keep playing. I hope it doesn’t slow down over time, but this fluidity will do a lot to tempt me to use the Xbox One rather than the Apple TV or Virgin TiVo box to access Netflix or rent movies etc

The best is yet to come

I hope (and predict) Microsoft will keep updating the Xbox One as they did with the 360. I’ve only used it for a couple of days so far and you can only fairly judge a a games console after many months of usage. Overall I’m very pleased with it, and look forward to more exciting releases.

My History in Phones

 

 

 

I was talking with some folks over lunch about past phone’s I’ve owned. I’ve raided my memory and decided to put up ‘my history in phones’. What do you think?

 

2000: Ericsson A1018s

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All I remember about this was it came free when you saved up enough Coca-Cola ring-pulls. Thankfully a friend of the family drank a lot of Coke. Back when this came out, all a phone could do was literally make calls and send texts. Unusual for its time, this model could store SMS in its own internal memory as well as on the SIM.

 

 

2001: Motorola T191

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Wanting something a bit more stylish, I blew one my early paycheques on this baby. It made calls, and could send and receive SMS. It had a cool little ‘Bick’ came too. The vibrate motor was pretty substantial.

 

 

 

 

 

2002: Nokia 3330

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Realising everyone else in my family (and the world) seemed to have a Nokia, I went for the 3330, they must be good – right? The 3330 was to the 3310 what was the iPhone 5S to the iPhone 5 – more memory and WAP in this case. More memory meant more space for custom icons, WAP meant getting football scores from the BBC on your lunch break.

 

 

 

 

2003: Nokia 3510i

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Nokia had the best interface and the best battery life, so I stuck with them for my first colour phone. No camera, the colour screen was only for receiving MMS messages as I sure was going to be sending any without a camera. It used to lightup like a nightclub when it rang, great phone and served me well for many years after as a ‘backup phone’ for taking to festivals and places where it’s likely to get ruined.

 

 

 

2004: Nokia 6110i

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While it might be cool to have the biggest phone possible these days, back in 2004 having the smallest was what it was all about. Not much of a change from the 3510i except mobile browsing was improved, and it let me share internet out to my PDA via infra-red.

2004: Nokia 6630

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My first smartphone. It was also my first 3G phone and was capable of making video calls, although it had no camera on the front. Instead it came with a desk stand that would allow you to point the rear camera at yourself. The on-board software was pretty amazing for its time – email, browsing, MP3 Support, even a little app that would put photos and video together into one long video and with background music (iMovie does this to this day). Two phones in one year? I think I took out some form of insurance that allowed me to return my phone and get a new one anytime I liked (at the expense of getting a new phone number, unfortunately)

2005: Nokia 6020

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While I had enjoyed my first foray into smartphones, I the 6630 was underpowered and something as simple as opening the Contacts app would take about 10 seconds. So I decided to switch back to a ‘classic’ Nokia. By now Series 40 phones had quite a few smart features themselves: background email checking, mobile web browsing, ‘Push to Talk’ to name a few.

2005: MDA Vario (AKA HTC Wizard)

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The geek in my needed a smartphone, this one ran Windows Mobile 5. It was very cool, it had a full keyboard and meant you could do really advanced things for the time such as connect to a WiFI network (!), crop photos, run an RDP session to your PC and edit Office documents. Unfortunately unlike a Nokia, the alarm could not be relied upon to wake you up in the morning – it would regularly fail to go off or crash. I remember spending a lot of time hunting for jobs when I had this phone, and having a decent email client really came into its own. The stylus used to keep falling out, eventually I lost it I think.

 

 

2007: Nokia N95

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This was the phone to beat all phones: WiFi, GPS, HD Video and 5MP Carl Zeiss camera with an optical zoom (not just digital zoom as most phones to this day still have). The podcasts app was great, so was email and browsing the web (it would show desktop sites and allow you to zoom). It did get slow after a few years of use however, and the volume up button broke twice for me (after 1 replacement). This made me decide not to go with Nokia again.

2001: iPhone 3GS

clip_image020Probably my favourite phone looking back, because it did change the way I used my phone. I already owned a first generation iPod Touch, and so I was completely sold on iOS. The App Store, easy video editing, games – everything was a joy to use. For the first time I would use my phone instead of a laptop for casual web browsing. Not to mention it was also an iPod. Brilliant, although iOS 4 did slow it down somewhat, it was at its prime when running iOS 3.

2011: HTC Desire S

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I thought it’d give Android a try – everything was just slower, uglier and less reliable than the iPhone.

2012: iPhone 5

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After about 18 months using the HTC, I just had to jump ship and go back to iPhone. It’s easy to use, the battery lasts forever and it has more apps that I could download in an entire lifetime. I’m undecided on iOS 7, although I’ve yet to use it day-to-day. Looking forward to installing it, although I will probably wait a month or so for the bugs to be ironed out.

Where Next?

Whatever happens my current phone will have to last me least another 18 months, whether I get the iPhone 6 or switch to Windows Phone 8 depends… all I know is that I’m unlikely to switch back to Android – although I would consider a Nokia again, having played with some of their newer (much more sturdy) phones.