John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Fitbit Blaze review

I’ve been looking to find a replacement for both my Android wear watch (which is become so much less functional since I moved to an iPhone) as well as my Fitbit Charge which is forever catching on my shirt sleeves. I love the fitbit eco system. The portal, the social, it is all well done. I wish they did more data analysis on the data, but other than that it is well done. Sadly Fitbit does not play nice with Apple Health, the two are not on speaking terms 😦 I found a great app for that called FitbitSync. Quite flexible.

There’s been a lot of maligning of the Blaze since it’s release. Personally I think the people that have been slagging it had an expectation of what they thought it ought to be. Which, to me, is bizarre. Look at the device, see if it fits into your life. I actually don’t think the Blaze is meant to replace any of the devices in their current lineup. It’s another option.

A while back my bud Lance was looking at a TomTom Spark and he said I am not sure I want something called a spark on my wrist. Well if that’s the case what about the name Blaze? And what does that name even mean … Moving on …

Let’s start with physicals. Fitbit decided to completely redesign how the watch is charged and sits in it’s band. And I have absolutely no idea why. The have come up with a design that is eccentric at best. There is a metal housing that holds the fitbit. You have to remove the Blaze from the housing, and then insert into what looks more like a Pentium processor clip, or a programmable logic array socket. It’s bizarre. The watch band can be easily removed and replaced with a standard. You can also buy replacement cages so you can have more than one band to pop it into. From this point of view I like what they have done (making it easy for you to customize your watch).

The watch has a 4mm bezel on either side and the screen itself is 25mm. Not the smallest bezel, but not the largest either. The screen itself is bright and vivid.

The band is available in two sizes, Large and small. I bought the large this time, I have small wrists and it barely fits, I’m on the second from last hole. But, this also means you can wear the watch further up the arm for better heart rate accuracy during workouts. Right in the manual it talks about wearing it comfortably for every day when accuracy is not a huge concern, and then further up the arm for workouts. I found when I wore it further up the arm it just slid down. There are metal bands available for the Blaze but they are outrageously priced.

The wrist is a horrible place to get a heart rate accurately. And I have small wrists as well as I mountain bike which just even further goes to complicate getting an accurate heart rate. So I don’t have high expectations for accuracy …

On a 25 minute walk the Blaze showed a max heart rate of over 170 (can’t see the exact max and Fitbit don’t tell you), and an average of 130 compared with my Scosche rhythm+ with a max heart rate of 128 (Blaze was off by 33% or 42 BPM) and an average of 111 (Blaze was off by 17% or 19 bpm). This is actually not horrible, but then it’s all about expectations.

As always Fitbit do not allow you to export your heart rate data so you can’t even do your own analysis. Not like it’s your data or anything 😦

The heart rate monitor can not be used by any other apps.

There are no alarms that can be set based on heart rate (below min, above max) as you can on things like Polars.

The heart rate can be displayed on the watchface, during workouts (refreshed more frequently) as well as on the today screen.

Heart rate can be disabled from the phone anytime you want and would presumably increase battery life.

Sitting quietly on the couch I watched the heart rate monitor and it was always within a few BPM or my Scosche Rhythm+.

And now we come to the comedy section of this post … There’s this hilarious line from Home Alone 2. A line that ONLY Tim Curry could deliver … What kind of idiots do you have working here? Only the finest!
Fitbit have outdone themselves. In my time with the Surge I discovered that when you were tracking a manually started exercise it continued tracking steps, basically double counting. I raised an incident with Fitbit only to be told it was working as desired. Desired by who’m? No intelligent person that’s for sure. Well on the Blaze they have taken the idiocy one step further. So I decide to go for a bike ride. I start it up on the Blaze. The options allow me to start it with or without the phone’s GPS. Nice option for indoor rides. So I choose without, and start my workout and I am presented with a the first screen showing me my speed, which is of course, zero since I chose no GPS. Now why am I looking at a field I can’t change that just keeps showing zero? But this is not the point of insanity yet. So the whole time I was riding, not only was I racking up steps and climbing floors, but the Blaze also auto detected that I was out for a run. So in all it was triple counting. Now what will I do with my time now that I have mastered being not two places at a time, but three! Man am I good! 🙂 And when your done you get to go back and manually clean up the mess it makes of your stats 😦
This shows how the automatic exercise came over to Endormondo proliferating the triple counting. Those two in green are at the same time as the cycling in the yellow.

Ok now that the sillyness is past back to the post, let’s have a look at data. The heart rate data is a pure act of fiction, I looked at my wrist while riding and the heart rate it showed, when it showed, was more often way off than right. But let’s just accept that and see what difference it makes to the stats. So I tracked the same ride with Endomondo and a Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor, as well as a Garmin capturing the same heart rate monitor. Now to set the stage there really is only one reason I care about my heart rate and that’s to get a more accurate calorie count of my ride. I like to make sure I am increasing and building stamina. At some point I might care about my max heart rate in which case the Blaze is the wrong tool for the job. Probably so is every other consumer grade device. First up let’s look at the graphs from the Blaze. You can see the drop outs in the flat lines, as well as the cliffs that my heart rate according to the Blaze was doing.

Now for a laugh let’s visually compare the Garmin/Sacosche with the Blaze.
Like I was saying an act of fiction. But let’s look at the data anyway.

The data for max heart rate and average heart rate is way off. I saw this during the ride. In spite of that as you can see the calorie count compared with Endomondo is pretty darn close.

For the second ride I used the phone’s GPS for the Blaze:
You can see that the ending data is actually pretty darn good. Better than the previous one. And, using the phones GPS works just fine and creates a decent map on the Fitbit portal. And the calorie count compares quite favorably with the one I get out of Endomondo! Impressive.

In terms of accuracy, for me, the heart rae monitor it best for non-active measurements. Which is when it will be used more anyway …

The watchfaces are really (sadly) quite limited, only 4 chocies. I really wish Fitbit would open this up to designers/developers like so many other platforms do 😦 And none of the watch faces include the current weather, something I quite like. But at least one does show you your current heart rate. You can only change the watchface from your phone. There is no setting for always on for the watchface. So you have to manually wake it or hope it detects your wrist movement (Fitbit refer to that as Quickview). With quickview off the only thing that wakes the screen is buttons screen taps are ignoerd. There is an ambient light sensor to be able to detect brightness. These settings can be changed on the watch. You can not change the screen timeout setting.

There are no apps you can add to the watch to act as a secondary display to things like Endomondo or the like. And there is no support by Endomondo either. Although Fitbit and Endomondo can be set to cross pollinate data.

Notifications can be set to Calls, texts and calendards and bedeep bedeep that’s all folks. And there is no way to change the font size. So better hope it’s what you want … Notifications can be scrolled through and dismissed on mass. It’s actually quite well done and efficient. Notifications are silenced when your phone is silenced. A welcome feature for something you are supposed to sleep with.

Fitbit have designed in the fact you can have multiple Fitbits and choose which one you wanna wear on a given day.

There are no voice commands at all …

As with all of the Fitbits good luck finding the exact battery status, best yu get is high medium and low.

The usual suspects are here from activity tracking, steps, calories, kms and floors. Floors is something that only some of the fitbits do. Daily stats can be seen on the watch anytime. As with every fitbit to date there is no get up and do something reminders … Apparently the up and coming Alta will add this so maybe Fitbit might see fit to add that. Pun intended.

In addition there’s also a stopwatch and count down timer, that work but are a bit clumsy to start.

Fitbit have included FitStar an animated workout app. And sadly you can’t remove it if you don’t want/need it.

Manually entered exercises can be started on the watch for a number of different activities. These can be added/deleted from the list on the phone (that then is sync’d to the watch). You can not create your own workout types.

A quick drag down from the clock reveals music playback controls as well as a quick way to turn notifications off. I would love to see an option there to allow quickly turning on/off quick view for sleeping.

Local alarms can only be set on the phone not on the watch.

On first use I got just under 5 days before the Fitbit said it was low. Then another 1/2 a day before it said the battery was empty. So battery life is excellent. And this is with all day sync on, screen on default brightness, and quick view on. I did not get an email or notification oddly as I have other Fitbits. In an hour the battery was charged back to full so a pretty quick charge. I did find it buzzed twice when it was low, sadly when the phone was in quiet mode and while I was sleeping 😦

So in the end I like the Blaze. As is often the case in this wearables category there are SO MANY things that Fitbit could have added to make it a slam dunk. Companies don’t seem to want to finish the job. To busy rushing to get it on the market I guess. The Blaze is a complete replacement for my Fitbit charge. The data rich environment that Fitbit have created it amazing and the Blaze adds in the heart rate date which is interesting to see. The biggest let down of the blaze are the watch faces. I still like the glitz of my Moto 360 so likely will occasionally wear it. Such as more dressy occasions. But all in all I think it’s found a place on my wrist. It is expensive for what your getting IMHO.

Dear Mr F(n) Bit. I love your products but I have three wishes … 1) Give me more choices on watch faces 2) Fix the triple counting of work outs, 3) More reasonably price the metal watch band

For more information be sure and checkout DC Rainmaker’s detailed review of the Blaze.

Update: 4/26/2016
I’ve been watching for reasonably priced metal bands to replace the rubber band that came with the blaze and while they have been around they have been only from China. And it’s been hard to tell if they have the same quick disconnect pin like the Blaze does. Well one finally showed up on Amazon. It’s a Moko. The pins that came with it have the easy to release pins, or so I thought. Taking the original band from Fitbit off and back on was easy. I had thought that I could swap out bands from time to time as the whim moved me. After 20 minutes of trying to get the band onto the frame I gave up and went to a jeweler. Even they had trouble and ended up using their own pins.The tolerance on this design are just too tight. What this means is you will need to consider purchasing a spare frame if you want to use the provided rubber band. Fortunately these too are available and inexpensively on Amazon from a company called Toopoot (really I couldn’t make that up) and even come in an assortment of colors.

Fitbit are really being dumb keeping the prices on accessories like this expensive IMHO.

Once swapped out the band can be easily adjusted with the provided tool to the right length and your done. The band does not include an intermediary adjustment so the only adjustments are add a linkand remove a link. So your likely going to have to settle for a little loose or a little tight. True watch bands have an more granular adjustment at the clasp. This one does not. The watch looks a WHOLE lot better with the new band and looks a lot less like an exercise band.


I also bought a spare black frame and put the original rubber band on it. I prefer the look of the black on black.

So far the most comfortable of the watch bands I bought is this Milanese style (no idea what that means) band I bought off ebay from ABCsell. It is infinitely adjustable and feels great on the wrist. And look good too.

Last but not least I’ve order this one off ebay but don’t have it yet. I don’t have it yet.

The thing about a Fitbit is you want to wear it everyday so you get the data. But there’s always a desire to accessorize. So these bands help fill that void! And given how inexpensive they when compared to the official ones from Fitbit you can afford to have a number of them!

Update 8/3/2016
I’ve been living with the Fitbit Blaze now for about 40 mins. As an activity tracker it is probably one of the best Fitbits to date. There are a few shortcoming, sadly all of which could be addressed in software, but have not been (and may never be).

The heart rate monitor is there and maybe it could be used to indicate when you might be getting sick using the resting heart rate numbers, but in reality it just isn’t accurate enough for that to be of any use. Having is handy for occasional exercise where accuracy isn’t all important. But in reality I turn it off. (one sec for why …)

The biggest shortcoming of the device is the limited watch faces. So much so that as a watch the Blaze is pretty much a fail. 4 choices, still? Really?
The best of the watch faces is called the zone. But the problem with it is that is changes color based on your heart rate. And most of the colors are hard to read in the sun. So much so I turn the heart rate monitor off so I can read the time easily in the sun or wherever.

When the Fitbit Alta came out it has a new feature (well new to Fitbit, others have been doing it for a while now), an inactivity reminder. An alert to remind you to get up and walk. At the time (now months later) Fitbit promised to add it to the Blaze. The feature is still not there.

I really thing Fitbit are limiting there sales by keeping prices on alternate bands high.


March 20, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | 2 Comments

Pebble time mini review

Ah the Pebble … With my recent move to an iPhone I find myself hugely disappointed with how minimally Google have implemented Android wear on iOS. I wonder why they even bothered. For me a smartwatch comes down to a few things. 1) the ability to whimsically change your watchface. Primarily I like the time/date and current weather on it. Android wear on iOS is severely limited in the number of watch faces available. 2) secondary notifications 3) Stopwatch/Timer

Android wear on iOS does not have an activity tracker solution so I have been wearing a Fitbit Charge. I love the battery life on the Charge, love the sleep tracking, but hate how it constantly catches on my shirt sleeves. How many generations of trackers does it take to learn that square edges catch shirt sleeves. Round them off PLEASE. And having multiple devices on my wrists is a little less than ideal. Sleep tracking on my Charge is another thing I quite like. Ideally I would move entirely to the Pebble time and stop using the Fitbit. Fitbit have fantastic integration with things like Endomondo and the like and Fitbit’s portal is excellent as well. I even have a Fitbit scale … Fitbit however have not played nice with Apple so there is no integration with Apple health. There are data bridge apps to fill this gap.

On with the pebble. The original Pebble was more like a childs toy than anything I would be caught dead wearing.

The Pebble steel was a nice move forward. But the original Pebbles didn’t even do activity tracking. Pebble recently added this feature (as well as sleep tracking) but only on the Time models. An indication that support for these older models in spite of still being sold today is waivering. Recently BestBuy had a sale on the Pebble time so I bought one. $149 so kinda hard to pass up.

Let’s look at specs:
3.81x 9.5mm 42.5g
1.25 inch screen at 182 ppi
5-7 days battery life
Android/iOS compatibility (no Blackberry)
Standard 22mm watch band (an excellent decision) with a normal watch clasp. Yay why reinvent the wheel.

To say the screen is diminutive is an understatement. It has a sort of retro look. First there is a plastic bezel around the outside of the display (5mms) and then there is a black bezel surrounding the screen itself (another 3mms). That’s 16mm of bezel on a 20mm screen, so all in all the screen looks to be quite small compared to the size of the watch.

The Time Steel increases the battery size, gives you bettery quality buttons and gives you a metal (rather than plastic) bezel but is identical otherwise. This pic shows the Pebble Time, Pebble Time steel and the now outdated Pebble Steel.

The band is a standard fare rubber band. It’s comfortable enough and easy to do up and undo. The watch for all intense and purposes is hardly noticeable on the wrist. Lots of folks have written that the band is a lint magnet and they are right. It always looks like it needs to be brushed off. I did find I sweated under the band which is unusual for me. The band can be easily removed with quick disconnects on the pins. A welcome new trend in the wearable market. There are lots of bands available for it on Amazon and the like.

The charging port is on the back of the watch and uses a proprietary connector held in place by magnets that then plugs into any USB port. They say charge time is an hour. The magnet isn’t the strongest. Spare cables can be bought inexpensively online should you want a spare or loose yours.

The screen uses color eInk (think of a Kindle) and is nowhere near as bright or vivid as say my Moto 360, it really is in a different league. But then the battery life is also in a different league and the screen has a lot to do with that.

The screen is not a touch screen and navigation is done by buttons on the side of the watch.

Setting the device up is pretty easy, download the Pebble Steel App and go through the prompts. Mine required numerous updates all of which took a while so only start this when you have time (pardon the pun).

Once your up and running you can start to learn the interface. The left hand button turns on the backlight as well as acts as a back button. The backlight can be controlled from settings on the watch to detect ambient light, and wrist flicks to turn it on when needed. You can also control quiet time based on a schedule or manually (by pressing and holding the left button) that are also setup on the watch. In fact none of the settings for the watch with the exception of the watch face are controlled by the phone. I like the way Fitbit allow you to set things up on the phone and back them up to the cloud. You can put the watch into Airplane mode as well as disable bluetooth on the watch (no idea what the difference between these two are). Notifications are calls, all notifications of none. The vibrate is good and strong. Text size in message boxes can be increased (to some extent) for those visually challenged (like me). The buttons on the right of the watch are up, enter and down and are how you navigate and select on the menus. Overall traversing the menus is smooth enough and responsive. Not zippy, but not sluggish either.

Similarly you can not see anything about the watch from the phone. Not battery status, not version number nada. Hopefully something they will add.

The Pebble ecosystem includes the ability to add watch faces as well as apps. There are a good number of free watch faces, many more than on the Fitbit Surge for example. Given the size and brightness of the screen getting anything that is too busy or too ornate is just a waste. Installing new watch faces (or apps) is done via the Pebble time app on the phone. Once loaded the watch faces can be selected from the watch or the phone. Apps appear on what Pebble call the timelines. This is actually well done.

Apps are similarly loaded. Endomondo has written a pebble app and it is well done and integrates well with the phone app. You can customize what you see on the screen. The workout can be started, paused and stopped from the watch. Very well done. Sadly there is no integration between pebble health and Endomondo.

Pebble have been quite bright in that even apps written for the first ever Pebble will run on todays Pebbles. This means there is a good selection of Pebble apps out there.

Powering off the watch completely can be found in the settings menu, so not exactly convenient.

The recently added Pebble health brings about the much needed activity tracking to the Pebble. It includes Steps, Distance , time active, Sleep, amount of deep sleep, and charts (it does not track floors climbed). All this can then feed Apple Health on iOS. One of the few that have bothered integrating with Apple Health. But here is the BIG catch, all this data is ONLY available on the watch. There is no phone app to view the data (unless you allow Pebble to update Apple health on iPhone or Google fit on Android), there is no portal, and the data does not seem to be backed up anywhere either. This seems to be a pretty big gap. But given Pebble only thought of adding activity tracking maybe this is to come. Even if you Sync to Apple health that data is only available on the phone. Loose or damage or replace your phone/watch and the data is gone (on an iPhone a backup/restore would preserve the data). And the watch can only store so much historical data (no idea how much that might be). Given this data is only on the watch (or phone) don’t expect much in terms of data analysis, trends and the like. And don’t look for a data export either. As usual data rich, information poor.

Almost every wearable at one point or another goes missing. Falls off, you forget where you left it etc. There are no apps for find your watch (or find your phone) with the pebble. And no checkins by the pebble so you know where it was last seen. Definitely some room for improvement here.

Voice wise Pebble recently introduced the ability to reply to an SMS through voice on the watch but I couldn’t figure out how this worked. There are no Voice commands as yet (Android wear has them).

The timer app works fine, something I use quite a bit when cooking. But the lack of voice commands means I’m more likely to do this on the iPhone with Siri.

On day one the step counter on the Pebble was 9411 on my Fitbit Charge was 9680 so well within reasonable numbers.

Sleep tracking is also in line with my Charge. There are two challenges with sleeping with the Pebble time. First is keeping it quiet. This is resolved by manually putting it into silent mode or by programming a scheduled quiet time. The second is keeping it from turning the backlight on. Why Pebble didn’t link these two is beyond me. The best way to achieve this is to turn off motion in the display settings. The watch is plenty comfy to sleep with.

Battery life on this watch is an interesting discussion. Standby battery is so low that when you do things with the watch it has profound effects. On day one I futzed with it a bunch, loading new watch faces and the like for quite a bit. Next thing I know battery was at 60% in day one for a battery life of a couple of days. eInk displays draw power when they change. So choose a watch face that is active and you will see a decrease in battery life. Do you really need to have an animated watch face? Well then you made a choice … The next day I chose an inactive watch face and left the watch alone and it projected out to 4 days, much closer to the 5-7 days they project. By the way good luck in finding the specific battery status outside of some watch faces that include it. I found an article on best apps for Pebble time and one of the apps they mention is called Battery+ which works to solve exactly that issue.

All in all the pebble is an interesting device but what is missing is that gee wow I gotta have it. It’s like a toaster, you need one, but is this the one to have? It’s definitely more of an engineer’s toy than a mass market appeal. For me it would replace neither my Moto 360 (not even in the same league), nor my Fitbit charge (lack of data export/portal/inter connectivity).

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

iPad 2 mini review

Table of contents
iPad Models
Physicals and specs
General stuff
Initial setup
Pens (and OneNote)
Mobile Browsing
In car navigation
iPad/iPhone/Mac integration
Phone calls

My digital tablet landscape is a little busy to say the least. My main device day to day is my a T300 chi, but honestly I use it more as a laptop than a tablet. Windows as a tablet even on Windows 10 is hog tied by a poor onscreen keyboard and an operating system that really is not all that touch friendly. even the new Edge browser was poorly designed in my opinion for touch. Look at the size of the forward and back buttons as one trivial example. Windows does some things really well, One note for example is best and the most feature rich on Windows. I take digital notes regularly and the hands down best experience to date is the Asus vivotab note.

But the only in car gps navigation app (on Windows) is Navmii and it is eccentric at best. Web browsing is hands down best on Windows (compared to iOS or Android). Constantly being forced onto mobile web sites is limiting. But most Windows tablets (T300 not included in the comment) have very low resolution. 8″ tablets are very convenient but are limited by the same size that makes them uber portable.

In the Windows space my devices are the T300 Chi, Asus Vivotab note, Dell venue 8 (largely a backup to the Vivotab that had been hugely unreliable), and a T100 (that is largely disabled due to issues between the tablet and keyboard).

In the Android space I have aSamsung Note 8. It is a very versatile tablet. Still one of my favorite tablets. Great for games, great for in car navigation (using CoPilot, and google maps), the pen is second only to the vivotab note (although the OneNote functionality is severely limited on Android) and has a cell radio in it making it very handy. Battery life is not great and charge times are slow. The biggest limitations are low resolution and the limitations of constantly being held back by the mobile browsing experience.

All this is said to set the stage for the iPad … This is my first ever iPad. The iPad is for all purposes a large iPhone. The app space is the same. And so on with the review.

I’ve gone through iOS fairly heavily in my recent post on the iPhone 5s. I will focus on what’s different on an iPad

iPad Models
Sorting through which iPad to choose was relatively straight forward for me. This Wikipedia article shows the generations. The iPad mini 2 is a much improved screen, and much faster processor so that was a no brainer. A little catch is that the WIFI only models do not have GPS which would remove the possibility of using it for in car navigation. And I have found having a built in cell very handy. Lastly comes memory size, to make it dead easy to manage I chose the exact same size as my iPhone so 64G. So this one is an iPad mini 2 LTE, 64G. I bought a refurb from Factory direct.

Physicals and specs
200×134.7×7.5 mm 341g
210.8×135.9×8 mm 340g (Samsung note 8 for comparison)
220.9×133.8×10.95 mm 380g (Asus Vivotab 8 for comparison)
Size and weight wise this is the space I like for uber portability. The limiting factor is one of screen size.

The power button is oddly on the top of the tablet (instead of being halfway on the side).

7.9-inch 2048×1536 resolution screen at 326 dpi (same dpi as an iPhone 5s/6)
800×1280 pixels (~189 dpi) (Samsung Note 8 and Asus Vivotab 8 for comparison)
as you can see the iPad is in a totally league.

Battery is 6471 mAH, more than triple that of an iPhone, and battery life is one of the strong suits for this device.
Mini 2’s come with a 10W charger (5V 2A). I found the mini 2 much more picky with higher current chargers than others, more often barely drawing 5W which sustains but really doesn’t charge much.

The processor on this one is an A7, same generation as an iPhone 5s (an iPhone 6 is the newer A8), you’d have to go all the way to an iPad mini 4 to get to an A8. The speed difference coming from my iPhone 6 is noticeably slower, but that said everything is still pretty darn instantaneous.

General stuff
First off, iOS devices including this one only support one userid on the tablet. So if you were thinking you could have one in the house that everyone can share … sorry not here. This is somewhere between clever (from Apple’s point of view) and dumb (from the users point of view). I guess they want you to buy one per person. Apparently this is something Apple are working on, at least for schools, have to see if the general public gets it too.

The launcher on the iPad seems particularly odd. There is a lot of wasted space between the icons. On an iPhone there is a zoomed and unzoomed mode which changes the number of icons on the screen. No such thing on the iPad. So your stuck with 5×4 in landscape and 4×5 in portrait. So this means the location of icons changes when the screen rotates. Screen rotation works well and is implemented everywhere including the home screen. No idea why Apple left that off of an iPhone.

My music collection of around 25G sync’d in about 30 mins which would be around 14MB/s so like the 5S not earth shatteringly fast. Fortunately the device is usable while syncing and follow on sync only have to replicate what’s new.

For some odd reason Apple removed the tremendous Wallet app from the iPad. No idea what their thought process (if any) was on that.

Initial setup
An iPad can not be setup from a backup of an iPhone so sadly if this is your first iPad you will have to manually set it up from scratch. Future iPads can be setup using backups but for your first your on your own. Now this is at least partly because of the iPhone Vs iPad apps but still I think Apple could have done something to make this easier and encourage iPhone users to buy an iPad.

When the iPad first appeared in the market Apple needed to jump start it’s app list, so Apple allowed the iPad to run iPhone apps. This situation sadly still exists. I personally would prefer Apple make developers write for both. So in the app store when you are on a iPad you sometimes can not find an app that you can find on an iPhone (the developer decided to not allow iPads), apps custom written to take advantage of the higher res iPad and apps that were written for an iPhone but will run on an iPad. This last category can manifest itself in a number of ways from not rotating the screen to low resolution on the display (including large onscreen keyboard).

There are tons of accessories available for the mini, but really they are the same ones available for the iPhone. There are keyboard cases, flash card readers, and the like. There is even an HDMI adapter for it, but Apples stubbornness to not allow Bluetooth mice makes this option a whole lot less useful since you will still need to touch the screen to select stuff. And try and do RDP without a mouse. There is no USB OTG cable or a cable that would allow you to charge your iPhone from your iPad. A shame. Given the size of the battery this would have been a neat feature.

Pens and OneNote
I tried a couple capacitive pens I have one thin, two fat. The thin one was completely ignored. One fat one was detected but was too sticky on the screen to be usable. The other thick one (that came with a cheap case I bought off Amazon) actually works fine for occasional use. One note on iPad has done something brilliant. You put it in draw mode and then the pen starts doing something. Gestures are then used for scrolling and zooming. So there are no issues with palm detection like there are on Windows 10. Microsoft wrote version of OneNote just for the iPad. It actually works reasonably well. Still missing are things like OCR, handwriting to text, ability to use templates and the like. All the usual things missing on mobile platforms. You still need to go to Windows to get the full OneNote experience, but that said, it’s wonderful to have this cross platform tool. I use it all the time.

As with the iPhone there is no Kodi available for the iPad. You can hack your way through installing it but the process is arduous at best. Unless you can get a friend like Johannes to do it for you 🙂 There are people on Kiji that will do it for you for a fee. The fee seems pretty reasonable given the difficulty and time consuming nature of the task. Particularly so if you don’t already have a Mac.

Mobile Browsing
As with all but Windows tablet, the iPad suffers from constantly being handcuffed by mobile web sites, even when you ask for the desktop websites. This happens on both Safari and Chrome. It really is a plague. Not sure if webmasters know better than their customers or they have no idea how to process the request for the desktop web site but it’s annoying.

In car Navigation
In car navigation is well covered on the iPad (but remember, only the iPad minis with cell have GPS in them). There are three choices that I use, the built in Apple maps, Google maps and Copilot. Copilot license from Android is carried over into iOS and Copilot supports offline maps. The size of the iPad mini is perfect for in car navigation. You will however have to find a car mount for it. I did find the the iPad mini is about the same width as the height of my iPhone 6 so the same holder (if it’s strong enough) can be used for both.

Amazon have created an iPad Kindle app. It works fine, and supports downloaded books (the Windows version does not) but oddly does not allow you to buy books on the app. It doesn’t even link to a web page to allow you to buy the book. All in all it is less than a seemless experience. I can imagine there are conflicts with Apple books but still …

The iPad can be used to tether (yay they didn’t remove tethering) to another device in one of three ways, WIFI access point, blueooth and USB. It’s wonderful to have bluetooth back because it’s something you can enable on your phone, leave enabled and it uses little power. Then from the remote client you can connect to it when you need it without having to take the phone out. Of course bluetooth tethering is limit to about 1MB/s so everything has it’s price.

iPad/iPhone/Mac integration
This is one of the main reasons I wanted to play with an iPad, to see how Apple has integrated the devices. Apple call this Continuity. This breaks down into a number of areas. First and foremost is text messaging. Apple use the iMessaging app to in the back end blend your devices. No matter where you are, no matter what device your on you get to see all your iMessage and text messages. This really is a thing of beauty. Now to use it you have to not have disabled iMessaging, but be warned, if you move your phone off iOS to another platform disable iMessage and wait “a while” before you move your SIM to a new phone or your messages from other iOS users will continue to go to iMessage and be lost in the ether. Until some magical timeout, measured in days, occurs. Why sit typing on a small screen text messages or iMessages when you could be at your Mac or iPad! Of course what is missing (intentionally) is a Windows or web client. This is to provide value to the Mac ecosystem. iMessage by the way includes the ability to see the progress of your message, delivered, and read (and when it was read).

The second level of integration is what Apple call hand offs. A number of default apps Safari, iMessage, mail etc all can be handed off between devices. So you can start surfing (for example) on one device and go to another device and pickup where you left off. The implementation of this is a tad clumsy but it does work. On your iPhone or iPad when you double click to see the list of running apps there will an icon for anything that is available to resume on this device.

The third and final level of integration is for phone calls. When a phone call comes in, if your Mac/iPad and iPhone are all on the same wifi network (it only works over WIFI) your call comes in and is magically sent over to your iPad or Mac through FaceTime audio. It really works smoothly. From your iPad you can also make phone calls again through FaceTime. Sadly all this ends if your not on the same WIFI network. When a call comes in on your iPhone there is not even a notification on your iPad.

There’s a number of things missing IMHO. For example it would be great to be able to see the battery level of your iPhone on your iPad. And if you left your iPhone at home it would be nice to remotely forward your phone. Neither of these can even be done on iCloud. And if you have the same app on both wouldn’t it be nice to have back end data syncd? Say progress on a game, or if your tracking a package from UPS for example why do you have to put the tracking number into both devices? These are a couple examples. Moving seamlessly between the two devices would create some real platform synergy.

I really see great value in this kind of work (integration between devices). Apple have gone way farther than Microsoft in this space. Which isn’t hard given Microsoft so far have done next to nothing 🙂

Phone calls
Like on most of these tablets the ability to make and receive phone calls has been removed. Oddly on the phablets like the Samsung Notes they leave it. So that leaves a number of choices, but all of them are handcuffed by the way iOS handles background apps (which is not well). Skype out works but there are no Skype In phone numbers in Canada. BBM has audio but can only be used between two BBM clients. Call quality is very good on BBM audio and free. Why BBM has not monetized this and brought about a BBM out service is beyond me. For a company struggling as Blackberry are this could be a very welcome revenue source. Generic VOIP can be used if you have a VOIP provider. I found Media5-fone and setup it up with my VOIP provider (Anveo). This app is written for iPhones not iPads so it is small and low res. But it’s a dialer to kinda who cares. Apps in the background on an iOS device are always less responsive so incoming calls will take a bit to register on the phone.

Bluetooth keyboards work just fine, and brilliantly Apple turns off the onscreen keyboard once the Bluetooth keyboard is connected. Why can’t Microsoft learn that trick? Bluetooth mice as always with iPhone/iPads are ignored. If Apple would reverse this stubbornness it would open up new use cases for iPads. Sadly it’s been this way for years and doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

Standby power management is really very good on this device. Probably one of the best I’ve seen to date. I left the iPad on WIFI and the cell network for 49 hours and it went down from 100 to 92. That would come out at .16%/hr or a projected standby life of 26 days. Unbelievable. The numbers were similar on LTE. Indistinguishable really.

Another missing utility (on top of wallet) is Apple Health. Wouldn’t it be nice to look at your health data on a bigger screen instead of your phone? This seems like a perfect opportunity for cross device integration …

So all in all I am thoroughly impressed with the iPad mini. Great size, performance, battery life and integration. I always use to say people that jump into Apples ecosystem have drunk the KoolAid but I think now I know they (and I) have really drank the Apple juice … 🙂

March 2, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment