John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

iOS Shortcuts and Automation

Apple bought a company to get an app called Workflow. It then got brought into iOS as Shortcuts. This is a way to bring Android like automation in an Apple controlled/limited world. Let’s start off with the obvious … these are dramatically neutered in comparison to Android. And another one, there are LOTS of articles out there that are out of date, incorrect, and misleading as to what you can do with this. I’ve burned more time than I would like to admit to, sorting this mess out. Apple have really made a mess of this situation, leaving it almost impossible for the average shmoe to sort out. So I’m going to see what I can do to clarify what works and what does not. If it comes across that I am frustrated by this mess … I AM!!

Ok let’s start off with Shortcuts. Shortcuts are a collection of actions that can be put together that can in turn be manually triggered. You can even create a shortcut to execute the list of events. There are articles that say you can teach Siri to listen to a programmable keyword to run shortcuts, these are misleading at best and incorrect at worst. What you can do is create a shortcut with a particular name, and then say Heh Siri and the name. This will then, maybe, run that shortcut through Siri. This alone burned a ton of time. It seems earlier betas allowed this, and either it wasn’t or hasn’t been released yet. So IGNORE the articles that supposedly teach you program Siri to listen to something your record to run your shortcuts. There are galleries of shortcuts that can be downloaded and you can enable them to run. Beware, who’s to say they aren’t doing something bad, and the possibility of viruses using downloadable shortcuts is definitely there. So with all this we now move onto automations. And as poorly documented, confusing, and misrepresented as shortcuts are, automations are even worse. Apple really needs to clean this up.

Apple allow a number of triggers that can be used to do things automatically … or so the promise goes. But again, this is poorly documented. Only some triggers can then run tasks automatically (without being manually started, in Apple terms, otherwise they simply bring up a notification to allow you to manually run them), and this is small. And to make matters even worse, those triggers that can be automatically triggered are disabled by default.

This list of tasks that can be automated (run without asking as Apple calls it) is listed here.

December 31, 2019 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

iPhone XS review

Well, I was off plan and needed to change providers so I went ahead and splurged on an iPhone XS as part of black Friday to replace my iPhone 8. Now, in reality, the iPhone 8 is still an awesome phone, and it had no need of being replaced, but I get to hand me down the 8 so what the heck. In a previous article I blogged about the different models of iPhones. The decision to go with the now out of production XS was size, weight and better screen. The iPhone 11 just seems big and heavy while the XS just seems extremely close in size to the 8 which I like. There’s lots of hype about the OLED screen on the XS, and while it’s nice (slightly higher res/brighter), it’s by no means head and shoulders above the LCD on the iPhone 8. So don’t expect a HUGE difference.

Where you get the biggest difference is the elimination of the bezel below, and above as compared to the iPhone 8. The screen goes from 53x102mm Vs 62x131mm, and this doesn’t even include the ears on the sides of the top of the screen. This gives a boost in screen area of a whopping 50% with little to no increase in physical size of the phone. The difference is quite noticeable. The older phones look quite dated next to the XS (or an X, XR, or 11). This image is actually an X but makes the point:

In exchange for this, you need to relearn how you work with your phone. Gone is the home button, replaced by gestures. Also gone is the finger print scanner, replaced by faceID, which works surprisingly well, even with or without glasses. You no longer have to press a button to wake the phone, just tap the screen. The iPhone does NOT have an always on display like the newer Samsungs …

Weight wise the XS is smack in the middle of the pack with the 8 coming in at 148g while the XS is 177, the 11 194. The weight difference is noticeable in the hand and pocket.

As with all phones since the iPhone 7, the 3.5mm audio cord is gone, replaced by lightning based headphones, really Apple expects you to use bluetooth. Apple no longer provide a lightning to 3.5mm converter as they did with the 8, but they can still be had inexpensively on Amazon.

Sadly, not gone is the archaic lightning port. I keep hoping Apple will embrace USB-C, but still no joy. So your left with the horrendously slow process to reload your phone. Be sure and leave lots of time to complete all this, even if everything goes perfectly, and given the data involved I HIGHLY recommend this be done ONLY on WIFI. The basic process to replace your phone is time consuming, here are your onerous steps:
1) Activate your new phone as a new device, so that you can upgrade the phone to the current OS. Mine arrived with iOS 12.3, while 13.3 is current. You can NOT restore a backup of one phone to another unless it is newer or same version. This can take quite a while so be patient, like more than an hour.
2) Using iTunes you can now restore your new phone with your old phone’s backup. This works pretty well and avoids the need to have to manually find and load apps, with a number of caveats. These will need to be manually resetup … These include:
a) re-adding your credit cards to the wallet
b) re-pairing your bluetooth devices, yes all of them
c) reloading some app data, for example Merlin (a bird identification app) has to be reloaded with it’s data base and photo ID apps
d) some apps will require you to re-sign in gmail for example
3) Now you will need to be patient while all the apps you previously had loaded are downloaded and installed, with a caveat. If the app has been removed from the App store since you previously had it, that app will NOT be installed on your new phone and it just mysteriously disappears with no explanation … Again this can take more than an hour.
4) resync back your music. Now even on a 64G iPhone, this again can take more than an hour. I can only imagine how long this would take on a 128/256G.
So all in, your looking at 2-3 hours. Now a lot of this time is unattended and you let it work and walk away, but still. And compared to some older Android phones where i had to manually re-find each of the apps and install them, it’s a lot more hands off.

Equally disappointing is that Apple still ship the same old ubiquitous 5W charger with the XS, in spite of the fact the phone supports quick charging using up to an 18W charger. So to get the benefit of quicker charges you will need to belly up some additional cash.

Speed wise, the iPhone 8 was already good, and the XS is just that little bit faster again. Apple claim “A12 Bionic Chip’s is 15% More powerful in CPU performance and consumes 40% less power comparing A11 chip. Not a lot to say, nothing ruins you for instantaneous quite like an iPhone. Android just can not compare. Even with my Samsung Galaxy Tab A 2019 which is brand new the pregnant pauses leave me clicking the buttons again and again thinking it hasn’t registered. Honestly it can be quite maddening.

Apple have yet again constrained the menu system to only one orientation. Why they continue to insist on doing this when the plus models and tablets can do it is beyond me. Just another one of those examples of Apple telling it’s customers what they need rather than listening.

Battery life is always a challenging thing to do at best. You can use artificial bench marks and compare them relatively? Using Apples own specs here is what they say Vs the iPhone 8
Talk time (wireless): Up to 14 hours Vs 20 (XS) 43% better
Internet use: Up to 12 hours Vs 12 (XS)
Video playback (wireless): Up to 13 hours Vs 14 (XS) 8% better
Audio playback (wireless): Up to 40 hours Vs 60 50% better
Personally, completely unscientifically speaking, what I see, it’s not dramatically better and not dramatically worse.

Charging wise, the same comment is in both the iPhone 8 and XS specs: “Up to 50% charge in 30 minutes with 18W adapter or higher (sold separately)”. In fact from a charging point of view the iPhone XS and 8 are VERY similar.

Looking at a graph comparing even a cheap 10W (5V 2A) charger with the included standard charger you can clearly see the XS supports fast charging:

To put this in words, in 30 mins the standard charger put 21% into the battery while the 10W charger put 38. Or to put it another way, the standard charger took 2 hours to put the same amount of charge into the battery the 10W charger took 86 mins. Using a 10W (or 12W charger)

I was able to go from 0 to 50% in about 37 mins using a 12W iPad charger. So not quite the 50% in 30 mins Apple claims with the 18W charger but pretty close, and given the cost difference … Oh, by the way, the Apple solution requires you to buy their 18W USB-C charger, and then a USB-C to lightning cable which are expensive and not justified IMHO.

Fast charging starts to slow down after 80% and really drops off after 90 as you can clearly see in the graph. Taking forever to make it from 90-100%. I saw no difference in charge curves between the run of the mill 10W (5V 2A) charger and an iPad 12W. Apple has never supported the Qualcom quick chargers so don’t even bother …

If there’s any time you want you juice to flow quickly it’s when you low and on the go … I recently reviewed the Luxtude battery pack and it is by far, the best, most elegant charging pack I’ve found to date. And it’s able to deliver a solid 10W into the iPhone despite it’s small size, the only one I’ve found so far that can do that. So let’s have a look at the charge curve on that in 30 minutes:

As you can see it does way better than a standard charger and as good as a 10W home charger. In 30 minutes it went from 30 to 72% while the standard charger only got to 51%!

Now Apple’s battery information says some interesting things, no idea when this “Optimized charging” snuck in … I see no difference in charge speeds between with optimization on and off. No idea if this is because the phone is brand new?

Last but not least I looked at two different wireless charge pads. One, a no name charger that supported both 9, and 5V inputs and another, a Fiora that also said it supported 9V and 5V inputs, but I could only get it to work with a 5V input.

Charge speeds are by no means fast using wireless, but compared to the standard 5W wired charger, it’s somewhat comparable. Wireless charging is super convenient. When choosing a charge pad to buy, look for one with multiple coils. This makes sure the field is larger allowing more tolerance to where the phone has to sit on the charge pad, otherwise it’s super sensitive and easy to get on the wrong spot.

Numbers wise if you take the Apple 5W standard wired charger as the baseline, you can see how the various numbers stack up. So for example the best one charged at 89% the speed of the 5W wired.

Efficiency wise wireless charging looses some power in the wireless delivery, these two were around 66%, and 72%, better than I expected. So the losses are reasonable for the convenience …

Camera wise what can you say, I find myself having to finally admit, the point and shoot camera is dead. Even with some optical zoom on small point and shoots the current generations of iPhones are as good or better … sigh. The low light, special features like slow mo, or panoramic are really quite good, and on par with point and shoots. Not a chance this is EVER going to hold a candle to my DLSR with great optics. All summer, even with my iPhone 8, I never once took my waterproof Nikon out, there’s no longer a point 😦

Iphones X and beyond (X, XS, XR 11 etc) all support multi SIM. How this works is the phone itself has a SIM called an eSIM (or electronic SIM), this is the same kind of thing you see in the Apple watch. The provider sells you an ESIM which is basically a QR code. For now, for Rogers anyway, this is a physical card that looks like a credit card. That ESIM is then activated and assigned a phone number on the back end of the provider’s system (Rogers in my case). This is where it gets a little challenging, and it took me a visit to Rogers, who sent me to Apple who explained this to me, and then back to Rogers to get this working. Even Rogers tech support didn’t know how to do this … So the answer is … drum roll … you insert a physical SIM for the additional number you want (Apple calls it a Cellular plan), not the same number … This requires 2 plans to even activate the eSIM. That was a complication no one knew. Apple Genius’s had to look it up in their knowledge base, and Rogers, and Rogers tech support had no clue. And if you try and activate the eSIM without a physical SIM present, or with a the SIM and eSIM on the same account you get this confusing and misleading error message.

More info from Apple’s site

With the eSIM activated this leaves the nano SIM slot free for if your travelling and get a SIM in that country, or perhaps you have a work phone. From there you can now send and receive calls/texts from either number. You can name each of the cellular plans. You can setup a default for phones, and one for data to a specific plan.

You can even manually choose to enable and disable each plan. This is helpful for a work phone you may not want on all the time. When calling/sending a text you can then choose to make that call/send that text from the alternate phone number. It’s pretty simple to manage once setup. And the physical SIM can be removed from the phone which then leaves the sSIM as the only cellular plan.

So all in all the XS is an excellent upgrade to the 8, similar in size/weight while supporting the new user interface which gives you a lot more usable screen area.

December 18, 2019 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Unused apps and bloatware

Apple, Samsung etc all load their phones up with lots of apps that you may NEVER use. Sometimes these are done for your convenience, other times it’s because they were paid to install these apps. The net result is a bloating of software that takes up precious space, has to be updated, and maybe talking back to the mothership without your knowledge. Over time the companies have gotten much better at allowing user to uninstall these apps, but you the user need to take control of your device. On an iPhone I found a number of exceptionally large apps I’ve never used in all the years of having an iPhone. Once uninstalled they can easily be reinstalled if you change your mind so there’s no risk. You can use Offload Unused apps function to automatically manage this, but I’d rather be the master of my own iPhone. First head over to setting general, iphone storage. You can easily see what apps are taking up storage (both app and data) as well as when they were last used if EVER.

On my device iMovie (617M), Garage Band (1.6G), Numbers (500M), and Keynote (623M) were at the top of the list of LARGE, NEVER used apps. Add this up and I recovered 3.3G of wasted space. Sheesh.

Here’s an official list from Apple of what can be uninstalled by the user. A shocking amount, well done Apple! Of course don’t put these bloatware apps in by default would be better, but …

December 17, 2019 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

iPhone models

I consider myself fairly technical, but the dizzying array of iPhone models available from Apple is confusing at best. Now some of this is the fact that some older models have simply not sold through, but none the less. So I found myself coming from an iPhone 8 and with my contract expired looking to see what I could do. I’m going to have a phone anyway, so unless I can find a dramatically lower monthly fee by going bring your own device (BYOD) I might as well upgrade. And given this is Black friday I also wondered if there might be some bargooooons to be had. So the choices for me are the iPhone XR, XS and 11. The 11 pro is more than I want to pay so it got tossed out. The iPhone 8 is the baseline from which everything is going to be compared.

Now to be honest, I like my iPhone 8. I’ve really only had one issue, I believe I’ve had a defective battery since the start. Any time the phone is in the cold, less than 0C, the battery falls off a cliff. This is problematic for me being an outdoursy person. At $65 to have Apple change the battery this is not a big deal. And in fact, I did get it replaced anyway, in case the phone gets handed down to a family member. Amusingly Apple broke a connector in the process and ended up giving me a new (well refurb) iPhone 8).

So looking at the models and doing a bunch of reading, and I recommend you do your own diligence too … here are my thoughts:
XR = cost reduced X
XS = follow on to the X, but it is replaced by the iPhone 11, some stock at some places still exist
11 = improved XS with improved cameras, improved camera app, down graded screen, heavier, larger, better battery life

For me, given the cost difference the iPhone XS seems like the deal, with the 11 being heavier, larger, more expensive, worse screen, and the XR being only a slight improvement on the 8 that I already have.
Here’s a little chart to show you the comparisons:

All models support dual SIM by use of an eSIM and regular nano SIM.
Hope that helps a little. A review of the XS will follow, I’ve bought one! Got it for $240 on a 2 yr plan.

November 29, 2019 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Garmin Glo bluetooth GPS

Those of you that follow me know I am a Garmin fan boy. I love their products. They are often some of my most cherished gadgets. I often write Glowing (pun intended) reviews of their products … ehhhh this won’t be one of those :(. Ok so what is this … It’s a bluetooth GPS designed to be used on Apple and Android devices. Garmin went so far as to get MFI (Made for iDevice) certification for this device. So why would you need this you might ask? Well two reasons, one your bought an iPad that didn’t come with a GPS (only the cell models have GPS), or you want to use your iPad in a plane. And in fact, that is where this product if most firmly aimed at.

Like any bluetooth device you power it on, and go into settings and pair it. It can be paired with two devices (not sure if more) at a time but I found the second device needed a prod to connect. It can however, remember multiple devices it has been paired with (no idea the limit). On iOS you then are informed of the apps you can/should install
As you can see use in a plane is what it’s really targeted for. The device powers up, locks up quickly and has a few lights to show you the status. The unit has a battery which Garmin say can last for 12 hours, or you can plug it in using a mini (no micro) USB connector. I’m a little disappointed that it is not mini, micro is so passe and means you will need to remember to bring along the cable for this device since nothing else uses mini today. The unit CAN be used without the battery so you can plug it in and forget it. If your lighter plug goes on and off with the engine then this would be the perfect solution. If not then you should know there is no intelligence whatsoever built into this device. So don’t expect it to auto power off when not in use. On the positive side I measured a VERY low .07A at 5V or 350mW of power drawn. This is low enough you could probably leave it on anyway. Quite impressive.

Don’t go looking for the battery status on the battery widget on iOS. Don’t go looking for an app that would tell you the status of the device, nada. This gadget seems like it was designed in Garmin’s skunk works 🙂 The software that could have been there isn’t. Instead Garmin spent time working on apps like Garmin Pilot and others.

Once linked just about every app I tried from Waze, to Google maps to whatever just worked. Really quite well done. The work with the MFI program paid off, and this does what is supposed to. I tried it on both my iPhone 8 as well as my iPad 9.7 2018.
On my older Android I had less luck. It paired fine, but always ended up using the built in GPS instead and so refused to connect or stay connected.

The device came with a mini USB cable, but it’s so short as to be useless. It also came with a lighter plug with a longer cable.

Now this niche product does NOT come cheap. $129 at Sail.

December 11, 2018 Posted by | GPS Stuff, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Apple iPad 9.7 2017 review

I last owned an iPad mini 2 with LTE. Honestly I loved it, but it just didn’t fit into my digital life and spent time sitting there, alone, irking me that the money spent was not doing anything. But then along came this iPad with Apple Pencil support and I was tempted. I kept hoping Apple would come out with a mini with pencil support, but, sadly, it was not to be. So I gave in an bought this tablet. One of the things I learned last time around is that a lot of storage on an iPad is useless. Music is on my iPhone and no iPad will replace my iPhone. And putting movies onto an iPad is at best a painful experience with a trip through iTunes and a possible need to convert to H264 … So this time around I bought the smallest iPad, 32G. Staples had the iPad regularly $429, for $339 and then gave me another $10 for joining their email blast bring the price down to a palatable $329 plus $129 for the pencil.

One of the major features for the iPad for me is the integration of the iPhone and iPad, I wish everyone was able to do this. Text messages, phone calls, timers, reminders, lists all stay in sync and work over both. It allows you to put your iPhone wherever and use just the iPad in the home.

With this being a newer iPad Siri works even when not plugged in. So the iPad becomes a digital assistant and works quite well even when your not close. This is a wonderful new use for the iPad! And with it’s outstanding battery life, even not plugged in your good for days. I wish I could find a decent docking station for iPads, oddly they don’t seem to exist?

The dimensions of the iPad are:
240 × 168.5 × 7.5 mm 469g Vs the Vivotab note 8 I am replacing which is:
132 x 221 x 10 mm 360g so quite a bit larger and heavier than what I am replacing
Display wise it an impressive:
2048 × 1536 px vs 1280×800 iPads have always been quite good in this spec area.

Battery size is 32.4Wh Vs 15.5 but the real star here is how much better iOS is at battery life than Windows will ever be.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had with this iPad is a case. Sounds like it ought to be simple … It isn’t. I need a case that I can hold the iPad while open. So few have straps that help this. Then there’s the pencil holder. Finding a case with a built in pencil holder is challenging and then they make mistakes like putting the pencil loop on the wrong side of the case leaving the pencil flapping in the breeze and slapping against the iPad as you open and close the case … grrr. After three cases I finally found a winner on Amazon, a Ztotop. This case finally has everything I’m looking for (well almost). The case is easy to hold, has the auto on/off magnet, a pencil loop that is useable, a hand strap for holding it while open, the only miss is the inside of the case is light grey which will show stains. Oh well.

I’m not sure when this was added to iOS, or if it was always there, but when you press control or alt tab which allows you to select from running apps, there is now one for the home screen. This allows you to use a keyboard that does not have a button for home on it! Nice …

Speed wise the 9.7 runs the A10 Vs the A11 I have in my iPhone 8, so close. The mini 2 I got rid of was so much older than my phone the speed difference was HUGELY noticeable and discourage it from being used.

I often start to wonder, and even get into discussions with people of whether an iPad can replace a laptop. You can spend money that will add a keyboard to the iPad and even hold it in positions it looks a lot like a notebook, but for me the number one reason an iPad can not replace a laptop is the lack of mouse support (iOS still today does not support a mouse). Editing photos, trying to do RDP and many other tasks just need a mouse. The pencil can help a little. And the number two reason is that the browser support even on chrome is designed for mobile browsing. Some sites, and it’s a lot, just don’t display right or flat out don’t work on iOS. So before you go out and spend $120 or more on a keyboard give this some serious thought. The best keyboard I had found for it, in case you want to leap in anyway, is a Brydge . It gets good reviews for tactile feel, key placement, functionality, and ease to put the iPad in and out. And at 9.7″ the screen is big, but not big enough.

This iPad like all current ones use the typical lightening connector, and the ubiquitous 10W, 5V 2A charger came with it. I tried a 12W Apple iPad charger and it worked fine, but still only drew the 10W of power, so no benefit. I plugged it into my Aukey 5 port charger and it worked fine, and even drew almost 12W, but made little to no difference in charge speeds. As with other Apple product, I plugged it into the Qualcom quick charge 3.0 port on my Aukey and it halfed the power (5W) it drew meaning it would take forever to charge, so stay away from those.

The iPad like all Apple devices is included in the find my phone.

When an App is written the author decides whether to offer an iPhone, or iPad version, or in the best case, both. But some just don’t. When the app is written only for an iPhone it looks bad on a large screen like this. I mean really bad. I find is shocking that companies even like my bank don’t spend the time and money to create an iPad app for it. I really find this quite irksome, and yet another reason an iPad can’t replace a laptop.

There is a video converter that would allow the iPad to work with a display, but again with no mouse support it’s use is limited.

As always installing Kodi on an iPad is best left for extreme tekkies with access to a Mac. I did find a somewhat dodgy but easier way to install Kodi on TvAddons. The method requires you to install an app from a web site and permit an untrusted cert, and lastly tolerate the occasional adds. To remove the app is simple and then you delete the cert.

After a weeks light use the battery on the iPad was finally dead. The standby power management coupled with a HUGE battery means that battery life is outstanding. In the same time the pencil with little to no use was down to 27%. As important as battery life is charge time is also important. Apple in the past have no embraced fast charging with this finally appearing on the iPhone 8. As mentioned above the iPad came with a 10W charger, and did not benefit at all from the 12W. Here’s what the charge curve looks like. What you can see is a straight line across the charge curve. The current starts to reduce as you can see in the data after about 80%. The iPad took about 4 hours to charge from 5%.

And as always, the devil is in the details. And this was one I knew from last time, and forgot. Only iPads with the cell radio in it have GPS. Which means you can not use this iPad for Waze or other in car navigation. I stupidly bought the WIFI only. The difference in price is $429 Vs $599 or $170 extra (for the 32G). There are a few options. Generically Apple do not support bluetooth GPS, however there are a few in the market that have worked with Apple and work. There’s also one that plugs into the lightning connector. The ones I have found (not necessarily extensive):
Dual Electronics XGPS150A Bluetooth
Bad Elf GPS iPad Receiver Apple Lightning Connector
Garmin GLO Bluetooth
GNS 2000 Bluetooth
The cheapest option I was able to find was $140 so if this is something your interested in, your better off to just bite the bullet and buy the cell version. I ended up buying the Garmin Glo and while it works it is a clumsy option.

The iPad works fine as a media player, able to stream what can come over WIFI. I used it with Plex, HomeRunHD and Kodi all worked fine.

That’s about it for now, I like the iPad, the addition of the pen means I will use it for taking digital notes and I guess time will tell what else I use it for. This GPS revelation is irritating at best and has me now considering to return it.

Update: I returned it and got a one with the cell and GPS from Fido for pretty much the same price. Dilemma solved.

Accessories can protect your device and add additional convenience and usefulness … First and foremost is a case. This as mentioned above presented more challenges than I expected. If you don’t have a pen the SR Premium Leather Business Multi-Functional Folio Stand is made of very nice material, has a strap for holding it while you write, and has the auto on/off function. This comes with a pen loop but they botched it and put it on the wrong side of the case making it unuseable. The inside of the case is a lovely felt but it is a stain and moisture magnet, and being black shows everything.

If you need a pen then the Ztotop Premium Leather Business Slim Folding Stand Folio Cover is the best. It has a hand strap for holding it while you write, it has a pen loop that is useful, has the auto on/off function, has a couple of angles you can prop it up at and the inside material is easy to wash. If there is any downside it’s that the materials are just cheap looking. But at least they got the physicals right!

Don’t bother with a mouse because the iPad doesn’t support it but a bluetooth keyboard can come in handy. Be sure and buy one that is for Apple so that the keys all just work right. Look for the command key on it. I’m using a very old Targus and it works well. I’m not sure for my usecase that a keyboard case is worth the money, I just leave the keyboard on the table and use it when I’m there.

I wouldn’t own a phone these days without a tempered glass screen protector so I nervously bought a Spigen one. Putting a screen protector on a screen this big and not getting imperfections under it are a huge challenge. A friend of mine Lance taught me a trick, use packing tape to make sure every last spec of dust and lint is off the screen. It works so much better than the small pieces they give you. Just keep going over and over the screen in different directions until your satisfied. The piece of mine knowing the screen is protected is well worth the angst … And if you use the pencil then if the pencil was to get damaged it can’t scratch the screen as a added bonus.

Obviously the Apple pencil is a great choice if you take notes digitally as I do, or like to doodle.

I bought a lightning SD card reader, meh don’t bother. I should have listened to the little voice. It’s not all that useful. You can import photos, and if you have to get a movie that is exactly as Apple intended you MIGHT be able to import it. Movies are generally converted to Apples narrowly supported specs by iTunes. And mp3s were completely ignored.

I’ve bought a car holder but it is almost impossible to imagine a place to put this safely in a car … so don’t bother.

Update 5/6/2019
I’ve been living with this ipad now for over 4 months now. I have to say, I had some VERY unrealistic thoughts on it’s use. Given the size the idea of using it inside a car as mentioned above is unrealistic. Now this one idea was one of the reasons I went back and bought one with a cell radio (only the ones with the cell radio have the GPS). Other use cases really have not transpired. I do use it to display recipes while baking. Pencil wise this is a mixed bag. It’s super accurate, however every now and then in OneNote for some reason there are errant lines that come out of nowhere. You can delete them but it’s clumsy. The battery management on the pencil is a real irritant and something you always need to be cognizant of. The lack of an erase or any kind of button for that matter is a HUGE miss. All in all I like the iPad as a digital note taking device, I just don’t love it. And frankly the iPad like it’s predecessor just ends up sitting with little to nothing to do. I’ve brought a Mac on the home so all of the crossover items with an iPhone like messaging and the like work as well or better on the Mac further reducing the iPads use. The weight of the iPad/case is quite noticeable when taking notes for long periods of time and means I look for times to stretch my arm or put the iPad down. So a good device, not a great device and just not fitting into my life in a way that would make something I can’t live without.

December 4, 2018 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Apple Pencil review

I’ve been using a Asus Vivotab Note 8 Windows based tablet for a quite a while now and love it. It is hands down the best experience for the pen. The problem is the device has been massively unstable and keeping it working has been a pain. Everything from physical issues with the ribbon cable that connects both the touch screen and digitizer to ongoing issues with Windows drivers. Windows 10 has finally has improved (or I finally discovered) palm rejection with the addition of one setting.

Believe it or not there are NO replacement in the market for this niche product. The Windows environment is still the richest environment for OneNote. Android and IOS being limited in function.

For this review I will talk about the Apple pencil, then the iPad in a separate article.

Physically in the box there’s the pencil itself, a spare tip as well as a converter.

The pencil goes for $129, so not cheap. On the end of the pencil is a cap that hides the lightning connector. This connector allows the pencil to be plugged into the iPad for charging and initial setup. They then give you a converter that allows you to plug the pencil into a normal charge cable. The design of this is STUPID. It’s designed for the exception, charging from the iPad and initial setup. IMHO it should have been designed the other way around to allow a standard charger to plug in and a converter for those rare occasions you need to plug into the iPad. The reality is your going to have to find a way to not loose the converter.

When first plugged into the iPad it bluetooth pairs the pencil. Before being paired it is completely ignored. You could easily think the pencil is dead (I know I did). Ya ya I know RTFM.

The pencil itself is long, but well balanced. There are no LEDs, no buttons, nothing. To see the charge level on the pencil you need to add the batteries widget.

There isn’t even an app to interface with the pencil. The pencil can be used like a pointer on the the iPad but the real purpose of this pencil is drawing and writing. I take digital hand written notes using Microsoft OneNote. Within OneNote you have to select the draw tab before the pencil starts being a draw tool, otherwise it is a scroll tool. The pen appears with absolutely no delay making writing seem natural. The pen tip is a little hard so it doesn’t feel like your writing on paper and you get some tapping sounds, but this is really nit picking. The end of the pencil does not act as an eraser as it does with some pens. Having no buttons means there is no way to select anything with the pencil. As usual there are a number of functions missing from OneNote from anything but Windows and that includes optical character recognition, convert hand writing to text, page templates etc.

There is no cap for the end of the pencil, nor is there a shirt clip for it. The best way to store it would be to buy a case with a bay for the pen, of which there are lots. The one I bought, a Finitie off Amazon is a pretty good case that fits the iPad well and holds the pencil. There are a few minor nits with the case. The inside of the cover is light grey and absorbs anything wet which gets marked/stained easily, black would have been better. The outside of the case is somewhat slippery. The design of the pen slot would have been perfect if they had made a little pocket for the lightning converter for the pen. The design of the outside cover works well as a stand but is not easy to hold in use. They could have added a strap on the inside as some do, or they could have made the first fold small enough to be able to hold in the hand when open.

I finally found a winner on Amazon, a Ztotop. This case finally has everything I’m looking for (well almost). The case is easy to hold, has the auto on/off magnet, a pencil loop that is useable, a hand strap for holding it while open, the only miss is the inside of the case is light grey which will show stains. Oh well.

The pen can be used in a number of apps to simply and easily add annotations, highlights whatever!

Apple Pencil promises 12 hours of battery life and 30 minutes of usage after a 15 second quick charge from the iPad. If you choose to charge it by the lightning connector charge time is quite long. For the first almost 10 mins the charge didn’t seem to budge. If your patient it seems to get started. Ignoring the first 15mins of this graph we can get some useful data. Time to full charge is just under an hour (which is in line with what I’ve read). I get about 1.7%/min on the charger. If you do a calculation I would guess the battery inside the pen is around 0.28Whr which is in the ballpark of the Wikipedia article on the pencil.

Anytime the iPad is on (and the pencil detects some kind of movement, I think) whether your using the pencil or not, it’s connected and draining. I see no way to power off the pencil shy of powering off bluetooth on the iPad and even that might not stop the constant power drain on the pencil. This seems like another significant oversight. In a week of light iPad and light pencil use, the pencil was down to 26%. So a little over a week seems about all your going to get before you have to recharge the pencil, whether you’ve used it or not. If the pencil was sat somewhere there was absolutely no movement then it would go to sleep, but then the pencil wouldn’t be with you when you need it. All in all this is a HUGE mistake on Apples part IMHO. I left the pencil off the ipad sitting still on a ledge, and even with this the pencil discharged in 5 days down to 79%. So an improvement but still not zero. This missing power switch seems idiotic.

Apple seem to have completely ignored any learning from previous stylus and reinvented the wheel. As you can see above with some fairly obvious rookie mistakes. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the pencil, I just expected better from Apple (not less).

By the way I bought one of these Cover sets off Amazon. Provides some nice protection for the pencil tip and cheap enough your not going to cry when you loose them.

I also bought a sticker to put on the back of a case to hold the pencil, if you do be careful with the length of the sticker, the one I bought is too short and the pencil bobs around. I should have noticed the picture didn’t show the Apple pencil in it, but a regular pen, in spite of saying it was for the Apple pencil …

I have since discovered there is an alternative to the Apple pencil, the logitech crayon. At $89.95 Vs $129 it’s good option. The differences between the two are the logitech includes a power switch, auto power off, but the logitech can only be changed by a lightning cable (not from the iPad), and the logitech does NOT support pressure sensitivity used in drawing apps. The logitech only supports the 2018 9.7 not the iPad pro.

Update 1/22/2019
I’ve been using the pencil now fairly heavily. It is really quite impressive how accurate/precise it is. The pencil itself is a little long and slippery but you can get use to it. I’ve bought a pen cap with a touch screen stylus on the end so I can pick at the screen of the iPad or iPhone without having to put the pencil down. Why Apple didn’t think of that is beyond me. It’s from Amazon from a company called Cooya.

An addition to using the pencil for notes inside OneNote I also found a number of paint by number, coloring, and jigsaw games benefited from the pencil, better accuracy than using your finger. They key was finding a case that keeps the pencil always handy. The standby power draw is an issue that means you need to keep the pencil charged a lot more frequently. It’s a stupid oversight on Apple’s part. All in all I am enjoying the new iPad, and the new pencil experience.

November 29, 2018 Posted by | iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Apple iPhone 8

I’m on an iPhone 6 which is getting a little long in the tooth, and I was off contract so I decided to take the plunge. At almost 2 years this is pretty much the LONGEST I’ve kept any phone. A statement of how much I have enjoyed my iPhone. I left Samsung after the debacle that was the S5 and haven’t looked back. Honestly if I had bought an S6 instead of the S5 I may have never ventured back into the iPhone space.

I looked at the iPhone X but it was going to be another $320 so I passed on it. What was I looking for out of the new device? A number of things. Nothing spoils you when it comes to instantaneous quite like an iPhone. And my 6 was getting sluggish. I’ve been using a third party wireless charging case on my iPhone 6 and while it works, it’s clumsy. I also wanted to get hey siri working when not on power which the 6 can’t do. Lastly my battery isn’t exactly new so some improved battery life is always appreciated. So with that in mind on we go …

Physicals:
To say the iPhone 8 looks like every other iPhone is an understatement of epic proportions. Physically the differences are subtle. So if part of your reason to upgrade is status … don’t bother. Outside of the X no one will notice.

Upgrade/Restore Process:
I’ve used the Apple upgrade process in the past and it was painless. This time … not so much. It turns out that the Apple upgrade process requires the new phone to be at the same or newer level of iOS, and this I only figured out after numerous attempts at restores. And to say Apple don’t guide you through this, is being gentle. And I’m irritated so … Apple WTF. My new iPhone was at 11.02 which is over 2.5 months old at this point compared to current. And since the release of the iPhone X the rate of change appears to be more brisk. So here are the steps:
1) Activate new phone as a new device not from backup. I recommend highly that you use a SIM from a different provider than your current provider to insure that the phone is indeed unlocked. As of Dec 1 2017, by law all phones sold in Canada MUST be unlocked. Once activated you can now bring your phone up to date using either iTunes or on the phone itself. This is a long process taking a lot of bandwidth. Your looking easily at over an hour. And you want to do this on WIFI because the update can be as much as 1.5G or more.
2) Reset the new phone
3) Backup your old phone using iTunes. Be sure you know the backup password. And be sure to use an encrypted backup so passwords and Health data come across
4) Activate the new phone again, this time restoring from backup. Again this will take some time. Restoring Gs of music is a slow process. Again your looking at hours

Restore results:
Restore this time around came down into a number of areas. WIFI worked perfectly and all previous settings were kept. All previous apps were installed. Some apps worked straight away, others had to re-authenticate. Apple health worked perfectly. Account settings all came across as well. Apple Pay of course has to be re-setup. But the BIG miss this time around was bluetooth. For some reason each and every bluetooth device had to be re-setup. Sometimes this went well. Others not so much. On my Garmin Fenix I had to delete it from Garmin connect and re add it. Others just had to be re-paired. The Apple watch surprisingly was stubborn and took a long time (10 mins) for first sync once I got it to re-pair.

Overall I have to say, this took A LOT more time than I allocated. Probably close to 4 hours in all. Now the memory of this will soon fade, but geez Louise …

Specs:
Display size and resolution on the 8 is the exact same as the 6 at 750×1334 pixels, on a 4.7 inch screen. Processors get upgraded from the dual core A8 to the hex (six) core A11. According to Apple it’s got four efficiency cores that are up to 70 percent faster than A10 Fusion, and two performance cores that are up to 25 percent faster. The focus of this new hex core is similar to the octa cores you see on Android devices. Have high speed high power processors for when you need it, and low power low performance for standby. On Android it has made a significant difference, reducing standby power.

The cameras get upgraded to 12/7Mp Vs 8/1.2 on the 6. So this is a pretty significant bump, the front facing selfie camera now being almost as good as the main camera on the 6. Battery wise it’s the same at 1810 mAH. It’s always amusing to see how small the battery on an iPhone is compared to Android phones, yet the iPhones get as good or better battery life. Dimensions are 138.40 x 67.30 x 7.30 vs 138.10 x 67.00 x 6.90 for the 6. So the 8 is actually thicker. Weight is 148g Vs 129 for the 6. So the 8 is actually heavier.

The iPhone 8 continues to use the lightning cable, yay! They have however NOT upgraded it to USB 3. One of the reasons why it takes so long to load up your music, backup, and sync your device. Apple have removed the headphone jack, but included a lightning to normal 3.5mm headphone jack. This does limit you to using the headset or charge, not both. Personally I always use a bluetooth headset to listen to music so I don’t care. My two favorites are Jumbl and Sony MW600.

I’ve noticed the iPhone 8 turns on automatically when you lift the phone up to look at it without you having to press any buttons.

The iPhone 8 still ships with the anemic 5W (5V 1A) charger meaning default charge time is the same as the old iPhone 6, at under 2 hours. I’ve done a whole article on iPhone 8 quick charging which you can read … or to cut to the summary, buy yourself a 2A USB charger and use it instead of the 5W iPhone charger.

The iPhone 8 finally supports wireless charging. But as of now Apple do not include a wireless charging pad with the phone and Apple currently do not even offer one to buy. You can buy third party Qi chargers and they do work. I played with a Seneco and Itian both of which I bought from Amazon. The iPhone is said to support up to 7.5W Qi. I’m not sure if that means input to the coil or output to the phone. There are losses of roughly 50% that is normal in wireless charging. That said, with the two Qi chargers the best I could muster was about 0.6%/hr. This is roughly 60% of the speed of the Apple 5W charger. So it will definitely be a slow charge, taking charge times from under 2 hours to around 4.5 hours. This is best used, for example, when sleeping. Here you can see the speed of charge difference between the iPhones default charger and the wireless charging. By 50 mins the difference is over 15%. And this is without even considering a faster 2A charger.
I found this article on good wireless chargers.

I bought the silver, to me it looks a whole lot more like white. I’m underwhelmed by the color but given it will be under a case anyway not sure that I care.

I moved from Rogers to Bell and have seen a significant improvement in both speed and signal strength almost everywhere. I have seen speeds as high as 80Mb/s down and 30MB/s up. I use to see speeds like this from Rogers but have not seen them in quite a while as LTE has got busier. Of course because of changing carriers I can’t attribute that to the phone, it could just be the change in carriers.

Initial battery tests are showing very similar results to the iPhone 6, with some slight improvements on LTE battery life. I’ll update this once I get more data. I’m kinda surprised the new processors haven’t made much of a difference. In the Android world the Octa core was a profound shift in battery life.

So all in all, the 8 from the 6 is an entirely incremental step, evolutionary in nature. I got all the things I wanted from the upgrade and lost nothing. I had read issues with bluetooth incompatibilities but other than setup issues it has been a non-issue for the devices I use. So in the end, I’m happy, specifically with the speed of the device and the wireless charger. Am I thrilled and blown away? Nope …

December 14, 2017 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Heh SIRI not working

I’m still running an iPhone 6, and for a while I was confused by the fact Heh SIRI would work sometimes and not others. Well it turns out on older iPhones like mine Heh SIRI ONLY works while on a power source to save battery. Now Apple could have saved me a time by simply putting a note next to the switch setting that turns on Heh SIRI to say only while on AC, but they didn’t.

So with that sorted out I now know when it’s on my bed side plugged in, I can ask for weather etc. And when plugged in the car I can use SIRI to navigate stuff. This can basically take the place of things like an Amazon Echo or Google home, for free! This may seem super obvious to those in the know, but if it tripped me up, chances are one or two others may have missed this point too …

Article defining where heh SIRI is supported.

October 24, 2017 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Here a tracker there a tracker … Apple Health to the rescue?

Getting all your activity/sleep etc data in one place is challenging. The makers like fitbit etc have no motivation whatsoever to allow you to have devices from different companies. In fact, they use it to trap you into their ecosystem. If you happen to change trackers, do you want to change your scale? Of all the companies I’ve played with Fitbit, Polar, Misfit, and Xiaomi only Fitbit allow you to export your data. And then it dawned on me, in the Apple world there is a bridge to bring this data in one place, Apple Health! So let’s have a look at this …

When you install an app that supports Apple Health, you can control what amount of access it can have to Apple Health, ie what it can read and write. When you uninstall an app you can also choose to remove all data in Apple health from that app. You can easily see what sources currently have read and write access and tailor it as you see fit.
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For this to be a savior you need to keep an eye on how well the individual app works with Apple health. I found Garmin connect had some anomalies that were polluting the sleep data. It seems Garmin did not think of the possibility that you might not always sleep with your Garmin device and it used the definition of normal bed time (which is used to mute the device) on those occasions to populate your sleep? WTF.
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Fortunately it’s pretty easy to simply remove Garmin Connect’s access to just the sleep data.

Fitbit have chosen for now to completely ignore Apple Health, likely to keep your data in their vault. Fortunately there is an app out there that simply takes your fitbit data and pushes it into Apple health called Health Sync. It works well.

Fitbit do an incredible job of taking data from multiple devices and merging them. You can wear your Flex for part of the day and switch up to a different tracker and it merges them nicely. Apple Health however makes not attempt to do this. It does however allow you to prioritize which data is likely to be more accurate.
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Additionally you can manually edit and delete entries easily.

Data can be exported from the Apple health app, but I see no way of importing it. This is potentially a challenge if you don’t use the backup/restore method of migrating to a new phone at some point. The exported data comes out in an XML file that is challenging at best to do anything with. Fortunately there is an app called QS Access that will allow you to export exactly what you want to a CSV that in turn can be imported into Excel for graphing and analysis.

So an in all it can be done, but definitely could use some work by Apple …

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment