Trying out the new Apple AirPods

We’ve been waiting on the arrival of a pair of Apple AirPods in this household for several weeks. To cut a long story short, they were a much-delayed Christmas present for @FrankDJS and proved very elusive online and in-store.

While I was passing the Regent Street Apple Store yesterday afternoon, I popped in on a whim and asked if they had any in stock. Much to my surprise, there was actually a staff member available to help me. It was an Apple Store, after all. To my even greater surprise, they had some AirPods in stock.

In less than two seconds, I decided to buy two pairs – one to replace the back-ordered pair for @FrankDJS and one for me, to try them out. I’ve seen what they’re going for on eBay, so I figured that if they didn’t work out, I could easily re-sell them.

At £159, they were probably the most significant impulse purchase I’ve made in some time.

As a mature human being and business owner, I had to prioritise doing some paperwork for my VAT return before I could unpack my set. All the time, hearing gasps of delight and joy from the other room, as @FrankDJS started to use his…

See below for some hastily-shot unpacking videos. I thought I’d put them next to my iMac’s keyboard to illustrate relative size.

I’ll be honest: I’ve used the for less than an hour. So my very quick review of them so far is:

  • They were super easy to set up. You simply open the lid of the little case they come in and the nearby iPhone starts to want to ‘pair’ with them. About two seconds later, they were paired and automatically (automagically?) named ‘Richard’s AirPods’. Bless. Much faster and more accurately than every other bluetooth device I’ve owned.
  • Unlike every other pair of headphones Apple have ever made, these actually fit in my ears. All others fall out like they were made for children, or they start to hurt in less than an hour. These fit nicely and there’s not a hint of discomfort.
  • They also stay in! I know this is a basic for earphones of any kind, but seeing as there’s no cable attached to them, their ability to stay put is of prime importance. Given their size, I’d hate to have one pop out while marching through a Tube station.
  • The sound is impressive! I’d travelled home using my Bose noise-cancelling earphones, and they’re definitely not comparable. But there is a nice amount of base and even with a TV playing loudly in the background, I could hear my music very clearly with volume only turned up half-way.

They’re simple to use – almost too simple. Once you have some music playing, you can pause the track by simply taking one of the AirPods out of your ear. Put it back in and the music starts up again. It’s a very natural gesture – think about when someone approaches you to ask a question while you’re listening to music. It’s obvious to both of you that you’re ready to speak.

If you tap the AirPod in your ear twice, you call up Siri. It hears me perfectly, even if I doesn’t respond accurately. Seriously, I’ve become a much bigger fan of Alexa since getting my Amazon Echo Dots. But with more (sigh) practice, I suppose I could get it to call people without taking my phone out of my pocket.

Does this sound a bit underwhelming? I’m sorry if it does.

The fast pairing and quality sound are impressive. But the lack of any volume control or track control (unless you use Siri) is less impressive. I have an Apple Watch, making it easy for me to control my music and podcasts playback without getting my phone out. But really – this should be an option on the AirPods themselves.

I’ve yet to wear them out of the house. This is important, given the funny looks I’ve seen other AirPods owners get, even in our own neighbourhood of Metropolitan Elite Gadgeteers. (That’s the phrase, right?)

I think these will be must useful to me for hands-free work calls while I’m at my desk (or one of the various hot desks I find myself at from time to time) and when I need to pack light. My Bose headphones are magnificent, but boy are they large. The AirPods, in their case, are minuscule by comparison.  They’re light and protected in the case.

But they’re still not connected by a cable or a cord. It’s unsettling. And that’s why I immediately ordered a cable to keep them together. I know I’m not alone, as I’ve seen a few people do this recently. But it means that when they’re not in active use, I can wear them around my neck.

I’ll come back in a few weeks with a more detailed breakdown and evaluation. Right now, I’m impressed and frustrated with their usability. Let’s see what a few weeks of usage does to that opinion…

An iOS 10 headache

Now, you can tell me I only have myself to blame, but I tried to update my iOS devices as soon as the iOS 10 update became available from Apple yesterday evening.

My iPad Pro 9.7″ updated smoothly and easily. I haven’t gone through all the details, but with a couple of hours’ use, I can say that I like iOS 10 on the iPad. It actually seems snappier and more responsive.

My iPhone 6s plus, on the other hand, was bricked by the over-the-air update. And I wasn’t alone. A quick look on Twitter highlighted that people all over the place were looking at their iPhones with the same mix of anger, frustration and shock.

Apple released a statement saying they’d noted the error, but for me, it was too late.

Cue several hours trying to update the phone, or even get it back into some semblance of working condition. I finally got it working four hours later – most of that time was spent trying to download software via iTunes. An app I rarely, if ever, open these days.

I never connect my iOS devices to iTunes unless it’s absolutely necessary. Back-ups are done over the air, everything important is in the cloud and there’s nothing mission-critical on either device that isn’t backed up somewhere else.

The iTunes experience with my iPhone just served to remind me what a bloated, outdated piece of crap the application is. I actually ended up completing the iOS update over-the-air again, as iTunes kept crashing.

The phone is working just fine now, but that was a colossal waste of my time. So much for “It just works”. It doesn’t.

Twitter was awash with helpful advice from tech writers but also quite a bit of schadenfreude from aficionados who pointed out “this happens every time” and “you have to be mental to update iOS on day one”. Not helpful, guys.

If the update is available on a given day, are we supposed to engage in some kind of ‘cargo cult’ mentality, cross our fingers and wait an arbitrary amount of time before it’s ‘safe’ to update? O should we trust the company that released the software update?r

I was super-keen to get iOS 10 on my devices as I think it’s a great advance for the platform. The shoddy update process left a really bitter taste in my mouth and I’d encourage Apple to think twice before releasing macOS Sierra next week. I won’t be updating my Macbook and iMac on day one – I couldn’t bare a similar experience.

The next Apple update will be treated with extreme caution. Which is a shame.

On a related note, I’m waiting for the delivery of my new iPhone 7 Plus. I’m expecting it in about a week. Much of the noise around its launch concerned the removal of the headphone jack and Apple spoke about the bravery involved in moving to a wireless future.

It would be nice if they could make this wireless future a reality when it comes to OS updates, removing iTunes from the equation completely. I dread to think what I’d have done if I was nowhere near my Macbook or iMac.

iPhone 7 Plus: ordered.

Now the wait begins.

I ordered a couple of phones for @FrankDJS and I as soon as the online Apple Store opened this morning. Sat in bed, refreshing the iPhone app until the store opened, I used an old trick to guarantee we’d get what we want. Last night, I selected each of our chosen phones (and my new watch) and marked them as ‘favourites’. This morning, as soon as the store ‘opened’, the three items were ready to select and pay for in just a couple of steps.

@FrankDJS went for the iPhone 7 with 128GB in black and I opted for the iPhone 7 Plus with 256GB in black, as planned. No ‘jet black’ shiny shiny phones for us. (Or rose gold, but I would have thought that was self-explanatory…) I also got an Apple Watch series 2.0 in space grey.

The 128GB and the Apple Watch will arrive here next Friday, but I’ll have to wait until September 29th for my iPhone. Which ironically means I might be using my Nexus 6P for a week during the period between selling my existing iPhone 6s Plus and the 7 Plus arriving. I have an agreed price with one on the online gadget site and that price will only go down from this point.

More thought required to figure that one out. I really hadn’t anticipated a wait for the highest end model, especially as I ordered it at 08:05, just five minutes after the store opened! I guess stocks were low?

I’m really looking forward to putting the 7 Plus’s camera through its paces and enjoying all that iOS has to offer. That and adding swimming to my Apple Fitness regimen, now that the Apple Watch can track activity in the pool (or in the sea).

All in all (and putting the bluetooth/lightning earbuds to one side) it’s not a massive upgrade, but something more iterative. I suppose they’ll go for something more extreme to celebrate the iPhone’s tenth anniversary next year.

But let’s not get into that just yet.

iPhone 7 – taking the plunge?

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I missed yesterday’s Apple Event as it was streamed, but followed it via the liveblog from the Verge and sporadic tweets, all the time on a slow-moving train from Nottingham to London.

There weren’t too may surprises (Mario aside) and the phone and watch announcements were as expected. Yes to new black colours, yes to water-protection and no to inclusion of a traditional audio jack. Harrumph. It’s digital or bluetooth from now on, folks.

While I was impressed with the new iPhone 7 Plus, I was initially so annoyed by the the change to the headphone jack that I dismissed all thoughts of upgrading. I was a lot more interested in what the Series 2 Apple Watch has to offer. (The ability to wear it in water, for a start!)

The inevitable

But here we are, 24 hours later, and I’ve read a lot more about it and listened to a few podcasts. And I’m leaning towards getting one. Before you descend on me with an overpowering torrent of “I told you so!”, hear me out…

Here’s what I think the iPhone 7 Plus has going for it:

  1. Better battery life, which you can never ignore. I’m never happier than when I have some fully-charged gadgets about my person and never more anxious than when I’m down on single-digit battery notifications.

  2. A superb camera, which is something quite important to me. I’m not a photography buff, but I use the hell out of my smartphone cameras. The advances included in the 7 Plus are quite something.

  3. More memory, which I fetishise quite a lot. I’m opting for the 256GB model, as the volume of music and videos I carry around is fairly significant. I will never fill it, but that’s the point.

  4. It’s water-proof, (or thereabouts) so I don’t have to live in fear of its destruction every time I enter a bathroom with it. You know you do too, so don’t be so judgemental…

And yet

On the flipside, the need to use either the bundled earbuds (bleurgh) or something bluetooth has me far from impressed. I’ve never been able to use Apple earbuds – they continually fall out of my ears and cause pain after even short periods of use.

The bluetooth airpods Apple announced look laughable. I’m as geeky as the next guy (geekier, if I’m honest) but I could never imagine myself walking London’s streets with those things hanging out of my ears. Public humiliation aside, they look insanely easy to lose and of course, represent just one more thing that needs charging.

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That said, I’m confident some third-party vendors will release some appropriately designed and suitably affordable alternatives. I’ll just need to use Apple’s ear buds for a while, or keep using my Bose earphones and the disgusting dongle Apple are packaging with the new phones.

Although it’s good to know I’m not the only one with strong views on these ear-monsters, as evidenced by this tweet e xchange I had with Jeff Jarvis:

But wait, there’s more

Unless I have a real change of heart overnight, I’ll also be getting myself a new Apple Watch. I’m opting for the space grey model again, as I like the one I have. But a faster, waterproof model with built-in GPS is too hard to resist.

I used my Nexus 6P and Pebble Time in combination for weeks and loved it. But the Pebble pales in comparison with the new Apple Watch. The above purchases will be in-part funded by the sale of my Nexus 6P, Pebble watch and existing iPhone 6s Plus.

This means, a little sadly, an end to my Android experiment. I’m still using Google Apps for business and personal use, but I’ve come to the conclusion (with some gentle…ahem…”encouragement” from @FrankDJS) that life is simpler with Apple, macOS and iOS.

I’m taking this as a sign of my inevitable age-related decline. Going with the path of least-tech-resistance.

Now. Let the inevitable mocking begin. Go on, do your worst…

Great timing! Missing another Apple product announcement…

I’m once again going to miss the Apple iPhone announcement this evening, as I’ll be on a train back to London from Nottingham (the glamour!). I’ll have to make do with following the proceedings via twitter and hoping that my excited gasps don’t annoy too many of my fellow passengers.

Bad planning on my part, especially as the Apple Keynote was in my diary long before this meeting in Nottingham. But needs must in the world of business. And I can always watch the keynote on time-delay when I get home tonight.

That will give me time to check my bank balance to see how much Apple technology I can actually afford to buy this month! (And what can be sold to make up the difference…)

There are a ton of sources to follow along this evening, including:

See you on the other side!

Here come the shiny new Apple gadgets!

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By this time tomorrow, I’ll have gorged myself on all the juicy details from Apple’s event, pored over the blog posts, zoomed in on all the photos and decided if any of it is of interest to me.

I mean, I’ll be interested in it all, but I won’t be buying it all. My iPhone 6s Plus is most definitely the best phone I’ve ever bought and with the addition of the upcoming iOS 10, it’ll surely be even better. What could an iPhone 7 (or whatever it’s called) do that would justify giving Apple even more of my money?

(Let’s be honest for a moment. I think we all know there’s a very high probability of me getting the new iPhone, but do bear with me while I go through this annual exercise of protesting that I won’t hand over my cash just as fast as Apple can take it).

I’d love a bigger screen, but that doesn’t look likely. I’d love if it worked with the Apple Pencil. Again, not that likely. More storage is always welcome and since Apple never went in for SD cards, the rumour that it’ll come with a 256GB model is most welcome. The rumour of a missing audio jack is less appealing.

Harrumph.

Putting aside the inevitability of my future purchase, I have to wonder: are we reaching “peak iPhone”? Not in terms of sales, but more in terms of what a phone can actually do. It’s come on leaps and bounds since it was launched, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s noticed a slowing down in shock-level innovation.

I’d love to be proved wrong tomorrow evening, all the same.

I’m really looking forward to getting iOS10 on my phone and iPad though. It looks great and, if they follow through on their promises about Siri, I might actually start using it more regularly. I stopped using Apple Music some time ago, preferring to use Spotify, which comes free with my mobile phone contract. I’m unsure if any improvements will bring me back, but I’m willing to give it a go.

Any improvement to watchOS will be very, very welcome. All the reviews of the beta that I’ve read describes it as being incredibly faster, and that’s even before we’ve seen an Apple Watch 2 – which may also arrive tomorrow. I really like my Apple Watch, but sometimes the wait for it to respond or to activate apps is infuriating. Here’s hoping for a little more zip.

I’ll hold off on an upgrade to macOS Sierra, until the various bugs have been identified and zapped. I really can’t do without my laptop during a standard working week. Upgrading the OS, when every other upgrade in history has come with various issues, is not the best of ideas.

Tomorrow’s event will hold some surprises. I can’t wait to see what Apple are up to with health, home and fitness. And if they do launch a 6-inch iPhone with its own Apple Pencil, then you’ll be picking me up off the floor.

Apple event comedown…

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Every time Apple has an event, I’m glad products aren’t ready for immediate release. Otherwise, there’d be a lot more impulse buying and a lot more remorse in this household. Yesterday’s (epically long) event was prime example.

Just under twelve hours ago, I was so keen to part with my hard-earned money to buy everything they were pushing. Now, after some sleep, I’m a little more reticent to pony up for all this new technology. And here’s why:

iPhone 6s Plus: Aside from being an awkward mouthful to say, I’m really not sure the upgrade is significant enough for me to splash out and replace my iPhone 6 Plus. It has some nice features, including the happily-renamed force touch (now 3D Touch, which is a lot lest unpleasant) and an improved camera. I’m usually waving my wallet at the screen, but yesterday’s announcement left me a little cold. My existing phone is just great and I’m not feeling the urge to part with it. Yet.

I have to admit that may change in the coming weeks, but I’m determined to wait until iOS 9 is available, installed and in use for a while before I make a final decision. This is one phone I might need to play with in-store before buying. Unlike all my other iPhones…

iPad Pro: I was very “meh”, then uber-exicted, then confused about this one. I love the idea of a bigger screen and a stylus. Absolutely love it. But then reality hit me. I’m always trying to reduce the volume of stuff I carry around with me and right now, I’m using an iPad Mini every day. Most of my stuff fits into a Knomad Mini. Don’t think the iPad Pro is really for carting around in a backpack for when you want to read some comics or watch some TV. Is it?

I have visions of it sitting gracefully on an artist’s worktop, covered in beautiful art. Not on my lap, covered in the latest issue of “Secret Wars”. Again, I’m not convinced I would get enough use out of it. A beautiful screen and a wonderful interface tool, but maybe not practical or even needed.

Apple TV: Now this, I want. In fact, I want two: one for the living room and one for our bedroom. Right now, we have an existing Apple TV in each and it gets used daily. This announcement was exactly what I was hoping for. An easier and faster interface, Siri integration and gaming. Sure, I have a few remaining questions, but nothing serious. I’d buy two this instant if they were available. Thank you, Apple – you really delivered on this one.

So, very surprisingly (for me, at least), Apple TV came out on top of the announcements. It’s such a massive upgrade from the present model, with such great functionality (games! voice control!) that for me at least, it’s a no-brainer.

And, really interestingly, the things I’m most looking forward to in the coming weeks are iOS 9 and Watch OS 2.0 – both free upgrades.

Exasperated Apple Pay face


Well, it finally happened. After yesterday’s enthusiasm about using my Apple Watch to pay for stuff (i.e. cake), I went to use Passbook on my watch this morning to buy breakfast at Starbucks. I was all set: Passbook app and correct card on screen.

I leant forward towards the scanner and…nothing happened. Cue passive-aggressive sigh from the girl behind me. I tried again and…nothing. I could feel the panic rising in my chest. I stared at the scanner, willing it to to work.

Helpfully, the smiling barista pointed out the watch screen was dark, so I flipped my wrist, up popped the relevant card and my purchase went through. I felt my shoulders slump back into their normal, slumped position. Oh, the relief.

A delay of approximately 5 seconds, but enough to make the girl behind me continue sighing like she was auditioning for porn and make a comment along the lines of “what’s wrong with cash?”

A quick glance behind me revealed her to be clutching a Blackberry like it was a weapon. What indeed is wrong with cash? Nothing. And what’s wrong with using a mobile phone that was last relevant sometime in the dark ages? Plenty, but I wouldn’t comment on it to her face. Her choice.

Each to their own.

So I’ve survived my first mildly humiliating Apple Pay failure. But in terms of awkwardness, paying with the Apple Watch via Passbook isn’t as easy as using Apple Pay or simply waving my iPhone near the terminal.

Maybe a “magic trick” to reserve for when I’m last in the queue…

Welcome to the future!

If the future involves you paying for cake with a magic device on your wrist, then yes. Welcome.

Today, I bought some groceries at M&S and paid for it all by waving my Apple Watch at the self-service check-out. I’ve been able to do this for a few weeks now, since Apple Pay launched in the UK, but this was the first time I’d used the watch. Mere moments before, @FrankDJS had managed to lose me in the store and, as he does, called my mobile to find me.

(I’m small and easy to lose between the aisles of most shops).

I answered him on my Apple Watch, just like Dick Tracey. It was all very exciting.

And then paying for my purchases with the watch? I didn’t know where to look, I was beside myself with geeks pride. Nobody else in the entire store batted an eye, which almost put pay to my lingering embarrassment about using an Apple Watch in public this way.

(Just a few minutes earlier, I’d seen a guy unsuccessfully ordering Siri to call someone, via his Apple earbuds. I didn’t want to look equally awkward.)

In the last few weeks, I’ve used my Apple Watch to track my fitness, read and send text messages, tidy up my email inbox, check the weather, find directions to meetings and check my to-do list. Not bad at all for a tiny device with a 42mm screen.

Watch OS 2.0 will definitely be an improvement, but for this user, the Apple Watch is  proving itself very handy indeed. Not life-changing, but useful.

Especially in the cake-buying department. Oh. And it was a Victoria Sponge, in case you’re interested. I’d share a photo, except…