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…

The Apple Watch continues to be useful

Okay, so this isn’t strictly something that will cause you to run to the Apple Store with money in your hands, screaming “just give me the Apple Watch!”, but… it’s another example of how I find the Apple Watch to be very convenient and helpful.

Not life-changing. It’s a watch, after all.

I travel around the UK by train quite a lot for business. Owing to my epilepsy, I’m not allowed to drive. At this point, I actually prefer long journeys by train, rather than going by car. I book all my tickets well in advance when possible, sending my booking confirmation emails to the wonderful Kayak service, where they get turned into calendar entries in my iCloud account.

How does all of this relate to the Apple Watch?

Well, to collect my train tickets from the machines at the station, I have to enter the credit card I used for the booking and then manually type in a long string of random letters and numbers from the confirmation email. This can be a bit of a faff, especially if I’m juggling a bag, a wallet and a phone. But, Kayak takes this booking reference number and adds it to the calendar entry. Which ends up on my watch.

So, while formerly I would use my iPhone 6 plus to access the information in my calendar, now all it takes is a tap and a glance at my Apple Watch while typing in the booking reference. I did this just this afternoon and kicked myself for not thinking of it earlier.

Does this save me hours a day, week, month or even year? Not at all. Have I attained gadget nirvana? Don’t be silly. But it’s another reason to leave the phone in my pocket or bag, which means one fewer opportunity to drop it or have it snatched from my hand.

Just another way I find the Apple Watch useful in everyday life. (Yeah… still not sending my heartbeat to anyone.)

All that said, I’m really looking forward to watchOS 2, which promises speedier Apple Watch responses once third-party apps are located on the watch itself.

Apple Watch: now I’m really impressed

Two things that have blown me away in the past week:

  1. You can not only check your email via the Apple Watch, but also process your inbox by deleting unwanted crap right from the watch interface. Those spare five minutes here and there can really help you prune your inbox and separate the important from the rest. A “force touch” on the screen brings up an interface where you can delete/archive, flag or mark as unread. Very, very useful.

  2. Accessing and managing my ToDoist lists right from the watch is more useful than I could ever have imagined. I’m getting really comfortable with the watch interface (it has definitely taken longer than I’d thought – possibly because I’ve mostly, until this week, been using it to view the various notifications that pop up on screen, rather than actually interact with them) and regularly checking my priority actions on the watch before looking at my phone.

This does use more of the battery, but not much more. This last week, I’ve been using the above functionality each day and, rather than finishing the day with about 75% of battery remaining, I’m getting 65%. Still excellent and still ahead of expectations.

This all has me very excited for the arrival of third party apps on the watch later in the year.

Review: Knomad Mini Portable Organiser

I’ve been using the very lovely Knomad Mini Portable Organiser from Knomo for the last week. It’s something I’ve had my eye on for some time and, after a good month on the work front, I decided to treat myself.

What is it?

It’s built to carry an iPad Mini, along with the carious other things you might stuff into your pockets. In the photos below, I’ve shown what I carried around last weekend: iPad Mini (behind which is a Moleskine notebook for work), business cards, USB memory stick, pen, smaller notebook (three for £2 from Hema!), passport and my iPhone 6 Plus (not shown, as I used it to take the photo).

It folds up into a kind of canvas envelope which you can either carry around by hand or pop into a bag. I’ve used it for the last week while working in Amsterdam and it was perfect for taking into various meetings and workshops.

I had my agenda and meeting prep notes on the iPad Mini and a pen and paper to jot down any thoughts as they occurred to me. Definitely lighter than toting a laptop around and avoids you stuffing your pockets and ruining your trousers.

Flying to and from Amsterdam, it was all I had in my hand on board. iPad Mini for reading, notebook for notes and passport for the last minute security check at Schiphol airport, which I always forget about until the last minute!

Would I recommend it? Well, it’s high quality and built to last. I’ve had a few Knomo bags over the years and they’ve all taken the daily commuter abuse very well.

It looks nicer than bulging trouser pockets and is a really handy way to carry around some commonly used items. I admit my iPhone 6 Plus is a definite squeeze into the mobile phone pocket, but it’s canvas, not plastic and so there’s some stretch in there.

It would comfortably take most “normal” sized mobile phones. There’s also a space for a mobile battery that Knomo sell. I’ve not bought one, but I may well invest, as I have a morbid fear of being without device power while away from home.

If you’re like me and can’t leave the house with a selection of “stuff”, then you might find it useful. The sides of the Knomad are open to the elements though, so I’m not sure how it would cope in London’s typical wet weather.

I also have the smallest of small wallets, so this is a great place to keep various loyalty cards and assorted scraps of paper that just don’t fit into my card case. I’ll definitely be carrying mine around this summer. And it allows me to carry so much more information that any of my A5 Filofaxes, at a fraction of the weight.

(And dare I suggest it looks slightly more socially acceptable than a “formal” leather A5 Filofax?)

The Knomad comes in multiples styles and sizes (including one for the iPad Air and one for the Microsoft Surface).

Here’s the promotional video from Knomo, illustrating how they think you could use it:

24 hours with the Apple Watch

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So I’ve had my new Apple Watch strapped to my wrist for over 24 hours now. All in all, it’s been an interesting experience.

I’ve experimented with a few of the various watch faces, but have (for the moment) decided on the one above. It has a nice amount of useful data. In the pic above, starting top left: day and date, time, upcoming appointment, percentage battery remaining, activity summary and weather. You can add and remove these pieces of info, as well as change the colour of the text.

I had a bit of an issue with the watch within a couple of hours, where it would ‘crash’ when I tried to send texts or make a call. I narrowed this down to an issue with the contact (ironically, it was @FrankDJS!) as it didn’t happen when I contacted other people via the watch.

I ended up deleting his contact card from Address Book and reinstalled a fresh file he emailed to me. Moments later, no issues, and I was quickly texting emojis like a Japanese schoolgirl. A simple fix, but a frustrating hour while I tried to figure it out.

I forgot I was wearing the watch for long stretches of time, which I suppose is the point. If it was incredibly heavy or bulky, it would be a distraction and a chore to wear. I got some useful reminders during the morning and early afternoon: Twitter mentions, reminders from ToDoist, calendar appointments and reminders from the Activity app to stand up and move around.

Unfortunately, the latter went off while I was watching Avengers: Age of Ultron in the cinema. Twice. All while I had muted my phone – so I need to find out out to turn off that reminder when it’s inconvenient to stand up and walk around.

Not all notifications behave the same way though. Some are dismissed by swiping to the left, while others have a ‘dismiss’ button below the notification text. I’m sure I’ll get used to this and eventually spend less time figuring out how to clear the screen.

The ‘taptic’ notification is much more powerful, but also quieter, than my Pebble. I feel it on my wrist, enough to get my attention, but not enough to disturb someone close by. I’ve had feedback previously that my Pebble’s notification left some people thinking there was a wasp in the room!

In terms of battery, I got all the way through to 10pm last night and had 51% of the charge left. This was encouraging, as I’d worried about how the battery would hold up. I’m not sure how representative my use of the watch was – you always end up using new gadgets far more in the first few days. Exploring the functionality, demonstrating it to others and so on.

I’m away all this coming week for work, so I’ll be interested to see how the battery holds up while I’m working 7am to 8pm each day. I suspect I’ll get more than enough out of it. Tim Cook apparently wasn’t exaggerating when he spoke about an 18 hour battery.

While I’m on battery life and charging, a few photos of what I think is the best idea Apple had when it came to the Apple Watch: the UK charger. It’s a thing of beauty and person-centred design.

I’m not sure how much non-UK readers will appreciate how useful it is to be able to fold the usually sturdy UK plug. Really, really helpful. It almost makes it pocketable and definitely cuts down on bulk.

So, a quick review of my first day or so using the Apple Watch. I’ll share more thoughts and observations as I use it over the next few weeks. So far, I’m really happy with the watch. As someone who has used another smartwatch for the past six months, the whole concept made sense to me already. Whether or not you can even see the point of an Apple Watch is up to you. I’m definitely not trying to convince you!

But if you have any specific questions, just ask me in the comments.

The Apple Watch has arrived!

My gadget envy has finally subsided. After watching @FrankDJS enjoy his Apple Watch all this time (not that long, really…) my own Apple Watch Sport arrived yesterday evening.

I, of course, got the delivery notification while sitting in a client’s office waiting for a meeting to begin, so that wasn’t frustrating at all. At. All.

It’s extremely early days, but here are a few photos and some initial thoughts on my experience so far.

First things first, the packaging is absolutely gorgeous. Apple have thought of all the details here. It all feels so very solid and high quality. Once you open the outer packaging, your watch is laid out, underneath are hidden the charging cable the amazing new collapsing plug.

Now, this is only relevant in the UK (and countries that use the same plug standard), but the pins on the plug actually collapse back into the plug. It means it’s easier to carry around with you and avoids the risk of one of those pins damaging something else in your bag. Great design and I’ll definitely be buying a few more – one I establish they work with my iPhone and iPads.

Set-up of the watch took a little while. All very simple, but transfer of apps seemed to take longer than it should. After an initial 20 minutes exploring its functionality (i.e. playing with it with childlike wonder), I forgot it was on my wrist. I make that point because, although it’s heavier than my Pebble, it actually feels like a better fit on the wrist.

I’m very glad I went for the larger screen option. It’s a better fit on my wrist and I have more screen real estate to navigate the apps. Not that my eyesight is deteriorating with age….

I’m still getting used to the interface and I think that’ll take some time. But I’ve been able learn from @FrankDJS’s experience so far. Plus a bit of online reading and looking at the videos Apple have provided on their website.

This is really new territory for Apple – wearables are not iPads, iPhones or laptops. They really needed to spend more time explaining how this device could be used in a variety of ways and contexts. I’m looking forward to exploring the health and fitness applications (no marathons!!) and seeing how accurate its tracking is compared to my Fitbit. Which may well become redundant in a few days.

Why wear a pedometer, no matter how small and light, if your watch is doing it for you?

So far, so good. I’ll report back once I’ve a few days of use under my belt.

Or, on my wrist.

This just in: What an amazing screen!

l_21399865My new iPad Mini with Retina Display was delivered this afternoon. I was so busy preparing to finish work so I can recuperate from tomorrow’s knee surgery that I’d completely forgotten it was due.

I’ve only had about 30mins to play with it, and most of that was setting it up with my various accounts, but…oh my. What an amazing screen. They weren’t lying when they said it was “amazing”.

For me, it’s like the difference between looking in a foggy mirror and wiping it clear. It’s also super-fast. This upgrade was, for me, definitely worth the cash.

I’ll have plenty of time tomorrow and in the following days to get used to it, as I have “surgery recovery time” scheduled. Meaning bed, Kindle, podcasts and Twitter.

Expect a more detailed review in due course, but for now: wow.

I can definitely recommend.

An iPad has been purchased…

l_21399865In the end, I went for an iPad Mini (Retina) wifi model. Couldn’t justify the extra expense of 3G (4G?) when I’m pretty much connected to wifi all day and night. And when I’m not, there’s always tethering it to my iPhone and its (seemingly) limitless data allowance.

And if I can’t get connection on my iPhone either, then I’m somewhere I don’t want to be and it’s just the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s way of telling me to go home to civilisation.

Went for the 128GB model, as it’s the screen plus storage that convinced me to upgrade in the first place. My 64GB model was/is constantly full of comics, magazines, movies and content from iTunes University.

While the iPad Air is just gorgeous – it’s too big for what I need. I know – complete “First World Problem” complaining about such a light and beautiful tablet. But the size and weight of the Mini is perfect. For what I need, at any rate.

(And think of all the new iPad accessories I’d have to buy if I went for a model in a different size!)

Via Quidco, I get a few shekels back for my trouble, as well as free delivery. And the existing iPad Mini will sell for a decent price as it’s in great nick and is a model they don’t sell anymore.

It should be here Monday, meaning this weekend in Madrid is my last jaunt abroad with the faithful (non-retina) Mini. And after this week of insomnia combined with travel andcrazy working hours, I’m looking forward to it.

Going crazy for golden phones…

Despite what everyone said when they were announced, it seems like Apple’s gold iPhone 5S models are flying off the shelves. According to Cult of Mac, gold phones are going for stupid amounts of money on eBay already.

The gold iPhone 5s is in very short supply. Apple has already sold out, and is unlikely to get them in volume for weeks to come. They are hard to come by. Many of Apple’s flagship stores received only a few units while many stores had none.

The rarity is reflected on eBay. there are a handful of gold iPhones for sale, ranging from $1,6 One gold iPhone 5s on sale is priced at a whopping $1,800 on eBay. Another is a tad cheaper at $1,699.

And how we laughed when Apple announced this new departure into bling.

Actually, I’m still laughing, mostly at the people paying such a crazy amount of money for a phone that they’ll be able to get from Apple again in a matter of weeks.

There’s no accounting for taste!