Evernote for iOS: simplified!

I’ve only spent a few minutes toying with the new version of Evernote for iOS, but I have to say I’m impressed. This newest version (Evernote 8.0) seems to be a complete rebuild of the app on iPhone and iPad and is a big step forward.

For me (and others, if you simply google it) Evernote was getting a bit slow, cumbersome and unwieldy. Alternative note-taking apps like Apple’s own Notes and Google’s Keep seemed to be snapping at its heels. Both are lightweight, fast and responsive.

But this upgrade to Evernote makes me glad I kept up my subscription. Using it on my iPhone 7 Plus is a pleasure. The interface has been pared right back to the essentials and all you get on launch is a list of your most recent apps, along with a massive ‘plus’ button at the bottom of the screen so you can start a new note.

It’s a vast improvement.

And it’s also prompted me to do some pruning and simplifying of my Evernote set-up. On reflection, I saw that I’d set up too complex a hierarchy of notebooks, themselves organised in thematic ‘stacks’. It seems after a little online research that ‘power users’ (no, I don’t like the term either) seem to make maximum use of tags and minimal use of notebooks.

It’s a bit like organising your emails into countless folders, when all you really need to do is use the search function in your email app.

So I’m re-organising things so that the only notebooks I have are those organised around:

  • My personal life
  • Job #1
  • Job #2

Everything should be able to fit into one of these and I’ll find content by using the tags I’ve been consistently applying to my notes for years. This should keep things nice and simple, especially when using the app on my phone.

Well done, Evernote. I’m looking forward to seeing how you shape up Evernote for macOS next.

Some significant Android regret

2016-05-31 18.54.13-1

I’m going to admit something pretty difficult now. It’s something that’s been bothering me for a couple of weeks now, so this post will serve as a kind of confession.

really regret selling my Nexus 6P.

You hear that? I’m sitting here, listening to a podcast on my iPhone 7 Plus and I’m pining after a phone that Google doesn’t even sell anymore. W the actual F?

If I’m honest, it’s less about the Nexus and more about Android. I miss Android. I miss Google Now and how it understood virtually every single verbal instruction I issued. It worked. The interface was so much more usable than previous iterations of Android and the first I’d used that didn’t feel like an experiment.

So what the hell is wrong with my new iPhone 7 Plus then? Absolutely nothing. It has an amazing screen, a superb camera and is lightning fast. That said, Siri still sucks. Especially when compared to Google Now (or Google Assistant, as it’s now called on Google’s new Pixel phones).

I have a three year old Nexus 7 tablet, and it does a better job of understanding my verbal instructions than my brand new iPhone. That’s not right. And yes, I’ve tried may different combinations of speaking to the iPhone and even when it does understand me, its responses are very limited compared to Google.

I challenged it to tell me the names of some capital cities from around the world.

United Kingdom? London! France? Paris! Ireland? Mega-long pause and then “here are some articles I found for you on the web about ‘what is the capital of Ireland'”. Seeing as Apple makes all its billions in Ireland (the magic of accounting), I’d have thought Siri would know what its capital is…

I know this is probably some form of sacrilege, but I felt slightly disappointed when Google announced its new Pixel phones. Disappointed in that I wanted one so badly. Yes, they’re pretty much as expensive as a new iPhone, but with the power of Google built right in. The Google app on iOS is severely limited compared to its Android equivalent.

But, here I am. An iPhone, an Apple Watch, an iPad and two Apple computers. They’re not going anywhere any time soon. But I have to admit that in a year, I’ll be seriously considering walking away from iOS and moving to Android. It will of course depend on the state of Google’s handsets (I’m not interested in anything from Samsung – no matter how cold it gets in London each winter, I don’t need a mobile that sets itself on fire to keep me warm!), but given how I’m using my phone, the leap to another platform would be more like crossing the street.

The vast majority of my apps are cross platform. I use Google Photos over Apple’s photo service. I don’t use Apple’s Podcasts app. I use Google for my contacts, calendars and email. I use Spotify, not Apple Music. I could go on, but you get the picture…

As for the Apple Watch, it’s a thing of beauty. But I got almost as much use out of the considerably cheaper and more ‘fun’ Pebble watch. Its battery lasted for days and days and it didn’t pretty much everything I needed from a smartwatch.

So why the hell have I once again found myself knee-deep in Apple devices?

The impact of Apple’s marketing. Honestly. I was sucked in, hook, line and sinker. I don’t think I was mis-sold anything (apart from Siri, which really doesn’t behave as advertised), I just managed to convince myself that I had to go with the upgrades.

Yes, the old tech was sold and it took the sting out of my new purchases. Plus, my phone is a business expense, so didn’t come out of my personal pocket. But really, it’s about the principle of the thing. I didn’t need that upgrade. I simply lusted after it.

And if I had my time over again? I’d go for one of the new Pebble watches and a Pixel XL.

Boom. There you go. My confession for the week. And I feel better for sharing it.

In the year ahead, I think we’re going to see an arm’s race in terms of verbal interfaces with technology – or ‘speakables’. Apple has Siri, Google as its Google Assistant and Amazon has the Echo. So far, it looks like Google and Amazon are light-years ahead of Apple in this space. Earlier this week. Nilay Patel and Walt Mossberg discussed this very topic on their excellent podcast and Siri was found to be lacking in several areas.

I really enjoyed speaking to Google Now on my Nexus 6P – setting timers, setting reminders, adding appointments to my calendar, searching the net. Attempting the same with Siri is simply a chore and I’ve all but stopped doing it.

I think what it boils down to is this: my iOS devices mostly work as I need them to. I get stuff done and they’re there when I need them. They’re slick and beautiful.

But they’re not fun to use.

I miss Android.

iOS 10: Lots to learn

ios-10-notification-center-cleart-alert-iphone-screenshot-001-1200x803

After a less than satisfactory upgrade to iOS 10 earlier this week, I’ve been learning about its bits and bobs through day to day usage. What follows is a far-from-detailed review of the update, which is no way been approaches the thoroughness of some of the excellent reviews (e.g. iMore, MacStories).

So, in no particular order…

I like the widget-type functionality on the new search screen. You can get here by swiping right when on your home screen. It’s editable, so you can see the key information and updates that are more interesting and useful to you. I have it set up with a widget from ToDoist (of course!), a summary of my Activity

, the weather and headlines from the Guardian. I’ll be interested to see what other apps add widgets in the coming weeks. But for now, it gives me a nice, brief summary of key information that interesting to me, without too many clicks or swipes.

The new expanded notifications are also a big improvement. You can act of notifications from within another app (e.g. respond to a text message) and the new design of the notifications leaves me feeling less harassed by them as they pop up on the screen. You may feel differently about them, of course.

I’m torn when it comes to the app store for Messages. While it’s fun to be able to send GIFs more easily (@FrankDJS is enjoying this in particular 🙄) some of the noisier message settings are just plain annoying. Lasers. Confetti. Invisible ink. To me, it all smacks of gimmicks and makes it harder to read the messages. But I’m obviously turning into an old fart. so let’s move on to something more positive.

As an OS, it’s running faster on my iPhone 6s Plus. Noticeably faster. I like the changes to the interface for the most part and the fact that the screen comes to life when to pick it up is a piece of common sense functionality that is both simple and incredibly helpful.

I haven’t really explored what’s new in Photos or Music, especially as I’ve become quite the fan of Spotify in recent months. It was my main source of music when using Android and it’s recommendations engine is second to none. I’ve discovered more great music with Spotify this year than I ever have before. So I’m loathe to move back to Apple Music and deal with its tendencies to recommend pure unadulterated shit. Pardon my French.

I’ve not been as impressed with Siri as I’d hoped. Yes, it now works with a series of external, non-Apple services, but this is limited right now. So while you can control Spotify with it, I still can’t use it to control ToDoist. Being able to verbally add tasks to my inbox via Siri would be magical and a big timesaver. Hopefully it won’t be too long before there’s an integration.

If you have the time, and the inclination, I can recommend Federico Viticci’s in-depth review of iOS 10 over at MacStories. It’s epic. Truly. Otherwise, you can do what I’ve also been doing: just get stuck in and use it, googling the answers to challenges when you encounter them.

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 – taking the plunge?

og

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.

apple-airpods

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…

Here come the shiny new Apple gadgets!

og

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.

Torn between iOS and Android? Kind of.

The experiment isn’t over!

Some of you may remember I got myself all Androided-up a few months back. I bought a Nexus 6P and fell in love with it and its OS, Android. I kept my iPhone and Apple Watch in a drawer and lived a Google-focused existence.

Since then, I’ve moved between the two devices, as well as a Nexus 7 tablet for a couple of months. The good thing about buying your mobile phones unlocked is that you can simply switch SIM cards between them when you want to. All of my apps are cloud-based, so it doesn’t take long for one to catch up with the other (Calendar, contacts, Spotify etc).

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not living in one ‘world’ or the other. I regularly use my Nexus 7 while I’m at my desk, to flip through Twitter or to look at ToDoist. I’m still using my iPad Pro when traveling for business, paired with a bluetooth keyboard. I still wear my Apple Watch (most of the time), which means I have my iPhone 6s Plus on me too.

Torn between the two?

I’ve realised that you don’t have to pick a side, but you can pick and choose from within the two major ecosystems. I’ve regularly gone out for coffee bringing an iPhone and the Nexus 7. Not an iPad. Because the Nexus 7 is what I found useful at the time.

I don’t think it’s a groundbreaking thing to say that both ecosystems and operating systems have their strengths. For iOS, it’s the millions of apps and with iPhones it’s the easily-available multitude of accessories. My bank balance is testament to the latter. I have a drawer full of various iPhone cases, covers and stands.

For Android, (for me at least) it’s Google Now and just how accurately Google understands me when I speak with it. It’s uncanny. It’s also the flexibility of device set-up.

On the other hand, Apple devices cost a lot more than Android ones (mostly). And Android isn’t supported as widely as iOS (for now, at least). I’m talking very broadly here, before a fan-boy from one tribe or the other decides to have a pop.

My tools of choice, app-wise, are available on both platforms and are pretty comparable: Evernote, ToDoist, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Slack, WhatsApp etc. My mail (iCloud, business and gMail), contacts (Google) and calendars (iCloud and Google) are also ‘out there’ and not tied to a single device.

So in theory, I could swap phone devices on a daily basis, if I had the time and inclination. What stops me doing this is messages. Unless you turn off messages on all your Apple devices, there’s a good chance text messages from others will fail to show up on the Android device. It’s happened before. And it’s very, very annoying.

A second screen

But there’s nothing to stop me using my Nexus 7 alongside my iPhone, for example. The information on both is up to date and the only major difference in content is in Google Now, which is far superior on the Nexus.

Similarly, there’s nothing to stop going out to work with my Macbook and the Nexus 6P. For exactly the same reasons. And as both work off USB-C chargers, this seems to be an ideal pairing.

But what about the “third screen”? My Apple Watch. This is where it gets a little complex. I also got myself a Pebble Time smartwatch at the same time I bought the Nexus 6P. And while are both smart-watches, they’re hugely different. The Pebble’s battery will last for days at a time, even with heavy use. Whereas the Apple Watch needs a nightly charge. The Apple Watch display is a thing of beauty, while I have to regularly squint to see the Pebble’s screen.

It looks like the next update to WatchOS is going to make there Apple Watch even better (in terms of speed, at least), so I’m not tempted to make the switch permanent.

And seeing as an Apple Watch will only work with an iPhone, I’m ever so slightly stuck with the iPhone 6S Plus as a my ‘daily driver’. This is no hardship, by any means, but it does take some of the flexibility out which device I use each day.

Some very full pockets!

Now, there’s no way in hell I’m going to become one of those guys who carries more than one mobile phone out of choice! (As opposed to those poor souls who have to carry a work handset and a personal handset). Neither am I going to wear more than one smartwatch. I mean, I’m a geek, but there are limits – even for me. Yes. Even for me.

In reality, either the iPhone or the Nexus 6P offer enough speed and power to be the only thing I need with me for my mobile needs. Frequently, a tablet is a luxury, especially hen I’m trying to lighten the load of tech I find it my bag.

That said, I’m still leaning towards the world of Apple – if I have to make a choice – due to the Apple Watch pairing and my need to leave one handset at home.

So what does the future hold?

We’re about to see updates to both operating systems in the next couple of months. Google will roll out Android N (Nougat) in the next few days, if the rumour mill is correct. And Apple is going to release iOS 10 and WatchOS “in the fall”. Hopefully, that means September.

I’m going to update all my devices when the time arrives and do another comparison. Meanwhile, it looks like I’ll be using the iPhone 6s Plus combined with an Apple Watch and a (3 year old) Nexus 7 tablet when I’m out and about.

How’s that for eclectic?!

(In fact, I think a blog post all about the Nexus 7 is in order – it’s one of my favourite devices right now).

It works for me. It combines everything I like about iOS, allows me to use my Apple Watch, and gives me access to pure Android and Google Now. And before you ask: yes, you can install the Google app to access Google Now on your iPhone, but its functionality is severely curtailed compared to the Android version. Believe me, I’ve tried it.

Any questions?

I’m also aware that very few people get to buy handsets like this and compare them. I’m lucky like that. So any questions about working in two operating systems are very welcome. Maybe I can help you make up your mind!

The Android Experiment: one week in

Okay, so strictly speaking I’m not a full week in to my “new life” with Android rather than iOS, but I started using a Nexus 7 this day last week and my new Nexus 6P arrived last Tuesday.

I fully intend to do a full comparison between Android and iOS – a very subjective and incomplete comparison, if I’m honest – but for now, my main take-aways are the following:

Continue reading “The Android Experiment: one week in”

An Android experiment

Right. We’ve been here before. I once impulsively bought a Samsung Note phone in Heathrow Airport while on my way to New Orleans and lived with it for several months. Before swiftly moving back to iOS as soon as Apple launched a new handset.

While I loved the stylus and handwriting recognition, as well as the (then) enormous screen, the Samsung-infused Android interface just wasn’t for me.

A lot has changed since then, including the phone I use and how mature Android is as a platform. Watching the video of Google I/O last week encouraged to give the Google apps another try and I was quickly impressed.

I use Google Apps for Business to run my own firm and find it really excellent. So I took it a step further and started using a combination of my personal Gmail account, Google Calendar, Chrome and assorted extensions and other apps. They work together really, really well.

Continue reading “An Android experiment”