My top posts of 2016

It’s been a busy year on the blogging front. I reached by 1,000th post and built a better habit of regular posts. Some of which were surprisingly popular with those of you with enough time on your hands to come visit. I had a quick look at my stats and the following posts are (in order) those that far and away got the most views. 

They’re an interesting mix of topics, that’s for sure! Travel, notebooks, productivity and nude beaches. The latter in particular garnered some interest and seems to have been shared on a view blogs that (ahem) specialise on the topic. I’m flattered, honestly. 

I’m Seoul Excited – planning our trip to Japan and including 48hrs of a stopover in Seoul. On a whim!

Unboxing the iPhone 7 Plus – another gadget un-boxing, this time with better photos. 

Testing the iPhone 7 Plus camera – a selection of pics to demonstrate the new phone’s power.

My trip to the Traveler’s Factory – an over-excited recounting of my visit to the fabled shop in Tokyo.

Is everyone leaving Evernote? – a question I’m still asking myself.

My Japanese stationery haul – a summary of my over-indulgence while in Japan in October.

Nudity: the great leveller – considering the relaxing properties of the clothing-optional beach experience.

Hopefully 2017 will offer a similarly broad range of topics to write about. And hopefully, there will be even more in the way of travel writing. I’m planning an inevitable return to Japan (cities to be decided) and some more time on the beaches of Barcelona and Sitges. 

And there’s bound to be more technology to write about, right?

Testing the iPhone 7 Plus camera

I’ve had the new iPhone 7 Plus for a little over a week, but I’ve still managed to put it through its paces, indoors and out, and I thought I’d share a few of those photos here. Overall, I’m really impressed with the quality of pics.

The camera app seems faster and more responsive than in my iPhone 6s Plus (of course, it could be my imagination!) and the focus is sharper. But have a look below and let me know what you think. Photos were taken in a variety of locations and conditions – there’s no central theme at all!

I’ve included a few shots from last week’s overnight trip to Dublin and some from outside a local bar here in Canary Wharf.

I haven’t shot any video with it yet, but might do during this week’s trip to Barcelona and Sitges. At this rate, it’s beginning to feel like a high quality camera with a mobile phone attached.

Unboxing the iPhone 7 Plus

Excitement levels to the max! I actually got my iPhone 7 Plus yesterday, but it was delivered while I was working up in Birmingham and I was just too exhausted to even look at it when I got in.

Ten hours of sleep later, I backed up my iPhone 6s Plus to my iMac, then set up the new iPhone 7 Plus using that back-up. All in all, it took about 30mins from the moment I opened the new phone’s pristine packaging.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, some hastily-taken and bleary-eyed photos of the new objective of desire on my desk

I’ve made a few phone calls, listened to a couple of podcasts and done a bit of tweeting with the new phone. It’s good. No, it’s great. It’s super-fast and responsive and while it’ll take a bit of getting used to, the new ‘taptic’ home button is a nice idea.

I’ve had to use the lightning-to-wired headphone dongle that came with it (super light, but I’m worried it’ll break easily?) as I don’t have a lightweight pair of bluetooth headphones. And based on how much cash I’ve thrown Apple’s way this month, it’ll be a while before I buy any! It’s not a deal-breaker, but the fact that my phone is matte black and the adaptor is shiny white really makes it stand out. And, dare I say, look quite cheap and nasty.

The above pics were taken with the iPhone 6s Plus, so I’m looking forward to giving the iPhone 7’s camera a go this weekend to see just how much better it is. Expect a fuller review of the new phone in the coming weeks, once I’ve used it more and taken it on a few trips.

But so far, so good.

Apple Watch series 2.0 has arrived!

While I won’t be getting my new iPhone 7 Plus for a few days yet (le sigh), my new Apple Watch arrived this morning. What’s more, I somehow had the self-control to leave it in its box until I’d finished all my must-dos today.

It’s gorgeous, but hard to differentiate from the series 1.0 watch by looks alone. It is, however water-proof, faster and with built-in GPS. The differences will be obvious once I’ve been using it for a few days, no doubt. I’m especially looking forward to taking it into the pool with me.

It might get me swimming a bit more. We have a pool in our apartment building, but I don’t use it anywhere near enough. No excuse!

And now, some unboxing photos…

Set-up was a breeze and incredibly fast. Impressively fast and a lot easier than first time around. I’m looking forward to pairing it with the iPhone 7 Plus, when it eventually arrives. I’m experiencing real iPhone 7 jealousy today, as @FrankDJS’s new iPhone 7 arrived at the same time as my watch.

I should have mine by the 22nd. I’m sure I’ll survive 😉

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.

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!

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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.

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!