The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

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The FH iPhone 4 Review (or why it’s much like Quentin Tarantino & the NY Yankees)

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Quentin Tarantino exploded onto the movie screen and the industry hasn’t been the same since. But a funny thing happened along the way. People seem to want every single movie to be something just as revolutionary as Pulp Fiction. It’s unrealistic and if you asked me, I’d say Quentin has done quite well for himself, creatively speaking. It’s just that people’s expectations are so, so prepsterously high every time he puts out a new film.

The Yankees are the most successful franchise in all of professional sports. Any season that they don’t win the World Series is seen as a failure. They have the biggest payroll. George Steinbrenner, their dictatorial owner, demanded excellence and championships. As a result, the Yankees and the recently deceased Mr. Steinbrenner have a loyal legion of über fans and über haters.

Apple and Steve Jobs have a lot in common with Mr. Tarantino, the Yanks and George Steinbrenner. Apple delivers products that set new standards in usability and design. The demanding Jobs is able to whip up a mad, crazy frenzy of anticipation and buzz for their products well before they’re released. People will wait in line to get their hands on one of their new products without even knowing anything about it.

This I’ve witnessed myself. A few years ago, I got in line at 4:30 am for the new iPhone 3G the first weekend it was released. I was shocked to learn that some folks I was in line with had no idea what the new iPhone did or had to offer. All they knew is that plenty of people were dying to get one and they wanted in. This was strange but living proof of the mastery Steve Jobs and Apple have over human psychology.

Now we have the iPhone 4. This may just be the most controversial product Apple has released in decades. Take a look on the Apple discussion boards and you’ll find entries whose sole purpose is not only to decry someone’s hatred of the product, but also an attempt to recruit fellow haters. It seems that in the last week or so Apple has begun enforcing its own Terms of Service for the discussion boards and has deleted many of them. But for the first few weeks the iPhone 4 was available, I was shocked by what I saw.

I can’t imagine a product creating so much hatred. You know Apple will always have their loyalists but I’ve never seen this other extreme so widespread. Why would someone care so much to try and enlist other people to join their hatred?

Couple this with the fact that the press seems to smell blood and be all over this story. But that’s the role the press plays today, build you up when things are good and jump onto the pile when you’re down.

Anyway, I finally got my hands on my own iPhone 4 several weeks ago. My 3G was not cutting it anymore so it was time to upgrade. I was a bit worried by all the reports of reception problems. Here’s where I net out on Apple’s latest iPhone. Most of my points of comparison are with the iPhone 3G since that’s what I used previously.

The two phones are very similar in size. In shape, the new version doesn’t have the rounded back and is a bit slimmer.

The plastic backing of the 3G is now a flat, glass surface similar to the phone’s front face. Notice the new LED flash that accompanies the new higher quality still and video camera lens.

Otherwise, much is the same. All the ports and buttons are in the same spot and work the same way.

On the iPhones left side, notice the area near the bottom with the small black stripe across the metal. That’s the much-maligned area where contact can reduce and interfere with your reception. I have found that on my phone, it does reduce reception but never to the point where I have dropped calls. I just received my free Apple bumper as well so now I never come into contact with that area- problem solved.

I would note that I do find it slightly ridiculous that this happens, but I knew about it and if I had a huge issue with it, I wouldn’t have bought one. If that will bother you, don’t buy one. Or buy one and then post twenty different threads on the Apple discussion boards declaring how ridiculous it is. Whatever floats your boat. At this point however, this issue has been so widely reported that if you get one and then complain, I’d argue that the problem isn’t with the phone but with yourself.

So how does the new model stack up against my old 3G?

The unit feels more solid than the previous model, though they are similar in weight the new one is a tad smaller. I do miss the feel of the curved plastic backing but not so much my hand hasn’t adapted to it very quickly.

The main benefit in my eyes is that it is so much faster. It’s important to note though that when the 3G first came out, the fact that you could download apps AT ALL was revolutionary. A couple years later, things have really changed. I had reached the point that I tired of the lag and lack of responsiveness when using an app or the keyboard. With the iPhone 4, everything is instantaneous. Press a button and what you expect to happen, happens. Pronto.

Downloading a video, email or file also seems to be faster. I didn’t do side-by-side comparisons but anything that requires load or download time happens noticeably faster.

The new Retina display is very impressive. Movies look amazing. Text is noticeably sharper and easier to read. To my eyes, the display is also much brighter. All are nice steps forward.

There are now two cameras you can use. One is on the rear and can utilize the built-in LED flash. The other one is on the front. The rear is much higher quality – 5 Megapixels. I’m disappointed to tell you that I found the LED flash fairly useless. Technically, it works. It adds light, but I found the results to look unacceptable. Overall though, the new rear camera is a big step up from what was in the 3G.

The lower quality front camera is what most people would use when using the new Facetime video conferencing feature, so you can be ‘speaking’ face to face. But it’s pretty cool that you can also switch to the rear camera and show someone what you’re looking at, and back and forth from one to the other. Anytime you’re taking a picture you can also choose which camera to use and whether to use the flash. Pretty cool.

The rear camera is capable of shooting in 720p HD video. Not bad. Seems to be of similar quality to many of the Flip cameras I’ve seen. One thing to note here is the release of the iMovie app. The fact that you can edit video on the phone itself strikes me as fairly amazing. The app is somewhat limited. You can’t trim clips with it. But you can edit a video together and then upload it straight to YouTube and the like. If you want to upload HD however, you have to load it onto your computer and do it from there. That makes sense as uploading a huge HD video through your 3G connection would be painfully slow.

Here’s a couple of the first videos I shot while playing around with it.

Considering the 3G didn’t shoot video at all I’m psyched about being able to capture stuff on the fly since I usually have my phone with me.

Other than that, there are a lot of features that are new to me that come with iOS 4 and a 3GS if you install it. (Multitasking seems to be a big deal for people.) I installed iOS 4 on my 3G and it was a disaster. Everything was so much slower than before. So I searched around the internet and found a way to downgrade. But since those features aren’t specific to the phone, I’m not going to get into those.

All in all, I’m very happy with the new phone. I do wish the reception issue wasn’t there but it’s really only annoying knowing it’s there. It hasn’t affected me in terms of dropped calls or not being able to access the internet. Frankly, I know that is happening to some people but most people are just freaking out by being able to see your bars go lower if you ask me. I received my free bumper from Apple and since I don’t plan on taking it off, it’s a non-issue.

(Most of my issues are with AT&T’s network, which has been pretty crappy for me with the three different phones I’ve used on it. For some reason, my house seems to sit in a weak area of coverage so that’s always been an issue for me.)

If you can get over the reception issue and are interested in this iPhone, dive right in. If the reception issue is going to bother you, or you’re not willing to use a case with your phone, don’t waste your time and money. Unless you want to waste your time and money and have something to hate, then by all means get one immediately.

But this is a nice upgrade to my 3G. I picked it up the moment it arrived and haven’t looked back.

Written by the bee dub

August 13, 2010 at 11:42 am

The FH iPad review

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I was really curious about the iPad and got my hands on one. It’s not mine. The company I work for bought one and it’s mine to play with for a while. But in a way I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first computer I ever used was an Apple IIe, purchased for me and my siblings by my dad. (Anybody else remember playing Choplifter?) The only computers I have bought for myself have all been Macs. This includes a Powerbook 520, Power Mac desktop, Titanium Powerbook, Aluminum Powerbook and 2 MacBook Pros. I’ve also owned several iPods and my current phone is an iPhone 3G. My brother thinks of me as an Apple zealot and for the most part he’s probably right.

That doesn’t me I’m one of those people who thinks Apple can do no wrong. I’ve had my share of issues with stuff over the years. The first Aluminum Powerbook I bought was a lemon. I thoroughly regretted not waiting for the next iteration. They did, however, replace it for me with a newer model so they more than made up for the problems. Anyway, you may want to take all that into account before reading any more of what I have to say.

The iPad seems to be positioned right smack in between the iPh0ne and any Mac laptop. It’s very slim, sleek and shiny. Overall I think it’s a pretty whizbang piece of technology, though in my honest opinion it seems to lack any killer app or functionality that would truly make it a gamechanger. Here are my impressions.

Performance

I found the iPad to be quite responsive overall. Anytime I touched something to open it, bang. It opened. Everything I tried to do happened very quickly. I don’t know what the processor speed was, but it was not lacking for anything that I tried. I wish the same was true for my iPhone 3G. A second or two of lag between pressing a button and the action then happening isn’t all that unusual at all.

Interface

If you’ve used an iPhone, you’ll be ready to start cruising around the world of the iPad in no time at all. There are the familiar icon screens that you can flick through sideways. There are also some icons fixed along the bottom for Safari, photos, email and iPod-like functionality. It’s very easy to find what you need and ‘touch’ it open.

You manage your iPad’s content through iTunes, just like an iPod or iPhone. Moving music, photos, apps and stuff is very easy to do.

You can also flip the iPad in any direction so you can use it in portrait or landscape mode. Unlike the iPhone, this works at any time in any app or at your home screen.

When you have to enter data, up comes the onscreen keyboard.

I could not for the life of my get the keyboard to work to my satisfaction by keeping my hands on the keys and typing. Using the one finger method proved to be most effective for me. That makes it fine for quick messages and the like but not so good if you ever want to type a longer email.

Internet

The model I played with was the lower cost machine. That means it connects via Wifi but not via 3G. The Wifi connection was really buggy. The signal strength was not very consistent. I also had to enter my wireless network password twelve times before it would connect. Prior to that it kept telling me my password was incorrect. Once connected I did find the speed of connection to be good. Web pages loaded quickly. I think for this machine to live up to its true potential, it needs the 3G or cellular internet connection.

Thereby comes one of the biggest rubs for me. I’m too cheap to pay for internet connection a third time. Currently I have to pay at home and also so connect with my iPhone. Money is an issue for me at this point of my life and I just can’t see myself shelling out one more time for a different device.

Display

The glossy display is clearly capable of producing a very nice images. I loaded several movies onto it that I already had formatted to watch on my iPhone. They all looked great. Well, almost. The glossy screen is glossy to the point of distraction.

As you can see in the image above, there’s quite a bit of reflection. The room I was sitting in wasn’t all that bright yet I could always see a ghosted image of myself watching myself watch a movie. That was a bit disappointing. I’m not a big fan of glossy screens overall though so I came into this biased against it already.

The other issue is that since this is a touch screen, every little smudge and smear is all too visible. If I had to pause the movie for any reason, by the time I got it playing again I found myself wiping down the screen as much as possible. This is an issue with my iPhone as well but it’s more tolerable in that situation. With the iPad, any imperfection on the screen is very conspicuous even to the casual viewer.

But the image it produces are very crisp and clear. Type appears to be very sharp and readable.

Ergonomics

There’s something about the size and shape of the iPad so that it never really felt comfortable in my hands. It’s sort of awkward to hold to the point that I’d definitely recommend using a protective case because it will surely slip out of my hands at some point if I was carrying it around regularly.

The same awkwardness holds true when I watched movies with it. I laid back on my couch and had to hold it with one hand to angle it to my liking. Watching movies, I just never got into a really comfortable position. In the end, I would have much preferred to watch it on my laptop where I could just lay down, set it on my belly and then angle the screen appropriately.

Random Extras

The iPad can be connected to a projector or video connection via an adapter. One thing worth noting is that it doesn’t send a constant video signal. It only sends a signal once you open certain apps, like the iPad version of Keynote. Otherwise, it doesn’t send any signal at all.

Since I only had the iPad for a few days, one thing I can’t comment on is the apps. I tried out plenty and thought they were very cool and worked really well. The ABC video player app was a particular favorite of mine. I was able to fire up a recent version of LOST and it worked great. I remember thinking when I got the iPhone that the apps were going the be the last thing I was going to be interested in. Boy was I wrong. I’d imagine the world of apps available for the iPad will have a similar addictive quality that they have for the iPhone.

Overall

I think the iPad is a very cool and sleek device. That being said, I really have no need for it. There are plenty of people who will love it. Who are those people? Anyone who spends a lot of time in airplanes or public transportation for extended periods of time will surely enjoy it. For me, I don’t do a whole lot of either one of those.

There are also a lot of people who use their computers almost exclusively to surf the web and check email. The iPad is a great option for them. It’s another quick and easy way to check your email or fly through some web pages. The key point for a person like me is that it’s another option. I can already just fire up my iPhone to quickly check email as opposed to my computer. I don’t need another option on top of another option. Plus my iPhone can check email everywhere thanks to its cellular network connection. The more fancy model of iPad could do the same but only with additional monthly internet access charges.

The iPad is a very cool device. Truth be told, if I was a person with a fair amount of disposable income I’d probably just buy one for the ‘cool new toy’ factor.

In the future, I could see the iPad really becoming more of a transformative device. In the world we live in right here and now, I don’t think the app or usage exists that makes such a quantum leap forward possible. I’m more than happy to stick with my iPhone and MacBook Pro.

In a few years, maybe the iPad will become a must have. Only time will tell…

Written by the bee dub

April 13, 2010 at 3:43 pm

OS X Snow Leopard is coming

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I only wish anyone who reads this knew my friend Moe. He’s got a sound effect he makes that represents both the Miami Dolphins’ revolutionary Wildcat offensive formation AND Apple’s newest operating system: OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Imagine a man making a sound effect meant to mock people who make sounds like a cat. That’s the best way I can describe it.

Anyway, despite my friend’s feline screeching, I’m really psyched to try out the new operating system. Apparently, this is an update where most of the changes are under the hood to take advantage of 64-bit technology, memory architecture and confusing stuff like that. Things like startups, shutdowns and the like are supposed to go a lot quicker. The finder is supposed to be more responsive and snappier. Quicktime’s interface and controls have been given an overhaul. I’m curious to see what it’s all about. I’ve been an early adopter for every one of Apple’s OS X upgrades from 10.2 on and I have to say that every one has been an impressive step forward. Some more so than others, but all have been positive developments.

Well I got a new MacBook Pro last week (more on that in a later post) and as a result I can get a Snow Leopard upgrade for just under $10. Even better, they’re shipping them out so I’m supposed to receive it the same day it’s available in stores: Friday. Pretty cool move on their part.

But I screwed up. The delivery address I put down is my office only we are shutting down early this Friday at 1 pm. Fed Ex rarely delivers non-express deliveries before 2 pm to our office and I found out it’s too late to change my shipping address. If I don’t get it I’ll be bummed because I’m motivated to put in the hours and manpower to get it done this weekend. I’ll hang around for a bit on Friday after most people leave and see if I get lucky.

Anyway, I’ll do a writeup about how that all goes. Hopefully it will all be smooth.

Written by the bee dub

August 26, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Hermit Essentials: Fantasy Football

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I’m a huge fan of the NFL. Though I live in a region dominated by college football and love watching football of any kind, the NFL will always hold the top spot of all sports for me.

The great thing about fantasy football is that it just gives you a whole other way to obsess about football. If you’re going to be a hermit, it’s good to have a few things to obsess about. I was already at a point where I couldn’t get enough NFL coverage. If there was an article about different kinds of grass they play on, new trends in the three-ring binders they use for playbooks or a new, revolutionary kind of water bottle, I’d read them all. If you don’t like pro football, there’s no point in even trying to wrap your head around fantasy.

When you have a fantasy team, you always have to keep tweaking it and that’s the beauty of the whole thing. First off, there’s the question of which of your players you start and which ones you sit. Then there’s the whole waiver issue. Some players you draft inevitably end up being dogs. And like the losers from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels, you have to put them down. Then there’s the inevitable rash of injuries. Some of your key players will also be on a bye week eventually so you have to find someone else to use. So who do you pick up? There’s always some unknown player who ends up having a big year and those are the real gems. There’s also the ones most people think are washed up who end up having a huge comeback.

It can all get pretty complicated, but only as complicated as you want to make it. That’s the key to the whole thing. It’s as much fun as you want to have. You can’t predict what happens in football but you do need a strategy based on some voodo-like mix of knowledge, instinct and stats.

Right now my key players are Drew Brees at QB. Michael Turner, Marshawn Lynch and Michael Pittman at RB. Calvin Johnson and Santana Moss at WR. I don’t have a good defense though. Carolina’s is definitely coming around but I’ve made the mistake of playing Dallas’ D and they flat out suck right now (sorry again Dan).

One weird thing about the whole setup is that you may have a player on a team you hate and that brings mixed emotions. But it all works out in the end. I still have yet to draft a single player from the Eagles and hope I never will.

I started out the year strong but have taken a few big losses, one to my friend’s team who hadn’t won a single game. Each loss was one where I simply started a wrong player or two and paid the price. But as long as I can make it into the playoffs, I like my chances. Stay tuned. Maybe I’ll start posting fantasy football updates every week. If the three people who read this blog don’t object anyway.

Written by the bee dub

October 23, 2008 at 7:49 am

Hermit Essentials: The iPhone 3G

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Everything I need (no comments about my wife's tablecloth please...)

My life now fits into my pocket (no comments about my wife's tablecloth please...)

After alluding to the iPhone’s usefulness in previous posts and with the release of the latest software update (2.1), I figured it was a good time for me to give it an in-depth writeup.

As you may have guessed, I’m not a huge fan of the telephone in general. It was years before I got a cellphone and would never keep it on my person. Instead, I’d stash it in my messenger bag or in my car and set it on vibrate which I’d never hear. Because of this my coworkers would grumble that I was never reachable when not in the office. The iPhone has made such a big impact on me that I now actually keep it on me at all times, though I don’t necessarily answer it that much. My wife jokes that it’s a very fancy device for me to not take calls with.

What I love most about it is that it’s very much like having a pocket-sized version of my computer. No longer do I fire up my computer just to check e-mail, Google something, see the weather forecast or add a movie to my Netflix queue. This is a huge convenience but to be honest, it was exactly what I expected before buying.

Here’s a few things I didn’t expect:

Just follow the glowing blue dot.

Find the glowing blue dot and you're never lost.

-The maps and GPS are incredibly handy. It gives you live tracking of your location and though it doesn’t give you verbal instructions, you can definitely follow your path along any route. Recently I spent the night at a friend’s place on the Jersey shore. I’m not at all familiar with the area and needed to get on the freeway at 4:30 am. I just fired up the maps, plotted my route and then made sure the glowing blue dot followed along. It couldn’t be easier.

-I am now a texter. I did on occasion before the iPhone but now, I realize how easy it can be. Bottom line, it’s a lot easier and quicker to read a text than to listen to a voicemail. Now I’m not saying it’s going to replace voicemail. But each has their purpose and I’m now fully on board with both. It also shows you texts with a person in chat/IM form so you can follow everything communicated more like an actual conversation.

-The App Store is incredibly addictive. I saw all the hype about it and didn’t think I’d be all that into it. Boy, was I wrong. Mind you, I’ve only dug into the free apps at this point but I’m sure I’m bound to pay for some in the future. My favorites so far…Shazam. You start it and hold it up to anything playing a song and in a few seconds it tells you what the song is, who sings it and what album it’s on. If it’s available on iTunes you can link to the song and buy it. Now, this is more for cool/play factor more than anything but I can’t stop showing it to people. Pandora is a great way to listen to music for those of you who haven’t tried it yet. Basically it lets you create your own ‘stations’ that play music it likes based on your feedback/input. I also prefer WeatherBug to the included weather app. The Flashlight app has been used to illuminate dark areas a few times already. And VoiceNotes lets me record things on the fly. So far I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of all the apps.

-For some reason the sound from this iPhone blows away the sound of all my previous iPods. I don’t know if it’s the (included) headphones or if it’s something else, but the sound is far better than I expected.

-Watching movies and videos has been great. The picture’s better than I anticipated and when on planes, that’s been great. Again, it’s much easier watching it that way than it is to pull out my laptop.

-Notes has been incredibly useful. No longer do I ever forget what I need at the grocery store, thus saving me unnecessary potential interactions with the dreaded general public.

Of course, nothing is perfect and there’s a few things I’m not so crazy about. Here they are in no particular order:

-You can’t send MMS texts. In other words, it’s text only and you can’t send pictures. When friends have tried to text me a picture, I get nothing, not even an indication that someone tried to send me a message.

-You can’t record video, only still images.

The dreaded Flash error screen...

The dreaded Flash error screen...

-As useful as Safari and the mobile web is, you can’t see anything that utilizes Flash (though my understanding is YouTube utilizes Flash and that does work so go figure). That’s probably the biggest drawback for me as it doesn’t quite live up to the web experience they seem to promise. Flash is everywhere on the web.

-My 3G coverage has been less than desired and when on the 3G network I’ve dropped a lot of calls. The new update is supposed to fix that and if so, all the better. So far, I’ve definitely noticed an improvement.

Bottom line, I’m pretty picky and I’m happy as can be. I will tell you that I came across an acquaintance lately who got one and told me he was utterly unimpressed. When prompted for more info, it became clear he had no idea what its capabilities were and he simply expected to buy one and be blown away. That’s plain silly and uninformed to me. Just like any purchase, it’s wise to do some research first. He doesn’t use it for anything but the phone so I don’t understand how it would be any different from his previous phone (besides the visual voicemail, anyway).

It’s always nice when things are consolidated and now when I leave the house, all I need is my wallet, keys and iPhone. Anything that helps me travel light is always a good thing for me.

If you have any other thoughts, input, complaints or anything else for that matter, please don’t hesitate to share them. I’d love to hear other people’s take on this.

Written by the bee dub

September 14, 2008 at 5:56 pm

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