Comparisons & Reviews

Why are so many ‘reviews’ in the technology world a comparison of X vs. Y? Other than driving page views on blogs for ad revenue, the majority feel unnecessary when applied to how we interact with our device family. From a consumer’s point of view, it is more useful to have independent overviews of each item from both a subjective and objective viewpoint to validate its existence in our life. For better or worse, the majority of tech falls into certain larger systems of overall compatibility. For example, Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

Comparing specs of something like an iPad Pro to a Surface Book is irrelevant. If the Surface Book has a “faster processor,” it in no way means a user is going to disrupt their entire tech world to gain that spec bump. It is very similar to comparing game consoles, like the PS4 and Wii U. It doesn’t matter from a specs perspective, because the overall game library is what really matters.

Our tech world is no longer ‘single device’, but rather interconnected as a larger overall system. It doesn’t make sense looking at tech from strictly a component level anymore.

Perhaps the even larger problem with reviews is the perspective from which they arrive. All too often a product is reviewed from a very specific and unique viewpoint that in no way represents the larger consumer base the product is targeted at. There are different tools for different jobs, and no product is ever all things to all people, yet many reviewers somehow think every product was specifically designed to fit their exact need and want.

“This tablet sucks because I can’t edit 6 streams of 4K video on it.”
“This computer is garbage, it has 1 USB port and I need at least 4 at all times.”
“This *thing* is the worst because I like this other *thing*!”
“No one should buy this, it doesn’t work with my niche peripheral”

Perhaps slightly exaggerated, but you get the idea.

Apple Watch

I ordered an Apple Watch at 12:01am on April 10, 2015. After receiving the watch, setting it up, and using it every day for what I consider a good amount of time, I can now give my initial thoughts on the device.

First, let’s start with what Watch I ordered. I had been thinking about which model to get since the Watch was announced. After all that time, I ended up ordering the model I initially thought I wanted. The model I chose was the 42mm Stainless Steel Watch, paired with the Stainless Steel Link Bracelet. I also ordered a Green Sport Band as a secondary band option.

Before I get into the actual Watch, I want to start out with the bands. The bands that Apple has created are nothing short of amazing and an example of truly brilliant design.

The link bracelet is comfortable and low profile. This is very helpful when typing on a MacBook, as anyone who wears a watch regularly can attest to. Unlike most watches I have worn, this band is not scraping all over the top of my aluminum laptop. The butterfly clasp is smooth and engineered impeccably. Probably the most amazing aspect of the band is the way in which it is sized to fit your wrist (by removing and adding links). Most likely, every metal watch band you have seen has a link system that uses small pins which you have to pop out with tools to add and remove links from the band for sizing. The Apple Link Bracelet goes way above and beyond this method. Each link has a small button on it, and when pressed, elegantly separates from the adjoining link. Then, you simply snap the two open ends back together. If this isn’t making sense, check out this short video demonstration I made. For anyone who has ever sized a watch, this new method feels like magic.

I ordered the Green Sport Band as well, so I would have something more appropriate for exercise, or just when I felt like changing things up to a more bright and fun mood. Much like the process of sizing the Link Bracelet, changing bands on the Apple Watch is as simple as pressing a button and sliding the band out of the Watch. If the Link Bracelet is ‘really comfortable’, then the Sport Band is ‘really, really comfortable’. No watch band has ever felt so smooth and seamless to me. It feels as though the band is simply part of your wrist, rather than being wrapped around it.

Ok, now I can talk about the Watch itself. I very much appreciate the design and function of the hardware. The screen is bright and brilliant, and shows well in both sunlight and shade. Unlike some of the other watches out there, the screen is square rather than round like a traditional mechanical watch. Square is my preference for a device like this, as I find round to be the complete wrong shape for the type of digital interactions performed with this category of device.

There are two ways to interact with the Watch. You have the touch screen itself (complete with Force Touch), as well as use of the physical hardware buttons on the side (Digital Crown & Side Button). This is by far the smallest touch screen I have ever interacted with, aside from the slight exception of my wife’s 38mm Apple Watch. Although the screen is small, it is entirely useable and functional. Of course, there is not a full keyboard or anything like that, but again, that is not the point of the device. The software is laid out and designed for minimal interaction with maximum effect. Along with standard scrolling, you now have a new way to interact with a touch screen: Force Touch. This new interaction is accomplished by pressing slightly harder than normal on the screen, revealing new actions. It took some getting used to, but now that we are already seeing it in other areas of Apple’s lineup, this is going to become the norm in terms of interaction with Apple devices over the coming months/years, and I am eagerly awaiting this. The Digital Crown is one way in which the Watch calls back to its mechanical ancestor, but of course, has some newness injected into it. Scrolling with the crown is buttery smooth and feels exactly like I would want it to. Some resistance, but not too much, and it feels 1:1. The crown can also be pressed in for various functions (such as a double press to fast switch apps or a long press to activate Siri). Finally you have the side button. This button does one thing, and one thing only: bring up your favorites list so you can quickly interact with them. From there you can send texts, taps, sketches, or your heartbeat to people, and even call them. It’s a handy shortcut for someone who does a lot of interaction with other people throughout the day. Actually, this is not 100% true. It does do one more thing: double pressing this button acts as a shortcut for using Apple Pay. I was already sold on the idea of Apple Pay (and the like) when I was doing it with my iPhone, but now that I can remove one more step, it is perfect.

The Taptic Engine deserves mention, because without this, I think the Watch would not be as personal. Cell phones have had terrible vibration buzzers for years. I can’t stand how they feel or sound, especially when left on a table. I turned off vibrate on my phone years ago, and have never looked back. Too often I would ‘feel’ an alert from my phone that never actually happened, even when my phone wasn’t in my pocket. After turning off the vibrate mode, it stopped happening. Needless to say, it concerned me a bit at the announcement of the watch that it was going to buzz on my wrist to alert me of things. I had horrible premonitions of a cell phone buzzer strapped to my wrist. This would be terrible, and fortunately, it seems that Apple felt the same. Something else had to be created to take its place. Enter, the Taptic Engine. This marvelous little gizmo buzzes in such a way that it feels more like a gentle tap (sometimes too gentle for me, as I miss things occasionally). As with some of the other technology in the Watch, I am very excited to see this one move to the iPhone sooner rather than later.

Battery Life is always a concern when it comes to electronics, especially when you have something as small as the Watch. I would imagine Apple had to far underestimate the battery life on the Watch because the last thing you want is a review stating that it ran out of battery, especially when it’s a device that is attached to you throughout the day. After daily use I can happily report that battery life has not been an issue for me at all. After a full day of use, the lowest I have ever seen the indicator at the end of the day was 30%. I would say that is pretty damn good!

One aspect of the Watch that I initially had some frustration with, was the length of time it took some of the glances to update, or applications to launch. This problem existed with version 1.0 of WatchOS, but since the release of WatchOS 1.0.1, things have significantly improved in the speed department. Opening and loading is much quicker and more inline with what I would want from this type of device. I don’t expect instant, as they are not all native at this point, but that will improve over time and with updates. I expect we will see a much different and improved WatchOS in six or so months, and that is really exciting.

Being a brand new product and product category for Apple, there was plenty to speculate about in terms of the hardware and software. Even after all the speculation, announcements, and video walkthroughs, there were still a couple things that surprised me after personally using the Watch. The first thing was the very apparent amount of attention to detail that went into the band system. Apple makes little glass screens with big tech behind them, so it would be natural for someone to think the bands could come as an afterthought. This could not be further from the truth. The design and innovation of the bands and the overall system they use to attach is really a testimony to Apple’s commitment to the experience. The second item that was a surprise was the battery life, or rather, abundance of battery life. I was wondering how often I would need to charge midday, which would be very unnatural for a watch; but this doesn’t even cross my mind anymore, and I don’t ever find myself looking at my battery percentage through the day anymore. Finally, the third item which came as a surprise to me is how much I don’t feel the need to be touching my iPhone constantly. I have been very attached to my iPhone throughout the years (somewhat unhealthily probably), but since getting the Watch I have found myself leaving my phone on my desk when leaving for meetings, or plugged in on my nightstand through the morning while getting my day started. This would never have happened before the Watch.

I almost forgot Health and HomeKit! Health is a huge push for the Apple Watch, and I appreciate that. Along with the mental health benefits of not being tied to my phone, the physical health benefits are great too. Having a gentle reminder that I have been sitting too long while at work, or knowing that I have almost reached my move goal and deciding to take a longer walk to do so is a great way to slowly get myself into a mode of being more active. Even though HomeKit is not officially up and running yet, I have gotten a taste of this with my Watch by controlling our Phillips Hue Lights, and it feels like the future! When we start getting Siri integrated into the home, things are going to get really awesome, really fast!

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Doing.

Keeping track of everything that needs to be done is no easy job. Some people are able to (at least they think they can) keep track of all their responsibilites in their head. Even if this were truly possible, what is the benefit? The mind is a great place to solve problems, but not really ideal for the mass storage of tasks to be completed.

I am by no means an expert in organization or organizational systems, like Getting Things Done (GTD). I do feel I have gotten pretty good at both over the last seven or so years, as I have been practicing and honing my skill set in my personal and professional life. I was finding that ‘getting things done’ was not the problem: it was more of an issue with getting the right things done in the most efficient and meaningful order.

The way in which you get things accomplished is a system of sorts, and like most systems, there is no magic bullet. Everyone is different, and this, of course, translates to each system being slightly different for each person. This was the largest problem for me when I started defining a system for myself. I did a lot of research into other people’s systems and tried to shoehorn them into my life. This was a big misstep. There was a lot of wasted energy trying to force the system, rather than letting the system work for me.

Over the last seven years I have tried various systems and applications to aid me in productivity. The first application I got really serious about was OmniFocus for the Mac. The next big move was to an application called Things, which was also for the Mac. After using Things for a while, OmniFocus 2 was released and this release intrigued me enough to switch back. Returning to what I touched on earlier a bit, as good as OmniFocus is, it was not really the best choice for me personally. That is not to say there is something ‘wrong’ with the application, it just wasn’t the best possible fit for my personal and professional needs. So where did I end up after OmniFocus 2? The landing zone was a cross platform solution by the name Todoist. It is not a new system, but has come a long way over the last couple years. Todoist is a very feature complete to-do system for not only individuals, but teams as well, since it has sharing and and the ability to assign tasks to others.

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Todoist Karma System

Todoist has applications and access from just about any possible platform. I use the Todoist application on an iMac, MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and an Apple Watch. Aside from the apps, I also use the web client from time to time, which is great if you need to access your stuff when away from all of your devices.

You can use Todoist for free as long as you want, but they do offer a premium service as well. After using the free version for a month or so to see if the system fit me, I upgraded to premium. There are some cool features you get with premium, but the main reason I upgraded was to provide monetary support to the service that is helping me keep my sanity! Free services don’t last. I don’t work for free, and I don’t think the developers and maintainers of this great service should have to either. As long as I use the service, I will be paying for premium.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was sync. When you use a service on this many devices, sync becomes a potential deal breaker if not done well. Todoist sync is great. My lists are up to date no matter what device I access them on, and the syncs are very fast and done in the background. I have never had an issue with sync conflicts or had to force a sync. I can definitely not say the same of other systems, where I would find myself having to force a sync every time I opened the application on a different device.

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Apple Watch – Overview Screen

Is this the last system I will ever use? If history is any indication, it surely won’t be. It is the best solution for me personally right now, but the great thing about the future is change. I am not advocating changing your whole life and organizational system around in a whim, but as you go through life and grow, the things that you focus on in your life will grow and change as well. As a young professional you may focus on work, and shift more toward family life and personal interests as you get older. No one system works for all the stages of your life. Changing organizational systems is not easy, but it can become necessary over time. Use the system that is right for you, and makes your life easier. Don’t waste time and energy trying to figure out why someone else’s way of organization ‘doesn’t work’. Explore all the options out there, and choose what fits your personal needs during this stage of your life.

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Todoist – Overview of your productivity history

 

The Six Plus

A month or so back I decided to give the iPhone 6 Plus a second try. The first time I tried the 6 Plus, it wasn’t really a good trial period. During the time I had it before reaching the 14 day return limit, I was traveling back to back on business trips and a personal vacation so I really didn’t get to assess it as a normal everyday device.

While using my iPhone 6, in the back of my head I kept thinking quite a bit about how the 6 Plus may actually be a better fit for me. Paired with my iPhone 6 I also was using an iPad mini (with retina screen). Although everything synced between the two, I still had massive anxiety to keep everything up to date on both devices. This wasn’t really the fault of the devices or system, more of a personal problem really. I was pondering if I could get rid of both my iPhone 6 and my iPad mini and replace them with a single device, an iPhone 6 Plus. It seems a bit crazy, but from a usability standpoint it made a lot of sense because I could have everything on a single device.

Back to the Apple Store I went to purchase a fully unlocked 64GB Silver iPhone 6 Plus. Almost all my iPhones to date have been black (I had a white iPhone 3G). This was the first phone in a while that I decided to go with silver/white (it’s beautiful). So began the testing; I put both the iPhone 6 and iPad Mini in the drawer and commenced single device mode. The first couple weeks were somewhat awkward as the phone is so much larger than any previous phone I have ever had. One concern I had was with apps that were “iPad Only”. The good news is that this trend of iPad only has fallen off quite a bit and most apps have moved to being universal. The only major iPhone only app that I use is a company app, so I can utilize a work iPad for that. Honestly, with how big the iPhone 6 Plus screen is, I don’t see any reason for iPad only apps anymore. The phone really is a smaller iPad more than a bigger iPhone.

I do have to carry my phone differently now, as it really doesn’t fit in my front pockets as well. Throw it in the back pocket though, and it’s no big deal. A benefit of this is that it has freed up my other front pocket so now I can carry more stuff! One of the items is a Lightning to HDMI adapter so I can present and share content to external displays and projectors. So far, I have not sat on and broke my phone, so we are looking good.

There haven’t been any situations that have come up that made me long to have an iPad again so far. I am able to do all my daily work and personal tasks using just the iPhone 6 Plus. One of the benefits of an iPad was its battery life since it had such a massive battery. The 6 Plus is a huge phone which means more room for battery as well! I have never had a phone last as long as this one does. I go all day using it for everything that used to take two devices and I have no issues with battery life.

So, did I end up keeping the iPhone 6 Plus?YEP! I sold both my 64GB Space Grey iPhone 6 and my 32GB Space Grey iPad Mini.

I am a believer in the 6 Plus.

FREEkey System

A key ring? Really? YES! We carry our keys all over the place, yet we still use the same free piece of crap keyring we found in a drawer in the kitchen. You may have upgraded, but chances are, you just got the same crappy ring, but it had a cool doodad on it. I accidentally came across a new key ring “system” that is awesome. It’s called FREEkey. It has 2 parts; one main ring, and several smaller rings that attach to it. The main ring is built in such a way that you never struggle to get keys on or off, you simply squeeze it and the smaller rings are free to be removed or added. How does this work? Check out the photo of it below and this video on their site and it will all make sense. The rings are made of a brushed stainless steel and are super light. Also, because you can put each key on a smaller ring, your keys can lay much flatter in your pocket or bag. You may have already stopped reading this, but if you haven’t, you really have to check this thing out, it’s great. Not really an item you would seek out, but once you have it you are going to love it! It’s also made right here in the United States.

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