It was a long and strange journey that I went on to become the proud owner of a new iPhone 6 Plus. For 11 days, I made the trip to our local emporium of all things magical and Apple, The Apple Store — AKA The Mothership! For the first 10 days, I was turned away in my quest after being told at various times that they “were sold out”, “no Pluses available”, “no T-Mobile iPhones were available” and sundry variations on that theme. I was looking for a 128 GB Space Gray T-Mobile model. Finally, on the 11th day I was informed that they had 128 GB SILVER T-Mobile one in stock, but only ONE! Sigh… I pulled the trigger and bought it. It has the white faceplate that I didn’t really want, but after a week with it, I really don’t notice it anymore and have come to terms with my purchase.
During my 11 day quest, I sadly also came face-to-face with the seamier side of iPhone purchasing in that I came into direct contact with both the Chinese and Russian Mafias. Since the iPhone is not available in certain large markets (and at the time, it was uncertain WHEN they would be available in some of those markets, i.e. China) that a huge Grey/Black Market had sprung up where iPhones were being bought here in the States and then flipped overseas for huge (200-500% or more) profits.
The second morning that I waited in line, I arrived in time to be 9th in line. There was a Chinese gentleman in front of me, apparently holding a spot in line for others as after 20 minutes or so, a veritable crowd of Chinese people sauntered up the way and joined him in line—young adults, an elderly couple (quite ancient actually), teenagers and one girl about 8 years old. All told there were 11 or 12 there where one had been previously. There was a lot of grumbling behind me, including one guy who stepped forward and confronted them. Some words were exchanged (I couldn’t hear what was actually as I had become far removed from the original gentleman by the intervening bodies, but I saw the guy’s face go pale and he quickly returned to his place in line thoroughly chastened.
Part of the appeal of the line (and the ONLY appealing aspect of standing in line for that long) is the socializing that goes on there. Through my conversations with my fellow line-mates, I found out that the Chinese crew were in line the previous day, buying up as many phones as they were allowed to do. And it didn’t seem to matter what iPhones they got, they bought whatever was available. The lady right behind me stated that they were right in front of her husband the day before and had snagged the last 128 GB Gold iPhone that he was looking for, so she was there to try to get one for him. She struck out, as did I that day. I would subsequently encounter her twice more and I saw the Chinese crew 4 more times in the days that followed.
On one of the days that followed — truthfully, they are all kinda running together at this point — I got up to the Mothership early and found that there was no line out front. I assumed my position at the head of the velvet rope cordon and preceded to wait for the store to open. I had not really noticed the four guys sitting on the couch nearby until one of them stood up and ambled over and asked me in what I at first took to be an Eastern European accent if I was there to get an iPhone? As I was answering in the affirmative, the other three stood and started over. My interrogator turned around and said to the oldest of the group in Russian, “this [deleted] thinks he is going to get in line ahead of us!” I answered him in my best rusty Russian that there was no reason to be vulgar and that if they were there first, they should be in line and not sitting on the bench. The guy’s buddies kinda crowded around me and their spokesthug informed me that they were indeed there first and that “you fifth in line, after us, fifth in line, understand?” I looked at guy — in his shiny black leather jacket, the very embodiment of a stereotypical Russian Mafia tough — and at his buddies and determined that their demeanor carried the not so subtle notion that to stand my ground may have some unpleasant consequences. I couldn’t help but think in the back of my mind, that somehow I had wondered into a John LeCarré novel or a bad late night espionage movie or even worse, a better than average Tom Cruise movie. Since I am no Ethan Hawke or Jack Reacher (and one of these days I am gonna talk about why he is all wrong for the role of Jack Reacher) I decided just to be fifth in line and shut up. Besides, I had pretty much exhausted my Russian. They would continue to accost everyone who walked by inquiring if they were there buying iPhones. Even the mall-walkers! Of course, after all that, I left that day with no iPhone.
To tell the truth, I miss the Italian mobsters. As uncouth as they were, they at least had more style than these new thugs.
Well, with that backstory out of the way, I guess it is time to get on with my impressions of the 6 Plus.
It’s BIG! The Apple commercial with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake doing an a Capella rendition of the 2001 Theme does it justice. It’s a monolith. And it’s slippery. It needs a case.
Fortunately, after several decades of playing piano, my fingers have incredible reach, dexterity and strength that might not be readily apparent by looking at them, thus the iPhone 6 Plus is actually a comfortable fit in my hands. I imagine that people with normal hands — both men and women — would find it unwieldy and be very prone to dropping it. For those, I do recommend the regular iPhone 6.
As big as it is, it feels about as light as my old 4S did and very solid in its build quality. I have been typing this blog on the 6 Plus for over an hour and it is still comfortable in my hands. I can almost use it exclusively one-handed, but my thumbs are just that much too short to reach the farthest corners of the screen. Lynda has to use it as a small two-handed tablet, and I get the sense that she is afraid of dropping it as it is just too big for her hands. If one still wants the bigger iPhone and you don’t have huge hands, Apple has added a feature called Reachability where you can double-tap the Home button and have the screen slide down to where you can reach screen elements that were at the top. It looks like a hack, it feels like a hack, but it works.
I really don’t sense any flimsiness about this phone. I really think after spending a week with it, that the Bendgate thing was blown totally out of proportion. I mean, I have seen other phones get bent, especially those big Android beasts. But, I have to ask, here you are carrying around in your pocket a computer that has more power in it than total computational capacity that NASA had at its command across ALL its facilities in 1969 when they landed on the moon. You have a device in your hand that not long ago would be considered and possibly might still be considered a SuperComputer. Why are you slipping it in the back pocket of your jeans and sitting on it? You wouldn’t do that to a Cray X-MP (allow me a geek moment here), would you? Put it in a stylish case and stop sitting on it. Or wear jeans that fit.
The screen on this thing is amazing, It plays back videos in full 1080p HD. There is something about the display that makes it seem as though text and images are actually floating on top of the the glass instead of being displayed behind it. This enhances the perception of crispness when viewing anything on it. The only detraction from this is that some apps have yet to be updated to take advantage of the larger screen on the 6 and 6 Plus and they come off as soft and fuzzy. Apple has done a good job of screen scaling, certainly much better than some examples of such scaling I’ve seen in the Android world, but the quicker that developers update their apps, the better.
There were two selling points that lead me to upgrade this year rather than next. One was ApplePay, which you can read about elsewhere on the web as it hasn’t been turned on yet, so I haven’t had a chance to do anything with it yet. The other was the new camera.
The camera is not really a spec upgrade from last year’s camera; still a 13 megapixels, F/2.2 cameraphone camera. The upgrade comes in the form of Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and the addition of Focus Pixels which aids in autofocus. The OIS utilizes the new M8 chip to basically float the camera assembly to dramatically reduce camera shake, especially in low light situations where the shutter can remain open longer and the ISO can remain lower to give a sharper, better-lit, less noisy/grainy image. The autofocus does seem to be much faster and actually locks on to what I intended it to. The results so far have been a spectacular improvement over my 5S—which was a great cameraphone. Further kudos have to be given to the improved Camera app in iOS 8 which has added exposure control to use when composing your shot and a suite of controls to tweak your photo after the shot. Again, so far the results have been impressive in that I have gotten some shots that I wouldn’t have even attempted with the 5S and would have resorted to my Pentax. Like they always say, the best camera is the one you have with you. The camera on the 6 Plus doesn’t disappoint. The bigger screen also makes for one heck of a viewfinder, one that doesn’t wash out in sunlight as bad as earlier iPhones did and has the added bonus that you can see it with polarized sunglasses. (Which also is nice if you have it mounted on your dash as a navigation device.)
My previous phone, the iPhone 5S got a reputation of less than optimal battery life (mine was about on par with my 4S; I could usually get well into the evening before I got the 20% battery warning). So far I am getting about the same, but at the same time it should be noted that I am using the 6 Plus a lot more. As with everything tech these days, your mileage may vary.
As a general impression of the 6 Plus, I’d would rate it a 9 out of 10.
If you are interested in the case I have on my 6 Plus (they make it for other phones too) you can find it here.
This blog entry is really only meant to serve as a first impression of the new iPhone 6 Plus, so I will be revisiting it in the weeks ahead as I form opinions, both good and bad about it and iOS 8 as they work the new release bugs out of it and report them on this blog.
Ok, in accordance with Federal Law, I have to make the disclaimer that items purchased by following links on this blog earn me a minuscule commission on the sale. These funds go to offset the cost of maintaining this website (I wish).
Well, after almost a week of using the new iPhone 5s, I can say without a doubt, that it is probably the best phone out there. It is a vast improvement over our 4Ss, with it’s slightly larger screen, which somehow seems nicer and clearer, even though Apple didn’t change the resolution of the screen. It is also faster in almost everything you do, in some cases, markedly so; apps launch faster, transition through screens without stutters, which was getting to be a bit of an issue with the 4S since iOS 7 came out last month. The camera is improved, especially for low light situations (despite what the rival phone makers claim in their commercials, we have NOT seen the results that they show in their ads) and the Camera app is way better with many added features which I will have to cover in-depth later as I have not yet had a chance to explore fully. The new Touch ID will be way cool after I lose the muscle memory problem that I have that keeps me doing things the old way, but that is getting better. Call quality is the biggest improvement we have noted so far, but I don’t know how much of that is the new iPhone and how much is attributable to the fact that we have switched from AT&T to T-Mobile, but we’ll touch on that here later in the post.
I opted for the 64 GB Space Grey model and picked up one Apple’s new leather cases for it in Black and applied a Belkin Iris screen protector film to the screen to hopefully afford a little more protection in case I drop it. You will probably want a case for it as all iPhones since the 4 have felt (at least to me) incredibly slippery outside a case. I would have liked to have gotten a clear case of some sort, to show off the look of the phone, but since I couldn’t find one, I settled for a classy leather look. Lynda went with a 64 GB Gold one and put it in a Brown leather case. Of course we both got AppleCare to protect our investments ($849 each).
The most striking impression one gets when you take the phone out of the box the first time is how incredibly light they are and how it almost feels like you are not really holding anything, but at the same time you can tell it is a substantial, well-made piece of equipment. Yes, I know that is a huge contradiction, but when you pick up a 5s, there is really no other way to describe it. They truly can be considered a work of machined art I think. Setup and use of the phone, is as always a marvel of ease and simplicity that I have not experienced with other technical devices (yeah, I’m looking at you Sony and your Blu Ray Players and you Westinghouse for having to call a Service Center to get an Access Code just to hook an antenna up to one your TVs (not mine, thankfully)). Everything is snappy and feels instantaneous while using it, which I don’t feel when using my friend’s Android or Windows phones.
The one thing that has impressed us the most has been the quality of phone calls (it is a phone after all). In the last couple weeks we had experimented with FaceTime Audio over WiFi and knew that the 4S was capable of crystal clear audio, even if we never experienced it over AT&T. A lot of the time we sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher on calls, if the call didn’t drop altogether. So far, the quality of the calls is equal to what we were getting over FaceTime Audio, even when one or both of us is using Bluetooth, not one (knock on wood) dropped call, even when we both are in our cars—which was a guarantee of a dropped call before. We can’t say for sure if the difference is the new iPhone or new carrier, but we are most pleased. Certainly pleased over the cheaper bill from T-Mobile.
Cellular coverage has really not been an issue with between 2 and 5 balls of signal strength wherever I’ve been this week and almost always LTE or 4G speed. The only exception has been deep inside Sams Club where it dropped down to Edge (slow, but still usable if I didn’t ask much of it) but I have always had issues with signal strength there. Data speed seems to run between 12 and 20 mbps and I never saw anything over 11 mbps on AT&T. I guess we can live with that until 5G and Holovision calls become the norm.
Pictures taken with the 5s look much richer when I transfer them to my computer and view them on the 42 inch screen. I am impressed with the more even tones from shadows to midrange to highlights and how it is able to pull details out each without the whole thing going muddy like I see in other people’s phone pictures. Bigger, better camera sensor, faster lens and what is essentially a desktop computer processor all contribute to this. Won’t replace my Pentax and my bag of lenses, but is a good go-to camera when I don’t have it with me and can easily becomes most people’s primary camera, it’s that good. As for the other camera features, I’ll get back to you after I explore some more.
Battery life was getting to be an issue with our ancient, battered 4Ss, but with my 5s I have gone all day, using it A LOT and have only drained it down to 50%. I think after a couple weeks and I have finished experimenting with it I can get through the day and still have 70-80% left. Most pleased.
Overall, this a great phone, and since it is available on all the major and most of the minor carriers, I don’t think there is much reason to consider other phones.
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I have long wanted to write a blog entry concerning the long-running battle between Mac and Windows users. I have started to write one every time Apple aired another of their “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials, but have held back because I really didn’t want to wade into the storm of flying vitriol that I knew such a post would engender. Well, Apple hasn’t aired any new commercials since last fall and Justin Long and John Hodgman have both indicated that there will not be any new ones coming and I have spent considerable time reflecting on the matter and decided that it may be time to put aside my reluctance to stir up controversy and gird myself for the coming battle.
The impetus for my having to write this entry is that over the last few months a few friends have had issues with their PCs and I have gotten involved with trying to find a solution. My wife’s friend handed us her 3-year-old laptop and asked if we could do anything to speed it up as it had gotten so dog-slow that it was unusable. (Folks, I have an iMac that we bought 8 years ago and it is not appreciably slower than when we first hooked it up.) We cleaned up the laptop as best we could and were able to recoup some of the lost speed, but whenever the antivirus software kicked in to do a scan, the computer was still a pretty slow pup. I checked into getting it looked at and speed-optimized by a professional service here in town that has a good reputation for reliable service, but it was ridiculously expensive. We gave the laptop back to the friend and told her what her options were and after she regained her composure, she asked about Macintoshes and we took her to the local Apple Store to let her try them out. She is currently saving up to buy a MacBook.
Last weekend, a good friend of ours called up while I had my hands dirtied with tax issues so I wasn’t able to attend to the possible virus issues she was having with her Toshiba laptop so I handed the phone to my wife and she advised her to download a copy of Norton off the Internet and see if that would fix things. Well, after I finished with the nastiness I was dealing with, I found out she hadn’t been able to do that and had gone to a certain Big Box Store and picked up a copy there, but wasn’t able to install Norton with the disc either. Because of our busy schedules, it was Wednesday night before I was able to get over there and help her out.
I got over there to find constant popups on the screen telling her that her computer was infected and that she needed to go to a website and buy a piece of software called Antivir Solutions Pro. Never heard of them, hmmm. The only protection she had on her computer was the built in Windows Defender and whatever had hijacked her machine wouldn’t let it launch. It also blocked Internet Explorer from going to Norton’s website or to any other antivirus software’s website. Nastily defensive little bugger. Found out it had hijacked the Internet connections settings for Internet Explorer and it was running through a proxy server and had grayed out the settings under Tools so you couldn’t change them back. Really nasty!
I stuck in the Norton disc and tried to do an install and it came back and said the file was infected. How does a READ-ONLY file on a CD get infected?! Well, I had to resort to a few tricks by doing some funky restarts so that whatever was in her system wouldn’t launch and I was able to do a sort of backdoor install of the Norton antivirus software and kill the evil little piece of software. Four days my friend was without her computer and for four hours we grappled with the beast within to kill it. She has at least learned a valuable lesson in that if she uses a PC, she needs to use antivirus software and keep it up to date and practice safe computing and be careful where she goes on the Internet. I think she is considering the switch to a Mac; I know she is looking rather covetously at my iPad. (No, I am not gonna mention the site where she picked up the malware.)
During our friend’s downtime this week, a dialog developed on Facebook discussing viruses (virii?) and one of the lesser-informed participants was arguing the point that Macs were no safer than PCs. No matter what factual details we presented to him, he could not be dissuaded from his misguided belief that Macs were just as prone to virus infection as PCs. I told him, correctly, that there were in fact NO viruses out there that would infect OS X machines. While there have been a few viruses developed over the years as proof of concept experiments, none have ever made it into the wild and the areas that were vulnerable to attack within the operating system have long since been blocked. Even these examples were not self-replicating, so they would have been difficult if not impossible to spread. The only malware I have ever heard of for the Mac that ever made it into the wild at all was some that were embedded in some supposed free copies of iLife 09 that were floating around the web last year. If one was so cheap that they had to resort to downloading pirated copies of a $79 software suite, well, you got what you paid for. I have no sympathy for users of pirated software or media.
For a reasonable person, this should have been enough to convince him of the errors of his thinking, but it wasn’t. As “proof” he presented a link to a video that purported to show an example of a Macintosh malware program. Well, I navigated to the site shown in the video, being reasonably sure that the security built into Snow Leopard would provide protection from what I saw in the video. Sure enough, I received a warning about potential security problems with the website and it was actually blocked; first time I had encountered that. So, the only way one could even get to the site to be at risk of being infected, one would have to turn OFF several built-in security features of OS X under Snow Leopard. Looking closer at the video, one is aware that the video was made by a company that is in the business of selling security software for the Mac and I felt this was rather disingenuous of them, so I won’t mention the company here as I don’t think people should patronize a company that stoops to such practices. Also, the file they were trying to download when their software blocked it was an .exe file which will not run on Mac anyway. If you are running Windows on your Mac, either natively under Boot Camp or under a virtual machine under VMWare or Parallels, you better be running antivirus software.
Beyond all this, Mac OS X is a UNIX based operating and as any old UNIX-head like me or even a Linux maven can tell you, UNIX is a seriously secure OS with literally thousands of people working on making it more secure all the time, mostly out of a desire to make the open source OS the best there is out there rather than for commercial reasons. The same cannot be said of the Windows side of things as an entire commercial industry has arisen to deal with the matter.
I know there will be those that will argue that Macs cost much more than PCs and though I will admit that years ago there was some truth to the added premium amounted to a Macintosh Tax; I really don’t think it applies any longer. While you can get very low-priced PCs, Apple doesn’t compete in the low end of the market and if you actually compare PCs specced out comparably to a Mac, the price difference pretty much goes away. Also, as an interesting aside, if you install Windows natively under Boot Camp, Windows will actually run faster on the Mac than on the similarly specced PC. I actually bought one of those lower end PCs (a Toshiba) for a job last year and I can tell you the build quality is nowhere close to what you get on a Mac and is slow enough booting up that I can almost make and eat my breakfast before it boots up all the way and if you own one of these bargain PCs and are truly honest with yourself, you know this is not really much of an exaggeration.
Another argument I often hear is that there is no software for Macs. To that I have to ask, just how much software does one really need? Now before you say that I am being flippantly dismissive, consider what is actually out there for both platforms. I have been on both sides of this divide for more than a quarter century and have gotten a good look at what is available. On the PC side there are a lot more programs available, but a lot of them duplicate one another, so you might have dozens of program solutions for the same problems, however, the quality of these solutions are often a crapshoot, so instead of having a plethora of choice, one is often confronted with a morass of confusion. With the exception of some vertical market solutions, whatever you might want to do, there is a software solution on the Mac, and I have invariably found that the software companies produce programs that are easier to use, work better and just plain out and out look better on the Mac than anything on the PC. In short, solutions are often more elegant on a Mac. The only software areas I can really concede ground on, other than the aforementioned vertical market programs (eg. medical and legal office software) would have to be games, and truth be told, if I were a gamer, I would much prefer to be playing games on a dedicated console and a huge HDTV and not a PC. But that is just me.
So, we’ve touched on security issues, value and software, and folks I find the PC wanting in all these areas and that leads us now to overall functionality and true cost of ownership.
With all the horror stories my friends have told me, all the problems I have seen in the workplace over the years, the downtime cleaning systems up, I don’t know how anybody gets anything done using a Windows PC. A friend of mine from high school wrote me recently to tell me that her PC is down again, probable virus infection crashing it every 5 minutes or so, and it is going to cost a pretty penny to get it fixed again. I don’t really know what her financial situation is, but I am sure she can’t be very happy about having to shell out cash to fix a problem that a malicious person out on the Internet caused. So add in the price of software to protect your machine and at $40 to $80 a year, it adds up to substantial portion of you original investment real quick, especially on the lower priced machines; adding a substantial negative to the cost of ownership. I don’t know about the rest of you, but as a photographer, musician, business owner and sometime blogger, I have better things to do than to spend my valuable time fixing, tweaking or otherwise dealing with problems on a computer that was supposed to make things easier and faster to do. From what I hear out there, that just isn’t happening on the PC side of the equation.
I bought my first Mac on October 31, 1984, the original Macintosh to replace a Timex-Sinclair Z80. In the intervening almost 26 years I have only had two problems. My ex-wife decided to kill my PowerBook 150 by slamming in on the floor and stomping it to death. Killed the hard drive, but only put a little crack in case. The other problem was when the TSA goons slammed my Powerbook G4 through the scanner in the San Jose airport back in ’05. The tray came out the other side so hard that when it hit the end of the rollers, the laptop nearly flipped out of the tray. TSA agent standing there laughed about it. Killed another hard drive, but Apple Care fixed that one; called them Sunday evening when I got home, the shipping box was on my stoop when I got home Monday after work, shipped it to Memphis that evening, got it back Wednesday evening, restored from backup and computed away happily into the sunset.
Is Apple a perfect company? No, they make their missteps. I personally think they let the Antennagate thing go on too long this summer before they addressed it, but they did eventually do the right thing. But even there, the antenna situation is something of a made-up scandal, as almost all phones suffer from the same problem, but that is beyond the scope of the article.
I am sure many PC user will try to justify or even rationalize their decision to stick with their platform, but in light of the cold, hard facts, it just doesn’t make any sense, so I will refrain from arguing with any of them, living up to some advice I received when I was growing up in the pre-computer days: “Never argue with an idiot for they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
Disclaimer: No actual PC users were harmed in the production of this blog. God knows they do enough harm to themselves.
This past Saturday afternoon I had driven Lynda to a planning conference way out on the west side of town. After the meeting and after the torrents from the sky had abated somewhat, we decided we were getting famished and needed to eat before we headed back to the house. Last fall, a former colleague of mine at the insurance company I used to work for introduced me to a small diner down Dixie Highway in the Valley Station area. With the high water and nasty traffic, it took us about 30 minutes to drive the 4 or 5 miles out Dixie to arrive at Christi’s Cafe.
Christi’s is in an old cinder block building with old metal awnings over some wide windows, right on the west side of Dixie Highway, about a mile south of the Gene Snyder. They have a tiny blacktop parking lot (which is usually full — usually a good sign of good food) in front and a large gravel lot to the side. We got out of the truck and trotted in so we wouldn’t get too soaked by the heavy drizzle, but not so fast that Lynda wasn’t able to notice the artwork on the windows (a soda and a milkshake as Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With the Wind, a sunny side up egg as Marilyn Monroe holding down her dress over the subway grate from The Seven Year Itch).
The place was packed, but we found an open table over by Marilyn’s painting. The tables and chairs are just simple ones that you would find in your usual diner that cares more about good food than creating some sort of faux ambiance, although one could have hoped for a bit more padding on the seats, but then, the service is very fast so that doesn’t really become much of an issue. The movie theme from the murals on the windows is continued on the walls with several framed pictures from various movies on the walls.
The waitress brought us a couple of laminated menus that had had several item marked off to reflect recent changes to a menu that is in want of a new printing. After bringing us a couple diet sodas, she took our order. Lynda opted for breakfast and ordered a short stack of Pecan Pancakes along with a scrambled egg and some bacon. I went for late lunch/early dinner fare by ordering a double cheeseburger (dressed) and a side of onion rings. After a very short wait our order was brought out to us.
Lynda’s eggs looked very nice and she said they were done just right, done all the way through and without any of that lacy crispness that a lot places do to their eggs whenever they let someone on the grill who doesn’t know what they are doing (most places fall into this category unfortunately). Her pancakes were a bit of a disappointment for her though. Even though they were a ginormous stack for a short stack and actually tasted wonderful in her opinion, they were just a bit too dense for her liking. I tried a bite, but I think just a little more butter and syrup would have helped out quite a bit, but they weren’t bad. She ate more than half the stack which was impressive considering how huge the portion was.
My double cheeseburger came out much larger than I anticipated. It was two very thick patties smothered in American cheese, served open-faced with an ample amount of lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion and mayo sitting on the bun. Had the onion rings been paired with a lesser burger, I might have thought the portion a bit on the skimpy side, but as it was, I was hard pressed to finish it all. I bit into the burger and am pleased to report that it was very fresh and beefy tasting, done all the way through but very juicy. It was very nice to get a well-done burger that wasn’t a dried out hockey puck. As many of my readers know, this is a pet peeve of mine and I get upset with restaurant managers telling me it can’t be done when I run into proof it can all the time. Those onion ring I mentioned earlier were perfect by the way.
Our experience was very pleasant. Even with the place being full, the noise level was such that a good conversation could be had with out shouting. The waitress was fast, attentive and friendly. It may not be trendy or chic, but the food was great and VERY reasonably priced considering how huge the potions were. Lynda and I are looking forward to going back soon.
Lynda gave them 8 out 10 stars.
I gave them 10 out of 10 stars.
Well, I had to hold back a week to write this article, because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise that we had bought one for my step-daughter, but now that she has been given hers, I can sit down and share my experiences and thoughts about the latest from Cupertino. Besides, it gave me a week to play with the iPad.
Lynda was extremely excited when the iPad was announced in January as she had been looking for a lighter solution to her mobile computing needs for a few years now. Before 2004, she couldn’t imagine needing a laptop for anything and then she decided to get a white iBook computer when I upgraded my aging PowerBook to a new one. Since then she has upgraded a couple of times to lighter but more powerful Mac laptops but still hates to travel with them because of the weight. She also took a misguided detour with an Asus EeePC netbook last summer that came to an end a few weeks ago with her selling it to a former colleague of mine after she became frustrated with its many shortcomings. The iPad sounded like a perfect solution for her as it could do most and probably all that she needed when she travels. But she hesitated and didn’t pre-order one like I thought she would because she wanted to get her hands on one before she made the leap.
We decided, literally at the last minute, on April 3rd to mosey down to the Apple Store at Oxmoor in the early afternoon to at least look and touch one to see if it would really suit her needs. Figured it was probably safe, since they should be sold out by then.
I think we were the second ones in the the non-buying, touchy-feely line. The store was crowded as it normally is on the weekend and we were ushered in with our personal Apple concierge to answer any questions we might have. We were lead to the first blonde maple table where the iPads were set up for demoing and Lynda was handed one. I could tell as soon as she had it in her hand that it was over, the look on her face said that she was not leaving the store without one. Our Apple person went through all the features but basically, just let Lynda play for a few minutes until, reluctantly, she handed it to me for a few seconds. Dang, this does feel nice!
I have to confess, I wasn’t sure I wanted one or if I really needed one. I mean, I have a perfectly serviceable MacBook Pro (has a few years on it, but it still is a really good machine) and a maxed out iPhone 3GS, so I couldn’t really justify or rationalize getting one. But, in just those few seconds I was calculating how many insurance sales I was going to have to make to buy one.
I handed the demo iPad back to Lynda and she turned to Meagan, our Apple person and asked what they still had in stock and Meagan left to check and quickly returned to inform us that they just had the 16 GB models, but they might have some of the 32 or 64 GB models that were being held for the people who reserved them for in-store pickup, but they were only being held until 3 PM if we wanted to take our chances we might be able to get one of those. We discussed it for a few seconds and decided to go ahead and get her one of the 16 GB ones and she told Meagan to get us THREE! Huh?!
While Meagan was going to get them, Lynda told me that she was getting one for her daughter too because she really wanted one bad and got the other one for me because she figured if she didn’t get one for me, she would never get to use hers because she would have to track me down and pry it out of my hands. All joking aside, she got me one because she is just the best lady a guy could be married to, although there is probably some truth to the reason she gave.
Meagan brought us our iPads and we also picked up 3 cases and AppleCare on each. A few minutes later we were checked out and on our way home.
There is nothing quite like unboxing an Apple product and it is hard to do it justice with any sort of description, so I won’t even try. Our iPads came fully charged and powered up and prompted us to hook them up to our computers and sync them with iTunes and register them, which we did. We found out, like a lot of other people did, that the USB ports on our computers do not put out enough juice to charge the iPads while they are on, but they will slowly charge them if you put the iPad to sleep. Had us scratching our heads for a few minutes there though.
Now the fun began as we started loading them up with apps that were optimized for the iPad. The first thing that happens when you go into the App Store though, is that it prompts you to download your free copy of the iBook app. I have to admit that it is a nice little app and one of the neat touches is that it includes an illustrated copy of Winnie the Pooh with it.
There are some really amazing looking apps out there and I will try to review some over the next few weeks and post here on the blog as I know several of my friends are getting an iPad very soon. There are several apps, that as I write this, have not been updated for the iPad, such as CNN and Facebook. The iPhone versions work ok on the iPad, but they reside in a window on the iPad screen that is the same size as the iPhone screen and if you hit the 2x button, they expand to fill the whole screen, but they look decidedly fuzzy and sadly just aren’t an optimal experience. Hopefully, they will be updated soon.
Now, can I really do anything on the iPad that I couldn’t do on my MacBook Pro or my iPhone? No, but that really is not the point. It is lighter and just a bit easier to handle than the MacBook Pro and the screen is a lot easier on the eyes and much easier to type on than the iPhone. By the way, this whole post is being typed in the WordPress app on the iPad, nearly as fast as I would be doing it on the MacBook Pro. The experience of surfing the web on here is different as it literally feels like you are holding the web in your hands, the iPad almost disappears after a few minutes. Watching movies is much the same, especially in a room with the lights turned down. And speaking of movies, the High Definition movies that you can buy or rent on iTunes play back very nicely on the iPad. I can’t wait to take this on my next flight. The iPhone was nice, but the iPad is so much better.
One of the big selling points covered when it was introduced in January was its use as an ebook reader and I was anxious to try it out. Lynda has a Sony Reader Touch and it does ok, except in a dark room and I had tried out a nook last winter in the local Barnes & Noble and was really disappointed in it and have even tried out a friend’s Kindle, but wasn’t that impressed with it. I have to say that the iBook app beats them all rather handily and so far have not noticed any eyestrain that I sometimes get when reading too long on the screens on my computers. It is just an enjoyable experience reading books on the iPad and can’t wait for the iBook Store to get better populated with books. I mean, it is an almost an unforgivable omission not to have Douglas Adams in there as the iPad is the closest anyone has come to his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Can’t wait for someone to come out with a Babblefish app for the iPad…
Overall, I would have to say this is an amazing piece of work, especially for a 1.0 release of a gadget to be this slick and capable and with the improvements that are coming this fall with the iPhone 4.0 software update are going to take what is already a game-changing device and make it even more useful. I already know that Apple’s competitors are rushing to come out with a slew of me-too devices over the next few months, but truthfully, I can’t see them catching up to where Apple already is for some time to come.
Post Script — My step-daughter was thrilled and shocked when we surprised her with her shiny new iPad Sunday when she flew in for Thunder Over Louisville. She thinks it is just amazing.
While attending a function at the recently re-launched Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Executive West), Lynda and I stopped in at the Blue Horse Café — a somewhat more upscale restaurant inside the hotel than whatever was in there before the renovation. The restaurant and the hotel itself looks much nicer than the last time we were there for a convention, so I do have to give the place good marks for appearances.
We were seated and promptly attended to by our waiter, who took our drink orders and quickly returned with them and took our dinner orders. My wife decided to give the $13 buffet a try and I went over to look at it, and it while it did look very nice, I just wasn’t interested in ribs or chicken, the only meat choices on the buffet. Instead — and I should point out that the menu was lacking in dishes that I would like — I ordered the Bacon Burger, but with explicit instructions to leave the bacon OFF (yes, I am weird in that I absolutely abhor the taste and even the smell of bacon) and to cook it WELL.
Lynda returned with her plate from the buffet and pronounced the all of it excellent — especially the ribs. The veggies that she brought back did look very tasty and I found myself wishing that I had decided to forego the meat and had done a veggie excursion to the buffet line. My burger finally arrived and of course, it was smothered in bacon. I recoiled from it since it was smelled strongly of it and told the waiter to take it back and have it redone and he asked if I could just pick the bacon off, to which I replied, ABSOLUTELY NOT. He reluctantly took the offending burger back to the kitchen. A few minutes later he returned with a fresh burger, sans bacon. The burger was a generous sized patty of beef but the bun was tremendously tall; I don’t think I have ever encountered a thicker bun anywhere. The accompanying fries were presented in a glass tumbler lined with wax paper and of course, they were only semi-warm, being on their second trip out from the kitchen. I bit into the burger — after inspecting it to make sure they hadn’t just peeled the bacon off in the kitchen as it seemed that it hadn’t really taken very long to bring out a well-done burger — and the first bite was overcooked and very dry. I am sure Lynda was wondering why I was staring at it dejectedly and shaking my head. Oh well, better overcooked than not cooked enough and I was starving, so…
The sautéed onions beneath the burger was starting to cause a sliding problem with it starting to scoot out of the bun, so I turned it around to try to even things up and bit in. Bloody raw! Instant appetite-killer! Apparently, the grill chef had thrown the burger on the grill’s hot-spot to expedite the burger’s return to the table, but I am guessing only half the burger made it on there, as I can find no other explanation that could account for how you could get a burger cooked biscuit dry on one side and oozing blood on the other. That was a new experience.
The manager came over and apologized and comped us for my meal and honestly tried to make things right by offering me something else, but my appetite was ruined. I suppose I should cut them some slack, since they have only been open about three weeks, and I hope they get things ironed out before we return next year.
So, it was a split decision from us:
Lynda gave them 10 out of 10 stars.
I gave them 1 out of 10 stars.
I have been setting up a new Forum page for our website this week and I am now taking it live. Hopefully it will be a good place for our readers to interact with us and with each other and perhaps help improve the site. You can find the Forum here and I have also posted the link in the sidebar in the Blogroll and my Links.
Ok, I have been trying out Twitter for a couple of weeks now and I am still not sure what to think of it. I don’t think I can do justice trying to explain Twitter, so it might be best to just go explore their website and let them handle that task. If any of my readers want to add me as a Twitter friend, I am DougRivers on there and my Twitter page can be found here. You can follow my Tweets there, and if you are on Twitter already, just click “Follow” and you can see what the heck I am up to. Lynda joined for a few days, but she got a bit uneasy with so many people following her, that she had me help her delete the account. I don’t understand why she was picking up so many followers, I have had very few people even look at my Tweets. (Although, my Twitemperature is a Hot 85° (29° C) as of the time of this writing.)
I have been experimenting with a couple of Twitter clients on the iPhone and one on my Mac as well as just posting and reading Tweets in Safari. First up is the Mac client I have been playing with: twirl
twirl is available for Macs and PCs running XP or Vista and requires Adobe’s Air to be installed on your system to work. It supports multiple accounts on Twitter, laconi.ca, Friendfeed and Seesmic. I wanted a dedicated client on my MacBook Pro, rather than relying on going to the Twitter website in Safari to read/post Tweets and I really didn’t want to have to shell out $14.95 for the Twitterrific for Mac client, so I took twirl for a whirl. Unfortunately, it has to be one of the least Mac-like programs I have used in the last couple of years, with TINY, unintuitive buttons in a 2-paned, pastel-framed window. Attractive perhaps, but frustrating to use. After playing with it for a couple of days, I can use it without straining my limited mental faculties, but for something as simple as a Twitter client, I don’t think there should be a period of having to get used to the program’s peculiar user interface conventions in order to utilize the service. I mean, if that was what I wanted, I would be using Windows, and to tell the truth, twirl feels like a bad Windows port. I will continue to use twirl for now, but the search goes on for a decent Mac client that is either free or at least under $10 — can’t justify any larger capital outlays while I a still unemployed — and I can’t really recommend twirl, except for the fact that it free and seems fairly stable.
Next up, I tried out the free Twitterrific client on my iPhone. There is also a Twitterrific Premium app available for $9.99, but I have not tested it, but would be interested in hearing from anyone who has tried both and wishes to tell me about the differences between the two by leaving a comment to this article. Twitterrific is probably the nicer looking of the two iPhone Twitter clients I have been using, with a little bird for an icon and a bigger picture of the little fellow as the app loads up and downloads your Tweets. Tweets are displayed in white text on a black background with the newest ones at the top of the screen, but if it has been a while since you have checked on things, the app opens the list where it was when you closed it and that can mean a lot of scrolling up if you follow a lot of people or if the ones you follow post a lot of Tweets — I follow TUAW and Engadget and with this week’s MacWorld Expo, there have been a LOT of Tweets in my list. The four controls at bottom of the screen are easy to understand, with circular arrows for Refresh, a talk balloon for Post a Tweet, a little page with list on it for the Detailed Info/List View toggle and a little wrench for Settings.
Personally, I wish they would just do away with the Refresh button and have the app just go out and check every few minutes for new Tweets. The Post a Tweet button is pretty straightforward, with a text box for your 140-character posting, a close button to cancel the operation if you can’t think of anything worthwhile to say — something a lot of people out in the Twittersphere should avail themselves of — a toggle button for regular Tweets (a talk balloon), Replies (a backward curved arrow) and Direct Messages (a little envelope). Next is a little camera button to post picture Tweets. The little circular crosshairs next to the camera button sends up a location Tweet to let your friends/Followers know where you are, or in my case with my 2G iPhone, hopefully within a mile of my current location. Then you have the character count so you know how much of your 140 character allotment you have used up for the current Tweet. Finally, you have send button to post your little gem of information online. The Detail Info switch brings up the selected Tweet with buttons below to Reply, see your Favorites, view User Info on the poster of the Tweet, Post a Tweet, Refresh or return to the List View. The little Settings button lets you change a few options for the app and is also where you go to enter your Twitter ID and password.
It is a nice enough app, but I really don’t like that doesn’t open at the top of the list when you open the app and doesn’t go to the top when you Refresh either. The little sounds it makes when you launch it or refresh the list is just a little too cute for my taste — can be turned off in the Settings, but I like to have audio notifications — and can be embarrassing in a group setting. Also, this app is ad supported and the ads appear as Tweets and I just find this wrong. But I really can’t knock it on price, so if that is a consideration, then give Twitterrific a look.
Last up is Tweetie, a $2.99 app that is a bit more capable than Twitterrific — as well as easier to type. Tweetie has two different themes (Chat Bubbles and Simple) to give you a choice of looks — they are selected in the Settings which is found in the iPhone’s Settings Pane, rather than in a Settings area within the app itself — and after trying both, I think I prefer the Simple theme, but to each their own.Tweetie also lets you set up multiple Twitter accounts— why one would want to is beyond me. There are more controls in Tweetie and I think they are organized much better than the other two clients I have looked at for this article. When you open the app, you find yourself in the Tweets page (at least if you have only one account like myself), with a button at top linking to a page with your various accounts to the left, Write a Tweet button to the right (with options to do Picture and Location Tweets), a Refresh button right below them — it refreshes automatically every little bit anyway, so this button is slightly redundant — and below that is the Tweet list. Along the bottom of the screen are buttons for Tweets, Replies, Messages, Favorites and More.
Most of those buttons are self-explanatory, but More takes you to a new page where you can look at your Profile (review your recent Tweets, search your Direct Message, remind yourself of exactly who you are following and who your followers are); Go to User to search for Twitter members by Screen Name; Nearby to see who is Tweeting near your current location; Trends to see what people are Tweeting about and finally Search, but I have not used it yet, so I don’t know what you can search for with it.
I find Tweetie to be the easiest to use of the three clients, it doesn’t make any cute bird noises, I can search for other people on Twitter and add them to my Follow list or stop following them from within Tweetie, I can see what people nearby are Tweeting about, and if I click on an url (usually a tinyurl link), the built in browser is much better than the one in Twitterrific. So, after two weeks of Tweeting, I am going to give the nod to Tweetie.
I am still new to Twitter, so I have probably made a great many errors in Twitter etiquette, so please forgive my ignorance.