iPhone 5: Are you Siri-us?

iPhone_5_34Hi_Stagger_FrontBack_Black_PRINTYes, I know Siri came out before the 4S. But, it was the 4S that made Siri more common. With the release of the iPhone 5, however, Siri is probably the most well known and used non-existent assistant ever.  And, for good reason.

First, let’s talk iPhone 5.  The phone is nice looking, thin and light-almost too thin.  It is a tad taller than the 4 and 4s, which means it has more screen.  That’s nice, but not a huge selling point since it is the same width.  Apple, if you want to make the screen taller, make it wider as well or just don’t bother.

Size difference aside, iPhone 5 is an iPhone 4 or 4s with a faster (much faster) processor.  So, I’m not going to indulge in another iPhone 5 review. Suffice it to say, it’s a decent smartphone with a really good eco-system.

Now, what really makes it shine, however, is Siri.  I have to admit to being a tad (ok, a LOT) skeptical that Siri was nothing more than Apple induced hype.  Well, some of it is just that, hype. But, there is a real utility to Siri and that is enough to make it worthwhile to upgrade to iPhone 4s or 5. 

Siri, put simply, is a combination of on phone software and a robust back end. Siri, at its core, is a glorified search engine. It searches both your phone and the internet for answers to questions that you ask, verbally.  Any question is fair game, unless you ask Siri about NASCAR, at which point Siri is totally useless. More on that in a moment.

You can ask very serious questions, like what’s the current temp or what’s on my schedule for today. Or, if you are like my kids, ask it stupid things, like ‘Who let the dogs out?’ (which, by the way, she will answer. Go ahead, try it. I won’t spoil it for you.)  My 15 year old carried on a conversation with her for about ten minutes. It was quite entertaining.

Apple is using Google, Yahoo! sports and Wolfram Alpha. With the latest iOS 6 update, you can also purchase movie tickets via Fandango. So, there is lots of useful things you can use Siri for, except, as stated earlier, questions regarding NASCAR. For whatever reason, Apple chose to exclude the nation’s number one spectator sport.  You can ask her about the current year stats in baseball and football (other ‘sports’ are, I’m sure, there as well) but not about NASCAR.  So, why are they prejudiced about the country’s most popular spectator sport? It isn’t Yahoo! Sports, I know. They cover the sport nicely. No, it has to be someone in Apple.  Someone who still thinks it is not a sport or it’s a southern thing.  Whatever. You can’t fix stupid, I suppose.

Sport elitism aside, Siri is, dare I say, pretty cool. Makes me wish I had it on my iPhone 4 that I use everyday. But, I am not going to fret too much. In another year and a half, I can upgrade my 4 to a 5.  If, that is, Sprint still does not have a decent Windows 8 Phone.

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Windows 8/RT on your iPad? Sort of, with Smartglass for XBOX

smartglass2The Windows RT environment (the old “metro” for those of us who liked that name) is a rather elegant and clean interface.  It is one that lends itself to a variety of devices, from smartphones, computers and tablets and the video game consoles, specifically, the XBOX.

During the last E3 game conference, Microsoft demoed ‘Smartglass’, its answer to the Wii-U and other handheld and console combos, like Sony’s ill-designed Vita and PS3. In a nutshell, Smartglass is a means to present secondary game play or other information from the XBOX to a second screen. It also lets you remote control your XBOX.

At is simplest level, Smartglass is an application that works with the XBOX. There are version for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, iPhone and iPad and Android.  You can get the app from the respective app store.  Windows 8, during install, however, found my XBOX and automatically configured Smartglass.

I also checked out the iOS version for iPad.  smartglass4Boy, the Windows RT environment would work very, very well on iPads.  Forgetting for a moment that I was actually using RT on an iPad, I was really drawn into the application and found myself doing things that are actually easier with Kinect or a controller, like navigating the XBOX dashboard.

Since I do not yet have any SmartGlass enabled applications, I was limited to checking out things like the new browser and getting stats and other information. Using the iPad as a remote control was pretty cool and really useful for text entry since it will take advantage of the iPad on screen keyboard.

The new browser for XBOX is nice. I was able to browse to smartglass1sights I visit the most, like Facebook, the Verge and my own blog. Each rendered correctly and videos played correctly.  Using Smartglass on iPad made browsing really easy..but..here’s the thing, if I want to browse, I’m probably going to actually use the iPad for browsing and not the XBOX. However, the browser does open up more content for your big screen (like Vimeo and the commercial networks) so it does have SOME utility. And, if you do not have a secondary device, you CAN use the controller to enter the URL, but it is a pain. You can use Smartglass to set up favorites and pin them to the dashboard and THEN use the controller.

Osmartglass6ne of the things Smartglass will do is show you your most used/played games and apps.  The recents page will show you played or used recently and you can tap on the tile to restart the app or game.

Smartglass really shines with the XBOX store. You can browse the store on the secondary device while the XBOX is doing something else. You can purchase music, apps or video in Smartglass and it will show up on the XBOX.

smartglass5Smartglass also lets you manage your XBOX account and avatar. You can customize your avatar on the iPad and it is updated almost immediately on XBOX. I think I prefer this over customizing the avatar directly on the XBOX.  I can use the funky XBOX controllers for games, but anything else? Forget it, I have the worst time.  Using touch on the iPad is more intuitive and convenient.

Perhaps the easy access to your gaming achievements is the coolest thing about Smartglass. You get complete breakdowns, by game, of all of your XBOX achievements. Now, I love to play games, but stick mostly to the Call of Duty games on XBOX, but, I smartglass8can imagine, others play a plethora of games so this feature is probably going to be the most important to these users.

Overall, Microsoft did an excellent job of bringing the RT environment to iOS and making it useful. Smartglass is, very likely, the nicest looking and smoothest iOS app out there.  And, best of all, it is free.

iPhone 4: they finally arrived and they aren’t bad

iphone4When last we met, I had ordered two iPhone 4’s for my wife and son. The phones arrived a day after ordering them, thank you Sprint.  Turns out the online ordering and delivery was a decent experience. Activating them, however, not so much. 

Following the directions on the web site, I carefully key in the IMEI numbers. One worked, the other did not. The one that ‘worked’ did not fully activate. I had to call Sprint for both phones.  Let me tell you, I DO NOT LIKE those damned automated answering systems these companies insist on using.

Fortunately, I got right through to a very nice young lady who helped me out fairly quickly. She not only got the phones activated, she also checked to see if the Windows 8 phones were on the horizon for Sprint. She found nothing, which is about what I expected.  At any rate, she was very polite, very friendly and, more importantly, very helpful.  Sprint seems to be stepping up their game in the customer service arena.

Once the phones were activated and working, I wanted to upgrade iOS. Other than just taking a lot of time, that went pretty easily.  I upgraded my son’s phone first and then my wife’s. While upgrading hers, I put my son’s music and iPod Touch apps on his iPhone. That was pretty easy and the only thing he lost was a song I bought for him a few months ago. Not sure why the track would not transfer. We got the apps and music transferred that he wanted and he is happy with his new phone.

My wife’s phone was easy to set up and, considering she had a Blackberry flip phone (it was a smartphone, but it was junk) she has stepped up considerably in the smartphone world.  I had to update iTunes on her laptop just so it would even recognize the phone (upgraded to iOS 6.)

So far, I am impressed with the iPhone. While Apple’s claim of ‘it just works’ is far from the truth, the simple fact is that iOS is superior to Android, the quality of the iPhone 4 is way better than that Samsung Intercept or HTC EVO Shift of mine (the Intercept was my son’s old phone.)  And, from what I have seen and heard today, I may be getting an iPhone 4 for myself. I want the Windows Phone 8, but it looks like Sprint is holding out on the phones.  Not happy about that, but I am not switching carriers for a phone.

While getting the phone proved to be an adventure (see my previous post) and activating was not perfect, this has turned out to be an not too bad experience and the phone is fairly impressive. And, best of all, both my son and my wife love the phone and, really, that is all that matters.

Snoopy gets a new phone! Or is that Apple announces new iphones?

Today was THE big reveal day…the day we had been waiting a very long time to take place.  Yes, we finally heard the big news today.

And, what’s the big news? Kings Dominion is adding a 7 acre Planet Snoopy kiddie area to the park! Isn’t that exciting?

Oh, wait…not THAT news.  Ah, got it.

iPhone5_001You want to know about what APPLE said, right? Well, they sold a boat load of computers and iOS devices and iOS 6 is right around the corner. There are new iPods coming and, oh yeah, a new phone too.

iPhone 5 will sport a bigger 4 inch screen, an Apple A6 Microprocessor which, according to Apple, along with the new GPU, will double the performance of the device over the 4S.  Apple says ‘we added a fifth row’ of icons.  Naturally, with all of that space, applications need to be redesigned to use the resolution and full screen.  Of course, Apple’s own apps are updated. Non-Apple apps, however, get displayed letterbox style.  No stretching to fill the screen.

New cameras, iOS 6, bigger phone, higher resolution display, improved WiFi and…the biggest news? LTE.  LTE is the next generation cell radio. Higher speed, referred to as ‘4G LTE.’  Two times – or more – faster than 3G but not as ubiquitous.  Sprint, AT&T and Verizon in the States, Rogers in Canada and in Japan. The UK will also have an LTE version.

One other major change…the dock connector, long rumored to be going away, is now much smaller. Called Lightening, the connector is only nineiPhone_5_34Hi_Stagger_FrontBack_Black_PRINT pins and can be plugged in either way. There is, of course, an adaptor to let you use all of your current accessories with the new phone.

The software, naturally, has been enhanced and much effort was placed in the camera software. A nice panorama feature was added and the camera itself got a major update from the lens to the image sensor (which is now 8megapixels and, if the photos are real, the pictures look gorgeous.)

The iPhone 3GS is history and now the iPhone 4 fills the low end spot.  The 4 is going to be fully subsidized, meaning it is free on contract, the 4S is $99 and the 5 is $199. The price points are very enticing, if you want to lock yourself in a two year contract and the Apple ecosystem.

iPod_nano_7Up_PB_PF_wPods_PRINTSpeaking of ecosystem…iPods got updates as well. The Nano was most dramatic.  Sporting a 2 and a half inch touch screen, the new Nano is bigger, but thinner, than the previous model. It now plays video (again) and features an improved touch interface. 

iPod Touch gets much of the same improvements as iPhone 5, but instead of the A6 processor, it gets the A5, still a capable processor. It also gets the 4 inch retina screen, iOS 6, 8mp camera, improved WiFi and a built in Wii Controller like strap.  Apple seems to be positioning the Touch as a game player first and foremost (why else would the include the strap?) and a media consumption device second.

The improved products should bring in billions more for the company, but, really, none of it is earthshattering. The changes to iPhone are nice and the bigger screen was necessary but, really, nothing all that great.  I think I was more excited over the Nano than anything else. Well, that FREE iPhone 4 doesn’t look to bad, but it isn’t a Windows Phone 8 either.

Drool and lust worthy: Apple Macbook air and pro line

This past Monday, Apple held the start of it’s WWDC, the developer’s conference, in which they show off new versions of hardware and software.  This years keynote address showed off more  features of OS X Mountain Lion, the introduction of iOS 6 and refinements to the hardware line.  Specifically, new MacBook Air and Pro models. 

The thing with the Apple notebooks is that they are lustworthy. Absolutely lustworthy. I want one. One of each.  Really.

Man, that MacBook Pro has to be the sexiest piece of computer hardware I have ever seen. The thinness, the sleek shape, the nice coloring, the beautiful screen and the fast processor. Man, put Windows 7 on that and you’d have one helluva notebook.

The problems, though, that plagued these lusty machines are insurmountable, though. Starting with price. Apple is a premium hardware company, the Lexus of computers.  Buuut, unlike Lexus, they are more akin Studebaker.  Stude-what, you say? Studebaker, for those who do not know, was a car maker in the United States until about 1964 when the parent company decided there was more money in refrigerators than cars. The Avanti, the top of the line Studebaker, actually lived on for another thirty years. There were cars produced in small quantities. This made parts more expensive and service was not as plentiful as, say, Chevy.  Ditto Apple hardware. Now, I am not saying they are unreliable, no, I’m saying that when you want to upgrade one or when they do have a problem, it is far more difficult than if you had purchased a Dell.

iFixit has already analyzed the new notebooks and the news is not good.  You can forget any do it yourself notions.  Memory is soldered on the motherboard, the solid state drives (flash storage…kind of funny given Apple’s anti-Flash stance) are not standard and also soldered. The batteries, apparently, are not user accessible either.  The wonderful Retina display is, apparently, a sealed unit, meaning the light source is not user replaceable. It looks as if Apple made each major component inaccessible to the user.  Protect that parts and labor markup.

Bottom line: don’t bother getting these right away.  If you can, wait a bit and get these things on sale.  Paying full price just does not make a lot of sense.