Friday, September 15, 2017

iPhone X Keynote

Straight out of camera photo taken with iPhone 7 Plus by Maruk.A couple of thoughts with regards to Apple’s latest event where iPhone X was announced among other things. A little bit on each topic of any interest to me.

Apple TV


Apple TV is getting upgraded to support 4K video. And even though we ended up with a 4K TV a while ago we already have a 4th generation Apple TV — previous one — and it already runs tvOS. So we have no plans to upgrade. The quality is plenty good for us.

The good news is that Apple said that all the HD content that you have purchased through iTunes will be upgraded to 4K for free. And we do have quite a bit of movies purchased. That’s nice to have for the time when we do upgrade to 4K. Haven’t touched our blu-ray or DVD content in ages — all that feels so dated.

Apple Watch


Apple has announced a 3rd generation of Apple Watch which has an option for an LTE chip. I currently wear 2nd generation and it serves my needs just fine. On-board LTE also cost an additional $10 per month from our carrier — AT&T. Really have no need to pay anything extra to AT&T. No upgrade.

The Phones


This is the most interesting category. I will preface this by saying that I take an enormous amount of photographs with my phone. My current Instagram library contains 2,245 pictures and that is curated content only. Camera is one of the most important features of my phone. Continue Reading

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105

2017 Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105.After spending more than 6 months on stationary bike spinning pedals every single day and after putting our real Cannondale Synapse on a trainer we thought that we’re ready to get back on a pair of real bicycles. As I said we’ve already had one very good cycling machine from a couple of years back, so we needed to expand our current road bike collection by one more unit.

Shimano breaks.I did some research and with my mind made up we visited our favorite local bike store. The owner — Allen — was in and he is our favorite guy to work with. I had my heart set on 2017 Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105 racing road bike. And what do you know — they had the exact model in my size handing on display. I took it for a spin around the block and I knew I wanted it.

Shimano components.For future reference I want to attach some pricing information — as it turned out to be useful this time around. The MSRP on this particular bicycle was $2,199 without pedals until very recently when Cannodale dropped it to $1,999 several weeks ago. Allen sold it to us for $1,700 with pedals included. Essentially this is aluminum price territory of CAAD12.

Clip-in side of the pedal.So as it becomes clear from all of the above SuperSix is top of the line carbon frame from Cannondale’s racing line fitted with Shimano 105 componentry. It’s as stiff as CAAD12, but does absorb more shock from the road. Our Cannondale Synapse was more of an endurance bike and we had it refitted and adjusted for Alёna free of charge by our shop.

Platform.As for the pedals — I went for something similar that I had before. This particular pedal has a clip-in mechanism on one side and a platform for any other shoe on the other. Since I haven’t ridden on a bike with cleats in a long time I wanted to have this option. Now we just have to stick with this and put some serious miles on these bikes.

Some stickers removed. Work in progress.

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Phone Car Mount

Phone mounted via a CD slot magnetic phone holder.I drive quite a bit as my commute to work comes out to 120 miles round trip. During those trip my phone is on most of the time running one or more application to make that driving easier. Among other things I typically use Waze for social alerts about the road conditions, Overcast to play one of the numerous podcasts I subscribe to or Pandora to play one of the custom radio stations, depending on the mood of the day.

Koomus Pro CD-Slot - M car mount.I typically used to put the phone into an opening next to cup holders down into the console between the seats. And it’s less than convenient to reach down there and pickup the phone up to check on the alert, switch a podcast or rate a song.

Koomus Pro CD-Slot - M car mount.Because of that I wanted to get a convenient car mount for my phone to raise it to the eye level. The most common holders are mounted on the air vents or are attached to the windshield. I didn’t really want to glue anything anywhere. Both of those options have problems — I don’t want hot air blowing onto my phone during winters and I don’t want to block air vents in general. And mounting on the windshields obstructs the view of the road and would be too far to conveniently reach.

With phone attached.The other day however I stumbled upon another way to mount the holder that I haven’t heard of before — CD slot. This is probably the least used piece of the whole entertainment system in my car that also happens to take quite a bit of space. And it seems mounting the phone via it is a perfect solution for my car. The position of the phone doesn’t block any vital controls or the main screen and is very easy to reach.

Case and the metal plate.I opted it for a magnetic car mount — easy to just stick the phone on without fiddling with the arms of the mount — made by Koomus. The only downside is that you need to attach a metal plate to the phone for the magnet to work. There are two options — glue it on or put it between the phone and the case. I had a spare Apple case layout around that we got by accident for free, but I prefer my phone without the case. So that’s the downside. Now I have a case. Gluing the plate is an uglier option.

Vertically mounted.The magnetic hold is very very strong. I tried attaching the phone to the mount and waving my hand with it violently. It doesn’t budge. Initial driving tests went well. It really is convenient to have it there. It’s easy to put on and take off and it stays dead still while driving.

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Apple Watch

Apple WatchAt the end of June I have bought myself the Apple Watch. Now that I have lived with it for over two months I want to share some thoughts regarding my experiences with the watch.

Decision


There is no need to go and check back into my older posts with regards to the watch. Yes, I did say that I’m not going to buy the first generation. I do admit it. Two things really pushed me into it.

When the watch came out I’ve read numerous reviews and blog posts filled with mostly positive feedback. That’s factor one. Another thing came about when we visited a local Apple Store to pick up some accessories for my dad for Father’s Day. We walked into the store and there they were. Alёna looked at me and said — “You can get one if you want it.” How can a gadget lover like myself resist such an offer?

I tried a bunch on, picked out the kit that I liked the most and — they didn’t have ANY in stock at all. Sold out because of Father’s Day. So I came home and placed an order online — 3-4 weeks wait time. Three days later though I was checking for stock at the stores around the area and one had an exact thing that I was looking for. I made a reservation and two hours later I had a box with my brand new Apple Watch in my hands.

Picking The Model


Apple Watch. 42mm Stainless Steel Case Watch with Bright Blue Leather Loop.I had a pretty good idea of the model that I would like to get right after the announcement. I have confirmed it during my first visit to the Apple Store. And even though the watch starts from $350, the prices of various upgrades and options add up to a hefty amount.

Want 42mm version instead of 38mm? $50. Want stainless steel instead of aluminum? $200. Want a leather band instead of a rubber one? Another $100. So my particular watch totaled out at $700. Another bracelet that I was considering was a steel bracelet, but it was another $400 instead of $100 for leather and it seemed a bit too bulky in person, even though it was much lighter than I expected.

I ended up picking out a 42mm Stainless Steel Case Watch with Bright Blue Leather Loop. I was actually thinking of getting either black or brown one, but Alёna thought that a blue one was much more interesting. Thinking about it I did agree. It’s a pretty dark blue (even though it’s called bright) and goes well with jeans that I wear on daily basis most of the time.

Experience


Heartbeat sensor.By now I have worn this watch from early morning to the late night every single day since I bought it. It has been many years now that I have worn the same watch for even seven days in a row, before this one. I like how it looks on my hand, but most of all I like the functionality that it gives me, and the killer app that I don’t want to be without — more on that later.

I like how the bracelet doesn’t have a fixed width and I can tighten it to my comfort. Sometimes I like it tighter, sometimes I like it looser. By the end of the day though my hand does kind of feel tired if I had it on tight setting all day long — but heart beat sensor seems to works better with the watch closer to the skin. The magnets in the bracelet are very strong and I haven’t had it come loose on its own a single time.

The battery life is perfectly fine. Yes, you do have to charge the watch every night (although I had days when went without an overnight charge just fine). I do however prefer to top off the batters on my phone and the watch nightly. Typically by the end of the full day use I’m at about 50% of battery reserve. So battery has not been an issue.

Software


The core software that comes with the watch seems decent enough. There is a number of decent looking watch faces — although a screen can’t really compare with aesthetics of a real thing. Most of the faces have a number of user settable complications — little gadgets with information. Third party software support is there, but it’s not usable. Only the UI shows up on the watch and everything else has to happen on the phone. This makes everything very slow and useless.

Apps.The only 3rd party app that i use at this time is Overcast to switch between podcasts when I’m on my bicycle or when I don’t want to pull the phone out. I would love to get good experience with Darksky and Fantastical but it’s not quite there yet because of watch OS limitations. All that is about to get fixed with watch OS 2. Really native 3rd party app support and 3rd party complications. This will open up a lot of possibilities.

Simple.Currently I use Simple watch face with four complications — Activity (fitness information), Date and Day, Calendar (shows next event) and Digital Time. Glances are simple screens that can be pulled out when in Watch mode. I use only three at this time — Settings (airplane mode, sound), Heartbeat (lets you have the watch measure your heart rate) and Battery (not really needed anymore).

Killer Apps


Workout goals.These are the things that I find very helpful and use on daily basis. There is only a handful of them, but here is where the watch excels over the phone.

Move goals for each day of the week.Activity and Workout — this is the pair that keeps me wanting to wear the watch every day. Activity is a simple motivator app which makes you want to fill out 3 simple circles on daily basis — active calories burned (you can set your own goal), 30 minutes of exercise (anything like a brisk walk and above counts) and moving at least a little bit each hour for 12 hours or more per day. This actually seems to be a pretty good motivator for me to be active more.

Goals.I do try to achieve all these 3 goals every day. I get up every time it tells me to and run up a couple of flights of stares. I actually got out my bicycle out of storage and did some riding. And I walk a lot more than I used to. Strangely enough I would hate to walk now and not get credit for it — the watch must be on. Vacation do throw a wrench into those goals for me though. I lose my routine and have to make an effort to get back into it after one.

Apple Pay.Apple Pay is so much better with the watch. I love using Apple Pay in general. But with the phone there is a bit of an anxiety of getting your fingerprint being read right. People behind you are waiting, the cashier is waiting — not comfortable experimenting with your tech. With the watch you just have to double press the side button, credit card comes up on the screen, move the watch to the reader, fill a little tap on your wrist — done. Works every single time without a fail.

Communications.Communication encompasses in it several things. It’s great for an SMS to come in and show up on your wrist. You can respond to it with a bunch of pre-canned responses or send a message back via Siri — which by the way has gotten much better at understanding me. You can also initiate communication with a list of your favorites by hitting the side button once. You can start a call or send a message. Has been very useful to fire a short message to my wife without taking my hand of the top of the steering wheel.

Modular.Other group of little niceties is also there. Using the watch as a viewfinder for your camera phone, getting walking directions via maps on your wrist, seeing Slack and other pre-selected notifications and actually picking up and having a phone call. I was surprised that I would ever use it, but it certain situations it has been quite convenient.

Activity medal.The next version of OS that is about too land will definitely expand the horizons with useful software and I’m looking forward to that.

In the Wild


I’ve been surprised by the number number of comments and inquires that I’ve gotten by wearing the watch. My most expensive watches don’t get nowhere near the same kind of interest that this little watch seems to produce. I was also quite surprised at the number of people that I’ve run up against with Apple Watch on their wrist. Close to 20 sightings in these months and for a gadget like this that’s a lot.

Activity.6In all my time before that I’ve seen only two smart watches or any other brand — one Motorola 360 and one Pebble watch. So by the standards of smart watches Apple seems to be doing quite well.
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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Compulsory TV Upgrade

New TV. Samsung UN50JU7100.Unexpectedly for us we had to upgrade our TV. The whole thing started somewhere in the middle of August when our daughter decided that our TV needed some cleaning. With the use of a glass of water and her toothbrush she managed to do a pretty thorough job by the time we noticed it.

At first a thick vertical gray line appeared. Then everything got covered by fog. Then lines started to spread. And eventually in a course of a couple of days the whole screen turned to pretty colorful lines and nothing else was coming through. Our 46″ Samsung TV that we bought at the end of 2009 was done.

Our new TV.After doing a bit of research I decided to settle on 50″ Samsung JU7100 — 4K TV. Another choice was Vizio M series, but the best screens are used on 55″ and bigger units and 50″ was the biggest we could fit. But on both Wirecutter and CNET Samsung came highly recommended.

Over the last six years the UI of Samsung has improved significantly. Everything is fast and responsive. The old was completely useless. Although we still watch most of our content through Apple TV which is also about to get significantly updated by Apple. We’ll probably upgrade it eventually as well. We bought our TV at P.C. Richard & Son where we got a good deal on it, as always.

TV remote with Wii-like controller behavior.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Swarovski Starry Night Watch

Swarovski Piazza Starry Night lady's watch.The first time I saw this watch — at Swarovski shop in Munich — I thought that it would make a great New Year gift for Alёna. I figured when I get to New York I’ll just go to one of the many Swarovski boutiques in the area and buy one. I wanted to do this as close to New Year as possible so Alena wouldn’t spot it on a credit card statement, as we share everything, including our finances.

On Alёna's wrist.To my dismay I found out that it’s a special edition item and no stores in the area had any. My only option was to order it online and it was too close to New Year at this point to get it delivered in time. I got a backup gift thinking that there was no way I will get it. The backup gift was another Swarovski watch, but it was nowhere as beautiful as this one. To my surprise, however, it got to our house on December 31st. Perfectly in time to go under the New Year’s tree.

The back side.And then there is a special bracelet. Alёna has a very thin wrist and I was sure that it would be too big. But I worried the most about the fact that there was a possibility that it wouldn’t be adjustable. And indeed that was true. Bracelet was too big and no normal watch place could do anything. Our local Swarovski shop said that they don’t do it either, but they pointed us to another Swarovski store that does have a special tool. It took several months before that place would actually get around to doing it, but finally it’s all done.
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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens

Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens.Recently I had a chance to acquire a lens that is made by an old Soviet factory (KMZ — Zenit) near Moscow from an old friend who was selling off his Nikon gear for a good price. I wanted to experiment with a fisheye lens for quite some time, but buying a new one made by Nikon or even Zenit didn’t make sense for such a specialty lens.

Autoportrait through a fisheye.The lens is a manual focus lens and even though it doesn’t feel as good as my f/1.2 Nikkor it is decent enough to achieve decent focus. In camera digital focus confirmation works most of the time. Also the lens achieves infinity focus at about 1.2 meters. It also is the first lens in my collection that make SLR self portraits possible. Not that it’s what I’m going to keep using it for.

Fisheye view from the window.The next thing that I want to try with it is taking landscape shots and seeing what kind of interesting or peculiar results I can achieve. I was told that it is decently sharp at f/8 which seems to be the case, but I haven’t tried shooting at a wider aperture myself yet. Overall it is proving to be a fun toy.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Zeppelin 100 Years German Watch

Zeppelin 100 Years German made watch.All throughout our vacation in Germany we kept looking for a replacement for my recently departed leather band watch. Obviously there are tons and tons of choices to pick from. We wanted something inexpensive and it had to come with a brown leather band.

Zeppelin watch on my hand.After having zero luck in finding something that would look nice I found one in the Sky Mall catalog on the plane back home of all places. I have never bought anything this way and to my surprise they had it all in stock. I really liked the watch for its retro design, its brand and the fact that it was made in Germany. A nice memento from our trip.

The backside of the watch. Sorry about the upside-down text.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

iPhone 6

iPhone 6.It’s been more than a month now since I’ve gotten a new iPhone and I wanted to jot down my views and impressions to this point. This is not really a review, but a story about my personal usage of hardware and software that is available on iOS. I’ll start with the fact that I’ve bought iPhone 6 (4.7″ version) with 64GB1 (16GB was getting tight) in white. I just like to alternate my colors and I think this one looks particularly great in white.

Form Factor


As we all know this is the first time that Apple has released two new iPhones at the same time2 — iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Right from the start I knew that 5.5″ iPhone is not for me. I wasn’t quite sure how happy the fact that I had to go from 4″ to 4.7″ was. On one hand having a bigger screen was appealing. On another I really valued the portability of iPhone 5.

iPhone 6. Not possible for me to reach all places of the screen holding it this way.Now having the new phone for a while I can says that I wish it was a little bit smaller than it is. It just is big enough not to fit into my hand comfortably. I can’t grip it the way I want and as a result I end up resting the phone on my fingers when I use it with one hand and turns out I do use it with one hand quite often. The back side is quite slippery and I often feel that I might drop it. It makes it feel so insecure that I’m considering getting a leather case for it.

This is how I need to hold it to use with one hand. Unsafe.This brings me to the my next point — the actual design. It feels great. The rounded edges and tapered glass is so pleasant to the touch — a real contrast to the previous 4 hard edged phones. Sliding from the edge of the phone (back gesture for example) feels so natural. By putting a case on it this nice feel would go away. I’m not sure I want that trade off. The case would make it less slippery, a bit bulkier and would tuck the camera in. It would also hide a nice handy little mirror on the back of the phone in the form of Apple logo.

This is how I used to hold older iPhones. How tiny is this iPhone 4S though?Back to the screen size itself — it really is nice having a larger screen. Lately I have been doing quite a bit more reading on the phone since there is a lot of competition for iPad in our house between Arosha, Alena and myself. And being able to read on this new screen I don’t even have a need for iPad anymore. Also it’s amazing how quickly we get used to good things. When I had to set something up on Alena’s old 4S3 I was really shocked how tiny tiny that screen is. It really seemed astonishing to me.

iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6.The phone fits just OK in my pockets and even here it could be a little bit smaller. I’m looking forward to the day when Apple makes the screen go from edge to edge and reduce the physical size of this device just a tad. iPhone 6 Plus is just way too enormous and would in no way work for me.

New Features


Since I’m going from iPhone 5 directly to iPhone 6 there is a slew of new features for me. I’ve covered the most obvious upgrade of the screen, but there is a number of less visible (no pun intended) features. I’m really enjoying Touch ID. I’ve always had my phone locked with a pass code and having an ability to replace that with a longer password and not having to type it in is great. Touch ID works very well — it’s precise and quick.

Touch ID.The processor is much faster, but I don’t really notice it as the old phone was plenty fast. However this phone has a new motion chip (5S had it too) that tracks your steps and now stairs you climb. I found it really motivational and prefer to take the steps every time I have a chance instead of riding an elevator.

I’m also looking forward to using a new Apple Pay system with an NFC chip that is present in the new phone. Hopefully it becomes a real thing and becomes widely supported. It just got rolled out this past Monday. Adding cards was a breeze, and it seems to work in more places than I originally believed. I had a chance to try it at a no-name gas station that had an NFC enabled pay machine and it worked. And judging from the Internet buzz that will be the case — any place that has NFC machines will take Apple Pay.

But one of the biggest and most enjoyable upgrades is the camera. That one deserves its own section.

Camera


I’ll start with the fact that this phone comes with a little bit of a “non-Apple” quirk with the regards to the camera — it sticks out of the phone. It’s clear that Apple was faced with a decision of either making it flush with this thin phone and thus degrading its quality or make a sacrifice in “design perfection” to preserve and improve the functionality of the camera. I’m very very happy with the choice they made.

iPhone 6 camera and flash.My iPhone is by far my most used camera. Alena and I take tons and tons of family photographs with it. By making it focus faster and improving night time photography it gives us even more value. I’m also quite impressed with the True Tone flash Apple has introduced in 5S and carried over to this new phone. Before I would always have the camera on off and would never bother with it as it would just ruin the mood of any photograph with its cold blue light. After a few tests of the new flash I have it set to auto.

Taken with iPhone 6.The auto HDR mode also works well. It’s easier to capture a high dynamic range photograph with an iPhone than my SLR. SLR would need to be set on a tripod, and then it would take some amount of work in post to get the desired image. iPhone just takes one button press. Of course that works if the light range is a tad more than a single SLR shot can capture, but if the light range is high enough — well, SLR is your weapon.

iPhone mounted on tripod via Glif by Studio Neat.The new camera also has very cool video capabilities — slow-motion video at 240FPS is quite impressive. Actually the fact that the phone can capture video at such speed is not just impressive — it’s amazing. Fast focusing during video also works very well. I also enjoy making timelapse4 and hyperlapse videos. iPhone being our only video camera sure gets it a lot of use. And there is zero need for anything else.

Taken with iPhone 6.During our latest trip to Pocono Mountains I also have discovered the fact that it can take great macro photos. I’m using Camera+ (3rd party app) for it — check it out if you like the samples.

iPhone 6.Overall I’m very very happy with what Apple has been doing with regards to the camera. Even though it’s no SLR, I have it with me everywhere and all the time, while that is far from the case with my SLR which I still love dearly.

Taken with iPhone 6, post-processed.A side note is that I use two camera apps the most — swipe from the bottom for stock camera and Instagram. Also on some occasions I use Camera+ as I mentioned above.

Software


iOS 8 brought a lot of nice behind the scenes changes — extensions being the biggest one. I already have a lot of great apps that have instantly became much more useful once they have been updated to utilize the new extensions. 1Password is one obvious example — automatically inputs your credentials into login forms not inside an internal browser, but in Safari itself.

Before update for iPhone 6 screen.After update to support iPhone 6 screen.A lot of developers are taking their sweet time to get their apps updated for the bigger screen. Most apps run in zoom mode, which essentially rends apps in 4″ screen mode and then scales them up. I don’t really notice any blur, but the ones that have been updated do take full advantage of the bigger screen. The biggest tell if the app has been updated or not is the status bar on top. It gets blown up when any non-updated app starts.

My Homescreen


The most important thing of any platform is software. Software is what makes the phone. Now here is a list of software on my phone that I find the most useful. It’s organized in a quite simple manner — dock has my most used apps, home screen has apps that I use on daily basis, second screen has software that I use almost daily, third screen has a bunch of games my fourth screen has a collection of folders that I don’t use as often, but still like having on my phone.

Homescreen.Second screen.

I won’t go over every single one, but I will make a short list of the most interesting stuff on my phone:
  • Instagram — I personally don’t use it for its social aspects, but for its integration with Twitter. This is the fastest way for me to take a photograph and post it to our blog thanks to that Twitter integration and my blog to Twitter integration.

    I also love the fact that we can order posters and calendars from our Instagram collections with services like Printstagram. I like the map that it builds with its geolocation feature.

    Having said all that I have to point out that I use the stock camera app a lot as well by sliding to it from the lock screen.

  • Google Maps — I have given Apple Maps a go when it came out. I gave it another chance when iOS 8 came out. It still doesn’t cut it. Google Maps along with its search capability is unbeatable.

  • Fantastical — the best calendar replacement out there. With a lot of meetings and appointments spread out between different calendars stock calendar app doesn’t cut it at all. Fantastical presents you with a great visual view as to how your day looks. It also supports natural language to create and manage events among many other great features.
  • Continue Reading

  1. All my previous phones have been 16GB, but the current version is a rip-off. []
  2. 5C doesn’t really fall into this category as it was iPhone 5 “recased”. []
  3. Alena got my iPhone 5 after we got it back from Apple with a warranty repaired sleep button. []
  4. Using old mini-tripod with Glif mount from Studio Neat works really well. []
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