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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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.


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.


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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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

iOS 7

iPhone 5 running iOS 7.This year I’m making a serious attempt at demonstrating an inkling of self control and not buying a new iPhone 5S even though the new Touch ID and update to the camera and flash are quite tempting. Maybe we’ll trade-in our iPhone 4 and 4S some time later when things calm down to see if that would cover the cost of a new one.

However we still do get to have some fun with a brand new iOS 7. Just finished getting all our iOS devices updated which took quite some time. Apple servers are coming apart at the seams from all the demand right now.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

iPhone 5

Black Apple iPhone 5.On September 21st at 3 AM Eastern time Apple started a pre-order process for iPhone 5. I, as opposed to my friends, was sound asleep. During all previous years one had a whole full day to place an order and assure oneself and new phone delivered on the first day of release. This year was different. An initial batch of new iPhones has sold out within an hour of going up for sale.

I decided not to do a pre-order at all and try my luck at a local store(s) on the first day of release and so I did. I woke up at 6 AM. My original plan was to go to Apple Store Staten Island, but I dreaded going there knowing that the line would be enormous. So I figured I’ll make a slight detour through Brighton Beach Avenue and see if an AT&T store there has a long line.

The line was short enough that I decided to find parking and take my chances here. Store opened at 8 and in 15 minutes AT&T rep came out and proclaimed that 32GB phones were gone. Fine, that works for me, though I, as I wanted to get 16GB version. However 15 minutes later the same thing happened again, only this time for 16GB phones. So much time wasted for nothing. I got into the car and started driving towards Staten Island.

But I didn’t get there. I made another detour and stopped by our local Best Buy. There were people inside, but I was told that they will start letting buyers in at 9 AM, so I had to wait 30 minutes. I was first in line. However soon people started showing up and most of them had pre-orders at Best Buy. Soon a Best Buy rep showed up and said that they had a good bunch of phones for those who didn’t have a pre-order with the exception of those who needed an AT&T phone. More time wasted.

Back to the car. This time I did get to Staten Island Mall. It also had a Best Buy, which also had spare phones, but only for Sprint customer. At this point I figured I’ll just have to bite a bullet and stand in line at the Apple Store. When I got there the line wasn’t as long as I thought it would be. And at the end of the line there were Apple reps handing out cards, so you would know for sure that you’re not standing in line for nothing. One small problem — no more AT&T phones left!

At this point I kind of lost hope for getting iPhone 5 on the first day or any time soon at all. I decided to check AT&T store located inside the mall as my last stop before calling it a day. And to my dismay the store had no line:
– No line, no phones? — I asked a rep.
– If were you to pick a size, which one would you get?
– 16GB!
– And the color?
– At this point I’ll take any!
– But if you could pick?
– Black.

And what do you know? She yells at someone and they bring out a brand new unopened 16GB black iPhone 5 box. She processes my upgrade right there and then and hands me an activated iPhone 5. That was not expected.

iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4S.First thing you notice is that the phone is noticeably thinner and even more noticeably lighter. It is so light in fact that it feels fake. Like there is nothing inside. And even though multiple tests other people have done show it to be much sturdier than previous version it just feels very delicate to me. A perfect piece of engineering.

It doesn’t stay that way for a long time. The black paint covering the aluminum back and sides scuffs up way too easily. Knowing that now I would probably go with a white version as I did with all my previous iPhones when I could choose. I treated it very gently and it already has two scuffs on the back exposing the natural color of aluminum. I imagine after a year of use it will look pretty bad and what’s the point of having a thin phone I’m going to put a case on it? I will not.

I’m really happy with their decision to keep the screen the same width — it is perfect for me to be able to use the phone with one hand. If they had to increase the screen they choose the least annoying way to do it. And after some use I actually enjoy the added height, but having an iPad I still will do most of my reading on it, not the phone.

I never really looked into LTE before and as a result I was quite amazed how much it clocked in on speed test — 30 Mbps downlink in Connecticut, and half of that in Brooklyn. Either number is bigger than my WiFi connection. But since we fit just fine in 200MB per month and since it costs us $15 per month I plan to use cellular data connection as much as I did before and will continue to rely mostly on WiFi.

The new connector is much better designed than the old one. It turned out to be a lot smaller than I imagined from the images that I saw online. I didn’t really have any gear that relied on the old port, but I do have a slew of wires that I can no longer use on this phone. This wire can be plugged in either side into the phone, so it makes it easy in the dark. All my old wires I have marked with a knife on one side to make it easy in the dark as well — don’t know why Apple never did.

Overall it’s a nice next step for iPhone. The only real exception is Apple Maps. They really are as bad as everyone says. Although it doesn’t really upset me all that much since I can do something as radically as open Google Maps in a browser and that works just fine. Not as convenient, but does everything it used to do in the app.

Our collection of iPhone boxes.One last topic on my mind in all of this is AT&T. I really hate the fact that AT&T refuses to unlock phones while they’re under contract. It means that on my trip to Italy I will not be able to use my new phone. I started looking into switching to Verizon and came to a conclusion that it’s even a bigger ripoff than AT&T. Even though they are willing to unlock the phones in 60 days their plans are just outright theft.

Old family plans are gone, new plans stick you with unlimited minutes which nobody needs (we do just fine with 700 minutes AT&T gives us on the cheapest family plan) and end up charging you through the roof. If you have an old family plan — stay with it and don’t switch to the new data share. That’s what my parents are going to do. Also even on the old family share plans the cheapest data plan is $30. On AT&T I pay $15 for 200MB which as I stated works just fine for us. On top of that we would have to cancel a contract on one of our AT&T lines and buy a 2nd phone.

It just was adding up to too much and having an unlocked phone was just not worth it. And then 2 days later I found out that my whole unlocking debacle is easily solved with a $13 through eBay. No jail-breaking, no nothing — a clean unlock through Apple’s database. I don’t know how I didn’t know about this before.

And in conclusion here is a pair of iPhone 5 wallpapers that I’ve made and am currently using on my phone.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Photographing iPhone

iPhone 4 on pure white background.Over the last 10 year or so I’ve learned a lot about photography. There are two things that I keep doing to grow — experimenting a lot and reading the information that others have chosen to share. It would be good to contribute to this pool of knowledge that is available online.

Some of these ideas are probably very simple and there is no “secret souse” to any of this, but guides like these were helpful to me. Hopefully it will be helpful to somebody else.

For me the process of taking a photograph includes 2 phases — taking the shot itself and post-processing. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Post everything from start to finish.

Taking The Photograph

Light tent folded next to 50mm lens for size comparison.The setup itself is fairly simple. I used a light tent given to me by my wife for New Year — Interfit Pop Up Light Tent, 24″. You don’t have to buy anything and can build something simple yourself.

Light tent setup.I used a large sheet of white cardboard to server as the floor and the background for my image. This creates the seamless background, but in this type of photograph when a relatively flat object is involved it would be easy to fix in post-processing.

Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights.I placed flashes on each side of my light tent. I used Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights mounted in the stands that come with them in the box. I reversed one of them so both of their control “eyes” would be facing the camera. I aimed them at the center of each side of the light tent and set them to remote slaves. If you do not have 2 strobes you can either use regular bright lights (preferably tungsten not to get a yellow color cast as you would from regular incandescent bulbs) or put some reflector on one of the sides of the light tent.

Rocket Air. "Professional Cleaning System". Funny.I placed iPhone in the center and mounted my D700 camera on the tripod in front of the light tent. Before proceeding to take the shots I used a “device” that I have for blowing the dust off from the camera sensor to get rid of as much dust as possible. You should also use some fiber cloth to wipe all the finger prints from the phone before proceeding. The idea is to fix as much as possible before the photo is taken so you have less to do in post-processing.

Commander mode for pop-up flash on D700.Now we’re going to setup the camera. The pop-up flash is set to commander mode. It will trigger both of the flashes, but it will not contribute to the exposure itself — we don’t want any weird glares coming unfiltered directly from the flash. Both speedlights are set to TTL. We’ll leave it up to the camera to figure out how hard they should be fired.

The camera itself is set to manual mode. I used spot metering on the phone to guide my settings. The idea here is to try to blow out (overexpose) as much of the background as possible while not blowing out any of the detail on the item that you’re trying to photograph.

I set the aperture to f/10 to widen the depth of field to get the object as sharp as possible. I also set my ISO to a low value — no reason to add noise when the camera is tripod mounted and the exposure will not be very long anyhow. The value that you play with is shutter-speed. Using a dSRL makes it easy to take experimental shots and look at the end result to check for overexposure. Again, overexposure around the object is good, while on the object itself is not so much. If you can’t get all of the background to overexpose we’ll fix it in the post-processing.


Before post-processing.Our photo straight out of the camera doesn’t look so hot. The background is grayish, there is still visible dust on the phone and the whole thing is crooked.

I usually start by putting the photo through Lens Correction filter. I will fix geometric distortion, straighten it out and slightly adjust the perspective. After that is done we will crop it and remove the visible dust with Spot Healing Brush.

Step 2.At this point I grabbed a Brush and roughly painted with white color the areas around the phone not to deal with different specks of dust.

Levels adjustment layer.Now we’re going to add a Levels Adjustment Layer and overexpose all the highlights by dragging the white pointer to the left. Hold down Alt button while doing it and you will see all the areas that are getting overexposed. Now we got our pure-white background and we’re getting closer to what the final result should look like.

Curves adjustment layer.Add a Curves Adjustment Layer. We’re going to bring the shadows down slightly to make the black areas “blacker” and bump up the contrast slightly by doing so.

Saturation.At this point I pulled the highlights to the cold side slightly and bumped up the Saturation. Don’t overdo the Saturation though.

Clearing the color cast.I wasn’t happy with the yellow cast that was still visible on the bezels of the phone. I used Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to pull the color down close to black & white photo. Then I put a mask over the screen to bring the color back.

Sharpening.At this point you can hit Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E to end up with a single layer by summing up all the previous ones and apply some sharpening to the final image. I prefer to use Smart Sharpen filter. You should also try to stick to Lab mode for your sharpening step and apply sharpening on the Lightness channel.


iPhone 4. Finished photograph.There you have it. A finished product. Now the above steps are not law of the land and nothing is set in stone. That’s what I do personally. There might be better ways to reach certain objectives and you should always experiment yourself. But maybe these pointers will give you some ideas when you’re working on your own projects of one or another kind.

Let me know if I can clear something up or if you found any of this helpful. Your feedback is always appreciated.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

iPhone 4

iPhone 4.Apple has decided to surprise us all with an early delivery of iPhone. A lot of people got their pre-orders delivered on the 22nd instead of 24th and I think the majority got their pre-orders delivered on 23rd. Maruk and I were among the latter group.

A box from FedEx.I was fearing from the start that even if I get mine on 24th the activation tools would be plagued by the huge lines in all the stores and I wouldn’t be able to get it going on the same day. And that was in addition to the fact that I would be in the office on Thursday (24th) and would probably miss FedEx. Wednesdays I work from home office.

iPhone 4 box.Last year I got FedEx delivery at 10am. Also FedEx tried to make a delivery to us a day before and that was at 3pm. So when by 4pm there was no sign of them and my tracking page started showing delivery exception saying that shipper requested to delay the delivery until a future date I was starting to get really upset. But luckily I was wrong and FedEx guy simply ignored the exception. I had my iPhone ten minutes to 5.

Back of the new iPhone.The activation went through in 3 or so minutes. I had the phone up and running, fully synced at 5:15. The screen is amazing. To really see how great it is one should put an older iPhone next to it. Then the difference become very dramatic. I was actually surprised how I never noticed all the blur on the old phone before.

iPhone getting activated.The phone feels good in hand although it is more of a finger print magnet than the older ones — maybe because I used to use white iPhones. I’m waiting for Vaja to come out with a case1 — I’ll get one as soon as they become available. FaceTime works great — you just make a call. No software to install, nothing to configure. Although this is a feature I don’t see myself using very often if at all.

iPhone 3GS vs iPhone 4.I’m very happy with camera upgrades. If before I was considering of maybe getting a point and shoot for the situation when I don’t want to lug my dSLR along now there is no need. And I do always have the phone with me. 5 mega-pixel photos, 720p video and a flash — what more could I need?

Overall I’m very happy with my purchase. Although it’s subjective, I strongly believe that iPhone is still the reigning king of smartphones.

  1. I can replicate the widely publicized antenna issues in certain situations as well. It doesn’t really seem to affect me much as I don’t generally hold the phone that way, but in case I happen to — the case will help. []
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Monday, June 21, 2010

iOS 4

iPhone home screen in iOS 4.Folders in iOS 4.Apple has released iOS 4 at 1pm EST today and I’ve had it on my phone 15 minutes after. This year I decided not to install developer GM version1, but just be patient and get it via iTunes as everyone else. Upgrade was absolutely painless.

After having it on my phone for several hours I can say that some things are certainly nice. I have yet to see how useful the “multitasking” is going to be and I do have to update my app to stay in the background if user wishes it to — not an automatic thing that I thought it would be.

Folders are nice. Although it will take me quite some time before I sort out all the app mess that I’ve accumulated over the past 2 years. I also like the ability to have home screen backgrounds — that’s how shallow I really am. o.O

However not being to double tap the home button to pull up a phone application is going to be missed. What I really need now is my iPhone 4 itself. Only 3 more days left. teeth

  1. It turned out to be the same thing as the final release, just like last year. []
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chicken Caesar Salad

Chicken Caesar Salad.I think I’ve noticed this particular application while watching some TV commercial, but I am not 100% sure about this (memory could be tricky, you know). ) It does not really matter how or when, but the fact is that this weekend Danya finally installed Jamie Oliver’s 20 Minute Meals on my iPone. I love the design of the application, and there are some recipes which seem to be worth trying (although I wish there were more recipes altogether — the selection on his site is quite a bit more impressive).

Anyhow, I’ve decided to put the app to good use on Monday, and made Chicken Caesar Salad. The recipe closely resembles this one, even though he simplified the process a bit for a better time management. It did not take me quite 20 minutes though, but not too much longer than that. I liked the end result, and so did Danya! )
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