Category: Reviews

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iPad Pro, Let’s ‘Begin Again’

My previous post in this series begins: “I cannot presently recommend Apple’s big-ass tablet as a laptop replacement—using the official-issue Smart Keyboard”. The statement is retracted.

Apple PR contacted me after the story published, asserting that the short battery life I experienced was abnormal behavior. Seeing as it was the last day to return iPad Pro under T-Mobile’s buyer’s remorse policy, I took the assertion at face value and returned the rig. The exchange interrupted my plans to use the tablet as my primary PC for a month. From today, the clock resets to zero, and I start over. 

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iPad Pro’s Shouldn’t-be Battery Problem

Editor’s Note: Apple contacted me on February 16th, suggesting the short battery life is abnormal. We discussed tech support option but I chose instead to replace the whole kit—iPad Pro and keyboard—to see if the short battery life with Smart Keyboard is a one-off hardware problem. Look for an update in the sixth post. The hardware exchange will take a day or so to sort out, before the series can resume.

The follow-up post, on February 24th, countermands the negative conclusions stated in this review. Battery life from the second kit is hugely satisfying and plenty long enough for the typical workday. The user experiences aren’t comparable. I debated about deleting the original story but that feels like hiding something. Hopefully this addendum sufficiently retracts the original conclusion.

I cannot presently recommend Apple’s big-ass tablet as a laptop replacement—using the official-issue Smart Keyboard. The reason may surprise you. The foible isn’t the utility of iOS, available apps, or overall hardware performance but the battery and charging system. Inadequate combination is an understatement.

Two weeks ago, I purchased iPad Pro through T-Mobile’s Jump On Demand program. My 13th day using the tablet as my primary PC progresses with acceptance that an ongoing problem is a deal breaker. When I use iPad Pro like a laptop, even primarily working only with mail and two browsers (Chrome and Safari), battery burns down too rapidly and subsequent topping off takes too long. Oddly, battery-life is exceptionally good for tablet use. 

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The Ways Apple iPad Pro Delights Me

Day 10, and it’s difficult to wonder where nearly two weeks went. Yet here I am with iPad Pro, and more settled than last weekend, when griping about how the tablet frustrates me.

I want to start by discussing Apple’s Smart Keyboard, which is a $169 accessory that I recommend for everyone who doesn’t plan on using fingers and Pencil as primary, ah, utensils. Typing is amazingly smooth and accurate. The keys present terrific travel, without requiring too much force while still giving plenty of tactile response. Shocked best describes my reaction to the experience. Sometimes what’s missing brings something more: Ommission of the trackpad, which either is brilliant conception or Apple chief designer Jony Ive and team getting goddamn lucky. 

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How Apple iPad Pro Frustrates Me

Day 5 morning, and I am close to returning the iPad Pro to T-Mobile. There are too many quirks that reaffirm my contention in thi series’ second post: Apple’s big-ass tablet is a proof-of-concept device that’s ready, or so I thought, for few users (digital content creators) but not the masses. Now I wonder if the thang is ready for anyone.

Setting up Apple Pencil should be as easy as pulling off the rear cap, inserting into Lightning port, and acknowledging Bluetooth connect request prompt. But there is no response from the tablet, after a half-dozen attempts, so I Google for solutions. No luck there, and I check Bluetooth settings, where the device doesn’t appear. Disconnect my Harman Kardon speakers. No change. Turn off and on Bluetooth. Nope. Detach Pencil, try again. Success! Device shows up, pairs, then disconnects, and stays that way until I try again, and then it’s “Groundhog Day” time. I’m Bill Murray reliving the same moment over and over without progress. 

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iPad Pro is Bigger Than You Think

“Look up, waaaaaay up” is a phrase familiar to Canadians of a certain age, who watched “The Friendly Giant“. The kids program aired from 1958 to 1985 on CBC, which our TV antenna grabbed from the local affiliate across the border in New Brunswick (I’m from Northern Maine). There’s something about iPad Pro’s enormity that makes it feel more like something the Giant would use.

My question this fine Friday: Is iPad Pro too big? For the majority of potential buyers, my answer is unequivocally yes. I don’t see a product made for the majority. Whatever Apple’s post-PC ambitions, iPad Pro is more a proof-of-concept for future laptop replacement. However, for the few—creators looking for larger digital canvas—iPad Pro offers much. For the many, the first version will work out the kinks, such as getting the app platform placed, for mass-market successors. Warning: Embracing the expansive tablet may make switching to something smaller nearly impossible. Size matters, and sometimes larger is better. 

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Six Headphones for Christmas

As Christmas comes closer, it’s time to think about rewarding your ears, or someone else’s, with exceptional audio experience—headphones that I would ask Santa to bring for myself or deliver to another. If big, booming bass is your thing, read no further. Buy Beats, Sony, or another brand boasting barreling lows that shake your skull as well as eardrums.

My picks deliver broader audio range, each with warmer mids and highs and amazing detail, depending somewhat on the source of your content. Highly compressed AAC or MP3 tracks lack lots, but these cans will get a little more fidelity from them. CD or lossless source might change how you listen to music forever. 

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HTC One A9 Review

So you bought iPhone 6. You love the understated styling of the aluminum enclosure and how the device feels in your hands. But iOS is a dog brain. It’s loyal and friendly, but you want more than a tail-wagger that needs to be let out to pee. HTC has your back, with the shockingly similar-looking One A9. The imitator gives you close-enough design benefits with the extra bang of the freshest Android (Marshmallow).

Over the Black-Friday-to-Cyber-Monday weekend, one in ten A9 buyers moved up from iPhone 6 or 6s series devices, according to HTC. The manufacturer has a holiday special ending Jan. 7, 2016 that allures some switchers. Trade-in one of the Apples for full discount off the A9’s purchase price (HTC mails a $499.99 check after receiving the old device). Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge traders get $200 and LG3 and LG4 owners $100. 

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The 5 Smartphones of Christmas

If you’re smartphone shopping this holiday and wondering what to buy, my primer can assist—with caveats. I focus solely on Androids that are higher end but affordable, and I ignore iPhones. No slight against Apple devices is intended. I figure that people who want an iPhone won’t likely consider an alternative. Also: The differences aren’t as pronounced. For example, the major benefit choosing 6s or 6s Plus over the two previous models is slightly lower price (3D Touch is an unnecessary gimmick). The major benefit picking 5s over the 6 or 6 Plus is again price but also smaller size.

Among Androids, differences abound—and many, such as older OS versions or custom UI skins, are carrier or manufacturer imposed. That’s without considering the bloatware that either or both parties might impose. I intentionally focus on devices that offer the most value for price paid, which includes upfront or payment-plan purchased unlocked. 

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Sennheiser Momentum 2 First Impressions

In middle age, my ears can’t tolerate booming bass any longer. Seems like amped lows is the state of audio design, and this is unfortunately standard among wireless cans.  That’s one reason I use Grado Labs’ Rs1e reference headphones, which give better balance across the range, particularly warm midrange and highs.

But the RS1e means a cord, which largely inconveniences my digital lifestyle. I would rather listen to music, podcasts, and such while on the move in the apartment, or elsewhere. My last set of Bluetooth cans delivered way too much bass, and I sold them when buying the Grados. Last night, after reading professional and purchaser reviews, I bought a pair of Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 wireless headphones from Amazon, My quick, out-of-box impressions follow. 

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Why I Returned iPhone 6s Plus for Nexus 6P

If you asked me two months ago about using a Huawei smartwatch or smartphone, I would have scoffed. Yet, here I am doing just that. Timing on the latter is ironic. On Oct. 15, 2015, I bought a 128GB silver (and white) iPhone 6s Plus using Apple’s 24-month finance plan, rather than paying in full up front. Huawei-made, Google-branded 64GB Nexus 6P arrived the next day for review. The following morning (the 17th), I hauled down to Apple Store and returned the iPhone for full refund. That act sums up my reaction to the new Android flagship running “Marshmallow”.

I didn’t expect to be so wooed by Nexus 6P, but Google got me by delivering superior contextual experience. This device, and Android 6, is all about context, starting with what for me is the killer function I couldn’t part with: the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. Picking up the device and placing my forefinger on the circular indentation wakes and unlocks the 6P. Wow-way is right! The mechanism beats the Hell out of Apple’s two-handed jimmy from the Home button. 

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Nexus 6P Early Review

Finely balanced and contextually practical are the terms that best describe my first impressions of Google’s flagship Android. Nexus 6P preorders are about to ship, and I was fortunate to receive a review model but with short embargo lift: Delivered Oct. 16, 2015 before every blogger and reviewer on the planet blasted out simultaneous reviews and first-reactions on the 19th. I choose the latter, because a scant three days isn’t enough time to rightly evaluate the smartphone.

Much of my experience is cast in moving from the previous flagship, Nexus 6, although there was a day between them where iPhone 6s Plus and I fitfully danced. The 6P is in many respects what its predecessor should have been: Smaller. Much as I like the larger Motorola-made phablet, its Huawei-manufactured successor has greater physical and feature balance. Both are superb smart devices, but the newer Nexus is better tuned to practical purposes. 

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Google OnHub Review

One word: Fantastic! That should be enough said, but one of my colleagues asked me how much OnHub costs. He bristled at $199.99, calling it too much. So, okay, let’s do a real review that explains the magic that Google and partner TP-LINK accomplish with this remarkable router. But I warn you now: Buying one, even for two C notes, isn’t easy. This thing is out of stock most everywhere, as it has been for weeks.

Simply stated: OnHub is the best router ever to anchor my home network. Beauty, simplicity, availability, and extensibility are OnHub’s defining characteristics. Sold in blue or black enclosures, the thing is gorgeous, and it feels as solid as it looks. Setup and maintenance are frightening for their ease. The usable wireless range far exceeds the Apple AirPort Extreme router that OnHub replaces in my home. The network device packs protocols and other features you won’t need now but will want later on.