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Apple Special Event September 2015 #apple

Apple’s September event has come and gone. Re-watch the keynote at Apple’s website.

Well, all the common rumours are pretty much on the spot.

Tim Cook is changing the keynote style. Unlike Jobs who likes to talk about statistics before the actual announcements, Tim Cook seems to prefer to just go straight to the announcements.

First, Apple Watch. WatchOS 2, and new models (color) and bands. I thought smartwatch is just an expensive fad. I do own a Motorola 360, and I only bought it due to the price cut when the Apple Watch was released. At $400, I’m still not convinced whether it is worth it to get a first gen product. Time has proven again and again that Apple’s second revision of the product is much better (iPad, iPhone, iPod nano). With Apple pushing apps on the Apple Watch, I am going to wait for the next revision to see if it is finally worth the price.

The more important here to me is the partnership with Hermes. The lay people amy brush this away, but this is the next step of Apple as a business. Apple is making itself into more of a brand company, and it is selecting luxury partners. We will see how Apple progress, and how the other tech companies are confused how Apple is making so much money.

Next up is iPad, and yes, the rumours are correct. We are getting a 12.9″ iPad Pro, with stylus support called Apple Pencil, and a smart keyboard cover. Yes, sounds like the same concept as Microsoft’s Surface.

What’s amazing is the inside. It is sporting an A9X chip, and simply listening to Apple’s claim on what the chip can do is quite mind boggling. Apple claims that it is faster than 80% of the laptops out there. That’s a huge claim, considering intel has been making great improvements on its Atom and Core processors. GPU performance claim is also huge, 2x the 8X, and Apple is claiming it is faster than 90% of laptops out there. Being able to edit 4K movies is a jaw-dropping capability, considering that even my Macbook Pro is still choking on 1080p videos in Final Cut Pro X.I am wondering how Apple does it. Having said that, I am guessing majority of laptops out there are running Atom and low end Celeron and Pentium processors, and thus explain the claim of GPU superiority of the A9X. I mean intel integrated graphics are not the greatest, but I doubt the A9X can match the Iris GPUs, which are in the Macbook Pros.

Other features are 4 speakers, and the new connectors for accessories, including the smart keyboard. However, just like Microsoft, the keyboard cover is sold at a premium, for $170. Oh and there’s the stylus called Apple Pencil, for an extra $100. But it is charging from the lightning connector? It is stupid, having the pencil sticking out on the huge iPad Pro. Maybe Apple Pencil 2 will have a rotatable lightning connector. I harp on Microsoft for note including the keyboard cover with the Surface, but at least Microsoft included the stylus on the Surface Pro.

As usual, Apple made videos starring Johnny Ive to narrate technology into an alluring advertisement. This is the magic of Apple, as it made me interested into getting the iPad Pro. However, I think 12.9″ is too big. I think the iPad Pro is a test bed. When you look at the models available, it has a weird lineup, inconsistent with previous iPads offering. Apple only offers it in 3 models, 32GB, 128GB, and 128GB + cellular. There’s no 32GB + cellular, nor 64GB models. They are expensive too. 32GB model is $800, and the 128GB + cellular is $1080. Yes, finally a $1000 iPad… Sounds like Apple is still determining how the market would react and what kind of demands they would have. Personally, I will be waiting for an updated regular iPad with the Pencil support. That would be a more ideal size for students.

Interestingly, Apple updated the iPad mini into iPad mini 4 without actual announcement. The iPad mini 3 was silly, only adding Touch ID over the iPad mini 2. The mini 4 is a more appropriate update, adding the A8 chip. Interestingly, Apple is keeping the mini 2 for the lower price point instead of the mini 3. iPad mini 2 now starts at $270, which is quite a steal imo (the refurbished 16GB wifi is getting close to the $200 price point, being sold at $230). Imagine an iPad at almost the same price as an iPod Touch. On the other hand, Apple now has a sale of iPad lineup, contrasting their typical simple product line up. Now Apple has iPad mini 2, mini 4, iPad Air, Air 2, and the Pro. That’s a lot of models.

Next up Apple TV. Apple finally is making its long-rumored attempt at gaming console, again. The interesting part is the Siri user interface, using the Siri remote with a trackpad on it. It is powered by the A8 chip. It is interesting how this can be clocked as now it doesn’t have as much physical restrictions as Apple’s portable devices. Apple is selling this new Apple TV at two capacity sizes, 32GB for $150 and 64GB for $200. I think this class of device should be simplified, meaning Apple should just sell the 64GB model for $149. I think this is Apple’s trick in upselling. Why? Apps. The new TV will run sophisticated apps just like other iOS devices, including games. I’m guessing Apple is banking for consumers to pay more for more storage for the apps. It will be interesting to see how Roku and Amazon would react to this. Apple’s huge advantage is its huge movie library.

And lastly, the iPhone 6S/6S+. The rumours are pretty much spot on. It has the same outer appearance as the 6 obviously, and there’s a rose gold color option. It is running the A9 chip, and retaining the same capacities and price points as the previous iPhone 6. It has the force touch called 3D touch. Camera is upgraded, with 12MP on the rear and 5MP at the front. It is 4k capable also. Can’t wait to get my hands on this, although I am concerned about the smaller battery and rumours that it still only has 1GB of RAM.

One interesting feature is Live Photos. Basically the camera will be capturing extra frames for a second before and a second later when you press the shutter button, giving you a quick video clip in addition to the picture itself. It reminds me of HTC Zoe, which I said in the past for Apple to copy it. The problem with HTC Zoe is that it is keeping multitude of pictures, creating confusion when backing up the photos as now you have tons of pictures of the “same” thing (which creates the frames of the quick snippet). Looks like Apple made things more seamless. Will be interesting how services like dropbox would deal with live photos.

Another interesting move is for Apple to do its own iPhone instalment plan, which makes you “subscribe” to Apple starting at $32 a month. Apple will give you an unlocked iPhone with AppleCare+, and you will get the new one every year. This is definitely a jab at the carriers as now people can get an iPhone for just $384 a year, and it’s unlocked to boot. This is Apple’s solution to attack the cheap Android phones. Very bold and interesting move, and I hope it gets adopted outside the US where people prefer unlocked and no-contract.

iCloud storage is also updated, with 50GB for 99cents a month. Sounds pretty sweet to me and I might finally bite (although it has not shown on the iCloud purchase setting page yet on Yosemite).

Online, you will see people claiming that the whole thing is underwhelming, mainly because the rumours pretty much nailed everything down, thus no “new” surprises.  However, I think this is a huge turning point for Apple. I can see the A9X as the starting point for Apple to consider an Ax powered Macbook. The Apple Pencil might create a new feature set for future iPads. The new Apple TV is Apple’s attempt to attack the gaming console market with a full app store ecosystem. And finally the iPhones 6S/6S+, creating a new UI experience with 3D Touch. People judge books by its cover. So people will be more excited when they see a new Android device that look different (but only having minuscule improvements inside), while scoff off Apple’s S-cycle iPhones that carry a lot inside but appear the same externally. I mean seriously, look at the Xperia Z3, Z4 and Z5. The 6S brings a ton more over the 6 than Sony did for its Xperia flagship.

I have posted about how I am considering switching back to iPhone, and the 6S is the obvious candidate. I will be waiting on the side for Apple Watch 2 and iPad Air 3 with Pencil support. I was considering getting the retina Macbook when Apple updates it with Skylake, but the iPad Pro muddles the water. Can’t wait what Apple can do next year with the A10.

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Posted by on September 11, 2015 in impression, Keynote

 

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HTC 8X Quick Impression #windowsphone

I was browsing at a local Microsoft store, and I noticed that they were selling the HTC 8X unlocked for $250. I double checked Microsoft’s online store, and surely it sells them for the same price. Why was I interested? Windows Phone phones have never been sold unlocked in the US, other than the overpriced bundle that Microsoft did for the Lumia 800. So this was quite a surprise.

I really like the packaging of the 8X. It feels cheap, but the design is fresh from the typical carton box. $250 is not cheap, but it’s not bad either. The HTC 8X was HTC’s flagship Windows Phone 8 in 2012. When people talk about cheap WP8 phone, the first thing that comes up usually is the Nokia Lumia 520/521. In the US, the Lumia 520 is available as a no-contract GoPhone from AT&T (521 from T-Mobile) at $99. It’s good for the price, but it is cheap for a reason. If you go to any retail store with the 520/521 demo unit, you will immediately notice the washed out WVGA screen. It just doesn’t look good. Storage is only 8GB, and RAM is only 512MB, something that can be an issue with some apps. Also, despite being sold as a no-contract phone, it is carrier locked.

The HTC 8X costs more than double the Lumia 520, but it is a better equipped phone. It has higher res SLCD 720p screen with Gorilla Glass, which is a lot better screen than the Lumia 520. The 8X has 1GB RAM and 16GB storage. The processor is faster too, but Windows Phone 8 is smooth enough on both devices. The 8X does support LTE on AT&T and T-Mobile. Today, these specs are nothing compared to Android phones, but considering your options, it is the only Windows Phone 8 that is sold unlocked straight from Microsoft.

Build quality wise, the HTC 8X is a beautiful phone. It uses that soft rubbery plastic for its body. I am confident enough that the phone will survive daily usage without a case (in contrast to phones like the iPhone and Nexus 4). Microsoft only sells one color of the 8X, blue. It’s more like bluish purple.

At the top right is the power/sleep/wake button, and on the right side, there are the volume rocker on the upper section and the camera shutter button on the lower section. The arrangement can be somewhat annoying as I always end up pressing the volume rocker when I want to wake up the phone. Holding down the camera shutter button will fire up the camera app, even while the phone is locked.

I am always amazed how people fumbling around to silent their phones when they rang during a meeting or quiet situations. Apple solved the problem easily by putting a hardware mute switch on the iPhone, so you can mute your iPhone whenever. Android is a bit unintuitive, where you have to hold down the power button to have a dialog box pop up offering the option to silent the phone. Some phones like the HTC One makes things even harder as you don’t have access to that dialog box when the phone is locked. Windows Phone also takes two steps. First, you have to press the volume rocker button to trigger the volume control on the top bar on the screen. There, there is an icon on the right to toggle silent/vibrate mode. To me, it is not as simple as the iPhone, but I guess it is more intuitive than Android.

The lock screen itself is simple and pretty readable (and Hime is pretty too. ^_^). To obtain a screen shot, you push and hold the power button, and tap the Windows capacitive button. There is no way to show battery percentage on the OS without the help of 3rd party apps. Limited notifications are shown on the bottom, but you can only allow 5 apps to show things there. Interestingly enough, I find that messages from your friend on Facebook won’t trigger a notification here, despite allowing Facebook app to do so in settings. This is one of my gripes with Windows Phone. Unlike iOS and Android, there is no central place to handle notifications. You are left with limited icons on the lock screen (that are dismissed once you unlocked the phone), and hunting down each apps having a notification badge (assuming you put those apps’ tiles on your home screen).

My previous experience with Windows Phone was with the Lumia 710, a Windows Phone 7 phone that was abandoned by Microsoft and T-Mobile from receiving the 7.8 update. One of my major complaints was the tiles, as they are merely oversized icon shortcuts. Considering their size, it limits the amount of stuff you want to see on your home screen at one time. Windows Phone 8 fixed this by allowing smaller icon sizes, so you can have a lot more shortcuts on the home screen.

As you can see, on the main home screen, you only have your tiles on a solid background (can be white or black). Your wallpaper only shows up on the lock screen. This imo limits the “personalization” of the phone, with only limited colors to choose from for the tiles. Even then, notice that not all apps will conform to the system’s tile color, not even Microsoft’s own apps.

Shortcuts to quick settings like switching wifi or airplane mode are not available by default. You have to get 3rd party apps. This is what concerning. When I was perusing the WP app store for live tile apps that provides shortcuts to system functions, a lot of them are very sketchy, where the apps require permission for your identity from the phone and whatnot. Heck, even many battery widgets (that show charge percentage on the tile) require those permissions. Not cool in my book. This is typical of sketchy Android apps, and I was expecting Microsoft to do a better job. Worse, none of those battery indicators actually work. Apple has solved this by baking those features into iOS7 via control center. Hopefully Microsoft would do something similar.

Getting your stuff into Windows Phone is pretty simple, especially if you use Hotmail/Outlook. Just login to your Hotmail account and everything will be there, including Facebook contacts if you link your Facebook account with your Hotmail account. Your Xbox avatar will also appear on the Xbox app if you have the same login for your Xbox. Setting up other services is pretty straight forward too, including Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. The problem is on social media. Facebook and Twitter have native apps, but if you are on Google Plus, forget it. In fact, Google only made ONE app for Windows Phone, which is just a Google search screen. It’s pathetic. If you are a heavy user of Google services, you may want to step back and get an Android phone/iPhone instead.

The sad app situation doesn’t stop there. Dropbox, a popular cloud syncing app, does not even have a native app on WP. Now this might be acceptable if Windows Phone is new to the market. It’s not. Microsoft really needs to work harder in attracting developers. The absence of Google apps already put a huge dent on the platform. If you are a Microsoft user, you are fine. Many services, like maps, are taken care of by bing.

The lack of many native apps from their original developers, like Google, creates a huge amount of fake apps. This is a huge problem on Android, and I was surprised that WP is having the same issue. Simply search for Facebook and you will find plenty of “Facebook app” that is made by some unknown developer. Same thing with Google apps. Worse, these fake apps are using the real logos from Facebook/Google, and their descriptions are making them sound like they are the real apps. Lay users can unknowingly download these fake apps and have bad user experience with them, condemning the platform even more.

On the Mac, Microsoft creates a Windows Phone app (previously called Windows Phone Connector) to sync photos and music from iPhoto and iTunes. Pretty straight forward and basic. Alas, there’s no way to create a full backup on the desktop now (I think it used to be able to do that). Instead, backup is created in the cloud on your Skydrive account.

Yes, there is Office, or Office super lite to be more precise. People seems to be bragging about Office on Windows Phone, but I can’t see one who would want to use it. Maybe Excel, but Word is practically useless as it rewraps your whole document to the phone’s margin. This makes it extremely difficult to think how it would look normally when editing a document.

The camera app on the 8X is a stock one, and you don’t have access to those exclusive Nokia only apps. Some lenses are still there though. The 8MP camera is not too bad. It has pretty wide aperture, f2.0. Looking at the quality briefly, I say it’s above the Nexus 4, but does not quite match the Nexus 5 or the iPhone 5.

The shutter button makes taking pictures a bit more like a conventional camera, but you cannot focus on certain areas by touching the screen by default. That’s really annoying, kinda beats the advantage of having a touch screen. The only way to do this that I know of is to set the camera to automatically take a picture upon touch, where you can touch an area, the camera focuses to that area, and takes a picture. I find it annoying as I am used to the flexibility on iOS’ and HTC One’s camera apps.

One big paradigm shift that Microsoft did on Windows Phone is the shift from apps into hubs. The idea is instead of checking Facebook app or Twitter app individually, you simply go to the People hub that will aggregate all the updates from the various sources (mail, messages, Facebook postings, tweets, etc).This is a neat idea. I can group select contacts, pin the group as a live tile, and I can observe a live tile showing some recent messages from those group right on my home screen. This is great in filtering your social media contents to just the stuff from your friends, for example. Of course, that is assuming that you only use those social media that are connected to the people hub. Like I mentioned above, Google Plus is a no go. Some apps are not even updated to fully support this. Example is the flickr app, where the app itself still says that it is for Windows Phone 7. Yeah, many apps are fairly old, abandoned by the developers. It is sad as I actually like the concept of hubs.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. HTC is not doing so hot right now. Although the 8X received GDR 3 update, it’s clear that HTC is focusing on Android with the One lineup. The possibility of the 8X getting Windows Phone 8.1 is pretty slim. Worse, Microsoft itself is not going to release 8.1 till next year, leaving 2013 for iOS and Android to shine with iOS7 and KitKat. Samsung, the other WP OEM, clearly has abandoned Windows Phone too. Nokia, the sole survivor, sold its mobile hardware division to Microsoft. Oh, and Microsoft itself reflects its desire to not have three version of Windows. Considering the regular Windows is the bigger brother, this means Windows Phone will get the boot. One can clearly see this is coming when Microsoft did Windows RT instead of transforming Windows Phone into a tablet OS. Why have two OSes on ARM? The future is definitely bleak for Windows Phone.

Thus I returned my HTC 8X. 🙂 To be honest, I kinda like the phone itself. It’s pretty and whatnot, but there’s no point in investing on a dead-end platform. Oh, and Motorola is now selling the 16GB Moto G for just $199 unlocked. $250 has turned from okay to expensive when $200 can buy me a very decent phone on a platform that is more fully featured. For Windows Phone, I’m going to say wait for Microsoft to release their Surface branded phone, or their own branded phone. It’s clear that the OEMs are jumping off the boat, so buying a WP device from HTC/Samsung means you are buying a device with potentially no support. Considering the history of Microsoft ditching the Lumia 710 from 7.8 update, I can see 8.1 being pushed to only the high end Lumias, and then everything will be abandoned in favor of new devices running the WinRT hybrid.

Windows Phone, second round, and still failed to hook me. I’m keeping my money on iOS and Android in the meantime.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in impression, Windows Phone

 

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More Nexus 5 Impression and Camera Comparison #nexus5

The boot animation.

I have been taking the Nexus 5 with me for the last couple of days, and here are my impression so far.

1. Build

Unlike the Nexus 4, the black Nexus 5 has a soft touch plastic on its back. This makes it feel less slippery than the Nexus 4 (the Nexus 4 can slide down from a desk on its own, that’s how slippery it is). People are saying the white one is more “plasticky” though. I like the soft touch back. It makes the phone feel more durable than the glass Nexus 4. Alas, the material that Google uses actually attracts dust fairly easily. The Nexus 4 does still feel a bit more premium thanks to the glass back. It has the iPhone 4 feel, while the Nexus 5 feels more like a Lumia, well built but not as premium.

Swiping my finger on the Nexus 4 is a joy thanks to its curved glass at the edge. Alas, the Nexus 5 has a sharper edge, making it feel less “luxurious” when swiping my finger over the edge. The buttons have been changed too. It feels more solid than the Nexus 4, but the sharp edges on the buttons, especially the power button, can be jarring on the fingers compared to the Nexus 4.

The Nexus 5 is as big as the HTC One, but it has a bigger screen (4.95″ vs 4.7″ on the HTC One). It is much lighter, even lighter than the Nexus 4. The soft touch back actually makes it feel smaller than the HTC One. It feels nice on the hand, while sometimes I feel the HTC One is too big.

One huge annoyance for me? The SIM slot. The Nexus 4 uses a non-standard pin hole for its SIM slot, requiring a tinier pin to open (vs the bigger hole on the iPhone and HTC One). Well, the Nexus 5 uses yet another different pin hole. The pin included with the Nexus 4 does not work anymore, as the Nexus 5 requires a longer pin. WTF LG? WTF Google? Seriously?

2. Screen

The Nexus 4 has a pretty conservative auto-brightness. The after effect is that people has poor impression of the screen. Coupled with the prevalence of AMOLED screens, the Nexus 4’s screen looks washed out. Google for some reason is aggressively pushing the brightness on the Nexus 5 to combat this first impression. However, we know that more brightness equals less battery life. The Nexus 5 screen is great. It’s sharp thanks to the 1080p resolution. I do still think the HTC One to be better, mainly due to more saturation in color that make images pop.

3. KitKat

The Nexus 5 is running the latest Android, version 4.4, dubbed KitKat. Main thing I notice is that the wallpaper takes over the whole screen, meaning that there is no more black bars on the status and navigation bars. The icons on the status bar are now white in color. In the past, the wifi and signal bar icon are grey in color when connected wirelessly, and blue when the phone is connected to Google services. A small indicator would also pop up whenever there are data transmissions occurring. Those are all gone in KitKat. The icons will be just white, and there are no indicators of data transmissions. You have to go to the control center (2 finger swipe down) to see those indicators (the wireless icons will be orange if the phone is connected wirelessly but not to Google, and there are small triangles indicating data transmissions). This makes it less intuitive to troubleshoot connectivity problems.

The home screens have been rearranged. The main home screen is not the “middle” screen anymore. It is the first screen instead. Swiping to the right will actually reveal Google Now screen on the left. It is similar to iOS 6 when swiping to the right will reveal spotlight search. By default, there are only two home screens. I don’t see a direct way to add more home screens, other than dragging a widget passing the last screen on the right, then KitKat will create a new home screen.

Google Now will now respond once you unlock your phone, meaning that you don’t have to have Google Now running. Unlock the phone, and you can say “Ok Google” right away. It is similar to Motorola’s touchless control, but with the Moto X, it can respond even when it’s locked. So the implementation on the Nexus 5 feels half-baked. Even Siri can be initiated right from the lock screen without unlocking the iPhone.

The lock screen has been redesigned too. In 4.2, there is no indication that you can swipe the lock screen to the left to run the camera app, other than a brief flash of outlines on the sides of the screen when you wake up the phone. In KitKat, Google followed iOS, by providing a camera icon on the lower right corner. Following the bottom of the screen, there is an arrow pointing up in the middle, This replaces the dotted circle on 4.2 to access Google Now. Thing is, at first that up arrow makes me think that I can swipe the lock screen up to start the camera, just like the iPhone. Well, to start the camera, you have to actually swipe to the left instead. I can see new users being confused at first.

Another change in KitKat UI is the icons. They are overly large. The App drawer now only contains 4 x 5 grid instead of 5 x 5 on the Nexus 4. The icon size is so large that it feels downright silly. This also makes folders in the home screen to cover up more space that it did before. Aesthetically annoying as it makes the screen feels cramped.

The regular messaging app is gone. Everything is handled under Hangouts. Like it or not, Google wants you to use Hangouts and join Google Plus. This consolidation of messaging apps is welcomed, but Google created another confusion. This is not exclusive to KitKat, but with the new push of Google Plus, now there are two apps to access your photos. The classic Gallery app, and the new Photos app that integrates the camera roll with Google Plus. Confusing? Yeah. I can see the classic Gallery app going away, although I really like it.

In terms of responsiveness, the Nexus 5 is fast. It is so fast that it actually make the Nexus 4 feels slow. Side by side, when opening apps and menus, there is a noticeable delay on the Nexus 4 compared to the Nexus 5. Now the Nexus 4 is by no means slow/laggy, but there is this noticeable hesitations on every screen transitions compared to the Nexus 5. Not sure if this is due to KitKat or just because of the beefier hardware of the Nexus 5, but hopefully KitKat can bring some smoothness to all Android devices.

4. Battery Life

Non-scientifically, it’s a meh. I took the Nexus 5 along with my iPhone 5 for a stroll. Both have everything on (wifi, cellular radio, GPS, etc), and same email accounts configured. I used both to take similar number of pictures. After a few hours, both are showing around 75% of battery life left. Thing is, I had the iPhone also running a location tracking app, while the Nexus 5 did not have this app running. Considering how the iPhone 5 battery is a lot smaller, this tells me that the Nexus 5 and/or Android is less efficient than the iPhone/iOS. Seems like Android does not behave well, especially when cellular signal is weak. I notice this also on the HTC One as the battery drains pretty quick when it is in low signal area. Heavy users might want to have an external battery pack handy just in case.

5. Camera

I did a comparison of the Nexus 5 camera with some other devices on the previous post. Here are some more pictures to enjoy. 🙂

The HTC One is showing a weakness here. The Nexus 5 fares okay, while the iPhone 5 continues to provide the best balance. Throughout this post, you will see inconsistent white balance from all devices. It is also interesting to see the different FOV of each devices (the HTC One having the widest FOV).

Getting this image was an interesting experience. I actually had a hard time making the leaf in focus with the iPhone 5. I had to go very close before it focused properly. I’m guessing the iPhone has a minimum range where it initiates its macro mode focusing. The HTC One took the picture without much fuss. The Nexus 5 had trouble in its metering, resulting in a dark image although the leaf was in focus properly.

Wow, white balance all over the place. 😀 The HTC One doesn’t look good here. It seems that it had trouble in determining the white balance and overblowing the highlights. The Nexus 5 did an okay job though. I kinda like the warmer tones in this context. The Nexus 4 trailed behind, but you can probably do some post processing to make it look decent. The iPhone, again, gave the most balanced picture.

This was a tough picture to take. I wanted to focus on the lower right fruit. After numerous tries, I just couldn’t do it with the Nexus 5 and the stock camera app. Same thing with the Nexus 4, it was impossible. The iPhone also had a difficult time, but I finally got a focus, albeit resulting a dark picture due to the phone trying to compensate for the sky. The HTC One? Well, at first, I had trouble with it too. But a simple flip to macro mode, bam! It took the picture like a champ. 🙂

On the Nexus 5 and Nexus 4, I tried using a camera app called Camera360. This app has multiple options, including macro mode. Although it was still a difficult process with multiple tries, I finally got something. Not great, but it’s something. The HTC One definitely took the cake this round.

These were another difficult shot, with dark and bright areas. The Nexus 5 did okay. It dropped down its shutter speed to 1/9 to help with light while keeping the ISO low. Problem is, it is susceptible to blurring due to shake (despite having optical image stabilization). Not bad, but not as sharp as the iPhone 5. The Nexus 4 had to resort to high ISO, giving noisy picture. The HTC One suffered overblown highlights, its achilles heel.

Throughout this experiment, I was really annoyed with Android stock camera app. The camera start-up on the Nexus 5 is slow. When switching from portrait to landscape or vice versa, there is a significant lag. Yes, lag, on a  quad-core snapdragon 800 phone. There is really no excuse there. The focusing system is slow, and it wanted to keep focusing at the center. I observed it changing the focus to the center even while it was taking a picture, which can sometimes create out-of-focus picture. It’s ridiculous. The camera itself is capable on producing decent images. Google needs to really work on the software side.

The HTC One continues to be a joy to use. Startup is fast, focusing is fast, and it is the only one having a specific macro mode. Sometimes relying on auto everything is not necessarily the best way (e.g. the iPhone having issues with the leaf). Even better, its gorgeous screen makes you enjoy the pictures right away. Its weaknesses at this point are well known though, especially the overblown highlights.

In the end, the iPhone takes the best balanced pictures in most situations. Apple just know their stuff. Start up is fast, focusing is fast, and other than some issues in specific instances, it just works. However, during this experiment, I wish it had a larger screen. 😉

If you are going to take a lot of pictures, get the iPhone. You have to have a lot of patience with the Nexus 5.

6. Conclusion

Well, there you go. My quick impression of the Nexus 5. It is Google’s latest, and the only way to enjoy KitKat out of the box right now. It feels great on the hand, but I would still invest in a case. It has top notch spec, yet Google is still skimping on certain things, like the stock camera app. Despite all the drawbacks, one has to remember that this is a $350-$400 phone. It’s cheaper than even the iPhone 4S! 😀 It’s an excellent phone for the money. Hopefully my impression can help your decision, or at least make you feel better about your purchase. 😀

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in android, apple, comparison, google, impression

 

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Nexus 5 Camera Test and Comparison #Nexus5

A Nexus 5 just arrived and joined the family. 🙂

IMG_0456

From left to right, Nexus 4, 5, and 7 (2012). All we need is a 6. 😀

Anyway, Nexus 5 is running the latest Android OS, 4.4, aka KitKat. The logo kinda shows the obvious brand connection. Yeah, no more flinging jelly beans around.

IMG_0457

The most controversial thing about the Nexus 5 among reviewers is the camera. Well known tech bloggers are disappointed with the camera. As an armchair analyst/critic, I did another non-scientific comparison, similar to what I did previously for the HTC One. The contenders were the Nexus 5, Nexus 4, iPhone 5, HTC One, and the Sony RX100 as a reference. Settings were all auto, and JPEG were resized to lower res by iPhoto. Why not upload the full size? I don’t want to waste the free space I have on WordPress. 😛 Also, let’s be realistic. Most of the pictures taken with smartphones are posted on social networks that will resize them anyway. Normal people don’t pixel peep their digital photos.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. First was indoor fluorescent lighting, featuring Momotaros and Urataros.

The Nexus 4 did okay. I did have a hard time tying to get proper focus for some reason. Android’s stock camera app just sucks. The Nexus 5 is a definite improvement over the Nexus 4. White balance is better, and thanks to optical image stabilization, it can take the picture with slower shutter speed and lower ISO, resulting in lower noise compared to the Nexus 4. Image is sharper too, but it’s the same camera app. Yes, the one that has an ADHD focusing system. It loses the area you want to focus easily, and always wants to go back to the center focus. The iPhone 5 is a bit in between, being definitely better than the Nexus 4, but since it lacks optical IS, it has to find a balance between shutter speed and higher ISO. The result is still great, with decent white balance. What makes the iPhone 5 much better is the shooting experience. It focuses quickly without fuss and I was done in a snap, while I had to take time composing and focusing using either Nexus phones. The HTC One fares okay too. The taller picture is because the HTC One captures in 16:9 ratio natively. Switching to other aspect ratio will result in less resolution. Image is sharp and white balance is good. As long as you don’t pixel peep, you won’t notice that it’s only 4MP, smaller than the rest. And lastly, the RX100 obviously took the cake, with a definite blurring of the background, sharp picture, and low noise. It performed even better when I manually adjusted the white balance.

Okay, so within indoor lighting, everybody did fine, although you can already see the limitation of the Nexus 4. Next, I turned off the light, leaving ambient light coming from an adjacent room.

Okay, Nexus 4 is toast. 😀 It’s useless, period. The Nexus 5 is a huge improvement over the Nexus 4. However, again, you are dealing with the sucky stock camera app, and focus hunting is often. Noise creeps in due to higher ISO. Same thing with the iPhone 5. The Nexus 5 does have an advantage of optical image stabilization, thus using a slower shutter speed to get more light, while the iPhone 5 has to find a balance between shutter speed and ISO. In the end, the Nexus 5 still used a higher ISO than the iPhone 5, 1624 vs 1600, but you can see the image itself is a tad brighter. Again, what makes the iPhone 5 better is the shooting experience. Even at low light, it still managed to get focus quickly, and I was done in a snap. Apple just nailed the user experience down. The HTC One continues to surprise me, as it managed to get such bright image. Sure, details were lost and whatnot, but once you post that into Facebook or whatnot, your friends would prefer being able to see a less detailed something than a dark blob of darkness. Its camera app is not as snappy as the iPhone’s, but it’s more usable than Android’s stock camera app. The RX100 produced a dark image, but its noise reduction is better than the smartphones, and considering it can shoot in RAW, you can probably extract and post process a better picture in the end.

How about flash? I don’t like using flash as straight on flash just does not work in most situations. Let’s take a look.

LOL, the Nexus 4 is just useless. The Nexus 5 is much better, but again, the problem with straight on flash is the major overblown highlights. The iPhone 5 offers similar image. Okay but overblown. The HTC One, surprisingly, is very good! I don’t know if it’s due to its wider lens, but the resulting picture is not as overexposed as the others. The RX100 also has overblown highlights, but not that bad and seems like you can get a good image after some post processing. Note its depth of field advantage too. 🙂

When you read/watch/listen to reviews from the tech bloggers, you probably heard about the Nexus 5 not being able to focus properly, or that it took blurry pictures. Alas, I can confirm that it is an issue. Take a look at this.

Nexus 5 out of focus

Yes, a blurry mess. The Nexus 5 thought that Momotaros’ head was in focus. Seems like this happened when I set it to either use flash or auto-flash, ie. it fired the LED flash while trying to get a focus lock, but while it seemed that it got proper focus when the flash is on, its focus was off afterwards. Worse, once it got this out-of-focus lock, it didn’t seem to want to refocus. I tried to touch different areas and move the composition to reset the auto-focus, but it seemed that it’s locked. Very annoying. If I disabled the flash, it didn’t seem to have this issue. I could be wrong though. Google has said that it’s a software issue, and I think that is correct. Yes Google, your Android stock camera app is trash. Can’t you just ask HTC or Samsung to help you? Seriously.

There you go, my personal non-scientific and completely subjective impression of the Nexus 5 camera. Is it better than the Nexus 4? Hell yeah. I can argue that it can rival the iPhone 5’s image quality. However, the shooting experience is not great. This is where the iPhone just wins. Apple just nailed everything down. It may not have fancy things like optical image stabilization, nor the super best image quality, but Apple managed to find that balance where things just work and the result is fine, so people like to shoot with their iPhones more. Meanwhile, the HTC One continues to surprise me. It performs very well, despite the naysayers bashing its 4MP camera. Sure, it has its quirks, but I find shooting with the HTC One to be more enjoyable than the Nexus 4. A high end compact like the Sony RX100 still offers more, especially when you want more control of depth of field. But then again it costs as much as an iPhone 5s. 😀

Speaking of cost, it is important to remember that the Nexus 5 costs US $349 for the 16GB model, which is less expensive than anything else here, other than the Nexus 4. Still, it’s no excuse for Google to not bother with the crappy camera app. Hopefully the promised update from Google can improve the Nexus 5. If you are buying or have bought the Nexus 5, don’t be disheartened. If you are upgrading from a Nexus 4, you are getting a much better camera. If you are already on an iPhone 5 and up or higher end Android phones, you are not missing much though, other than having the latest Android OS.

So, in short, the Nexus 5 camera can produce images that may rival the iPhone 5, but it is hindered by the crappy Android stock camera app and usability.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in android, apple, impression

 

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OS X Mavericks Impression Addendum: Time Machine

On my previous post, I mentioned how Time Machine in my new installation of Mavericks is reset to start over. After spending a lot of time cleaning up my Time Machine drive to make room for another full backup, I turned Time Machine on, and surprisingly, it re-detected the old backups and thus did not require as much space as originally thought.

Note how it knows again when the oldest backup is, back from Lion. Phew. I wished this was indicated from the get go though so I didn’t have to spend so much time doing clean up. Oh well, all is good now. 🙂

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in apple, impression

 

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Upgraded to Mavericks

An Apple event has come and gone. In the aftermath, we have a free OS X upgrade. Guess what my main machine is running… OS X Lion. 😀

Why did I not upgrade to Mountain Lion? Well, first and foremost, I was lazy. I mean I upgraded my laptop to Mountain Lion, but my iMac is my main machine, and I don’t really want to mess with it unless I have to. Besides, Lion was fine. From using my laptop with Mountain Lion, I don’t see much difference when going back to Lion on my iMac.

Mavericks gives me several incentive to upgrade. First, is tabs in Finders. OS X has this spring-loaded folders that makes it pretty easy to copy files form a drive/folder to a different one. However, if you have a pretty deep folder structure that you want to go to, it’s pretty tedious. Windows 7 has Aero snap, where you can quickly snap two Windows side by side just by dragging each window to the opposite side of the desktop. It makes copying files easy as I can easily set a source folder in one Explorer window, set the destination on another Explorer window, and just use Aero snap to put them side by side.

In OS X, there’s no Aero snap. Unless you opted for 3rd party apps, there’s no way to quickly re-arrange windows. In the olden days, I used the expose feature a lot, which is useful in this scenario. I usually open two Finder windows, one showing the source and one showing the destination, and use expose to copy files between them easily. Well, things have changed. Apple made Expose to cluster windows from the same app together. This actually makes things more difficult in my usage scenario as I cannot pick the destination window quickly from the pile of windows. Mission Control doesn’t improve this, and makes the experience more jarring as now everything moves back, including the different desktops. Copying files becomes a chore (yeah, first world problem). Oh, another annoying thing is that if you have a Finder window open, clicking the Finder icon on the dock only put that window in focus. To open a new window, you have to go to the menu bar and select New Finder Window. In contrast on Windows 7, I can put a shortcut of Explorer on the task bar and clicking that will automatically open up a new window. Yeah yeah, I’m sure there’s a better way, like memorizing keyboard shortcuts, but I just find things more tedious on OS X.

Enter Mavericks with Finders tab. Instead of opening a new window, now I can simply open one tab for the source, open a new tab for the destination, and I can copy files between those tabs by drag-n-dropping the files to the tabs. It makes things more convenient. Plus with Finder being able to go full screen in Mavericks, I no longer have to wrestle with OS X’s windows resizing, especially in columns view. One tiny thing like this can make using an OS a night and day difference, at least for me.

Mavericks have a bunch of other goodies, mainly power efficiency, which is useful if you have Mac laptops. Another point of interest is its better RAM management and memory compression, which should be helpful when I run Lightroom or Final Cut Pro X.

So, I decided to jump on the Mavericks bandwagon, setting loose my old cat to brave the new wave.

Installing Mavericks is just like Lion or Mountain Lion, a simple download from the Mac App Store (MAS). There is a big catch though. In the past, after downloading the OS upgrade, you can drill down into the application package to extract the dmg file of the actual OS installation, and make a USB disk/DVD out of it easily to get a full OS X installation disk. It is very useful for doing clean installs. Not the case anymore with Mavericks. You can still see the installESD.dmg file inside the Mavericks installation package, but inside it is just a bunch of .pkg files. Luckily, there are utilities showing up almost right away to help you create a Mavericks installation disk. Ars Technica has a great tidbit about this and a how to, even a manual way to do it.

In the past, whenever I upgraded OS X (from Tiger to Leopard to Snow Leopard), I always do a clean install and do a restore from Time Machine afterwards (which is another reason I have been delaying upgrading my iMac from Lion). This time, I’m going to put the faith on Apple’s programmers for a smooth upgrade from the App store.

The overall process is very easy. Once you download Mavericks from the App store, it shows an installation screen, asks you to accept the license agreement and select your main drive, and then it will reboot your Mac and does it thing. Probably after about half an hour to 45 minutes, it should be done. A plain non-linen log-in screen greeted me, and voila. Mavericks is installed. Upon logging in, I noticed the new 2D dock, where it is in lighter gray. I don’t actually like this as it makes certain icons harder to see. I prefer the old darker dock that provided more contrast.

Well, things didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted it to be. First thing I noticed, my external Firewire drobo is no longer listed in Finder. I panicked, as this is not only my Time Machine drive, it also contains many of my media files. I ran Disk Utility, and it still listed the drobo in there. It’s just that for some reason, Finder is not showing them. Apps that access it directly could still see it too, as Drobo dashboard could see it. Just not me via Finder. So all hope was not lost. Going to drobo support proved unhelpful as they just started their knowledge base page for Mavericks without any info in it other than links to the latest firmwares (which I already had).

I tried a simple reboot, no go. Worse, even Drobo dashboard started acting up, saying something is not loaded properly. Uh oh. Also, Disk Utility now said something is wrong with the Time Machine partition. Double uh oh. It seems like when booting Mavericks, it does not load everything right away, so when you log in to the desktop right away after a reboot, things can get weird. I rebooted my iMac, let it sit on the log-in screen for a moment (just like Windows), logged in, and everything seemed fine. The drobo was still invincible in Finder, but at least there were no weird errors.

So, what’s the solution? I turned off my iMac, turned off my drobo, turned it back on, turned my iMac on, still no go. *sigh. I turned off everything again, unplugged the drobo, booted my iMac without the drobo, and then hot-plugged the Firewire cable. Voila, Finder was showing my drobo. Huge relief! Right now, apparently this is the only solution as this issue popped back up again, and I had to unplug and replug the drobo back to bring it back from invincibility. Hopefully a more permanent solution would be provided by drobo.

Okay, problem one solved. Oh wait, there’s more! Take a look at this.

Yes, Time Machine had reset itself back to zero. All those hundreds of gigabytes of backups I have accumulated over the previous years are just sitting there ignored. This creates another problem, as now I have to make sure my Time Machine partition has enough space for the new backup from Mavericks (with the way drobo works, the OS can show that it has more free space that what is actually available on the drobo itself). Boo! 😦 So I have been busy cleaning up things. Oh and of course, this initial backup will be huge and take a looooong time.

Well, at least there’s an upside. Apple announced that iWork will be free, but with a new purchase of a new Mac. Well, I didn’t really care as I don’t use iWork, and I’m sure I’m not qualified anyway. Checking the MAS showed that iWork would still cost me $20 each.

However, when I logged in to the MAS from my Macbook Air, I was treated with a confirmation to get all the iWork apps for free. Sweet! Funny thing was, my Macbook Air was not even running Mavericks, it was still on Mountain Lion. I don’t know how, but my Macbook Air was the Haswell one, refurbished. Apple posted an information on their site that those that purchased Macs from October 1st can get iWork for free. I purchased my Macbook Air I think in September. Maybe Apple had some leeway in giving these apps for free. Or maybe all 2013 models are eligible. Nonetheless, it’s icing on the cake. 🙂

Using Mavericks on a desktop is, well, not much different than previous versions of OS X. Sure, skeumorphism is gone, but base functionalities of things are still practically the same, which is great. Oh, the new Maps app? It requires wifi (obviously, for triangulation) to find my location. But I don’t want to use wifi on my iMac. I have gigabit ethernet for a reason. I guess I have to enter my location manually. First world problem, again. 😀

Activity Monitor has new more detailed graphs, more likely to show off Mavericks memory management and power saving features. Game Center is still covered with skeumorphism, unlike the iOS7 version. Notifications are now displayed automatically on your Mac’s lock screen. This is no good. You have to go into Settings and disable this on per app basis. Annoying. Keychain syncing is back as iCloud keychain. You have to set up a couple verification steps to use it. A phone number is optional, but can be a good 2-step verification via SMS. Note that I tried my Google Voice number, it did not work. It failed to receive any SMS from iCloud.

On the desktop, I think that’s about it. I have not noticed major application issues so far. Lightroom still runs fine, so I’m good. 🙂

On my Macbook Air, there are other things I noticed. The power button behavior has changed in Mavericks. Previously, pressing the power button will trigger a prompt asking what you want to do, ie. shut down, restart, etc. Now, it just makes the laptop sleeps. To trigger the same dialog, you have to press and hold the power button a little bit. I don’t see any way to change this behavior. In Windows, you can customize what Windows should do when you press the power button or close the lid of the laptop. The new iTunes seems unstable. Crashing quite a bit, requiring a force quit.

Well, that’s about it for now. Overall, Mavericks is a welcomed update. One, it’s free. Second, even the new iLife updates require it. Third, the power savings and memory management will be appreciated, especially if you have a Mac laptop. If you have a Firewire drobo, take note of the issues. iCloud integration will be useful to those that rely on it. I am quite pleased that Apple can still squeeze things out of OS X, considering how mature it is at this point. There are annoying things here and there, but it’s Apple, so the glossy rainbow usually makes up for them. 😀

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in apple, impression

 

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Apple 2013 September Media Event

Apple has the keynote up and streaming.

And as usual, my 2 cents. 😀

Just like any Apple keynotes, it started with Tim Cook talking about stuff. iTunes Festival, more Apple stores, “absolutely stunning.” Then Craig went on stage, rehashing iOS7’s features. “Precise typography.” Yeah yeah. New ringtones, new tones, “remastered”… err… whatever.

Did Craig just say iMail? 😀

iTunes Radio… Yeah, whatever. I’m sure J-Pop and Eurobeat are not in the listed genres. And did they blackout the screen when Craig showed the NBC app? LOL. And I think Craig also showed the new iPad (or maybe it’s the iPad mini). September 18. Meanwhile, my HTC One still has not gotten 4.2 update.

Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iPhoto, and iMovie for iOS are made free. Not sure how it would work as it still shows as paid apps on my iDevices. Apple said they are free with new iOS devices, and the offer is shown when you first set up the iDevice. I’ll just wait till iOS7 is out.

iPhone 5, replaced. Yup, instead of just reducing the price, Apple replaced the iPhone 5 with the iPhone 5C. Yes, that supposedly “cheap” iPhone is not cheap, it’s on the middle spot. Sounds like Apple couldn’t justify the manufacturing cost of the iPhone 5 to lower its price while maintaining a healthy margin, so comes the cheaper polycarbonate iPhone 5C. And, only Apple can make a fancy video glorifying polycarbonate plastic and some silicone cases, featuring Jason Statham… I meant Jony Ive..

So, what’s the iPhone 5C? It’s the iPhone 5 with a slightly larger battery inside the cheaper (for Apple) plastic. Phil didn’t say it would have the sapphire lens like the 5 though. LTE bands, but no 802.11ac. Maybe it’s too early to judge until I can touch it, but glossy plastic just don’t go on a device that is going to hand held most of its life. Fingerprint magnets.

What hurts more? The price. It’s $99 with 2 year contract for the 16GB model, and $199 for the 32GB model. The 16GB model is $549 unlocked. Err, yeah. So much for the “cheap” iPhone huh. Meanwhile, 16GB Nexus 4 is $249. You can bash the Nexus 4 however you want, no LTE, Android, but in the end, it’s less than half the price of the iPhone 5C, while retaining its glass built instead of going to plastic. Whoever though that Apple would actually release a “cheap” iPhone is silly to begin with as Apple is all about margins. September 13th, pre-order starts. Shipping on September 20th in major markets, including China.

Next is the iPhone 5S. All the rumors are true. Gold color and fingerprint scanner. The surprise, A7 going 64bit. And now the “black” color becomes “Space Gray.” LOL. I guess Apple couldn’t solve the chipping problems that the black iPhone 5 is suffering from, they are just going less black and call it a gray iPhone now. 😀

The big news is the 64bit part. Yes, remember the transition between 32bit to 64bit in PCs? It’s now happening. Phil implied that this transition is quick, unlike the years involved on PCs. What does this mean? This mean don’t buy that iPhone 5C. Yes, this kinda hints that Apple will transition iOS to 64bit fairly quickly, and Apple is well known to drop support off their older devices whenever. I can see that once all their lineup is 64bit, they will abandon anything with A6 (32bit) or older very quickly. So a fair warning, if you really want to buy an iPhone today, help yourself and get the 5S. If it’s too expensive, save up or wait next year for it to be cheaper.

To demo the A7, Apple showed Infinity Blade 3. I’ll wait for the A7X on the new iPad. 🙂

The A7 apparently has a motion co-processor called the M7, specifically to measure motion data. I sense more things to come with this M7, and also another way to make the A6 and older devices obsolete, a good excuse to stop supporting them. Yes, just a reminder again, do not buy the 5C.

The camera has f2.2 aperture now. Phil said larger sensor and bigger pixel. I don’t know, I think HTC and Nokia have something to say on that. The benefits will be in software, where Phil said the camera app have 15 focus points and will take multiple pictures and automatically select the best one. Also, the dual flash with a warmer flash aside the regular one. Digital image stabilization by selecting a sharper picture form the multiple ones the iPhone took. I don’t see this feature works good on any cameras/phones. Besides, we want optical image stabilization, and Nokia and HTC have delivered that. Burst mode. My HTC One can do that already, so nothing too exciting here and I bet most people won’t even know about it. 720p 120fps, resulting in HD slo-mo video, and the neat part is that you can select certain part of the scenes for the slo-mo. I’m intrigued as most of the time, high fps means much lower resolution. If Apple can put this on the next iPod Touch, I’m tempted as I don’t want to spend $$$ for the 5S just for this feature.

The fingerprint scanner rumor is true, called Touch ID, on the home button. Looks like Apple did integrate it into iOS7, thus improving its usefulness other than just a gimmick. You can use it for iTunes purchases. And of course, Jason Statham had another video just for it, I meant Jony Ive. With the recent “concerns” about privacy, Apple intentionally stated that that the fingerprint won’t be stored on Apple servers nor iCloud. We’ll see if Apple’s implementation is seamless, because if not, nobody will use it, like Android’s face unlock.

16GB at $199 with 2 year contract, $649 unsubsidized. No change than before, no 128GB model. Leather cases for $39, and a red one for $49. Yeah, Apple is not going cheap people. And surprise surprise, the 4S remains, neutered to 8GB for free with contract ($450 unsubsidized). Seriously, $450? Again, 16GB Nexus 4 is $249. Heck, even the 32GB LTE Nexus 7 is cheaper than that.

September 20th shipping, including on NTT docomo in Japan.

Apple is playing a video how people are using the iPhone 5C, as if they all can afford one… 🙄 Seriously, $249 Nexus 4, nuff said.

Oh, no more one more thing, but I do have one more thing. Apple is bragging how these new iPhones have the most LTE bands. Well, in reality, it will be even more segregated. If you think you can buy one iPhone 5C/5S and use LTE all over the world, think again. Apple’s own website shows at least four different models with different LTE carriers support on each. So yeah, no fun.

How’s my prediction? Well, I missed everything. 😀 The 4S remains while I thought Apple would ditch it. The prices are not cheaper, and Apple is not giving extra storage either. The iPhone 5 is discontinued. And no new iPads nor iPods. I guess we have to wait till October.

There you go. So, will you buy one? Are you happy/disappointed? Me, I’m waiting for the new Nexus instead. 😉

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in apple, impression, iPhone, Keynote

 

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