Review: iPhone 5S

Three Apple iPhone 5S phonesI recently upgraded my trusty ol’ iPhone 4S to a shiny, new, space grey iPhone 5S. So far, I couldn’t be happier.

Bright and early Friday morning, my brother and I checked number 26 off of our “Apple Nerds Bucket List.” We stood in line to get the latest iPhone. At 8 a.m., we became the first people at Best Buy (and one of, if not the first people in Kalamazoo) to unbox our fancy new iPhone 5S phones.

Last year, I almost upgraded to the iPhone 5. I liked the idea of LTE and a longer screen, but I was only halfway through my contract and didn’t feel like it was really worth the extra dough to buy the phone at full retail price. I anxiously awaited the next phone, pretty certain I’d be using my upgrade for it. Although many people were disappointed with what was announced, I was able to see past the initial criticism of Apple “not innovating” and was excited to get my hands on the 5S. After all, they just released the first phone with a 64 bit chip and it has a fingerprint scanner. At first these could just seem like gimmicky features, but they aren’t, and Apple is still innovating. I think everyone just expects them to change entire industries with every launch. That’s a lofty expectation for any company, even Apple.

Leading up to getting my iPhone 5S, I read a lot about how the fingerprint scanner was just a gimmick. It’s not. Touch ID is actually amazing. For much of the time I had my iPhone 4S, I did no protect it with a security code. I knew I should, but having to type in four numbers every time I unlocked my phone was too much of a hassle. Being able to protect my phone and still get into my phone at a moment’s notice with Touch ID has been awesome. In a very Apple-like fashion, it just works. There’s tons of technology there, but to a user it’s extremely simple. Furthermore, being able to authenticate iTunes and App Store purchases with a quick placement of your thumb on the home button is a convenient way to avoid typing your password. My only complaint with Touch ID so far, is that it only works for those two instances. I’d love to see them somehow expand (in some extra secure fashion) this feature to any app. Passwords are the worst part of any app and somehow creating a system key chain that stores them and lets you interact with your fingerprint, would be a huge time saver.

While it’s not a new feature to the 5S (it was introduced on the 5), the larger screen is a welcome addition. I was surprised how much that extra half-inch really improved my experience. I mean, an entire extra row of icons? I’m down with that. The retina display is as beautiful as ever. Despite bigger pixel claims, I haven’t seen another smartphone screen that’s as impressive.

The 64 bit processor is a major upgrade. Technically speaking, users aren’t experiencing its entire power yet. That said, it’s super fast. Nothing seems to lag and the battery life (somewhat surprisingly) doesn’t suffer at all. Maybe that’s thanks to the new M7 co-processor, another great addition to the iPhone 5S.

iPhone photography is stronger than ever. They didn’t go for the ridiculous megapixel counts, but instead concentrated on making the 8 MP sensor even better. I was impressed with the camera on my 4S and I’m even more impressed with the 5S. The new sensor takes super fast photos with lots of color depth. The new flash does a good job evening out color temperature (but if given a choice, I’d still try to shoot a photo without flash). The burst mode is very handy and the slow-mo video capability is outstanding. You can make almost anything look cool in slo-mo. If your iPhone hasn’t replaced your point and shoot by now, this probably will.

The color options for the 5S were a little disappointing. High-end phone users like bright colors too, Apple! I didn’t think the gold would be popular at all, but reports are saying it’s the best-selling model. I decided to turn in my black iPhone 4S for a space grey 5S. It’s the same familiar black front and a decent looking grey panel on the backside. It’s almost always in a case anyway, so I guess colors aren’t a huge deal.

I’ve had my 5S for a while now and I’m still in love with it. It’s a solid phone. It feels good in your hand, it’s well-built and super fast. The battery life is good and the Touch ID is much more useful than you might think. Let the haters hate, but I’m still a big fan of Apple and their iPhones.

Happy iOS 7 day!

Screen shots of Apple's iOS 7.The highly anticipated update to iOS is finally here. While initially iOS 7 left me with a few concerns, I’ve found it to be an improvement and for the most part, very satisfying. I’ll go into more detail after I’ve used it day-to-day for a longer period.

So what do you need to do to get updated? I recommend a manual backup of your phone (even if you normally backup through iCloud). It’s easy and doesn’t take to long. Open iTunes, plug-in your phone, select it in the upper right corner and look for the “Back up Now” button. It’ll do it’s thing and in a few minutes you can eject your phone and upgrade to iOS 7 without fear.

So now you’re rocking the fancy new iOS 7, but besides the eye candy, what’s new? Wired wrote a great little article detail many of the changes in iOS 7. It’s worth a read.

iOS 7 is great and all, but the real treat today (and for the next few weeks) will be all the great UI updates to your favorite third-party apps. Wanting to stay relevant and not look out-of-place, many app developers have worked hard on getting their apps to reflect the new style in iOS 7. TapFame set up a page detailing some of the before and after screen shots. I find some of these third-party updates even more exciting than iOS 7 itself.

Have you installed iOS 7 yet? What’s your favorite feature? How about third-party apps, who’s done the best job translating their app into the new iOS 7 design language?

Review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon Kindle PaperwhiteI recently purchased a Kindle Paperwhite from Amazon and I couldn’t be happier. As I recently posted, I’ve really jumped onto the eReader bandwagon.

About a year ago, I started seriously considering an eReader. I almost bought one a number of times, but thought my iPad mini would suffice. As the weather started warming up, I started going outside more. I wanted to read outside, but it was less than ideal iPad conditions. The bright sun and desire to read at the beach (somewhere, I was leery of taking a $300 iPad) made me finally pony up for the Kindle Paperwhite.

Why the Paperwhite? Well I did a lot of research on the pros and cons of the major eReader players. The Nook, while a nice device didn’t have the beautiful Paperwhite display. The entry level Kindle lacked the nicer screen, a backlight and a touch screen. I liked the price of those other readers better, but ultimately the Kindle Paperwhite won me over.

A big bonus for me with the Amazon devices over other brands, was the lending library that an Amazon Prime membership includes. I’m already a prime subscriber, plus I’ve previously bought books with the Kindle app, so it made sense for me to stick with Amazon.

The device itself is fantastic. The screen is readable in any situation. In the brightest of sunlight or the dimmest of rooms, you can adjust the backlight to make your reading experience terrific. The size is very nice too. It’s very light, easy to hold and can be hidden away in a bag or cargo pocket very easily.

The built in wi-fi makes synching with or making Amazon purchases a breeze. There is a 3G model, but I opted to stick with the wi-fi (to save some money and I’m usually around wifi for most of the day). The Paperwhite charges on a standard USB cable. They don’t include a wall charger, but these days anyone with a phone has one that can be used.

The battery life seems to be excellent. I’ve charged mine once and I’ve ready five books on it. It didn’t even die, but I was headed out of town and wanted to make sure it was ready. To get a little more battery life out of your device, I recommend turning on “airplane mode” to kill the wifi. I usually leave that on unless I’m synching or browsing the book store.

A nice little touch is Amazon’s Whispersynch, which will keep your last-read page synch across devices. So if you start a book on your Kindle, but then want to continue on a computer or iPad later, you don’t have to remember where you were. It’s a small thing, but very handy.

Overall, it’s hard to find a flaw with the Paperwhite. It’s solved every problem I’ve had with reading in the past, and now I’m flying through books left and right. If you’ve been on the edge, I highly recommend going for it. It’s a beautiful device with a good feature set. I couldn’t be happier with mine.

Opinion: Why I prefer eReaders over traditional books

I’ve never been much of a book reader (I stuck mostly to online articles, blogs and magazines), but eReaders always intrigued me. It’s not that I don’t like reading; I read many articles everyday. Most of my biggest complaints against books were mostly because of the physical books themselves. I don’t like that you have to hold the book open, often with two hands. I don’t like that you could easily drop the book and lose your page. If you wanted to lay down and read, most books are a bit too heady to hold overhead, and putting them on their side isn’t a workable option either. Overall, I just hate reading a physical book. I knew I was missing out on some great literature, but that wasn’t enough for me to give in and deal with it. For all the reasons so many people love their physical books, I hated them.

Enter digital books… Finally they were making books for me. I’ve always been a technology person and along with the aforementioned reasons, I also preferred my text to be digital. For some reason I found it easier to read on-screen than on paper. I’m sure I’m in a minority here, but it’s true. I started reading a few books here-and-there on my computer, and then a few more (and more often) once I got an iPad. I actually got a taste of an eReader last summer at the beach, thanks to a loan from a friend. I had finally found a way to read that suited me. I could hold the tablet in one hand, easily save (and synch) my last read page, and best of all, carry tons of books with me without the bulk and trouble of heavy, physical books.

I knew eReaders were for me and often considered buying one for the last year or so. I rarely jump into a purchase like that, so I started studying what was out there. Just as I was about to put down the money for a Kindle, I got my iPad mini. It seemed like a good enough format to read on so I thought maybe I didn’t need a dedicated device for reading.

Then it started warming up. The sunshine was luring me out of the apartment more and more, and the iPad’s screen, while great outside, just wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the sun. After reconsidering my options, I thought a cheaper, more sun-friendly device would be a better outside companion. I wanted something that could be taken to the beach without the fear of having it stolen (or filled with sand). Something that could be used day or night, inside or outside, just for reading. I ended up with Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. I’m very happy with the decision, and will be reviewing it soon.

Another advantage to a dedicated eReader, one I didn’t even think about ahead of time, is distractions. When you’re on a tablet, it’s easy to get away from your book and surf the Web or check your social media. With an eReader, you’re pretty much locked into a device that only lets you read. In a world with no shortage of distractions, this can actually be a feature and not a limitation.

I have the ability to carry hundreds of books with me at anytime now. I can switch between books with a couple of button presses. I remember reading this on feature lists of eReaders, and thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. It is though. Especially if you’re away from home. It’s nice to know if you start a book and it sucks, you have other options right there with you. Better yet, if you’re away for an extended period of time, you know you won’t run out of reading material.

So there you have it. Just a few reasons why eReaders rock. Do you agree? Have you had a similar epiphany with the eBook revolution or are you a hardcore, old-school physical book person? Let me know why you think I’m wrong or right in the comments.

Building a disc golf trophy


As I previously mentioned, my buddies and I started a tradition of holding a little disc golf tournament on Independence Day. This, the second year, we decided it would be pretty cool to start the tradition of a traveling trophy. Something that could pass from winner to winner each year.

I got together with one of my handy friends, Lee, and set off to build an epic disc golf trophy. We both envisioned something huge. Something so large you could hold it over your head like the Stanley Cup. Something very disc golf, like a functional mini basket. But it needed to be big. Since the competition is always on the Fourth of July, we opted to make it extremely patriotic too. We were going for something that would make a statement. It needed to get the reaction of “you’re not putting that in the living room” from your wife. That’s what we were setting out to do and I’m pretty sure we succeeded. Here’s the process of building an epic disc golf trophy.

IMG_1261To start we were considering various materials. Since we wanted it to be durable and last for years, it had to be something sturdy. We wanted to be able to pick up the trophy in celebration. We ended up with a combination of wood and metal pipe.

We started with cutting out some circles. We figured one for the top and bottom of the basket would work well. We’d secure them together with a small metal pipe. We bought some chain, trimmed it to size and hooked it into the top of the basket with eye hooks and wire. The bottom of the chains were attached to a metal ring that fit around the pipe. The final piece of the basket, was some cut-to-size chicken wire fencing. We stapled it on after paint.

For the base pole, we used a larger pipe so the basket could stand on top of the trophy base. To make sure it was a really sturdy trophy, we attached the pipe all the way through the box used as the base.

As we started building, the trophy grew bigger than we even intended. It was getting big so instead of a couple, stepped boxes on the base we stuck to just one. The big box was meant to give a sturdy base and allow for a place to add each year’s winner on an engraved plate.

We got the trophy built, sanded down and then came time for paint. Like I mentioned, we thought tying in a patriotic theme would work well for an annual Fourth of July tournament. I thought a blue base, with stars and a striped red and white top would be perfect.

IMG_1427To start we sprayed the entire thing with primer and then a coat of white paint. After that dried, I placed on some star stickers I cut out on a friend’s Cricut. Then I painted over those stars with blue, let them dry overnight and then peeled of the stickers. This left perfectly sharp looking white stars. The stripes were a similar process, but with painters tape to create sharp lines. We left the silver of the metal pipes and chains for a little shimmer and contrast.


The whole thing really came together and it looks amazing. I’m so happy I won it this year. I have it in my office, and now I can appreciate it each and every day. Did I mention it is a functional mini basket too?

Mini disc golf with trophy

What do you think? Have you ever tackled creating a trophy of your own?

Kreyos Meteor Smartwatch

Kreyos Meteor smartwatchesThe idea of a smartwatch has always intrigued me. I’m constantly pulling my phone out of my pocket and being able to do those checks right on my wrist. I thought the Pebble might be the answer, but I missed out on the pre-order. Maybe that was meant to be, as I’ve just ordered another smartwatch, the Kreyos Meteor.

Billed as “the only smartwatch with voice and gesture control,” the Meteor brings a whole new level of cool to the smartwatch game. Sure seeing notifications from your phone on your wrist was cool, but it’s even cooler if you can interact with those messages without pulling out your phone. That’s what sets the Meteor apart from the crowd. With this device you’ll be able to get all your messages, emails and more. You’ll even be able to answer phone calls and reply to messages with your voice, all while your phone stays tucked away in a pocket or purse. This device will finally let you have the communication device you’ve dreamed of for years.

The Meteor also lets you control your music, post to social media and even supports fitness tracking. There will be a full SDK so other apps can tap into it.

There are a ton of unique features to this watch, and instead of listing them all, I suggest you check out the Indiegogo page. Watch the video, read through and you’ll see why I jumped on this. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be sure to review it as soon as it comes in (they expect before Christmas).

2013 Economy Open

Last year my friends and I established the “Economy Open.” This was to be a disc golf tournament held on the Fourth of July on the school grounds of an elementary right behind the house of our friends, Mike and Katie Economy (hence the name). The first year was very simple, using poles, trees and similar fixtures all around the school. It was a blast, but our options for challenging and creative holes was fairly limited.

2013 Economy Open ParticipantsThe event has now become an annual staple of our Independence Day get-together. The 2013 tournament was a major upgrade. This year we had two portable Innova Skillshots so we could place our holes wherever we wanted. This lead to many interesting shots with a lot of variety in both length and skill. We used some mandos and “water hazards” (sections of rock or fenced in areas). It really turned out to be quite the course.

IMG_3995IMG_4002The competition was actually very close. Three or four of us were in it until almost the end. In fact, the difference between first and second place was only a stroke. The full results are posted on Disc Golf Scene.

Despite a couple of penalty strokes due to our “water” hazards and one beautiful 150 foot birdie shot that just splashed right out of the basket, I had a really strong round. So strong in fact, I beat my little brother. That was my main goal of the day, but I surpassed that and actually won the tournament too. It felt great to walk away the champ.

Winner, Christopher Jones holds the trophy from the 2013 Economy Open disc golf tournament.The best part of winning? The fancy new trophy. My buddy, Lee, and I built this thing from scratch. We gave it a patriot look and created a base where each year’s winner will be added. I documented the whole trophy making experience, so check back for that story soon.

I’m looking forward to next year’s tourney. Everyone playing seems to be getting better and better, so the competition will be fierce. I hope I can defend my title, because this trophy is way to cool to have to hand over to someone else.

Valid Foursquare Venues

Foursquare logoI’m a huge fan of Foursquare. I use it everyday. For a while now, I’ve also been a “super user,” meaning I can make edits and suggestions to the Foursquare database. With the help of 4sweep, I’ve been busy tracking down invalid and/or inappropriate venues. There are so many “bad” venues out there, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what makes a valid Foursquare venue.

Foursquare defines a “good” venue as, “Real places. Places people can meet up. Places that already have a Foursquare category. Places where people like to check in.” That’s a pretty good description, and if people lived by those rules, we’d be fine. The problem is new venues are popping up every day that don’t fit that mold.

The biggest offender I see is venues that are actually actions. “Watching The Big Bang Theory” or “Running a mile” are not valid venues. You can’t meet up at “running a mile.” Those are shouts and you can add them as you check-in to a valid venue. For example, check-in to a park and shout “out for a mile run” or check into your buddy’s house and shout “watching Big Bang Theory with Todd.”

The next one is mis-categorized homes. I know you like to think “Sally’s Pink Palace” is a castle, but we all know it’s just your apartment. The same goes for your home brewery operation. If it’s your home, just make it a home. It’s more beneficial to you too, because it will be more private and you won’t end up with a random person showing up at your door, demanding a can of PBR from your dive bar.

I can’t tell you how many car venues I’ve cleaned up. Cars are not venues. They just aren’t, so please stop creating them.

Getting too specific is also a large problem. You can check into “Dunkin’ Donuts,” but you shouldn’t be checking into “booth #4” or any bathroom, anywhere, ever. Let’s keep it simple and uncluttered. Your Xbox is not an arcade. Your big screen TV is not a theatre. No seats, no toilets and no desks. Please and thank you.

Vague check-ins like “Work,” “Planet Earth” or “The Store” don’t work either. Foursquare venues are there for more than just your personal fun. Foursquare has created a huge database that can actually help people explore their surroundings. It becomes less helpful when you create a burger joint called “Work all day long.” These are the kinds of things you can shout in your check-in to a real venue like “McDonalds” or “BigCorp Headquarters.”

Those are just a small sampling of some of the bad venues I’ve been coming across. I hope it was helpful to learn a few dos and don’ts for Foursquare venue creation. What’s the craziest venue you’ve come across in Foursquare?

Tips for design school students

I was reading a great little write-up on tips for design school students. It was written by a graduate of the Western Michigan University program (where I also attended). She has some great insight so I thought I’d pass it along. It’s definitely worth a read, even for design school graduates. It’s always good to remember these things after school too.