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.

Design Find: iOS 7 Concepts

I’m always intrigued by exciting new interface designs, and these iOS 7 concepts by Mohamed Kerroudj are no exception. Kerroudj shows what a dramatic overhaul of the iOS interface could look like. It’s beautifully minmal, but also adds a lot of new functionality. I’m sure Apple will never implement quite this much change (at least all in one OS update), but there are still some great concepts.

I particularly like being able to perform simple functions and manage notifications right on the lock screen. The overall feel is much cleaner and more fresh. It still feels very Apple-like (maybe even more so), while giving iOS that update we’ve all been clamoring for. I hope Apple takes note and incorporates something similar.

Take a look at the videos below, and let me know what your favorite parts are in the comments. Have you seen some great concept videos or images? Share a link, I’d love to see them.

Opinion: How to improve iOS

I know, I know, just what the world needs, another article on how to make the iPhone (and other iOS devices) better. Well, it’s true there’s no shortage of user dreams for iOS, but that doesn’t mean I can’t throw my two cents in. Here are a few ways how Apple could improve iOS to keep it current and improve the overall user experience.

Screenshot of iOS notification with delete button mocked up.Swipe to clear notifications: Have you ever not paid attention to your phone for a while? On occasion, I’ll leave it sit in my pocket on a long drive or while I’m in a meeting. Afterwards, I’m overwhelmed with the number of notifications on screen. Usually I’ll try to delete them, but Apple tiny little “x” doesn’t like my man-sized fingers. Furthermore, I don’t always want to delete all of the notifications from an app. Wouldn’t it be nice if Apple added support to “swipe” across a particular notification and a delete button popped up (think of the experience in Mail; see mock up at right)? I’d like to see this functionality in both the notification center and the lock screen.

Set your own default apps: A few years ago Apple apps were top notch. Now they’ve seemingly remained stagnant, and there is a wealth of better designed, easier to use and all around more enjoyable third party apps. It’s time Apple opens up a little and lets users set their own default apps. I’m in love with Mailbox and already use it as my main mail app. Wouldn’t it be great if iOS knew and respected that? I hate being in another app and trying to share something via email only to get Apple Mail app. Same goes for browsers, maps, etc. You can still ship your stuff, Apple, but let me choose what to use.

Siri API: Oh, Siri… I had such hope for you. Siri in theory is a really useful assistant. But in practice, she leaves a lot to be desired. Turn by turn directions are finally there, and you can look up movie showtimes, but I want more. Obviously setting your own default apps would take use a step closer to usefulness but I want a full-fledged API. I want developers to have access to Siri so she can do wonderful things. “Siri, check me into Starbucks”

iWatch: So this isn’t so much an iOS request as it is a new product, but I see them closely related. I want a watch that will make Siri useful (talking to my wrist is better than talking to my phone, which if in my hand, I can easily type on). I want the ability to easily glance at my watch to see who’s calling or texting or emailing, maybe even let me use canned responses right on the device. The Pebble is a start, but I think only Apple can make it a truly seamless experience.

Better app management: I literally have a dozen pages of apps on my phone. Needless to say, I’m not even sure what’s on there beyond the first couple pages. I’ve tried to organize, but it’s a daunting task, and it should be so much easier. For starters, don’t make my apps slide to the upper left corner. I want to place apps in specific spots and have them stay there. Sometimes I might want a gap between apps, it’s no big deal, just let me do it! I’d also like to see the ability to move more than one app at a time. I think there are jailbreak tweaks to do these things, but I shouldn’t have to do that. It should be easy and standard.

Alert sounds: The thing I miss most about Android is being able to customize every single little sound my phone makes. I customized apps to have alerts that let me know what was happening and whether or not it was worth pulling my phone out of my pocket. To some extent you can customize sounds on your iPhone, but it’s very limited. I hear the same ding for most apps, and it’d be nice to know if a game wants my attention or if it’s something more important. It seems this is left up to individual developers to add their own sounds right now, but I want to take it further, let me set the sound. I want to do custom sounds, so I know exactly what I’m being pinged for, and it’s not the same default sound that everyone else in the room has.

Web app notifications: Sometimes a native app isn’t the answer. One of the downsides to a Web app, however, is the inability to send users notifications. With modern browsers like Chrome and Safari allowing Web apps to take advantage of desktop notifications, why shouldn’t your phone or tablet? Hopefully this would cut down on some of those “native” apps that just wrap up a website. I saw a good mock up of this recently but I cannot seem to re-find it.

There are plenty of other ideas I didn’t add, but the above are some of my biggest desires. What would you like to see added in iOS 7? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

App Review: Zite

Zite on iPadThere’s no shortage of news readers in the App Store but Zite stands out as one of the best. Think of Zite as a personal news magazine that scours the internet to find articles you’ll enjoy. After you link a few social media services and pick a few favorite categories, Zite gets to work filling your screen with articles it thinks you’ll like. It does a really great job too.

The longer you use Zite the better it gets. If you read an article you like, just give it a thumbs up to tell Zite it’s been doing a good job. Find an article you don’t like? A simple thumbs down will let Zite know. All of this data is used to continually improve the recommendations Zite pushes to you. If you’re social media accounts are linked up it uses articles that are posted by people you follow to also improve your results. The whole system is simple but creates a great news experience.

The interface is very clean and they’ve added some nice gesture shortcuts. You can easily thumbs up or down an article by a little swipe up or down on the square. To read an article in full just tap it and it brings it up. You can use the built in “reader” mode or view the full Web page. Sharing articles is extremely easy and incorporates all your favorite social media sites, email and even “read later” services like Pocket.

You can set up favorite topics so you can always keep up to date with the latest news on Google, hockey or whatever you’re into. Articles are tagged by categories and you can click one of those tags to see more about that topic. If you like it, just star it and it’ll show up in your favorite list so you can easily stay up to date with that type of content. Your favorites influence your “Top Stories” section as well.

Zite on iPhoneI started using Zite on my iPad at the suggestion of a friend and haven’t stopped using it since. After using it a while I wished there was a way to get that content elsewhere and it wasn’t long before they answered my desire with an iPhone app. The same content in a smaller on the go package.

If I had to give one complaint to Zite it’s that it doesn’t refresh content often enough. There doesn’t seem to be a way you can force a refresh and I’ll find myself flicking through articles I’ve already ready, longing for more. It does seem to randomly add articles throughout the day but I’d like a way to get more after I’ve read through them all and thumbed up and down the results.

Ok, maybe I have one more complaint or rather a request… I want a Web or desktop client. I spend at least eight hours a day at the computer and I want to keep up on my Zite reading. Sure I can pull out my iPad or iPhone but it’d be a lot nice if I could just have a browser window or a desktop app available. It’s a small thing but it’d be a great addition if you ask me.

Overall I can’t recommend Zite enough. It does more than just pull your feeds for reading, it actually learns what you like and don’t like and then presents you with a great selection of articles all over the Web. Go check it out in the App Store and let me know what you think in the comments.

App Review: Solar

Every once in a while I stumble across an app that truly makes me smile. Often it’s resulting from an out-of-the-box way of thinking about user interface and experience. Solar is one of those apps that brought an instant smile to my face.

Solar is, at its most basic level, a weather app. But that doesn’t do it justice. It’s like no weather app you’ve ever seen before. Screenshots won’t even do it justice, you need to experience it. This video will give you a basic idea but I’m telling you, until you have it in your hand and start scrolling through the hours of the day you can’t fully appreciate how cool it is.

In many ways it seems like Solar is the Clear of weather apps. It’s completely simple and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles other apps might boast. That doesn’t matter because it is useful. Very useful. And it does what it does very well. Not to mention it’s fun to use and beautiful.

If you appreciate good user interface and user experience design you should download this app. If you are looking for a simple, easy to use and fast weather app, Solar is the answer. If you’re looking for a weather app with radar and news, this one’s not for you. Check it out in the App Store.

iPhone Tip: Typing Shortcuts

I love shortcuts. On my computer I’m constantly using key commands to avoid moving the mouse and save myself a few seconds here and there. After a while that time really adds up. It only makes sense then that I’m always looking for shortcuts and time-savers on my phone as well. I’d like to share one of those shortcuts with you.

It’s a little-publicized feature of iOS called keyboard shortcuts. Basically it takes advantage of the auto-correct feature and allows you to have common phrases replace your custom shortcut text.

For example, if you find yourself typing “birthday” a lot, why not set up a shortcut of “bday” that will automatically correct itself into “birthday” on the fly. It’s extremely simple to set up and even easier to use.

Path to Keyboard Settings

To get started, navigate from Settings > General > Keyboard. You’ll want to make sure “Auto-Correction” is switched on. After that swipe down to find “Shortcuts.” These are the ones currently enabled on your phone. By default there should be a couple such as “omw” that turns into “On my way!”

Keyboard Settings Screen

To add your own shortcut, just tap “Add New ” below. Add your phrase, such as “by the way” and then the shortcut you’d like for it, such as “btw.” Hit the save button in the upper right corner and you’re all set. Anytime you type your new shortcut it should auto-correct into your phrase. It’s a great way to save yourself some time.

Add a new shortcut screen

iPhone Tip: Emoticons (Emoji)

So you’ve got your shiny new iPhone and you’re wondering how your friends get those cool smiley faces to show up in their texts. You’ve tried the ol’ : – ) but it’s not turning into the little yellow guy. Have no fear, I’m going to let you in on the secret.

If you look through the App Store you’re bound to find a bunch of apps that claim to add an emoticon keyboard for you. Some of them are even paid apps. I have great news for you. You don’t need them. All they do is enable a hidden feature in iOS, which you can easily do all by yourself. So before you waste a buck, read on.

It is extremely easy to enable the Emoji keyboard and give yourself a ton of little emoticons to spice up your texts. Go to your phone’s Settings. Then scroll down and tap on General. From there you will navigate to Keyboard then International Keyboards. Once you’re there you can tap Add New Keyboard. You’re looking for Emoji. That’s it. You’re done.

When you load up any text field you’ll notice your keyboard will have a new globe button on it. If you tap the globe it switches to the Emoji keyboard. There are a lot of options in various categories for you to enjoy. Keep in mind only other iOS users will see these. What are you waiting for? Go give this a try!

App Review: iDisc Golf Pro

As previously mentioned, I’m a new disc golfer. I’ve played everyday that I can. On Thursday and Friday I had planned to fit in a couple of rounds but the weather had other ideas. The pouring rain and cold didn’t seem like an ideal situation to play in so I went looking for a virtual disc golf experience. Enter iDisc Golf Pro. It’s a $0.99 app that replicates playing disc golf right on your iPhone or iPad.

iDisc Golf Pro Main Menu

I started by downloading the free lite version. It allows you to play three holes and by the second hole I knew it was worth the buck to play a full 18. You can play one or two players (it’s a local, pass the phone kind of two player) and there are blue and white tees for different skill levels.

There are six course to choose from, each with a unique locale and varying difficulty. They’ve done a nice job giving you a variety of landscapes. Wooded, beaches and even snowy courses are options. All of these are available at the start and as far as I can tell, there is no unlocking of content in this game. The graphics are 3D and reminiscent of a mid to late-90s computer game. They aren’t spectacular but they get the job done.

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

The game throwing is pretty simple. You cycle through your three disc choices—driver, mid or putter—and then touch the disc, swipe it up and release. Depending on what angle you swipe at the disc will behave slightly different, much like releases in real-life. I wish there were a few more disc choices. It’d be really cool to unlock other drivers that have ratings like real life discs to maximize power, distance, fade, etc. This would bring the game to a whole new level and increase its realism.

screenshot from iDisc Golf Pro

In my opinion, they’ve really missed an opportunity by not integrating with Game Center. I think a game like this is perfect for it. I’d like to see my best rounds on a leaderboard with my friends and most importantly, I’d love to see some achievements. Birdies, aces, finishing under par are all things that could easily lend themselves to the achievement system.

What is here, is a great little game. It’s fun, it replicates its real-life counterpart pretty well and there is enough variety to keep you coming back. Sure it could be improved but I’m just glad it exists and it’s affordable. It’s a disc golfer’s best friend on a rainy day. I hope the developers continue to work on iDisc Golf Pro and build on the great base game they’ve already created.

Little Miss Phone Wallpapers

Way back when my fiancé got her first smartphone I created a custom background wallpaper for her. It was an original Motorola Droid and she had a pink case on it. I created “Little Miss Droid” which was inspired by the Little Miss and Mr. Men books.

When it came time to power down her Droid for the last time and move to her brand-spanking-new iPhone, she was a little sad to see Little Miss Droid leave her life. She named her iPhone “Little Miss iPhone” and I knew she would love it if I made a new wallpaper for her. I finally finished it this past weekend and I’m really happy with how it turned out. There isn’t a “Mr. iPhone” for myself yet, but that is definitely on my to-do list.

Little Miss wallpapers on the phones


Pebble E-Paper Watch

A while back the Pebble made a splash in the tech world. I was impressed by it and its capabilities. I set the link aside to further investigate later. Every once in a while I’d see it tweeted about or mentioned on a tech site and then earlier this week I finally sat down and watched all the video and read through all the descriptions. I then decided I had to have one.

A little background… Not long ago my first generation iPod nano was replaced (via recall) with a current generation nano. I thought it was really cool and immediately got a watchband case for it. I wore it around a few days and while it looked cool it wasn’t practical. I had to keep turning on the screen to see the time and why would I use it for music when I’m already carrying around my iPhone? I stopped wearing it. I wondered why it couldn’t communicate with my iPhone, why caller ID and emails couldn’t be transmitted to my wrist. The technology is all there, it’s just not implemented. Enter the Pebble.

This isn’t the first watch to link to your phone with bluetooth but it’s the most well thought out one I’ve seen. It looks nice, it has loads of customization and it works with both iOS and Android. Out of the box it will have many useful features like music controls and caller ID. There’s going to be an online store for additional apps to download to your watch via your phone. They’re making it easy for developers to access their SDK and by including both iOS and Android devices, I think lots of developers will hop on board.

The Pebble seems like the watch I’ve been waiting for. A few days ago I made the decision to pledge support on Pebble’s Kickstarter page. I was about to plop down the cash for my “pre-order” (They ship in September by the way) but realized if I got 5 friends together we could each save a bit of money and have our choice of colors. I started campaigning among my circle of friends and had just about everyone ready to go. Yesterday I found out they are all sold out. EVERY level of support is gone. I’m really upset with myself for not acting sooner. I’m still really looking forward to the Pebble and I hope it’s extremely successful. I’m not looking forward to paying full retail (estimated to be $150+) because I missed out on the Kickstarter project. I guess” you snooze you lose” really holds true here.