Wireless Earbuds vs. “Wireless” Earbuds

A little while back, Google released their new earbuds, the Pixel Buds, no doubt in answer to Apple’s AirPods that were released late last year.  The marketing for this product is clear, as Google states on their storefront:

Loud, proud, ‘wireless.’  Well, the Pixel doesn’t have a headphone jack (no surprise there, it’s 2017 after all), so Google needed to release a product for Pixel buyers to use that would provide a quality experience after the port deletion, just like Apple did.  However, there’s one weird thing about the Pixel Buds, and that’s, well…

…the wire.  Yes, the Pixel Buds are wireless in that they don’t require a wire to go from the phone to your ear, but they do require a wire between each earbud.  This is very much in contrast to the way that Apple solved the “quality experience without a headphone jack” problem, which was to release a truly wireless pair of earbuds.

I found this rather odd, but Google isn’t alone, of course.  Apple’s own Beats X earbuds are “wireless” earbuds that have a wire, as are any headphones that claim to be wireless.  In fact, there are only a handful of truly wireless earbuds on the market, and I think it’s a shame that Google chose to go “wireless” rather than truly wireless.  I’m sure if you get the PixelBuds, they’ll be fine (or maybe not, TWiT owner Leo Laporte seems to think they’re disappointing), but I think that experience really could’ve been better.

I want to see more really wireless earbuds.

For the record, prior to the iPhone X, I would’ve said the the Apple AirPods are the best product Apple launched since the iPhone 4 or perhaps 5.  They are incredibly good, and the first product Apple has released in quite a while that captured some of that undeniably cool Apple magic that people used to rave about so much before it became cool to hate Apple

Apps with “Pure Black” Mode for iPhone X

As I mentioned in my iPhone X review, iOS apps with “pure black” themes look gorgeous on the iPhone X OLED display.  After a quick search, I realized that there isn’t really a good list of these types of apps anywhere, so I decided to start one.

  • Apollo – This is a reddit client that not only has a pure black theme, but the app in general is the absolute best reddit client I’ve ever used.  The developer taking advantage of the iPhone X’s design to the fullest, even including the volume in the left ear rather than having it pop up over the content like by default in iOS.  You’ll have to enable the regular dark theme and flip a toggle in the settings for pure black mode.  App Store link / Developer site link
  • Today Weather – Weather apps aren’t terribly exciting, but this one is certainly beautiful and provides all of the information I’d expect a weather app to provide.  You can even choose the weather source you want, in case you’re not fond the default weather.com.  The pure black theme is enabled by default.  App Store link
  • Pokemon Go – This is a slight stretch, but Battery Saver mode in Pokemon Go now actually makes sense on the iPhone.  You just have to turn it on in your settings, then flip the phone upside down while you’re not actively playing.  App Store link
  • Unread – Unread is an RSS feed reader with a pure black theme.  It can use your accounts from Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, Feedly, Fever, and Newsblur.  It’s quite well-designed and looks great on the iPhone X.  Full disclosure: It’s not free to unlock the full version with dark theme, and I was provided a promo code to be able to check out the app.  App Store link / Developer site link
  • Overcast – Overcast is a popular podcast app that just added a black theme.  I feel like if you listen to podcasts and you’re reading this, you have probably already heard of Overcast, but if not, check it out.  App Store link
  • Feedly – Feedly is a feed reader, now optimized for iPhone X with a pure black theme.  The new design looks pretty slick and should be quite welcome to current Feedly users with the iPhone X.  App Store link / Developer site link

This list will be updated as necessary.  If you created (or know of) an app with a pure black theme that I can test without having to buy anything, leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list (I am not against buying apps at all, I just don’t want to list something I can’t test, and I can’t guarantee that I’ll want to buy your app).

My iPhone X Review

Last year, I wrote a post about the iPhone 7, which I did end up getting for reasons I don’t feel like going into detail about.  It was a great phone, but like I detailed in that post, it was still a pretty lackluster upgrade from an iPhone 6, other than the extra RAM.  Anyway, the reason I bring up that post is because I also detailed the reasons I wanted to wait and buy the 2017 iPhone, and of course, the iPhone X ended up being literally everything I wanted out of a phone last year, and then some.  And before we go any further, it is “iPhone Ten”, not “iPhone Ex,” but if you like mispronouncing stuff, I guess call it whatever you want.

It’s been a while since I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to order something.  I suppose the last time would be for the iPhone 6, but it was actually kind of exciting this time around.  The last time I did that, I remember AT&T and Apple’s sites were both slow/unreliable, and now it seems like AT&T at least has sorted it out with a queue system that I have no complaints about, other than not knowing if you’ve got a phone while you’re waiting.  I hear that Apple’s site and the Apple Store app were pretty similar.

For the past few years, I’ve been pretty over Space Gray for my iPhone, but I can’t stand white bezels, so I didn’t have a choice.  This year, Apple finally put black bezels on the iPhone X no matter which color back you get, which makes sense since the screen is OLED, and pure black on the screen practically melts into the bezels.  Honestly, having now seen the space gray iPhone X next to the silver one, I am pretty confident in saying that the silver iPhone X is one of the most beautiful devices ever created.  So, if you didn’t read between the lines yet, that’s the one I got.

I don’t really want to talk tech specs about this phone.  It’s got the most powerful processor in any smartphone and it has enough RAM to background more apps than you’ll care to background.  Specs, as you might be aware, aren’t the selling points of the iPhone – rather, feature sets are.  When a feature makes sense and requires specific hardware, that hardware is added, so the iPhone X is packed full of great hardware.

First, let’s talk about the display.  The iPhone X has a 5.8″ screen, if measured with Apple voodoo that is actually kind of deceiving.  I believe it’s officially measured corner to opposite corner, not counting the curves (so rather than the actual edge of the display, it goes to where the display would end if it weren’t curved), and not taking into account that the notch is there.  That’s minor, of course, but the notch does eat up some screen real-estate, and the screen is a new, taller aspect ratio, so even though it’s 5.8″, the screen’s surface area is slightly smaller than the 5.5″ display on the iPhone 6/6S/7 Plus.

That’s just an interesting side note, though, because the real story with the display is that it’s gorgeous.  It’s the first OLED display Apple has included in a phone, and while it’s a Samsung produced panel, the display driver and the calibrations are all done by Apple, which has resulted in “the best performing smartphone display that [Display Mate has] ever tested.”  Even though it’s a Samsung panel, the iPhone X display is just ever so slightly better than the Galaxy Note 8.  One thing to note here is that Samsung, by default, loads a color profile on their devices that is overly saturated and very “punchy.”  You can change the color profile to “cinema” to correct this, but it’s still not as accurate as the iPhone X display.  Last week, I thought the display on the Galaxy Tab S3 that I regular use was incredible.  Day before yesterday, I turned it on, and my first thought was “why is this display so blue?”

The one downside of OLED is burn in.  Apple recommends leaving your display timeout on 30 seconds and not using the screen on a brighter setting than you need, because OLED pixels age, and there’s only so much that can be done to prevent it.  While Google clearly is doing a poor job with that on the Pixel, Samsung has done a pretty good job on their devices (I believe they randomly shift UI elements by 1 pixel), and I have little doubt that Apple has put some magic in there to keep the burn in away for as long as possible.  I feel pretty confident in saying that because, after over 2 years of use, my old Apple Watch, which also has an OLED panel, has no burn in.  Though, that’s a personal anecdote of course, and your mileage may vary.  I’m also confident there are people out there with OG Apple Watches that do have burn in.

My favorite thing about the display is the drastically improved contrast ratio over LCD.  Of course, blacks are now pitch black since those pixels aren’t lit (yay, improved battery life!), so you can expect some incredible dark-themed apps, like the Apollo’s “Pure Black Dark Mode” (excellent reddit client, if you haven’t tried it).  Again, this is why the bezels are black no matter which color option you pick.

So, what about the notch?  Well, it’s a thing.  if I had to pick between the way that Apple handles it (notch) and the way that others (barring the Essential Phone) handle it, I think I’d take the Apple way, because there is something that’s just wonderful about that feeling of almost having an edge-to-edge screen, as opposed to three bezel-less sides and one side with a bezel.  But of course, ideally we’d be able to eliminate all bezels and notches so the display is unhindered in any way by a bezel, and I would not blame anyone for preferring a bezel to a notch.  Personally, I’ve found that browsing the web on this screen, notch and all, is one of the best-looking web experiences I’ve ever seen.  The only way you really notice it is in landscape mode.  In portrait, you really just…don’t.  Maybe at first, but after like a day, it fades away.

Oh, and one last note on the display – until developers update their apps, the phone displays what I will call a “virtual bezel” and basically makes the phone look like an iPhone 6/6S/7.  It looks a lot better than when the iPhone 5 did it since the blacks are pitch black.

The iPhone X doesn’t have a headphone jack.  Love it or hate it, this is the future.  I’ve already written my thoughts on that in the same blog post about the iPhone 7 that I linked to above, so I won’t write them again.  I’d only add that if Apple’s EarPods fit into your ears and you don’t have AirPods, you are missing out on the single best, most magical product Apple has created in the past 5 or so years, barring only the iPhone X.

Cameras sell smartphones, and the iPhone X camera is as good as you would expect an iPhone camera to be.  If you’ve never used an iPhone 7/8 Plus before (I don’t recall if the 6/6S Plus is included), then it’s better than you’d expect, because portrait mode is pretty incredible.  Of course, the real story with the cameras here have to do with the front-facing hardware, the new True Depth camera, and all of the other components that make Face ID work its magic (and also animojis, which are surprisingly cool, despite being a huge gimmick that no one will use after a couple weeks).

Face ID is, of course, the replacement to Touch ID.  So far, I’ve found that it’s a marked improvement over Touch ID in 85% of situations.  That is to say, it’s definitely better, but there are also cases when Touch ID is more convenient.  The real magic of Face ID is when an app would normally ask you for Touch ID or a password, but rather than doing that, it’s magically unlocked because Face ID has already activated and authenticated you.  This is one of those things that works so well that going back to the old way feels like a chore on my iPad.

There is a lot of fear-mongering being spread about Face ID, so I’d like to address that really quick.  Every iPhone that has had Touch ID, and now the iPhone X with Face ID, has had a special security chip on it called the Secure Enclave.  When you setup Touch ID or Face ID, all of the data that’s collected to make that authentication work is stored in the Secure Enclave.  That data on that chip is not accessible by any app, or by Apple, nor does any data from the Secure Enclave get stored in the cloud.  It never leaves your device.  The Secure Enclave only stores biometric information and sends authentication tokens.  It isn’t impenetrable or anything, but it’s basically the most secure method of biometric authentication in any smartphone.  Apple doesn’t have your face data, because, by design, the Secure Enclave simply doesn’t allow them access to it.  Now, if you run an app that requests access to front camera and starts doing a map of your face, all bets are off, but you do have to approve that, so if you’re paranoid…just don’t do that.  However, I want to make this request of you: please don’t be paranoid about this technology.  Face ID is very secure, and Apple is not spying on you with it (this is not Google or Facebook we’re talking about, where you are the product rather than the consumer, and even then, I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it).  If you don’t believe me, then you shouldn’t own a smartphone at all, because they all have 2 or more microphones, 2 or more cameras, and are on or around your person 24/7.

Two more things that you need to know regarding some FUD that’s being spread around: you can turn this off, but by default, attentive mode is on, which means your phone won’t unlock unless you are looking at it.  So if you’ve got a crappy significant other that likes to spy on your texts, they can’t point the phone at your face while you’re sleeping to unlock it.  If for any reason you need to disable Face ID, you can do so by pressing and holding either volume button and the side button (previously called the sleep/wake button) until the Power Off screen comes up, immediately releasing those buttons (please read this entire paragraph before trying this!), then pressing Cancel.  After that, you’ll have to put your passcode in to get back into your phone.  Make sure you aren’t looking at the phone while doing this (just hold it at an angle away from your face), or it’ll unlock, and disabling won’t work.  That said, and this is a VERY IMPORTANT NOTE, if you are going to try this, you need to be aware that if you continue to hold the side buttons after the Power Off screen comes up, your phone will go into SOS mode, emit a loud siren, and begin a countdown before calling 911 (or whatever your emergency services are if you aren’t in the US).  Don’t worry, besides the attention you’ll suddenly get if you accidentally trigger this, you can cancel it.  Just do so IMMEDIATELY.  I’ve accidentally set it off and canceled it without an issue, but if you don’t, emergency services WILL show up at your house, and it’s not cool to waste their resources.  This is actually a great feature for when it’s needed though, so if you didn’t know about it, it’s great that you’re now aware.

Anyway, Face ID is fantastic.  Any concern about it not working or letting random people into your phone is pretty much for nothing, unless you have an identical twin.  Because the iPhone X uses on-device machine learning, on the rare occasions when Face ID fails and you have to put in your passcode, it uses that opportunity to learn.  Since you know the code, the phone knows that what it saw was indeed you, and it becomes better at recognizing you by incorporating this new data.  This is also, I believe, why Apple only allows one face in Face ID, as opposed to multiple fingers in Touch ID.  The system can’t learn if it doesn’t know which face it failed to recognize.  That’s just my theory though.  I’ve also read a theory that Face ID would be slower if it supported more faces, which makes sense, but I think my theory makes a bit more sense.

On Qi charging, there’s not really a lot to say.  Many high-end Android phones have had this for years (except the Pixel for some bizarre reason).  Apple only supports wireless charging on Qi devices that follow the Qi spec pretty exactly, so that means the Qi charger in my car doesn’t work with the iPhone X (thanks, General Motors!), but many of the $14 mats on Amazon work just fine.  The inclusion of Qi charging is also why the iPhone 8 and X have glass backs.  Current wireless charging technologies can’t pass through metal, so if you want wireless charging, your phone has to have a glass or plastic back.  That means if you use a magnet or any other thing stuck to the back of your phone that has metal, Qi won’t work.  That aside, while Qi charging is much slower, it is SO much more convenient than plugging and unplugging a cable all day.  I am so incredibly happy that Apple has finally embraced this feature.

I haven’t used the speakers all that much, but Apple has done some amazing work with audio technology lately, especially in small spaces.  The speakers in my iPad Pro and MacBook are tiny, yet sound remarkably good.  The iPhone X shares this quality as well.  The one note I will make here is that since the bezels were deleted, the speaker for the phone is higher up, so if you actually use your iPhone to make real phone calls without using AirPods or speakerphone, you’ll have to hold the phone a little lower down than you may be used to.

It’s an iPhone, so it has the same class-leading battery life you’ve come to expect – not as much as an iPhone Plus, but more than a regular iPhone.

Phew!  So, what’s left?  Well, a big thing, actually, and that’s iOS 11.  There are multiple reasons Apple released the iPhone 8 along with the iPhone X, one of which is that since the home button is gone on the X, there are a lot of changes with how certain features are activated.  People that don’t like change, or people that have trouble adjusting, will probably want the 8 for that reason alone.  I say that not because the changes are bad, but rather, that’s just how some people are.  I would hope that those people would be willing to give the changes a chance eventually, because almost every single one of them is better than the old method of doing things.

First, my favorite of the new gestures are swiping up for home and swiping left/right at the bottom of the screen for app switching.  These are both super natural, and while the home gesture is honestly preferable to pressing a home button, swiping left/right for app switching is an entirely new gesture that totally changes multitasking, while leaving the traditional “card” system in place.  Reachability is a little more difficult until you get the hang of it, but it works very well once you do.  Basically, you swipe down somewhere between the middle of the dock and the very bottom edge of the display to activate it (and you have to turn it on in settings, because it’s off by default).  The multitasking menu (the “cards”, (previously activated by double tapping the home button) has been replaced by swiping up like the new home gesture, but then pausing until you get a vibration, or you can just swipe up and then to the right.  You can wait for the vibration, but you can activate it faster but swiping up and over.

Siri is activated by pressing the side button in for a second, but honestly why even both with that when you can activate it with “Hey Siri?”  A screenshot is just a quick simultaneous click of both the Volume Up and the side button.  Those sorts of things do have a learning curve.  It’s not hard, it’s just different.

The one area where the new gestures really don’t work are the gestures that are in the “ears” of the screen.  Swipe down on the top left for notifications, swipe down on the top right for Control Center.  I rarely use the notifications screen, so I don’t much care about that one, but I use Control Center many times every day, and the positioning of this gesture is just…terrible.  Remember, this phone is very tall, so that gesture just doesn’t work with one hand unless you activate reachability first.  Apple really needs to move this, maybe to the first “card” of the multitasking screen so you can easily get to it via the multitasking gesture.  Whatever they could do to fix it, the current gesture is bad. In all honesty, this is my biggest complaint about the iPhone X – this one, stupid UI decision that they can easily remedy with a software update.

So far, my brain has adapted pretty well going back and forth between the iPhone X’s gestures and the iPad’s physical button.  I’ve only tried to press the home button on the phone once, and I’ve only tried to swipe over/up a couple times on the iPad.  That, however, is just me, as I adapt to changes like these somewhat easily.  It’s kind of like going for the clutch in an automatic if you’re used to driving a manual.  You won’t do it often, but you’ll probably do it at least a few times.

Some people online have complained about wasted space with the new, elongated screen, particularly below the keyboard.  Apple clearly can’t move the keyboard down, otherwise typing would be extremely awkward, so right now, when you’ve got the keyboard up, it’s just got this unusual blank gray space below it.  It does feel a little strange to not at least make that space pitch black, but realistically, they should re-purpose it for something useful.  I’ve seen it suggested that maybe it could function like the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pros and show recently used emojis.  The mockups of that seem pretty nice, without looking cluttered, so, hey, Apple – get on that, please?

The iPhone X, overall, is a pleasure to use.  I’m trying my best to go caseless right now, because to cover this thing up seems like a real waste.  I had to use a case on the iPhone 6 and 7 because the size of the phone, combined with the slippery metal backs, just wasn’t conducive to grippiness.  The glass back on this phone, while being exponentially more fragile, is also far more grippy, so holding the phone is much easier.  If I do drop it…I’ve got AppleCare+, but of course, I’d rather not do that.

I know that $999 is a lot for a phone.  The iPhone X is the most expensive iPhone ever, starting at $50 more than last year’s most expensive iPhone, and topping off at $1149 for some additional storage that I guarantee you don’t need because 64 GB is plenty.  Add a possible case and AppleCare+ onto that, and it’s not a cheap buy in, to say the least.  However, I can confidently say that if you’re in the market for an iPhone, willing to spend the additional money, and you’re not married to the idea of physical buttons, I think you will adore this device.  I know I do.

A Fresh Start

If you’ve been here before, you’re probably wondering what happened to the last 11 years of posts.  Well, I made them private – all 737 of them, with only the post from yesterday remaining.  The old posts still exist, but I wanted a fresh start to my blog, so here we are.  I will, however, be going back and selectively approving some posts that I want to stick around – mostly tech reviews and stuff like that.

Remember when I used to blog every single day?

I have been neglecting my blog for a while now (this one, at least.  My writing blog has been quite active).  Realistically, I don’t ever expect myself to be as active on this site as I used to be, thanks to Twitter, but I don’t really like seeing these huge gaps in time between posts.  I’d like to try to blog at least once a week, but I think once every couple of weeks is more realistic, especially with other projects I’ve got going on.

What projects?  Well, a while back I decided that I wanted to take writing more seriously, so besides actually writing stories, I’m working on turning philipdistefano.com into my author portal, rather than having it just redirect here.  I recently finished writing a novel (it’s a shorter one, just barely over 52,000 words pre-edit), which I’m in the process of editing, so I plan on having the site ready for whenever I get that published.  Last time I published something, I made some mistakes that are rather apparent to me now (yay hindsight), so this time, I’d like to do it correctly and see how it goes in comparison.

Since my last post here, I’ve acquired quite a few new gadgets that I’d really like to talk about.  My friends and I were doing a tech podcast, which was my outlet for that sort of thing, but that project died, so I guess it’s back to writing about it here.

Also, McElroy brothers references incoming.  That is all.