Some Quick Thoughts on the iPhone 7 Plus

I got my iPhone 7 Plus (256 gig, black) on Tuesday. I’ve had it for exactly a day and a half so haven’t had much time to play with it yet. Overall I’m happy with the decision I made. Of course, I don’t get my phone for free like some reviewers, so I’m pre-disposed to liking it after having spent so much money.

I’ve never had the “Plus” before. It’s a lot heavier than I expected and that will take some getting used to. I appreciate the larger keyboard to type on and the screen is amazingly sharp. With my regular sized iPhone 6, I was frequently reaching for my glasses for tasks like reading and responding to text messages – I don’t think I’ll need to do that as often now. I expect the larger screen to be useful for Waze (which is one of my most frequently used apps) but haven’t driven anywhere in the last 2 days to test it out.

My 128 gig iPhone 6 was almost always full. Now I have a lot of empty space and I’m filling it up with FLAC files (from CD’s I’m ripping myself using Exact Audio Copy and some stuff that I have, um, downloaded). I’m using a free app called FLAC Player+ for playing the music on the phone and so far that is working quite well. There are ads on screen – but how often does one look at the screen when listening to music?

(Time saving tip: Since FLAC Player+ loads files via iTunes’ file sharing interface, the first time I loaded files I had 20 files that started with 01., 20 files that started with 02., and so on. I deleted everything, batch renamed files so they had the album names first and reloaded the files. Otherwise it would be a long and painful process to delete individual albums later on. It appears that playlists need to be created on the phone. I’ve been using MusicBee to make sure all files are properly tagged.)

The sound quality is just blowing me away. I’m using the Audioquest Dragonfly Red DAC and the Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones and I’m hearing details that I haven’t heard in a very long time. This alone makes the upgrade worth it for me!

I have not yet tried the Lightning/Headphone adapter with any of my wired headphones. I’ll get to it eventually.

My first phone call received was a spam marketing call! The first photo taken was of my wife and it’s very sharp, colors are great.

Here’s a test image taken my iPhone 6:


That’s straight out of the camera, no processing aside from resizing it when loading it here.

Here’s a crop – JPG loaded into Picasa, cropped, no other adjustments, exported:


Now here’s the shot I took moments later with the iPhone 7 Plus:


And a similar crop:


Nothing very scientific here. Do the iPhone 7 photos seem sharper? That could be, or it could just be that I was doing both shots handheld, relatively quickly, and can’t say with any certainty that I was in the exact same position for both photos. I have not had time to try out any apps that allow for RAW capture and editing.

The 7 Plus screen is definitely sharper. So when I compare the two images side by side on the phones, of course the one on the 7 looks better than the one on the 6. That should come as no surprise. DisplayMate tested the iPhone 7 display and said it was “visually indistinguishable from perfect”.

Some people have been freaking out over the new home “button that’s not a button.” So far it hasn’t bothered me even a tiny bit. I didn’t feel much of a difference between the three different settings for the “Taptic” response so I just left it set at “1”. Setting up my fingerprints seemed to go a lot quicker than on the iPhone 6.

The iPhone came with iOS 10 already installed, but Apple had released iOS 10.0.1 almost immediately after the initial 10 release to fix upgrade issues people were having. My upgrade of the 7 Plus from 10 to 10.0.1 surprisingly may have been the most painful iPhone OS upgrade I’ve ever done. During the first attempt, response from the Apple servers was so slow (32 hours to download 2 gig?) that I aborted just a few minutes in. Second attempt, downloaded at normal speed, but some how the data on the phone got corrupted and it needed to be recovered before I could proceed.

Also pairing my Apple Watch took a long time as I had to first un-pair it from the 6, pair it with the 7, restore it from a back-up and reload the apps. Not difficult, just time-consuming.

Overall, so far I’m quite happy with it and glad I upgraded from the 6. It feels like a major upgrade to me.


QuizUp – My Latest iPhone App Addiction

I saw QuizUp mentioned in someone’s Twitter feed and decided to check it out. Two days later I’m hopelessly addicted.

I’ve always loved trivia games. I played a lot of Trivial Pursuit and You Don’t Know Jack, but for some odd reason I never hunted down this sort of game as a mobile app.

Anyway, they claim to have 250 different topics available. I’ve mostly been playing “Classic Movies” and I must have played at least 50 rounds so far (7 questions per round, all multiple choice) and have seen probably under 10% repeated questions.

What these guys have done is amped up the social potential here. You play against someone. You can add friends and challenge them (or be challenged by them) or the app will make random pairings. (The downside here is if no one else is looking to play the topic you want to play, you could end up waiting awhile.) You can text chat with your opponent before or after a match. And you can earn Foursquare-style badges.

Currently I’m rated “best in Hong Kong for classic movies.” I kind of suck at questions like, “What year was The Iron Horse released” but otherwise I’m pretty good. I’m also ascending the ranks in Classic Rock (no big shock there, eh?).

The app, which is iOS only, comes from a company called Plain Vanilla, which is located in Reykjavík.  Checking out their company page, they note that all staff get the following perks:

  • Apple hardware as needed
  • Gym membership (most of us train at Mjölnir)
  • Flexible workings hours and vacation policy
  • Office with a great view
  • A chef from Argentína Steakhouse prepares lunch 4 days a week
  • Friday lunch at a local restaurant
  • Fruit delivered weekly and kókómjólk in the fridge
  • Instant membership in our clubs

Trivia Question: How many Hong Kong companies offer perks like those?

Answer: It.Is.To.Laugh.

I have no idea what kókómjólk may be but I think I’d like to try it.

Anyway, writing this, hoping more people will play this so I’ll never have a shortage of opponents.

iOS 6? Maps & Passport Are Jokes, Right?

I keep running into annoying little problems with iOS6.  No deal-breakers but still.

(image from here)

First off, if this is a topic of interest to you, then you’ve probably already read elsewhere that Apple’s new Maps application (which replaces Google Maps) seriously sucks.  (And if this is not a topic of interest to you, then you probably stopped reading by now.)

First of all, they released it with key cities in the US and Europe fully fleshed out but Asia isn’t really done yet.  You can get the usual road maps and satellite maps but not with the richness of detail that Google’s maps have.

The search in the map function is BRAIN DEAD.  When you type in an address, Google could figure out I’m in Hong Kong and give me Hong Kong search results first.  With Apple’s Maps app, it gives me zero results for Hong Kong, lots of results in the U.S.  So I have to type in “Hong Kong” each time – still no little list to choose from but so far it has taken me to the right spot once I hit “enter.”

Now, there’s a sort of half-baked solution to this.  Bring up Google maps in Safari and you’ll be asked if you want to add this as a button to your home screen.  Sure, why not?  So you have the button looking like an app, you tap the button and it opens Safari and brings you right to Google Maps.  EXCEPT that Google Maps doesn’t have permission to use Location Services, even if Safari does, and there’s no way that I can see to enable it.  So it can’t interact with the iPhone’s GPS, can’t show you your location, can’t track your movements.

UPDATE:  @aublumberg helped me find the solution.  First I had to reset all location warnings on the phone.  Still didn’t work.  Then I rebooted the phone.  This time when I brought up Google Maps in Safari via the icon on the home screen, Safari and then Google asked for permission to use my location, which I granted, and now it’s working fine.

Also, all day long today, when I was on Hong Kong island, every time I checked Apple maps, the map was flipped around, with South on top and North on the bottom.

Also, the map for Wanchai is really weird. Zoom in to a certain amount and it shows you car parks, which is helpful. But that’s the only detail you get aside from street names – car parks.   Zoom in all the way and you’ll get hotels.  And every construction contracting company.  Really.  The corner of Luard and Jaffe has Sunrise Interior Design and Decoration Ltd. and E-stone Contracting Company.  No bars. No restaurants. No shops.

Let’s go over to Central.  Of course, there’s the Apple store.  In the wrong location.  Let’s see what’s in the area of Des Voeux Road near Pottinger Street.  There’s Yu M Susan Dr Dental Surg.  There’s Cantalever Investment Co.  That’s it.   Oh wait.  There’s Queen’s Theatre.  Which was torn down years ago.  It is seriously bizarre and unforgivably useless.

My next beef is with the much-publicized new Passbook app.  You bring it up for the first time and you get a little screen explaining how this is a nice little place to keep your boarding passes, movie tickets, store discount cards and coupons all in one spot.  At the bottom is a link to take you to the section of the app store for the companies that are cooperating with this.  For me, the page doesn’t load (and I’m signed into iTunes with a U.S. account).

No matter because Gizmodo has put together a list of what is there so far and it’s all but useless for most of the world.  Here’s the complete list:

  • Fandango Movies
  • Live Nation
  • Lufthansa
  • At Bat
  • Sephora to Go
  • Ticketmaster
  • Walgreens
  • At the Ballpark
  • Target
  • United Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Shop Your Way
  • Belly Card

Wow.  Certainly seems as if this was launched before it was ready.

(Still waiting for the Passbook page in the apps store to load.)

I suppose I should just be happy that the upgrade went smoothly and that my phone didn’t get borked in the process.  But the Google Maps thing really bugs me because I used it a hell of a lot.   I’m sure Apple will improve it in time.  Maybe in a year from now it will be the best map application ever.  But why launch it now, when it’s the worst?  What happened to Apple’s fanatical quality control and attention to detail?


Random Notes

While I was on the fence about Pizzeria Publico after my first visit there, I found it much improved on my 2nd.  Tonight was my 3rd, this time with my gf.  We both had a slice of the sausage pizza and agreed that the crust was superior to Paisano’s.  However she prefers Paisano’s sauce while I think PP’s is vaguely more New York-ish.  We also tried their meatball parmigiana sub and agreed that the meatballs are really nicely done.  PP is loud as fuck inside but if you can score one of the few outdoor tables, it’s a rather pleasant place to sit and let some time go by.

Then the somewhat weird experience of being recognized from the blog – long story that I won’t go into.  The guy did say something along the lines of, tomorrow I’ll probably read about you meeting some weirdo on the street – luckily he wasn’t at all weird, so I figure he deserves a mention here although names have been omitted to protect the innocent.  I then had to explain to my gf why 3 or 4 years ago it was a big deal to me that people shouldn’t be able to connect “Spike” with the real-life me but these days it’s not.  Not only do I have a photo of me over at Spike’s Photos, my About Me page is under my real name and links to both of my blogs.

Later that night, the odd experience of being in Amazonia watching the new band there and the female lead singer was using her iPhone for the song lyrics, so the weird visual of watching a band whose singer was staring at her phone while she was singing.  And not weird in a good way.  Though it was probably the high point of being there.  If you’re not drinking (I was driving) and you’re not chasing after women, Wanchai can be a seriously boring place to be.  I actually ended up sitting in the corner in the back doing stuff on my iPhone though I have to admit there were a couple of times when the view was rather pleasant there.

Part two of my series on shooting the HK skyline is now live on Photohead Online.  Please check it out!

Hey, if you use Chrome as your desktop browser, then you gotta check it out on iOS.  Not only will it sync your bookmarks (and presumably passwords, though I didn’t try anything that required that), it will actually sync with whatever you left open in your desktop browser and it looks like it can also access your recent search history.  For me, this is going to be incredibly useful.  I’ve already pushed the Safari icon to the last screen and put the Chrome icon on the first screen.  I’m that impressed.

My MacBook Pro with Retina Display shipped today.  Presuming that DHL won’t deliver on a Saturday, I should have it Monday, which is the same day we’re seeing Dark Knight Rises. No, I’m not being put off from the film by the coincidence that some lunatic opened fire on a crowd and it happened to be outside a movie house where DKR is playing.  I’m far more put off by this:

So I won’t be buying any imitation Kim Kardashian dresses any time soon.

Tuesday – Stone Roses in Hong Kong.  Been reading the reviews in NME.  Have located audience tapes from the first two shows, sound isn’t great but they sound really good.

Wednesday I’m heading down to Bangkok for some meetings.  This will be my first time in Bangkok in about 4-1/2 years.  I don’t think work will leave me much free time but if it does, I need to track down tattoo great Jimmy Wong (he did most of my ink) though from some searching I’ve done it appears he’s finally retired and in that case I hope to see his daughter Joy (who did one of my tattoos) just to say hello to her and pass greetings back to the family.  Those of you who’ve been with this blog for a long time know that I used to go to Bangkok just about every other month and Jimmy’s shop was like a clubhouse.  He’d turn up for work around 10 or 11 PM, we’d take turns getting beers from the 7-11 next door and then around 2 AM or so when he was ready to call it a day, we’d go to one of the many outdoor quasi-legal all night “My Bar” spots along Sukhumvit and watch night turn into day.

One thing that I’ll definitely be bringing to Bangkok will be my new B&W P3 headphones.  I love the B&W P5’s but they’re just too large to go into my normal “day bag”.  I went up to the B&W showroom the other day (the only place that’s selling them in HK) to try them out and a quick demo in the shop told me they sounded pretty good.  Later, at home, I couldn’t believe just how good they sound.  The ear pieces are at least 1/3rd smaller than on the P5’s, maybe only half as large.  They have some kind of fabric covering rather than the ultra-soft leather on the P5’s and they fold up into a hard plastic carrying case.  I’d read that these are not just smaller P5’s, that they’d been redesigned from the ground up, and I do believe it’s true.  I listened to some Steely Dan, some Miles Davis, some Kraftwerk – they sound amazing across the entire spectrum and far more powerful bass than any can this size has a right to have.  Could it be that the P3 sounds better than the P5?  They got a 5 star review from What HiFi.  But I haven’t done any comparison between the two and over at CNet their reviewer loves the P3 but prefers the P5.  “… the P5 really is a better, in a more refined-sounding sort of way, headphone. It sounds like a more expensive version of the P3, and that’s what it is. ”  Okay, maybe it’s the P5s for the trip, but the P3s are now my go-to cans for every day use.

Okay, I’m up waaaay too late tonight.  So I’ll just leave you with this amazing photo that I snagged from Dangerous Minds.  Yes, it’s Harpo Marx and Amelia Earhart.


Must-Have iPhone App – CardMunch

Just came across a mention of CardMunch, a free iPhone app that I think will become a must-have for me.

It’s a free app on the iPhone app store.  You link it to your LinkedIn account.  When you get a business card, you use the iPhone’s camera to take a shot of the card.  The photo gets sent off to – I don’t know, a computer in the cloud, a bunch of people sitting at desks somewhere in India, and a few minutes later it’s scanned the card and builds a contact list.  There’s also a link that if you click will automatically send a LinkedIn request to the person.

So the downside is that the scanning doesn’t take place instantly and the contact info remains within this app, it doesn’t get added to my main Contacts list in the phone.  But once the scan results are returned to your phone, you have the option to also add them into your main contacts list or you can go into settings and turn on an option that will automatically add them to your contacts.  The upside is that I am a pretty frequent LinkedIn user and this speeds up the process of linking to people I’ve recently met.

CardMunch was independently developed and the company was subsequently bought by LinkedIn.  I don’t know what the future development plans are for this.  But, as I said, if you’re into LinkedIn, this is a great add-on.

Should I Switch to Android?

My gf lost her iPhone last week.  Did it drop out of her bag or did she leave it on a bus seat or did someone snatch it from her bag?  She’s not sure.  We went to Sin Tat over the weekend and got a used middle-of-the-line Nokia to tide her over.   I’m already hearing on an almost-daily basis about how it doesn’t do Facebook.

Next week is when Apple will announce the next … something.  Analysts are divided over whether it will be the iPhone 5 or a lesser upgrade that would probably be called either the 4S or 4Gs.  The new whatever will come out, I will buy it once it’s available and pass my iPhone 4 on to her.  (Mine is less than 6 months old – I got a free replacement from 3 when I ran into some dock connector problems with my original one.)

Alternatively, if the next announcement is less than impressive, the Samsung Galaxy II S is starting to look more impressive to me.  And in particular, the Galaxy II S LTE (is that one even available in HK yet?).  It’s not the larger (but lower resolution) screen.  It’s not the higher megapixel camera.  It’s the micro-SD slot.  Expandable storage is mighty attractive.  It seems as if 3 times a week, I have to thin down the contents of my iPhone to make room for new stuff (mostly recently rips of the 3 audio CDs in the Dark Side of the Moon Immersion box set).

I’ve always said I wouldn’t switch to Android because of the huge investment I’ve made in iOS apps.  Sure, I can still run all of them on my iPad.  But I don’t want to go out and re-invest in dozens of Android apps.  But thinking about it, I wouldn’t be buying Angry Birds again … it runs on my iPad and I’d just continue to play it on that.  The stuff I really use every day on my iPhone – stuff like Evernote, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare – that’s mostly free stuff anyway.

So I’m curious if I have any readers who’ve made the switch from iOS to Android for their mobile device.  What did you gain?  What did you lose?  If you could do it all over again, would you?

Finally a Reason to use Foursquare

Actually, I’ve been using Foursquare for more than a year, though sometimes I’m not sure why.  Once in awhile I’ve had a friend pop in on me based on a Foursquare check-in, and sometimes I’ve been able to do the same.  In the U.S. and elsewhere, Foursquare has been commercialized to the point that you go someplace, show you’ve checked in and get some kind of freebie or discount but in Hong Kong, not so much.

Awhile back, some jokers came up with the idea that if you checked in someplace on Foursquare it means you’re not home and they came up with something called Please Rob Me or something along those lines.  Cute, but the fact that I was out in a bar or restaurant didn’t mean no one was home.

Just came across this new iPhone app called  Some will find this fun, others might find it creepy – or worse.  What it does according to TechCrunch is to aggregate only female check-ins on Foursquare.  Then you bring this up, it checks where you are and then tells you where women are.   You’re at Joe Bananas and the place is dead?  Use this and it will tell you that there are 5 women at Mes Amis.   The app is further enhanced by the fact that it reports results based only on the past 30 minutes of check-ins, so you’re “guaranteed” that the women will be there when you arrive.

Of course since Hong Kong’s bars tend to be congregated within small areas, I don’t think anyone here needs an app for this.  Insomnia is dead?  There are 100 other bars within spitting distance.  But in the U.S., where things are a bit more spread out, this could be useful for some people I suppose.

Very much in line with the above is the new digital short from Lonely Island that was on SNL this past weekend, Do The Creep.  Quite funny on its own but bonus that it features Nicki Minaj.   You can find the video in this post on Idolator.  It’s on Hulu but doesn’t seem to be geo-blocked.

Belkin TuneCast Auto Live

Geeky stuff.  Feel free to skip if car audio is a meaningless topic for you.

So, now that the old SpikeMobile is gone and the new one is here, I need to figure out the audio entertainment options.

The car comes with a relatively nice standard set-up – the head unit holds a single CD and is capable of playing CD-Rs with MP3 files on it.  There’s a six disc changer inside the armrest but that’s only capable of playing regular CDs.  There’s AM & FM radio, of course.  What there isn’t is any sort of auxiliary input that would allow me to connect an iPod or an iPhone, which is my preferred way of listening to music in the car.   I can wake up in the morning, download an album, transfer to my iPod Nano in seconds and then listen to it in the car during my hour-plus commute.   But it’s not an option with my car – I double checked was told that this option didn’t start to appear until the 2009 model (mine is 2007), when they added a “media socket” into the glove box for connecting other devices.

Without an AUX input, there are only two solutions that I know of.  The first would be to replace the car stereo altogether, which is expensive and also changes the look of the dashboard, which is quite nice right now.  I’d actually done this two cars back – getting a Pioneer head unit that had an iPod cable (so that I could connect the iPod and select songs/see what was playing on the Pioneer’s screen and using the Pioneer’s controls) and also Bluetooth, which allowed for hands-free phone calls and Bluetooth audio streaming.  I kept that when I got the previous car but decided to include it with the car when I sold it off last week.

The other option is an FM transmitter, something that connects to the output of the device and then broadcasts the signal to an unused FM station on the car radio.

Hong Kong FM radio is kind of unique in my experience.  There aren’t many stations here compared to the US.  And because of HK’s physical geography, the few stations we have broadcast their signals across multiple frequencies.  Find an unused station, start driving, go around some bend and all of a sudden there’s a signal coming through loud and clear.

The last time I tried one of these devices was four years ago and it seriously sucked.   First you had to load a data CD into iTunes – each FM frequency was a “song”.  Sync to the iPod.  Get in the car.  Fiddle around on the FM dial till you find what seems like an empty station, play that “song” on the iPod to set it to that frequency, fire up your music and then start to drive, only to find out 5 minutes later that the frequency that seemed dead is quite active.

I was hoping that in 4 (or 5?) years the technology had moved on and last night I took a chance on Belkin’s TuneCast Auto Live.  Nothing to load into iTunes or the iPod itself.  Plug this into the cigarette lighter and hit a button on the device and it scans to find a station that it thinks is clear.  Then set the radio to that station and bam, you’re ready to rock.  It retails for $70 in the US but Amazon sells it for $37, far cheaper than shops in Hong Kong.

So I got in the car yesterday morning, plugged it in, hit the button and it chose a frequency in less than a second.  Got the music going, got over a hill and around a bend and, sigh, the station wasn’t clear after all.  So pushed the scan button again, it found another frequency it liked, and I was good to go for the rest of my commute.  The only place it didn’t work, oddly enough, was in the garage at Cyberport and, later in the day, at Taikoo Place.  The rest of the trip, it was fine.   Coming home, it did start beeping and squawking a tiny bit at the entrance to the Eastern Tunnel, the rest of the trip it was fine.

Belkin also makes a free iPhone app called ClearScan Live (the link is to the U.S. iTunes store).  This app uses the iPhone’s GPS to determine your location and then compare it to a crowd-sourced database of supposedly clear frequencies to recommend the best frequency for you.

So on day two, I downloaded this app to my iPhone and used it to set things up.  The whole GPS thing falls under the header of BFD if you ask me.  One could simply input one’s location and query a database and get a result set back, no?  Anyway, it came up with two stations, both of which I’d already found.

Tonight, a different route home and trouble.  The music played fine from Cyberport almost to Shatin and then RTHK 4 kept creeping in.  It’s bad enough when it’s just a split second or two, horribly distracting when it seems to have switched over permanently and there’s nothing one can do except to shut off the radio till one hits a red light and has time to play with it.  But 107.9 got me home.

The other problem is that with this set-up, all one can effectively control is the volume.  If you want to skip a track, you have to fumble around for the iPhone, hit a button, swipe, find the “skip” button on the phone’s screen; basically forget about it while driving.  And since the car’s head unit only displays the radio station, there’s no way to glance over and get a song title.

Last, you lose something in converting even MP3s to an FM signal – frequency response is reduced, dynamic range is reduced.  And of course it doesn’t offer a hands-free solution for phone calls.

So it sort of works – at least it works better than similar devices did a few years back.  But for me, it’s a far from optimal solution.  If I was just a weekend driver, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  But I’m spending an average of 2-3 hours per day in the car and so it makes a big difference to me.

How long will it be until I get so frustrated that I go over to Mong Kok and get a replacement car stereo?  Certainly not before the next paycheck.

Things Are Working

I tagged so many items today in Google Reader that I wanted to share but tonight I just don’t have the time.  Sorry.  I will mention briefly that if you have an iPhone or iPad, Electronic Arts is having a huge sale of their iPhone games (some are “iPad compatible”) in the US iTunes store (don’t know about other stores, you can check).   Check this link here for a list of games – some of them are regularly up to US$6.99 and all the ones on the list are on sale for US$0.99 – for 48 hours only.

The Samsung repair guy came to the house today – almost exactly at the promised time.  He replaced the power board and the inverter on the monitor – no charge.   So that’s all good.

And have just installed the Gigabyte Nvidia graphics card and that seems to be working fine and dandy too.  1 gig of RAM for video, HDMI output on the back, all okay so far.  Probably won’t have a chance to test with Lightroom till the weekend.

So now some stuff is working – but the car goes back to the repair shop on Friday for them to hopefully fix the things they couldn’t get to last time.

And just wanna mention that Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden have an album out, just the two of them, called Jasmine.  It’s a selection of somewhat lesser-known pop tunes from the 30s and 40s (I think).  Recorded in Jarrett’s home studio 3 years ago, it is just beautiful.  Nothing showy, nothing fancy – and yes, you have to put up with Jarrett’s noises while he plays – piano and bass, laid back, solos in service to the songs, their love of the material and their respect for each other comes through loud and clear.   In the liner notes, Jarrett advises you to put this on late at night, in the dark, with someone you love.  Sounds like a plan.