Google Pixel XL: First few hours

Sorry, Steve.
Sorry, Steve.

Earlier tonight I picked up my Google Pixel XL from the Verizon store. After a few hours of playing around, I’m figuring things out, including the fact that I’ve got a lot to learn.

First, what’s in the box.

The Pixel XL comes in a tidy box larger than I expected it to be. It’s made of solid cardboard that fits together just so. In short, it feels like quality packaging.

Inside is the following:

  1. A mini quick-start guide
  2. A card on Google Assistant
  3. A card on Google Play Music
  4. A thank-you card
  5. A mini manual (and I mean “mini”)

There’s also an adapter for importing info from an iPhone (a process that worked flawlessly for me), two cables and a big, honking wall charger. Lastly, there’s a tool for removing the SIM card.

To call these "flyers" is generous. Let's go with "cards."
To call these “flyers” is generous. Let’s go with “cards.”

The phone itself

It feels very nice in the hand. The taper that many have mentioned…it’s a wedge shape, thicker at the top and thinner at the bottom…is likely in place to avoid camera bulge and does not affect the feel of the phone. I was afraid it would feel top heavy but that’s not the case. It’s really well balanced.

The sides are nice and grippy and it’s definitely less slippery than my iPhone 6S was. Also notable is that piece of glass that covers the top third of the rear case. I guess Google was going for something distinctive and iconic there, but ultimately it’s unnecessary and kind of goofy. Like a rear spoiler on a Toyota Corolla.

The good

There are a few things I like right off the bat. First is the placement of the fingerprint sensor. It really makes sense on the rear of the phone, as the way I hold the thing places my finger right where the sensor is. The phone is also just as fast as you’ve read. Apps launch very quickly and are quite responsive. Additionally, the power button on the side is textured, making it very easy to find without looking.

The mildly irksome

There are a few things that irk me a bit. Chief among them is the inconsistency among app icon design. Google is pushing circular icons as a standard, and many developers have not updated their icons yet. So you get some that are round, some that are square, some that are simply a logo. It’s messy.

By default, the phone is set to vibrate whenever you hit any button. Type a letter, it vibrates. Hit a home button, it vibrates. It’s extremely annoying but I was able to disable it. Thank goodness.

Lastly, “jiggle mode” is not persistent. If you long-tap so that you can re-arrange icons, you can move one and then you leave jiggle mode automatically. Unless I’m doing it wrong. Which is likely.

So far, I’m happy with this device but honestly I’ve only had it for a few hours. Tomorrow will be my first full day with it. I’ll be sharing everything here so keep an eye out. Talk to you soon.

Apple Watch Series 2’s shifting focus

watchseries2Apple released the second iteration of its Apple Watch — called Apple Watch Series 2 — about a month ago. This update is in line with the company’s preference of small, steady improvements over huge leaps forward. It looks almost identical to its predecessor and features nice changes like on-board GPS, dramatically increased water resistance, a faster processor and an improved display. All in all, it’s a sweet piece of kit.

Is it enough to warrant upgrading from the original model, which is just 18 months old? I don’t think so. It does, however, offer two things: a renewed focus on athletic owners, and a strong incentive for those who passed on the original. That’s the sentiment I’m seeing in the initial reviews.

Writing for CNN Money, Samantha Murphy Kelly notes that, while still a splurge at $369, “…the Apple Watch is finally getting closer to where it should have been all along.”

I should note here that the original model is still available with a price drop and improved processor. That’s more affordable, but it lacks the swim tracking, superior water protection, brighter screen and built-in GPS that make its successor so appealing.

Over at Ars Technica, Valentina Palladino calls the Series 2 “…still optional, but pleasantly defined.”

Meanwhile, The Verge‘s Lauren Goode hits on something I want to examine further. With this update, she notes, the Apple Watch is first and foremost fitness tracker:

“The Apple Watch Series 2 is exactly [a fitness tracker]. It’s what Apple had resisted calling its wearable for the past year and a half, even declining to categorize it as such when citing industry rankings, opting for the ‘smartwatch’ category instead. It is, definitely, still a smartwatch. But the Watch now has focus, and that’s a good thing.”

Apple even announced a partnership with Nike, resulting in the Apple Watch Nike +. It comes with a few exclusives, including a perforated sport band, Nike-themed watch faces and a list of unique Siri commands, as well as deep integration with the Nike+ Run Club app.

Apple’s renewed focus on the Watch as a fitness device is notable because it contrasts earlier marketing efforts and speaks to its future.

Fitness

When Apple Watch was introduced, Apple positioned it as a fitness tracker but also as a fashion accessory. You’ll remember that model model Christy Turlington Burns joined Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage in 2015 for the device’s introduction. It was a smart move, as Christy — a model and marathoner — represents both fashion and athletics. Christy then posted a series of videos chronicling her use of the Watch in a half marathon.

But really, fashion was the real push.

In October of 2014, shortly after the original device’s announcement, Vogue China featured supermodel Liu Wen sporting the Apple Watch on its October cover. In the following weeks, the Watch appeared on the pages of Vogue France, Vogue USA, Self (USA), and Style (UK). It was a smart move, as it allowed Apple to court an industry that was foreign to the tech giant.

You could argue that is was also a bit of misdirection away from the original model’s deficits: No GPS capability, moderate water protection, a screen that’s hard to read in bright sun. With Series 2, Apple has addressed those issues and is all about touting the device to athletes.

Built-in GPS is great for runners who don’t want to drag an iPhone along. A screen that’s twice as bright as version one means its easier to read outdoors. The real benefit here is for swimmers.

applewatchswimmingApple Watch Series 2 is water resistant up to 50 meters. The Workout app tracks both pool swims and open-water swims, recording laps, distance and stroke. When you opt to start a swim workout, the Watch locks its touchscreen display so that you won’t accidentally engage it during your workout. When you’re done, turn the crown and hit “End.” The speaker then ejects water that was collected while you were in the water.

But really you needn’t be a swimmer to reap this benefit. A water-lock feature is available outside of swimming workouts by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Ever use the shower at the gym? Now you don’t have remove your Apple Watch and pray that no one finds it.

Should you buy?

What does this all mean for making a purchase decision? If you’re main focus is fitness, and you don’t own an original Apple Watch…and you have $400 lying around…Series 2 is a great way to go. Apple’s renewed focus on fitness bodes will for the device’s future.

Those looking for a one-stop wearable should consider the lower-cost Apple Watch. Current models have a faster processor than the those sold in the first go-round and start at $269.

Finally, WatchOS3 has made many original Watch owners — myself included — feel like we got a new device. So I’m happy with my OG Watch.

As for the device itself, it’s just a bit thicker and heavier than the original, but it’s not noticeable on the wrist. It’s still available in the same case sizes (38mm and 42mm), as well as aluminum and stainless steel. Note that a new high-end material, ceramic, has replaced the gold model.

Smartwatches will likely never be as essential as smart phones (especially as long as they rely on a Bluetooth tether for internet connectivity), but they’re maturing into the useful accessory that manufacturers want them to be. Apple Watch Series 2 is a nice step towards that goal.

Using your iPhone is easier with these great apps

A new feature isn’t necessarily a great feature

Apple introduced 3D Touch with the iPhone 6 in September, 2014. The feature offers two new gestures, “Peek” and “Pop,” which are triggered by the amount of pressure applied to an iPhone’s screen. You can see 3D Touch in action here. It’s pretty neat and can save time, if used properly.

The usefulness of new features like 3D Touch is variable. There are plenty of “Me, too” implementations in the App Store that don’t make your iPhone easier to use, which is the ultimate goal. In the following examples, 3D Touch makes an app significantly better.

Best implementation: Workflow

workflow_3dtouchHands down, Workflow for iPhone and iPad ($2.99) features the best implementation of Apple’s 3D Touch that I’ve seen. It lets you choose what appears in the resulting pop-up menu (up to four items), ensuring that it’s as useful for you as possible. Here’s how to set it up.

  1. Tap My Workflows on the app’s main screen.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and tap Settings.
  3. Tap 3D Touch Shortcuts

From there you’ll see a list of your workflows. Now, just tap the four you’d like to appear in the 3D Touch menu.

Workflow lets you create, download and share automated, multi-step tasks for your iPhone to perform. Have your phone do anything from order a pizza to move files to services like Dropbox. The 3D Touch implementation here is so helpful that it puts an already useful app way over the top. Save serious amounts of time each day with Workflow and 3D Touch.

Notable

Spark

sparkWhile Workflow is my top pick for useful 3D Touch, it’s not the only app that’s making good use of Apple’s fun tech. Readdle’s Spark (https://sparkmailapp.com), a recent “Best of the App Store” selection, does a stellar job by featuring the app’s most common functions: calendar, attachments, search and compose a new message. Simply select any one to jump right to it.

The iconography here is nice and clear as well, and each task is blazing fast. Browsing attachment is especially useful, as they’re presented as a nice list, which is significantly faster than scrolling through a bursting inbox. Spark is a great app and is use of 3D Touch makes it even better.

Instagram

As we saw with Spark, Instagram for iPhone (free) put the most useful tasks front-and-center. I use Search and Post several times per day. But there’s much more here.

Nearly every link in the app offers Peek and Pop. Press-and-hold on a hashtag to see relevant photos. Do the same to a username for a preview of their latest posts. While holding that preview, swipe up for options like unfollow, enable notifications or share as a message. As with the other apps in this list, Instagram is made easier to use via 3D Touch. Very well done.

Camera+

cmraplsOne last selection: Camera+ ($2.99). The long-standing camera app by Tap Tap Tap lets you jump right to taking a photo, as well as the proper setting for getting a selfie or a macro shot. This saves so much time previously spend fiddling around with exposure and focus, especially when taking a macro shot.

All of these apps use Apple’s 3D Touch to make using your iPhone faster and easier. That’s just what technology like this should do. Try them out and see for yourself.

No dissing the HoloLens

Microsoft Windows 10

I know. I want to make fun of them, too.

They’re basically wearing those wrap-around old people sunglasses while doing a Doug Henning impression. THE WOULD OF ILLUSION, THANK YOU. There was a lot of snark on Twitter today regarding Microsoft’s announcement, but it’s unwarranted. Not because HoloLens is the product we all need, but because it’s a step. We’re still in the birthing suite for what will be awesome tech our great grandkids use.

You want to have private time on a Star Trek holodeck, right? Me too. That means we just endure and respect Glass, HoloLens and all of the steps that lie between here and there.

In other words, you don’t get this…

kisstrek

…without this:

oldpeopleglasses