The End of the “Plus”

Every year, as summer comes to an end, the hype for the next iPhone becomes palpable. Rumors and speculation swirl, and leaks begin to reveal what Apple might be doing at their early fall event.

This year is like every other in some regards, but is also very different in many ways. A summer of leaks and speculation has most people predicting an iPhone with slimmer bezels, a repositioned home button1, and a $1000+ price tag2. What is harder to predict is the other device that will make an appearance in 2017.

In the history of the iPhone, every other year, we get an “S” model phone, which subtly iterates on the previous years device. The iPhone 4S was essentially the iPhone 4, with an improved camera and the addition of Siri. The 5S was the iPhone 5 with added TouchID. The 6S was the 6 with a first generation Taptic motor and the introduction of 3D Touch.

In 2016, with the iPhone 7, for the first time in Apple’s history, the new phone was almost akin to an SS device. Instead of being a new design AND new features, it further iterated on the 6 and 6S design, with only a few notable new features and a familiar size and shape.

Most rumors to date suggest that in addition to the fancy new iPhone (I’m calling it iPhone Pro), there will be an iPhone 7S and 7S Plus. Others suggest that they will skip the 7S moniker and jump to iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Either way, the general assumption is that there will be a total of 3 iPhone models this year.

I think that’s wrong.

In 2014, 2015, and 2016, it was easy (or easier) to decide which new device you wanted to purchase. If you wanted a smaller, more hand and pocket friendly device, you picked the 6, 6S, or 7. If you wanted the cooler camera features (OIS, Depth Effect, 2X zoom), or wanted a giant screen and more battery, you picked the Plus model.

In 2017, if the iPhone Pro is roughly the same physical size as the iPhone 7, but packs all the camera features and a bigger screen than the Plus, why would anyone buy the 2017 Plus. As it is, differentiating 2 devices is a challenge, aside from screen size, trying to extend that to 3 seems impossibly complex for consumers AND Apple’s marketing team.

This year, I firmly believe Apple will FINALLY fix the naming of their iPhone lineup (much like the rest of their product lines), and will stick with just 2 devices. iPhone and iPhone Pro. No more generation numbers, no more S years, just an iPhone with good specs, and an iPhone with great specs. Selling a good phone to people doesn’t seem to be a challenge for Apple, and selling a great phone seems to come naturally as well. Selling a phone that is good, but not significantly better, but also isn’t great seems much less practical.

Between getting a Plus or Pro, who would pick the Plus? I know I wouldn’t. And I think Apple knows that, too.

Review: OWC USB-C Dock for MacBook

The 12″ MacBook is a remarkable computer. It’s incredibly thin, amazingly light, and an all-around solid machine for most tasks. Unfortunately, to make the device so incredibly sleek, Apple stripped it of any connectivity, with the exception of a headphone jack and a single USB-C port. This has caused many would-be MacBook owners to shy away from the device.

The need for a plethora of dongles to use the MacBook with other USB devices, SD card readers, ethernet or a monitor makes it all the more daunting. Fortunately, thanks to the fine folks at OWC, there is now a dock that expands your MacBook’s single port into a collection of ports and connections to make it a more versatile machine.

Overview

The OWC USB-C Dock for MacBook (starting at $127.99 on MacSales.com) is a multi-port dock, allowing you to extend the connectivity of your 12″ MacBook, 2016 or newer MacBook Pro, and other PCs with USB-C connectivity. The USB-C dock offers you multiple USB ports (4 type A, 1 type C), an SD card reader, audio in/out, gigabit ethernet, display out, and the ability to charge your USB-C computer.

For my testing, OWC sent me the HDMI variant of the dock, allowing me to connect an external monitor (up to 4K resolution) via a single HDMI port. OWC also offers a Mini Display Port model, depending on what your setup requires. Regardless of which video port you need, the dock comes in 4 colors, designed to match the look of your MacBook or MacBook Pro. Personally, a gold dock seemed like it might be a little flashy, so I definitely prefer the Space Gray model, but knowing that option is there is a great selling point for some.

From a functionality standpoint, the USB-C Dock is extremely versatile. After getting my MacBook in 2016, I picked up a 4 separate dongles to allow me to connect various things to the computer, or charge the computer while also using a USB device. Having the OWC Dock has made all of those dongles redundant when I’m at my desk. Having a single USB-C cable going into the MacBook is incredible convenient when the other end is host to a plethora of ports.

When out and about, the OWC Dock is much less convenient. Unlike most dongles, which require no external power, the USB-C Dock needs it’s own power, complete with a a giant a hefty converter box. Not only that, but the dock and power block are both quite thick, especially in comparison to the incredibly thin MacBook.

The biggest perk of the USB-C dock, in my opinion, is the pass-through power, which is rated to 80 Watts. That means that if you’re using a 12″ MacBook, or the 13″ MacBook Pro (with or without TouchBar), you’ll get full power delivery in addition to all the expansion. If you use a 15″ MacBook Pro with TouchBar, you’ll get near full charging power (based on rated 85W). Many other USB-C adapters with similar connectivity deliver much lower power, leading to extremely long recharge times. With the OWC Dock, I saw recharge times equal to that of the Apple-provided charging block and cable.

The only complaint I have with the dock is the length of the included USB-C cable. At roughly 18″, it is very limiting on where I can position the dock, forcing me to leave it residing on my desk, instead of tucked away, out of sight. Currently, there are some standards issues with USB-C cable and device designs that can restrict cable length somewhat, but something in the range of 3′-6′ would have been much more accommodating of keeping a tidy desk space.

Verdict

[Rating: 4.5/5]

The OWC USB-C Dock is a great option for MacBook owners looking to get more out of the single port on their device. Whether you’re looking for HDMI or Mini Display Port, the USB-C dock comes in multiple colors, and offers the same flexibility for extending your workspace. The lack of portability, and the incredibly short USB-C cable are minor sticking points, but not critical flaws by any means.

Pros

  • Extends a single USB-C port into 10
  • 2 Display options, each in 4 Apple-matched colors
  • Sturdy and reliable
  • SD card slot and headphone jack on front for easy access

Cons

  • Included USB-C Cable is very short
  • Dock power adapter is very bulky

If you are the owner of a 12″ Retina MacBook, or a new MacBook Pro, the OWC USB-C Dock is a great option for extending the port(s) of your device to make it more versatile. Head over to MacSales.com to grab the configuration you need, or check out their new Thunderbolt 3 version for 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Review: Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo

Apple’s AirPods have quite possibly been the most hyped headphones I can recall. They’re fully wireless, they recharge in their case, they allow you to talk to Siri, and they offer surprisingly decent audio quality. But some say they look stupid, and if your ear isn’t perfectly shaped, they have a tendency to want to sneak out of your head. Then there’s the issue of backorder. Nearly 6 months after their release, they’re still perpetually shipping in 4-6 weeks.

The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo, on the other hand, claim to offer many of the same features and functions of the AirPods, comes in $30 cheaper, and they’re available with 2-day shipping on Amazon Prime. But can they compete?

Overview

The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo ($129.99 on Amazon) earbuds are tiny. Unlike the AirPods which have a little stem for the battery and mic, these are as discrete as an earplug.

Rowkin took a more traditional approach When it came to using their EarBuds. Unlike the AirPods, which have no physical buttons, each Bit earbud has a physical multifunctional button on the back, which is used to pair them both to each other, and to your device. After a failed attempt to pair, left me with only 1 of these connected to my phone, I consulted the directions – something I’ve never needed to do with a pair of headphones. Pairing requires pressing both earbuds button, waiting for them to connect to each other – indicated by little white lights – and then connecting via the Bluetooth menu on your device.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the magic of the AirPods, but this was a mediocre experience at best. I’m guessing the average person would find this pretty frustrating.

If I had to compare the sound quality of these to something, I would equate it to the speaker of an iPhone 3G, piped straight into your ears. These are $130 earbuds – mind you, they are wireless – but I have $9 wired earbuds that offer notably higher quality sound. The Rowkin Bit earbuds offered almost no perceivable bass, and seemed to distort quickly on the high end of the EQ. Both music and spoken audio were disappointing.

Fit wise, the Bits are a little better than AirPods. Because of their design, they actually fit into your ear hole, so they stay in place much more solidly. While running and working out, I didn’t need to adjust them a single time to make sure they were staying in place. The same is NOT true for AirPods.

Another disappointment is how the headphones interact with one another and your device. Rowkin reference the idea of primary and secondary earbuds in their pairing guide. When everything is connected, the primary earbud blinks a single white light. The secondary blinks twice. This may seem unimportant on the face of it, but becomes important when using your devices digital assistant or making phone calls.

Only the primary earbud can communicate with Siri or handle phone calls. Unlike the AirPods which can act interchangeably, the Rowkins force you to be attentive to which earbud is which. A single tap on either earbud will pause or resume playing audio, but the symmetry ends there. Double tapping the button on the primary earbud will activate your devices assistant. Double tapping the button on the secondary earbud does nothing.

Once you’ve activated Siri – or Google, whatever – the audio responses only come through that same primary earbud… the other one is just there for decoration. An overpriced earplug, if you will.

Of course, when you resume audio, both earbuds return to pumping disappointing sounds into your ears. That is, until you use them while moving. Take, for example, my walk from my car to my desk at work. In the 500 foot walk, the secondary earbud dropped connection or stopped playing audio a whopping 6 times. Each time, after a few moments, it slowly faded back in as if to pretend it was there the whole time.

Whatever technology they are using on these is not worth $130. In fact, the only part of the entire box that felt useful was the charging case for the earbuds, and that’s because the 2100 mAh battery can double as an portable battery for your smartphone. Just plug in to the USB port, and give your device a little boost.

Verdict

All-in-all, the Rowkin Bit Charge earbuds look very compelling online. They’re small, wireless, and actually fit INTO your ear. Unfortunately, their Bluetooth signal is weak, their audio quality is weak, the charging case is probably a little too bulky for your pockets, and functionally, almost any other pair of Bluetooth headphones or earbuds that I’ve used are a better option.

Pros:

  • Secure fit
  • Case doubles as external battery

Cons:

  • Poor sound quality
  • Poor Bluetooth signal
  • Bulky case
  • Confusing Siri/Phone call experience

For $159, the AirPods are incredible. If those don’t work for you, try the $149 Beats X (Certified Refurbished for under $130) because the Rowkin Bits are bad.

 

Disclaimer: The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo earbuds were provided to me at no cost, for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Review: Mpow M3 Headphones – Good Sound, Great Price

I love music and I love headphones, but I don’t like dropping tons of cash when I don’t need to. That leaves me in a weird spot. Is it possible to find decent headphones at a decent price? Today, I am checking out the MPow M3 Bluetooth over-ear headphones, but can they compete with the more expensive competition?

Overview

The M3 Headphones ($35.99 on Amazon) are the latest offering from accessory maker Mpow. The company’s focus is on building quality consumer electronics and accessories, often at a much better price than their big-name competitors.

The most obvious thing to look at with the M3s is their style, and they look very nice. The glossy black and bright pops of red looks great together, and the silver highlights and buttons on the ears fit in perfectly as well, with the whole setup reminding me of the Beats Studios.

As far as the actual important matter – sound – goes, the M3s were pretty surprising. I wouldn’t consider myself an audiophile by any means, but I do know how I like my music to sound, and the M3s offered that. Music had a well rounded sound, without overpowering the lows or distorting the highs and stayed very clear and crisp at any volume.

The ear cushions also offer passive noise isolation to help keep unwanted noise out, and while using these at the gym or while mowing, they blocked outside sounds pretty well. Note that this isn’t actual active noise cancellation, but rather quality padding that simply attenuates the outside world.

Like most other Bluetooth over-ear headphones, the M3s can also be used with the included 3.5mm cable if the battery runs low or you don’t have Bluetooth available. Audio quality is slightly different when plugged in, and seemed slightly louder than with Bluetooth, but not definitively enough that I felt like I was missing out.

When you are using Bluetooth, the M3s can easily last 10-15 hours, but it is worth noting that when the battery drops below 30%, a low battery alert chimes in quite frequently, essentially forcing you to plug-in and recharge. Even at that, though, you can expect a solid 8+ hours of uninterrupted playback.

M3 Headphone controls

The one major drawback I found with the M3s is in their handling of volume controls. While some Bluetooth headphones will adjust the volume output of your device, the M3s utilize an independent volume controls, meaning your device and the headphones each have separate volumes. It’s a small thing, but proved to be a huge frustration in practice.

Verdict

Rating: 4

I was very impressed with the Mpow M3 over-ear headphones. They were comfortable, offered clean sound, and looked cool (in my opinion). They fold up to fit comfortably in most backpacks and laptop bags, and provided plenty of power to get me through a full day of listening.

Pros:

  • Clear sound
  • Great price
  • Solid build quality
  • Well styled

Cons:

  • Volume control is independent of device

Ultimately, for under $40, it’s hard to expect perfection, and while these may not be perfect, they’re definitely a great option. Pick up a pair of the Mpow M3 headphones for $35.99 on Amazon, today!

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Kickstarter: Rigiet – A Stabilizer for your Smartphones

The iPhone is one of the most popular cameras in the world, so there is no shortage of ways to make it more versatile. With a new Kickstarter campaign, the Rigiet is looking to make shooting video smoother.

Shooting video by hand works great if you’re standing still, but when you start moving, video quickly gets shaky, and even nauseating. The Rigiet – a new Kickstarter project – is designed to take out the shake of your moving video, and enable you to shoot smoother video much more affordably than the competition.

What is Rigiet?

The Rigiet is a stabilizer – or Gimbal – for your iPhone, Smartphone, or GoPro (with adapter), using a combination of weight and small motors to balance your device and keep it level while you shooting videos or photos. Additionally, it offers a simple joystick for controlling the pan and tilt of the camera.

Rigiet supports a smartphone in landscape orientation, which really is the only acceptable way to shoot video. Rigiet also works in portrait mode, which works for Facetime or live streaming, if that’s your thing. Unlike many other gimbals on the market, Rigiet can also be used in the “underslung” position, without needing to stop recording.

rigiet-normal to underslung gif

The Rigiet device also offers Bluetooth to pair with their app, which enables mode switching (photo, video, slow mo, time lapse, and panorama), as well as a record button to start and stop video in the app, and a toggle for front/rear camera selection.

With that, Rigiet does require power. The pre-production model I received had 2 batteries in the box – but the device only requires one. The battery is non-standard, but can be charged via the device over microUSB. In my testing, a charge of one battery easily covered me for a few hours of shooting. A second microUSB port near the head of the gimbal also allows for pass-through power and charging of your smartphone, enabling you to recharge your device as you shoot.

How does it work?

First things first. You’ll need to charge the batteries – or at least I did –  since the included batteries were dead when it arrived. Second, either download the Rigiet app or get ready to fire up your favorite video app.

Once the Rigiet is charged, you’re ready to get setup. Open the mount, slide your iPhone in, and close the mount. Using a little trial and error, get the phone and counterweight in balance. Once this is done, make sure the clamp is secure.

As a note, balancing the Rigiet required me to tape a couple nickels to compensate for the iPhone 7 Plus weight. If you’re using a lighter weight device, you shouldn’t need to do this, but for me, it was the only way to balance the device before getting started. It did work without the weights, but had a very slight tilt without the added nickels.

Once things are balance, press and hold the power/shutter button to power on device. When the motors engage, you’ll see and feel a little bump as things lock in place. From here, you can fire up the Rigiet app or another video app, and you’re ready.

man holding rigiet in air

It’s a pretty cool tool. Video while walking was noticeably smoother, going down stairs appears as a glide, and pans and tilts were smoother and consistent. In my testing, the record button only worked with the Rigiet app, which is fine because there are some bonus features in there, anyway.

Within the app, there are modes for motion time lapse (affix the Rigiet device to a tripod, set start and end points, and watch it move automatically), multi-shot panorama (again, tripod required), and the standard time-lapse, slow motion, video, photo, and traditional panorama modes.

All-in-all, the Rigiet is a pretty cool device, and for the price, it’s a solid option for aspiring videographers. Check out their Kickstarter, and let me know what you think in the comments section.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast