One month with the iPhone 13 Pro

It’s been a month and the latest and greatest iPhone has, as every other year, fallen into my daily life as expected.

The camera has proved to be a big bonus on days out, and surprisingly the ability to capture and copy text via the camera has been used often, but overall I am using the 13 just as I did my 11, and X and so so on.

Battery performance is noticeably better than on past iPhones and I have never had to charge during the day so far. Some days I drop just below 20% late on, but if I can get a day I am happy because it sits on the charger at night anyway waiting to wake me up the next day.

So many of the other (improved) features have slid by unnoticed for me. The better screen, the smart finishing and faster processor are just there doing their thing and despite not being noticed, they will undoubtedly prove more worthy as time progresses and the OS is updated.

It is an iPhone in every way and if you choose not to think too hard it feels like all of the other recent iPhones. It is just a better iPhone with some standout improvements which are very welcome, but I suspect that the under the hood changes will prove more worthwhile in time.

I cannot criticise it because it is better than something that was already exceptionally good.

The Mystery Hour Board Game review: it could save your Christmas

I listen to James O’Brien on LBC most days and truth be told he has really helped me through the pandemic while I have had to work from home. It helps that my leanings in politics, culture and seemingly in most areas seem to align with his, and in my opinion these leanings are to the side of good. Left vs right is how many describe it, but there are good and bad people on both sides of the political divide and it is unfortunate that our current UK government just happens to be way over to the right and stuffed full of nasty incompetents who are happy to deceive too many of our population every single day.

James understands the damage Brexit is doing and perhaps more importantly, he always did. He saw it early and he challenged those among us who needed to be challenged to highlight the bizarre situation we are now continuing to live within to this day. His show is about much more than Brexit, however, and I continue to be surprised by how often I agree with James, and I remain certain that it is not lazy agreement. I do think about the topics raised and I almost always find myself sat on James’ side to the point that I would almost enjoy vehemently disagreeing with him and shouting at my iPad one day.

Once a week we are treated to something completely different and that is Mystery Hour, a very simple one hour slot that has hit the jackpot in terms of being easy to understand, fascinating to listen to and instantly educational. Throw in some hilarious moments through a cast of genuine callers and it is easy to understand why it has become so popular. The final bonus is James sometimes trying a little too hard to answer extremely difficult questions himself until an expert then pops up and he has to roll back on what he was sure was a correct answer. Nice to see that he is fallible after all.

And so we come to the Mystery Hour Board Game that has been released just in time for Christmas, an essential piece of timing for any board game. It is a market that is extremely difficult to enter and succeed at, and even some of the biggest titles have failed badly. The Pointless board game was awful when it was first released and that was based on a quiz show that never seems to get old. It is a simple game show premise that should work almost as well in board game format as it does on TV, but boy did it not do that. To be fair I believe it has been re-issued in a format that is now worth the time playing it.

The physical game itself is unusual; the box is a rectangle and smaller than I expected. The huge packs of question cards are reassuring to see as are the small pencils that could have been stolen from the local bookies. With a simple board and pieces of paper to evidence your answers completing the set there is a real sense of innovation married to traditionalism in the way it has been put together.

I knew that it had a chance when I saw how short the instructions were which is needed for any family where people have different attention spans. If it is simple to understand, but has the potential to be played in different ways which allow for individual strengths to be used it will be addictive.

After one hour playing the game with my wife I knew that Mystery Hour was different and that it would be a regular activity in our house. Throw in my kids, 17 and 21 years old, and it started to get very competitive in a way I did not expect.

The main mechanism is to pick up a card with a question on it, always a question that you immediately want to know the answer to. Below that you will see a correct answer and a false answer, and the idea is that the other player(s) need to guess the factual answer.

That sounds simple, and it is, but there are further layers to the game which bring the flexibility that makes it such a fun time suck, and a game where you are not wholly reliant on the roll of a dice or pure luck. It builds up to a combination of general knowledge, logical reasoning, bluffing and your ability to bllshit quickly. That last skill can be useful when playing this game and so far my son and I appear to even better at bullshtting than we thought we were previously.

If you believe you know the answer to a question you can jump in and grab yourself 3 points. If you correctly guess from the two options provided you are given 1 point. And if the host’s made up answer is chosen he will get 2 points from each player, and the instructions gently suggest that they should be given a round of applause (listen to the Mystery Hour show to understand why that simple gesture is so important).

There are a set number of questions to ask depending on how many people are playing, for example 7 questions when 2 people are playing, 4 when 4 are playing etc and this makes it a time efficient game that will fill every minute with laughter, recognition that something new has been learnt and more interaction with those around you than may usually occur.

Other suggestions in the instructions add to the friendly experience, such as giving people time to make up answers, and overall it achieves the goal of the very best boards games. It is fun, educational, timed just right to cater for those who have a low threshold for doing anything over long periods and it genuinely will bring people together.

I really am struggling to find any fault here. The player tokens could be more substantial in my opinion because pop-out card doesn’t quite work, but they are consistent with the rest of the contents which, as I said before, have a traditional look and feel to them. Question cards, paper, pencils and a game board make for a carefully thought out game that just works, as Apple would say.

I appreciate my daily radio fix from James and I appreciate the varied viewpoints it highlights, and most of all I appreciate that he always comes from the side of ‘good’, but if I thought this was a cash grab or a lamentable effort I would be more than happy to say so.

For £19.95 it is one of the most interesting board games I have played and also good value. In a time when PlayStation and Xbox games wow us with their depth and visual splendour and when carrying around hundreds of games on your phone is perfectly normal, it is often more than worthwhile to sit down with your family and friends, and just experience being together and doing something communal and competitive at the same time.

On 25th December, when we have eaten more food than we needed to eat and when we are all a little too drunk we will now sit down and have a bit of Mystery Hour. No more playing Monopoly to the point where I would happily give away my real house just to finish the game, no more arguing about politics (just for one day maybe) and the hope that it will be replaced by something more convivial, more gentle and much more educational. A deserved round of applause…

Available here.

Smartwatch Wars: The fenix 6 Pro finally beat the Apple Watch

I wrote three articles (part one, two and three) about the Apple Watch and its competitors and at the time I found myself sticking with the Apple Watch for a variety of reasons. It became clear to me that the Apple Watch was functionally easier to use and much more flexible in terms of apps and what could actually be done with it. 4G connectivity helped a lot and so did the seamless integration with Apple Music which meant that I could leave my iPhone at home when going for long walks or runs.

It is a hugely beneficial setup and one which can lead the owner of an Apple Watch to look at the competition and ask themselves ‘Is that all you can do?’

To sum up, the Apple Watch did everything I needed and more, and it has kept me moving during the past 18 months of pandemic misery. Without it I am sure that I would have put on much more weight and even though I am not currently at the weight I want to be it gave me something to aim for and I am at least grateful for that.

Something, however, was nagging at me with regards to the Apple Watch. As a watch person I could not shake the sense that the Apple Watch does not feel like a watch on occasion. It is square, it does not sit particularly comfortably on the wrist and that damn battery p*sses me off! It also requires attention and demands interaction through a myriad of notifications, reminders to exercise and of course to charge it at least once a day. I can of course turn off many of the notifications, but the need to work with an Apple Watch just to keep it running is always present and this is definitely not what a watch is supposed to do.

Some mechanical watches are hand wound and need winding each day, but this takes a few seconds and it actually a calming experience. Most others are either quartz which means a battery change every few years or automatic which means that simply wearing them will keep them running. An Apple Watch needs much more attention than any of the alternatives and substantial time off the wrist to use every day.

I found myself charging every day because of the workout tracking I do and eventually reached the point of leaving it on the charger overnight. This is fine and usually gives enough power for the day ahead, but now and then after some particularly long walks it would get close to 10% in the early evening, and this is on a series 6 44mm. That is not good enough in my opinion and watching the battery percentage on a watch feels much more intrusive than on a smartphone.

The fenix 6 kept nagging at me for some reason and I wrote some early impressions recently, but after 3 weeks I have not taken it off and have been using it for all of my fitness tracking, as a watch of course and for some simple tasks such as for alarms and timers. It does not do much in terms of daily tools, but what it does do is accomplished without ever having to nurture it in any way.

It is a big watch, but comfortable enough to wear at night for the excellent sleep tracking. I have just charged it for the second time in three weeks, and even that did not take long, and I have been playing around with a few of the available faces and apps which offer much more choice than you get in watchOS.

I have even added a protective bezel to change the look of the case (£2 from eBay!) and so here I am wearing it all day every day and the Apple Watch is sitting on a shelf not doing much at all.

The thing is, I made no concerted effort to do this. It just kind of happened as I found myself wanting to wear it every day and not viewing it as a device that does stuff I need. It’s the same kind of ‘want’ I find with mechanical watches and for a smartwatch to feel like a real watch is to me a real achievement.

Things may change of course. I like watches so things always change, but for now the Garmin fenix 6 Pro is on my wrist doing its thing and I am not having to do any babysitting. The only downside is having to carry my iPhone everywhere with me, but that is very much a first world problem of little consequence.

The Garmin fenix 6 Pro: a watch should just be worn

I have been playing with a Garmin fenix 6 Pro for the past week and by pure accident my view of Garmin has completely changed since my previous experience with the fenix 5.

There was never any intention to use it seriously or to keep it for any period of time, but the good bits are very good and just about overcome the bad bits.

I love watches, as you may well know, and for me the notion of simply wearing a product that fulfills a task without noticing it often is what makes them so special. The design and work that has gone into creating a beautiful watch is great to have, but that is most often experienced by someone else if they happen to glance at it, which almost no one does.

The problem with smartwatches, and in particular the Apple Watch, is the amount of interaction that is needed to keep it running, and also the amount of attention it demands. That sense of a ‘watch’ is lost under all of the alerts, visual enticements, pleas to exercise a bit harder and the need to charge it every day.

It can be annoying and of course you can adjust how often you are alerted, but the fact remains that it feels like an object that is consistently needing your engagement to work properly.

The fenix 6 Pro doesn’t feel like that at all and seems to sit in that sweet space where information and tracking is working all of the time, but where it can also be forgotten and worn as a normal watch.

The display is much improved over the fenix 5, it is still way below Apple Watch quality, and this also seems to fulfill a very specific requirement of a watch; to be legible without needlessly dragging the attention of the wearer to it. This is hard to explain, but it is akin to a Kindle and an iPad. One is just there and built for a task whereas the other is in your face and tempting you to play around a bit and burn your eyes just a little at the same time.

From a tracking perspective the fenix is impressive because it is supposed to be a more serious fitness tracker than a consumer wearable, and I have found myself gradually getting used to the menus, the lack of a touchscreen and the multiple button presses that are often needed to do simple things.

It does not aim to be an assistant or to replace a phone, no mobile connectivity confirms this, and the emphasis is purely on fitness and tracking your daily performance, and most importantly how you are improving. It is a fitness watch that can so smart things such as playing music, podcasts and utilise third party apps and watch faces.

The flexibility is just enough and I suspect that most people will look no further, but there is still a sense that the technology is not exactly cutting edge. If you compare the apps and software functionality to the Apple Watch and later Android Wear products the gap is huge, but I am aware that the hardware and sensors are potentially better on the Garmin.

Where Garmin falls down somewhat is the slowness of ecosystem development. If you do not want to subscribe to Spotify or Amazon Music you can use ‘iTunes’ to manually move music to the fenix from a Mac. Yes, the iTunes that no longer exists. I managed to move 1 song through Amazon Music and then gave up as the process stalled.

If you want to move any content to the fenix it is all a bit manual and really does feel like a trip back a decade or so. Just like Fitbit, Garmin is way behind in this area and the likes of Apple are way ahead.

The thing is that not having so much useable functionality has made me adjust to the fenix 6 Pro as a fitness watch that can tell me the time and offer all of the data I need, and this is the crucial bit-

I have been wearing it since last Saturday and my battery life is currently 61%. Two workouts a day, multiple notifications appearing and some timers run and I should still have another 4-5 days of power before I need to charge.

It is a bit of a beast in terms of dimensions at 47mm and with a near 15mm depth, but it is very well balanced and feels invisible on the wrist. This is in contrast to the Apple Watch which despite being lighter is more noticeable and somewhat top heavy. I suspect that this is because of the heart rate sensor on the back and the way it is shaped, but I only noticed the obviousness of wearing it after using the fenix for a few days.

It is not better than the Apple Watch, no smartwatch is in my opinion, but it is a better fitness tracker and it is a better ‘watch’, and that means something to people like me.

iPhone 13 Pro: conclusion

I have only been using the iPhone 13 Pro for a matter of days and I feel like I have a device that is marginally better than my iPhone 11 Pro.

That may sound odd because this is a phone that costs more than £1000, but these marginal improvements come together to create a better version of a product that I use all day, every day.

I have better battery life, a better screen, a better camera, a faster processor and overall a slightly more pleasing experience. Again, that may not sound like much, but it actually is for a product I use so much. You could look at this upgrade from the outside and believe it to be a waste of money and I do understand that. I felt the same myself when I first saw it, but there is more to owning an iPhone than just having fancy new features to show off or a radical new design.

The fact is, and this is often talked about by Apple, when you use a product that allows you to do things all you really need is for that product to allow you to do them in the most efficient and invisible way possible. You shouldn’t need themes, customisable icons or silly features that actually add nothing of tangible use to your phone.

The iPhone is a tool that you use for a variety of tasks every day. Personally, I like the fact that Apple concentrates on usability above gimmicks and I always have. I am 51 years old, I don’t need geeky inspiration or tricks to make it feel more valuable. I just need a phone to do what I need it to do and this is why I have owned almost every version of the iPhone.

The fact I have little to write about is not surprising and in some ways it should not be disappointing. I have upgraded from an iPhone 11 Pro so there is a generation missing here and still I am struggling to see any obvious improvements. They are there, however, and there is a sense that this is, in the most crucial areas, a much better phone than the 11 Pro.

I am somewhat insulated from the financial impact of this purchase due to my freelance work and the fact that it can mean the whole family ends up with better phones as we swap them around. And perhaps this is the real bonus of iPhone ownership. You get to use your iPhone for 4 years or more with no issues at all, you get to hand them down to another person in the family so that they can use them, but most importantly you get an experience that is for 99% of the time close to flawless.

iPhone 13 Pro: day 3

A couple of observations for day 3. The sound!!! I mean the speaker when playing a podcast or music without headphones. It is markedly louder than the 11 Pro I had before and now useful in many more situations than previously. It is also clearer and capable of dealing with bass and high notes at full volume without any breaking up. A surprising and pleasant upgrade.

The battery is also better than before by a noticeable percentage and I would suggest an improvement of at least 10% for me so far. It’s still not amazing, but every little helps and any improvement is useful.

The screen is bigger than the 11 Pro which I somehow had no idea of because I did not own a 12. The measurement increase is small, but again it is noticeable especially when I try the 11 Pro again, which has now been handed down to Joanne. I think she is getting p*ssed off at always getting the hand me downs…

iPhone 13 Pro: day 2

Disposable paper coffee cup.

The one feature I wanted to try more than any other in the iPhone 13 Pro was the ‘macro’ camera feature. Some say it isn’t a true macro, others say it is amazing, and for me as someone who knows little about photography it fits in to the amazing category for me.

The hands look quite clean through my eyes, but the macro shows up the true age of this 1972 Rolex Datejust.

And of course I had to take a quick shot of Murray just to see how well it coped in low light.

This was taken in very low light indoors.

Yes, the macro mode on the iPhone 13 Pro is a genuine bonus for me which will be used in a variety of projects.

After 1 day, however, the 13 Pro feels just like my 11 Pro and I am considering if this is a good or bad thing.

iPhone 13 Pro: day 1

I didn’t expect to buy the iPhone 13 Pro. It offers little above my 11 Pro apart from the camera features, but things changed quickly.

My wife and I were discussing her iPhone X and my daughter’s iPhone 8 and eventually we decided that it was worth the cost for the benefits we would get. I do have freelance considerations that will cost in and the macro, video functionality will be useful to a new project I am involved in, and so here it is.

I won’t be going in to great detail each detail, but it made sense to me to detail what it was like to buy a new iPhone in 2021 and what the experience is like, and if the benefits are valid.

All I can say so far is that if you are in the ecosystem already be prepared for a wait as you move your data over to the new iPhone. The re-setting up of Apple Pay cards, the moving of iCloud data and the other considerations means that even though it is a cleverly created transfer process, it can take a few hours to complete.

You will need patience when moving to an iPhone 13 if you have a lot of iCloud data to transfer over.

URBAN ARMOR GEAR Active Apple Watch strap review

“High strength materials work together to provide the peace of mind you need to take your Apple Watch along on your most rigorous activities.”

There is no doubt that this is a high strength strap. It feels particularly solid in almost every area and there is a sense of rigidity to the form, perhaps too much rigidity.

Despite the fact that it is a nylon strap it feels almost solid when held in the hand and it struggles somewhat to conform to the wrist.

I get that this is designed in such a way as to make the Apple Watch look different than when worn on the huge variety of silicone and sports straps on the market, and I appreciate the unusually rugged look, but it feels as if Urban Armor has stepped a bit too far in terms of solidity.

The strap is as wide as the Apple Watch and in some places is actually wider than the case of the watch with some unusually wide lugs and a buckle that sits near to the case itself, and unfortunately quite close to the bone on your wrist which may be problematic for some.

There isn’t much to say about this strap, but after two days I was left kind of enjoying the unusual look of the strap on my wrist and the way it makes the Apple Watch look less like an Apple Watch while at the same time finding it to be uncomfortable to a degree that is not practical.

Scroll back to the tag line at the top and the ‘take your Apple Watch along on your most rigorous activities’ bit. This is unfortunately the last strap I would wear when exercising or doing something rigorous because it would get in the way and I could see it easily causing issues with the skin on my wrist.

Finally, £50 is a lot to ask for any third party Apple Watch strap. Apple asks the same for simpler straps, but Apple is Apple and I have never bought an official Apple Watch strap apart from the loop.

You may like the look, you may be able to put up with the lack of comfort so do what you want to do. Sadly for me it was one that had to be returned.

The Amazfit Stratos 3. Is it really £400 worse than the Garmin fenix 6?

The Stratos 3 has obviously been ‘inspired’ by the Garmin fenix in the same way that almost every laptop we see today was inspired by the MacBook and how every phone appears to look like almost every other phone. In fact, this is what made me notice it in the first place because I like the fenix design a great deal.

The fenix 6 retails for £529 and the Stratos 3 for £129 which is a huge gap, huge!

Obviously a price gap means nothing if two products are completely different so to first gauge that we need to look at the specs.

I forgot to add the Stratos screen tech which is Corning Gorilla 3 generation tempered glass + anti-fingerprint coating.

As you can see the specs are similar in terms of the hardware, too similar to make sense when one costs 4 times more than the other. Again, this is somewhat subjective though because many very poor tech products boast good specs and are still awful.

The problem for Garmin starts with the fact that the Amazfit feels quite well built and solid despite its very light weight. There is more of a sense of quality with the Garmin of course, but the Stratos does not feel cheap at all from a hardware perspective.

Also, it looks good. It really does look good and carries off the big sports watch look with ease. It does not look like a tough watch at all, but it looks substantial and for many people this is the preferred option. The fact it is so light means that it is also very comfortable to wear despite the size- the way the small lugs drop down helps a lot with this.

In use the Stratos is a bit of a mixed bag to be truthful. The screen is designed to ensure that battery performance is kept light and because of this it suffers from a phenomenon of invisibility for me. This may sound odd, but the fenix has exactly the same issue; you never quite feel like you are seeing anything clearly. The washed out colours are not helped when the backlight appears with a wrist raise and there is an ever present sense that this is not new display technology.

Speed wise it is fine, but there are lags on occasion which are hard to deal with, and I mean lags that can stretch into many seconds at a time. It is occasional and general performance is fine, but things like this can lessen the amount of faith a user may have in a product. Then again, I am seeing software updates appear every single day so it is possible that this will be resolved soon.

The app, Zepp, is impressive and one of the better fitness solutions I have seen on iOS with all of the data presented cleanly and in an organised way, albeit with bits of Chinese text scattered around the place. Syncing seems to take some time when I start it up which is strange to see after using the Apple Watch, but overall I see a lot here for the price.

This is not the fitness smartwatch for me, but only in the same way that the Garmin fenix is not the solution for me. The screen technology, the inconsistent performance and perhaps most importantly the haphazard heart rate monitoring leave me looking at replacing it very soon. The heart rate monitoring does seem to be an issue for some reviewers, but it also seems to be working better than previously these days so many it will be fixed in the short term.

Despite the above criticisms I have to say that for £129 the Stratos 3 is incredible value and for most people it will suffice as a daily wear watch that can monitor their fitness. There are many (many!) workout modes, a multitude 0f features including VO2 Max, training load, training effect, recovery time and even offline music playback. This latter feature is not even available in the Garmin fenix unless you buy a Pro model so it is without doubt a bonus. However, in a world where moving MP3 file manually feels akin to putting coals on a fire I don’t see too much benefit in that.

Overall, the Stratos 3 is an excellent bit of kit with some quirks that need ironing out to make it a reliable and complete training partner. It would appear that taking those few extra steps to make a competent and truly tough fitness watch is where the extra money goes, but I am far from convinced that it should cost 4 times as much. I am even less convinced that the Garmin fenix is worth the extra money- the difference is just far too much for it to make sense and I personally would much rather spend just £129 on what is a very good smart watch that on the whole does fitness very well.