Year: 2017 (page 1 of 13)

Technology Picks of 2017

As the year draws to an end it’s often time to reflect and I wanted to give a quick shout out to the technology I’ve loved this year and would recommend without hesitation. The list is pretty short and covers hardware, software and games. Without further ado:


I got my hands on the AirPods at the tale end of 2016 and I’ve loved using them over the last year. When I blogged about them last year I said they were Apple’s most delightful product in years and I still stand by that. I’ve used them almost daily and they’ve been great. Comfortable, easy to use and audio performance that is good enough for me. Despite all the fears from people that they would be easily lost or broken for me it’s completely the opposite. The case is really pocketable, charging on the go is fantastic and I love being wire free listening to music and podcasts.

The only issue I’ve had is with iOS 11. The first couple of months of iOS 11 brought some audio glitches that I hadn’t experienced in iOS 10. Thankfully the latest update has solved this minor issue. Would recommend trying them if you haven’t already especially as Apple will do a refund if you find they don’t fit comfortably for you.

10.5” iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil

The 10.5″ iPad Pro is the sweet spot for me in the iPad line up. Portability coupled with performance, this setup has really delivered over the last six months. Prior to this I’d used a couple of older iPad’s and while really good they could never replace my MacBook Air. This iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard and Pencil do so in spades. Part of that is the power that the Pro now offers, part of it is the screen which looks and feels amazing. Mostly it’s iOS 11 finally delivering an iPad focussed experience. The dock, a files app, improved multi tasking and drag and drop give you a far richer environment to work in. Who’d have thought robbing some of the basic features in macOS and adding them to a touch driven iOS platform would finally deliver an iPad experience to savour.

The keyboard has held up well although I do miss backlit keys. The Pencil works well unlike my sketching but it’s useful for the odd notation or notes that I take. Could it replace not having a Mac for me? Not yet but I can finally see a future where it will.

Day One

Journaling isn’t for everyone but I use Day One all the time. First and foremost it lets me capture a variety of posts in a number of different journals all in the one app. The cloud sync keeps everything together and with IFTTT support I can easily bring in content automatically from other services and review it all in Day One. With nice touches like location, weather and ‘On this day’ reminders it’s a great app and service with full support for images and markdown as well. Looking forward to seeing how audio and video support is added in the future. If you’ve wanted to keep a journal/diary and failed give Day One a shot as it’s always available on your phone and allows for quick and easy updates.


Over the years I’ve moved between lots of todo app’s and services but the one I’ve stuck with for longest is Todoist. They have an app for every platform including the web and that seems to rub some Apple folk up the wrong way as it isn’t designed purely for iOS or Mac, but it’s the simplicity and depth that Todoist has coupled with great web services allowing it to integrate with a number of different app’s and platforms. Adding a task is easy, can be supplemented with notes and reminders and it’s got it’s own gamification system for keeping you motivated in completing your actions. A bit of fun, but what’s the harm? Free to try but if you want reminders, file attachments etc then you need to pay £28 a year which for me is cheap considering how much I use it.


When Apple update Notes in iOS 10 I ditched Evernote and never looked back. Around 18 months later and it’s still working well. I throw everything into Notes and the sync amongst devices hasn’t let me down once. iOS 11 has improved Notes with better support for formatting and tables and you can now pick different paper templates for your notes – still can’t get rid of the paper texture though! You can also scan documents and iOS 11 does an excellent job off aligning the image and giving you a clean scanned document. Improved Pencil support was also added alongside creating a Note from the iPad Pro lock screen. Although other services offer more or their app may look cleaner and support Markdown, Notes does everything I need and is available everywhere.

Nintendo Switch

What a surprise this was. I wasn’t sure about buying the Nintendo Switch but as soon as I unboxed it and started playing Zelda I fell in love. The ability to take games and play them anywhere is compelling. The hardware, despite initial fears, is good enough even though the competition is moving to (pretend) 4k. The battery life can be punishing but then the Switch for me is all about dipping in for some short gaming experiences. Zelda, Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart plus some other AAA titles make for a great line up but where Nintendo really surprised me was their ability to get smaller arcade type titles out monthly, even weekly. The store has great titles and it’s hard to avoid dumping £10-£15 on a game especially as they sit on an SD card and are easily launched and played…anywhere. The main ding has been their poor online offering and retro console efforts which are all pushed back to 2018. Despite that, the Switch is a triumph.

This was the biggest console release this year, and for Nintendo maybe for a decade. They are back, but maybe they just never went away. If you are into gaming in any way then pick up a Switch. My best tech product of 2017.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Early previews were worrying. Vast empty landscapes to roam with nothing much to do. This was some of the early feedback…and that isn’t Zelda. Nintendo needed this to be a great game to sell the Switch…and for many this isn’t just the game of 2017 but one of the best games of all time. The game is vast, and I’ll hold my hands up and say that I only got half way through the main quest never mind the many many side quests and challenges which I hardly scratched. However the graphics, gameplay and story telling that Nintendo crammed into that tiny cartridge, taking the Zelda franchise forward while triggering so many great memories from past titles was a masterclass in what a modern game in 2017 should deliver. This was a pretty great year for games but Zelda easily sits at the top for me.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds

This shouldn’t be on my list. It’s buggy, crashes a lot, has atrocious frame rates and has been on the Xbox for only three weeks. But….I love it. Premise is simple in that you need to survive against 99 other players who all drop in on the same map with no weapons. Find a weapon, get some armour and then it’s up to you how you play the game. Hide, get in a vehicle, snipe…whatever.

It’s the randomness that I enjoy…and the adrenaline jump as you get further into a gam. No two games are the same, the map’s huge and I know over the coming year the game will improve and more maps will be added. It reminds me of old Ghost Recon games in some ways, with a different take on what a modern FPS should be. I’ve come close to winning with a few top fives but no chicken dinner…yet. I’m sure the next Battlefields and COD’s will all come with their own spin on this mode but until then give Battlegrounds a go. You won’t regret it.

Honourable Mentions
As always, there’s some near misses. The iPhone X is great but it’s still early days and I’ve got a lot more out of the new iPad than I have the new phone. If I was choosing something just based on engineering alone then the Xbox one X would be in there. Kudus to Microsoft for delivering such a powerful console in such a small quiet form factor. Shame there were no brand new games that came out to take advantage of all that power. Sticking with games, Super Mario Odyssey is another masterful game from Nintendo that on another day would be in the list above. Same for Battlefield 1 which I really enjoyed. I’ve also been impressed with the Fitbit Alta which replaced my dying and old Fitbit One.

Here’s to more great tech in 2018 because you can never have enough new toys to play with.

Weekly Digest

It’s Christmas…happy holidays!

Still enjoying PUBG despite the lag and crashes. So addictive although I’ve yet to taste chicken dinner.


Weekly Digest

Work done for the year and it’s 2 1/2 weeks off. Boom. Looking forward to…doing very little to be honest. Need a recharge. I do have an itch though – mechanical keyboards. It may happen.

The Last Jedi. No spoilers apart from I really enjoyed it despite there being some cheese and also being a tad long. Interesting that the film is so polarising, critics love it but some hate it. Combination of the film not pandering to fan’s (and their many many theories), some flaws if you think about it for more than a minute and maybe the non-PC brigade being annoyed that their heroes are no longer white males? Or maybe it’s just not for everyone. Hey ho. Well worth catching on an IMAX near you.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds – Hot game of the year finally hit the Xbox last week. It’s a mess. Poor frame rates, lag through the game, a real hack of a PC control system on the Xbox, crashes…yet I love it. Aim is to survive and there’s many many ways to do that. Start with 99 competitors and be the last to survive. I’ve got down to the final four but I find the gameplay really addictive, and this is with only one map. It’s been released as an Xbox preview so expect it to improve over the coming months. Reminds me of old Ghost Recon games. Lots of hiding and prepping for the odd skirmish but with a larger map, time pressures and vehicles.


Weekly Digest

3 more working days and then I stop for the Christmas break. Jedi on Thursday to look forward too as long as I can avoid spoilers!

Peaky Blinders and Motherland. Both on BBC2 and both quite magnificent.


iPhone X

The iPhone X. Is it the future of smartphones, an expensive rehash of the iPhone 8 or is Apple playing catch-up? I’ve spent a few weeks with the new iPhone X and I have a few thoughts.

Unboxing and Setup

The first time you switch on an iPhone X the screen just hits you. Bright colours, deep blacks and a phone that really is all screen…apart from the notch.

Setting up FaceID was painless. Scanned my face a couple of times and I was good to go. As for the rest of the setup, Apple has done a lot to make the process easier than ever. Out of the box the iPhone X came with iOS 11.01 and not the recently released 11.1 which I needed so I could restore from backup. I had toyed with the idea of starting fresh with the new phone but impatience got the better of me. Anyway, instead of having to manually connect to WiFi and iCloud on the new device you can now easily transfer usernames and passwords from another iOS device. In less than a minute I was online and downloading the update.

Restoring from backup, encrypted of course so all passwords are saved, also brought a new surprise. My Apple Watch was unpaired from the old device and setup for the new phone. Another small step to make the swap to the new device a little more painless. And with that it was time to finally use the iPhone X.

So What’s New?

The iPhones move to all screen means saying goodbye to the Home button, a staple of the iPhone and every iOS device for the last 10 years. The first couple of days were pretty rough as muscle memory found me reaching for the old faithful, but the new gestures for the iPhone X more than made up for it. In fact after a few days the gestures now feel more fluid and faster to use than relying on the Home button. Swiping to multi-task or move to another app is so much quicker via a gesture compared to using the button.

Apps embracing the notch

Embracing the notch is the mantra from Apple and in practice I just don’t notice it. The screen is gorgeous and if the price to pay is having a small notch in landscape video’s then it’s a price worth paying. Above are three of the app’s taking advantage of the larger screen. Halide was already a great camera app but the iPhone X update has placed extra information in the two horns (what else do you call them?) at the top leaving more room to focus on controls and the image.

Overcast has included a pure black mode like many other app’s. This looks so good on the OLED screen and also helps with battery life. Finally Netflix which again looks great on the X’s screen especially during playback of HDR content.

FaceID was met with a lot of questions in the run up to the launch. Will it work, is it fast, can it be hacked, will it be awkward and can it really replace TouchID? At first it felt a bit slower as I was waiting for FaceID to work then swiping to unlock the phone but I was “doing it wrong”. Instead of waiting just swipe, and the phone will unlock as if by magic. Most app’s are now updated replacing TouchID with FaceID so unlocking 1Password or Day One are done just by looking. Buying via Apple Pay is also easy, just double tap the side button and look at the phone to pay. Simple. Accessing sites in Safari and using FaceID to fill in a password is awesome. Slightly slower but more secure, and if you aren’t worried about someone logging in using a password in Safari as only you can only unlock the phone you can always disable FaceID for Safari passwords.

I had early issues with unlocking overnight and early morning. I think it was because I wasn’t aligned with the camera properly and also holding the phone to close to my face but since those first couple of days I’ve been trouble free. Face ID also trains when you unlock with a pin code after it’s failed so whether it’s me that’s got more used to it, or the system itself has better aligned to my face I’ll never know. It’s not like TouchID wasn’t without issue. Wet or dirty fingers failed and I certainly had to re-add a finger or thumb over time to make it more reliable.

Tap to Wake is another iPhone X only feature. While it works as advertised, the limited angle offered by the camera means it won’t always unlock unless the iPhone is directly in front of you, or on an angled stand on your desk. Handy when raise to wake doesn’t fire or seems to time out, but not the best when on a flat surface.

Also new are the camera’s. I’ve not had an iPhone with a dual lens so was looking forward to trying the new system and I’ve not been disappointed. Both lenses have taken great pictures and Portrait mode does take some great photo’s. Yes it’s false and some pics can look a bit wonky compared to using a grown up camera with some nice glass, but it’s a phone lens producing some fantastic photos in the right conditions so it’s hard to knock it. The video is also super smooth and if you switch to slo-mo you get 240fps which looks great.

The front camera also supports Portrait mode and has an extra trick up it’s sleeve. Rather than using a dual lens, the front camera uses the TrueDepth camera that powers FaceID to deliver a slightly better/different Porttrait mode effect. This can be best seen using an app like Focos which allows you to visualise the depth map that was captured using Portrait mode. Video above shows Focos in action.

Final notable addition is Animoji. This feature relies on the front facing camera and TrueDepth sensor to animate your face in real-time with a variety of different emoji’s. It’s a great demo of what the hardware can do but it’s a shame you can only access it in the Messages app unless you get creative. Surely Apple will open this up over time via a standalone app?

I’ve deliberately left out wireless charging as I don’t have a charger and it’s not something I’m interested in at the moment. I’ve charge cables everywhere I go and don’t want to replace them with a wireless system where charging is slower. No doubt that will change over the coming months but for now this is something I happy to pass on.

Day to Day with the X

One of the biggest surprises has been battery life. I moved from a year old iPhone 7 and the battery life on the X is much better. Even on heavier than normal days I still have around 30% battery life and typically have around 50% which is fantastic. Not sure if it’s the OLED screen or the bigger battery but it’s something I didn’t expect.

The screen is something I’ve really gotten used to along with gestures and no home button. Moving back to my work device (iPhone Plus) and it feels a bit alien now. It’s amazing how quickly the new becomes the norm and what was once normal now feels dated. The X is physically smaller than the Plus but the screen is bigger and the X is easier to handle.

I vowed before getting the phone that I’d go caseless. It feels great in the hand and looks amazing. However the night before it arrived I ordered a case and I’m glad I did.

Ouch. Accidents happen and with a glass back that costs over £500 to replace it’s just not worth the risk even with Applecare. The X felt pretty slippy and my hands are dry which doesn’t help. The case is a pretty cheap clear one but I’ll upgrade in a few weeks once most case manufacturers have their decent cases out. Challenge with the X is getting a case that doesn’t interfere with the gestures.

iOS 11.2 adds a horizontal bar to highlight where control centre is now

As ever with a new device there are a few niggles. On the iPhone X the swipe up gesture unlocks the phone so how do you get to control centre? Swipe down from the top right. It’s awkward and not ideal. iOS 11.2 has seen a slight change in the addition of a bar under the top right horn highlighting you can swipe. Really Apple? That’s it? You also end up fighting the gesture when moving between devices. I’m hoping Apple will change that how to trigger control centre before iOS 12.

I’m also hearing glitches on the AirPods since moving to the X. Every couple of tracks I’d hear a slight playback glitch but thankfully since iOS 11.2 was released earlier this week this seems to have been resolved.

So is it worth it?

The iPhone X is expensive. It cost over £1000 but the iPhone X has left me in no doubt…this is a fantastic device and it really ages the previous generation iPhones. They look dated and feel even more so when using them. This is a real jump in function and feel. FaceID just works and it reduces TouchID to yesterdays news. It’s also as close as we are going to get to an all screen device until the tech in the notch can be tucked behind the screen. No doubt that’s only 2-3 years away, but once you get used to this much screen without the borders it’s hard to use anything else without it feeling old. Gestures also make using the iPhone X a far more fluid experience helped by FaceID.

Apple have been accused of being stagnant regarding the iPhone despite the hardware inside being best of breed however with the iPhone X they have reimagined what a smartphone personal computer looks like in 2017. This feels like the start of a new generation of smartphones from Apple and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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