iPhone 6 Plus Review

iPhone users have had it a little rough in the past few years, seeing all the large phones come out while Apple has pretty much kept the screen size at 4 inches. Apple has stated that they could have done a large phone years ago, but wanted to wait to do it right. They may have waited too long, as they ended up losing quite a bit of sales and market share to larger Android phones. Reportedly they worked for several years on this phone and many were excited when the rumors started circulating that Apple was finally making a large screen phone. I pre-ordered one immediately as soon as everyone was able to, the iPhone 6 Plus with the 5.5 inch screen.

I knew I would like a larger phone because two years ago I did a year with Android. I purchased several tablets, smaller handheld units and phones, specifically the Galaxy Note 2. I wanted to do a semi-scientific test to see how well Android stacked up against iOS. With the Note I really loved the screen, the size, and actually I thought the stylus was pretty handy. Samsung has a lot of bloatware (I much preferred the cleaner Google produced Nexus devices I purchased) but I could see myself really warming up to a larger device for daily use. At five inches and above, the phone becomes a computer that you can do a lot more on.

The year spent with Android left me liking the hardware but not really liking the software. Google created the Android operating system and the OS is very open, meaning you can really configure it in many different ways. Unfortunately being more open leaves the OS more vulnerable, Android has issues with malware and viruses, very similar to PCs. Added to this the fact that Google’s business model in general is eroding your privacy to collect more data on you, so it can serve you targeted ads. Much the same way that Facebook generates revenue.

They do this in many ways, some very obvious and some not. My concern was Android was built by a company who has this business model. The combination of virus/malware potential, privacy concerns and also the general wonkyness of the Android OS (crashes, flakiness, etc) ended my year of Android on a pretty sour note. Granted this was two years ago, and Android has been spiffed up quite a bit since, but most of my initial concerns are still valid. I sold all my Android devices and even my Galaxy Note, and continued using my Apple iOS devices. It is not worth arguing Apple vs. Android, both platforms have come a long way and both have a lot to love. I just gave Android a lot of testing and evaluation for the better part of a year and decided iOS was where I was going to stay.

So if Google’s business model is collecting information about you so it can target you with advertising, what is Apple’s business model? Apple’s is selling you expensive hardware. Apple’s devices are not cheap but they are well make and feature great design. They developed iOS 8 because they want the hardware to be more appealing and run as great as possible.

As much as Android is a very open and customizable operating system, iOS is quite the opposite, very closed and locked down. Some people see this as a negative, I see it as the main selling point. I don’t have to worry about viruses, malware or any other exploits. With iOS 7 you had limited ways to customize the phone, but now iOS 8 changed that. Now you can really alter things like installing new keyboards, flexible app extensions and dozens of other options, but it still remains a closed system. However now I do feel like I have the best of both worlds, the customization of Android and the security lock down of iOS, as well as the larger phone I have been wanting for so long. Finally!

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Design, Screen and Camera

Structurally the phone feels great in your hands. A lot of larger phones are made of plastic but this one is made of an aluminum alloy that feels like metal but weighs a fraction of that. They finally ditched the sharp/hard lines of the iPhone 5 and 5s and went back to the curved edges of the original iPhone. Picking up the unit you can really feel how much bigger it is, especially if you are used to an iPhone 4 or 5. But because it is more slender and amazingly thin, it feels very solid and comfy. I thought it would take me a week or so to get used to, but literally 15 minutes after I unboxed it, it felt completely natural. The largeness started to fade away as I started running my favorite apps on the beautiful screen.

And what a screen it is. I can honestly say I have used dozens of devices of all different sizes and this is the best screen I have ever seen. It has stunning color accuracy and saturation (not cranked up to ridiculous levels like some other big phones), amazing viewing angles and everything is sharp and vibrant. The pixels are now closer to the screen below the surface, so you really feel like your finger is moving around stuff.

Touch ID allows me to lock the phone via a fingerprint and that feature works great. As great as it did on my iPhone 5s. I ended up putting several of my digits in there so no matter what orientation I am holding it in, I’ll have a finger close enough to get me in quick.

Apps need to be tweaked for the bigger screen and new apps need to be written to take advantage of the 1080p display, also older apps are scaled up. However everything I have run looks stunning and performs great. Maybe I am just running apps that have been upgraded to work with iOS 8 and the larger screen, but everything works and looks great.

Games especially pop and taking photos and shooting video is a joy with the larger screen. The camera has been upgraded and the quality and performance under low light is fantastic. The iPhones have continued to be known for having the best phone cameras out there, even while other phones have desperately been trying everything from raising megapixels, to adding tons of software photo features, to increasing saturation into not-normal levels to blasting up the sharpness.

Take a few pics with the iPhone 6 Plus and you will become a believer.

The biggest feature with phone cameras is called dynamic range. It’s the level of grays in your images. For example, with most phones you can zoom in to a darker area, say under a shrub or in someone’s hair, and you see the blacks being “crushed”. Instead of subtle shades you see more blocks of black darkness. The good cameras, if you zoom in, you see lots of subtle shades and fine detail. This is how your eyes see, and a good camera recreates that. So other vendors try to ramp up megapixels and do all kinds of tricks with filters, but I can take one pic, zoom in, and immediately see the deficiencies in dynamic range. The iPhone 6 Plus has amazing dynamic range and hundreds of levels of greyscale. Long story short, it takes very impressive pictures in all kinds of light and stunning video.

Usability

The iPhone 6 Plus does have a few areas I need to get used to. First of all the power button is now on the side. I keep reaching for it at the top, where it has been on the last several iPhones. Also talking on the phone. With my iPhone 5s, it was so small that I put it up to my ear and I was right at the speaker. I could judge where to put it because I knew where it should be positioned. The larger iPhone 6 Plus, when I put it up to my ear, I typically have to tweak the position a little because I am not yet used to where the phone should be pertaining to the speaker. It’s the only odd dilemma I have faced, and I find that at the beginning of a call I am sliding the phone slightly to where the sound is the loudest. Not an issue when using earbuds, but it is something I did not expect. I am sure in another week I’ll find that sweet spot automatically. Other than that, using a large phone to make calls is not the odd scenario I envisioned.

Also because the sides are rounded now, and with the larger phone, I feel like the potential for dropping is higher. I got a case for it on day one and have yet to drop it, but while the phone feels amazing in the hand, some people would be better off with a case for a better grip.

Signal wise the phone just rocks. It uses faster wi-fi and locks to a signal in seconds. This past week I had LTE in many places where I would get 4G or no signal with previous phones. I had LTE in a movie theater! I know they have like a dozen antennas intertwining externally via bands around the back, but I have to say getting a strong signal, and keeping a strong signal, the iPhone 6 Plus does this without breaking a sweat. Both LTE and wi-fi are dramatically improved.

Battery life is a lot better as well. It is a much bigger battery of course because of the large size, and while I charge it nightly I could probably charge it every other day. This phone packs some serious juice.

The biggest surprise was how much my wife loves her iPhone 6 Plus. I assumed male geeks would gravitate towards the larger 5.5 inch phone, while females would choose the more understated, smaller 4.7 inch unit. Guess not. She loves the larger screen and probably has not put the phone down since she got it. Also at the Apple Store on launch day I saw many females walking out with the Plus. So I guess I will not assume in the future.

Did I ever consider getting the iPhone 6 4.7? Briefly. But after holding them I discovered that, for me, the 4.7 was a little too big for one handed use and a bit small for two handed use. So I would have stuck with my iPhone 5s for one handed stuff and my iPad for two handed. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I did not do that much phone stuff one handed anyway.

What has happened now with the 5.5 is I have basically replaced my phone and iPad with one device. Actually maybe 3, because I don’t use a Kindle anymore, because the iPhone 6 Plus 5.5 makes a perfect reading device.

Should You Get One?

Yes! If you want a new iPhone, I suggest this one over the regular iPhone 6 with the 4.7 screen. The 4.7 is not that much of an increase and while it is a great phone, the 5.5 Plus is the one to get. Apple allows a 2 week return policy if it does not work out. Anyone who “loves their iPhone” should spend a week with the iPhone 6 Plus and see what true love really is. Highly recommended.

FarmVille 2: Country Escape Review

What am I doing in FarmVille? As a gamer I had to see how the other half lives. I’m much more at home on a PS4 or Xbox One, or on Steam on my Mac, and while I do play games on my iPad, I am not sure I am in the FarmVille demographic. Actually I am not sure who the demographic is for this game. All I know is I’ve heard so much about these type of free-to-play games, I had to give it a whirl.

FarmVille 2 starts off with a bang. You are given a farm and a supply of keys and virtual coins to purchase things like apple trees and wheat fields. You start buying, start planting and stuff starts happening…fast. Before you know it you start leveling up and doing really well. It’s a sly move to hook you in early. The tutorials gradually open up more of the game and they do an excellent job of leading you through everything. Like a good RPG game, there are missions and tasks, and you can keep grinding (growing and selling) to earn more coins. More coins can be used to buy more land, so you can plant more things, as well as raise sheep, cows and various animals. They go on to produce product such as milk and wool, which you can sell to make more coin.

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The key however is, actually, keys. Keys are more limited in supply, they are powerful in that they can make things go by quicker. Peach trees are taking a while to produce, add some keys to it. Baking pies, keys can make them all set to go in seconds. You are nudged in the game to use keys to speed things up, but once they are gone, they are gone. You can buy new sets of keys for actual money, $2 or $10 or $50. Keys make your farm and everything you produce grow fast.

Or you can be patient. See the angle of the game for many is not building a farm, but seeing how far you can go without spending any money. The game is a free download and you earn keys and coins (and other types of currency later in the game) from playing. But after the first hour or so the game slows down considerably. Everything takes longer to grow or produce. Right now I am cooking a loaded baked potato that will take a total of 4 hours to be done. I have some of my farmhands fishing, they’ll be done in 8 hours. Some things go much quicker. Wheat can grow in 30 seconds. Cows can produce milk in about a minute. Generally items you can get a lot of coin for take longer, things less valuable, much quicker. Because there are so many things going on at one time, as you expand your farm you’ll always have plenty to do. Eventually you have to make items that need 3 different ingredients. So you are constantly managing and micromanaging the corn fields with the pan-seared trout dishes. Trout dishes? Surprisingly much more involved than growing corn actually.

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There are lots of layers to the game, you can sell products to other players, accept challenges, send your farmhands exploring, buy prized animals for winning ribbons, perform landscaping, cook on stoves, weave on looms, do crafting, compete in timed tasks with deadlines, spin a daily prize wheel and much more. I was playing on my own and was reluctant to connect to my Facebook account, as much as the app gently kept suggesting it. But I did connect and it actually opened up a whole new world of helping others with their farm, them helping me, joining farm co-ops, buying and selling, trading crops and much more.

I am using the app on an iPad Air and I decided to try the Facebook app web version on-line. I thought it looked less refined, was not as polished (must be older) and was much more evasive in asking to invite friends at every turn. I’m going to pass on it. The very polished iOS app on the other hand can be played completely offline if you want, no internet or Facebook connection needed. The iPad app (it also works on iPhone) features beautiful graphics and animations, seriously this is a very polished presentation that looks, sounds and plays great. It’s got a lot of visual eye candy and as I mentioned there is always something to do, some new quest, new section of the game opening up and also plenty of farming. The games syncs to iCloud so you can play on all your iOS devices at anytime and everything is saved.

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So is it fun? Can you play without spending money? The game is a lot of fun. I am at level 17 so far and have played for many hours. I have not spent a dime of any real world money (so far) and part of the challenge has been to see how much I can get away with without paying. I think a lot! Now you have to be patient. Typically if you play and don’t pay you may eventually just dip in for some playtime a few times a day. It’s actually kind of relaxing, and it’s always a thrill to hear the audible sound of coins and levels building up. If you have a lot of Facebook friends, and connect the iOS app, you end up getting a lot of help from others which comes in handy. Helping them as well is pretty rewarding.

Now the game can get addicting. It’s actually pretty brilliantly constructed to keep you playing for just a little longer. During the day you’ll feel the tug, well let me just pop in to see how my peach trees are doing or what my farmhands have discovered during the adventure I sent them out on. It can also get a little complex as you level up. In the beginning you plant an apple tree, apples grow, you sell them. As you progress you’ll need to sell items made from multiple ingredients, cooked in different types of stoves and devices, manage your crops because your barn will only hold so much, and keep feeding animals so they can produce the ingredients you need to create higher priced items to sell. It’s spinning plates, in slow motion. These tasks are completed in seconds or hours, often you’ll be working on one recipe only to get sidetracked with another new task, challenge or even better (more profitable) recipe. Not to mention you are constantly looking to buy new land and shopping with your virtual coins to add new animals, plants and equipment, so you can make more money and level up. Even though you are always guided with help and tutorials to suggest how to keep things rolling, the game is flexible enough to let you focus on certain areas if you want.

Through it all you may also suffer burnout. There is great variety in the game but also great repetition. The game is not for everyone but it does reward those who are patient and who can play chess like strategy and keep several moves ahead of the game. If all else fails you can always drop a few bucks and get some keys to make (farm) life easier. I may consider it at some point, only because I actually feel a little guilty playing for hours for free. I’m just having too much fun trying to game the game, trying to get my way and advance without paying. So far I’ve been having a lot of fun approaching it from that angle.

FarmVille 2: Country Escape is available for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and is a free download in the app store. I recommend giving it a try, especially if you like time management games such as Sally’s Spa. You’ll know in the first hour if the game is for you, chances are, you may get hooked. If so, I may see you at a FarmVille co-op in the near future.

Top Posts of 2013

switching from Gmail and outlook to apple icloud email

What were the top posts on my blog in 2013? Glad you asked. I went through my stats and here they are, in order from the highest traffic to the lowest, the ten posts that had the most visits in 2013.

#1 – Google’s Gmail vs. Apple’s iCloud Email: Here are the Top 4 Reasons to Switch
This has been the most popular post on my site this past year. I don’t think necessarily that people are fed up with Gmail, I just think that Apple’s email is starting to become a viable alternative. Especially now that more people have multiple iOS devices

#2 – iBooks App vs. Kindle App: Best E-Book Reader for Apple iPad mini?
A year ago when I wrote this I was somewhat on the fence. I now use iBooks fairly exclusively. Even though the books are sometimes a little most expensive, and I miss out on some ebooks like Kindle Singles, the ease of use and interface, on all my iOS devices, makes iBooks a keeper.

#3 – iCloud vs. Dropbox: The Final Verdict
OS X Mavericks was reportedly supposed to include an iCloud Drive, but it never happened. I do wish Apple would add a folder based iCloud drive for advanced users. Maybe at some point.

#4 – Roku 3 vs. Apple TV Review
Since I wrote this we’ve added a Roku 3 to a new TV we recently purchased. It’s not too bad. The interface still needs to be improved and it is not as bullet-proof as Apple TV, but it’s getting there.

#5 – How to Buy Kindle Books on iPad
Large spike around the holidays on this page. I do wish Amazon would allow purchases of Kindle books directly in their  iOS app for iPhone and iPad. They would lose some profit by Apple taking their cut, but would get a tremendous amount of sales. Amazon making people navigate to a website or computer to purchase a book seems odd in 2014.

#6 – iPad mini vs. iPad 4 with Retina Display Review
This review stands but is now out-dated as the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina are now out. I was going to write a follow up battle but having the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina, and using them for a few months now, they are both amazing in different ways. But if I had to choose only one, it would be the mini.

#7 – Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote Control Review
With all the gadgets I own, this item is one of my favorites. If you have the budget, get one, it’s an amazing device.

#8 – New Facebook Redesign Concept
Basically just a link post, but it sure stirred up some opinions.

#9 – How to Buy Kindle Books on iPhone
Another popular post, especially right after the holidays.

#10 – 4 Secrets to Taking Great People Photos
I should do more photography blog posts. I have more secrets.

So that’s it, the top posts from last year. Have any questions? Contact me.

Here’s Why Your Next TV Will Watch You

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When you are surfing the web, it’s pretty clear you are being monitored. Using several technologies, most notably website cookies, your browsing habits can be tracked, and ads can be served up based on your interests. But what if your TV had the same capability? It will. The future is about to arrive, and it actually will happen this year. But are you ready to have your viewing habits and interests tracked in your own living room?

Digital sleuthing technology is a new form of tracking that monitors what you watch live or record on your DVR. Companies such as Cognitive and Gracenote, which create all the software for this to happen, track viewing information in real time and sync the information to a database through the web, via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Marketers get a rich data mine to create tailored messages tying in to the likes and dislikes of the viewer. This technology, called video fingerprinting, extends to TV series, movies and commercials, as well as set-top boxes, streaming devices and Blu-ray players. TV sets from manufacturers such as Samsung, Vizio and Sony are in talks to incorporate this type of software, with some companies such as LG Electronics already displaying, at IFA in Berlin, the tech built in to sets about to ship. The technology and techniques will most likely also filter down to mobile TV. Right now, there are various app-based hooks in place to track what users are doing, but the advancements to mobile will ramp up the sync between viewing and real-time ads being displayed.

As Smart TVs get smarter, the one drawback is that they are still pretty dumb at accessing the needs of viewers. With the Internet and portable tablet devices, as well as smartphones, it has become easier to track mobile units, but living room TVs are still somewhat of a disconnected island. A lot of that changed with the Netflix button. As Netflix became standard on more and more TVs, viewers suddenly had a strong incentive to connect their TV to their home network. Once connected, they could get Netflix streaming, but it also allowed the TV makers to offer other apps, firmware updates and old school banner ads. These rudimentary ads that may appear when you access your TV’s internal menu screen are very reminiscent of the Internet 15 years ago. The landscape of banners ads for TV are very fragmented now, but its clear that this prime space is the next wild west that advertisers can stream into. The one drawback is that as slick (or as complicated) as these TV menus and screens are, they are almost always pretty disconnected from the actual TV sources plugged into them.

What about privacy? Who is going to want a TV to track their every move? Currently, this technology is opt-in, meaning that the viewer has to sign in for the tracking to begin. Of course, this could be tied in to features, so viewers will need to sign up as well as in to access some form of content. Tracking will most likely be described in a long scrolling terms of service that few will read. But once a viewer is in, the data will become extremely powerful and valuable. Imagine a 24/7 Nielsen box that tracks whatever is playing on the TV from whatever device. This is not too dissimilar to second-screen apps that rely on audio tracking currently out. Many apps on iOS 7, Android and Windows Phone allow “following along” with chats, message boards and info as you watch a program. The tablet or smartphone listens to your TV audio (much like Shazam) and figures out what you are currently watching via audio thumbprints. Video thumb prints take this to the next level and happen globally on your TV set, no matter what you watch.

Complexities arise once you start to think this through. What if you have kids and adults and visitors all watching different types of shows at all different times of the day or night? Will this new technology track all this intelligently and systematically, serving the right content to the correct person? This has been a struggle for many companies. Recently, Netflix tried to solve this problem with breaking out its one streaming account into multiple user accounts. So now, primarily and currently on the website version, before you go in to watch, you need to stop and click what user is going to be viewing. This allows Netflix to track recommendations on a more granular user basis, but it also causes an interface speed bump and user interaction. People just want to sit down and watch without designating users, or worse, having to log out of one user and into another just because some people left the couch or returned.

It’s fair to say that video tracking on a TV set basis is the next big thing. Ads have permeated so much of our life; the relatively calm waters of TV were bound to be disrupted at some point. Hardware such as the Kinect and Xbox One include technology that tracks, but it is (fairly) clear exactly what they are doing. With video thumb printing, advertiser tracking could be as murky and frustrating as online web ads and cookies have become. But be aware: TV tracking is not just coming; it is already here. The only choice we have to decide on is if we are ready for it.

How to Market Your Voice Over Services

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From the mailbag:

Hi Franklin. I came across your blog during my search for information on producing voice overs.  I’ve been a musician for 30 years have and also have been providing sound and recording for about 10. I’m looking to diversify into producing voice overs. The older I get the heavier my gear gets to haul around:).  My question for you is who should I be marketing my services to. I was thinking ad agencies but not too sure. For example who is creating the endless car dealer spots you hear on the radio? I really appreciate any advice you could share with me. On a side note I see you live in Portland. I work in Portsmouth and live near Rochester NH. – Respectfully Mike Galimberti / http://dtxdrummer.com

Who is producing those spots is a good question. It could be the local radio station themselves, it could be a local agency who handles the media for the car company, if it is a small dealer it could just be them doing it with a microphone and a computer. It’s hard to figure out, so don’t waste time trying to. If you want to market your VO skills, you need to go to the decision maker. In this case, say it is the car dealer. Pitch them to do voice overs for their commercials. Now they most likely have a place that does all their audio and video production. No problem, ask the dealer if they can introduce you to the production company. Could be something simple, like forwarding your contact info via email. Instead of finding and pitching a production company, you have their client introduce you. In marketing, try to look for creative paths to what you are trying to find.

When it comes to marketing and building your career, there are lots of strategies. You have to be different, market pleasure, keep clients engaged, rattle cages, be emotionally compelling, measure and manage it and most importantly, take it to the next level. You owe it to your audience to bring your craft to the masses, so keep the momentum going and continue to be a student of learning new ways to market yourself in fresh and engaging ways.

Have a question about anything? Drop me a note.