To the 6 Plus and Back Again…

By now you’ve all read the countless reviews of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Hell, you have probably even read reviews from people “one month in” to using their 6 Pluses. I know I have. I was lucky enough to snag a 6 Plus online on launch day and eagerly awaited everything about it. Yes, I was one of “those folks” that cut out the template of the form factor of the 6 Plus, taping it to a stack of index cards, carrying it in my front pocket for a week just to steel the confidence behind my purchase.

But there was no denying that, when it showed up at my front door, I laughed nervously thinking “Holy crap! This thing is HUGE!”. Not just bigger, or slightly over-sized – it was simply larger than I imagined – and that genuinely surprised me.

Like anything though, I thought I’d get used to it.

It fit in to all of my pants and jeans pockets relatively easily. Yes, it jabbed my hip when I sat down, but not in a remotely uncomfortable way and aside from that seemingly small quibble, there was a lot to like! I thoroughly enjoyed the larger screen! Reading/consuming on the 6 Plus was (and still is) one of the best iOS experiences I’ve had to date. In fact, the size got me using my iPad so infrequently (writing on the Plus was a joy by the way) that I almost considered it a more than capable replacement. I also really dug the creative use of the extra screen real estate in some apps when the 6 Plus was in landscape mode. Add in the battery life and the speed, and I actually can’t stress enough just how much of a joy it was to use this beautiful hardware.

Still, even with all of that, there was always something nagging at me.

Something about my new phone didn’t feel quite right. In hindsight, it was painfully obvious, but at the time I just plugged along and made do. Eventually though, the reason snuck up on me when I held a close friend’s iPhone 6 at a party: the 4.7 inch 6 just felt good in my hand. Not huge, not too small – not anything – it just felt right. Once he let me slip it into my pocket, that sealed the deal. It was official: I had bought the wrong phone for me.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I went hiking in Virginia with my wife. It was a beautiful Autumn day and I wanted to capture as much of it as I could. As I hiked along snapping pictures and the occasional slow-mo video of leaves falling to the ground, it finally hit me as to why I disliked my phone.

I was constantly aware of it.

All of the phones I’ve owned in the past slipped into my pocket, going completely unnoticed, until I either needed it for something or I had a call/text come in. Never before had I owned a phone that, through its sheer physical size, made me constantly aware that it was on my person. It was why I took it out in the car and put it in a cup holder while driving. Or why I would leave it on the dinner table when I was out to eat or sharing a meal with someone. Or why I’d leave it on the desk while I worked. Simply taking it out of my pocket wasn’t a solution either, because once on the table it is constantly within eye-shot; consciously or sub-consciously begging for your attention.

Therein lied the problem.

Sometimes I like, no… I need technology to disappear. The 6 Plus, for me anyways, couldn’t do that. For all of its virtues and its undeniable strengths, the Plus is just too big for me to incorporate into my day-to-day life.

Eventually I made it into the Apple store here in Durham where they took pity on me, allowing me to exchange my phone for the 4.7 inch iPhone 6 well outside of the 14 day return policy window. I slid it into my pocket and I’ve never looked back.

Where I really liked many aspects of the 6 Plus vert much, I love just about everything on this iPhone 6. Sure I miss the unique landscape layouts of some apps, the undeniable all-day battery life, and typing on the 6 is noticeably more cramped than on the plus… but everything else? It’s easily just as beautiful and more of a joy to use.

And, because it disappears into my pocket. I am back in love with having my iPhone with me.

Interesting Ideas: AirType

AirType concept image.

I have a hard time shooting these concepts down because I actually do think this where the future of interface is going.

When the soft keyboard debuted with the iPhone in 2007, it was met with extreme skepticism. But over time we all got used to it. There’s an entire generation now that looks at a phone with a physical keyboard much like my generation would look at a 14.4k modem.

How long before our kids’ kids look at a any physical interface at all and laugh?

I’m just about to leap into my 40’s and I imagine the days of buttons are going to be replaced by our fingers dancing through the air long before I head to a nursing home.

Still, while I love the portability and the idea of concepts like AirType, I do wonder how long it would take for my keystroke accuracy to catch up to how fast I can type on a physical keyboard.

We shall see! Probably sooner than we think too! I look forward to finding out.

Tips: Stretching an iPhone 5 Battery Through a 6 Day Hike in Yosemite National Park

This will be a quick one folks! I just wanted to share how I made a stock iPhone 5 battery stretch 6 days on one full charge while using it only as a camera.

When traveling, I really love using my iPhone as my main point-and-shoot. Does it best my wife’s DSLR? Hell no, not even close. But it does take decent photos if you’ve mastered its quirks and the portability of it is second-to-none.

Upper Cathedral Lake

But what about on hiking trips? Not car-camping mind you, but hiking out in the middle of nowhere, where the nearest power outlet is literally days away?

In those cases you could either bring one of the many portable solar chargers that are now available at any camping/outdoor gear store, or even a hand-crank generator, but that’s just extra weight for me to lug around, not to mention misplace or lose. So when my week-long hike in Yosemite came along, I wanted to see just how far I could stretch a single charge on my iPhone 5, all while using it to snap frequent pics of the stunning beauty out there (and man, there is SO much!).

Now, on a typical day I use my phone to such a degree that I rarely get through a full 24 hour period without plugging it in. I am sure many of you can relate. So how did I accomplish 6 days straight? Let me tell you!

Dim Your Screen Brightness

Brightness Settings

Go under “Settings” and tap “Brightness & Wallpaper”. In that menu, use the slider to bring your brightness down to 50% (or as low as your poor eyes can stand).

Airplane Mode is Your Friend!

Turn off Airplane Mode

Tap “Settings” (if you aren’t still in there) and right up at the top you’ll see a toggle for “Airplane Mode”. Turn this bad boy on and leave it. This turns off your cellular service, WIFI and your Bluetooth connectivity. With this turned on, your phone stops continuously looking for something that, out in the middle nowhere, it will never find. If it was constantly searching? Your battery would be dead in way less than a day. So at the very least, switch Airplane Mode to the “on” position.

Turn Off Location Services

Turn Off Location Services

Tap “Settings” again, go down to “Privacy” and in there you will find “Privacy Services”. Click on that and hit the toggle at the top to turn that off. You will lose the geolocation of the pictures you snap, but the accuracy of that gets dodgy anyways when you are that far off of the grid.

Basically an iPod Touch…

That’s all I turned off! With all these services off, you’ve basically got an iPod Touch, but you can still utilize your camera (which I used continuously from the slider on the lock screen), snap a pic, check it out and lock the phone immediately afterward.

So how did this all work? Quite well! So well in fact that I took well over a hundred shots (a bunch of panoramas too) and, with less than 48 hours until I was back in civilization, I still had 50% battery left! I know! Not bad!

I am sure a lot of folks have tried this combo with varying degrees of success, but sometimes it’s good to read about a use case that actually occurred and worked. If there are any other services I missed let me know!

A Bit on Common Sense

I know it goes without saying but… I when I was hiking, I was with 4 other people who all had charged phones, compasses and maps on them… in other words: don’t take chances. If your phone is the only thing you have as a link to possible rescue, don’t try this out. It’s not worth it.

But, if you are properly prepared, I whole-heartedly recommend leaving your iPhone charger back in the car.

Out there it’s not going to do you any good anyways. ;)

Have fun and be safe!

Paperless: Digitizing Your Life and Going Paperless…

Last August, my wife and I decided to downsize our home situation moving from a 1500 square foot home, into a 500 square foot studio apartment.

That’s right… we moved into a home that was a third the size of what we were used to.

The reasoning behind this decision is worthy of another post entirely, but one of the results of this move was the act of us digitizing our entertainment, as well attaining a paperless lifestyle.

It certainly wasn’t easy and like all expected challenges in my/our life, I had to have a plan of attack from the outset. First and foremost we needed get rid of a lot of stuff! Physical CD’s, DVD’s and books take up a lot of space in your home (whether you notice it or not) and our new tiny apartment simply wasn’t going to have the room to house everything we collected over the years. So it didn’t take long before I decided that anything that could be transferred to a hard drive or cloud-based storage, would be.

Sounds simple enough right? It is actually. But, another problem reared its ugly head. After ripping and selling all of our music and DVD’s over the years, I knew immediately that this process would take time, and lots of it.

The good news though? It’s totally worth it. The even better news? There are a lot of ingenious services out there that will help make the process much, much easier. So I thought I’d share my findings with you all.

Entertainment…

With the advent of cloud-based services like iTunes Match and the low price points of external storage nowadays, it’s simple (and relatively cheap) to come up with digital backups of your entire entertainment library. I ended up subscribing to iTunes Match, transferring my entire music library there and buying a USB hard-drive cradle like this one for everything that Match wouldn’t cater to. By the way, if you have a lot of old hard drives laying around, this cradle is awesome, as it caters to both desktop and laptop drives.

On the software end, to rip our CD’s I’d used iTunes over the years and for the DVD’s, I used RipIt. Both apps are incredibly easy to use and I never ran into copywrite issues ripping the DVD’s either. Please note that the time this takes has EVERYTHING to do with the speed of your CD/DVD drive. I think collectively, I was at it for about a week, just evenings though. It’s boring “work” and you should find something to do between rips. As I mentioned, we were moving so I had plenty to do.

Once everything was ripped, I sold all of the physical copies on Craig’s List or gave them to friends and family. And no, that wasn’t easy.

The Dead Tree Stuff…

So, that obstacle behind me, I moved on to everything else. It didn’t take long at all to realize that digitizing your music and movie collection is dead simple compared to digitizing all of the paper that’s been in your life.

Next I dealt with the books.  The books weren’t that big of a deal. We basically kept our treasured copies (the ones you read more than once, or the ones that changed your life) and got rid of, or sold, the ones that were literally collecting dust. Then, after you have done that bit of curation, you look at the remaining stuff and see if it’s worth buying their e-book counterparts. It’s surprising how this simple process whittles down the bulk of your book collection. I am not going to lie, if you love books, this process is really hard to go through. Prepare yourself and steel your resolve. You can do it!

In the end, we sold the bulk of our book collection to used book stores around the area, but another great find was donating the rest to charity programs that routed your books to other countries or even prisons. If you have books after this process (I had an old HTML 3 book the no one wanted, can’t blame them either), at the very worst you should be able to recycle whatever is left.

Once the books were gone, we felt like we were really making progress! The house we were selling suddenly seemed downright cavernous! We were well on our way! But then we started opening our closets and saw all the white file boxes with Sharpie-scrawled years on them.

The Rest…

What was in these boxes were all of the documents we’d collected over the years. It was either important stuff (like tax info) or things that we thought we might need in a pinch (like service manuals for your vacuum). There was a lot of crap too that we simply didn’t need at all: it would all have to get recycled.

When it was all there, sitting out in front of us, it was intimidating thinking about everything we were going to have to do to make this work. But you start simple and go from there. We started the process by going through everything quickly, separating everything into two basic piles: the stuff we planned on keeping and the stuff we were going to shred and recycle. After that was done, it seemed a little more manageable which was great psychological booster. I went ahead shredded everything we were going to recycle and brought it in bags to the local recycling center. We actually used some of it for packing material too!

At this point in the process, we had gotten rid of about 60% of it all. It was time to digitize the rest!

How We Did It

First things first: move to paperless billing. Log into the respective site of any of your monthly bills, or give them a call and make that switch. Almost every service offers it now.  Just bite the bullet and make the change, I think you’ll find the adjustment period very short. :)

You also need to realize that you are not the first person who has done this. Today, there are TONS of resources out there. But if I had offer one to you? I’d recommend this: “Paperless Field Guide” by David Sparks.

This book is invaluable in breaking down the process of creating a paperless, workflow-based system in your life that is not only space-saving (physically and digitally), but is also immensely useful and reliable going forward. Sparks offers great hardware and software suggestions and his writing and overall approach to the subject matter is very accessible and not overwhelming in the slightest. He also offers excellent examples and though I found Sparks’ personal workflow system a bit overkill for me (he’s a lawyer, so it kind of needs to be), I ended up with my own, much simpler workflow; borrowing a lot of best practices from the book and adapting it to my life.

That’s what is so great about this book! It isn’t a blue print for what you need to do, it’s merely a guide.

Here is my paperless workflow, in a very barebones format:

  1. Find, or receive, a piece of information that’s worth keeping forever.
  2. Scan this document somehow (more on this below) into a PDF document, preferably with OCR (again, more on that below).
  3. Move this document into a predefined folder structure that’s easy to navigate through, with a predefined title structure. I went with “year_date_description” (i.e. “2013_0410_utility_bill”).
  4. Verify everything saved properly and get on with your life.

Sounds simple right? Well, it is, but not until you get a hold of the right tools.

What We Ended Up Using…

A Document Scanner of Some Kind: This is pretty crucial and, luckily, there are a TON of options out there. We bought an HP Scanner/Printer combo a long time ago for $50, so we used that. It doesn’t have to scan spectacularly, but it definitely should scan documents so that they are highly legible. The faster it scans, the more time you will save.

PDFScanner: This software works incredibly well with any scanner you plug into your Mac and, compared to it’s competition, it is very low-priced at just shy of $15. Just turn your scanner on, launch “PDFScanner”, click the “Scan” button”. That’s it! It will take your paper document and create a PDF out of it in no time.

Other things this software can do that are pretty invaluable are OCR – Optical Character Recognition as well as preset naming conventions (if you want the date it was scanned, inserted in front of the title every time you scan a document for instance). Both of these features are key, if you are trying to organize your documents so that they are easily searchable. “PDFScanner” can also mimic duplex printing as well, which is nice when you have a multi-page document that you want to transfer into one multi-page PDF document.

I was initially skeptical at the price, and while it’s more expensive counterparts can in fact do more, this software catered to my needs/paperless workflow nicely! I used it to scan literally everything we had left on file (read: 100’s of documents).

Dropbox: There are a ton of online cloud storage solutions out there. I use Dropbox because it’s flexible and I am already familiar with how it works. If you go with another one, make sure the service you choose supports folder structures. Most of them do nowadays, but I thought I’d throw that out there. PDF’s don’t take up much space, so I have been working with a free Dropbox account at the moment. I haven’t even come close to my 5gig limit, you/I can always pay for more storage if you run out.

JotNotPro: Mentioned in the “Paperless: Field Guide”, this is my mobile “Plan B”, for when I am not going to be near my home scanner anytime soon, or if I am just being plain old lazy. It’s an iOS app that you use to snap a picture of your document and then it automatically turns the pic into a pdf for you to send where ever you’d like. You can also link this app to automatically upload to a location on Dropbox as well, which made it no-brainer for me.

There’s a free version of this app that might suit you just fine, but I ponied up a couple of bucks for the Pro version. It provides extra functionality and it’s just a great app, so I wanted to support the developers.

Evernote: I’ve mentioned Evernote several times on this site. No bones, I love it. But as far as my paperless workflow is concerned, I use this only to file non-paper based things, like prescription and insurance cards, my license, my passport… you know, the important stuff that you need to literally have at your fingertips, tagged and in full color.

A lot of people use Evernote as their complete paperless eco-system/workflow. I didn’t only because I use Evernote for a lot of other digital-memory-based systems in my life and didn’t want my important/crucial documents getting buried in all of that. If this fits the bill for you though, go for it. You can’t beat free and their mobile apps are second to none.

Worth the Time and the Effort.

Whether your life necessitates it or not, digitizing your entertainment and important life documents, as time-consuming as it was initially, was an incredibly smart move for us. I no longer have to drag boxes out and leaf through a ton of folders to find my insurance info, past salary amounts or my tax info from five years ago. Now that it’s organized and searchable, I can find pretty much anything in a matter of minutes (at home, or on my phone even). That’s pretty incredible when you think about it!

Developing a good workflow makes this task WAY less arduous and having the right tools (hardware and software) can automate scanning and filing into a process that takes less than ten minutes out of your day.

The minute you need it and you see, firsthand, how much your hard work paid off?  I tell you, it really is a thing of beauty. And seeing all of that extra closet space you just regained?

Well, that’s pretty awesome too! :)

Hardware: ōlloclip Review

I really love to photograph the world around me. It’s yet another way to tell the stories that I constantly see floating around in my day-to-day. They are also incredible reminders of times past, for better or worse.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a camera at my disposal. When everything went digital, my instances of taking snapshots went up significantly. But when my phone became my go-to camera? That’s when the game changed completely. The ability to take great quality shots from something I carry with me pretty much all the time, was what changed me from a part-time “planned moment” photographer, to a full-time one.

Am I a professional by any means? Hell no. I am more of a hobbyist really. But I do love it and with each composition, I notice my eye getting better and my shots more interesting.

For the last couple of years, I have been using whatever version of the iPhone I owned at that time. I love the shots it takes and with the plethora of image manipulation apps at my disposal in the App Store it gives me a lot of opportunities whenever I find inspiration.

But there comes a time when you can feel you are reaching the limitations of the hardware at your disposal. Not that you want to abandon it completely, but that you simply wish you could somehow  “do more” with it.

Therein Lies The Rub:

When you reach the point I mentioned above, you have a few options. You can always upgrade to more powerful kit. Maybe a more powerful point-and-shoot? Maybe a gorgeous DSLR? But that’s yet another thing you have to carry around with you and it can also get expensive; not all of us have hundreds of dollars of disposable income.

You could also just learn to live with what you already have. But where is the fun in that? ;)

Wouldn’t it be great if there was something in between? Something that didn’t let you sacrifice your current situation (that camera that’s always in your pocket), but also gave you new avenues allowing you to expand upon what already works?

Enter, ōlloclip “3-In-One iPhone Photo Lens”…

ōlloclip 3-In-One iPhone Photo Lens

ōlloclip is a 3 lens kit that slides firmly over the back camera lens of your iPhone (there are two different kits, to accommodate that iPhone 5 and 4 form factors). You can get a description of it from their product page, but basically it is a tiny solution (seriously, it easily fits in your jeans pocket) that can deliver some really nice results that you could never achieve with your iPhone camera alone. Once attached it gives you the following:

  • A macro lens (with a 10X multiplier that allows you to focus an iPhone within 12-15mm)
  • A wide-angle lens (that doubles the field of view of the iPhone)
  • A fisheye lens (captures approximately a 180 Degree field-of-view)

That’s some pretty cool extra functionality and while I’ve only been using it on my iPhone 5 for a few months now, I am already loving the results that this tiny lens kit provides.

I particularly love the macro capability and am astounded that my phone can produce such shots. My second favorite is the fisheye, which has afforded me some neat artistic license, and while I haven’t used the wide-angle much, it’s definitely been handy when I’ve wanted to capture the horizon (while not doing a panorama).

What’s also fun is using these lenses while shooting video! You can create some pretty funky stuff if you feel so inclined!

The Build Quality.

ōlloclip 3-In-One iPhone Photo Lens

The first thing you notice when you unpack the ōlloclip is that, despite it’s weight, it feels rugged.

The clip part of the lens kit that is attached to the iPhone itself is a kind of soft plastic that, at first, had me worried about scratches on the front and back body of the phone. But, after using it for a bit, it is clear that it’s the soft build of the plastic that insures a tight fit on the phone, all the while protecting it.

The glass itself is housed in a rugged anodized aircraft grade aluminum that feels rigid, yet incredibly light weight.

The glass (arguably the most important part) is “precision ground glass multi-element optics” and while I am far from being a lens expert, I have been very pleased with the quality they produce. They each come with their own lens caps and the lenses themselves are also really easy to clean.

The kit itself comes pre-assembled with a tiny pouch that doubles as a handy lens cloth. I keep the whole kit in my breast pocket of my jacket or in my front pants pocket if it’s warmer. It’s so light that I hardly can tell its even there. Oh and if you are a traveler and are into light-weight minimalist systems, this will definitely help in that regard. I can’t wait to take this on my next trip anywhere.

Any Drawbacks?

As tiny as the kit is, it is oddly shaped. So my only wish really, is that I could take the entire assembly apart and somehow still protect the lenses from damage. In its current state I don’t really see a way to do that. But, as I stated above, you don’t really feel it in your pocket unless you bump into a wall or something and it jabs you.

Also, because of its size, I do worry about breaking it. I can’t help it. It’s not that it feels fragile or anything, it’s just that I personally can be really clumsy and, depending on the day, absent-minded. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I dropped it or sat on it some day. But again, as I stated above, the build quality is such that I have yet to feel that this little power-house would go down without a serious fight.

The results.

I can could sing the praises of the ōlloclip all day but really what matters is the quality of the pictures you take, so here are some examples:

 

A lot of these have been run through filters (you can tell which ones I am sure), but while I am no pro, I still am stunned that these were shot with an iPhone. At $69.99 I can heartily recommend it for folks looking to take their iPhone photography to that proverbial next level. It’s super easy to use and once you get the hang of it, I think you’ll be just as amazed as I’ve been!

Please Note: The pics in this review of the ōlloclip itself, are all linked from their site. I did not take those (though I wish I did).

Thanks for the recommendation! Now where can I get it!?

  1. At ōlloclip’s site.
  2. The Apple Store
  3. Best Buy
  4. Sprint Retail Stores