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.

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

Software: Mou App Review

Mou editor window screenshot On it’s site, mouapp.com, the text editor “Mou” is aptly described as “The missing Markdown editor for web developers”. And, for me anyways, it truly is. I’ve been using it for several weeks now and I wanted to share my thoughts on how I found it and how it has found it’s way into my writing/blogging system.

If you write in Markdown, you’ll know that there is no shortage of apps out there that cater to it. But many of them merely export to html or maybe, if you’re lucky, give you a popup preview pane to view what you’ve created before you do.

With that in mind, I went on the hunt for a Markdown editor that worked differently. First and foremost, I wanted something that could accurately display my Markdown inline. A lot of Markdown editors to date give this kind of visual feedback on screen, but most of the time it’s just an indicator showing you that you’ve successfully applied the proper syntax. It doesn’t show you what it will look like when it’s translated into html. So, as I mulled through a pile of research on the editors I Googled, I was surprised that I couldn’t find an editor out there that gave me this type of feedback. I couldn’t, that is, until one night the good folks at Scriptogram tweeted to the world an app that was in beta called “Mou”. Not only did they specify that it was built for web developers using Markdown, but that it also offered many options that some of the editors did not.

Naturally, I was psyched at the possibility of finally finding the editor I’d been searching for! Of course, I still had to use it. :)

Well, I did and I am happy to report it is now definitely my go-to Markdown editor on the Mac (it’s Mac only by the way. It also only runs on 10.7 or higher.)! There are a lot of reasons why I chose it and, honestly, the bulk of these features can be found in other editors. But the most important ones are all here (including a few that I didn’t even know that I needed) in one tidy package.

Here’s a rundown of the key features that tipped the scale for me:

Split Screen Edit Window for Realtime Markdown to HTML Conversion

Mou editor window screenshotI actually wish I could film this, because it’s hands down my favorite feature. When open Mou, you’ll notice immediately that the edit window is split down the middle to show your Markdown code on one side and it’s translation to HTML on the other. But what’s really awesome is, as you type your Markdown on the left side, it is updated with the html conversion on the right,in realtime! There is a second of lag as the program does it’s thing, but I tell ya, this instant feed back is fast, beautifully implemented and unbelievably handy when you want to know how your code is going to look when you post it up for the world to see.

This all said, Mou’s default setup only shows your code in the raw html format, the CSS of the site you are posting to could, and will, change what you see on the right (sometimes significantly). The good news? You can import your site’s CSS into Mou if you want to have an even better representation of what your end product will look like.

Post Function

Post to ScriptogramA very close second in my running for “favorite feature”, is Mou’s “Post” function. This site you are reading runs onScriptogram’s framework, and Mou’s ability to post to a site running on Scriptogram is some wizbang hoodoo that I am glad just works. Once you put your Scriptogram site’s unique ID into Mou’s preferences, it becomes an option under the File>Post menu.

I gotta tell ya, not having to log into the back end of my site to post something is just damn convenient. It’s easy to use and it works every time.

Oh and if you’re a Tumblr user, it can post to that too!

Auto Complete

Supports Auto CompleteLike any code-based language, Markdown has a syntax logic that, while super simple, readable and easy to use, still needs to be upheld in order to work. Mou does a great job at making sure that your code (spelling and grammar too) is correct through it’s auto-complete functionality. When you type a “(“it automatically places a “)” in front of your cursor. This is a wonderful time-saver! In fact, it actually makes me want to use Mou as an everyday text editor for anything (which of course you could) and I sometimes do.

I could go on about the other ways that Mao’s autocomplete works, but if you use Markdown in your day-to-day, you’ll have to trust me when I say it makes writing in Markdown even more simple to use.

Themes

Mou supports custom themesThemes are in just about every text editor out there now. That all said, Mou’s are great and it’s nice to have it added in with everything else in such a robust program. Customizing any text editor to your liking is is key and with Mou it’s easy to do.

There are other cool features too!

  • It’s super fast! It feels like a light weight editor when you use it and it’s burned through anything I have thrown at it quickly.
  • A word/character/byte counter
  • A really simple export to HTML or PDF option (that can even include your css too!)
  • View Controls with Enhanced CJK Support for folks around the world writing in character-based languages the run vertically.
  • Supports OSX’s full screen mode and autosave function (a life saver if you need something from a previous version)
  • A powerful set of keyboard actions that allow you to write your Markdown even faster.
  • Incremental Search for looking for things easier and granularly within your document.

Seems Awesome Right? So Where Do You Get It?

Mou currently is in Beta, but every build that’s dropped has been rock solid in my usage. The good news is that this awesome editor is free right now because of it’s beta state! Eventually it will be for sale (price TBD) when it reaches version 1.0 release. But if you donate to the development (highly recommended), you’ll get a free upgrade when that version is ready!

Links:

  • Mou App: http://mouapp.com – download link is that bottom of the page. If you can, feel free to donate!
  • Develper: Chen Luo
  • Twitter for the app: @mou
  • Twitter for the Developer: @chenluois

PLEASE NOTE: All images in this post are from Mou’s site.

Hardware: Review of Logitech’s K750 and K760 Wireless Solar Keyboards

Apple Bluetooth Keyboard

For the last few years, I have been using my ever-faithful Apple bluetooth keyboard for my wireless keyboard needs (Laptop, iPad, iPhone, Mac Mini, you name it…). I chose it for the following reasons:

  1. It’s got a good form factor
  2. It is ruggedly built (I have dropped it several times and it has kept ticking without a hitch).
  3. Despite it’s form factor it has got a full size layout for its keys (sans number pad). Which is always important. I hate feeling cramped while typing.
  4. It pairs relatively easily with devices and the Mac-specific hotkeys at the top are quite quite handy (particularly when used with the iPad)
  5. It’s easy to grab and slide into my bag when I need to just go.

But, that all said, there are a few drawbacks. Small stuff mostly, but chief amongst them is the Apple keyboard’s need of batteries to function and it’s ability to have it’s bluetooth connection turned on by accident (draining the batteries of both your device and the keyboard) if the large button on its side gets touched by a feather.

Both of these issues caused me to reevaluate my selection of a keyboard and at least start to research what is out there nowadays for alternative options. Suffice it to say, I found a lot!

 

The best options built specifically for the Mac, that weren’t built by Apple, seemed to be offered by Logitech. They have a great selection with a lot of options, but in the end I settled on their series of solar powered keyboards. They support all of the current Apple command key shortcuts, have zero need for batteries (fully charged, it can be used for three continuous months in complete darkness) and, in the case of the travel version, they have the ability to hot swap between multiple bluetooth devices. Which is handy if you need to quickly disconnect from one device and quickly pair with another (from an iPad to a desktop, for instance).

Here are the two I went with:Logitech K760 Wireless Solar KeyboardFor the iPad I went with the Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K760

Logitech K750 Wireless Solar KeyboardAnd for the Mac Mini I splurged and snagged the full sized Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 for Mac®

They both perform easily as well as their Apple manufactured counterparts and while they don’t feel as well built as Apple’s aluminum keyboards, they by no means feel cheap in any way.

Function-wise, they both have worked flawlessly. I love that the hotkeys (the “F” keys) that are in the top row of the Apple keyboard, can all be found on the Logitechs (the media-based buttons work even on the iPad!). Also, eco-stance aside, I really love that I don’t have to worry about having my rechargeable batteries around and charged up when my keyboard dies. The solar cell at the top, does change the footprint (and the aesthetic if that’s important to you) obviously, making the keyboard, in both cases, taller. But the exchange for battery life and the simple convenience of putting it in any kind of light to recharge it, definitely trumps these quibbles for me.

The bluetooth hot swapping on the K760? It works as advertised and is pretty damn amazing! Once paired up (easy to do as well) I was swapping between my iPad, iPhone and Macbook with a simple keystroke. It’s fast and way more convenient than I originally anticipated. Definitely not a gimmicky feature! It is the real deal and quite helpful.

One odd difference between the two? The K760 keys are WAY more “clicky” than the K750. So if you are into that, or are obsessive about stealth typing, than you may want to take a note of this. I noticed it right away.

Lastly, the K750 comes with a free app you can snag from the Mac App Store that gives you real time info on your charge and the amount of light/solar energy your keyboard is currently receiving. Pretty neat to bring up and watch, not to mention handy if you need to know how much juice your keyboard currently has left. Again, it’s only for K750, but it is well implemented on the Mac.

So if it wasn’t clear enough yet, I will come out and say it: I am pretty smitten with these keyboards! I’ve used the K750 for a month now and the K760 for a little over week. They have not given me one bit of buyer’s remorse. Quite the opposite actually. I wish more peripherals were made with this kind of utility and function.

Two thumbs up! Way up! Highly recommended!