First Impression: Apple Watch Sport

apple-watch-sport - 10I got my hands on Edong’s Apple Watch Sport and, with his permission, I unboxed it, took some photos, and played with it a bit.

The packaging is unusually big and bulky for Apple who have been steadily reducing the size of their product packaging for years. But it seems to be part of their premium and luxury message for the Apple Watch.

The 42mm case is rectangular and made of aluminium with a space grey anodized coating. Everything is smooth and rounded with no sharp edges or corners to be seen or felt. Knowing beforehand that it is 42mm, I wasn’t expecting that it would be quite small and light. But it is.

The Ion-X screen covers the whole face and is rounded at the edges. It is black and shiny when off and the display is very sharp when on. Nice to look at in either state. It has force-touch which means touching it with varying levels of force result in different actions. It is also very responsive though force-touching needs some getting used to.

The digital crown on the right side is big and quite effortless to turn and push. So with the other button.

The back has those scifi-looking sensors for reading your heart-rate.

The strap is black silicone rubber with a clever clasp. You button it on and slip the excess strap under the clasp. Very neat. And you can change straps or bracelets without any tools.

The whole watch is well-built. It looks and feels the high-end device you expect from Apple. Even more, it looks and feels like a futuristic device from science fiction. But aside from small nods to traditional watches it doesn’t pretend to be a watch but instead steps ahead and defines itself as a new class of wrist wear, the so-called smartwatch.

It looks like Apple has another winner on its hand (or wrist).

PlexConnect: Connecting Plex and the Apple TV

The Apple TV is a nifty little device but it’s nowhere close to being able to play anything you want. It cannot play from USB drives. And it can’t play network shares either. Not from AFP, not from SMB, not from DLNA. There’s no app store for the Apple TV (yet) so there’s not installing and running the Plex Player app. So it can’t play from from Plex Media Server either. At least not directly.

Fortunately, there is a workaround: PlexConnect. And it is genius! You see, some of the built-in Apple TV apps get their UI and content from remote web servers. So it was a matter of hijacking the web traffic to from one of these apps and redirect it to PlexConnect running on local machine. PlexConnect then communicates with Plex Media Server and serves up modified UI and content to the hijacked app on the Apple TV. Of course, the hijacked app won’t work as before anymore.

Normally the hijacked app is the Trailers app. But since I didn’t have the Trailers app on my Apple TV, I used the WSJ app instead. If you have the same situation then in the instructions below replace of “trailers” with â€wsjapp” and replace of “trailers.apple.com” with â€video–api–secure.wsj.com”

Here are the consolidated instructions (from https://github.com/iBaa/PlexConnect/wiki/Install-Guide) for Mac OS X:

1. Install Plex Media Server
2. Download PlexConnect (https://github.com/iBaa/PlexConnect/archive/master.zip)
3. Extract and drag PlexConnect-master to the Applications folder
4. Open a terminal window (Terminal.app on Mac) and run the following command

openssl req -new -nodes -newkey rsa:2048 -out ~/Desktop/trailers.pem -keyout ~/Desktop/trailers.key -x509 -days 7300 -subj “/C=US/CN=trailers.apple.com”

 

openssl req -new -nodes -newkey rsa:2048 -out ~/Desktop/wsjapp.pem -keyout ~/Desktop/wsjapp.key -x509 -days 7300 -subj “/C=US/CN=video–api–secure.wsj.com“

5. This will create two files on your desktop: trailers.key and trailers.pem (or wsjapp.key and wsjapp.pem). Next run the following command:

openssl x509 -in ~/Desktop/trailers.pem -outform der -out ~/Desktop/trailers.cer && cat ~/Desktop/trailers.key >> ~/Desktop/trailers.pem

openssl x509 -in ~/Desktop/trailers.pem -outform der -out ~/Desktop/wsjapp.cer && cat ~/Desktop/wsjapp.key >> ~/Desktop/wsjapp.pem

Three files should now be on your desktop trailers.pem, trailers.key, and trailers.cer. (or wsjapp.pem, wsjapp.key, and wsjapp.cer).

6. Place the .pem and.cer files into the following folder:

/Applications/PlexConnect-master/assets/certificates/

7. If you’re hijacking the WSJ app, you need to edit the PlexConnect configuration:

/Applications/PlexConnect-master/Settings.cfg

Set hosttointercept to “video–api–secure.wsj.com“:

hosttointercept = video–api–secure.wsj.com

8. If you’re hijacking the WSJ app, you need to edit the Settings script:

/Applications/PlexConnect-master/Settings.py

Change line 35 to (note the red dash):

(‘hosttointercept’ , (‘trailers.apple.com’, ‘[a-zA-Z0-9_.–]+’)),

9. Run PlexConnect by first opening a terminal window (Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal), then type the following:

sudo “/Applications/PlexConnect-master/PlexConnect.py”

Provide your Administrator password to complete PlexConnect startup.

You should now see messages like these in the terminal window: PlexConnect Terminal

Write down the IP_Self: ###.###.###.### address. This is the IP of your PlexConnect server

SelfIP

On the Apple TV, choose Settings > General > Network > Wi-Fi. Then Choose your Wi-Fi network Name WifiSettingsChange the DNS setting from “Automatic” to “Manual”. WifiDNSEnter the IP of your PlexConnect server as the DNS server.DNSIP

Go to the AppleTV settings menu. Select “General” then scroll the cursor down to highlight “Send Data To Apple” and set to “No”.

With “Send Data To Apple” highlighted, press “Play” (not the normal “Select” button) and you will be prompted to add a profile.

Enter (without the quotes): “http://trailers.apple.com/trailers.cer” (or “http://video–api–secure.wsj.com/wsjapp.cer“)

Launch the Trailers (or the WSJ app).

Now you can play media from your Plex Media Server library on your Apple TV.

Enjoy!

UPDATE 6-22-15: Changed from old “secure.marketwatch.com” to new “video–api–secure.wsj.com”. Based on discussion at https://forums.plex.tv/index.php/topic/168109-plexconnect-suddendly-stopped-working/.

OtterBox Resurgence

otterbox-resurgence-frontiPhones don’t exactly have the best battery life. With normal use, they last me about a day. But with heavy use, which is often, I’d be lucky if they last till the evening. So I considered either a battery case or a power bank to address this limitation. Once, I spotted a Mophie Juice Pack but due to budget considerations I didn’t get it. When I finally decided to, I couldn’t find one anymore. So I settled for a power bank which does work but can sometimes a bit unwieldy and often get left behind. Then last Friday, I was looking at OtterBox cases when I saw the Resurgence. Being an avid OtterBox fan, I immediately got it.

The Resurgence is composed of two pieces. The front piece covers the sides and wraps around the edges giving the screen a slightly raised protective bezel. This protects the screen from direct contact when the phone is face down. The buttons have touch-through covers that are easy to press. Unfortunately, they are a bit loose and rattle when your shake the case. There are ports for the speakers that channel sound to the front. Finally, there are cutouts for the silent switch and the charging button on the back piece. The silent switch is still easily accessible with a finger.

otterbox-resurgence-backThe back piece is a big chunk that holds the battery. There are cutouts for the camera, flash, and silent switch. At the bottom portion, it has an internal Lightning plug, a micro USB port, a through-port for headphones, and the charging button which also acts as a battery level and charging indicator. It is coated with a black smooth material which seems less rubbery and more durable than similar coatings.

To install, you slide the phone inside the back piece and into the Lightning plug. Then you snap the front piece over the phone. The case comes with just a bit of charge from the factory so the first step is to charge using the included micro USB cable. Once charged, you press the charging button to see the battery level. There are four lights arranged around the button which shows the charge level in 25% increments. To charge, you press and hold the button for 3 seconds. To stop charging, you do the same thing.

The whole case fits the iPhone snugly and in fact it is very difficult to remove the phone. It looks quite rugged and could bounce off the floor. In fact, it is military-rated for drop protection (MIL STD 810G-516.6; Do note the Applicability to “ruggedized” consumer products section). So for a rugged battery case, I think it’s pretty good. I like it better than the Mophie Juice Pack though I’m not sure if it’s as rugged as the Mophie Juice Pack Pro.

Now for the bad stuff. The battery, although advertised to give you 2x (as in phone lasts twice as long), so far only get me (starting from below than 10%) to just around 70-80%. Quite frankly, that sucks. I’m hoping a few cycles will result in improvements. Another problem is that the charging button seems to be prone to cracking. Finally, there are quite a few molding imperfections on the casing. They’re small but they’re there. All these is unfortunate as OtterBox has, in the past, been known for quality. It seems the stiff competition is forcing it to cut corners. That’s bad news for both OtterBox and us.

Rating: 3/5

Two iPhones and a Watch

As widely expected, Apple announce the iPhone 6 at their September 9 event. Actually two iPhones. Specifications-wise, they’re actually average. So they’re quite disappointing to some (and always disappointing to Android fans). The features are pretty much normal for other (read: Android) phones. It doesn’t even have QHD (1440×2560) which some Android flagship phones like the LG G3 already have.

But Apple doesn’t usually go for bleeding edge technology for the sake of it. Why go beyond overboard with the pixels per inch (ppi) when you can make just the same (or actually much much more) revenue for less cost (of high-resolution displays). You probably can’t even tell the difference (I know I can’t) when holding the phone at normal usage distance.

Why use new technologies when they’re still unstable and potentially ruin the all-important user experience? Why offer 802.11ac when most installed routers and access points don’t support it? Why offer NFC when there’s no business case and corresponding strategy for it? But now they have Apple Pay, which was announced on the event.

But people are asking for bigger phones because of more media consumption (to quote a friend) and so they delivered a big phone and a bigger phone.

I do hope they will offer a smaller version for us who still like our things small and beautiful. Unfortunately, other than the display size and the NFC, the iPhone 6 and 6 plus are more incremental  improvements. So for now the iPhone 5s neatly fills in the slot for a small phone in the product range. That may show up on next year’s iPhone 6 upgrade or in two years on the iPhone 7 range.

But the big thing during the event was the now classic “one more thing”: the Apple Watch. It’s actually more of a fitness/health monitor with extra functionality which just happens to include telling time. Or you can also say it’s a watch because it watches your fitness/health :P In terms of the target market, it’s quite clear from the photos and videos they used: it is for the fashionable millennial fitness buff. And boy did they nail it!

The Apple Watch offers two case sizes (women’s and men’s), three case materials (stainless steel, aluminum, and gold) and a whole bunch of straps. Strap it on for the gym (or the route) along with the rest of your trendy gym wear, look fab doing your sets, and then go off to work and/or the coffee shop. If you’re still wearing your Apple Watch by then, even better. For Apple. Of course that would depend on the battery life on which Apple was silent. But if it’s better than the generally dismal battery life of most other, if not all, smartwatches, then Apple has a winner.

Most have known, or at least suspected that Apple is not just a hardware company, is not just a software company, but a lifestyle company. If you’re not convinced look at the iPod, the iPhone, U2, the iTunes festival, Beats, and now the Apple Watch which further reinforces that identity.

So a word of advice to Samsung and company: you’re not competing against a phone, you’re competing against a lifestyle. Good luck!

Kindle Paperwhite

kindle-paperwhiteSo I finally got my Kindle Paperwhite. It’s your regular Kindle Paperwhite Wi-Fi version with the notable difference that since it’s the Japan version, it’s got 4GB instead of 2GB to account for the popularity of manga I guess. But for regular books, that translates to twice the number, from 2000 to 4000, of books if you somehow have that many.

The e-paper display, for which the Kindle is known for, is definitely awesome. No glare or reflections at all. The background color is actually a greenish gray which is actually fine for reading. To get the paper white background color, you’ll need to turn on the built-in light which might impact the battery a bit. But it shouldn’t matter since it’s rated to last weeks instead of several hours with even the best tablets (iPads :P). A few hours, even days reduction shouldn’t matter much. And in exchange you get to read with a pleasing warm paper white background and read in darker environments. That’s quite fair enough.

The display is touch-sensitive and works well once you’ve gotten used to it. It is not as sensitive as the best tablets but definitely better than some of the others. Definitely sensitive enough for changing pages, which is the most common use. Since this is an e-paper display, refresh rates are not high and thus you change pages instead of scrolling. Scrolling is supported by the built-in experimental browser, but it’s not pretty. Still, in a pinch, it’s workable.

Of course it works awesomely with the Amazon bookstore. But a problem for me is how easy to buy something. I myself ended up with accidental purchases. This is offset somewhat by how easy to cancel a purchase. But I personally would prefer some authentication especially if kids are around. Another problem is that it’s a little harder to find the free books (yes, there are lots of them in Amazon) since they’re almost always mixed in with the paid books. But hey, that’s Amazon’s main business after all. And I’ve always been happy with them. Including with this e-book reader.