I just want to apologize for my long lay off. I know a lot of people come here daily to see my posts and I have been so busy that I just haven't had time to do a lot of extra work to get my blog back on track. I do have several products to review at home, so keep checking back to see my new updates. Hopefully I will get a chance to put up a new review by the evening of August 5th.
Why the long lay off?
I don't talk about my personal life much on this blog unless it relates to a review, but life has been crazy the last couple of years and this year started off with a bang. I split up with the woman that has been in my life for decades and that made my enthusiasm for reviews and many other things in my life less appealing.
While I certainly wasn't prepared for such a life changing event, things have been going great (for the most part). My family and friends offered a lot of support and I have managed to pick up the pieces and move on. I am now dating a wonderful lady and have been getting out of the house a lot more than normal. I think it is all for the better, but I do need to post some reviews so I will continue to get stuff to review down the road as life gets a little less hectic.
I have no intentions of giving up on this blog. I have an A7RIII, Orbi Modem, a laptop, Airplay 2, 2 Espresso machines, and many more things to review already.
Thanks again to everyone that continues to support this website by clicking on links or just sending emails or comments that let me know my time isn't being wasted.
I have another article about Apple and privacy, but I had to post this tweet.
I have posted responses and links to MKBHD's Youtube videos in the past and here we are again. He recently posted a video discussing Apple's Ecosystem and I thought it would be a great way to introduce users to the concept even if I don't agree with his final assessment (which I will discuss below). Anyway, here is the video:
The Apple Ecosystem
As many people know, Apple has a variety of products and services that work well together. As he mentions, there are two separate issues: "How well they work together" and their "Walled Garden".
How well they work together
There is no other company in the world that has as many profitable products and services that work as seamlessly together as Apple's products and services. That isn't just marketing jargon, it is undeniable fact.
In the world of creating Operating Systems, Apple really has only two competitors to speak of and everyone knows that is Microsoft and Google. These companies have different approaches, though. However, in either case, Apple has wider range of hardware and software.
Microsoft does not compete with Apple in the phone market and Google barely competes with them in the desktop/laptop/tablet market. Therefore, Microsoft and Google clients don't have the benefit of being able to seamless move from the phone, to the tablet, to the desktop, to the laptop. Even when you flip on the TV, AppleTV has advantages with access to iTunes on your computer, your photos instantly appearing in the Photos app, you Podcasts showing up, etc.
The Walled Garden
As MKBHD mentions, "everything you could ever want" is inside the garden. That sounds pretty good, actually, However, he also says "these walls around the garden are really tall and they don't want you exploring outside those walls". Personally, I think this statement is a bit crazy.
First off, yes Apple makes it very comfortable in their garden. In fact, it is like living on a continent with everything you need. If you want Disney World, it is in there. If you want, a trip to the Safari, it is in there. That being said, they don't let all of their goodies outside of the wall. In other words, if you want to ride the biggest roller coaster in the world, it isn't available outside those walls, if you want the best beaches in the world, it isn't available outside those walls, etc.
That being said, MKBHD makes the point that they don't want you looking outside those walls. Is that really true? Does Apple stop Google from putting Chrome, Google Play, Google Assistant, YouTube, GMAil, etc inside their walls? If I can see how great Google does these things, aren't I more susceptible to being moved to other Google devices? Microsoft has their incredible office suite on MacOS and iOS. Isn't that letting me peak outside the walls when Apple has their own suite of apps? Heck, they allow Adobe Premier and even Windows to run on Macs. As I said, they have an open gate where pretty much anyone can come in, but they don't let all of their goodies out.
Hooks into the Ecosystem
He also talks about how Apple devices work so well together that they become "hooks" into buying more Apple products. He shows how well the iPhone works with the Mac, then talks about how that hooks you into buying AirPods, Apple Watch, and HomePod. Of course, Apple wants you to buy their products, so they work to make the experience so great that you want to buy more. This is what they call "smart business". In fact, you could say it is one of the best business models if you care about market cap, revenues, and profits.
Also, he mentions how, if you want to leave Apple's Ecosystem, your AirPods aren't as useful. Of course, Apple makes hardware that works well together. If you leave, you lose that benefit. You aren't stuck with anything, though. If I wanted to get out of Apple products, I would just sell the stuff on eBay, Amazon, Gazelle, etc. There are many ways to get rid of tech you no longer want.
As an example, I wanted to upgrade my old speakers. However, if I bought new speakers, my old speakers would be rendered obsolete in my home. Does that mean I am stuck with those old speakers until I die? No, it means that I could sell them and use that money toward new stuff. In the case of Apple, that old stuff typically holds its value better than the competition, so you won't take as big of a hit selling an iPad as an Android tablet. Of course, you could get rid of the iPhone and still use your iPad or iPod Touch to control your HomePod and use your AirPods, so if you were someone that bought into the entire ecosystem, chances are you could still use a lot of stuff if you just got rid of an iPhone. The Mac and iPad don't require you to use an iPhone.
He also discusses moving from Apple Music to Spotify because it is "clearly better". Obviously, this is bias because it isn't backed up by facts. JD Power actually did a study in Sept 2016 and Apple Music came in first and Rhapsody came in second for Consumer Satisfaction. Also, moving your entire library over isn't even possible because Spotify doesn't match your music. So much for being "clearly better".
Hooks into the iPhone
Once again, he talks about the hooks into the iPhone. If you buy an Apple Watch, you are aware that you need an iPhone to use it. It is like saying the new tires on your car are a hook into keeping the car for a while. Yes, when people buy an accessory for a specific product, they do that will full knowledge that it is an accessory. If I (hypothetically) decide to move from Rolex to Apple Watch, chances are, I won't be keeping around that watch winder or my other Rolex bands because they have no use without that type of watch. They aren't really hooks, though. No one is keeping their Rolex because they bought an expensive band. They just sell it all off and start over. Personally, I have written about accessories that I have purchased for my Jeep Wrangler. They can be expensive and they will not transfer to most new vehicles. If I get rid of my Jeep, my only option is to sell the Jeep with the accessories or to take them out and sell them. I can tell you it is easier to sell an Apple Watch than a bumper for a 2017 Jeep Wrangler.
You could be missing out?
So, his main point is that even if another phone comes out with better features, the hooks into the Apple ecosystem make many still want to stay with Apple. This is actually true for the most part. When it comes to picking which tech I buy, I am not solely basing that decision on specs. Most Mac owners know what I am referring to, but it is how hardware and software work together. Apple is in another league in that area which is why MKBHD uses an iMac and Final Cut Pro X for editing his videos instead of a maxed out PC running Premier.
It is also why you look at how a 5 month iPhone blows away new flagship phones coming out today in many areas:
Personally, I think we are getting to a point of "pick your spec". Everyone went crazy because Google Pixel 2 had the best DxOMark phone camera rating when it came to market. DxOMark picks the specs that they value the most and come up with their score in that manner. They talk to companies like Google so that they can make their cameras in such a way that it performs best in their rating system. It doesn't mean that everyone values the way a camera works in the same way as DxOMark's rating system. Some like a camera that is best in low light, some want it to shoot video the best, some are mainly concerned with it shooting RAW rather than all of the processing done in phone, or frames per second. These tests tell you how things do in specific categories, but the rating score is subjective.
In other words, these "best DxOMark" or best "DisplayMate" scores are measured within specific criteria and that criteria may be different from person to person. The iPhone X had the highest score ever from DisplayMate, did everyone throw out their Android phones and switch to iOS on that day? No, because even Android owners live in an ecosystem. If they have apps that only work on Android and they need them, they aren't switching to iOS on a whim. It works both ways.
I actually fell into a category of "ecosystem" users that stayed with Apple because of Airplay. Back when I had an iPhone 4s, I held onto it a year longer than I would have because of Airplay. I have Airplay built into my receivers, Airport Express units, and speakers around the house. At the time, there weren't any other alternatives, other than spending a fortune for Sonos Connects, so I kept the iPhone 4s for a year longer than I would have because I was waiting on a larger phone from Apple. I looked at Android and I could not find any way around this issue and rumors were already out that Apple was coming out with the Plus model phones.
However, was this a bad thing? I value having music, in a high quality, in multiple places in my home and only Apple affordably fed that market at the time.
When it comes down to it, we all have our choices to make. I am not trapped by Apple products. I have sold much harder things to get rid of on eBay (5 tires for a Jeep, for example) and I am not trapped by the fact that I own a HomePod. I could sell it tomorrow without much of a problem.
Outside of getting rid of actual products, I already own Windows computers (including Windows running on Macs), so I could move to Microsoft without much issue.
I see the ecosystem as a huge reason I stay with Apple and find it to be the thing that separates them from being solely concerned with specs that really don't add as much satisfaction as features like Airdrop, Airplay, Continuity, Messages, etc.
In short, no one is really trapped by Apple's ecosystem. Most say it is one of the main reasons they stay with Apple, but it is because it provides a better, unique experience across multiple devices than any competitor can offer. It is like saying Tesla plans to lock their clients in because no one else has a battery powered car than can go to 60mph in 1.9 seconds. These are unique features, but they aren't locking anyone in.
To wrap up....I agree that Apple's ecosystem of devices keeps people buying Apple products and services. I believe it is because people make the choice to take advantage of the ecosystem because the ecosystem makes their lives easier in many different ways. No one is "walled in", though. People always have choice and many are choosing to buy Apple products. It is never "too late" to change things up when you can sell the HomePod, Apple Watch or any Apple product tomorrow. The fact that people don't want to lose Apple's unique features is more about choosing to live in the garden rather than being trapped in the garden.
Just a not so quick comparison of Google Home, Alexa, and the HomePod.
Also, a demonstration of how I use it with J River or Plex with the Echo to access my local library.
I have been asked about Apple's privacy versus their competition. Since Apple doesn't tout privacy in their ads, and I have referred to it in the past, I decided to post excerpts from a few articles on the subject (there is link to the longer article in the title of each section).
I am not personally endorsing any of these specific articles, so if you have an issue with what they say, I suggest contacting them through the link to the article.
I do think that they all point to the same thing, though. Apple doesn't use your data as a separate revenue source and their competition does:
"First and foremost, there’s the issue of these companies’ business models. The goal of each outfit is to make the most money it can for its shareholders, naturally, and in that sense Apple — pricing its products at a premium — is the most visible example of the maxim. But $1,000 iPhones and pricey accessories aside, at least the company is only buttering its bread on one side.
Google, by contrast, not only sells phones and other devices, but also makes money off the ads (and the user data) that appear on those handsets, laptops and tablets. Amazon’s gadget-oriented business model wants to sell you things (like Amazon Echos) that will help sell you more things (through voice ordering) — a dizzying value proposition. And then there’s Facebook, which doesn’t appear to be selling its users much of anything at this point. But look more closely and you discover Facebook’s users (and their kids’ bath time photos) are themselves the products unwittingly feeding the social network’s revenue model."
"This is therefore one area where Apple trumps the competition thanks to the firm’s commitment to user privacy. Apple has been a frequent proponent for privacy, having famously denied the FBI the backdoor it wanted for the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters in 2016.
Apple says: “With HomePod, only after ‘Hey Siri’ is recognized locally on the device will any information be sent to Apple servers, encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.”
This means that not only will Apple only record people after they have requested the virtual assistant, unlike Google and Amazon, it will also not gather information on users for the purpose of advertising and marketing."
"I don't want an open Amazon or Google microphone in my house. Call me whatever names you feel you must, but the idea of companies that monetize my data and behavior being given my conversations and activities for free, and in so doing creating a second or multiple additional points for data breach or abuse, has always felt like a bad deal to me. (I can't use Google Assistant in general because, every time I decline to give it access to my web and app data, it declines to turn on — which feels coercive, given how much it could still do absent that data.)
Apple, by virtue of its business model, has no interest in storing my personal data any longer than it absolutely has to, and no interest in monetizing my behavior.So not only does it keep Siri offline until it hits the trigger phrase, once it goes online it generates an anonymous token ID and transmits all data with end-to-end encryption. That way, never have to worry about entire meeting transcripts being stored in logs, employees violating my privacy and snooping on me, or my past data being exposed over due to some future bug, partnership, or request.
That's not to say I don't want Apple using my data to provide me with better direct services. I just want my data to be used for my benefit, not for the company's bottom line. Not unless I start getting a share of the money they make off of it. (Which is way more valuable than any 'free" app or service offered as compensation to date.)"
"Siri might hear you loud and clear on the new HomePod smart speaker, but Apple won't.
Apple introduced the Siri-powered device Monday at the Worldwide Developers Conference, making it clear from the get-go that voice commands will be anonymized and encrypted.
Voice assistants have already taken over homes with the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Microsoft's Cortana speakers. They've all raised privacy issues of their own, but Apple adds some scale to the concerns.
As the largest tech company in the world, Apple is often in the crosshairs of hackers and governments. For example, the number of security orders from US law enforcement to Apple doubled to about 6,000 during the second half of 2016, compared with the first six months of the year, the company disclosed in late May.
The HomePod won't always be listening to its users. Like Amazon and Google's voice assistant, a person activates it with a wake word or phrase. With the HomePod, it'll be "Hey Siri."
"Our team cares deeply about your privacy," Apple Senior Vice President of Marketing Phil Schiller said at Monday's keynote. "It has that magic phrase, 'Hey Siri.' Until you say it, nothing's being sent to Apple."
When the data does get sent, anonymization and encryption means your voice commands aren't tied to your Apple ID, and even the company isn't able to clearly view it.
So far, data stored on Amazon's servers is not anonymized. Google Home's assistant is able to access a user's search and location history and stores data on voice commands until it's been deleted.
The FBI declined to disclose how often it requests voice data from Amazon's Echo, but the retail giant has shown that it can retrieve Alexa recordings from specific users in a criminal investigation.
The encryption for HomePod conversations sticks with Apple's push for user privacy from the government, a mindset that also helped the company fight off the FBI's demands to unlock the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone in 2016."
"Apple is stepping up its artificial intelligence efforts in a bid to keep pace with rivals who have been driving full-throttle down a machine learning-powered AI superhighway, thanks to their liberal attitude to mining user data.
Not so Apple, which pitches itself as the lone defender of user privacy in a sea of data-hungry companies. While other data vampires slurp up location information, keyboard behavior and search queries, Apple has turned up its nose at users’ information. The company consistently rolls out hardware solutions that make it more difficult for Apple (and hackers, governments and identity thieves) to access your data and has traditionally limited data analysis so it all occurs on the device instead of on Apple’s servers."
A Quick Wrap Up
From now on, I will just link to this post in the future. Hopefully, it helps to understand what I am referring to when I discuss Apple vs their competition in the area of privacy. If you want it straight from Apple, here is a page to get started:
Setup - no muss, no fuss
Ah yes, a new Apple product...the HomePod. Out of the box, you notice that it is hefty for its small dimensions. It takes a couple minutes for it to read information off your iPhone or iPad and it is ready to play music. Fast and easy setup that is rivaled only by Airpods.
The main thing that some won't like is that the power cable is not removable (Correction: The cable is technically removable.). I believe they may have gone this route to avoid a big ugly power brick since a lot of people will be putting one of them in their kitchen. The cable itself looks great and is pretty long. Below is a picture of the fabric covered cable:
Siri for Music
Lots of Siri bashing going on by people that either don't understand the purpose of this device or simply want something to complain about. Siri for Apple Music works great! Pick a song, album, artist, playlist and it gets it right nearly every time. Actually, I have used it for hours and it hasn't missed a beat, but I hesitate to say it will work for every song in the world. I did test it with the album A1A, by Jimmy Buffett, that always throws me into the maps app on the iPhone, and it played without a problem.
Siri still needs commands spoken in a certain way, so if you want a movie soundtrack, it makes sense to tell her you want to hear "the album Pretty in Pink Movie Soundtrack". Some of this is because there are 40 million songs to choose from, so the more specific the better.
I also tested playing the music loud and then saying "Hey, Siri". It does a fantastic job of hearing your voice over loud music. I can't say the same about the Echo Dot. I have had to get close to it and scream in similar situations.
For the size, it is unbelievable. The sound is big and clean with punchy bass. It isn't going to rival my floor standing speakers combined with my 50 pound subwoofer, but it is still pretty amazing for a speaker with a 5.6 inch circular base and 6.8 inches tall. I am not sure how Apple will demonstrate this in the store, but you have to hear it for yourself.
I have had it in a small room and in a spot that splits two large rooms. It fills up a small room better, but no matter where you put it, it sounds great for its size. The volume won't blow out your eardrums, but there is no distortion at 100 percent, so you are always getting great sound.
I tested this with AirPlay and it works great. I have the excellent Netgear Orbi routers, so I never heard a drop out, even when playing lossless audio from my library and Tidal.
The AirPlay 2 features that bring AirPlay into this century are just around the corner and I expect will have more people buying HomePods. I have tested AirPlay 2 with my AppleTVs and being able to use multiroom audio directly from iOS takes things to a new level.
I typically use the Overcast app for podcasts on my iPhone, but I have been using the Podcast app for the AppleTV for years, so I am familiar with it. With the HomePod, you can tell it to play a podcast and it will play without a problem. It will also allow you to skip forward with commands like "Skip forward 2 minutes".
I did have some issues asking for some shows. For example, it has no idea what "iMore Show" is. It worked fine for Vector with Rene Ritchie, Accidental Tech Podcast, etc. It is supposed to be ableto pick up where you left off, but I am still trying to figure that one out.
I have tested this with Hue Bulbs that I have all over the house. It is very fast and works great. I have tested dimming bulbs, changing colors of bulbs, and turning them on and off. Very impressed.
General Siri Commands
If you buy this to rival Google Home or Amazon Echo for trivia, you will be disappointed. This isn't going to try to answer every question under the sun. It will convert measurements, set an alarm, get you the weather, and a few basic things. It does get some information from Wiki, but if you get a bunch of I don't know responses, you end up not trying anymore.
While it won't rival its competitors in this arena. The point of this device is great sound quality in a small package, not to play trivial pursuit. If you have no concerns about privacy (see my post about privacy here), get Google Home Mini or Echo Dot to answer your random questions or just get out your iPhone and launch Google Assistant. I have Echos all over the house and I just haven't had much need to ask it a bunch of random questions.
Combining with Echo Dot
Since the HomePod has AirPlay capabilities, it does open it to some Echo Dot skills. I use the J River Media Center skill on the Echo combined with J River running on my computer to send my personal music library audio files to the HomePod using AirPlay.
I have also tested the Plex app skill with my AppleTV and I was able to send the AirPlay stream to the HomePod. It is an easy backdoor to playing my lossless files on the HomePod using theEcho Dot. That being said, the AppleTV has to be manually adjusted to the HomePod airplay speaker every time you use it, so the J River Media solution on my computer has been a better option. Though, honestly, I won't use this feature very often at all.
Third Party Apps
This is for the 36 million and growing users of Apple Music. It isn't here to get Spotify more subscribers. However, you can use AirPlay with any audio stream from iOS or a computer ( may need an app like Airfoil), so no one is completely locked out.
I have seen review after review complaining about the lack of third party audio streaming. Guess what, it isn't that unusual. Sure, they are one of the few devices without Spotify, but the Amazon Echo doesn't support Google Play Music, Apple Music, Tidal, etc.
As far as third party skills, get anEcho Dot for ~ $39 (though it is often sale) if you need things like Plex, J River, Harmony Remote, support. Get the HomePod for the Apple ecosystem. Just be aware of what it is for before you decide.
Who is it for?
I will try to post an unboxing video and some of my impressions when I get a chance. However, I want to run down a list of what you can expect from the HomePod to make it easier to decide if the product is for you or not:
Who is it for?
1. Apple Music Subscribers that want voice control of music from a speaker
2. People in iOS that use Airplay.
3. People that want great sound from a small speaker
4. People that listen to Apple Podcasts
5. People that use HomeKit devices
6. People that prefer Apple's approach to privacy
Who is it not for?
1. People that don't use Apple Music that want voice control of music from a speaker
2. People that want it for random trivia or third party skills
3. People that do not own an iPad or iPhone
Does it work for my purposes?
It absolutely does exactly what I wanted it to do. I own Echo Dots, an Echo Spot, and a Google Home Mini. This is a different type of device. It works with Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Airplay. Not to mention the upcoming Airplay 2 features. This makes it more useful for music than the other devices. I am a music fanatic, so anything that makes music more convenient, and sounds great, means I will listen to music more often. While it is great sounding, for a small speaker, with all kinds of smarts related to room measurements, I won't be replacing my many speaker setups. It isn't meant to replace a main system. It is more about convenience without listening to a tin can.
As for Siri. she works great with Apple Music. I use it that way daily, so I know how to talk to the assistant to get it to play music I want to hear. I will still keep my cheap Echos around, so I have all of the other assistant features nearby, anyway. I just see them as very different devices, like a truck vs a sports car.
What would I change?
Lets pretend I could change anything about the HomePod. I would put an aux input on the thing. This would allow me to connect a Dot and get the best of both worlds. Outside of that, the HomePod has Bluetooth inside, but you can't use it for Bluetooth streaming. I would turn that on so it could be used for Bluetooth.
Down the road, I would love to see an Apple version of the Echo Dot that I can put anywhere and cost a fraction of the HomePod. I have my doubts that Apple wants that market, though.
Well, as you can see from the video above, I upgraded from my Canon 5D Mark III. I really love that camera, but I have had it for almost 6 years, so I feel that I got my money’s worth. I am going to wait until I have thenew camera for a bit, but I will eventually sell the 5D.
Dipping a toe in the Sony Pool
I don’t get paid to use certain brands of camera equipment, so I don’t have any loyalty to Canon versus other brands. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some nostalgic feelings since I started shooting digitally with Canon’s Powershot point and shoot, then switched to the 20D, and then to the 5D Mark III. Almost all of my lenses are Canon, as well.
That being said, I have been intrigued with the Sony’s full frame mirrorless cameras since they first came to market. The high dynamic range and comparatively ridiculous number of megapixels was enough to make anyone look. Sony’s lack of native lenses, the short battery life, and the not-so-great autofocus kept me on the sidelines....until now.
All of my prior concerns with Sony’s cameras have been resolved (for the most part), if the many reviews are correct. The stable of Sony lenses has grown, the battery life has been greatly improved, and the autofocus is supposed to be a huge improvement. I also wanted a camera that can shoot 4K video and the Sony fills that need, as well
Sony’s lenses can be very expensive. That is the main drawback of their system, but to get by while I save up money for lenses, I bought a Metabones adapter. One of the great things about Sony is that it can work with many different camera mounts via adapters. I may eventually sell all of my Canon gear, but that won’t offset what I will need to spend for replacement lenses, so I want to save up so I can at least have the option to get something like a 70-200 and a 1.4x teleconverter just to have something try to see what I am missing (if anything). After that, I may stick with adapters for a while if they work okay with the setup.
I can get by with just that lens for a while if need be. That being said if the Metabones + Canon works fantastically out of the box, I may hold out in case Canon comes along with something that fits my needs better down the road. Until I see how everything works, I can’t really make an informed decision. Luckily, we have a lens rental shop nearby, so I can do some direct comparisons and insure that I won’t have remorse over getting rid of my Canon glass....if that time comes.
When I bought the Canon 5D Mark III, it was because it was the best all around camera for my needs at the time. TheSony mirrorless fills that role the best, for my needs, right now. The fact that it is mirrorless means it can be paired with some lightweight travel lenses (it can actually work perfectly with the APS-C lenses for the A6500) if I want to travel with small, lightweight gear. That is one aspect. The Sony sensor is reportedly great in low light and one of the best in the business. It can shoot 4K video in a format that is easy to process. It can shoot up to 10 frames a second with full sized RAW files. It also has a silent mode, which will be great for photographing pups and wildlife.
It can, in theory, work with my Canon lenses with an adapter with little trade off, right out of the box. The 42.4 megapixels and 5-axis image stabilization is a huge plus. While I would prefer a fully articulating LED screen, I like the fact that the LED can pop out for shots low to the ground or on a table and also be used with the camera overhead. I also appreciate the fact that it can pair with the iPhone for GPS data instead of needing to use a third party app. Also, the app allows you to take photos remotely from an iOS device, which will come in handy shooting hummingbirds in the summer.
The Wrap Up
I am really looking forward to trying the A7R MarkIII out with my current lenses for both video and photos. I will provide an “initial thoughts” post once I get a little bit of time with it. As anyone that reads my blog knows, I also have other hobbies, so these type of purchases are usually few and far between, so I spend a lot of time reading specs, reviews, watching YouTube videos, etc. to make the most informed decision I can. However, I have never used this camera, so my thoughts at this point are based solely on speculation.
I have taken a few (edited) photos since opening the box yesterday. I am pretty happy out of the gate, but I will definitely write articles on the different lenses with theadapter as I have time.
Out of the box, I really liked the packaging. The Stormtrooper and gun (which can be put in his hand or not used at all) are fitted into the package rather than strapped into the package. This means that you just open up the box and pop the Stormtrooper and gun out.
Once you have it out, they suggest that you charge it. The charger is in a small pull out box below the Stormtrooper. I charged it up and installed the iOS app on my iPhone. The setup requires you to connect your mobile device to a network setup by the Stormtrooper and he says the password you need to use (make sure you write this down). I would much rather have a Bluetooth setup for ease of use anywhere, but I got it connected and then connected it to my wifi system via the app. I also updated the firmware. It can take a while before you can actually start enjoying the Stormtrooper, but I didn’t find this to be unusual. I have other battery operated devices that take just as long to get up and running.
After theStormtrooper was setup, he runs through some head and body movements to calibrate. He has motors in the neck, arms, legs and sensors in his feet. He also has a video camera in his helmet and an array of microphones.
The design of the Stormtrooper is first rate, for the most part. His arm and head movements are what you would expect, though his head can move up and down and side to side, so it has a lot of flexibility. However, he is extremely slow especially when compared to the Droid robots made by Sphero. I have the R2D2 (I will review him eventually) and it can run circles around the Stormtrooper. The Stormtrooper just slowly shuffles along and he also makes a bit of noise when doing so.
The app gives you the option to scan your face into his memory as a “Commander”, “Captain”, “Lieutenant”, or “Resident Scum”. You can also go into the “Settings” and turn off or on sound effects and music.
Currently it has a few different “Take Command” features. “Training”, Mission” and “Sentry”.
The “Training” area lets you set up “Actions” in different categories like “Action”, “Recon”, “Security”, etc. You can name actions anything you like, but there are numerous actions you can choose from. The options typically have the robot say something like “I’ll secure the area” or other patrol oriented verbalizations. The list of movements range from him surveying the area by moving around his head or a combination of head and arm movements. Once you select what you want him to say and how you want him to move, you just name the action and save it.
Now that you have an action setup, you go back into the main “Training” section and choose “Practice”. This allows you to see him perform the actions that you set up. You can also control his head movements and make him walk in different directions with some on screen controls. If you turn on “streaming” it will show you video on the screen of what he sees. I like this area a lot. It allows you to make him talk, move around, view the area he is surveying, etc. You can also go into “Manage Actions” which allows you to delete, change the name, or assign the action to a different category.
On the main screen, you can also select “Mission”. This will pop up choices of “Easy”, “Normal”, and “Hard”. This is a little game with a grid that you move around in a virtual world that is split with the area you are in. It is a bit weird but I guess is so you can see where he is in your space and the virtual world space. In this world you navigate him to positions on the screen where he will observe and interact with a virtual object. While I wasn’t really blown away by the game play, I do see that they have a lot of potential to make game play better given all of the high tech features built into the Stormtrooper.
On the main screen, the final option is “Sentry”. This allows you to start or create a patrol. He will survey and march along the area you designate and when he senses motion he will ask for a password. If you say the correct password he will clear you, if not, he will tell you to move along in no uncertain terms.
I personally own the excellent Sphero R2D2 robot which is a lot cheaper than the Stormtrooper. I find the R2D2 to be more fun to operate because he moves around so much faster. However, the Stormtrooper is a much more sophisticate robot with a camera, microphones, and sensors. It has robotics built into his arms and legs and neck. Therefore, UBTECH has a lot of room to improve the experience if they choose to update the app. I really hope they do because the Stormtrooper looks fantastic and has a lot of potential that is somewhat letdown by some areas of the app. Of course, the Stormtrooper will always move around slower than R2D2, but the virtual gameplay could be a lot better.
All in all, I like the Stormtrooper, but I think it could be even better with some app updates.
So, everyone with an iPhone, iPad, Android based phone needs a portable battery charger. While they may have one already, they probably don't have one like this one.
While there are sleeker portable chargers, most of them don't deserve to be left out on display. That is what makes this charger so cool. You can leave it out where you will always know where it is, while still waving your Cowboy fan flag!
Of course, this is only 3600mAh charger while you can get slightly less expensive, thinner Belkin 5000mAh (see below) that will take up less space in a bag. However, I like having both since this one can be at the ready when I am tracking down my other chargers.
Dog loving, Big Green Egg worshiping, Tech enthusiast, residing in Memphis, TN. Home of the Tigers, Grizzlies, Elvis, Al Green, Stax, Hi Records, Ardent Studios, Beale Street, Peabody Ducks, etc.. I have also added the Jeep Wrangler to the list of things I am enthusiastic about.
Flickr pics below