Apple Vision Pro: First Impressions

Vision Pro

I recently had the opportunity to demo the new Apple Vision Pro at my local Apple Store, and I have many thoughts. Even though I was intrigued by the product, I decided not to be an early adopter and pre-order sight unseen, mainly due to the high cost. Up until about a year ago, I was skeptical about the idea of VR as a consumer device, but after reviewing the PS VR2, I was sold on the concept. Apple usually waits until they can make a big splash in a market segment before entering it, so I thought the Vision Pro would be the pinnacle of VR as we know it.

What is Apple Vision Pro?

Apple markets Vision Pro as the first spatial computing device, intentionally avoiding categorizing it as either a VR (Virtual Reality) or AR (Augmented Reality) system. Following my experience with the headset, I would categorize it more as an entertainment device.

What Can Apple Vision Pro Do?

Though not a complete computer, Vision Pro currently shares similarities with an iPad. It has the capability to run compatible iPad apps from the App Store, and developers can also create dedicated visionOS apps exclusively for Vision Pro. The iPad apps functioning on Vision Pro appear as flat windowed instances, similar to Safari. The advantage lies in the flexibility to arrange them within your “space” as desired, deviating from the confinement of one or two on the iPad screen.

Vision Pro

What Can’t Apple Vision Pro Do?

One notable limitation of Vision Pro is its inability to play VR games akin to those found on Meta Quest or PS VR2. While it’s plausible that similar or ported games may become available for Vision Pro in the future, there are currently none at its launch. It’s crucial to note that Vision Pro is not marketed as a gaming system, and purchasing it with that intention would be a waste of money and technology.

The Demo

Upon my arrival at the Apple Store at the scheduled time, an Apple specialist guided me through the process. Initially, he handed me an iPhone for a face and head measurement, similar to the Face ID setup. This measurement determined the appropriate size for the light shield of Vision Pro. Shortly after, another Apple employee presented a tray with a headset equipped with a pre-fitted light shield, along with a battery and cable. Something I found funny was the replaceable light shield had a mesh cloth protector on it, presumably to keep face grease from spreading person to person.

The Apple specialist then followed a scripted guide, instructing me on the precise placement of my hands on the headset and the correct method of putting it on my head. Surprisingly, the entire process took about 10 minutes. I anticipated a lengthier experience, but it seems I got all I needed during the brief period I spent in the goggles.

What I Liked

  • The overall feel of the device is much more premium and meticulously crafted than any of the other plastic headsets I’ve seen.
  • The internal screens you peer into surpass those of the PS VR2, a headset I’ve used extensively. This distinction is evident at first glance.
  • The software appears exceptionally refined, with ubiquitous Apple touches suggesting a thoughtful development tailored for mixed reality.
  • Spatial videos are a killer feature, reminiscent of how Live Photos changed the way I experience my photos. I intend to intentionally capture Spatial Videos with my iPhone, anticipating the possibility of enjoying them on Vision Pro in the future.
  • Panorama photos that you have taken in the past can be displayed as somewhat immersive photos that allow you to see the full perspective of the image.
  • Immersive videos (currently only produced by Apple as a demo) are definitely a look at the way we’ll consume media in the future. Whether this is live music performances, sporting events, or nature videos.
  • The Speaker Pods project sound downward toward your ears without entering them, unlike AirPods, are excellent. I wish Apple would develop a set of AirPods capable of replicating this design.

What Surprised Me

  • The overall weight of the headset was not an issue. It was a lot lighter than I initially thought after reading reviewers complain about the weight on their face.
  • The comfortability was beyond my expectation, again after reading reviews of the default head strap. It was much more comfortable and easy to wear compared to my PS VR2.
  • I didn’t finish the demo and immediately want to drop thousands of dollars on Vision Pro.
  • The eye tracking is good, but nothing revolutionary.

What I Didn’t Like

  • While the internal screens are very good, it’s immediately apparent that you’re looking at screens through a camera, rather than at the real world.
    Open the camera app on your phone and view your room on the display through the camera. That’s what it’s like inside the goggles, but even a little worse.
  • There were several times my hand gestures didn’t work correctly or even register with Vision Pro. About 25% of the time, it did not recognize my two-finger tap to signal an input.
  • The field of view, or lack of, is noticeable. So when you’re inside Vision Pro there are visible areas of your peripheral not engulfed in screen. Not dissimilar to wearing ski goggles.
  • The disparity between wearing the headset and utilizing the passthrough view within the well-lit Apple Store and removing the headset to see through my own eyes was significant. The existing cameras and screens struggle to capture the full spectrum of light and color in the real world.
  • My face was measured to get the correct light seal size, but I did have some light bleed into the goggles. I’m not sure if this is normal, my size was incorrect, or they didn’t have the exact size I needed in store.
  • The demo was too short. I would have liked more time to explore Vision Pro.

Final Thoughts

The Apple Vision Pro is impressive, and I’m excited about the direction the technology is taking. In a few years, I anticipate it becoming as ubiquitous as AirPods. While I’ll be observing from the sidelines for this initial generation, I eagerly await any chance to revisit the device. When Apple decides to release a second-generation Vision Pro with significant upgrades, I’ll be among the first to place an order.

Today I saved at least $3500!

Apple Watch Ultra 2 – Beard Blog Review

Apple Watch Ultra 1.5

What’s New With Apple Watch Ultra 2

The latest Apple Watch Ultra introduces an all-new System-in-a-Package (SIP) called the S9, marking the first significant update in this department since the Series 6 back in 2019.
One notable improvement is the on-device Siri processing, which ensures quicker responses as your requests no longer need to travel to the internet and back.
The screen is now brighter, peaking at 3,000 nits, a significant 1,000 nits brighter than the original Apple Watch Ultra, marking a 300% increase compared to previous non-ultra models (excluding the first-generation).

“This feature may come across as a somewhat hastily added novelty to drive new watch sales.”

A new double-tap gesture offers the convenience of controlling various aspects of the Watch interface with just one hand. However, in my testing experience, I found it somewhat lacking. While the double tap registers successfully 90% of the time, it often makes assumptions about the function you intend to perform. For instance, if you wish to decline a call using the double tap, it might mistakenly answer the call, and there’s no way to customize this behavior. Moreover, when reading a notification, such as an iMessage, the one-handed operation doesn’t allow for scrolling, making it challenging to double tap to reply without knowing the full message content. This feature may come across as a somewhat hastily added novelty to drive new watch sales.

New things that don’t matter: 2nd-generation Ultra Wideband chip, double the storage capacity (64GB), and that’s it.

The new Modular Ultra face

In a side-by-side visual comparison of the Apple Watch Ultra and Ultra 2, I observed no discernible physical distinctions. Even the text engraved on the underside of both models simply reads “Apple Watch Ultra.”

In essence, this doesn’t appear to be a true second-generation product. Instead, it resembles more of a minor enhancement to the original, especially given that Apple no longer offers the original Apple Watch Ultra for purchase, exclusively offering the Ultra 2.

The Good

  • All new SIP that’s noticeably faster
  • Brighter screen for direct sunlight viewing
  • Siri is much faster to process and understand queries

Missed Opportunities

  • Headlining double tap feature is extremely limited
  • It seems the SIP improvements were focused on neural engine and brighter screen, not battery life
  • No visual indication you have the new hotness
  • Same case and screen size

The Bad

  • Software still not fully taking advantage of the Ultra’s screen
  • Watch faces lack variety. Only one new watch face for the Ultra
  • Apps are still mostly useless on the watch
8.0 / 10

How can the Apple Watch Ultra get to 10/10?
– Better software to utilize the screen size.
– Allow Night Mode on any watch face
– Custom watch faces
– Make better use of the all new SIP
– Ability to customize the gestures

Last year in my Apple Watch Ultra review I outlined who the Ultra watch is for. Apple seems to have leaned into that by not making many changes on the second generation. It sold well so they want to keep that up and have this be the top-tier Apple Watch for all walks of life.

Should You Upgrade?

If you are already the proud owner of an Apple Watch Ultra (first-generation) there is no need to upgrade. There is nothing in this year’s model that makes it worth it. Wait for the possible third generation in 2024. If you were on the fence last year about getting an Apple Watch Ultra, this is the watch for you. Everything about the first generation remains in the Ultra 2 with some nice enhancements. This is the ultimate Apple Watch, no matter if you run marathons, SCUBA dive, or like me and just wear it to the mall.

Read more Beard Blog tech reviews

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: The Beard Blog Review

iPhone 15 PM

It’s no surprise that Apple releases new iPhones in the fall every year, and this September is no different. Apple held an event on September 13th 2023 to announce four new iPhones and two new Apple Watches. All models were available to purchase starting on September 22nd. I again upgraded to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Read about my thoughts on the 17th flagship iPhone.

Read more

iPhone 14: One Year Later

It’s been about a year since I received my iPhone 14 Pro Max and published my review. Normally I don’t revisit these as I’m looking forward to a new iPhone in the fall. This year I wanted to highlight my experiences with my iPhone 14. It could be too early to tell, but this may be the best iPhone I’ve ever owned. That of course comes with some concessions as it’s not perfect.

iPhone 14 Pro Max

Durability

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the most durable iPhone I’ve ever owned. It may be one of the most durable pieces of technology I’ve ever used. I normally don’t use a case, and this year my iPhone didn’t spend a single minute in any protection. The first few months, I babied the device, but after the first drop, that quickly faded. Now, on average, I drop my phone on a hard surface five times a week. In the past, by the summer, my iPhone is so beat up that I need to get it replaced with AppleCare. This year is an exception. Not only do I not need to get it replaced, but there is barely a mark anywhere on it. The most noticeable blemishes are on the screen and around the stainless steel edge. About six months ago, I noticed a deep scratch about one inch long in the middle of my screen. I have no idea where it came from, but I’ve lived with it since. As I mentioned before, I drop it a lot. I’ve even dropped it on concrete from waist-high and cringed as I bent over to pick it up, expecting to reveal a spiderweb of glass on the front. Time and time again, it comes out unscathed

The Dynamic Island

Not quite a gimmick, but not really a useful feature. The Dynamic Island debuted as the coolest way to date to blend the front camera into the screen. In practice, it kind of just faded and became more of a button to get to music playing or a progress bar for when something is uploading. I still like it, but I’m hopeful it gets better in the next iterations before it’s replaced by under-screen cameras and sensors.

Always On Display

Probably the biggest functional difference in the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max is the always-on display. I’ve heard that some people turn it off to save battery life, but in my (and others) testing, it does not have a significant impact on daily battery life. At first, it was somewhat odd to look over at your iPhone on the table and see a full-color display lit up, but I quickly got used to it. Now it serves as a way for me to glance at the time, widgets, and what’s currently playing. I love how Apple engineered the display and software to not just go monochrome like some other phones, but also preserve your wallpaper while giving you the choice to turn it off. Once again, the long wait was worth it.

Not So Great Points

  • The cameras are fine, but I’m ready for a major upgrade.
  • One thing I noted in my review last year was the focus distance of the main camera, especially when scanning barcodes. This was a pain point all year and I believe Apple will fix that on the next iPhone.
  • Battery life has also been just fine. It seems like this phone’s battery is degrading faster than previous ones.
  • The Pro colors are boring, but I don’t see Apple changing this anytime soon.

Pour one out for Lightning

The iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro, and 14 Pro Max may likely be the last iPhones with the Lightning connector. While it’s over 10 years old, the Lightning connector is one of the best port innovations we’ve seen in a long time. Some may forget that Apple was part of the consortium that helped develop USB-C, so it was loosely based on Lightning. In a physical connector sense, Lightning is better than USB-C because the complicated and fragile bits are on the inside of the device, whereas USB-C exposes them on the cable side. It was a big deal when Lightning launched on the iPhone 5 in 2012, and it’s still in use on a lot of products today. Let’s pour one out for the previous best charging solution and the originator of the reversible charging cable.

iPhone 14 to 15

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a great device and while it may be the best iPhone I’ve ever used, there is always the newest one to take that title. I probably won’t think about the 14 again after this, but it remains a favorite in my book. The next iPhone is rumored to be named the iPhone 15, in numerical order after the current iPhone 14. If all goes well, you will soon be reading my review of the next iPhone right here on Beard Blog.

My Hobby Project – BeardStix

BeardStix

As the sun sets on a balmy summer evening, seated on my back patio, I find myself enveloped in an ambiance that ignites my creative spirit. It is during these moments that I often indulge in the ritual of lighting a cigar, a catalyst for unlocking the depths of my imagination, as wisps of smoke dance around me, transporting me to a realm of boundless inspiration.

Curiously, one might assume that as an IT manager, my desire to escape anything technical or computer-related would dominate my precious leisure hours. Yet, against all odds, I remain drawn to the world of technology. Whether it’s tending to my home server and network or donning the hat of the family’s trusted IT guru, my free time becomes a canvas where I tirelessly refine my technical prowess, for better or for worse.

Recently, I shared my inherent inclination for collecting various items, ranging from games and cigars to YETI products, among others. However, my passion for collecting goes beyond mere acquisition; it extends into the realm of organizing and analyzing data. Initially, I turned to spreadsheets as a means to satisfy my craving for order, yet I soon realized that this alone would not suffice.

A peculiar aspect of my collection obsession revolves around my long-standing practice of rating a universally adored appetizer—mozzarella/provolone cheese sticks—since 2016, meticulously recording my assessments in a note on my trusty iPhone. With the introduction of cigars into my repertoire, I yearned for a method to catalogue my acquisitions and preferences. It was in the latter part of 2019 that the idea of BeardStix came to fruition—an amalgamation of my fondness for cheese sticks and the “sticks” that epitomize cigars.

Since its inception in 2019, my BeardStix website has been a work in progress, continuously evolving with the addition of new features, refined designs, and enriched information. This year, my focus has been predominantly on bolstering the administrative capabilities of the site, empowering me with seamless avenues to incorporate and update content from any location, at any time. This enhanced functionality ensures that I have the flexibility and convenience to contribute and manage website information effortlessly, no matter where I may find myself.

Technical details
For the inquisitive minds, BeardStix is crafted using PHP pages complemented by a MariaDB backend, which operates on a server located within the confines of my own home. To infuse the website with interactivity and real-time updates, I harness the power of JavaScript, Ajax, and cutting-edge Google technologies. This amalgamation enables the pages to be highly responsive and seamlessly updates information as it unfolds, providing users with a dynamic and engaging browsing experience.

BeardStix Features
Cheese stick ratings
Cigar humidor inventory
Cigar recommendations
Cigar ratings and check-ins
Pizza ratings
Add cheese stick rating*
Modify cigar inventory*
Rate and check-in to cigars*
Add pizza rating*

*admin-only functions not currently exposed to the internet

Select here to experience BeardStix

My Apple iPhone Lock Screen

I was surprised to learn that many iPhone users are unaware of the numerous Lock Screen features Apple has introduced in the last 12 months. These features encompass a range of customizations to enhance the appearance and functionality of the Lock Screen, including the introduction of widgets for the first time. Additionally, Apple now allows users to change the clock font, a feature previously unavailable. Given that most of these features are hidden and not easily found, I believe it would be helpful to share the Lock Screen setup I personally use on a daily basis.

iPhone Lock Screen

Customizations

The clock font options provided by Apple do not come with specific names or numbers, but I have chosen a unique font that adds some character to the default style. Moreover, I have opted for a non-standard wallpaper sourced from Reddit, further adding a personalized touch to my Lock Screen.

Widgets

Apple offers a selection of first-party widgets for users to choose from, and third-party developers have the ability to create widgets for their apps. In crafting my Lock Screen layout, I have decided to incorporate a combination of both first-party and third-party widgets, allowing for a diverse and personalized arrangement.

Date
Previously the date was below the time, but now we have the option to add it as a tiny widget above, giving room for more robust widgets in the space below. I wear a watch that display the day and month, but having it on the Lock Screen on my phone is sometimes handy.

Carrot Weather
Here on my Lock Screen I’m using two different Carrot Weather widgets for all my weather watching needs. Positioned above the time is a standard “High & Low” widget, provided by the third-party app Carrot. Directly below the time, I have incorporated a customized large widget from Carrot. The ability to personalize these minute details is one of the primary reasons I am a paying subscriber to Carrot Weather. It’s fantastic that Carrot Weather allows for such customization, enhancing my Lock Screen experience.

Watch Battery
Apple includes a widget that enables you to choose a device and view its current battery level. If you prefer, you can even display the battery level of the iPhone you’re currently using. Personally, I have opted to display the battery level of my Apple Watch, as it is the device I am primarily concerned about. Additionally, this widget has the convenient feature of automatically switching to another connected device, like AirPods, when applicable. This functionality ensures that I can effortlessly keep track of various device battery levels on my Lock Screen.

Snapchat
In addition to having the camera icon conveniently located in the bottom-right corner of my Lock Screen, I frequently unlock my phone with the sole intention of capturing a spontaneous photo to share on Snapchat. This particular widget provides a direct shortcut to the camera function within the Snapchat app, enabling the fastest way to take a snapshot right from the locked position. Similar functionalities can be found in other apps as well, making lock screen widgets an excellent tool for efficiently utilizing various applications.

My Apple Watch Face

From time to time I get questions about what watch face I use on my Apple Watch. After wearing an Apple Watch just about every day for over 8 years, I’ve settled on the information I want to see on my wrist at a glance.

apple watch ultra face

I use the Modular watch face which was been on the Apple Watch since the beginning, but has received several updates since launch. I almost always use digital time because when you have a smart watch, using analog time is inefficient. I have no problem telling time from an analog watch but other than aesthetic, analog time doesn’t have a place on a screen.

Complications

More so than telling the time, I use the watch complications to give me more information than a traditional watch can offer.

Calendar
I can never keep track of the date or even what day of the week it is. This gives me that information tucked neatly into the corner. I tend to look for this information multiple times per day, instead of just remembering the date or day.

Digital Seconds
While an analog clock usually offers a second hand, this digital face does not show seconds. Apple recently added the ability to add digital seconds as a complication. This gives me a way track seconds or just get an idea of when a minute will be rolling over.

Carrot Weather
Previously I was an avid user of the Dark Sky complication that gave me the information I wanted. After Apple retired this app, I needed to find a replacement. While Carrot doesn’t offer a direct replacement, I was able to use the custom complication feature in Carrot to get as close as possible. The data points I want to see are temperature, low/high predictions, and sunrise/sunset times. Carrot offers these data points in two lines, so I had the freedom to add another data point and I settled on the “feels like” temperature.

Activity
I use my watch to track my fitness, or lack there of, so I like having my activity rings on my watch face. This lets me know how I’m doing activity-wise throughout the day and if I need to step it up.

Geneva Moon
The lunar phase doesn’t really have an impact on my life, but it’s cool to be aware of it without having to search the sky. The built-in Apple moon complication does not accurately reflect the moon phase in my location. David Smith created Geneva Moon to fix this. He also provided the option to use a simple moon shape or realistic and I like the filled-in-circle look of the simple moon.

Battery
The Apple Watch battery has always been a problem, but if you get into a daily charging regiment, it works. When Apple released the Apple Watch Ultra, the battery life was stretched from 18 hours to about 40 hours. Now my charging isn’t as regular as it once was so I need to keep an eye on my battery level.

Digital Time
The digital time is clearly the most important part here, but I wish it could be bigger. Any of the other faces that offer larger digital time, sacrifice complication count or size. I hope in the future Apple better utilizes the Apple Watch screen and allows flexible on element sizes.

Download this watch face on your Apple Watch!

Read my Apple Watch Ultra review for more!

I Made You a Mixtape: Piracy to Playlist

playlist baner

My fascination with music began at the age of seven when I received a portable CD player and Michael Jackson’s HIStory album as a Christmas gift. Ever since, music has played an integral role in my daily routine. In the early 2000s, when Napster emerged, I started downloading pirated music to satiate my growing appetite for discovering new songs. I attribute pirated music to broadening my knowledge of music beyond the popular mainstream. It was through free music that I discovered artists such as The Guess Who, Doobie Brothers, and Hall & Oates. During my piracy days, I made countless mix CDs containing 12 to 18 songs to fit the 80-minute limit of a CD-R for myself and friends. Over time, I amassed over 200 mix CDs and the number only increased when I started driving, always ensuring I had a fresh mix CD for the car. The advent of MP3 CDs eventually slowed my mix CD creation, but there’s nothing quite like a well-curated 15-song mix CD to make driving around during your teenage years more enjoyable.

Fast forward to today, I’ve abandoned music piracy and switched to a streaming service. Though I can still make mix CDs, they seem outdated and my current vehicle lacks a CD player. Instead, I create playlists to suit my musical preferences. These could be categorized by genre, artist, or release date, but more often, I like to personalize a selection of songs that relate to a specific theme or concept. One of my favorite playlist creation techniques involves finding songs that sound like my current favorite tune. This approach typically leads me to explore genres that are new to me. Since I’m creating playlists rather than burning CDs, I can add or modify songs over time, continuously expanding the list as new music is released or discovered. Thanks to Apple Music, I can even generate Smart Playlists that automatically add songs from my library to a playlist based on criteria such as release date, genre, or artist.

I have experimented with several music recommendation services in the past, which suggest similar artists or songs. While this approach serves as a decent starting point, I have discovered that algorithms are unable to capture the nuances of music. I also attempted using AI, which provided better results compared to conventional music discovery methods; however, it lacked diversity. Some aspects of music discovery still demand a human touch.

I have compiled a lovely assortment of my personally curated playlists, along with custom artwork for each one. To accommodate those who do not use Apple Music, I have provided links to both Apple Music and Spotify. Please feel free to discover and enjoy these playlists on whichever streaming service you prefer. Click or tap on the logo that corresponds to your streaming service of choice to listen to the playlist.

Americana Playlist Album Art

Americana

The music industry created the term “Americana” as a sub-genre of country music, but many artists have rejected this classification. They prefer to be recognized as country musicians rather than being segregated into a category that doesn’t align with Nashville or Texas country music. I support their stance, but my Americana playlist is not meant to force them into a category they reject. Instead, it’s a selection of music with a distinct sound that evokes images of country roads, up-tempo rhythms, and profound lyrics. This playlist features artists such as Tyler Childers, Charley Crockett, Morgan Wallen, and more. It’s my current favorite playlist to play while driving with the windows down.

App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Beard Bangers Playlist Album Art

Beard Bangers

Beard Bangers is my constantly evolving playlist of the latest hit songs (or Bangers) that I’m loving right now. This is my go-to playlist for discovering new music, and I update it regularly with fresh tracks as they are released and remove older songs as they age out.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Pacific Reggae  Playlist Album Art

Pacific Reggae

Hawaii and other Pacific islands have a very distinctive sub-genre of Reggae music. This mostly modern style of Reggae features the unique island sound, setting it apart from other contemporary Reggae music.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Cook Out Playlist Album Art

Cookout

I throw a cookout or barbecue at my house a few times a year and always have music playing. This playlist is what I typically play at these gatherings – a dynamic mix of new and classic tracks that perfectly set the tone for the occasion.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Good Vibes Playlist Album Art

Good Vibes

Good Vibes is a playlist of Reggae (or similar) tracks that exude positivity and always put me in a good mood. It’s impossible to feel down when listening to these songs.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Reggae Rock Country Playlist Album Art

Reggae-Rock / Country

This playlist features artists who typically perform reggae-rock, but also sing country songs or covers, which I’m calling the Reggae-Rock-Country genre.


App Icon Apple Music Spotify

Sony PlayStation VR2 Review

PSVR2 Hero Image

What is VR?

Virtual Reality (VR) has been around since the 1970s, but only recently has it become easily accessible by consumers. In the 2020s we’ve been hearing a lot of VR and AR (Augmented Reality) platforms being developed and released to not much fanfare. Recently Meta (Facebook) unveiled their plan to go all-in on VR/AR proclaiming the Metaverse. The latest VR headset to go on sale is the gaming offering from PlayStation. Read on for my thoughts on this new gaming peripheral and my first experience with the VR2.

Read more

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

rss beard icon

If you’re reading this you probably remember hearing about RSS in the early 2000s. If you don’t remember or never heard of RSS, you’re in for a treat. I’ve been using RSS pretty much every day for the past 16 years. While a lot of people have given up on RSS feeds and relied on social media, I’m here to say that it’s still great and the best way to keep up with what’s going on.

What is RSS?

To try to keep it really simple it’s a feed that allows you to subscribe to a web site. When you subscribe to a feed, each post/article is sent to you, instead of visiting a website to see it. This enables an email-like system where all your subscriptions come into one place using an application called an RSS reader.

Why would I want to use RSS?

Curating a list of RSS feeds is a great way to stay interested and up to date on certain web sites or blogs. You don’t have to deal with ads, pop-ups, clickbait, and social comments. You only read what you want to read. When you grow tired of a particular feed, you can delete it. Same goes when you discover something new. In a few clicks or taps, the information comes to you.

How I use RSS

I use the email client approach and treat my RSS reader like I do my email. Assess what comes in, read it if I want, delete if I don’t. The client I use also syncs over the cloud so that all my devices stay up to date and I don’t have to cull articles in multiples places.

What RSS feeds do I subscribe to?

Instead of visiting the same blog or news site over and over as things get posted, they come to me. A lot of what I subscribe to relates to my career and interests around technology, computers, and cyber security.
A sample-sized list of the feeds I subscribe to are below. Some of these are more talkative than others, but the beauty of RSS is once you subscribe, you don’t have to worry about missing a post.

9to5Mac
AppleInsider
Beard Blog
Daring Fireball
Hypercritical
Jalopnik
Liss is More
MacRumors
Marco.org
Mark Gurman
Neowin
Six Colors
The Hacker News
The Verge
Windows Central

Using an RSS Reader

Just like email, you’ll need an app to read all your subscriptions and ideally one that syncs what you’ve read across your devices. I use the app News Explorer on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. When I read an article on one of those devices, the app syncs that progress to the cloud, allowing me to pick up another device and keep my place. Another well-known and well-reviewed app for RSS is NetNewsWire. I’ve tried it years ago, but at the time didn’t have the features I came to apprecaite from NewsExplorer.

Keep it Real Simple

If you’re interested in RSS and want to avoid ads, tracking, and Twitter, keep it simple. Start with a few of your favorite web sites or blogs and see how you like it. NewsExplorer has a built-in feature to search for RSS feeds based on your search terms, that way you don’t have to go exploring for RSS links. If that doesn’t work for you, there are some good aggregation sites like FeedSpot that will give you links based on a category.

The Best RSS Feed

If you’re looking for the best feed to subscribe to, look no further than The Beard Blog.
https://blog.benbeard.com/feed

The Best Of: 2022

best of 2022 collage

The year 2022 might be remembered as the year we got back to “normal”. In the spirit of that, let’s revisit all the best things that happened this past year, even if 2022 wasn’t the best year for everyone.

Best Movie
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
The next entry in one of my favorite movies from 2019, Glass Onion is another murder mystery led by Daniel Craig. We first saw him in Knives Out which surprised many as a breakout hit and a fresh take on the murder mystery genre. Glass Onion is different, but good in similar ways. My favorite thing about Glass Onion is how the story unfolds and you aren’t trying to solve the puzzle the entire time.

Best TV Show
Severance
Seems like Severance came out so long ago that I had to check if it was indeed released in 2022. It premiered in February and was released weekly like the good old days. If you haven’t yet watched Severance (Apple TV+) be sure to check it out before season 2 premieres. It’s such a good show and I don’t think I can do it justice trying to explain it here. What I will do is say that it’s a sci-fi/thriller series set in an office.

Best Music Album
Dirty Heads – Midnight Control
In 2022 we began to see the fruits of labor from the lockdown and we got a lot of great music this year. The Dirty Heads have released their 8th album Midnight Control and it might be their best yet. Give it a listen, even if you don’t necessarily like their other music. They are definitely a genre-bending band and with each new album they introduce a refined sound.

Best Song
Morgan Wallen – You Proof
A country song about whiskey and breakups, what’s so good about it? I’m not sure, but You Proof is the song I listened to the most this year and almost all of those listens were by choice. Morgan Wallen is someone who keeps churning out good music and I’m not even a country music fan.

Best Video Game
Vampire Survivors
Lots of great games were released in 2022 (mostly for Playstation) and none struck me and reeled me in like Vampire Survivors. I actually didn’t notice this game until recently and I played it for hours on Xbox Game Pass, then bought it on Steam to play it on the go. it’s a simple game too. The only control mechanism is the direction your player moves. It has been described as a “pure hit of Dopamine”.

Best Mobile Game
Marvel Snap
Look… I’m not a big Marvel fan. I’m not a fan of card strategy games. I rarely play mobile games more than a few times. For some reason, I can’t put down Marvel Snap. It’s a simple card-based game that is absolutely free. Try it, but remember, I warned you that it’s addicting.

Best Podcast
SmartLess
Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes have a comedy podcast where they interview famous people but end up spending a lot of the time joking with one another. It’s a welcome change in my podcast rotation apart from my usual tech and movie/tv podcasts. I’m a Jason Bateman fan and his personality on SmartLess is a lot like some of his movie characters.

Best New Tech Product
Steam Deck
A mobile computer gaming machine that’s better in a lot of ways than the Nintendo Switch. I did an in-depth review on this beast, that you can read over here.

Best Apple Product
Apple Watch Ultra
Apple finally made a watch worthy of my lifestyle. No I don’t rock climb, SCUBA dive, or run marathons, but I am rough on technology. Read my in-depth review on the Apple Watch Ultra over here and let me know what you think!

Let me know your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or where ever you saw this post!

Last year’s The Best of 2021

The Steam Deck Review

The Steam Deck, not to be confused with the Stream Deck, is a handheld gaming “console” that isn’t from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. Valve, the company behind Half-Life, Portal, and Steam, made a portable computer you can play games on.

Back in my day, PC gaming was a never-ending money pit of hardware upgrades as new games push the limits of graphics cards. This vicious cycle led me to primarily be a console gamer, mostly focusing on Sony’s Playstation. I was intrigued when Valve announced the Steam Deck, but like most others, skeptical of the performance a portable PC can achieve. Earlier this year I pre-ordered a Steam Deck, but after reviews said it’s not ready yet, I pulled my order. Meanwhile, Valve worked hard on software updates and getting units shipped, so I gave it time to percolate. Revisiting tech reviews, Reddit first-hand accounts, and six months of improvements, I was ready to give it a go.

Steam Deck vs PS5 Controller

Prior to fall 2022, Valve had long wait times to get your hands on a Steam Deck, much like the almost two-year-old next-gen consoles. Apparently I waited until the right time as my pre-order was only in for a few days before I was able to actually order a console. Within about 10 days, it was delivered to my home and I was full steam ahead.

The first thing I did was look at my sad Steam library and figure out how to play games. After exploring SteamOS a bit, I went directly to Reddit to aid in my fun. The Steam Deck community was alive and well and has all the resources I needed to learn about Steam games, emulation, and playing non-Steam games on my brand new Steam Deck.

The Good

  • While a huge device, it’s comfortable to hold and not heavy
  • Great software and familiar if you know Linux
  • So many buttons
  • Speakers sound good for how small they are
  • Right to Repair friendly

Missed Opportunities

  • The screen could be better on a device released in 2022
  • Base model storage is slow and tiny
  • No built-in cellular options
  • Feels kind of locked to SteamOS

The Bad

  • Battery life is very low, especially on newer games
  • No native way to run Windows
  • Runs hot and has an exhaust port
  • Not a Nintendo Switch competitor

The Steam Deck is a full-fledged gaming computer, that (almost) fits in your hands. For me, it wouldn’t replace a Nintendo Switch or gaming on an iPhone. The Steam Deck is targeted at the PC gaming market in an effort to take those games on the go. What Valve may not have realized, is they have a tinkerer’s dream on their hands. Giving a technically inclined person a powerful computer they can take with them on an Airplane is great opportunity in a small package.

Steam Deck in dock mode

What you CAN do with the Steam Deck:
– Play most games available on Steam
– Install and use most apps available to Linux distros
– Emulate retro gaming systems
– Emulate Nintendo Switch games
– Play Xbox Cloud games
– Use it as a real computer

What you CANNOT do with the Steam Deck:
– Play native Windows games without workarounds
– Run iOS or Android apps/games
– Easily play PC games not purchased through Steam
– Play games for more than six hours without charging
– Mirror wirelessly to a display or TV
– Natively play Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo games

 

Did you know?

Steam makes a dock for the Stream Deck to allow you to use it as a full desktop computer or connect to a TV for a Nintendo Switch-like experience.

Apple Watch Ultra: The Beard Blog Review

The ultraist Apple Watch of them all.

Watching the recent Apple event where the Apple Watch Ultra was announced, I was elated at the feature set, but at the same time dreading the price reveal. When Jeff Williams revealed the $799 price tag, my jaw dropped. This is not the normal Apple pricing we usually see. I was throwing around $999 or $1099 in my head trying to figure out how I could justify spending that much. Compared to a normal Apple Watch with cellular, sapphire screen, and titanium body, $799 isn’t that far off, but the Ultra does so much more!

I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch every day since buying the first-generation in April of 2015. It was a big change for me as I was an every day traditional watch wearer. I even had a small watch collection growing. Since the first time I put on an Apple Watch, I had wished for a bigger screen for my large wrists. Over the years we’ve seen the (biggest) Apple Watch go from 42mm to 44mm, and then last year to 45mm. The Ultra watch is a generous 49mm.

What’s New on Apple Watch Ultra?

Compared to the Series 7 of last year and the Series 8 introduced with the Ultra, it has a lot more adventurous features than your standard watch. While on the surface it may seem like a whole new watch from the ground up, it’s not. More of a case redesign, it still has the same trusty Apple Watch features we’ve grown to love over the years. What sets the Ultra watch apart from the other Apple Watches is the addition of a 86db siren, 2000 nit display, dual-frequency GPS, customizable action button, and water depth and temperature gauge. If you’re only interested in the health sensors, it has the same exact sensors as the Series 8. Some other improvements to existing features that the Ultra watch has are sure to come to the lower watches like louder speakers, bigger battery, and three mic array.

What Makes This Watch Ultra?

Apple tells us this watch isn’t for everyone, it’s for the most extreme, athletic, and adventurous people out there. We all know that the majority of customers for the Apple Watch Ultra will likely not fit into any of those categories, myself included. This isn’t the first time Apple has offered a titanium case watch with sapphire glass. Last year’s Series 7 was available in that configuration for $699. What truly makes this watch special is the size as it’s Apple’s largest watch to date. Additionally it can withstand the elements more, dive deeper, and possibly not get damaged as easily. My main reasons for buying the Apple Watch Ultra were the large screen size and long battery life, everything else is just a bonus.

Sensor Watch

The new sensor this year on both the Series 8 and Ultra is wrist temperature sensing. This takes a reading of the ambient under-screen temperature and your wrist temperature and forms an opinion on what your body may be like over the course of your sleep. This was presented as a benefit to Cycle Tracking, but for those who do not menstruate, this was left as an unknown. After wearing the Apple Watch to sleep, it does in fact record temperature readings in the Health app. If these will be accurate or useful in the long term remains to be seen.

Water temperature sensing only works when the watch is fully submerged. I was unable to get this to function whilst running my watch under a water faucet.

The Alpine Loop band looks and feels good, but it’s much harder to adjust and remove than any of the traditional Apple Watch bands.

Read more

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max: The Beard Blog Review

Here we are again, the fall weather is upon us and there are new iPhones out in the wild. Apple recently announced the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Later this year the iPhone 14 will get a big brother named the iPhone 14 Plus. It’s easy to tell that Apple has a long term strategy with the iPhone. They meticulously add new features that seem like a big deal at first, but are actually very small improvements year over year. This allows them to continue to release a new phone every fall and get people (like me) to buy it.

What’s new on iPhone 14 Pro Max

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a lot like the 13 Pro max and even the 12 Pro Max. Same shape, size, and materials. The biggest difference is the screen notch has been replaced by a rotated lowercase “i” shaped cutout called the Dynamic Island. I feel like this has a lot of potential in the future, but without any third-party app integration, it’s just a cool demo. The OLED screen has been updated to be brighter and be “Always-On” when not in use. This is similar to the Apple Watch where the screen dims but still shows some lock screen elements. I frequently have my iPhone sitting on a table in-front of me and now I won’t have to tap it to see what’s going on. Having devices where the screen is always-on is soon to become the norm. In the near future we’ll look at devices that don’t have the screen on as antiquated.

Baseball scores in the Dynamic Island

There’s a new main camera sensor (again) this year, but this time they quadrupled the megapixel count from 12 to 48. This doesn’t mean a whole lot, but allows it to gather more details and present you with a better image. I’ve found that when you want the most detail, use the “RAW” option to get a 48mp image as opposed to the Apple processed 12mp version.

Read more

iPhone Photography By The Numbers

iPhone photography

As a semi-professional photographer I use multiple tools for my hobby. With an iPhone, I always have a great camera in my pocket. Since 2007 I’ve been taking photos with my iPhone and updating that camera as fast as Apple introduced new features. Because of the ever-changing smartphone camera market I started to track what type of photos I was taking with my primary camera. Now that we have at least four cameras on flagship smartphones I wanted to know even more which lenses I was using and which I didn’t really care for.

I started tracking these numbers in 2018 when I moved from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS. The iPhone XS had a much better camera over the X which was more of an industrial design change than a focus on photography. Each year since, I’ve counted up my photos from the past year and noted which lens was used. Now I can look back and see which phone I took the most photos with and which lens was the most popular that year.

Over the years my overall iPhone camera usage has gone way down since the iPhone X. Not sure why other than the pandemic. The majority of my photos come from the Main/Wide/1x camera but that share has gone down as the cameras have multiplied and offered different perspectives.The first zoom or telephoto lens was added to the iPhone back in 2016 when the iPhone 7 Plus was announced, and since then it’s been a unique addition allowing you to zoom into subjects without digitally cropping.

With the addition of the Ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 11 Pro, a third rear lens was available to split my photography between. It was recently updated to include macro photography on the iPhone 13 Pro, which explains the large bump in share of my photos this past year. In contrast, the lack of progress on the front-facing camera reflects in my reduced use. If you are the type of person that takes a lot of selfies though, that camera will get a lot of work.

Model

Main

Telephoto

Ultra-wide

Front

iPhone X

2702 / 80%

467 / 14%

-

198 / 6%

iPhone XS

2183 / 74%

646 / 22%

-

128 / 4%

iPhone 11 Pro Max

1458 / 64%

369 / 16%

318 / 14%

141 / 6%

iPhone 12 Pro Max

1094 / 67%

218 / 13%

220 / 14%

104 / 6%

iPhone 13 Pro Max

900 / 52%

291 / 17%

444 / 26%

88 / 6%

Totals

8337 / 70%

1991 / 17%

982 / 8%

659 / 5%

Ever year Apple has a story to tell about how the camera is better/different on the new phones. With every upgrade I say I’m going to make a better effort to take more photos but the numbers don’t lie. Over the last 12 months, I only snapped 1,723 photos which was the lowest amount of iPhone photos per year I have record of. To compare, I have saved about 300 photos from my professional camera, Sony a7III, so overall it was a down photos year. I plan to improve on that over the next 12 months.

Check out my iPhone 14 Pro Max review!