Regarding Review

Apple Watch in Store Impressions

24th April 2015

I dropped by the Carindale Apple Store in Brisbane this afternoon for my first hands-on with an Apple Watch. As I said on Pragmatic I thought that the single most revolutionary part of the watch would be the taptic engine, and it did not disappoint. More on that in a moment. Before we go further I did not try the Edition, although it looks pretty enough behind the glass, I was only interested in trying on those model combinations I am considering for myself.

The Weight

Firstly I wanted to check the relative weight of each type of watch on my wrist. I’ve worn both lighter and heavier watches in my pre-mobile (cellular) phone days and always preferred a lighter watch. Despite being 30% heavier on paper I was pleasantly surprised to find the Apple Watch didn’t feel significantly heavier when compared to the Sport Watch. I could go either way based on weight.

The Band

Next selection was the band, starting with the elastomer. The smaller of the two bands was a VERY snug fit on the outermost hole so the next size band was definately in order, but I was struck by how comfortable the White and Black bands felt. Not rubbery so much and not plastic-like either. They were comfortable however when sweaty I’d suggest they’d become slippery but that’s not something I could easily test in the air-conditioned environment of the store.

I tried all of the band combinations on the Apple Watch and most on the Sport, just to say I had. I honestly didn’t rate the Classic Buckle, nor the Modern Buckle. They felt plain and looked dull to me, so it was on to the two loops.

When trying the Leather Loop I was instantly struck by two things:

  • Each knuckle is its own magnet which makes for a very well aligned fit and a very firm fit
  • The Leather doesn’t feel or smell anything like leather, more of a hard, tough semi-plastic sensation

It’s probably the case that with prolonged use the Leather strap will absorb some sweat and become softer and more comfortable however first impressions were pretty negative for me. Strike out on the Leather Loop.

The real surprise was the Milanese Loop which was light, comfortable and looked stunning. I was concerned that, unlike the Leather Loop with multiple magnets for alignment, the Milanese only has a single magnet at the end which is perfectly strong to hold the band and prevent it from slipping but does not hold the overlap in alignment.

That said, it warmed up quickly to my arms temperature and felt very nice against my skin. The combination worked with either the Sport or the Watch versions though the transition was obviously nicer on the Apple Watch, which makes sense being of similar material and design.

The final band was the Link Bracelet which is the kind of dress watch I am accustomed to wearing. I actually HATE links since they regularly rip out my arm hairs as the watch flops around my wrist when I move and it’s an unnecessary unpleasantness to endure for the sake of something so pointless as fashion.

That said the Apple Link Bracelet didn’t pull a single hair despite my best efforts to make it do so. It was by far the most comforable, easy to adjust and nicest Link Bracelet I’ve ever worn and it looked very professional, especially with the Apple Watch but it is quite noticably heavy. In fact it weighed so much with the Apple Watch I immediately scrubbed it from the list. Admittedly, being the most expensive strap it had probably lost before it began.

Size Matters

With the aim of keeping my Apple Watch ambitions within the realm of fiscal feasability I was determined to find the 38mm size watch acceptable, however in trying them both on my wrist (38mm White Band Sport and 42mm Black Band Sport) alas the 42mm won out. The larger size and screen made a difference not only to the perceived size of the details on the screen but also the relative proportions of my wrist.

38mm

42mm

In addition the 42mm gets better battery life and in this game the Watch needs all it can get. The weight difference between the sizes was indisinguishable to me and hence I’ll shell out the extra money and go for the 42mm option when the time comes.

My Favourite Combinations

Two options would be my choice:

Let’s be honest though: I’m not into fasion. I see it as essentially pointless. If I get one it will be the cheaper option. The AppleCare+ option seems like a good idea with two free accident repairs over a two-year period seeming like a good investment, especially considering the exposure of the device to potential harm.

A High Price To Pay

In the end the Apple Watch does so many different things for different people and whilst I can be selfish and indulge my own use case in this discussion let’s be honest, there are so many things the watch does worse than my iPhone or iPad and yet it costs nearly as much.

For the fitness tracking and discrete notifications are the two things it does so much better but then a FitBit works just as well for the former. Hence the Taptic engine and its discreteness is the true winner for this product. I can confirm for myself now that it is VERY deliberate and distinct and in my demonstration was able to tell the difference easily between different tap strengths and patterns for different notification styles.

With John Grubers help on Twitter I was able to determine that the taptic engine is essentially silent as well (something I couldn’t test in-store due to ambient noise levels) which makes it a winner in meetings and family gatherings where you need to be subtle.

chat

However for me that’s just the problem. Yes, it’s a leap forward in discrete notifications but it’s a very high price to pay just for that. I want one, but I want to wait and see how others find uses for this new device to see if there are genuine, additional use cases that I can derive benefit from before I take the plunge and fork out hard-earned cash.

To the many people that pre-ordered sight-unseen - you’re braver than I am. (Braver?)

Overcast Review

17th July 2014

Marco Arment is a well known and somewhat prolific software developer for iOS. His first iOS app Instapaper went on to become incredibly successful, as did The Magazine not just for the app but for all the clones it inspired. Some lesser known apps along the way include BugShot and Nursing Clock (No longer available) which didn’t do so well but these show the theme that he follows: Ask what problem you face and write an app to solve that problem1.

With all that behind him Arment has turned his attention to Podcast playback apps as one of his other (current) passions and developed Overcast. [App Store Link] It’s been in development for a while and was pre-announced back in September, 2013 at the XOXO conference. With Arments history of success and a long lead-up to todays release, it’s inevitable that those interested members of the community have very big expectations for Overcast. The reality is it’s a podcast playback app and should be judged on its performance at that specific task.

Arment previously announced the following (and nothing’s changed since then) so let’s get these out of the way up front. Overcast v1.0 will not have:

  • An iPad-layout version (obviously this will work in 2x mode just fine)
  • Streaming (coming later this year)
  • Video support (audio only)

If you’re into feature comparisons and tick sheets then I doubt you’ll find Overcast immediately compelling and that’s a shame because I’ve always felt that podcast players fit into two categories: Too simple and way too complicated. Overcast strikes an interesting balance and lies somewhere in-between.

The Competition

Overcast enters a much more mature space with stiff competition from well-established podcast apps such as Pocket Casts, Castro, Instacast, Downcast, PodWrangler and Apples own Podcasts app just to name a few. A fact Arment acknowledges in the About screen suggesting that if Overcast isn’t for you then you should support other independent developers which is a nice sentiment.

That said in order to be a useful addition to the current crop of podcast apps Overcast has to at least cover off the main features of the other apps currently in the space as well as add something(s) the others don’t. Whether it does or doesn’t will depend upon your own personal needs and drivers in a podcast app however I’ve been fortunate to be Beta testing Overcast for months so I can hopefully give you some idea of where Overcast is different.

Why Use A Podcast App At All?

Podcast playing apps are essentially specialised RSS ‘readers’ however since audio is handled differently to text2 that leads to a different subset of optimisations. Recently a group of Twitter friends were discussing RSS going away entirely for podcasts at some point with an optimised podcast-specific format with all network-streaming and built-in browser support cross-platform; however until (if) that happens podcast apps in their current form are a necessity for those of us that enjoy our podcasts and listen to them at least as much if not more than we do music.

It’s Free! With In-app Purchase

It’s an interesting choice that I know Arment has been chewing on for a very long time. Whether you agree or disagree with the approach it’s clear why: IAP gives users the opportunity to try the best of the new features in the app for a brief time and if they decide they like it they are free to purchase those features. Overcasts IAP pricing is consistent with the competition in the same space: (prices in USD and updated 19 July, 2014)

App Cost IAP
Overcast FREE $4.99
Downcast $2.99 N/A
Instacast $1.99 N/A
Castro $3.99 N/A
Pocket Casts $3.99 N/A
Pod Wrangler FREE $1.99
Podcast.app FREE N/A

The following features are restricted or absent unless you activate them through IAP:

  • Cellular Downloads (absent)
  • Per-podcast effects (absent)
  • One-by-one playback option (absent)
  • Sleep timer (absent)
  • Total playlists (restricted to one)
  • Total episodes in a playlist (restricted to five)
  • Variable Speed (can try it 5 minutes at a time)
  • Smart Speed (can try it 5 minutes at a time)
  • Voice Boost (can try it 5 minutes at a time)

Are these worth it? Read on to find out…

First Screen

Startup Screen and Sync

Both Downcast and Instacast start with a modal dialogue box (two for Instacast) before diving into their main screens whilst Castro simply lands you on your main screen to let you figure it out for yourself. Overcast instead has a custom initial screen that reassures the user why Sync accounts aren’t such scary things. Sync support has become a staple of podcast apps in recent times (noting Castro as one exception) so Overcast must support it but for me personally I don’t use it as I almost always listen to my podcasts on my iPhone so there’s nothing to sync with. The other arguement for sync relates to restoring or buying a new device which for me doesn’t happen very often at all.

Irrespective Overcast at least takes time to explain why sync is helpful whilst the other big names I tested didn’t really bother to put it front and center, if at all. Then again since it’s impossible to use Overcast without an account set up, such explanations could be considered a necessity.

Creating a new account:

New Account Screen 1 New Account Screen 2

Adding a Podcast

You’re presented with this front and center once you’ve either logged in or created your new account. It’s possible to Add from a URL (of course) but Overcast maintains its own internal list of podcasts and like Pocket Casts it supports server-side sync. The Add Podcast page is well laid out with multiple groups of six thumbnails based on category to aid your discovery of new podcasts.

Initial Screen Adding a Podcast

Standard Features

Rather than dissect and describe it to the nth degree, here’s a short list of items that are very similar between the major apps that Overcast also has and does equally as well:

  • Playback screen (Volume control is absent but then I always thought it was redundant and prefer the volume buttons on the headset or the phone itself)
  • Podcast search & URL Addition
  • Sleep Timer (15 minute and 60 minute fixed intervals)
  • OPML Import/Export [Instructions to export/import from Instacast, Downcast, Castro, Pocket Casts are all built in]
  • Per Podcast Notifications (I love the fact that you can set notifications for specific podcasts when new episodes go live. Instacast supports this as well)
  • Selectable Seek Times (Refer table below)3

    Overcast 7s 15s 30s 45s 60s
    Downcast 5s +5s inc 10m
    Instacast 5s 10s 20s 30s 60s 2m 5m 10m
    Castro 15s 30s 45s 60s
    Pocket Casts 5s +5s inc 500s
    Pod Wrangler 60s 2m
    Podcast.app 15s

The Share Sheet:

Share Sheet

Easier Playlists

A lot of people rave about Downcast and how it handles priority podcasts and playlists. For me that’s not a big issue as I tend to change my mind a lot and most of the podcasts I listen to are longer than my commuting time making playlists unnecessary. That said, a lot of other people listen to podcasts in playlists when driving on long trips, long flights, doing housework or even during work hours and want to set and forget.

Fortunately Overcast can organise playlists by their play status (New/in progress, In progress only & Deleted only), selected podcasts (or except those selected), priority podcasts, Oldest to Newest (and vice-versa, individual episodes or by podcast), plus add or exclude specific episodes from that playlist. Both Downcast and Pocket Casts (Episode Filters) do good jobs on playlist management as well however I find Overcasts to be more intuitive on the whole.

When listening to a podcast either on a playlist or if there’s a list of episodes of a podcast with some still unlistened you can opt to listen back "One by One" (IAP) or "Continuous Play" which is nice to have as an override however I can forsee some people forgetting the One by One feature is on and when the next episode doesn’t queue up shaking their fist briefly. That said, that issue isn’t unique to Overcast.

The Unique Bits

Twitter Recommendations: A great discovery feature in Overcast requires you to link your Twitter account (assuming you have one) and once you’ve signed in the recommendations are pulled from those you follow on the selected Twitter account and displayed in a group of five thumbnails at the top.

The recommendations themselves are for individual episodes and the list shows who recommended them and is broken down into recommended episodes that can be individually downloaded and a section for podcasts you might like which can be subscribed to. It is possible to recommend an episode from within Overcast either on the sharing sheet or the star directly on the episode information screen but not a podcast in its entirety. This recommendation information however is kept within Overcast and nothing is posted to Twitter unless you specifically share to Twitter via the Share Sheet.

Link To Twitter Twitter Recommendations

Smart Speed: This is an interesting feature that I didn’t realise I wanted to have until I had it. In audio editing applications there is often an option to "Strip Silences" out of the audio track. This is designed to remove the natural pauses people make as they draw their next breath between words and sentances. If this is done it can make the audio sound disjointed and unnatural depending upon the settings used but more importantly it’s up to the audio technician/editor that’s working on the podcast production to decide whether to do it and with what settings. Arments approach hands control of silence stripping to the user. Technically how he’s done it is beyond the scope of this review but however he has, it’s done exceedingly well. To drive the point home on the Settings page a counter shows just how many minutes you’ve saved by using the feature. It’s so effective that most of the time you don’t even notice it’s on.

Effects: The volume boost is good for podcasts that have been poorly edited or recorded under less than ideal circumstances I found, but generally I leave it off because I don’t need it to listen to the podcasts I do. It does effectively boost the audio as the name suggests. The playback speed can be adjusted between 0.75x and 2.5x (roughly) which Arment made a good point about being ‘actual’ speeds during development. The best part of these effects though is the ability to set those effects either globally or by individual podcast. Each week most podcasts have the same hosts under similar recording conditions hence it’s often the case that the hosts speak very quickly or not so fast with either a faint or loud recording setup making optimising the playback speed and boost on a podcast by podcast basis very handy.

Seek Acceleration: There’s also an option to increase the acceleration between seeks when the button is repeatedly pressed such that on the 4th seek forward (also works for consecutive rewinds) the seek duration you’ve selected is increased by 50%, on the 5th seek by 125%, then 237.5% then a maximum of 500% of the seek duration provided your selections are not greater than 1 second in-between. It took me a bit to get the hang of this feature but once I did it turned out to be quite useful.

Selective Subscriptions: It’s possible to subscribe only to the episodes you want when adding the podcast to your feed as you can opt not to subscribe to all new episodes and if you do subsrcibe to all new episodes you can choose to be notified when new episodes are available and choose to keep 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 or All Unplayed episodes. This is wonderful for trying out new shows that you’re not yet sold on. Technically some of the other popular podcast apps support this through different mechanisms however the implementation in Overcast is the only one that actually makes sense to me in how it works.

Web Interface: Also becoming the next standard of sorts is a web interface for those podcast apps that offer accounts and syncing like Podfy. Overcast currently shows a list of your currently active episodes and selecting an episode takes you to a page with an embedded web player and various sharing options including the option to share a timestamp link like the one I implemented myself recently on this site4. Knowing Arments penchant for PHP and server side features I expect the web interface will become much more powerful as time progresses but as it stands today it’s useful to have. I can see myself using from time to time even though it won’t be a staple part of my daily usage I can see the future potential although nothing has been officially announced.

Still To Come

Arment sets a very high standard for his work and isn’t afraid to hold back features that aren’t yet up to standard. Several features that didn’t make the 1.0 cut and have been held back for the moment. The list of features that are currently planned for future release that Arment is publically announcing:

  • Streaming (coming subject to iOS8 release)
  • iPad version
  • Mac version (less likely but not completely out of the question)

The biggest issue I can see is the lack of streaming support. Of course you can still flick the switch (to allow cellular downloads when you away from WiFi) and download episodes on the go but they will download in their entirety, rather than just stream the pieces they are about to play. Arment assured me this will be coming very soon with iOS8 and whilst I never stream, there are plenty of people that do and for them it may be a deal-breaker. (Albeit only for a few months) If that’s you, you won’t be waiting long.

Intangibles: The Arment Touch

It’s hard to put my finger on it but Arment and Shifty Jelly’s developers share a playful tongue-in-cheek that I’ve come to really appreciate. Here’s an extract from the Skeptic’s FAQ:

"Who are you? I’m Marco Arment, the person who makes Overcast. Hope you don’t mind that I used ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ here - it made sense for this to be human, rather than the way I upgrade to ‘we’ in legalese and the privacy policy so I don’t get in trouble if I hire someone in the future and forget to change the pronouns everywhere."

Also the initial main page before you add your first podcast helpfully suggests that you ‘Add Podcast’ "Otherwise, this may not be useful…"

Overcast has a relaxed feel to it that makes it that little bit more enjoyable to use. It’s not a big thing perhaps but it’s refreshing if nothing else. The app also has a distinct Orange hue to it. When I asked Arment why that was he responded: "I’ve (started to) like red and orange recently, and red was too harsh…" so there you have it in case you were wondering…

If you’re a stickler for this sort of thing then you’ll also appreciate the attention to detail of the layout and font choices: all very pleasing to the eye. Castro also has this going for it putting Overcast and Castro out on their own ahead of the others in this respect at least.

Conclusion

Overcast has become my primary podcast client of choice for several months now. I’ve been gravitated towards the Smart Speed and intuitive controls and found myself becoming mildly annoyed when going back to the other podcast apps when putting this review together.

Arment has managed to move the bar another notch higher with Overcast whilst simultaneously lowering the barrier of entry for relative newcomers to the medium with a smoother interface, better podcast discoverability and it Turns OutTM Smart Speed is a pretty neat feature and now I can’t listen without it.

For those that love the simplicity of Castro but want something a bit more fully featured but still easy to use, then Overcast demands serious consideration.


  1. A more common business-like approach would be to identify market areas that are lacking and develop software for those where it is more likely to sell in high volume and make the most money. 

  2. Text can have its font size and type modified, backgrounds simplified, flow/pagination improved, marking read position etc., whereas audio can have its pitch, volume, speed modified, keeping track of play position as well as the possibility of a playlist like music. 

  3. I find it fascinating where each developer has chosen to place their most commonly used skip values. They range from the ultimate in configurability (every 5 seconds) to the trimmed down version of Overcast. Given the Seek Acceleration I think it’s less of an issue in Overcast. 

  4. Although the method used in Overcasts website is much like PocketCasts sharing feature which links to the server with a custom generated URL rather than a generic media-string query attached to an episode name URL. 

Review of the AtoB iPhone Camera Grip

22nd February 2014

unit

The A Grip B Photo and Video Shooting Assistant Grip is a long name and not very catchy but it conveys pretty well what the product does. It provides a proper hand grip for holding your iPhone single handedly as well as offering physical buttons for all photo tasks except zooming and focusing. In addition it has a standard tripod mount built into the bottom and a booster battery pack built in. It set me back just under $50USD and in the month that I’ve been using it, I’ve grown quite fond of it.

The device grips onto an iPhone 4/4S/5/5S but may not fit the 5C nor the older 2G/3G/3GS. I use my iPhone to take ALL of my photos and videos particularly of the kids around the house, the yard, at sports, parties, the beach and bushwalking to name just a few. That said I’m always concerned about the weight of my devices because I’m always lugging them with me. For example: I use a MacBook Air, and a Retina iPad Mini (Had the iPad Air for 3 months and switched to the Mini as it was lighter)

unit

The box doesn’t mention it supports the 5S but then since it’s essentially a hardware clone (in terms of external dimensions) of the 5 it’s a pretty safe assumption it will work okay. In the box is also a black wrist-strap which is a pain to thread through and a protective sock that it a tight fit but works as advertised.

As I’ve discussed previously I believe the iPhone is the best camera I’ve ever owned but it has several problems. Holding the phone steady is difficult with one hand, taking family shots isn’t possible without someone else to operate the phone, video drains the battery quickly and it’s not possible to remotely trigger a photo out of the box.

From my previous compact camera I had a tripod but no way to mount my iPhone to it. Family shots you can get away with a timer but a remote shutter gives much more control and you can take as many shots as you like without bumping the camera (great for low light and reducing motion blur). Taking an hour of video will flatten my battery which is a big problem if I need to make or receive phone calls.

In short the AtoB fits all of my criteria save one: the remote shutter. I’m fixing that with a different device I’ll discuss in another review.

Charging

The AtoB doesn’t come with a charging cable for your device so you’ll need to BYO 30-pin or Lightning USB cable. I’m sure the reason for this was to keep costs down and to avoid Apple licensing costs/issues; not to mention they would need to provide both a 30-pin Dock and Lightning cable since they don’t know what phone the purchaser would have.

If you’re connecting the standard charging cable that came with your iPhone, the cable is way too long and droops down getting caught up on everything if you’re trying to charge while you’re using the grip

It does come with its own USB to micro-USB charging cable for replenishing the built in battery through a connector on the top of the unit.

unit

There is no visual indication that you are charging an iPhone however when you first connect the USB connector from your BYO cable the front indicators light briefly. The power button on the front is slightly misleading insofar as the unit doesn’t actually turn on and doesn’t require power to work in any way. The button when pressed lights up one to four blue LEDs that indicate approximate onboard battery charge level.

Gripping

Attaching the iPhone requires spinning a large black dial depressed into the front fact of the hand grip clockwise to loosen and anti-clockwise to tighten. You need to ensure the dial is loose enough when you insert your iPhone and that the small metal tab at the bottom of the device touches the band of your iPhone.

You must be in the photos app before you insert the phone into the grip which can be a pain but since the device isn’t integrated via Bluetooth or direct connection there’s no real option there. It relies on the Apple photo app having it’s three control buttons on the same physical location on the screen. In future iOS updates this may change, making the grip buttons useless unless an app is used that emulates their original physical location on the screen.

unit

What it does do is make holding the iPhone with one hand effortless. There is practically no shake and in my video tests it was quite clear that the grip made a huge difference. That said with prolonged use, if you have sweaty palms like I do and it’s summer, the grip can get a bit slippery to hold. That said if you’re holding a bare iPhone with hands that sweaty it’s not going to be much of an improvement. After using it for an hour or more I found myself becoming a bit more casual with how tightly I was holding it whereas with the bare iPhone I was always extra careful. Something to consider.

The Buttons

unit unit

The grip push buttons seem like a great idea and in many respects were necessary since the design of the grip covers the area where the touch buttons appear on the screen. The simple issue with the buttons was that they didn’t always work. Maybe once out of every 20 times the buttons wouldn’t work5. It wasn’t a fault with the button but rather a reality of my hand grip. The conductive strip along the front edge didn’t always make contact with the palm-side of my fingers hence the buttons didn’t conduct through to my body.

Why Not A Case?

Why not a battery case with a tripod thread? I found a few of these (strongly considered the SnapGrip but I’d done the whole case on/case off thing in the past and it destroyed the cases. If I was to go the case route then it had to be a case I would leave on all the time and I wanted to keep the weight down for the majority of the phones usage.

Whilst it sounds like I take lots of photos and videos on my iPhone the truth is that relative to the number of hours for which I am not it’s really not a large proportion hence any solution had to be quick connect and disconnect again for short term but regular usage. This cases were off the list.

Battery Pack Charging and Boosting

The other option is to use the external battery booster continuously connected to the iPhone from the moment you begin shooting. When this is done, the iPhone charge is held at a constant 100% until the AtoB battery pack goes flat.

The lower three indicator lights light up constantly during charging, with the 4th blinking when it was charging. To determine the level of charge it was necessary to unplug the unit and then press the power button to see how many LEDs were lit which was a little annoying but not the end of the world.

So far as charging rates are concerned the AtoB boosts the iPhone at a slightly lesser rate (0.1%/min less) than the wall charger but this is to be expected and in practice is too small a difference to be of any real concern.

Physical Marking

unit

In the long term there will undoubtedly be marks left on the metal band and in the back and front of the phone from the metal tag, clamp and buttons respectively. That said it shouldn’t damage the phone significantly, but the people that want to keep their iPhones in pristine condition might not like this attachment. Then again such people will probably keep their iPhone in a highly protective case that it never comes out of.

Wrist Strap

The first time I used it I dutifully placed my wrist in the strap just as I have a thousand times with my compact camera. The problem is that the strap itself is A) difficult to get my wrist through and B) when my wrist was in the strap it was difficult to put my hand low enough on the grip to comfortably reach all three physical buttons. In short, the strap was too short and too small - at least for my hands. I don’t consider that I have large hands although I can easily span an octave and can make 9 keys in a pinch on a full size keyboard but for anyone with hands larger than that, you needn’t bother with the strap. Since then I’ve considered removing the strap since it doesn’t help, it only hinders me. You mileage will vary I’m sure.

Maximum Recording

The tests below show up a rather obvious point: extending the battery to take more video is all well and good provided the iPhone can store it all. I have the 64Gb model for this (and a few other) reason(s) however the most popular model is 16Gb (48%) with the 16Gb (35%) not far behind6 which severely restricts the amount of video that can be stored in any one sitting.

The following table estimates the maximum recording times by 1080p and 720p for each iPhone 5S model capacity7 based solely on my own testing. Your mileage may vary. For my most common scenario even adding the AtoB and starting with a fully empty iPhone I would not have enough battery to record up to the maximum amount, however this is not a real world scenario.

Memory Size 1080p @ 30fps 720p @ 120fps
16Gb 104 min 65 min
32Gb 207 min 134 min
64Gb 441 min 273 min

Testing Results

All tests used an iPhone 5S and it’s Apple-supplied charger 8 and cable. The first three tests relate to charging the iPhone and AtoB from dead conditions to fully charged conditions including the iPhone charging rates.

A) Recharging iPhone from AtoB from dead to 100%

1hr 56min (116min) ( 0.9%/min) 9

B) Recharging the AtoB from dead to fully charged

3hrs 18min (198min) 10

C) Recharging iPhone from wall charger from dead to 100%

1hr 38min (98min) (1%/min)

The remaining tests check how much video can be recorded with the iPhone on its own and with the AtoB boosting while video is being taken.

D) Fully charged iPhone no grip

Total Video Time Recorded: 2hrs 34min (154min) (0.65%/min) Space used on device: 20GB (0.13 Gb/min)

E) Fully charged iPhone using grip to boost battery when in use

Total Video Time Recorded: 5hrs 54min (354min) (0.3%/min) Space used on device: 45GB (0.13 Gb/min)

F) Comparative 720p 120fps test

Total Video Time Recorded: 45 min used 34% charge ( 0.75%/min) 11 9.5Gb. (0.21 Gb/min)

The issues:

  • The physical push buttons don’t always work
  • Long term marking of the iPhone is inevitable
  • It won’t work with a case on
  • Slippery when sweaty
  • The wrist strap is poorly positioned

Conclusions

Not everyone has the same needs but for those serious about getting more from their iPhone photography and video capabilities devices like the AtoB represent an attractive accessory. For me it’s been great and for the price it’s not going to break the bank I’d say its worth it.


  1. The buttons themselves push down perfectly fine with a nice smooth although plastic-cheap feeling however their touches on the screen did not register. 

  2. Survey undertaken for the iPhone 5 upgrade back in September of 2012 by Wells Fargo Securities. Real breakdown numbers are not available from Apple to the best of my knowledge. It’s fair to say that the vast majority of iPhones are sold in equal numbers in the 16Gb and 32Gb models with the 64Gb being less than a fifth of the overall sales. 

  3. The 16Gb iPhone model has only 13.6Gb of usable space. The 32Gb iPhone model has only 28.2Gb of usable space. The 64Gb iPhone Model has only 57.4Gb of usable space. 

  4. Charger Model A1444, 5V 1A supplied with iPhone 5S. All video recorded at 1080p 30fps unless otherwise noted.The flash LED was forced off for all video recording tests. The video taken was of a background that was static usually of a single colour which will likely lead to large compression values. Tests were performed between 22 Celcius and 28 Celcius. Humidity was not controlled or measured. All tests were continuous without breaks and it is noted that cumulative heat will drive subtly different battery performance/longevity compared to intermittent operation 

  5. At the completion of the charging cycle one Blue LED remained on the AtoB 

  6. The exact time the AtoB was fully charged was difficult to determine exactly as I had to periodically disconnect the charging cable and test it - a process by which the charging was interrupted. It’s possible this value was out by up to -20mins. Additionally no percentage is provided as it’s capacity varies from the 5S and thus no direct comparisons are useful. 

  7. This assumes a linear drain on the battery reporting by the iPhone. Tests have shown that it remains mostly linear during the 50-100% range. 

The Worlds Most Popular Camera

22nd February 2014

It has been said that the best camera is the one you have with you. Most people today have a mobile phone. From the time when mobiles first started sporting cameras built-in, the days of the compact camera and DSLR were to some extent numbered12.

Flickr Camera Share Information from Flickr certainly suggests that if you look at their most popular cameras in the world the top ones are all smartphones and specifically iPhones. IMAGE From a quality standpoint most high-end mobile phones take near compact-quality pictures but there are a few key caveats.

Distance shots

The only smartphone camera I’ve seen that does an impressive job of distance photography is the Nokia Lumia 1020. It achieves this but having a massive 43MP sensor allowing digital zoom to actually work well unlike every other smartphone where digital zooms usually yield grainy horrible shots. The downside is that to fit this impressive sensor and lens in the phone, the 1020 developed an upside down slightly pregnant belly on the back of the phone. It doesn’t sit flat on a table, is thicker and heavier than many other smartphones, however if you’re not tied to an ecosystem (Android or iOS) then frankly it’s one of the best options. Although it doesn’t address the other three issues on its own.

Blur

Very few smartphone cameras have Optical Image Stabilisation simply because it requires a physically larger lens/counterbalancing arrangement hence the quality of the photo relies a great deal on the steadiness of the users hands. Often I find myself having to steady my iPhone when holding it for photos or video hence one hand isn’t usually enough. When pushing the Volume shutter or tapping the on-screen button it also tends to introduce a small wobble that can ruin a photo - particularly in lower lighting conditions. Beyond the immediately obvious idea of using a tripod, a better way to grip the phone without one would be ideal. Again the Lumia has a camera grip attachment that overcomes much of this.

Battery Life

Taking photos drains the battery but not as quickly as taking video. Whether this is driven primarily by the screen backlighting as a viewfinder or by the video encoder onboard is unclear though I can tell you that the drain on the battery causes the temperature of the phone to significantly increase with an iPhone 5S. A professional photographer would have multiple batteries that are changeable, fully charged and ready to go to take as many photos or as much video as possible. Relying on a smartphone as your camera/camcorder has the added problem that you need to ‘conserve’ some battery in case you need to make/receive a phone call, get directions or check something on the internet. For Apples products at least there is no battery you can just swap out - you’re just out of luck13.

Remote Shutter

The argument regarding a lack of a remote shutter is perhaps the most flimsy where many people are happy to use a different camera application on their smartphone that comes with a built-in timer function. It’s interesting that Apple have excluded such functionality from their default Camera application in iOS but then such a function implies the necessity of external gripping equipment for the iOS device in question and most are not free-standing devices14. Apples answer to this perhaps is the continuous improvement to the front-facing (FaceTime) camera and this leads to the proliferation of ‘selfies’. Unfortunately until the front and back cameras are the same spec it’s hard to suggest this is ideal either as we are implicitly accepting lower quality from the device than is possible whenever we want to take a photo with us in it and there’s no one else around to take that photo for us.

Potential Solutions

You might think I have a crush on the 1020 and photographically speaking that’s true but there’s more to being the most popular camera in the world (otherwise the 1020 would be nearer the top of Flickrs list) and that’s as much about how good it is to use as a smartphone when you’re not taking precious memories. I love my iPhone and since I can’t easily give it up for a multitude of reasons where does they leave those of us that aren’t Nokia/Windows Phone users?

The ultimate answer is to use the smartphone standalone for general photography but if you want to extend its usefulness then add some accessories to augment its performance. If you’re using an iPhone there seem to be a lot of options that are ‘close’ but not quite everything in one package. There are battery cases and lens cases, cases with tripod mounts but precious few that have them all. The other problem with accessories is they should be cost effective. If I’m going to spend about $500 on accessories then I could just buy a high end compact camera or a low end DSLR.

There are no single accessories out there that do what I want on their own, however the AtoB Grip I have used and reviewed here and it covers the battery, grip and tripod issues very well. I’m currently testing the Muku Shuttr (review coming shortly) and long term I’m looking into telephoto lenses (caseless ones).

Just Buy A DSLR

I have been told this over and over by other people and here’s the problem: I can buy an iPhone on a monthly plan for no money up front and pick up the accessories above for under $200. In addition it’s smaller, lighter and more useful than a DLSR that frankly can only take pictures. If I drop, fold, spindle or mutilate an accessory it’s not a big financial setback. The truth is the money alone doesn’t stack up and frankly I’m not a photography nut and most people aren’t. Accessories work well enough.

Conclusion

Ultimately the best camera is the one you have with you and since people want to feel connected above all else that is the smartphone. For those people with smartphones that want to push their photographic limits, accessories are preferable to an entirely separate camera. It’s a far more efficient proposition to extend the capabilities of a smartphone as a camera knowing it won’t quite match the performance of a DSLR but will likely be close enough for most people. If you’re really obsessed with picture quality and you’re REALLY obsessive about taking photos you’ll buy a DSLR and nothing I have said will stop you.

If you do have both devices be honest: Was there ever a time when you wanted to take a great photo but just didn’t have the DSLR handy and used the smartphone in your pocket? Thought so.


  1. So far as large volumes of products are concerned. Clearly DSLRs and Compacts will always have a place however smartphone cameras are now good enough quality for the average individual not to bother with a second device. 

  2. An replaceable battery has the big plus of immediacy such that if your device goes flat, a quick swap out of the battery has you back at full charge, whereas a battery pack needs time to recharge unless it’s constantly attached. 

  3. If they are free standing (possible with a 4, 4S, 5, 5S but it’s not the most stable) but even so they aren’t able to be adjusted (height/tilt) making capturing group shots incredibly difficult.