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Apple iPhone SETwitter was underwhelmed by Apple’s launch event. There wasn’t the usual hoopla from Apple’s cheer leaders. Nor were there as many gushing, excited editorials as we’ve become used to.

In part this is because the four-inch iPhone SE is not aimed at Apple fanatics. Nor would it appeal to Geekzone readers. It’s a more modest phone. It will mainly sell to a less engaged set of users and those who find 4.7-inch displays too big.

The iPhone SE isn’t spectacular or ground-breaking. It fleshes out the less glamorous lower reaches of Apple’s phone product line. This is an area where Apple has been weak, although the iPhone 5S it replaced sold 30 million phones last year.

iPhone SE niche

That isn’t to say there won’t be a ready market for an iPhone smaller than the 6S and 6S Plus. If it wasn’t for my eyes, this would be the phone for me.

The iPhone SE packs all the important iPhone 6S specs into a device with a four-inch screen. You get the same main processor and graphics processor. There’s a similar quality camera. It’s useful, a good working tool. Yet it all fits in a smaller pocket.

It also has a smaller price tag.

At NZ$750 the 16GB version seems like decent value for an iPhone until you realise the spare storage can only copy with a few seconds of high-definition video.

The NZ$950 64GB version makes more sense. While the same money may buy a higher specification phone elsewhere, the likely customers are not the sort who compare processors and GPUs.

There are compromises. You don’t get 3D Touch, although I doubt many who have yet to use this would miss it. The front facing camera has a low specification.

None of this will matter to those who want a smaller or cheaper iPhone. It’s still an iPhone. It still looks good. It still offers great integration with other Apple hardware. For Apple users it is a far more productive choice than any other brand of phone.

9.7 inch iPad Pro

Twitter was equally unexcited about the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

There’s more to it than just being a smaller version of the 13 inch iPad Pro. It has a new screen technology with “True Tone” which takes ambient lighting into account to adapt the display brightness and colour.

There’s an improved iPad camera, but it comes with the same camera bump found on the iPhone 6S models. This will be a deal breaker for some users and detracts from the iPad’s ability to lie flat for use with the Apple pencil.

At NZ$1050 for a 32GB wi-fi only model, Apple is pushing the price envelope with its newest iPad. The top of the range model with 256 GB and a cellular sim slot is a whopping NZ$1820.

Brydge has a keyboard for anyone who bought an iPad Air or Air 2 but meant to buy a MacBook Air. The BrydgeAir keyboard is a sturdy aluminium frame that clips to the iPad Air. When closed it forms a tough laptop-like shell. When open you can use the hinge at any angle, like a laptop. Folding it flat puts your iPad to sleep.

At around NZ$230, it isn’t cheap. Decent iPad keyboards start at less than half the price.

Tablet or faux laptop?

Yet BrydgeAir isn’t like any other third-party iPad keyboard I’ve seen. While popular iPad keyboards like Logitech’s excellent Ultrathin Keyboard Cover are all about adding the convenience of keyboard typing to the iPad, BrydgeAir is more about turning the iPad into an iOS touch-screen laptop.

If that’s what you want to do.

Brydge’s design and choice of materials reinforces this idea. The case is aluminium, you can choose colours to match your iPad Air. The keyboard is exactly the same dimensions as the iPad Air. When closed, an iPad with the BridgeAir looks a lot like an Apple laptop.

It uses hinges engineered to fit an iPad Air 2. The same unit works with the older iPad Air thanks to rubber shims that you can add to the hinges.

Heavy

The downside of this approach is the BrydgeAir adds more weight than, say, the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard. The keyboard is heavier than the iPad Air 2 and getting on for twice the weight of the Logitech keyboard. That extra weight may be a Brydge too far for some people.

On a positive note, the BrydgeAir keyboard is a lot like a MacBook keyboard. It’s solid and doesn’t flex like some cheaper laptop keyboards. It can take my touch typist hammering, there’s a little more travel than in most attachable keyboards. It has back-lighting, that’s important for us journalists who find ourselves typing in darkened rooms.

I found typing cramped compared with my laptop – that’s unavoidable given the keyboard size matches the 10-inch iPad Air 2.

It’s fine to use, but I’d prefer a little more room. I find I can work with it for a while. It’s good enough for temporary typing on the move. It may even do if I am out-of-town on a reporting assignment.

In the long-term I wouldn’t want to drop my laptop for this arrangement and that’s before discussing the merits of iOS versus OS X.

Beyond keyboard

There’s more than just a keyboard. Bridge has added Bluetooth stereo speakers. You can crank them up higher than the normal iPad Air speaker. While the BrydgeAir speakers are useful for FaceTime conversations, music sounds cheap and tinny.

One other thing to watch for is that the BridgeAir takes a toll on your iPad batteries. I can go all day and then some on my iPad without the BrydgeAir, with it attached I’d lose about a third of that battery life.

I’ve always thought there’s something curious about iPad keyboards. When the iPad first appeared it was a break with personal computing’s recent past. Apple stripped down the laptop to the bare essentials needed for browsing and reading. That meant getting rid of the keyboard. We seem to have spent the last five years putting them back.

This trend reached its apex when Apple added its own keyboard cover to the iPad Pro. I prefer the BrydgeAir to Apple’s keyboard and would love to see what Brydge can do for the iPad Pro. Adding a keyboard of this quality could elevate the Pro.

BrydgeAir – verdict

Brydge has chosen to target a tight niche with a well-engineered, high-quality alternative. The BrydgeAir is an expensive, heavy, well-made  keyboard for a device that was designed as only an occasional typing tool. It changes the nature of that tool. In a sense it’s a good fix for a problem you don’t need to have.

If you are a heavy-duty typist a lot you would be better off with a MacBook, MacBook Air or just about any other laptop. A device made for typing is always better than an iPad and a keyboard.

If you love the iPad, need to type a bit and like the idea of an iOS laptop, this is the answer. If you bust your budget buying an iPad and wished you got a laptop instead, you’ll love this. It’s also a good alternative for people who find plastic type covers too flimsy.

ipad pro apple pencilApple’s iPad Pro is the perfect tool for my work as a freelance journalist. It’s light, powerful, has a battery that lasts all day and a good keyboard.

To my surprise I’ve found my writing is more productive on the Pro than on a Mac. That has a lot to do with the physical hardware. It is also down to iOS 9 which forces distraction-free mode on users.

Nothing pops up to distract me while working. I’m rarely tempted to switch screens unless it is necessary. Trust me, this enforced focus writing is just what I need.

I get paid by the word and can write more words per day on the iPad Pro. It’s that simple.

iPad Pro great for writing

Today’s iOS writing tools are excellent. There is plenty of choice. At one point I had seven different apps installed I can use to manipulate words and sentences.

At first sight Apple’s iPad Pro keyboard doesn’t look promising. In practice I can touch type on it all day. I’ve no idea if my iPad Pro typing speed matches my MacBook typing speed. What I do know is the iPad Pro writing set-up is productive.

My only niggle is that sometimes I must lift my hands from the keyboard and touch the screen or the Touch ID button. This doesn’t interfere with productivity, but it doesn’t feel like a natural action. Not yet[1].

The iPad Pro has earned its place in my technology armoury. The machine I’m writing this post on is a review model from Apple. When the review period is up I’m going to buy my own iPad Pro and a keyboard and an Apple pencil.

What does it replace?

There is one problem. I’ve not decided what it will displace.

Although I can do all my work on the iPad Pro, it can’t do all the other things I need to do. While iCloud works well (so does OneDrive) the iPad Pro is not ideal for making local file copies. Physical back-up may be an anachronistic security blanket in your eyes, I’ve come to depend on it. I learned the hard way about backing up and don’t plan to stop.

Last month I had to install new firmware on my home wireless router. That meant downloading a zip file, decompressing it then installing it on the router. There’s no way I know of to do this using the iPad Pro[2].

I’ve invested a small fortune in OS X and Windows apps. In truth, there are few desktop business apps that I find essential. I use Acorn to manipulate graphics files but there are good iPad apps for this task.

The iPad Pro handles most web design work. Downloading and editing HTML, CSS or PHP files is tricky compared with the Mac. I can’t see how I can run local development versions of websites on the iPad. Maybe there are tools, I haven’t found them yet.

Missing in action

Where the iPad Pro misses most is with leisure software. That’s strange given its consumer origins. Here I’m talking about specialist apps. I use sophisticated music composition software on my Mac, it doesn’t run on iOS. Having said that, I have found some great alternative iOS music software.

Games are another matter. I’m not much of a gamer, but on wet weekends and home alone evenings I might want to unwind. Although there are iOS versions of some of the games I play, they are not a patch on the OS X versions.

The iPad Pro is the best thing for watching streaming video content. Premier League Pass is wonderful on the Retina screen. Movies are wonderful and the display is big enough for two to snuggle up and watch together.

Can’t drop the Mac yet

Despite this, I’m still going to need a Mac of some description for some time. The question is which model?

Until I used the iPad Pro, Apple’s 2015 MacBook was at the top of my shopping list. It’s small and light and has a great screen. That sounds just like the iPad Pro, except I now know I work better with a Pro.

My MacBook Air is two years old. The battery doesn’t last quite as long as it did when it was new, the power cable wore away and needed kludging. I was planning to look for a replacement about now.

Thanks to the iPad Pro I can relegate the MacBook to a secondary role and extend its life. Maybe when it gets more tired I can replace it with a Retina iMac. Or maybe another MacBook Air.


  1. I’ve noticed with the iPad Pro and all the touch screen PCs or Hybrids I’ve used that excessive touch screen use gives me a little upper arm pain. I’ll let you know if this becomes a problem.  ↩
  2. If you do, please tell me.  ↩

ipad pro apple pencil

While Apple’s iPad Pro is enough computer for day-to-day journalism, there are times when things might get tricky.

In the end I didn’t use the iPad Pro as my only device last week[1].

It wasn’t because of anything wrong with the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro stayed at home because I needed to play safe and use OS X.

My caution was unnecessary. In hindsight the iPad Pro may have been a better tool for the job in question.

Last Wednesday I was asked to help with production on  a  New Zealand Herald report.

For editors and writers, production is mainly about reading last minute page proofs. We’re looking for errors, writing headlines or captions and so on. It can mean dealing with files, usually PDFs, from the NZ Herald’s editorial design system.

There’s also fact-checking; researching people’s correct name spellings and job titles.

Files can fly thick and fast during last minute production. Speed is essential.

Too many unknowns

Although iOS does a decent job managing personal files generated with iOS apps, there were too many possible unknowns to deal with.

I didn’t want to get all the way to the office then find the iPad Pro couldn’t open one of the file types. Nor did I want to find out too late that my iOS apps weren’t the right tools to make late page edits.

Also it could have been embarrassing if I needed to find out how to perform some unexpected or unfamiliar operation while others were waiting for me.

MacBook instead

For all these reasons I packed the MacBook certain that it could handle all the work and that I know how to make it fly.

On the day we did the job with full-size paper proofs and pens. Someone else made the changes to the pages.

This may sound archaic to geeks, but proofreading is more effective on printouts than on screen. Eyes and brains read print and screens in different ways. Errors that stand out in print are overlooked on screen.

There was plenty of fact-checking, but no file-juggling. There was some emailing of photos to designers — I’ve worked places where you need to log-in to a server to get the pics to the right place. That could have been a challenge on the iPad Pro.

On the occasions where I needed to read proofs on screen, the large high resolution iPad Pro screen would have been a better option than the MacBook. Granted there’s not much in it, but the iPad is a better reading device than a conventional computer.

I should have had more faith in the iPad Pro.


  1. Look out for my post about my experience after using the iPad Pro for seven days not quite in a row. It contains useful insight into where the device fits in the bigger picture.  ↩

Apple iPad Pro 2015
Apple iPad Pro

Nothing bad happened switching from the 2015 MacBook to the iPad Pro. If there were any surprises they were all good ones.

Every Friday morning I pack a computer, coffee money and a banana in a briefcase. Next I catch a bus to town where I work in a client’s office. Although I interview people, make phone calls and attend meetings, I write for most of the day.

Until three months ago my Friday-working-away-from-home computer was an Apple MacBook Air. It served me well. The MacBook Air has more than enough battery life to get through an eight-hour day. It is light, portable, has a great keyboard and runs all the apps I need.

Then I switched to a 2015 MacBook. It was a review machine borrowed from Apple. My goal to understand where the new MacBook fits into the bigger productivity picture.

Comparing MacBook keyboards

In hindsight I found the 2015 MacBook keyboard isn’t as good as the MacBook Air’s. I didn’t notice this at the time. The difference became noticeable when I returned to the MacBook Air earlier this week.

Despite what you may read in other reviews, the 2015 MacBook keyboard is fine. It just doesn’t deal with touch typing as well as the Air.

There’s not much in it. On a scale of one to ten I’d give the 2015 MacBook keyboard an eight. The MacBook Air keyboard scores nine out of ten.

To put it another way, I’ve not used a better laptop keyboard than the MacBook Air’s in recent years.

If this seems fussy, remember touch typing is what I do all day. For me this is one of the most important aspects of a portable device. A better keyboard makes writing more efficient. That’s money in the bank.

2015 MacBook battery life

The 2015 MacBook’s biggest negative is battery life. My two year old Air can no longer last for the ten hours it did when it was new. In part because I now leave wi-fi and Bluetooth on all day. Yet it still gives me well over eight hours.

From the outset the 2015 MacBook battery struggled to last the full eight hours I work in town each Friday. That Retina screen sucks juice.

For weeks I had to devise power-saving strategies such as using my phone for mail and browsing.

That’s not the best way to work and didn’t solve the problem. In the end I gave in and took the power cable with me. It wasn’t optional.

USB-C works for me

Others may whinge, but the single USB-C connector doesn’t worry me. I use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for everything. I’ve heard people complain about the feeble processor. It doesn’t make a difference to word processing or browsing.

The Retina screen is a delight. Not that it makes any difference to my writing productivity. While the Force Touch trackpad is handy, there’s no obvious productivity gain.

I like the way there’s no fan in the 2015 MacBook. You never find yourself wondering what that strange humming noise is.

To be fair, the MacBook Air rarely uses its fan. Sorry to sound repetitive, this also has nothing to do with productivity.

A bigger advantage was the 2015 MacBook’s reduced weight and size. Having less to carry in my brief case may not sound like a big deal, it always felt like a bonus during the commute. It’s a more of a benefit when travelling on an airplane.

Even so, on balance the lower-priced MacBook Air is a better option for my Friday work. That’s clear now after three months with the 2015 MacBook. There’s not much in it, productivity and battery life trump smaller and lighter. Your requirements may differ.

Enter the iPad Pro

When the review iPad Pro arrived I wasn’t sure where it would fit in the productivity picture. At first I doubted I would want to use an iOS device as my Friday computer for the next three months.

I worried about the lack of a trackpad, about the keyboard and what iOS might mean in practice. There was a fear I may not be able to use all the apps I need.

Despite these worries, I took the iPad Pro with me for my regular Friday gig. I decided if the first week was a disaster, I could always switch back to the Air.

Rivals the MacBook

In the event, the iPad Pro was anything but a disaster. It proved a great Friday computer. The iPad Pro could be better than the 2015 MacBook for working away from home.

My iPad Pro is the cellular version. I’ll write more about that in another post. It weighs 723 grams. The Smart Keyboard adds another 330 grams. My 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 1.35 kilograms. The 2015 MacBook is 920 grams.

The iPad Pro is larger than the 2015 MacBook. With a connected Smart Keyboard, it is about the same size as the MacBook Air.

In practice the iPad Pro is as portable as the 2015 MacBook. It puts any extra size and weight to good use. At 12.9 inches, the display is larger than the 12-inch display on the 2015 MacBook. It has more pixels, 2732-by–2048 compared with 2304-by–1440.

A beautiful view

This makes more difference than you might suspect. I get a better overview of my words and can read them better on the bigger screen. The text is clearer, crisper. It makes proofing easier, which means improved quality.

You would need to buy a lot more laptop to get a screen like this. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 gets close with its 2736-by–1824 resolution across 12.3 inches. The result is better all-round writing productivity.

The iOS 9 slide-over feature makes multitasking practical. I’m no fan of doing more than one thing at a time. Being able to read, say, an email brief while working on a story is useful.

Keyboards

On Friday I used the Smart Keyboard. If I didn’t have that, the larger iPad screen can display a full-size qwerty keyboard. At NZ$319, the Smart Keyboard is expensive. Even so it is a better option than on-screen typing for all but the shortest jobs.

Thanks to the iPad Pro’s large size, the on-screen keyboard is full-size. There’s no tactile feedback, so it’s tricky, not impossible, for touch-typing. It’s the best screen keyboard I’ve ever seen, even so, you wouldn’t want to write War and Peace on it. It’s fine for quick notes.

There are some similarities between Apple’s Smart Keyboard and the Microsoft Surface Pro Keyboards. The keyboard uses the same switches found in the 2015 MacBook keyboard. Instead of the MacBook’s butterfly mechanism, the Smart Keyboard use a custom-designed fabric. When you type, the fabric’s springiness provides the action.

I didn’t have problems with the Smart Keyboard. While it’s not as comfortable as typing on the MacBook Air, it isn’t bad. I’d rate it eight out of ten. On Friday I wrote a little over 1000 words without a slip. Let’s see what I think in a few weeks.

Say it loud

Compared with the MacBook, the iPad Pro has loud loudspeakers. There are four channels of sound, so music plays better than you’d expect from such a thin device. It can be surprising the first time you hear it, even more surprising if you hold the tablet and feel the bass notes vibrating.

One of the biggest criticisms against the iPad Pro is the lack of quality business apps. Although there is no shortage of good iOS apps, few are optimised for the bigger format. My work is writing, so I need word processors. There is no shortage of choice in that department.

On Friday I wrote stories using Apple’s Pages word processor then converted them to Word format before sending. I could have written in Word, the iOS version is excellent. Where practical, I prefer writing in Markdown. My licences for Byword and iA Writer work on the iPad Pro. Both apps are great on the Pro — I’m writing this using iA Writer.

Still an iPad

Apple avoided creating a hybrid device. The iPad Pro is still an iPad. It doesn’t aim to be a PC on the desktop and a tablet on the couch, like, say, Microsoft’s Surface Pro. That’s not a good or a bad thing. It just is.

There are no business apps that I need, that don’t work on the iPad Pro. There are other things that I want to do that work better on OS X or Windows. Last week I needed to deal with data on the family NAS drive — that’s not something the iPad can manage well. I also had to install fresh firmware on a router, the job required an Ethernet-connected PC.

Still the iPad Pro is big. It is fast. And it can do a lot of things that might not be practical on smaller, slower tablets. So far I’ve found it can replace my laptop for my core business applications. It is a great writing tool. I can use it to earn my living. And that’s what matters most to me.