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Jordan Merrick

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Qi Wireless Chargers

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-11 02:52

Now that my wife and I have both upgraded to iPhone X, I've replaced some of our iPhone docks with Qi wireless chargers. I was curious to see how different chargers compare, so I bought three different models:

Qi chargers

Each charger is WPC compliant, does the same basic job of wirelessly charging a device1, and is priced under $25.

A common complaint about wireless chargers is that a power adapter isn't always provided, just a USB cable. Honestly, I'm fine with that. I have a drawer full of unused USB power adapters and I'm sure most people buying these types of chargers do as well. All of these unused adapters will eventually end up as electronic waste on a landfill somewhere, so I'd much rather use one of the many spares I have.

Samsung

The Samsung charger is currently the top pick over at The Wirecutter. It looks good in comparison to most of the chargers available and, unsurprisingly, has the best build quality of the three. It's also the only one that came with a USB power adapter. We're using this in our living room as a communal charger.

There is an LED light at the front that glows blue when a phone is on charge and there's no way to turn it off. The Wirecutter reports that it's probably a dealbreaker for use anywhere other than a desk, something Stephen Hackett agrees with. I don't find the light to be particularly bright but if this is something that would disturb your sleep, you may want to skip it as a nightstand charger.

Yoobao

The Yoobao is noticeably smaller than the other two. It actually seems almost too small when used with something like iPhone X. It's stable enough and the grip keeps the phone in place, but I wouldn't recommend it for iPhone 8 Plus owners. I use this charger on my nightstand.

The finish is inferior to the Samsung charger and the plastic material feels rather cheap. There is an LED light that's permanently illuminated which changes color from red to blue when a phone is on charge. It's very bright but focused, so as long as you point it away from you on a nightstand or cover it with a small piece of electrical tape, it won't be a disturbance.

CHOETECH

The CHOETECH charger is bigger than both the Yoobao and Samsung models. It does feels really cheap because it's quite large and light, but the build quality is pretty good and on par with the Yoobao. Like the Yoobao, it also has a bright but focused LED so you can simply point the charger away from you on a nightstand.

The grip on top (the gray wireless symbol) is pretty disappointing. While it does keep the phone in place, it's raised and has very little surface area in contact with the phone. This causes it to have a slight wobble. I'm not sure why the manufacturer thought this was a good idea because the actual surface is also rubberized, so there's no need for such a raised grip.

The blue version of this charger, however, doesn't have this problem as the wireless symbol appears to be inset, not raised. If you are considering this charger and don't mind the color, you may want to go for that one instead.

Final thoughts

Each of the chargers works exactly as intended and can charge through Apple silicone cases, so I don't feel compelled to return them to Amazon. I plan on ordering a fourth for the car, but will test each of these at the weekend first to see which works best.

If you're an iPhone 8 or iPhone X owner and on the fence about wireless charging, I suggest giving it a try. For $25, it's practically the same price as a Lightning cable from Apple and you'll likely find the convenience worth it.

It's worth mentioning that there really aren't any good looking chargers, just ones that aren't as ugly as others. Even the Samsung charger isn't that pretty, it just looks much better than the competition. As adoption among iPhone users increases, we'll hopefully see an improvement in the design of chargers.

  1. Unlike the other two, the Yoobao charger does support fast charging though it's not currently supported on the iPhone. A future iOS update will supposedly enable support for this.


Using iPhone X on a Flat Surface

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-07 00:48

Jason Snell, over at Six Colors, has written about his experience with the iPhone X during the past week. One use case where he felt the phone wasn't as usable as previous models was when trying to operate it while it lay flat on a table or desk:

Facing straight up, the Face ID camera can’t see me, so I can’t unlock my phone without leaning way over the table or picking the phone up. And attention detection can’t detect me, so after 30 seconds the screen dims.

I hadn’t realized how much I left an iPhone unlocked on a table for a minute or two. The iPhone X is more aggressive about locking the phone (and dimming the display), and Face ID is no help. I suppose in the end, the phone will train me—but right now it’s one of the areas where my old way of using my iPhone no longer seems to apply.

The iPhone X can be unlocked with a passcode instead of Face ID, but it's not obvious how to do it. To use a passcode, tap the screen to wake up the iPhone, swipe up on the Home bar, and tap Face ID.

Using a passcode instead of Face ID

I do this to unlock my iPhone while it's lay down flat on my desk.

The aggressive screen lock is something I ran into even when I unlock with a passcode. The default setting for Auto-Lock seems to be 30 seconds, so I've changed that to one minute and it's feels much more usable.


Pushy Notifications in Apple News

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-06 15:00

I like Apple News and it's the primary way I find out what fresh hell has engulfed the world. I follow quite a few channels and topics but am very strict on which can send me notifications. Right now, it's just one channel.

Unfortunately, Apple News has a frustrating behavior when it comes to push notifications that can rival some of the worst offenders of notification spam. At some point, Apple News will announce, by push notification, that it has enabled notifications for a channel.

pushy-notification.jpg

Rather than ask if I want to enable notifications for a particular channel, Apple News does so automatically—it doesn't even ask or tell you how to opt out. Worse still, there is no logic to when this happens. I've had this happen months after following a new channel, and even repeatedly occur even if I already turned off notifications.

Enabling notifications for channels without the user's explicit permission is extremely user-hostile and I can't understand the reason for it. I wouldn't mind a gentle nudge to ask if I want to receive notifications every now and again, but this method is far too heavy-handed.


Be Aware of the Updated Button Combinations for iPhone 8 and iPhone X

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-05 17:08

Apple has changed the button combinations for both Emergency SOS and a force restart on the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. This gave me quite a fright when I needed to restart my iPhone X, only to trigger Emergency SOS by mistake.

On the iPhone 7 (and earlier), Emergency SOS is triggered by pressing the Power button five times. On the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, it's now triggered by holding down either Volume button and the Power button at the same time.

Sound familiar? The button combination to restart an iPhone 7 is holding down the Volume down button and Power buttons. Out of habit, that's what I did. At least I know how loud the siren is for Emergency SOS.

The button combination to restart an iPhone 8 or iPhone X is now a little more complicated, as Apple's support article on the subject explains:

On an iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus: Press and quickly release the Volume Up button. Press and quickly release the Volume Down button. Then, press and hold the Side button until you see the Apple logo.

New iPhone 8 and iPhone X owners, keep that in mind.


iPhone X Availability

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-05 04:07

I was initially undecided about buying an iPhone X, so I chose not to wake up at some ungodly hour to place a preorder. If and when I decided I wanted one, I was willing to wait several weeks until shipping times became more favorable and stock more plentiful.

I happened to check the Apple Store app earlier today and, while delivery times for all models were showing as 3-4 weeks, some models were available for same-day pickup at my local Apple Store (World Trade Center). I was able to buy and collect exact model I wanted (256GB Silver) this morning, the day after launch1. My wife even placed an order a couple hours later for a different model (256GB Black) and was still able to collect it this afternoon.

This isn't an isolated experience and I've heard about Apple Stores in different parts of the country all having decent stock levels. At the store I collected my phone from, I overheard a member of staff say that they had received so many iPhones for launch day that they didn't even sell them all—today's stock is mostly leftovers.

If you didn't preorder the iPhone X but want to get one soon, try your local Apple Store using the Apple Store app. It seems Apple is making a huge effort to keep stores well-stocked.

  1. Some people I know who did wake up to place a preorder still haven't received their phones.


The KeySmart Pro

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-01 14:00

KeySmart Pro

I'm not the type of person who carries a prison warden-style set of keys. I've been using the KeySmart key organizer for over a year and it's helped keep pocket clutter to a minimum. It reduces a set of keys into something resembling a Swiss Army knife and is far less bulky than than a regular keychain. It's like the difference between carrying a roll of pennies or a bunch of loose change in your pocket.

I've been using their newest model, the KeySmart Pro (pictured above), for the past couple months and highly recommend it. It adds some useful features, most notable of which is its Tile functionality. The KeySmart Pro also includes an LED flashlight and a Micro USB port to charge the device. Unlike regular Tiles, this one is rechargeable.

Tile app

The additional functionality does make the Pro model bulkier than the original KeySmart as it has a plastic shell to encase the electronic components, but it's hardly noticeable. Without any keys attached, it's extremely lightweight.

The KeySmart Pro is a great idea executed well. Many Tile users are likely to have one on their keychain (I used to have one attached to my KeySmart) so combining both together makes perfect sense.


The iTunes Store's Border Is Opening

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-26 03:10

Last year, I wrote about my experience of changing the country of my iTunes account. A major drawback to this process had been that purchases I made in the U.K. stores (App Store, Mac App Store, and iTunes Store) no longer appeared in my purchase history. I could still download apps I had already bought for free but I had to go through the purchase process again1. Unfortunately, I couldn't do the same with iTunes Store content as past purchases no longer appeared in iTunes in the Cloud.

It now seems that Apple is taking steps to remedy this. I discovered last week that my entire App Store purchase history was now showing. What's more, viewing a previously purchased app in the App Store now shows the download icon, not the price, so it's much easier to identify apps I had already purchased in the U.K. store.

It's a similar story with my iTunes Store purchases, though not everything is there. I estimate about half of my purchased movies and TV shows are now available through iTunes in the Cloud, so I can again download them straight to my iOS devices. It's odd that only some of my purchases are available, but it's a start. Hopefully more of my purchases will appear over time.

  1. It's a frustrating process because you even have to approve the purchase and hope that it's definitely an app you purchased before. If it is, the App Store displays a message saying the app will be downloaded for free. If not, you're charged for it. On more than one occasion I've accidentally bought an app I thought I had.


Resolving AirPrint Issues With a HP Printer and iOS 11

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-19 02:23

I recently purchased a HP OfficeJet 3830 multifunction printer which has all the bells and whistles that are expected nowadays, such as AirPrint. After upgrading to iOS 11, I wasn't able to print from either my iPhone or iPad anymore. The printer would still appear as an available AirPrint printer and I could set the print options, but iOS would just hang at "Contacting Printer". I could still print from a PC and Mac so the issue was between the printer and iOS.

I tried rebooting the printer, resetting its network settings, and restarting the router, but none of this had any effect. I spent some time on the HP forums and discovered this isn't uncommon and that there's an easy fix—disable IPv6 on the printer. Once I did this, I was able to print from iOS again.


Using Netlify Webhooks With IFTTT

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-14 20:18

Any time I update my site and push the changes to GitHub1, Netlify sends me an email once it has been successfully deployed (or if the deploy failed for some reason). Netlify can also send these notifications as outgoing webhooks, and even receive notifications from other services to trigger builds automatically.

Although implementing webhooks can often be complex, a basic solution for notifications can be done with IFTTT.

Build notifications

IFTTT's Webhooks service can receive web requests (i.e., webhook notifications) to trigger actions. A custom event name is specified when creating an applet which must be included in the URL provided by IFTTT2. This allows the platform to identify which applet the request corresponds to.

I use this service to receive a push notification when a site deploy is successful. I created an applet that uses the Webhooks service to receive a web request, setting the event name to deploy_success. For the action, I chose Send a notification to the IFTTT app. Finally, I set up an outgoing webhook in Netlify, (under deploy notifications) using the URL and event name from IFTTT.

Netlify notification options

Whenever my site is deployed, Netlify sends a webhook notification to IFTTT that triggers a push notification on my iPhone. I also use the same process to be notified if a deploy has failed, using deploy_failed as the event name instead. A separate outgoing webhook notification is configured in Netlify for failed deploys.

With so many services supported by IFTTT, you can perform many different actions based upon the status of a build. For instance, you could post a tweet when a deploy has succeeded or blink your Philips Hue lights if a deploy has failed.

Build hooks

Netlify also supports incoming web requests to trigger builds (build hooks). IFTTT can send web requests using the Webhooks service as an action triggered by another service. To use this, create a new build hook in Netlify and include its URL in the applet as a Webhooks action. Any POST request that reaches this URL triggers a build.

Creating a build hook

For example, builds can be triggered on-demand using IFTTT's Button widget service. Applets can be run when tapping it in either the Today widget in iOS or on Apple Watch.

iOS Widget

Apple Watch.png

You could also use Amazon Alexa to trigger a site build whenever you ask it to (e.g., "Alexa, trigger site build").

IFTTT and build hooks can add scheduled post functionality to a statically generated blog. Static site generators like Jekyll can't support scheduled posts themselves3. To include a new post dated in the future, the site has to be rebuilt on or after that date.

Using IFTTT's Date & Time service, you can schedule a site build to automatically occur on a regular basis, even as frequently as hourly. Scheduled posts would then be included once the appropriate date and time have been reached.

Keep in mind that if you create an applet to schedule a recurring build and have another one set up for notifications, you'll be notified each time it happens.

  1. I had been using GitLab but decided to move back. I didn't have any issues with GitLab, I just find GitHub easier to use.

  2. You can retrieve your URL from IFTTT's webhooks documentation. The URL is unique to you as it includes an account key. Replace {event} with the event name specified.

  3. I use the option future: false in Jekyll's _config.ymlso that posts with a date in the future are skipped. Only when the date has passed are they included when the site is built.


Goodbye, Mac

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-19 14:23

Goodbye, Mac

Today sees the release of iOS 11, so it seems fitting that it's also my last day as a Mac owner. My Late 2012 13" Retina MacBook Pro has been erased and boxed up, ready to ship to Apple for recycling. I'll even get about $450 from the Apple Renew program, money which won't go towards a replacement.

The iPad has been my personal computer for a couple years now. During the early days, I would occasionally need to use my Mac to do things that I couldn't do (or hadn't yet figured out how to do) with iOS alone. But as iOS and its ecosystem of apps further improved and became more powerful, that need diminished. Once I upgraded to an iPad Pro, became an expert with apps like Workflow, and set up an iPad approach to blogging and web development using Coda and Working Copy, the writing was on the wall.

While using the iOS 11 public beta, I realized that I hadn't used my Mac in months. It spent its summer under a pile of papers in a desk drawer. I tried to think of reasons to keep it, but nothing compelling came to mind. In fact, the only task I can't use my iPad for is to update my Logitech Harmony remote control. However, I still have a gaming PC and can just use that instead.

A part of me has known this for a while, but I kept the Mac around as a security blanket in much the same way that some people keep old cables for devices they no longer own, just on the off chance that they might somehow be useful again. I'm not ruling out the possibility of owning another Mac in the future, but unless Apple ceases development of the iPad and iOS, I can't see myself switching back.