Apple Watch

Screenshots taken from my device.

So here we are, almost exactly 1-year from the launch of the Apple Watch and I am just putting one on my wrist for the first time.  I really wasn't excited about the watch at launch because I am not a big wearable guy and I was pretty turned off by the price. With the recent price drop (which resulted in a great opportunity for me to grab one) and my desire to start tracking my resting rate more religiously, I became very interested.

Out of the box:

In all honesty I didn't know exactly what to expect when I took it out of the box and fired it up but I was really pleased with the outcome. All notifications that come through as push notifications on the phone come through the watch by default which is great. Gone are the days of pulling my giant 6S+ out of my jeans to see who is IMing/texting/tweeting/etc. The built-in Siri capability is great, especially for reminders. I frequently set short-term reminders for things and being able to do it from my wrist is really slick.  

The weather app that ships with the watch is great and is perfect to add to your "glances" apps. Apps that you add to "glances" allow you swipe "up" on the watch and see the app right there. You can customize which apps show up here and the order in which they show up in from your iPhone.  

At this point my "glances" go like this: Heart -> Weather -> Music -> Battery -> Settings.

Apps:

The biggest complaint I have heard from Watch users is the speed of apps. Many of them will spin for a bit on start up which can be annoying.  After doing a bit of testing I cannot make a blanket statement that apps are slow. There are some that absolutely take forever while others (Music, Remove, HeartWatch for example) are wicked fast.  This tells me that developers are just now starting to get the hang of optimizing code for these devices and that we will only see things improve from here as opposed to going the other direction.

By far and away my favorite app that I have purchased so far is HeartWatch. It is an absolutely beautiful iPhone/Watch app that greatly improves upon the heart tracking provided by Health Book.  In all honesty I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Apple try to acquire this app, it's that good. If you own an Apple Watch and care about the heart tracking feature this app is a must.

The Remote app is fantastic if you have AppleTV's around the house. Being able to control them from your wrist is both a cool novelty and also really useful when you can't find your remote... and seriously who doesn't lose their AppleTV remotes all the time?

The other apps that have stood out to me as being useful are: FourSquare, Mint, Smart Things, Stocks, and Swarm. There are many others I still want to play with and if I find any particularly interesting I will do a follow-up post.

Summary:

The Apple Watch performs very well in the key areas that I was interested in (activity, heart, notifications) and has some great features that I wasn't expecting to enjoy. I have the Sport version of the watch and from what I have heard from others who have both models, the Sport is the way to go. The display is easier to read, the price is much more affordable, and the device is a lot lighter. I went ahead and bought some bands from Amazon which is definitely the way to go. Apple is charging $50 for the silicon bands which is absolutely insane. I bought them for $11.99 from Amazon and they fit just as well as the Apple one that came with the device.

If you are an iPhone user who is interested in looking at their phone less, tracking their health, and geeking out via their wrist, you won't be disappointed in the Apple Watch.

Building a Windows 10 Gaming PC

MSI - Providing Both Form & Function

After a decade of having exclusively Apple hardware and operating systems, I decided to make the switch back to the PC world. This was motivated by price, performance, the fact that I use Windows at work, and the direction that Microsoft has started to go in as of late. One of the clear advantages to going back to a PC was the fact that I can build it myself, hand picking each component from CPU to GPU. By taking the custom approach I really believe you get more for your money and can really focus your spend on what your priorities are. I got 6 years of heavy home use out of my last iMac so the goal with this build was to think ahead and try to get roughly the same lifespan.

I had my buddy + fellow geek Mitch over and we hit up the PC Part Picker website to get started. Let me digress for a moment and say a couple words about how incredible that site is. You can check out a ton of user-submitted/editor approved builds, browse individual parts (with filters you wouldn’t believe), and save configurations for later reference/editing. Once you have built a list of parts it will even do a cursory check for compatibility issues between parts which any PC builder knows can be a real pain to research. In short, this site is incredible and should be used whenever you are considering a new PC build or a modification to an existing one. Here is the build that we came up with on the site which is precisely what I did aside from the manufacturer of the RAM but even that had exactly the same specs.

The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO Vs. Intel Stock Heat Sink

As I already mentioned, it has been quite some time since I last built a PC but I felt up to the challenge. I started out by surveying the parts, paying extra attention to the case and trying to map out a wiring strategy before I got started and things got cluttered. Once I came up with a plan I started unboxing and getting to work. Things started off smoothly, the CPU popped right into its slot, and seating the motherboard was a piece of cake. Next up was to apply thermal paste to the CPU and install the Cooler Master heat sink/fan. Before applying the thermal paste I decided to look more closely at how the heat sink was going to mount and came to the realization that I must have missed a step because there was nothing to secure the heat sink mount into on the motherboard. After watching a couple of videos on YouTube I quickly realized that I was going to have to pull the motherboard out of the case and install the mounting bracket for the heat sink to the backside of the board, whoops! If you ever find yourself installing a Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO heat sink/fan, do yourself a favor and watch this video.

Mission Complete!

From this point on it was smooth sailing and the end result was as good or better than I hoped for. Since the initial build the only thing I have added are two Corsair SP120 LED case fans but mostly for show to be honest. My CPU runs around 35 degrees Celsius during general use and “spikes” up around 50-60 degrees while gaming. I am on a hunt to find an MMO or MMO-type game that pushes it with settings maxed out but I have yet to do so. If bleeding edge gaming if your thing I would really considering going with an SLI configuration for the video cards and possibly a little higher up the i7 food chain for a CPU but that’s it. Everything else in this configuration would work more than well now and for some time.

It hasn’t been a great deal of time since the build but so far Windows 10 has been good. Little-to-no problems (other than some font issues with my 144hz monitor) and great performance with the Professional edition that I have installed. I really wouldn’t call Windows 10 game changing in any way but it feels like a more polished version of Windows 7 which isn’t a bad thing.

Here’s a list of the parts used in this build: (also available in more detail here)

  • Intel Core i7-4790K 4.0GHz Quad-Core Processor
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler
  • MSI Z97-GAMING 5 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard
  • EVGA 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
  • Samsung 850 EVO-Series 500GB 2.5″ SSD (For O/S + important apps/games)
  • Western Digital BLACK SERIES 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM HD (For everything else)
  • MSI GeForce GTX 970 4GB Twin Frozr V Video Card
  • NZXT S340 (Black) ATX Mid Tower Case
  • EVGA 750W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply
  • Asus VG248QE 144Hz 24.0″ Monitor

The iPhone 6 Dilemma

You may have read the title of this post and assumed I was debating whether or not I should upgrade to the iPhone 6, but that isn't the dilemma at all. I am genuinely excited about the new hardware as well as iOS 8. The dilemma is deciding which screen size to get because in all honesty, I want something in the middle. The perfect size for me would be 5.1" which happens to be the same size as the current Samsung Galaxy S5 which my wife has. I still use a wide array of Apple products so I am not ready to jump ship and convert to Android just yet... With that said I have been spending the afternoon some what (or completely) like a crazy person holding these cutouts up to my ear and manipulating them with my hands. Pretending to text, swipe, call, etc in an effort to determine which size I want. Short of going in after they are in stores and playing with one this is about the closest I can get to seeing how it would be to jump from 4" to 4.7" or 5.5".

Consumption is an obvious win for the larger device but I also think that apps like Garage Band, iMovie, Keynote, etc are going to be made infinitely better by the increased screen real estate. I am also hoping that the typing experience is enhanced with the larger screen. As far as downsides go, will the iPhone 6 Plus too big to comfortably text on with one hand? Will it fit in most cup holders? Do I need new jeans? Is Apple going to start selling larger hands if needed? So many questions!

Obviously I could answer all of the questions above by going into a store after the release date but I have a feeling that sales will sky rocket after the first day they hit stores. Because there are so many unanswered questions about the two sizes I think pre-orders will be lower than ever leaving lots of room for those who decide in the next couple of days.