Apple Smart Keyboard First Impressions

Having just received my Smart Keyboard for my iPad Pro 9,7″, I thought I’d write a little about it.

The first thing I was slightly apprehensive about was naturally how it would feel to type on it. The Apple tables in stores don’t really lend themselves to actually testing that aspect realistically. It turns out I worried unnecessarily: The cupped shape of the keys, along with the relatively large gap between them makes it very comfortable for me to type on the keyboard. Going from my Retina MacBook Pro or Magic Keyboard to the Smart Keyboard is almost completely seamless for me. It’s comfortable enough on a table, but what’s interesting is that thanks to its strong magnets, it actually works in my lap while half-lying in a couch too. At least as long as the iPad itself keeps its center of balance towards the rear support.

The keyboard itself supports almost all shortcuts and key combinations I’m used to from Apple’s computer keyboards except for those that require the use of the Fn key, which on the Smart Keyboard is replaced by a shortcut to switch between keyboard layouts.

As I am used to writing on a Swedish keyboard but often write technical documents in English, I soon encountered a situation that could have turned the Smart Keyboard into a dud for me:
How does it handle typing in one language while using the keyboard layout of another language? The autocorrect dictionary in iOS is tied to the chosen keyboard layout. Turns out Apple thought of that issue long before I did. When I did, I was very happy to see that under General Settings, there’s a button called Hardware keyboard. Thanks to it, it’s possible to turn off text autocorrection while using a physical keyboard while retaining the function when typing on-screen, where special characters are chosen visually anyway. This is one of those small things that makes me fond of Apple. This need of mine probably represents a pretty small percentage of Apple’s customers, but one of their developers thought of it and implemented a solution that makes switching from tablet mode to “almost laptop” mode completely seamless.

So are there any drawbacks to the Smart Keyboard?
Not a lot of them. One thing I noticed quickly is that the edit field on some forums doesn’t capture the cursor keys: Marking text using various combinations of Shift, Option, Command and the cursor keys is somewhat hit-or-miss across different sites on the web. In WordPress it works perfectly, but on the MacRumors forums touching any of the cursor keys while in the edit field scrolls to the bottom of the page. At this point I have no idea where the problem lies, but it’s a bit frustrating since selecting text is a chore using fingers on a touch screen.

All in all, and in my use case, the Smart Keyboard complements the iPad Pro perfectly, and I can definitely see myself leaving for an extended vacation without bringing my computer along largely thanks to it. Time will tell whether I’ll stay happy with this combination or if I’ll rather invest in an ultralight laptop the next time I have to replace my hardware.

 

 

 

 

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Norway tour 2012 debrief

Having spent the weekend riding some 1400 kilometers in the beautiful Norwegian fjord and mountain landscape, I feel like jotting down some notes and almost-reviews.

Scala Rider

This intercom system worked so much better than I thought when I first saw it. I bought a NeckMike system a while ago, since I wanted to combine ear plugs with intercom functionality. In reality, the Scala Rider system does a better job when it comes to communication (it’s got full duplex for one, and second, it’s wireless, which means no forgotten cables when you step off the bike). It’s also fully functional up to about 120 km/h (on an effectively fairing-less bike) with or without ear plugs.

There are three main drawbacks:
1. I needed to “slightly adjust” my helmet to fit the speakers. It doesn’t come with depressions for this kind of communications system, so I needed to cut open the noice-reducing padding on the inside of the styrofoam protective layer to avoid getting cauliflower ears from the speakers pressing against my earlobes. Since the fabric cover for the chin pads is removable, I could do it without destroying anything.
2. The carrier rack for the communications module sticks down below the helmet if you don’t choose to glue it in place. This makes putting on and (especially) removing the helmet somewhat painful after a while, since the opening in effect becomes a little tighter than usual, so the ear on the receiver side tends to snag a little.
3. The accumulator is pretty integrated into the system, which means that with use, the time available for communications will diminish and you can’t do anything about it. Anyone familiar with Apple gear knows this problem. It’s OK if you plan on getting new stuff every other year or so, but a system like this shouldn’t be that upgrade prone, and therefore I count non-serviceability as a drawback.

As I mentioned above, wind noise renders the system useless above 120 km/h or so on a bike without a large windscreen. The sensitivity for voice activation needs to be adjusted or you’ll get closer to 8 than 13 hours of battery life out of it, and on the pair we used, one speaker quit working within a day of use, which probably is an individual problem rather than a design one – but again, miniaturization makes for lousy serviceability.

GoPro HD Hero 2

I never really saw the point of video cams until I really tried one. This one basically has a power/function button and a start/stop button, but it’s surprisingly easy to make nice movies, thanks to the fisheye lens. I edited the resulting raw film with iMovie on my Mac, and the result of an evening of playing around with the material can be viewed below.

The Zero Gravity Tall Windscreen

This was my first real test of the higher windscreen for my bike. Windscreens are a tradeoff between environmental feedback and comfort. Where the XB12X is an excellent hooligan bike and canyon carver, the R1200GS is a ride which lets the pilot step off the bike fully rested after 300 kilometers of highway.

Basically, even with the taller screen, the air – and, as I frequently experienced during this ride – the rain, hits me at the upper part of my chest. At highway speeds, this means my helmet gets pressed into my face, and I need to fight to keep my posture against the wind, and if it rains, it means all the rain that hits the front of my bike will end up on my jacket, drop down, and finally create a puddle in which I sit. This is OK with proper rain gear, but textile riding gear without GoreTex membranes soaks right through after a while in these conditions.

The next thing to try, of course, is a windscreen bracket from Palmer Products, to get the windscreen up a bit and make it adjustable. This should also fix the potential problem of the original rubber grommets breaking at highway speeds, giving me a face-full of windscreen at a hundred mph.

Zero Gravity Buell Touring windscreen review

As per my latest post, I recently received a higher windscreen for my Buell XB12X.

The stock windscreen is low – it puts the slipstream straight in the rider’s stomach or lower chest area. This is perfectly alright for shorter rides – I’ve even seen people entirely remove the windscreen for a more street fighter-like look, but on longer rides or when riding in cold weather, this gets tiring.

Enter the Zero Gravity Touring Windscreen.

It’s only a couple of inches higher than the stock one, but transfers the slipstream to shoulder/helmet level when sitting in an active riding stance, lowering upper body buffeting and making wind noise noticeably quieter. The effect of this is that longer rides become a lot more relaxed, even if it’s not as effective as the barn door of a wind screen that’s mounted on the BMW R1200GS. The difference lies mainly in how you can sit on the bike and still be protected. The larger screen of the GS lets a rider of average height sit upright when riding even at speed. On the other hand: A Buell Ulysses isn’t first and foremost a touring bike, but a sporty bike capable of touring duty. Mounting forward pegs, handlebar risers and sheepskin seat covers goes against everything in the bike’s philosophy, so I simply reject the claims of hard buffeting with the ZG windscreen from riders who’ve done such mods on their bikes – sitting further back naturally puts you in a more turbulent area, and that area naturally lies closer to a smaller screen than it does to a higher one.

Another problem people have written about, is the touring windscreen breaking loose at speed. Some have gone to great lengths to avoid the problem, including mounting large mounting brackets on the flyscreen. I understand the thought, but for now I believe it’s enough to simply use new grommets when fastening the larger windscreen. When testing my setup in controlled circumstances, the windscreen worked perfectly well, albeit with some flexing, in sustained speeds up to 160 km/h. That’s perfectly acceptable when touring. For hooligan duty, it might be safer to go with the lower stock screen, though.

To conclude this post, I’d say that next to the heated grips, this mod is definitely worth it, both for extending the riding season and for making long rides more comfortable.

A new toy

Background

My old Nokia N95 8GB drowned when I rode the SaddleSore a month or so ago, so I figured I’d upgrade. And since I was dead tired of the entire Symbian concept, the serious contenders were, of course, Apple and HTC.

Since the release of the original iPhone just about an eternity ago, Apple’s phones have pretty much been the benchmark against which all other phones have had to compare – and until very recently none have even approached the snappy feeling of the iPhone.
Enter HTC.

Since I’m, perhaps uselessly, a bit concerned about how my expenses look from a company point of view, the iPhone 4 was way out of the question: We buy most of our laptops at about the price they charge for a phone. Alright, it’s supposedly a very good phone, but come on!

That left me effectively with a choice between an effectively last-gen iPhone 3Gs, the HTC Legend – which is pretty but has an “old” processor, or the HTC Desire, which lacks the Legend’s looks, but has a state of the art Snapdragon processor – which tipped the scales to it’s favor.

The queue for it was huge – I got it after a little more than a month.

Comments after the first day

The Desire is fast. No question about it. As just about everybody has said, the speed comes at the price of battery life. Coming from the oldschool Nokia world, it feels a bit weird to see the battery level go down a notch within an hour of normal use.

My gripes, however, are mostly superficial, and you’ll find just about the same comments on every proper review:

Unlocking the device from power save mode should be more configurable. It requires that you reach up around the top of the phone and press the power button, followed by a swipe (and, if you’re paranoid, passing a security test in the form of a password/PIN/shape to be acknowledged). There’s no reason the same function couldn’t be initialized with one of the keys on the front panel, except it might look too “Applish”.

The switch from portrait to landscape orientation takes a moment too long, in my opinion. Half a second is OK. One-and-a-half to two is way too much. I’m fully aware that re-aligning the screen contents is an expensive task, from a processing power point of view, but on the other hand, there’s no reason why the interface part of the phone shouldn’t be prioritized, and the alignment of text in edit fields be corrected “as soon as there’s time for it”.

There’s an obvious bug where, if you put the phone down and it locks itself while writing a mail, the keyboard disappears until you select another edit field and re-aquire the main one.

Summary

I have nothing special to add that other reviews haven’t already said, except that unlike many other reviewers, I’m still not entirely content with the speed of the interface even at 1 GHz, a fact which either says that people still don’t put down enough effort into the optimization of GUIs, or that I’m a whiny little bitch.

Over all, the Desire is a hugely capable phone, though, and I’m sure I’ll return to it in future posts.

Update after another day:
One thing I really enjoy with the desire is that it isn’t obnoxious. Set an alarm, and you can decide specifically for that alarm if the phone should vibrate or not. Also, the volume rocker seems to actually change the sound level of the phone even when not in a call. Add to that the feature that the volume of the ringer drops if you lift the phone when somebody calls, and you have a very, very well-behaved and, actually, “smart” phone.

I’m still not entirely used to the keyboard and its word recognition, but I can see that we’ll be friends in another few days.