Tag Archive | gadgets

A look at the latest Apple Remote

Apple Remotes. Left to right: 1st Generation, 2nd Generation, 3rd Generation, and 4th Generation

In late April Apple announced (along with other products) a new remote for its Apple TV set top box. I was so impressed with the redesign, and pleased with the fact that it was compatible with my older Apple TV, that I ordered the remote as soon as it came out.

That last sentence could just as truthfully been written as, "I was so tired of the inadequencies of the 3rd general Apple Remote…"

I’ve been using the 4th generation remote for about a month and a half now, and the short version of my review is: this is so much better than the previous remote!

For some background, pictured above are all four generations of Apple Remote, and yes those are all mine. The first one (the white plastic one on the left in the picture) was introduced back in 2005 and looks an awful lot like the iPad Shuffle of that time. I did not own an Apple TV back when the first generation remote came out–no one did, because the first Apple TV was introduced until two years later. This original remote was meant to control media playback on an iMac and other Mac computers the at the time. When the first Apple TV came out, this remote also worked with it.

The second generation remote was released in 2009. The aluminum body of the remote resembles the iPod Nano of the same year. The most obvious functional difference is the Pause/Resume button was moved out of the click wheel, and the center button of the click wheel became a Select button that you could click or double-click like a mouse or touchpad.

The third generation was released in 2015 and doesn’t look like it belongs in the same product line at all. Take a moment to look at all four in the picture. Three of them have as the largest control a circle control with several functions, and some other buttons below. Not the third generation. The entire area about the buttons in a single touch surface. You can swipe with a finger or thumb and you can click. And while that gives you generally speaking most of the functions of the click wheel (moving the cursor of selection indicator on the screen of the device you are control up, down, left, or right and selecting things), it’s actually a not nearly as convenient.

I admit, watching the device being demoed on screen, I thought the touch surface as a brilliant choice. In practice at home, it wasn’t. With the previous remote, if you had a long list to scroll through on your screen, you could just hold down the part of the click wheel and the list would start moving on the screen. With the third generation you had to swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But the real annoying thing for both myself and my husband was that it is extremely easy to pick up the remote wrong. You can not tell be feel the difference between the touch surface above the buttons, and the non-touch surface below. You don’t know how many times one of us was swiping on the control and nothing was happening. And yes, it could be argued that if you just looked at the buttons you could tell which was the right direction, it just didn’t work out.

This latter might be about the way my husband and I both process information, but even glancing at it always took me a few seconds before I noticed that the word "Menu" was upside down when I was holding it wrong.

A few years after releasing the third generation remote, Apple released a very slightly modified version that added the raised right ring you can see on the menu button above which they thought would solve the problem. I didn’t get around to upgrading my old Apple TV to one that came with the third generation remote until after they introduced the white ring, and so I can say from experience that the white ring was not enough.

A lot of reviews I read of the third generation also complained about how easy it is, since half the surface of the remote is a touch pad, to accidentally click or swipe while you are watching something, can be annoying. I never experienced that because I only pick up the any remote when I want to change something, and I always immediately set it down again. Some people keep the remote in their hand the entire time they are watching something, and those or the folks I assume kept doing the accidental swipes and such.

The fourth generation brought back the circular control. The center bit of the control is a touch surface. You can swipe and click with it just like the larger touch surface of the third generation, but it’s a lot harder to do it inadvertently while you’re casually holding the device. The outer rim is a clever combination of touch surface and the four directional buttons of the second generation. You can click, or you can run your thumb around it to control movement of the onscreen cursor.

They added a Mute button, which is quite handy, and they replaces the Menu button’s name with a back arrow, which I think is a more intuitive representation of what the Menu button does. It doesn’t make a menu appear, it takes you back to whatever you were looking at before. They also added the little Power/Wake-up button, and they moved the Sire button off the main surface of the remote to the edge.

I should mention at this point that when Apple released the third generation remote, they renamed it Siri Remote. And I understand why they did that. The previous two generations didn’t have a microphone built in that you could use for voice controls. But it’s really just the next two generations of the Apple Remote.

The controls on the fourth generation are much easier to use. It is noticeably larger and feels much more solid in the hand. If I do happen to grab it with the end that ought to be pointing at the TV pointing back and myself, I can immediately tell because the round click wheel/touch surface feel nothing at all like the smooth aluminum of the wrong end. It is in every way a superior design.

I learned an interesting thing about myself while reading other people’s reviews of the remote. Many of those reviews mentioned that the placement of the Siri button on the right edge of the remote meant it was less convenient for lefties, since if you are holding the remote in your right hand, it is easy to press the Siri button with your thumb, but if holding it in your left hand it’s a slightly more awkward reach with the index finger.

I’m a left-handed remoter!

I always hold any TV-type remote in my left hand, and have never thought twice about it. Technically I’m ambidextrous, and my usually joke about that is, "Which means my handwriting is equally illegible no matter which hand I’m writing with." When I draw or paint I switch the drawing instrument from one hand to the other. Sometimes it’s because the angle is better in one hand or the other, but I’ve also learned over the years the sides of the brain that control each hand are better at different art tasks.

On the other hand, I was very strongly a left-footed soccer player back in the day, while much better as a right-handed basketball player than left.

Anyway, I had never noticed that I always use remotes left-handed before this. I even experiments after realizing, and it just feels completely wrong to put the remote in the right hand. It wants to transfer the remote to the other hand right away every time!

But, back to the review: it is a nice redesign. I’m really glad I upgraded. And I just have to say to the person I read online who claimed that it’s a "$79 remote that feels like a $39 remote" — have you actually bought any remotes that sell for ~40 bucks? Because I have, and they are cheap pieces of plastic that FEEL cheap and the have a tendency to peel and crack on the underside.

This solid aluminum remote feels nothing like that.

More likely to replace than upgrade — confessions of a penny-pinching gadget lover

About to unbox the new and retire the old...

About to unbox the new and retire the old…

On Christmas morning 2009, before my husband and I left the hotel near my Mom’s place to celebrate with the family, each of us had picked out one present for the other to open just us. I don’t recall what I got Michael, but he gave me a new shiny Apple Magic Mouse. Apple had just introduced the new wireless mouse with gesture support two months earlier. And I had played with one at the Apple store. But, I was really happy with my two wired Apple Mice that I used with my desktop and my laptop at the time (and I had a tiny purple wireless mouse that I used with the laptop when I wasn’t somewhere that the wired one would work), so despite the fact that I love cool gadgets, and contrary to the popular myth about Apple fanboys, I didn’t think it was worth spending money on a new mouse when the ones I had all worked just fine.

Once I had the Magic Mouse and had been using if for a while with one computer (getting used to the greater number of options the gesture support provided), by the end of the year next year I had purchased another Magic Mouse so that both of my computers had one.

When the Magic Mouse 2 came out almost three years ago, the most significant change was an entirely internal battery. They also updated the bluetooth chip and processor, and managed to make it slightly lighter. Otherwise it was virtually identical, and I didn’t see a reason to update. Part of the reason for that at the time was my Macbook Pro was over 4 years old, and my Mac Pro was over six years old, and it seemed a little silly to get super shiny new mice for older machines.

When I got my shiny new Macbook Pro with Touchbar in late 2016, I considered buying a new mouse along with it, but then I was dropping a lot of money on the laptop, so my inner cheapskate was opposed to additional unnecessary expenses. And, the old Magic Mouse worked just fine with it.

I admit that last year, when they introduced the new iMac Pro which was available in Space Grey which could come with a Space Grey Magic Mouse (among other accessories), my inner gadget lover went “oooooooo! Shiny! Want!” However, Apple was only selling the Space Grey Mouse (and Space Grey Keyboard and Space Grey Magic Touch Pad) with the matching iMac. So despite that fact that I had a cool Space Grey Macbook Pro, I couldn’t get the Space Grey Mouse.

And besides, as the inner cheapskate kept pointing out, the old Magic Mouse worked just fine.

And it did.

Until about a month and a half ago, when it started loosing connection with the Macbook a lot more often, but more annoyingly, instead of taking just a few seconds to reconnect when I moved or clicked it, I would have to fiddle with the mouse for at least a minute before it connected again. Two weeks ago, it got a little worse. The mouse would eventually reconnect, but it would immediately disconnect and I would have to fiddle for another minute before it connected and would remain connected for… a while.

I did notice that it was more likely to do this when the batteries were reporting less than 70%. Now I’ve had this bad habit of ignoring all the warnings from my laptop that the batteries are low. Dismissing the alert again and again for days until the batteries completely die. Then I go swap them out (we keep several sets in chargers all the time, because between the two of us we use the rechargables in a couple of wireless keyboards, at least four wireless mice, one wireless Magic Track Pad, and several small motion-activated LED lights around the house). Funny thing is, that when I get the exact same low battery alert on my Mac Pro Tower, and I almost always stop when I’m doing and go swap the batteries.

Anyway, the upshot is that I know the mouse has in the past worked perfectly fine when the batteries are at 1%. Also, because I’m a weird nerd whose past career titles have included quality assurance and hardware qualification engineer, I did some experiments, and confirmed that even when the batteries are low and the mouse is in another room, it remains connected to the laptop and can control the cursor…

It was getting really annoying by now.

Aren’t they pretty together?

And recently Apple has started selling the Space Grey Magic Mouse 2 as a stand alone accessory… so I could get a new mouse to replace the flaky almost nine-years-old one and it would match my laptop. So I did.

Now, a lot of people who have looked at the mouse (but haven’t used it) complain that the lightning recharge port is on the bottom of the mouse. “So if it dies, I have the wait around for it to charge back up! I can’t use it while it’s plugged in.” Bull. Seriously, it’s a purely B.S. objection because here’s the thing: if you connect it for two minutes, that charges the battery enough for nine hours of use. In And remember what I said about about alerts from the computer that the battery is low? I am being serious when I said that I would ignore it and keep using the mouse for days. So, when you see the alert, make a mental note, and the next time you go to refresh your beverage, or run to the bathroom, or get up to walk around (which my Apple Watch reminds me to do once an hour), plug the mouse in for a few moments and you will be good to go.

I know, my use case doesn’t match everyone elses, but I am quite certain that if Apple had put the port where all the complainers want it, that those some complainers would be bitching about how awkward the device which is designed to be wireless and that you use wirelessly all the time is when the attach a wire to it.

Anyway. I am sad that my first Magic Mouse is flaking out. But I’m also very happy with my shiny new one!

Confessions of a packrat

www.stockvault.net

They comfort me… (stockvault.net)

During our recent visit to my Mom’s, one of the new accessories we set up for her was a pair of over-the-ears bluetooth headphones. The headphones required a micro USB cable to recharge, but there wasn’t a cable in the carrying case. So I had to dig around in my computer bag for one, which I did eventually find, but it seemed to be the one and only micro USB adapter cable in the bag.

Which isn’t good, because we have lots of things that use that particular cable to charge. So when we got back I went to a site online where I have previously purchased reasonably priced cables, and I ordered a bunch of one-foot long micro USB cables (they were less than a buck). While I was at it, I tossed a couple of three-foot versions of the cable into my shopping cart (they were more than a buck, but not my much), just to cover all our bases.

I figured I’d put one each of the short cables in my work backpack, my personal laptop backpack, my travel computer bag (which is different), and Michael’s laptop backpack. And then I planned to pull out all of the chargers in my travel computer bag, count up all of the headphones and things we usually take with us on trips that require a micro USB connector, and make sure that I had enough of the adaptors and chargers in the travel bag to charge them all simultaneously.

The online cable source, as these websites often do, offered some suggestions of other items that were similar to the merchandise already in my cart which I might be interested in purchasing. One of which was a long micro USB cable that had flashing LEDs built into the ends. It was being offered as a “hot deal” marked down to less than two bucks.

Now, I know the reality is that the cables were being marked down because no one needs adaptor cables with flashing LEDs on each end, so people were buying cheaper cables without flashing LEDs. So the things had been sitting on shelves unsold for a long time. The company just wanted to get rid of them.

But I looked at the pictures of the cables with the lights on the end, and they looked cool and silly. I just could not stop myself from clicking Add To Cart.

And once I did, the website (recognizing a sucker when it had one), changed the suggested items displayed. And look! There was a ten-foot long lightning adaptor cable! Ten-feet! We actually had a need some time back for an extra long iPad charging cable, and I’d wound up buying a couple of ten-foot models. They worked great, and it was kind of silly and fun to, when I first got them, set one up on a charger on one side of the room and string it out to plug an iPod or iPad into it on the other side of the room.

And you never know when you might need a cable like that, so of course I clicked Add To Cart!

And look! They were now suggesting I might be interested in white iPod adaptor cables marked way down. I have been worrying just a little bit about those cables, because Apple is phasing them out, but we have several older iPods we use for various things around the house that use that adapter. One of those iPods that we still use (it plays wake up music from the far side of the bedroom at me every morning) is a 2nd generation iPod mini from 2005, and it still works great, so I have no intention of tossing it until it dies. And I fully expect the 2010 model iPod Touch that we use in the car to last at least as long as the mini has. I’m going to need those adaptors for some years, yet, and cables that are used frequently do eventually wear out. I just recently threw away one in the car (replacing it with a cable from my computer desk) because I had to jiggle it to get the connection to work. So stashing several away against the day when they’re no longer sold isn’t a bad idea, right?

Add To Cart.

So the box of cables arrived a couple of days later. I’ve distributed the cables to our various computer bags and such as planned. And I’ve used the silly flashing LED cable to recharge a battery case (it doesn’t just flash at both ends; the LEDs change color as they flash!).

But while I was stashing all those things away, I also pulled out some older adaptors and cables for things that we no longer own. I put those obsolete cables and adaptors in with the pile of dead headphones that I had found stashed behind my second monitor when I cleaned out my desk last month. And I carried them (along with some other things that need to go to the recycler) out to the car.

Did I go overboard with the new cables? Probably. Will some of these cables languish around, forever waiting to be used, and ten years from now get sent off to recycle? Most assuredly.

Am I going to be able to prevent myself from ordering extra charging cables the next time I notice a shortage of a particular type? Almost certainly not.

But you know what? I just plugged in the flashing LED cable, again. And it made me grin. I might have even giggled, just a little bit.

So I regret nothing!

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