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Scott's Column
The iPhone 5, and Harmony 650 Remote

October 2, 2012
By Scott Lewis

This month is all about the iPhone 5. Yes, I got one on the first day, and I am here to tell my take of using it. I also bought a Harmony remote, and that is covered as well.

Enjoy!

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Harmony 650 Remote

I recently purchased a Harmony 650 remote (by Logitech). The Harmony series of remotes are "activity" based remotes. What this means it that you setup activities, such as "Watch TV" and the remote sets up all your equipment for that task.

I currently only have two activities. Watch TV and Watch a Movie. As it happens there are two dedicated buttons for these two activities. You can create custom activities as well as a couple more standard activities.

Once the Harmony 650 is setup, you should have all your equipment turned off. When you press the Watch TV button the remote will send the appropriate signals to all your equipment to turn on. In my case it turns on my TV, my receiver and my cable box. It also sets the receiver to HDMI 1, which is how I have my cable box attached. All the information on how these devices connect you enter into the Harmony software at your PC. When you finish the setup on your computer you sync with the remote and it knows everything.

The really nice part of this setup is that the remote buttons do double duty. For instance, there is one main set of arrow buttons around an enter button. If I am using the Watch TV activity the arrow buttons are used within the cable box's guide. If I switch to Watch a Movie those same buttons now work the menu screens of my Blu-Ray player.

All of this works quite well... but... and you knew there had to be a but!!!

There are some features that are not on the remote. For instance, there are no buttons for changing the day of the week while looking at the guide to my cable box. It might be possible to set other buttons to this feature, but that might compromise another feature. I was disappointed that there is no dedicated "List" button. With DVRs all over the place, you would think a remote as advanced as this would have a dedicated button for this.

There are four colored buttons, red, yellow, blue and green. When I initially setup the remote the green button did not have a function. So I assigned it to be the "List" button. After all, the List button on my cable box remote is green. Alas, it did not work. However, when you are in the activity of Watch TV, the LCD screen displays four functions, one of which is List. So I just use the button next to the List command on the LCD screen.

Another problem with this remote... it does not turn on my receiver and change the HDMI input at one time. Say I was watching TV (with the input set to HDMI 1) when I last turned off the equipment. If I select Watch a Movie, the receiver comes on with the TV and Blu-Ray player, but the input on the receiver is still HDMI 1. The LCD asks if there are any issues, and if there are tells me to press help. Pressing help at this time it then changes the receiver to HDMI 2 and asks if that solved my problem. Yes, it did help, but it does not really solve the problem. I can only assume the delay in my receiver coming on is too long for the remote to send the input change command. Of course... there are no input buttons on the remote to switch from HDMI 1 or HDMI 2 (or more). So I do need to keep the receiver's remote nearby for the occasional input switching.

One last issue. Since the remote turns everything on... and many devices use the same command for turning on and turning off... you could get caught in a situation where one or more device is in the wrong power state when you select your activity. For instance, if the Blu-Ray player is off and the receiver is on when I press the Watch a Movie button, the receiver gets turned off.

This last issue is slightly compounded by the fact that my Blu-Ray player will power down on its own after a while of inactivity (sitting at a menu screen). Since the remote expects to turn everything on when it starts you need to be more diligent about using the remote's button to turn everything off. This way devices are all in a known state.

Overall I like the Harmony 650 Remote. It is not perfect, but it is really nice. And since my cable box remote had a couple of buttons that required more and more effort to use... I really needed this remote.

Once you get used to the layout... it becomes very natural to use the remote all the time.

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Deciding on the iPhone 5

I am not an Apple Fanboy. I decided on the iPhone 5 for a few simple reasons:

1) My ex-wife and two sons each have iPhones (4S, 4S & 4). We are still all on the same family plan, and we all use my Apple account. So all the apps they have bought... I can download without having to pay for. This made a lot of economical sense.

2) I have an iPad. Say what you want... the iPad is the best consumer tablet out there. Some are pretty close, but none match the user experience and ecosystem of the iPad.

3) The deciding factor for me was the tight integration that Apple has being the maker of the hardware and software. This allows them to be class leading in battery life. And they do an excellent job at providing a first class user experience.

I went to the Sprint store the night before to check out the Samsung Galaxy S3 and compare it to an iPhone 4S. I really liked the Samsung's big screen. But, it is a bit big for putting in a pocket, and the phone does have a plasticy feel to it.

I believe the S3 is an excellent phone. In fact, I would say that if you are not infected with the Apple ecosystem you should get the S3 over an iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is not good enough to pull in Android fans.

We live in a great time. Yes, the economy is in the toilet, and the leaders of this country can't seem to do a thing about it. But... you can get a great phone that can do so many amazing things... for a mere $200. You can't get a bad phone.

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 5 = TIE!!!

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Getting an iPhone 5

Yes... I was one of those people that jumped on his computer the morning of Sept 14th and pre-ordered an iPhone 5.

Two friends of mine did it as well. One was able to get him and his wife an iPhone 5 for delivery on the 21st. The other friend could not get the Apple web site to work for him, and finally got through close to 3:00 am and received the dreaded 2 week wait.

Unlike my two friends... I did not get up in the middle of the night. If case you did not know, pre-orders were taken starting September 14th at 12:01 AM Pacific Time. We are Central, so that meant 2:01 AM.

I woke up at my usual time to go to the gym, 5:00 AM. I got onto Apple's web site to pre-order the phone. I normally would never do this... nor wait in line for hours for something like a phone. But I wanted to get my phone before a trip I was taking to NY on the 27th.

So, at 5:00 AM I got on Apple's web site and saw that pre-orders would take 2 weeks. Really?!? Could they have already sold out of the pre-orders that would be delivered on the 21st? I then logged onto Sprint's site, my carrier. They were showing a delivery date of the 21st. Cool. I had to update a couple of things on the Sprint site with my account, then I was able to order the phone. I received an email confirming my order, and saying I would receive another email with tracking information when it shipped.

On the Sprint site when I would go to the Track My Order page, I received this message when I looked up my order:

Thank you for pre-ordering the 16GB iPhone 5. You are one step closer to getting your phone. Keep an eye out for a shipping email with your tracking information. Pre-orders placed through 2 pm CT on 9/14 will arrive on or around 9/21. Pre-orders placed after 2 pm CT on 9/14 through 10:00 am CT on 9/19 will ship in 2 weeks. Orders placed after 10:00 am CT on 9/19 will ship in 3 weeks. For questions, visit sprint.com/preorder.

Since I got my order in about 5:20 AM on the 14th I should have nothing to worry about.

Sure enough it was delivered to my apartment complex at 12:54 PM on 9/21. I left the office and when I got home I had an iPhone 5 on the first day without waiting in any lines.

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Using the iPhone 5

I am not going to give you a standard review of the iPhone 5. I am going to tell you some of my early experiences with the iPhone 5, and mostly complain about the things I don't like. You can read review after rave review... this is not going to change your mind. However, if you have one already you might find some of this interesting.

I really like the keyboard on the iPhone. In landscape mode it is roomy enough I make very few mistakes, which means I don't need to depend on it to correct me. It is also very fast, which is a huge improvement from my last phone. I was taken aback by the fact there is no period key. Hmm. To get a period you just press the spacebar twice. This is a Godsend. I hated my previous phone because I hit that damn period key so many times when trying for the spacebar.

I did find one thing that is hard to get used to... the 123 key... that brings up numbers and special characters. On my old Android phone this was to on the right side of the keyboard, on the iPhone it is on the left. What makes this worse is that it is on both sides on the iPad and I never noticed until I looked at it after using the iPhone. I thought the position a bit odd... so I went to the iPad because I always knew it to be on the right like my Android phone. That is when I saw it was on both sides on the iPad. Now I have to get used to using my left thumb for this. It is harder than you might think.

Related to the keyboard, I don't like how many apps do not go landscape, and they require you to type on the narrow keyboard. The App Store on the iPhone is portrait only, and entering in my Apple ID password is a chore on the smaller keyboard. As well as search terms. This is probably me... my son types out message after message on his iPhone in portrait orientation. I don't get it.

Apple's new Podcast app is portrait only... making searching for podcasts a pain. The new Podcast app does seem to do everything I want. It is not as good as the Zune's podcast handling, but it is finally acceptable. And I think the only reason it is not equal is because of the managing of podcasts from the app on the phone. I would prefer to manage the podcasts on my computer... then let iTunes know what to sync and to remove. Since you do this all on the phone you have to see all the old episodes... just in case you want to listen or download one. I have the Zune software set to save all podcasts, but only sync unread podcasts to my Zune. This way if there is nothing new then there is nothing on the Zune. Much better for minimizing scrolling and such.

The weather app is usually so-so. It was 10 degrees off the first time I checked it, or just lagging 10 degrees from the current time. It seems to get the highs and the lows correct, but the first morning I had the phone it said it was 61 degrees at 9:00 am. It was about 72 degrees, but the low the night before was about 61. Eh! The second day it was 5 degree too cool from my local news stations weather report. So, I will replace the default weather app as soon as a better one comes along that uses the entire screen.

Here is one thing that is still not as good as my 3 year old Android phone (HTC Hero). When I miss a call, or get a message, a little green light blinks on the phone. If this happens on my iPhone is it still as black as the Monolith and I have to push the home button. I find this troubling. I am not a phone fanatic. And I will frequently just leave it on the counter. If I take a shower, walk away, take a nap, go to the gym, etc... I have to make a conscious effort to check for messages, whereas with my Android it was obvious from looking at the phone from across the room.

Another thing I don't like... the volume level of all the alerts. Initially I thought they are mostly too low. Adjusting the volume with the buttons adjusts the ringer volume. But does not adjust the text alert volume. I did some digging online and it said if you don't like the volume of the text alert compared to the ringer alert... download a louder or softer sound.

Then a friend told me that the text alert volume is tied to the overall system volume. So... go into the music app and adjust the volume there and it adjusts the volume for your text alerts, and the volume of the keyboard, the camera sound, etc. The easy way to get to this volume is to double press the Home button from the lock screen. There is a volume control there you can adjust. Why I could not find this fact on the internet is amazing... even on Apple's forums.

Siri Sucks!

You may already know that, but I could not resist. I started playing around with Siri with the iOS 6 release on my iPad. The very first question I asked was "What's on TV tonight?" Siri responded, "I cannot help you with what's on TV."

Are you kidding me. Siri is supposed to be so wonderful about telling you about movies (more later) but it can't tell you what's on TV.

I am also disappointed in it's movie information. If I ask it what's playing at the Northwoods Theater (my closet theater) it tells me it's can't help me with that. Oh sure, I can ask Siri what movies are playing, and it joyfully presents a list of movies. I further asked it to show me times for Expendables 2. It showed me a list of theaters in my area... and Northwoods is not listed. Of course I checked the Northwoods' web site and Expendables 2 was playing there.

Between TV and movies... which would people ask Siri about more? I can't believe that movie information takes precedence over TV information. Apple needs to get on this. If they have my location they should be able to tap into my local cable company's listing. If that is too much to ask how about giving me the major networks information by saying "Revolution is on NBC tonight at 10PM (9PM CST)."

Back to movies... Siri presents me with movies and show times for theaters near me. And that's it. There is no link provided to purchase tickets. Really? You are supposed to be able to make reservations with this thing and it does not provide an easy way to buy movie tickets. That's a shame.

What I find amazing though... is that Siri repeats back to me exactly what I said. Clearly voice recognition is improving quite a lot. It's just that language understanding still needs some work.

Apple made a claim that Siri does sports. So I asked it to tell me who won the last NASCAR race. It told me it could not help me with NASCAR. And it even spelled NASCAR in all caps correctly. I guess Apple does not think NASCAR is a sport.

I hope Apple is analyzing the logs from Siri's failed requests to look for where it needs improvement. Toward that end... I ask Siri almost every day, "What's on TV tonight?" One day I hope she answers.

4G LTE

I live in San Antonio. It was one of the first 5 cities to get 4G LTE from Sprint when it launched the service in July 2012. I have tried to run speed tests using Speedtest.net. They are all over the place. I have seen speeds anywhere from 5 Mbps to 20 Mbps. It seems to average in the 8 to 13 Mbps range most of the time.

But LTE coverage is a bit hit and miss right now. This is a Sprint issue. I don't get LTE service much. In fact, I don't even get it in my apartment. I have to go out of my apartment, down the stairs, and across the parking lot (about 40 feet) to get LTE. Otherwise I am on 3G (or WiFi). So that pretty much sucks. I have noticed similar patterns driving around... I see 3G displayed on the phone more than I feel I should.

Hopefully Sprint will solve this. On 3G I could not even break 1 Mbps (only 570 Kbps down, 6 Kbps up).

WiFi tests with my computer (Gigabit Ethernet to my router) and my iPad and my iPhone were... Computer: 15.86 Mbps, iPad: 16.36 Mbps, iPhone 16.00 Mbps. It was hard to get consistent results though... I was seeing numbers from 9.9 Mbps up to 22 Mbps. Considering that I only pay for 10 Mbps from my ISP, these numbers are all impressive. Most of the results were in the 13-16 Mbps range. In other words... WiFi on the iPhone is just fine.

Maps

I will not do the usual complaining about the Maps app. You can find that elsewhere. I will tell you that it is picky. When I left Newark Airport for upstate New York I tried to get Maps to take me there. Unfortunately, it kept displaying the roads with the number of miles I was to be on that road. It never updated the information and it never gave verbal directions. We must have done something wrong, but I don't exactly know what. We were able to eventually get the turn by turn directions and they worked well enough.

I did have a little trouble with a couple of locations here and there, but nothing serious. I did not like that the default display does not show you your estimated time of arrival. I have to touch on it for this to show. And it is in a small gray area at the top of the app. Too small and too gray to be easily read while driving. I would prefer a little more emphasis on this... like it was on my old Android phone.

Battery Life

I am not impressed. On the day I returned to the Newark Airport from upstate New York the Maps app was working correctly. I unplugged my phone that morning about 9:30 AM. We headed out about 12:45 PM (when we turned on the Maps application). By 3:00 PM my battery was down to 28%. My son turned the phone off while we stopped for gas and food. So I bought a cheap USB power outlet so I could charge the phone for the rest of the trip to Newark.

On the day we went to New York City to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my phone died about 7:30 PM... on the train ride back to upstate NY. I should have brought my charger as all the seats on the Amtrak train had outlets. In fact... the train was so much more pleasant than plain travel... except slower of course. Since we used the Maps app to get to the train station it turned out to be an adventure to get home from the train station without any support. We eventually made it to the house we were staying at.

So, overall I find that I can use the phone all day most days. But some heavy days took their toll, so keep a spare charger in your car. When my HTC Hero was new and I used it a lot and got at least 2-1/2 days between charging. The iPhone 5 will never match that.

Jailbeaking

I can definitely see the appeal to Jailbreaking an Apple device. I can also see why Apple restricts some applications. In my case I may Jailbreak my phone when it can be done reliably with iOS 6. Why? If for no other reason than to be able to use my iPhone as a WiFi HotSpot. I find it outrageous that Sprint charges $30/month to use this feature. I get it that they don't want people to use the 4G on there phones to replace their existing home internet access. After all they are the only one still with unlimited access (save the comments all you grandpas out there).

I would only use this feature once in a while, like on a trip. I should not have to pay 30 bucks a month for this feature.

If I Jailbreak it I will most likely look to add widgets to the iPhone. I would prefer quicker access to certain settings and such. Plus there are some cool weather and other widgets that I miss from the Android world.

That would be about the extent of my Jailbreaking. If I do it I will let you know.

Conclusion

That's it. I feel the iPhone is a great phone. But if you are an Android fan you should be looking at the Samsung Galaxy S III. It too is a great phone.

Competition is a wonderful thing. You would have to look very hard to find a bad phone today. So don't get an iPhone because I did... get one because you want it and you don't mind having Apple control what you can and can't do. If you don't have a vested interest in Apple (no iTunes songs, Apps, etc) then by all means get an Android phone.

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Conclusion

That's it for this month. Next month I will pick on the iPhone and some of its apps some more. Until then...

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