The New (and Improved?) Apple TV

apple-tv-remoteApple has finally released the first new AppleTV model in several years.  What was once considered a “hobby” by Steve Jobs has finally matured into an impressive multimedia device!

The 4th version of the AppleTV has a familiar shape and footprint but it’s at least twice the height (and heavier too).  The remote has undergone a major upgraded to include a touch screen and Siri integration as well as an internal, rechargeable, battery that is reported to last up to three months of regular use (charged by the now Apple-standard lightning cable).

I ordered the 64GB unit for $199 on the first day it was available for pre-order (Apple also offers a 32GB device for $50 less).  Being impatient I opted for the next day shipping option in the hopes of receiving a new toy in time for the weekend.

Well it didn’t happen.  My package was stuck on a loading dock in Tennessee and didn’t leave until sometime on Sunday.  Apple refunded my overnight shipping cost which was appreciated (I had to call them to get this done though).  I love the ability to get detailed tracking of packages but this had the reverse impact as the shipment didn’t get updated for days.

While reviewing the Apple forums full of other people waiting for their shipments I learned about a carrier in Europe that not only tells you the status of your package but you can see the progression on a real-time map.  If that wasn’t cool enough you also know the name of the delivery driver along with a 30-minute delivery window (also updated in real time).  Talk about stalking the delivery Guy!

AppleTV 4 Ports
Being an early adopter can be fun but it has its frustrations as well.  Physical setup of the new Apple TV was relatively smooth once I figured out a work around for the missing “optical audio-out” (S/PDIF) I was using with the last model.  The App Store, which is one of the big selling factors of this new model, was not very exciting the first couple of days.  Not a lot of “must have” apps and nothing was categorized so finding apps to download and try out was not as easy as it should have been.

Now that things have been up and running for a few weeks the store is getting better and more useful apps are starting to become available.  The Siri remote is the real star here.  With it you can basically ask for a particular movie, actor, or genre and a list of options magically show up on the screen complete with a list of where you can view the content and pricing (if any).  Right now this search is limited to Netflix, Hulu and the Apple Store but it’s supposed to be opening up to other services soon.  This is a similar feature that Roku has had for a while but dictating with your voice is the new (and better) input method.

App StoreI’ve written two posts about my Cord Cutting project and how it’s been going.  The new AppleTV has made the transition from Cable to Over The Air (OTA) content and streaming media a lot easier and the App Store keeps getting better every day.  I think as this platform matures there could be some interesting capabilities surface that will make the 4th generation AppleTV an integral part of the entertainment stack.

It’s time to start thinking about the next electronic purchase and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a TV upgrade. My 38″ Plasma has served me well for many years but 55-60″ of UHD (or 4k) video sounds very appealing.  And the prices keep coming down to the sub-thousand level which makes it a more attractive buy.

I’m wanting to get a bigger screen and possibly install it over the fireplace.  I’ve heard good and bad things about this mounting location but after seeing an articulating wall mount that allows you to pull the TV down in front of the (unlit) fireplace for a better viewing angle I think that’s the way I’m going to go.

I’d love to hear from any of you who have feedback on the over-the-fireplace mounting option.  Is it that bad?  I’m going to be 15+ feet away from the screen so that makes the viewing angle relatively flat (that was the main complaint from people who chose the higher mounting position).

Thoughts?  Please leave them in the comments section below.

Moving From Pandora to Spotify – WOW!

I had a paid subscription to Pandora for years & was generally satisfied with the service.  I was also happy with the $3.99 cost for commercial free streaming music.

I read an article earlier this year comparing several of the online music streaming services.  I was surprised to learn how much I was actually missing by using Pandora.  I had no idea the Pandora catalog was a fraction of what other services offer (1 million songs vs 20 million with Spotify).  I also didn’t realize the other services let you listen to an entire album, repeat songs, and pick exactly what you want to listen to! (Face palm)

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This is an older chart but you can get the general idea of how the services differ.

So I switched to Spotify.  They had a promotion that gave you 3-months for something like $0.99 so it was a no brainer to try it out.  I wasn’t able to convert my playlists from Pandora but it was easy enough to start typing in my favorite artists and flagging them as favorites.

Then Apple released their new music platform.  Same price as Spotify and same size catalog.  They’re giving away a 90-day free trial and I’ve tried it.  The Apple Music interface isn’t as intuitive as Spotify but it gets the job done.

Now I’m torn.  Do I switch again (to Apple Music) and take advantage of it’s tight integration with IOS? (Hey Siri, play The Church)  The OS X interface uses iTunes which needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt to from the ground up.  Spotify’s OS X app is pretty user friendly but takes some 3rd parry apps and plug-ins to make it integrate with the OS (and use the play/pause controls on the Apple keyboard.

Is there another streaming service that beats Apple & Spotify?  I’d love to hear your feedback on what you use, what you like, & what you don’t like.

Ever Read The Release Notes?

I have a lot of apps installed on my devices and I always like to see updates.  Before I ever apply an update I always read the notes to see if there are any new features or fixes I’ve been waiting for.

Medium is a site that has some really great written content from everyday people.  It’s always got a few thought-provoking stories every day.  The release notes from the last update cracked me up & I had to share:

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6-hours With an iPhone 6…

…and so far I like it!

apple-iphone-6Quick review now & I’ll probably do a more in-depth one in a few weeks.

It’s larger than the 5s it’s replacing and about as big as I’m willing to go with a phone.  NO WAY was I going to even think about the 6 Plus.  The Apple leather case is a great addition that gives enough grip to keep me from dropping the phone every time I pick it up but not so much that you can’t easily slip it into your pocket.

119The release of iOS8 has caused just about every application I use to issue an update (or two) & that seems like all I’ve done is update apps this afternoon.   I still have a few that are crashing (like DropBox) & I’m hoping the next update will resolve that.

I’m fortunate that my employer pays for me to get the latest and greatest gadgets to help test before we deploy to 300+ engineers who have no patience for things that don’t work (the way they want them to).  If you have an iPhone 4/4s/5 it’s worth considering an upgrade.  If you’re already using a 5s you’re not going to see that much of a difference (yet).  I’m very excited to see how the mobile pay application works once it comes online in October.  And I’ll have to admit the watch look pretty damn interesting too.

iTunes Radio vs. PandoraOne

51zcTEnZ6ZL._SL500_AA300_.pngAs a followup to my iOS7 First Look I thought I’d post my impressions of iTunes radio and how it compares against PandoraOne.   This review will focus on the pay versions of these two products.  Why pay?  No ads to interrupt things, simple as that.

My initial thought was iTunes radio would end up putting Pandora out of business but after a week of comparison I’m starting to change my mind.

I’m a subscriber to the iTunes Match service that, in a nutshell, makes most of your music library available in the cloud and accessible from any iOS device or computer running iTunes.  I say most of your music because if the track is not available on iTunes it’s not going to be available in iTunes Match.  I have several spoken audio tracks that don’t qualify but it’s stuff I would not want to listen to most times anyway.

radio_1xFor $25 a year this is a great way to access your music no matter where you’re at.  An added bonus allows iTunesMatch subscribers to get commercial-free access to iTunes Radio.  Sounds like a win-win, right?

While iTunes Radio has similar functionality and a yearly subscription is half the cost of PandoraOne there are some differences…

iTunes Radioitunes_radio_-600x300

Pros:

  • $25 year (included with iTunes Match)
  • Easy access to purchase the song
  • Seems to have more variety in the playlists
  • Wish list for future purchases
  • Apple TV Integration
  • You can share and email stations to friends

Cons:

  • Multiple clicks to favorite a track
  • Same skip limit as PanrodaOne (6 per hour)
  • Audio Quality is a little muddy (this can be subjective)
  • Clunky interface
  • Does not always play right away (buffer seems smaller than Pandora too)
  • Must run iTunes
  • Stations based on artist very rarely play the artist

Pandora OnePandora1

Pros:

  • Easier to Favorite Songs
  • Audio quality is clearer
  • Lyrics & artist’s biography
  • Stand-alone desktop application

Cons:

  • $48 a year
  • Seems to repeat “liked” songs more (this could be both a Pro & a Con)

In conclusion at this time I still think PandoraOne is a better product.  It does cost more so if that’s an issue iTunes Radio is still a good product (and iTunes Match is worth the cost in my opinion), it’s just not a polished product.  If Apple continues to evolve as they have in the past iTunes radio could truly become a Pandora killer in the not-so-distant future.

Have you done your own comparison between iTunes Radio & your favorite streaming music app?  Tell us about it in the comments section below!