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The Day After the [Patches] Before

My office implemented both Meltdown and Spectre patches over the weekend…

In the previous weeks, both the Meltdown and Spectre processor vulnerabilities have been making a great deal of news. At my office – a financial firm – a Windows shop running Windows 7 (like most of the business world), implemented Windows based patches this past weekend. The results, especially in some of our older hardware, haven’t been very good. Thankfully, those machines are non-critical, non-business systems: For example, those that are used to display presentations in a conference room during a meeting. Unfortunately, the performance on those machines is atrocious. They are nearly unusable.

To understand what’s going on with those machines and why they now suck beyond all relief, we have to understand what the vulnerabilities are and what’s needed to patch both of them.

Meltdown Logo

Meltdown effects both x86 and ARM based microprocessors and allows rogue processes read all memory, even if unauthorized to do so. Meltdown effects nearly ALL processors used today. Resolution of this vulnerability will require a hardware revision, or effectively a new processor. For most computers – laptops especially – this isn’t likely to happen. Replacing a laptop’s microprocessor is expensive, and is likely not possible, as it would also require new system boards and supporting chipsets.

The only way to resolve this vulnerability is to come up with some level of operating system patch. Most of the operating systems used today have been, or are in the process of being, patched, including iOS, Linux, macOS and Windows.

Unfortunately, Meltdown patches are likely to cause performance issues, especially in older machines. The vulnerability makes all memory, including cache memory accessible. The patch works by constantly flushing the cache, making the computer work harder to put information back into it, where it can be read quickly. Unfortunately, since the cache is constantly being flushed, the computer is often forced to read it back into memory from the hard drive, slowing things down. In some cases, this happens far too often, forcing your computer’s hardware to fight against its operating system, putting it into a constant read loop. By the time the drive has read ahead enough information, its likely had the cache flushed, requiring it to start over again.

Spectre Logo
Spectre is a vulnerability that effects modern processors that perform branch prediction, or a way to predetermine possible execution outcomes allowing for speed of computations and actions. When the computer doesn’t predict where “you’re going” correctly, your computer may leave observable side effects that may reveal private data to hackers. For example, if the pattern of memory accesses performed by such speculative execution depends on private data, the resulting state of the data cache constitutes a side channel through which an attacker may be able to extract information about the private data using a timing attack.

There are two common vulnerabilities and exposure IDs related to Spectre, one for bounds check bypass and one for branch target injection. JIT engines used for JavaScript were found vulnerable. A website can read data stored in the browser for another website, or the browser’s memory itself.

Unfortunately, Spectre patches are also known to cause performance issues; and they have been reported to significantly slow down a PC’s performance, especially, again, on older computers. On newer, 8th generation Intel processors, performance has been known to take a 2% to 14% hit.

With both of these patches on your machine, your current computing experience is likely totally hosed, no matter what generation processor you have or how much computing power you possess.

For example, if you do anything with any kind of video, you’re going to have an especially hard time. Patches for both of these vulnerabilities are likely to result in a performance hit of anywhere between 10% to as much as 50%. As a result, graphic and video renders can take up to twice as long to complete, if they don’t just crash your machine.

However, it isn’t all gloom and doom. There does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Fixes for Spectre aren’t easy to implement. The problem is likely going to be around for quite some time. However, while a great deal of the vulnerabilities are executed through Java Script, and therefore while you’re surfing the web, Browsers such as Chrome, and Firefox are implementing other processes on top of the OS level patches you likely already have. You could also completely eliminate browser based exploits for both Meltdown and Spectre by disabling JavaScript all together.

It has also been suggested that the cost of mitigation can be alleviated by processors which feature selective translation lookaside buffer (TLB) flushing, a feature which is called process-context identifier (PCID) under Intel 64 architecture; and under Alpha, an address space number (ASN). This is because selective flushing enables the TLB behavior crucial to the exploit to be isolated across processes, without constantly flushing the entire TLB – the primary reason for the cost of mitigation.

Personally, I haven’t seen much of a slow down on my Late 2013 MacBook Pro. Thankfully, I seem to be falling somewhere in the 2% to 14% performance hit. How things go from here, however will help me decide if I stay with this Mac or wait until Apple releases a new Mac with a new processor that doesn’t fall victim to this nasty issue.

What happened to you and your computer? Do you have an older machine? Have you installed the patches? Are you experiencing a performance hit that you’d like to reveal or discuss with someone?

If so, give me a shout and let me know where you stand. You can find me in the Discussion are a below or you can send me an email.

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Why does the Performance on my iPhone Suck?

You’d be surprised by the answer (or at least you should have been)…

I’ve been an iPhone user on and off since 2008. I started with an iPhone 3G, which I ditched inside of three months because the bloody thing couldn’t take or make a call without dropping it at least – literally – a dozen times or more.

More recently, I’ve been dealing with a different iPhone problem. I’ve got iPhone 6’s and iPhone 7 Plus’ in my house. Since Apple’s whole “Batterygate” thing hit the news, things have been a bit crazy for nearly every iPhone owner I know of.

Case in point – I was recently contacted by a buddy of mine about this very issue. Apparently one of his wife’s friends was having an issue.

IMG-0629

I tried to explain to him that this was the publicized battery issue; and that there was a reasonably priced resolution, that shouldn’t be too difficult to take care of.

IMG-0630

It was clear to me that this was also the same problem that he had described in his previous message.

 

The additional information was nice, but not completely necessary…

IMG-0632

So, this, like other issues that plague iPhone users has been completely misunderstood. So let me break it down very carefully.

1. Do you have an iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus, or iPhone 7/7 Plus?
If the answer is yes, then you need to take a look at the following questions.
2. Is the phone older than a year old?
If the answer is yes, ask yourself the next question
3. Does the phone seem slower now with iOS 11 than it did with iOS 10?
If so, you’re not crazy.

If the phone is a year old or more, AND you use your phone a LOT, you’ve likely cycled through the battery a number of times. The more cycles on your battery, the older it becomes. The older your battery is, the quicker it discharges power. When your phone has a lot of cycles on its battery, it’s very likely that it won’t hold a charge very long. When it doesn’t hold a charge for a long time, you end up charging it more often. This becomes a Catch 22; as the more that device needs to be charged, the shorter the drain time is, and the more cycles you put on your phone’s battery.

The performance problem isn’t imagined. Apple’s latest version of iOS 11.2.2 actually throttles the processor so that the phone uses less power, when the battery’s health (measured by age and the number of cycles it has on it) is below 80%-85%.

So the solution to all of this, believe it or not, is really easy – get a new battery. Prior to the issue with processor throttling in iOS 11.2.2, Apple charged $79 for a battery replacement. Now, Apple is charging $29 to replace the battery in your iPhone 6/6 Plus or later during all of 2018.

While the problem is now easy to identify, the solution is also easy to apply – slow phone? Get a new battery.

Do you have an older iPhone (now defined as at least 3 generation’s back (so at least 2 years old)? If you do, the best thing that you can do to put your phone back into “like new” performance, is to get a new battery.

You can find more information about this particular issue at Apple’s Support site.

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With Apple Watch Series 3, $10 Ain’t $10

If you have an Apple Watch Series 3 with active LTE service, you’re likely in for a nasty surprise.

apple watch

Back when the Apple Watch Series 3 first launched earlier in the Fall of 2017, carriers promised that LTE service for your new Series 3 Apple Watch, would cost only $10 USD per month; and it does.

Sorta.

In the beginning, carriers offered three months of free service and waived the activation fees. At this point, everyone that got their Series 3 Watch on the day it was first made available at the Store, is likely being charged for service. However, as I mentioned earlier, $10 bucks isn’t always JUST $10 bucks. Both AT&T and Verizon are charging additional fees. So, your $10 bucks is likely closer to $12 to $14 bucks per month.

In California, Verizon Wireless users also have an additional $1.55 fee on top of their $10 per month, service charge. In North Carolina, AT&T users are being charged an additional $4.39 per month, bringing their bill near $15 for LET service on their Series 3 Apple Watch. These fees can be higher in other states.

If you thought you might try to avoid all of the fees by deactivating your service and then reactivating it when you need or want it, you’re also in for a nasty surprise. There are activation fees that come with this activity. You’re going to get hit with the standard $25 activation fee every time you go to bring your watch back on line.

For example, when you cancel and re-add a line, on Verizon, you’re going to get hit with that $25 activation fee I mentioned. Suspending your service will hit you with a $10 per month fee (what the normal service will cost – so you’re paying for it anyway).

Because Apple Watch Series 3 uses NumberShare on Verizon, it’s not considered a prepaid device, so you can’t skip a month of service. Per Verizon, you really have only two options:
1. Suspend your service for up to 3 months at a time; but this is going to cost you $10 a month. This is the normal service fee, so you’re not saving anything here. You’re actually giving them $10 a month to NOT use the LTE service on the Watch, which doesn’t make sense.
2. Deactivate the Watch completely. That’s going to wipe it from the account, but you’re need to restart everything over again if you want to bring it back; and that’s going to cost you at least the (previously waived) $25 activation fee. There’s also a recurring charge. This means that Vs. will basically charge you for two and a half months of service every time you turn the Watch off and on again.

There’s also a possibility that you’ll run into activation issues when you start and stop service. The Watch has its own number; but shadows your phone’s number when placing and receiving calls. Sometimes this whole process can create issues, as reported by some; but why that happened to those that bumped into that problem, isn’t clear.

If you have a Series 3 Apple Watch and have bumped into issues like this, reach out to me and help me understand what happened to you.

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FEATURE REVIEW – Unihertz Jelly Pro

The Jelly Pro takes on the Goliath’s of the Android World with the smallest form factor since 2006 (or so)…

Introduction
I remember back in the day – and I’m really targeting the 2006 – 2009 time frame, just before, and right after the face of the smartphone industry changed with the impact of the release of the original iPhone in 2007, small one-handed devices were all the rage. At this point, the world was used to small, one hand operable candy bar styled phones. Phones just like the Jelly Pro.

I’ve got one for review; and I’ve already done an of this phone and have posted it for everyone to see. I’ve been using it on and off – the intended use of the device – over the past few weeks or so and I think I finally have enough information to pass along to everyone. The Jelly Pro is NOT intended to be used as a daily driver. It’s meant to be a go-to phone when you want or need something small and still want or need to stay connected. Let’s take a look at the device and see if the Jelly Pro is something that might help you.

Design
The Unihertz Jelly Pro is 3.7 inches tall, 1.75 inches wide and 0.6 inches thick. It weighs just 2.1 ounces and is so small, it can fit in the coin pocket of your jeans without any issues, problems or forcing. It slides right in. The device is so small that it really reminds me of the Zoolander Phone – The Veer.

Zoolander Phone - The Veer

The Jelly Pro supports full 4G LTE speeds and VoLTE; and should work on just about any GSM network. It also has dual SIM slots, allowing the device to support two phone numbers at the same time. This is totally amazing in a device that’s really this small. However, the device has a bit more going for it than its size. Let’s dig in…

Display
When you’ve got a device this small, there has to be a few draw backs. If there’s one spot that’s going to suffer the most, it’s the display. The Unihertz Jelly Pro’s display is 2.45 inches in size and has a resolution of 240×432 pixels. This is NOT a display that you’re going to want to watch any kind of video on, though the device is clearly capable of playing and streaming video, the screen is so small, it’s not something you’d want to use to watch video on unless it was all that you had.

In fact, if you’re a bit older, or have poor or aging eyesight, this display is going to be a challenge. Its small. It’s very small… Especially by today’s standards where displays for phones like the iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus are 4.7 and 5.5 inches, respectively. The Jelly Pro’s display is approximately 1/2 of the size of the smaller, iPhone 8. It has 201 PPI (pixels per inch) and supports 16M colors. It’s also covered with scratch resistant glass, though I can’t find any information on whether its Gorilla Glass or something else. (So, assume something else, at this point, as Gorilla Glass would be a huge marketing point for a device of this size.)

The interesting thing here is that the phone’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness – The phone’s size. It’s too small to do anything except make calls. Trust me, I’ve really tried…

The on screen keyboard is so small, it’s amazing that you can type any words… in English (or your language of choice). You’re going to rely on autocorrect a lot on this device. You’re also going to use speech to text a lot with this device, too. It’s going to be very difficult to use, especially if you’ve got big hands. I have had a lot of trouble with the on screen keyboard, even with my slender fingers.

Don’t get me wrong. The Jelly Pro has a decent screen. It’s just too small to do any texting with. It’s also too small to reply to any email with or to do any real typing with. If you’re a heavy texter, even if this is just an occasional device, it’s not going to be one that you’re going to want to send any messages with.

Hardware
The rest of the device actually has some decent specs… with one small exception – the battery. The device has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. As long as you have a decent data plan, this device should be able to handle audio (and honestly, video) streaming without an issue. It should also be able to handle local storage of some media and entertainment content as well. At 1.1GHz, the processor should be able to handle streaming audio without any concerns with lag or other processing issues.

As I mentioned earlier, the only other issue that the device has is the battery. Its only 950mAh. This means that you’re going to be charging the device at least twice during the day, especially if you try use the device all day.

The device will NOT last a whole day on a single charge. It simply won’t. The battery is just too small. You’re also going to want to make certain you have a microUSB cable handy. The device charges via microUSB, and since the battery is so small, being without one, especially if this is the only device you carry when you’re using it, is going to be a huge mistake. Charge as often as you can with this one…

The Full 360

The front of the Jelly Pro and the HTC One.  Boy this thing is small!
02 Jelly Bottom Edge
The bottom edge of both devices
03 Jelly Right Edge
The right edge of both devices. You can see the Jelly Pro’s microUSB port and power button here.
04 Jelly Top Edge
The top edge of both devices. The Jelly Pro’s 3.5mm headphone jack is located here.
Jelly Left Edge
The left edge of both devices. You can see the volume buttons on the Jelly Pro, here.

Android
The device comes with Android 7 Nougat. I haven’t heard any news related to the Jelly Pro running Android 8 Oreo. The one good thing that is going on, however, is that Unihertz is actively updating the device. When I turned the device on last month, I immediately got an update. I got another one recently as well. This kind of active support by the OEM really makes a huge difference. I’m very pleased that Unihertz is providing this much support on this device. It means a lot when the OEM takes an active role in a device’s life cycle.

Conclusion
The Unihertz Jelly Pro started through a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign. The device only retails for $129 USD and is available directly from their their website. For the price, this is a huge deal. The device has enough power to handle most of what you would want to do with a mid to low level device; and does it affordably.

This device is cheap enough, and it’s got decent performance. Unfortunately, the Jelly Pro has got some serious issues with its battery life and the feature that’s supposed to be its biggest draw – its size. The screen is too small to type on. It’s too small to really watch any video content on. The battery is also too small to last you through a day with a single charge, ESPECIALLY if you use it to play any kind of game or watch any video. You’re going to need to charge it at least 2-3 times during the day.

The biggest premise of the phone – its cheap enough to use as a situational phone, is seriously hampered by its size, which is one of its biggest selling points.

Size in a device like this is important. That and price are the reasons why you buy it. However, its display size make it very difficult to use and the size of its battery makes it something that you’re going to have to charge often (at least once every 4-5 hours) under normal use, more frequently if you use it for any kind of streaming content, especially games and video.

While the cost of the phone isn’t all that high, buying something like this to use in place of say, an iPhone 8 or iPhone X or even a Note 8 when you don’t want to take the big device, is high enough that you probably won’t want to lay down an extra $130 bucks when you just spent $1000 or more dollars on the big dog, which is very disappointing…

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Apple Watch can Save your Life

New studies suggest that owning an Apple Watch can identify potentially lethal health trends

I saw this, and I thought this was pretty cool.

I have an Apple Watch and have enjoyed using it for just over two years. I use it mostly for notifications and responding to text messages. I also use it to keep track of my physical activity, as well, such as it is. As a tech and software development geek, having something remind you to move and to move more during your day is important, especially when your job has you sitting on your tush all day long testing software. Some folks, me included, forget to move without being reminded. Having a subtle reminder to stand every hour makes it easy for me to take a break, move, and to refocus my thoughts, if needed. Apple Watch has made me more productive, as a result, believe it or not. It’s not been an interruption.

In a new development, it’s been found that Wearables can be used to accurately detect conditions like hypertension and sleep apnea in users that wear them. The research, conducted by health startup Cardiogram and UCSF, cited claims that data from heart sensors when combined with machine learning algorithms can identify patterns that predict if a person is at risk of certain health issues. The study followed more than 6000 subjects, some of whom were known to have been diagnosed with both hypertension and sleep apnea.

Cardiogram cofounder, Brandon Ballinger wants to “transform wearables that people already own – Apple Watches, Android Wears, Garmins, and Fitbits – into inexpensive, everyday screening tools using artificial intelligence” into tools that can not only help keep people well, but drive the growth of the market. The study is headed for peer review, according to Ballinger. This will hopefully lead to wearables being validated as a screening method for this and other major health care conditions, like pre-diabetes and diabetes, which, appears to be next on Cardiogram’s hit list

Cardiogram’s study lines up very well with the direction that Apple has been taking Apple Watch and the apps that are available for it in the App Store. Patents have been developed that involve both health related wearable technology by Cardiogram. Apple is also involved in a heart rate study partnership with Stanford University.

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Unboxing the Unihertz Jelly Pro

I never thought the Zoolander phone was real… until now.

The Unihertz Jelly Pro is here! Just off of successful campaigns on both Kickstarter,and Indegogo, the Jelly Pro is intended to be a supplemental device and not your daily driver. The device is tiny. It fits in the coin pocket on your jeans. It fits into a small party clutch.

It goes where you do when you can’t take your standard, five plus inch smartphone, yet still provides all the power and functionality of your regular Android phone, without taking up all the space and without the risk of breakage (because you stuck it in a rear pocket or some other place where its likely to get sat on…
Jelly
Full Specs are below.

• 4G/ LTE Smartphone (with support for VoLTE (voice over LTE))
• Quad Core CPU 1.1gHz
• 2GB RAM
• 16GB ROM
• 950mAh Battery – Reported 4-12 hours real use, depending on apps installed
• 2.45 Inch (62.23mm) Display
• 8MP Rear Facing Camera
• 2MP Front Facing Camera
• Android 7.0 Nougat (out of the box)
• Connectivity Support:
o LTE
o WLAN
o Bluetooth
o GPS

Unihertz doesn’t have all of the details I’m looking for in their tech specs, so I’m doing a bit more digging and investigating to see if I can get information on connectivity support and when (read: IF) Unhertz will be updating Jelly Pro to Android 8 Oreo.

The full review is still in the works!

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Microsoft Introduces Surface Book 2

If you thought Surface was just a passing fancy, think again…

Surface-Book-2-696x429

I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Microsoft Signature PC’s. They are, in my opinion, the best Windows experience that you can buy. They don’t have any extra crap on them that would take away from or distract you from your computing purpose. It’s one of the reasons why I really like Microsoft Surface PC’s as well.

Over the past five or so years, I’ve had an original Surface Pro, a Surface Pro 3 and a Surface Book. The combination of the devices features – like the touch screens and pens – have made the Surface line one that I find very valuable, especially in a corporate setting. The Surface Pro and the Surface Book are both perfect for Microsoft OneNote and for a number of different business applications, including custom sales and invoicing apps as well as process and business flow.

Recently, Microsoft released an update to their Surface Book line, and this update, is squarely aimed at not only the creative professional, but the enterprise as well. The Surface Book 2 now comes in both its original 13 inch size, but also a new, 15 inch version. The new size, paired with Intel’s eight generation Core i processor and better graphics hardware also enables Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Headsets.

Like its earlier iterations, the Surface Book 2 has put the bulk of its processing power in the tablet. The keyboard houses both the extra battery and the new Nvidia graphics cards. The 13″ version has an optional Nvidia GeForce 1050 and the 15″ gets a GeForce 1060 by default. Both are mainstream gaming graphics cards and a big step up from what the Surface Book was previously equipped with.

The following are basic specs for both versions of the Surface Book 2.

 

 

Surface Book 2 – 13″ Surface Book 2 15″
Processor Intel 8th-gen Core i5 (dual-core) or i7 (quad-core) U-series processors Intel 8th-gen Core i7 U-series processors
Display 13.5-inch 3,000×2,000-pixel display 15-inch 3,240×2,160-pixel display
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU

(Core i7 version only)

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU
USB Ports 2x USB-A 3.1 ports

1x USB-C 3.1 port

2x USB-A 3.1 ports

1x USB-C 3.1 port

Card Reader SDXC card reader SDXC card reader
RAM 8GB or 16GB RAM 16GB RAM
Storage 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD storage 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD storage
Intel 8th-gen Core i5 (dual-core) or i7 (quad-core) U-series processors Intel 8th-gen Core i7 U-series processors

When it comes to augmented reality, both of these convertibles are in good shape to perform well. Both work well with Microsoft’s Pen and the Fall Creators Update version of Windows 10. You can, for example, create a file in Microsoft’s Paint 3D and then drop it into a real word situation, capturing everything with the device’s 8MP, rear-facing camera. The only problem that you’re going to have here, when trying to hook into AR headsets is the lack of an HDMI port, though you shouldn’t have any real concerns with performance of the box or its graphics adapters. According to recent test results, both versions of the Surface Book 2 can be taken seriously as gaming machines, which is kinda cool.

Microsoft is also releasing a new mouse, called the Surface Precision Mouse. It’s got a more traditional design than either the original Surface Mouse or the Surface Arc Mouse. It also includes a set of programmable left side buttons; and supports both wired USB and wireless Bluetooth connectivity. As of this writing, pricing for these devices has not been released, though you should expect them to fall somewhere between $50 and $80 USD.

Microsoft is putting the Surface Book 2 directly against the new Apple MacBook Pro. According to Microsoft, the Surface Book 2 is a much better performer. There may be some truth to this, as the Apple MacBook Pros are still using previous generation Core Intel processor. Pricing for the new Microsoft Surface Book2 starts at $1499 USD for the 13 inch version and $2499 for the 15″ version.

In my opinion, pricing for the Surface Book line has always been a bit on the high side. As I previously stated, Microsoft is clearly targeting the Surface Book 2 at Apple’s MacBook Pro. The problem that I have with this pricing strategy is that the MacBook Pro is a clearly well established, top performing machine with a long history of top notch components and high price tags.

Microsoft doesn’t have any of these precedent, with any version of the Surface Book. The device has had what I would consider to be a mediocre performance history, especially with all of the issues that were first encountered with the original Surface Book and its ROM problems.

This update is also mostly what I would call an evolutionary update rather than any update of note. Surface Book with Performance Base, released earlier this year, put a better graphics card in the keyboard along with the extra battery. It also bumped the price up quite a bit.

The Surface Book 2 offers a new processor and a new graphics card; but the fact that it also offers a new 15″ screen size takes this device to a completely new level, in my opinion. It clearly brings the Surface Book up into a better class of computing device, and may actually make the larger price tag, a bit more reasonable. To be honest, we’re going to have to wait and see on that one, though. The a5″ version is new. It’s a completely different device than the 13″ version, with different components and different drivers; and Microsoft has always had an issue with drivers and components when it comes to Windows, regardless of version. So this clearly falls in the wait and see category…

Is Surface Book 2 something that you’re interested in? Will it be a convertible that you pursue or keep your eye on as a potential work tool? I’d love to hear what you plan to do. Why don’t you give me your thoughts in the Discussion area below?

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First Impressions – iPhone 8 Plus

Here are my initial impressions of one of Apple’s newest iPhones…

Introduction
Recently, due to an unfortunate turn of events where my oldest son dropped his iPhone 6s Plus, I was forced to purchase an iPhone 8 Plus recently. Sometimes having a pre-teen/ young teenager carrying a flagship level smartphone can be a bit problematic. Having a device is a case helps protect against shattered screens, but even then, they aren’t foolproof. You can still end up with a shattered screen despite your best efforts.

The situation with my oldest son is a great example of how sometimes, the universe just seems to be working against you no matter how hard you try. He dropped his protected iPhone 6s Plus and the screen shattered. I had the choice of replacing it via insurance claim or paying the AT&T Next acquired device off and upgrading to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. (As a brief aside, upgrading to the iPhone X was out of the question… I’m not paying $999 for a phone. EVER. It’s just not an option, especially when it’s THIS close to the Holidays, and you’re a new grandparent.) The prices in this scenario – insurance claim vs. upgrade – were nearly identical, so… it seemed the better, more prudent thing to do to purchase the upgrade on his account rather than pay the same amount of money for two year old technology.

Through the magic of SIM card swapping, my son ended up with my mint condition iPhone and I ended up with the new iPhone 8 Plus. Here are my initial thoughts on the device. If you recall, I covered this subject shortly after Apple announced both the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and iPhone X in September 2017.

Honestly, after hearing the details and writing this article, I wasn’t going to bother with the iPhones announced this year. It didn’t seem worth the cost at the time; but since I got forced into it… here I am.

To get started, here, in no particular order, are what I would consider to be the major differences between the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus:

• The iPhone 8 Plus features an all-glass design with an aero-grade aluminum chassis in between. The iPhone 7 Plus features a unibody aluminum body
• The iPhone 8 Plus also supports Qi wireless charging
• The iPhone 8 Plus’ Retina HD display supports True Tone display technology. The display automatically tweaks the white balance to improve readability depending on the ambient lighting
• The iPhone 8 Plus is powered by Apple’s 6-core A11 Bionic chip. The iPhone 7 Plus is powered by Apple’s A10 Fusion chip.
• The iPhone 8 Plus is available in 64GB and 256GB storage variants. The iPhone 7 Plus comes in 32GB and 128GB variants
• The iPhone 8 Plus can record 4K videos at 60fps and Full HD videos at 240fps. The iPhone 7 Plus can record 4K videos at 30fps and Full HD videos at 120fps

My initial impressions and analysis of each of these are below. There’s not a lot here to distinguish the 8/ 8 Plus from the 7/ 7 Plus. The devices are visually identical, except for their body construction. However, you really have to look at the back of each device to be able to tell them apart.

The Full 360
Here are some comparison photos of the iPhone 8 Plus next to an iPhone 7 Plus. My guess is that without me telling you which was which, you wouldn’t be able to tell…

DSC_5532
The fronts of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. The devices look identical. The only way to tell them apart from the front (without turning the devices on) is by hands on inspection.

The backs of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. Here, you can see a difference. The iPhone 8 Plus’ back is covered in glass where the iPhone 7 Plus clearly is not.

The left edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.
DSC_5535
The top edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. There is a SLIGHT color difference between the matte black of the iPhone 7 (top) and the space gray of the iPhone 8 (bottom); but that’s likely just the lighting in my kitchen…

The right edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.

The bottom edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. Here, the color difference between the two is a little easier to see.

Storage Space

The change that is probably the most noticeable, believe it or not, is the storage size difference. There’s no longer a 128GB variation in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. To be honest, since I had to buy a new device, I decided I didn’t want to spend the extra $150 for the 256GB variant. However, when you’re coming from 128GB, going back to 64GB can be a bit painful. While this is not what I wanted to do, moving to 256GB was not worth the extra cost to me. So, I settled for the 64GB variant and am streaming a lot more content than I was prior to purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus.

Display
The True Tone Retina Display is really very, very good. However, the impact of this white balance method is completely lost on EVERYONE about five minutes after the initial setup of the device.

During setup, you’re given the ability to turn True Tone on or off. You’re also given a button that allows you to see how the screen will look with the feature on and then again with the feature off. While the screen looks MUCH better with True Tone turned on, you forget that its turned on. You don’t have anything that continually reminds you of the feature’s effect when its turned on. This is a set it and forget it feature; and honestly this is exactly what Apple wants to have happen.

Chipset – A11 Bionic
The same can be said for the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus’ A11 Bionic chip. You notice the speed difference for about a couple hours after upgrading. The next day, it’s all business as usual. The performance difference is going to be very noticeable when it comes to VR and AI headsets and apps; but other than that, you aren’t really going to notice the performance bump later on. After the “newness” wears off, this is going to appear as business as usual.

4K Video Frame Rates
You do notice the 4K video frame rate differences, especially on larger displays (like your desktop monitor), as the video filmed on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus will appear much smoother.

Body Construction – Glass vs. Airplane Grade Aluminum
The body differences are TOTALLY noticeable; but really only from the back. You REALLY need a case on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is very difficult to hold on to due to the glass back and smoother, metal sides. If you don’t have something with a bit of “stick-’em” on it, you’re gonna drop the phone at some point. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve nearly done it three to four times in the few days that I’ve had the device. Since the body is covered in glass with an aluminum underbody, as soon as it hits the ground, it’s going to shatter into a million pieces. Save your phone. Put it in a case that’s going to provide decent protection.

Wireless Charging
The go-to feature is the Qi compatible wireless/ cableless charging. I’ve been able to confirm that it works with just about any and every Qi compatible charging system available. This includes any cheap Chinese aftermarket systems as well as Samsung’s wireless charging system for the Galaxy 8 and 8XL smartphone, which is kinda cool. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Apple’s larger charging mat. I prefer the cradle like system for the Samsung Galaxy 8/8XL.

Conclusion
So where does this leave me..? That’s a great question.

First and foremost, I won’t be purchasing an iPhone X, especially after purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus. I don’t have the funds to do so, and wouldn’t, to be very honest, on my own. At nearly $1000 USD for the entry level model, the phone isn’t reasonably priced or realistically affordable for anyone on any kind of family plan with their carrier of choice.

Now, let’s talk about the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8 Plus is a decent phone to be certain; but I stand by my original assessment of the device – if you don’t HAVE to upgrade, you may want to wait for Apple’s next iteration of iPhone, due out some time next year. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is, in my opinion, just too similar to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus. But that is Apple’s M.O. – evolution rather than revolution.

The wireless charging is really cool; and will be something that you really prefer doing and using, say at the office or by your bedside, especially if you use your device as an alarm clock to wake yourself in the morning for work or school. However, it’s not a killer, must have, do or die feature. It’s a convenience.

And that can probably sum up the entire iPhone 8/ 8 Plus experience for me – upgrading has been a convenience for me, and not much more.

The cost of the device – as well as the cost of the iPhone X, in my opinion – is bordering on excessive. The 64GB version is now “affordable” at $800 plus tax; and the 256GB version is just below crazy-stupid (at least from my perspective) at $950 plus tax. Here in Chicago that put things at $870 bucks and $1018 bucks respectively after taxes; or about $27 a month and $35 a month, respectively.

I’m shaking my head as I write this. Apple has almost completely priced me and my family out of the iPhone entirely. We used to be able to upgrade devices every two years or so (AT&T’s standard upgrade cycle is 30 months or 2.5 years). Now, it seems as though we’re going to have to make those last a lot longer than just two and a half years. Even with AT&T Next, the monthly costs for a new device are just not sustainable when you have to cover costs for four to five different devices. When you’re looking at a monthly cost of $35 to $40 per device, I’m looking at $150 – $200 per month just for devices… and I haven’t even begun to cover the cost of a voice and data plan for them yet. After all is said and done, I’m looking at nearly $425 a month, which is just crazy. Who does that just for mobile phones..?!

It truly does appear that after phones get paid off, the family is going to have to learn to live them for a while. So, my son is going to have to make this one last more than a year. Its either that, or he’s going to end up with a flip phone (or maybe a Windows Phone… I think both are just about equal when it comes to apps and functionality at this point.)

However, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on all of this. Did you upgrade to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? Did you opt for an iPhone X? Are you sticking with what you’ve got for now and upgrading later? Are you just sick of all the evolutionary updates out of Apple and have you decided to jump ship?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your take on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? I’d love to hear from you!

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