iPhone X: First Impressions

Background:

I generally try to spend money deliberately, particularly when it comes to what might be considered “nonessential” purposes. This year that included the iPhone X.

Our son is two and a half, so the main reason I’ve been upgrading my phone annually the past few years is to have the very best smartphone camera possible. My wife has the iPhone 7 and (until last week) I had the 7 Plus. The increased quality of the plus (particularly portrait mode, but also low-light performance and even macro) was so substantial that when we’re out and about we would almost exclusively use my phone for photos. The best camera—the saying goes—is the one you have with you, so the premium to capture my son’s moments has been the primary motivator.

(It’s snowing!)

Also, I like shiny things. And it was also my birthday.

I also do what I imagine is a surprising amount of my writing on my iPhone. I dictated the majority of my second book as well as large portions of my blog posts (including parts of this one) using Siri. I even do a fair amount my typing on the phone directly with my handy Bluetooth keyboard and Ulysses. All in all, I consider having a great phone to be a worthy business expense (obviously, I’m still trying to justify myself).

Design & Screen:

I’m ambivalent about the notch. The speaker, selfie camera, and sensors have to go somewhere. Perhaps one day they can be embedded in the screen, but overall I don’t find it as galling as some reviewers have. My main pet peeve is that so far a lot of apps haven’t been updated to make use of the unusual “ears” or rounded corners on the display. Updated apps will often show the clock on the left and wifi/cell signal/battery indicators on the top. Older apps just pretend all that space isn’t really there leaving a black bar at the top and bottom as if it were the size of a regular iPhone 7/8. Over time this will improve, but I’m not sure how well cross-platform apps or the many apps that are essentially webpage viewers will be able to accommodate the new design.

The new OLED screen is really nice. It’s beautiful, bright, and for some reason, almost a little more paper-like and less fatiguing when reading text on a white background.

Face ID:

Touch ID is better, but Face ID works as advertised (mostly). It works in light and dark, with or with my glasses or even sunglasses. It’s marginally slower than Touch ID but not enough to make a difference in most situations, and the change in notifications mostly makes up for it. Now notifications are private on the unlock screen, only showing the app but not the content/message itself until unlocked by Face ID. Then you can tap the notification to go straight into the app, which is a clever little improvement. Elegant.

My main fail point is when lying down or holding the phone at an exaggerated angle it often won’t engage. I haven’t figured exactly how much face the phone needs to see but my experience has been variable (generally poor) in these situations. Bedtime is not a great time for Face ID. I also had a cold recently and if I coughed or made an odd face while trying to unlock it would also fail (it was a bad cold; this was happening more than you’d expect). Chewing also causes it to fail.

My other irritating corner case pet peeve is that Face ID is terrible for using your phone on a table or desk. With Touch ID, you could keep your phone on the table and unlock it with your index finger, never having to pick it up to look at alerts etc. With the X, you either have to hit the side button and loom over the phone to unlocked it or pick it up.

Camera:

In my limited usage thus far, the main difference for me between the 7 Plus and X has the speed of portrait mode (in addition to the new portrait lighting effects). The problem with fast moving toddlers is that sometimes the lag of portrait mode means losing the best moment by the time the photo is actually taken. It’s almost as fast as a regular photo now, though I have noticed some serious auto-focus glitches with close up portrait mode, which I hope will be resolved soon.

I rarely use the front-facing camera, so I haven’t taken any decent front-facing portrait mode photos yet, though it does work as advertised.

Overall:

I like it. Like every new iPhone I’ve purchased over the past six or so years, the iPhone X is the “best” phone I’ve ever had. But it’s still (just) a magical glass brick. Face ID is still mildly irritating and forces a number of unwelcome behavioral changes, and the bugs are annoying. The X’s design is nice but I think most Apple customers would be better off just sticking with the iPhone 8 Plus for this iteration.

A 280-character Twitter is stupid

A lot of people place their hopes on tech companies to save the planet and make literally everything better. At least the tech companies like to pretend they will.

And then you realize how silly so much of it is and how poorly run many of these companies truly are, with so many of them desperately scrambling for their share of our attention paid via advertisements and tracking which we collectively despise.

Twitter is not as big as Facebook and will never make as much money. They don’t have as much data about you as an individual and thus cannot target you for ads with the same gusto. The growth solution, from Twitter’s thinking, is that the 140-character limitation is really holding the service back.

To the contrary, the 140-character limitation is probably Twitter’s only unique selling proposition. Twitter with longer tweets is just like a Facebook newsfeed with more strangers and fewer actual friends. The brevity and speed have been an integral part of the service since its inception. While the original limit was due to the technical limitations of text messages, it nonetheless became part of the character of the service (see what I did there?). It’s definitely a pro/con, but it is unequivocally a true differentiating factor. I’m sure this has been tested and debated for months if not years, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right long-term decision. Platform growth and health don’t always align. MySpace was doing “great” for a while too.

I wrote little stories crammed into tweets every day for over 7 years. 1 I started one of a handful of publications that feature and even pay authors for tiny stories that fit in a tweet.

For me, the constraint has always been the whole point.

This isn’t to say someone couldn’t start a compelling 280-character limit fiction venue, but would it really be Twitter fiction? Twitter was inspiring as a creative venue for the same reason that people enjoy (if are also occasionally aggravated by) the linguistic acrobatics required to fit their thoughts into the short form. It’s challenging and often surprising.

Of course, I will fully admit that most of the 140-grumblings surely come from longtime users with emotional attachments, particularly writers. I don’t doubt that most people will be able to simply say what they want to say more easily with a longer limit, and that such engagement may—potentially—lead to more usage and advertising revenue.

But I’ll leave it to John Dingell (91-year-old former Congressman from Michigan):

See? No constraints and this post is way too long. Which is another way of saying that @nanoism will always have a 140-character limit.

SmashUSMLE

Longtime readers know that I don’t do ads, guest posts, or push products. I do however share a coupon or referral code or two for something people might actually want if it results in someone saving money (and not just me making a few bucks).

Which brings us to SmashUSMLE. The bottom line is that if you’re interested, the coupon code BW10 saves you 10%.

I don’t think most people need to be interested at this point.

While SmashUSMLE has Step 1 and Step 2 CK qbanks, it’s essentially billed as a curriculum-replacement tool with hundreds of hours of video lectures. It’s got all the trappings: It has the FRED qbank software. It has accelerated video playback options. It has a phone app.

It’s competing with pricey options like DIT and Kaplan. And while it’s cheaper than both of those, it still costs a fortune ($395 for 1 month, $795 for 3 months). There is a 15-day free trial, however, so if you were planning on doing an expensive course, you wouldn’t lose anything by trying. 15 days is actually a really generous trial; you could get a lot of value for free if you remember to cancel it if you don’t think it’s worth the dough. The solo qbank product option is cheap ($59.99 for a month), but the competition on that front is really stiff.

From my brief review sampling, the qbank lacks polish. Questions use the clinical vignette format but do not ape the USMLE house-style particularly well. A UWorld replacement it’s not.

As for the videos, I would never ever personally be interested in buying a video course, so my intrinsic bias probably precludes a fair assessment. Like DIT, they follow First Aid. The style is pure casual whiteboard—like a friend trying to teach you in a room in the back of the library—which I imagine is nice and approachable for students feeling overwhelmed. But, again, these felt a bit on the unpolished side of the spectrum. I’m not sure I could imagine spending the 100+ hours it would take to watch them all even at 2x speed. The free sample online is representative, so you can make your own decisions.

 

 

Department of Education decides that loan holders aren’t really consumers and that students don’t need protection

Last month Betsy DeVos’ (Trump’s) Department of Education ended their cooperation with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, because, you know, the CFPB was “overreaching” in trying to actually protect student loan borrowers.

Shocking that the same DOE that wanted to consolidate the entire servicing industrial complex into one giant government contract with a shortlist that included a company currently being sued by the CFPB for defrauding students would now be cutting ties with the agency charged with dealing with exactly this kind of detritus.