Cursory reviews of random gadgets


It’s been a long while since I published any sort of gadget reviews, so here’s a couple at once.

Apple Watch (Sport)

Bought it at $100 off at a Best Buy during my recent foray to the US, the reasoning being that even if a new model comes out this month, getting a fully integrated experience at that price was a no-brainer. I expect to write more about my experience with it in six months or so (maybe – there are already too many opinions on it out there), but these are the highlights so far:

Pluses:

  • I can finally reply to instant messages (including WhatsApp and any other app that supports iOS quick replies) and even e-mails – the latter is hardly useful, but the former is invaluable when you spend as much time in public transit as I do. Canned replies are context-sensitive (which is pretty great), and dictation mostly just works (including punctuation), so it’s an all-round win.
  • The most important work apps I use work perfectly with it. Outlook and OneNote are not just accessible, but actually useful. Besides having the Outlook complication1 on my watch face, focused inbox notifications let me archive or triage direct correspondence on the go, including meeting requests (of which I receive entirely too many).
  • The health/activity stuff is actually useful to me, for a variety of reasons. Working at Microsoft forces me to move around quite a lot, but not actually exercise the way I would prefer, so having something better than Google Fit to keep (moderately accurate) track of my activity is nice.
  • The watch itself fits and feels great (I went for the 38mm model, which was both smaller and cheaper, and quite like not having a big, bulky watch protruding from my shirt cuff). Physical controls (crown and side button) are a nice bonus. Not by any means revolutionary and a bit fiddly in terms of UX, but nearly as satisfactory as the side buttons on the Pebble in a purely physical sense.
  • It works fairly well over Wi-Fi - I can leave my iPhone charging on the other end of the house and still get notifications, use apps, and even take the occasional call.

Minuses:

  • After nearly a year with smart watches that had an always-on display of some kind, it’s somewhat weird to have to jiggle my wrist or tap the watch to check the time.
  • Battery life on the watch might cover a weekend, if I’m lucky (then again, at the cost of a Pebble Round, I’m getting a lot more bang for my buck). Battery life on the phone seems to take a bigger hit than with either Android Wear or the Pebble (then again, might be due to initial enthusiasm).
  • The Taptic Engine is mildly overrated. It’s failed to bring to my attention a few important notifications, so I had to boost the intensity.
  • Notification handling is… Strange. Force touch to clear all is somewhat intuitive, but the amount of visual fluff and animations involved in taking stock and reacting to a notification make the whole experience feel a bit clumsy.
  • With the exception of 1Password, Google Maps and the Microsoft apps, none of the other stuff I have installed is worth writing home about. Citymapper, Moovit and a few other apps I use daily on the phone were nothing but slow, pokey disappointments.

Like other first-generation Apple gear, the watch (even running the 2.1 OS) feels unfinished and clunky. It is light-years ahead of the Pebble and a nicer experience than Android Wear, but not by much – I don’t regret getting it (again, being able to reply to messages on the go is well worth it on its own).

Logi(tech) Keys-To-Go

Another recent acquisition was a Logitech Keys-To-Go Bluetooth keyboard, which I got because for all intents and purposes my iPad mini is my go-to personal computer, and Apple saw it fit to make the mini 4 ever so slightly bigger than the previous models – so my old folio keyboard cover became useless overnight.

Mind you, I wanted a US keyboard layout (for coding), so I have no clue as to what regional variants there may be.

Pluses:

  • I can touch type on it just fine. Key nubs are more than adequately spaced – it was just a matter of setting my fingers on the home keys and I was set.
  • The lack of discrete keys is hardly a problem – key travel is easily on a par with my MacBook (probably a bit better), and the velvety feel of the material is a tad more pleasant than cold plastic keys in current weather.
  • It has a Ctrl key, something that is essential to me when using any sort of terminal/Remote Desktop app.
  • The keyboard is extremely lightweight, and only a few centimeters wider than my iPad mini 4, so it’s not very awkward to carry around (I suspect it will be even less awkward if you have a full-sized iPad).
  • It exhibits very little of the usual idiocy that appears to strike iOS hardware keyboard designers - i.e., it has almost all the keys you’ll need (see below).

Minuses:

  • Logitech keeps getting special keys all wrong. Two of the keys on the top row take me to the global search field, another takes a screenshot (whatever for?) and there is no Esc key – a common flaw on iOS keyboards since time immemorial.
  • The on/off button is tiny, fiddly and, overall, an annoyance for folk with trimmed fingernails. I get that it’s necessary, but I wish I didn’t have to be a guitarist or an extra in The Devil Wears Prada to toggle it without a hitch.
  • It lacks backlighting. That would probably be a challenge with this sort of keyboard, but I’d pay a bit extra for it.
  • The material becomes visibly worn after only a week’s use – in particular, my penchant for hitting the space bar with my right thumb has already left a whitish spot on it.
  • There’s a noticeable tendency for dust to cling to it. Easy to brush off, but annoying.

On the whole, though, it was good bang for the buck, and unless you’re particularly picky about keyboard feel, more than adequate for extended use.


  1. Yeah, I know – the irony, right? ↩︎