Well, that was an interesting day – went to work, checked up on some news and out of the blue Apple releases 14.2.1 for iPhone 12 devices – it updated the modem firmware from 1.14.04 to 1.14.06. I haven’t noticed any differences in terms of reliability but then again I guess I was lucky in that I never experienced the issue that people had experienced prior to the update.

With the purchase of the iPhone 12 Pro Max I decided to move from Skinny to Spark (there is only a $3 difference where as 12 months ago the gap was a lot wider). One of the benefits of moving to Spark for my mobile service provide is it’s integration with VoLTE. Unfortunately with VoLTE it requires the carriers to work with the handset vendor to test and get working vs dropping back to 3G mode where if you have a connection you can make a call.

The first round of ARM based Mac devices have made the reviewer rounds which have the M1 chip in it (which has been described as having been built on the A14 chip – which is similar to how Intel will keep a common architectural core that spans from ultrabooks, laptops, desktops, workstation and all the way up to servers) but for me I’m waiting for next year or the year after when they make their first refresh and the 16inch ARM book is refreshed along with a refreshed iMac with an ARM based processor.

Ubquiti has pushed out another beta update for the UDM and UDM Pro, 1.8.3-4 where the focus has been very much on reducing memory usage. Hopefully soon we’ll soon see the UAP 5.x firmware stabilise too – it uses an entirely brand new wifi firmware as well as updated drivers, kernel release etc. In terms of the reliability of the UDM I’ve been pretty happy with it so far. 

Apple released an updated 14.2 of iOS for iPhone 12 devices however it isn’t available as an OTA update – you’ll need to plugin your phone to your computer to update it. I decided to update to see what it offered – I haven’t noticed a difference but maybe later on I’ll trip over something I as I am going about my daily business.

macOS 11.1 beta and iOS 14.3 beta (along with betas for all their other platforms) has been Mae available for developers. It appears that it is full steam head but I wonder whether we’ll see it being released before Christmas or whether it’ll be released afterwards.

Before upgrading to the iPhone 12 Pro Max I decided to revisit the past in my second foray into the world of the Google Pixel 4 XL with the first one being abruptly ended because I had convinced myself that maybe Apple had addressed the short comings of the bundled software included with iOS, mainly, Safari and it’s lack of evolution in terms of supporting web standards. There is a tendency to look at Google services from the outside and jump to conclusions about what the iCloud ecosystem is. A good example would be the view that iCloud services has been a gradual evolution since I opened up an iCloud account but has Google on the other hand moved forward (Apple Maps vs. Google Maps outside of the United States) at a faster pace or are the improvements more widely reported as a result of their services being platform agnostic (accessed via the web browser) vs. iCloud which heavily relies on native applications running on Apple’s various platforms which directly talk to Apple’s servers? How do the Google services feel, when running in a native experience, which will give Google the ability to really make their services shin given that they control the platform?

When it comes to Android I take the ‘iron man argument’ – take the most robust implementation of Android and use that as the benchmark rather than the most popular but less ‘well put together’ implementation of Android. For me, ever since the Nexus 6P (my first exposure of Android direct from Google) the handsets direct from Google gives the most pure Android experience – devoid of the crapware and controlled directly from Google so that the experience you are given is what Google have envisaged Android to be for the consumer. The Pixel being the successor to Nexus but in a more ‘consumer friendly form’ (the Nexus when launched was primarily focused on tech enthusiasts and developers) but none the less what you get is the most pure form of the Google experience – it is the Google experience that Google wishes its customer to experience, to represent the highest ideal of what Google is all about. Unfortunately Pixel phones aren’t available in retail stores in New Zealand but it is available through online retailers such as Kogan who sell in New Zealand (they ship the product from Australia with their logistics company taking care of the GST themselves). Although the Pixel 5 was released I decided to go with the Pixel 4 XL because Kogan had it on special along with the fact that I wanted a bigger screen plus there is still another 2 years minimum (possibly longer assuming that Android moves to GKI 2.0 (link) which will allow piecemeal updates).

The day I received the handset Google pushed out the November security and bug fix update, and just like in the iOS world it was received on time rather than the long protracted weeks of ‘rolling it out’ such as Samsung releasing updates a month in New Zealand after Google makes the security update available to their own phones. So far things are going very well – stable and reliable.

Side note: I thought it was interesting that when I put in a Vodafone SIM it didn’t work ‘out of the box’ yet when I put in my Skinny SIM (which uses the Spark network) everything auto configured and worked as it should. So keeping in mind that when I tested it I was using a Skinny SIM and using G-Suite as well.

When it comes to the hardware itself, even after a year, it is still very snappy to the point that I think that although there are improvements that can be demonstrated via a benchmark, the improvements really aren’t that noticeable when it comes to every day use. When compared to the Pixel 5, it has a slight lead in performance over the 765G, but the main benefit of the Pixel 4 XL is the bigger screen When it comes to the amount of RAM, 6GB, I didn’t experience any issues of applications having to be forced closed by the system to free up memory. The feel of the hardware is great in the hands but keeping in mind that I always put my devices in a leather flip case from Snakehive (link).

Android 11 has very much moved in the direction of being more ‘privacy focused’ – not as much as say iOS but they have introduced a more fine grained control such as the ability to allow the application only to use GPS when you’re physically using the application or enable an application to only be able to access the microphone and/or camera only when you’re directly interacting with it.

Although Chrome is installed by default it is still disappointing that even after all these years that they haven’t provided the ability to install extensions – yes, it is possible to install a third party browser but part of benefit of going with Android is being able to leverage the Google cloud service as a ‘one stop stop’ (I tend to prefer only having to deal with one provider rather than multiple providers if I can avoid it) along with the fact that the alternatives don’t run well on macOS (Firefox for example still very much lags behind Chrome when it comes to taking advantage of macOS’s underlying technology such as webrender isn’t fully implemented on macOS when compared to Windows).

The bundled applications are still lacking; the phone application I was hoping to make an answer calls in much the same way I can do with the iPhone and my Mac but it appears that it is a service that Google is only allowing for their Google Fi customers. When it comes to Google Messages, the RCS service (via the Jibe platform (which Google owns)) does allow one to send photos etc without the added expense of normally associating with sending photos (since RCS uses Jobe platform servers rather than the traditional text messaging system provided by ones carrier) however it has limited utility. Outside of the US Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are king there is limited benefit of Google pushing out an RCS service – particularly one that doesn’t provide end to end encryption which makes it lack the sort of privacy protection that for example iMessage has.

YouTube Music is limited when compared to the old Google Play Music application particularly when dealing with albums that have more than 10 tracks which result in the number getting out of order, the limited options when it comes to the built in audio equaliser (I prefer to have bass booster enabled). I can’t help but get the feeling that although it can play music that is stored on local storage the main focus is it’s integration into the paid service Google provides.

In terms of the battery life, the battery life is pretty good – about the same as my experience with my iPhone 11 Pro Max but keeping in mind that I am a very light user (I don’t play games, play videos etc. as I primarily surf the net, read reddit, send messages via WhatsApp, listening to music etc) so your mileage may vary. The quality of the connection to the mobile network was better than the iPhone 11 Pro Max due to Qualcomm being the more mature modem but if you’re using an iPhone 12 Pro Max (like I am) which uses the x55 modem then you’ll find that the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a slight edge over the Pixel 4XL particularly when it comes to areas which have weak coverage.

Would I buy I buy the Pixel 4 XL when compared to the iPhone 11 Pro Max? it depends on how deeply ingrained into the Apple ecosystem are in terms of your reliance on the frictionless integration (in my case, my security camera setup integrating in with Home Kit which enable me to view what is happening at home whether I’m on my computer at home or out and about with my mobile phone) – keeping in mind that if you buy the Pixel 4 XL at this stage then you would be looking at another 2 years of support. That is one of the benefits of the iPhone where you’re receiving almost 5 years of support so if you’re the sort of person who keeps their phone for more than 2-3 years then the iPhone is probably more suitable. When compared to the new Pixel phones that were announced which were based on the Qualcomm 765G SoC the performance gap between that and the Qualcomm 855 is small but it depends on how keen you are to have 5G support.

Side note: I’ve now got a iPhone 12 Pro Max which comes with the Qualcomm x55 modem (second generation 5G modem) but keeping in mind that outside of the US the primary focus on the sub-6GHz band rather than wasting time on the mmwave (there have been articles about Qualcomm testing point to point connections using mmwave which IMHO where the best benefits will be yielded). In the case of Spark (the carrier I am with) their 5G frequency is N78 which translates to 3300Mhz to 3800Mhz. Such a high frequency will require Spark to install more base stations but it’ll be more useful to the average person than mmwave that can be blocked by a leaf, hand or a raindrop (thus making the whole ‘anti-5G’ nonsense even crazier than it is given that the mmwave frequencies cannot even penetrate the human body, heck it cannot even penetrate through double glazed windows!).

I’m tempted to write a bit of a grab bag article outlining the new Apple Silicon, Big Sur etc. but that’ll probably in a few days. This took a lot longer than it should have primarily because I’ve been lazy and laying in bed with my laptop where as I really should be a lot more motivated by being at my desk which gives me a lot more focus.

My Pixel 4 XL arrived yesterday – I’ll write up a review on my day off but what I thought was funny was how the Vodafone SIM I had laying around didn’t automatically configure my phone so that I could send or receive messages but when I put in my Skinny SIM (Spark’s ‘price concious’ brand) everything started working without me having to configure anything. I opened up Google messages, went to settings and enabled chat functionality (using Google’s own Jibe RCS servers since none of the carriers in New Zealand support RCS). Today I went to work – no problems, then went to the store after work to give Google Pay. Long story short – I’m a happy lad.

My Chromecast with Google TV arrived today and although I am waiting for my Google Workspaces to hit the 30 day mark so that I can use YouTube I was able to set everything else up. On the first boot up I went through the process of configuring the settings including voice control which I set to English United Kingdom (which funny enough was able to work with a New Zealand accent without an issues). After configuring and getting it hooked up to wifi (thank goodness it supports 5GHz) it downloaded a sizeable update and got that installed. I then went to the Paly store and downloaded all the applications I use on a regular basis – Bloomberg, DW, France 24 and Al Jazeera.

The first thing I noticed, after getting everything setup, is how the whole experience is not only faster/more responsive than the Tizen based operating system that Samsung uses in its televisions, it is also faster than the Apple TV 4K where I found there was constant lag between pressing my remote and the device responding. There is also the issue of the remote control – the Apple TV one is just horrible, it has been with us for 2 generations (maybe more) and it really hasn’t gotten all that much better where as the Chromecast with Google TV comes with a fairly traditional remote with clicky buttons and it works perfect.

This coming weekend I’ll do a more comprehensive review of both of them but for now I’m pretty impressed with how things are going.

It’s labour day in New Zealand today so unfortunately, although my package from Australia (well, one out of the two) is sitting in Auckland it has been delayed so I might not get it until either tomorrow (an unrealistic earliest assuming it comes down on the overnight truck from Auckland to Wellington the courier service during the day) or the most likely scenario being later on in the week.

Work is going well and I’ve put in an application for leave over Christmas, 23-27 December, which will give me 9 days off (5 days annual leave and four days weekend). Regarding Christmas presents for the family, I’ll start having a look around in November but I think I’ll keep it pretty simple; money for my eldest niece, a toy for the youngest two nieces, and some goodies for the rest of the family (although I’ll need to get a virtual gift for my brother, his parter and their baby since sending it from New Zealand to Australia will be costly and liable to be broken knowing my luck).

My UDM (Unifi Dream Machine) received an update to 1.8.2-8 however there was an international user who has an UDM device connected to his ISP which uses VLAN tagging and ipv6 (which is what most ISPs in New Zealand use) but he was experiencing issues so before I take the dive of maybe moving ISPs I want to make sure what issues he is actually having.

The craziness of another election is over and Labour won a majority as expected but the biggest shock was the Auckland Central Candidate from the Green Party, Chlöe Swarbrick, won the seat which is the first constituency seat won since Jeanette Fitzsimons won the seat in the Coromandel. Not only that but the Green Party ended up over performing resulting in winning 7.6% of the party vote. Not only was there a Labour win but a political shift to the left with the icing on the cake that Advance NZ and New Conservatives ended up splitting in the reactionary right wing vote resulting in NZ First leaving parliament.

Oh a good side today I received two lots of confirmation, the first being that Kogan is sending me the Pixel 4 XL that I ordered which will hopefully arrive by early November. The second good news is that my brother tested the Chromecast at home has sent it so hopefully that too will arrive by early November.

Along with that I am looking at the possibility of moving to Vodafone for both my broadband and mobile connection. They’ve got a $300 credit over 12 months (which works out to be $25 per month which translates into $78 per month for 900/500 broadband. I’ve first got to find out how much notice I have to give before I make up my mind.

Another day, another pay – busy at work but one of the perks of being busy is that it makes the day go faster. Tomorrow (Saturday) I’m going to get up early so I can head over to the polling booth and cast my vote for Chris Hipkins for my local MP but I’m going to give the Green Party my party vote. I understand that the Green Party aren’t going to get everything they want but if they can focus on where their strengths are such as the environment, championing public transport etc. then hopefully as a country we can get closer to our ‘carbon neutral by 2050’ (IMHO, I think we could get their quicker if we banned importing ICE vehicles by 2025, banned ICE vehicles completely by 2030, and use that time to build up an electrified rail network to provide competitive long distance transportation so then air travel is left solely for overseas transportation – I guess that is why I’m not involved in politics, I’d annoy too many people).

The Chromecast with Google TV arrived while my brother and his partner were out so they went and picked it up. For some known reason Toll insists on having a pin when picking up – because, you know, ID that matches the name on the parcel itself isn’t good enough. Well, if there is one thing I have learned and that is, when there is the option to ‘upgrade’ to courier I should stick with the standard Australian Post because there is a whole lot less drama that way. As noted in the past, if I do ever get ‘tempted’ by Google’s product launches, what I’ll do instead is schedule a holiday to Australia where I can wrap up my purchasing in with a holiday and enjoy a holiday along side some retail therapy.

I found this amazing piece of software called ‘Mimestream’ (link) which uses the GMail API which means it properly deals with labels, it uses a push based API which means you get notified when new mail arrives rather than the mail application having to poll the server in the background which should help when it comes to battery life on laptops. So far, even at 0.7.0c it is very stable with new releases being made available on almost a weekly basis (sometimes quicker than that). It’ll definitely be at the top of my ‘to buy’ list once it is released but even at the beta stage it is very reliable (keeping in mind I’m not a hardcore email user). There is work on adding address and calendaring functionality so it sounds like the long term goal is to turn it into something akin to Outlook but for GSuite/Workspaces.

I’ve been following UDM (UniFi Dream Machine) firmware development and I have to admit that at this stage I am pretty disappointed. The standard firmware that comes with a UDM (1.5.7) doesn’t support my ISP out of the box which necessitated the need to upgrade it to the latest beta version which introduces its own set of issues regarding bugs relating to memory leaks etc. At this point I am very tempted to looking at getting three Google Nest Wifi routers then daisy chaining them together using ethernet cables under the house which would give a strong coverage for the whole house. The big problem is about getting the ethernet cables installed – I wouldn’t be able to fit under the house but I’d be more than happy to pay someone $100 cash in hand to get under the house thread the cables through because once it is threaded through it’ll all be sorted. That being said, I’ll wait and see what Ubiquiti ends up deciding to do because it is a great kit but it really isn’t living up to its full potential at the moment.

I’m looking forward to the Chromecast with Google TV to arrive because at the moment I’m using my televisions built in software (Tizen since it is a Samsung television). It is ‘ok’ in terms of ‘it does the job’ but the responsiveness is bad not to mention that it doesn’t support 5GHz wifi so I have to enable it on my access point. Looking at all the videos on YouTube it appears to be as fluid as Apple TV (maybe they’ve migrated over to Flutter for the UI?). I’ve sold my Apple TV, bought the Chromecast with Google TV and I’m $150 up which will enable me to pay for my new tyre so I’m a happy lad.

Well, I came off my scooter yesterday due to a puncher in my back tyre so I’ve had to rest from work – I’ve been taking it easy but in moments where I’m feeling better I plugged up 4 punchers in my tyre. I think long term I’m going to have to replace the back tyre but at the moment it’ll get me through to the end of the week.

Welp, got that all sorted out – I couldn’t order a Chromecast with Google TV via best buy however on a good side I realised it is available in Australia so I’ve ordered it so that it is delivered to my brother and then he’ll send it to New Zealand. I think going forward that once this whole COVID-19 is under control I’m going to turn October into the ‘upgrade my phone and gear while I head over to Australia for a holiday’ which will enable me to get Google gear without the stress of dealing with retailers in the US who apparently are keeping tabs of addresses of remailing services.

On the Google front I’ve setup my Google Workspaces which will give me all the Workspaces applications plus 2TB of storage for NZ$18 per month and combine that with YouTube Premium which is NZ$15.99 the total cost is NZ$33.99 which isn’t too bad given that I’ll be backing up my whole music collection that I’ve backed from my CDs in FLAC files (currently sitting on an external SSD but it is always good practice to have an offsite backup) as well as making extensive use of YouTube Music since I’ll upload my whole FLAC collection to YouTube Music and let Google do all the encoding required so then I can access my music from all my devices – laptop, desktop or mobile phone. I’ve jut finished uploading the contents of my external drive which is around 160GB but given that it comes with 2TB it is pretty much unlimited.

Once I’ve finished my YouTube Premium on my old account I’ll start up the subscription on my new account then upload all the FLAC files to YouTube Music so that they can be converted over. One of the cool things is that YouTube Music can be ‘installed’ as a PWA so it ends up acting like an application.

Side note: It is interesting to see that Google is heading in the direction that I thought they would in terms of consolidating around key brands such as using the YouTube brand for bringing together music, movies, linear television and so on. Another side note: If you have a Workspace/GSuite account, you may find that you cannot access YouTube – you’ll need to wait 30 days and have spent at least US$30 in terms of paying your subscription – that can either be in the form of a deposit or just paying for a couple of months. I found it out the hard way in the past – pulling my hair out wondering why it wasn’t working. On a good side, my Pixel 4 XL won’t arrive until November, and my Chromecast with Google TV will probably arrive towards the end of October after it is received by my brother and his partner in Australia then mailed to New Zealand – from what I understand there is a bit of a backlog between in Australia and New Zealand so it might take longer than usual. Oh well, all looking good. When it arrives I’ll give both a review including lots of photos and stuff.