Review: iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2018)

Post by Mark

A month ago I posted my first impression of the new iPad Pro. I got the iPad from Xcite and since then I’ve also gotten the Apple Pencil as well as purchased the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio for it, and an iPad sleeve from WaterField. My setup is basically complete and now that I’ve been using the 12.9″ iPad Pro for over a month I managed to answer the ever so important question, can this iPad replace a laptop? Yes, or in my case at least it has replaced one, and I’ll explain how.

Full disclosure, I have a long-standing relationship with Xcite who provided me with this iPad Pro. They’ve been very active with me and the blog over the years and they’ve lent or given me a number of items over the years to review, as well as hooking me up with discounts. I’m a huge Xcite fan.

As I mentioned in my first impression post, my current Mac setup at home is composed of a 27-inch iMac which I use mostly for my design work, a 13-inch MacBook Pro which I use as my day-to-day computer, and a 9.7-inch iPad Pro I use for random things like watching YouTube videos in bed or when I want to chill and browse the web at a coffee shop. What I didn’t mention in that post was that I also had a small 12″ MacBook which belonged to the company I work for. I hadn’t used a 12-inch Macbook before joining this company and I really fell in love with it. It’s extremely compact, its lightweight and battery life was incredible. Instead of lugging my 13-inch MacBook Pro around to coffee shops or when traveling, I’d always prefer to take the 12-inch MacBook. But now that I was leaving the company I decided I wanted to get my very own MacBook, and that was around the same time the new 12.9-inch iPad was launched.

I’ll be honest, I was barely using the iPad Pro before getting the Apple Pencil or keyboard for it. I used the iPad Pro to edit photos in Lightroom but that was about it. I found the iPad Pro too large to use while sitting on my couch and I hate typing on the screen. In bed, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro was also too huge to be practical, so I continued to use my smaller 9.7-inch iPad before going to sleep. But, once I got the Apple Pencil and keyboard, things changed drastically. The keyboard for me turned the iPad Pro into a proper laptop, it really made a dramatic difference and I suddenly found myself using the iPad Pro whenever I had the chance. Even at home, I found myself reaching out for the iPad Pro more than my MacBook Pro when wanting to browse the web while watching TV.

Apple Pencil
I’m not an illustrator, in fact, I can barely draw stick figures, but you don’t need to be an illustrator to make use of the Apple Pencil. I found the Apple Pencil really useful in the photo editor Lightroom, and when using the Photoshop-like-app Affinity Photo. In Lightroom the Pencil gave me more precise control when adjusting the settings sliders while also allowing me to draw my image masks more accurately. In Affinity Photo, the Apple Pencil allowed me to draw my object selections better as well as made erasing backdrops so much more easier. If you can illustrate, then you could take the iPad Pro to a completely different level. I know a bunch of very talented illustrators who dropped their Wacom tablets and shifted to using the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil as their primary illustration tool.

Apple Smart Keyboard Folio
As I mentioned earlier, I hate typing on the iPad screen and I never got the hang of it which is why I also had a keyboard for my smaller iPad. The keyboard on the new iPads though is a much better design. If you have the old keyboards then you know they’re not great to use on your laps because of the way they fold. The new keyboards don’t have that fold at the bottom, it’s one solid piece so it’s a lot more stable on your laps. Typing on this keyboard is great, I haven’t experienced any issues or even a drop in my typing speed either. The only thing I miss is the backlit keys, but that would probably add more weight to the keyboard and I wouldn’t want that since it’s already pretty hefty.

12-inch MacBook vs 12.9-inch iPad Pro
One thing I wanted to know was if the iPad Pro would be a better option for me over the small 12-inch MacBook. The biggest test would be if I could use the iPad to blog from. It sounds like a fairly simple thing especially since you could technically blog from any browser on any device, but that’s not what I mean. I’ve been blogging now for over 15 years and I’m used to blogging in a certain way. For one thing, I like my space, I can’t post from a small screen since it feels claustrophobic. I also need Photoshop because that’s what I use to resize photos so they fit on the blog as well as allowing me to control the compression strength of the jpg.

The most difficult blogging day for me is usually Thursdays because that’s when I post my “movies now playing list” as well as my events list. I say difficult because it involves a lot of jumping around on different pages, lots of researching, downloading of images, a lot of copying and pasting of information and lots of linking. If I could get my Thursday posts done on my iPad Pro, then it would pass the test. Spoiler: It passed.

Last Thursday I did all my posting on my iPad Pro and I was even able to complete my posts at a much faster pace than usual because of the way I can split the screen up and did two things at the same time side by side. My setup during my movies post, for example, had my blog open on the left side of the screen while the cinemas and IMDB websites were open on the right. I could then copy paste the info from the right screen to my left and basically work on my post without having to keep swapping tabs. Simply put, the iPad actually made my job a bit easier. Because the screen is also slightly larger than the 12-inch MacBook, I could also see and fit more information on the screen at once and it just felt a lot less cramped.


Dash Sleeve for the iPad Pro from WaterField

Conclusion
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the keyboard is now what I will take with me when I travel and it’s what I will be using to blog from when I’m posting from outside my house. I’m actually using the iPad right now for this post because I’m at a coffee shop and it just makes more sense to post from an iPad when I’m advocating how great it is to post from it.

Both the 12-inch MacBook and 12.9-inch iPad Pro are similarly priced once you add the keyboard and pencil to the iPad. And really, if I had gotten the MacBook instead I wouldn’t complain since I love it so much. But what the iPad Pro is offering is something a bit more. Because it’s a tablet and a fairly fast one, I found I prefered editing my photos in Lightroom a lot more enjoyable than on my MacBook’s. This iPad Pro is actually faster than the MacBook and my MacBook Pro. The Apple Pencil also an extra dimension which the MacBook’s, in general, can’t compete with.

So can the iPad Pro replace your computer? It really depends on your requirements but the simple answer would be yes it can. Right now the only thing I’d really like on the iPad is a full version of Adobe Photoshop but that’s supposedly coming out next year. Until then I’m using Affinity Photo which pretty much has 80% of the things I need from Photoshop. As long as you’re prepared to change your habits a bit, I don’t think moving to an iPad as your primary computer would be that difficult.

The new iPad Pro is now available in most places around Kuwait but I got mine from Xcite and you can find them on their online store [Here]


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Pelican Cases and Vintage Stuff at FITCO Systems

Post by Mark

I’m thinking about getting a Pelican case for my camera gear and so the first place I checked was at Al-Sabih. But, not only did they not have the sizes I was looking for, what they did have was expensive, like double Amazon prices expensive. For example:

Pelican 1520 Case with Foam
Al-Sabih = KD73
Amazon = KD34

Then I remembered someone once mentioned a store called FITCO Systems once that also sold Pelican cases. So I googled FITCO and found pictures of what looked like a stationary store / hardware store / electronics store. I asked the guys in one of my WhatsApp groups about the store and a friend told me its a very weird place, so weird that he couldn’t explain what the store sold and that I had to go see it for myself.

FITCO Systems is located in Kuwait City right next to Tatami and behind Solo Pizza. When I first walked in I asked about Pelican cases and they have them. Their prices were also pretty reasonable:

Pelican 1400 Case with Foam
FITCO = KD32
Amazon = KD30

Pelican 1500 Case with Foam
FITCO = KD48
Amazon = KD43

Pelican 1600 Case with Foam
FITCO = KD65
Amazon = KD48

Anyway here is the interesting part. I started walking around the store to see what they sold exactly and they had so much random stuff all over the place. The store has been around since 1986 and I think they deal with businesses and wholesale (B2B) more than with consumers. So the store isn’t really in tip-top condition which is why I kept digging up so much vintage stuff.

The store has a ton of items still on the shelves from when they had opened back in 1986, items that are no longer useful but they’re still selling. The place is like a time capsule and I think I spent an hour flipping through their shelves taking photos of everything from Palm Pilot modems to storage cases for 5 1/4 Floppy Disks. They had brand new Windows 98 boxes as well as Microsoft Plus! 98. They had discontinued FujiFilm FP-100C instant film, old Nikon 35mm film scanners, a whole bunch of 8mm backup tapes and cartridges, old webcams, and just a huge amount of random items piled up everywhere. I shared a bunch of photos on my instagram story @mark248am if you want to take a look.

If you want to check the place out yourself, here is their location on [Google Maps].
They also have a website but like the store, it also looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 90s [Link].


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RAM Mounts in Kuwait

Post by Mark

RAM Mounts make some of the best mounting solutions be it if you want to mount your tablet inside your car, or your camera outside of it. I wouldn’t trust any other brand when it comes to mounting my camera outside the car, it’s actually what I use to mount my GoPro on top of my car during track days (pictured above). I know no matter how aggressive my driving will be and how fast I go, the suction is going to hold up. They’re actually known for having some of the most impressive suction cups in the world and most if not all of their mounts are made of aluminum, so they’re super durable.

I’ve previously had to order my RAM mounts off Amazon but I recently found out there is a store in Kuwait that sells them. The store is called Q8 Mounts and they have a huge selection of RAM hardware to choose from. They even have an online website but if you go to the actual store, they have a ton of different mounts available on display for you to play with and check out before getting what you need.

Pricewise it’s complicated. Some of the items are double the price of Amazon, some are exactly the same and some are a lot cheaper. It’s pretty weird because usually, places are either have the same price as Amazon, more expensive prices or cheaper prices, I’ve never come across a place that has all three. If you’re looking for RAM mounts then check them out, they’re on instagram @q8mount, their website is q8mount.com and here is their location on [Google Maps]


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Where to get a dashcam from

Post by Mark

I’ve been using a dashcam now for four years and even though I haven’t caught anything interesting yet, I still would recommend people have one installed in their cars. Dashcams are small video recorders you mount on your front windshield and they record everything that happens in front of your car. They’re great for capturing accidents that aren’t your fault and are used in a lot of countries for insurance purposes.

The other day while visiting A-Store in Shuwaikh I noticed they were selling a bunch of different dashcams including the brand Aukey. Their prices were more expensive than Amazon but if you don’t want to go through the hassle of ordering from Amazon then they might be a good choice.

Their store is in Shuwaikh across from Tilal [Google Maps] but they have the cameras listed on their online store which you can check out [Here]

If you know of any other places in Kuwait that sell dashcams, let me know.


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F1 TV in Kuwait Update

Post by Mark

In my last post on accessing F1 TV in Kuwait, I wrote about how you can access it if you used a VPN and that it would probably start working with SmartDNS soon. Well two weeks later and my prediction came true, F1 TV now works in Kuwait using Smart DNS!

You no longer need to use a VPN which in my case improved streaming speed considerably. I’ve only tried it with my smartdnsproxy.com service (the same one I use for Netflix, HBO, Hulu, etc..) so not sure if it works with another provider. [Link]


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Local Video Game Vloggers

Post by Mark

Last week there was a slightly controversial post in the Kuwait sub on Reddit. Basically, a user wanted another user to stop sharing his gaming vlogs because he didn’t think anyone was interested in them. I personally wasn’t a fan of the videos, but I thought that request was pretty shitty. Just because I didn’t like the videos or the majority of people didn’t like the videos, I don’t think its fair to muzzle someone who is actually taking the time and making the effort to create content. Good or bad, at least they’re active and doing something.

So I decided I’d share the two local video game vloggers I’m aware of in this post. I’m not a fan of either of them but I do appreciate the fact they’re doing what they love to do and that deserves some recognition. So if you’re into video games, check out the two vloggers below:

DarkWolf80s
I find DarkWolf80s super cheesy and his video titles are 100% clickbait, but I have to give the guy credit, he does love his video games. DarkWolf80s has released 11 videos this year alone covering various topics, mostly super geeky ones which I like, it’s just the videos themselves I don’t like. So if you want to check out his channel, click [Here]

DarkraiQ8
If you’re into Pokemon then you’ll have to check DarkraiQ8’s YouTube channel so you’ll realize you’re really not into Pokemon. The guy is like Pokemon fan level 40 which is why I don’t watch any of his videos. I think they’re really boring but the guy is super dedicated publishing a new video every few days. It’s definitely for Arabic speaking die-hard Pokemon fans. So if you’re a Pokemon geek, check out his channel [Here]

Know of any other local video game vloggers? Let me know in the comments below.


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Google Home Mini vs Amazon Echo Dot – Which is Better?

Post by Mark

A couple of weeks ago I got back from LA and brought back with me the Google Home Mini and the Amazon Echo Dot. I actually got two Amazon Echos, I put one in my bedroom and the other in the kitchen while I put the Google Home device in my living room. After using them for two weeks I sadly can’t tell you which is better because I don’t think there is a clear winner. But what I’ll do is explain how I’ve decided to use them and the issues I have with both of them and hopefully, that will give you an idea on which one you should get.

Firstly for those of you who have no idea what the Google Home and Amazon Echo are, they’re voice-controlled devices like Siri on the iPhone. Amazon’s assistant is called Alexa while Google’s is simply called Google Assistant. Recently Apple released the HomePod which uses Siri. The reason I didn’t get that instead is the price. At $350, the HomePod would be pretty expensive to add to every room in the house plus, I already have a legit speaker in every room of my apartment anyway the HomePod would make them redundant. On the other hand, both the Echo Dot and Home Mini cost $50 each, so the three I got cost less than half the price of one HomePod. I connected the bedroom Echo to my Bang & Olufsen Beolit 12 speaker and the kitchen one to my Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A2 speaker. I left the Google Home as is because I wasn’t planning to use it to play music.

Let me take the opportunity now to explain how I’m using the devices.

In the morning I tend to wake up and play music on the BeoLit 12 in my bedroom. Before I got the Echo, I used to launch Spotify on my phone and then AirPlay the music onto my bedroom speaker. My phone also used to be my alarm. Now on the other hand, I set the alarm on the Echo and when I want to play music I just go “Alexa, play music everywhere”. Everywhere is a group I created that includes my bedroom and kitchen Echo. So now I get music playing in my bedroom, and my kitchen downstairs. Then just before I leave my house I go into the kitchen, get my car keys and say “Alexa stop” and it stops playing music in my apartment. I also have Alexa setup to work with both my Amazon Music account and my Spotify account. When I say for example “Alexa play jazz”, it will connect to a jazz radio station on Amazon Music, but when I say “Alexa play music” or “Alexa play my discovery weekly playlist on Spotify”, it will either continue playing where I last stopped on Spotify, or play the specific playlist I asked for.

While I use Alexa for music, I use Google for questions, like I do on the web. I have it set up in my living room where I spend 90% of my time in. So far it’s been super helpful while friends were over. For example, I was sitting talking to a friend and they asked me how long the flight from NY to LA was. I estimated at around 5 hours but then I was like “Hey Google, how long is the flight from NY to LA?”. Within an instant, Google replied that a non-stop flight was 6 hours and 15 minutes long. Another time I was watching a movie and someone mentioned a banana daiquiri. I was curious to know what alcohol is used to make a daiquiri so I was like “Hey Google, whats in a banana daiquiri?”. A second later google responded back with the ingredients of a banana daiquiri. I’m picking up my phone to google stuff a lot less now because I can just ask Google a question verbally. And unlike with Siri, it just feels more natural to talk to Google. It just understands normal dialogue like a real person while with Siri I sometimes feel like I have to talk to it knowing she’s an AI. Not only that but Siri barely understands me sometimes and a good example is now while typing this post, I just asked Siri whats in a banana daiquiri and she responded with the weather report. Like WTF Siri?!

Another cool feature with Google Home is it can tell me if there is traffic on my way to work. Since Google knows where I live and where my office is (I had this setup on Google Maps from before), I can just ask “Hey Google is there any traffic on my way to work?” and it will respond with an answer and then tell me which is the fastest route to take and how long it will take me to get there. Not only that but I could ask it where the closest McDonalds is and how far it is to walk to and it will tell me!

I haven’t really asked Alexa a lot of questions but I did try the banana daiquiri question on her and she struggled. She struggled mostly to understand what I was saying and then told me what was in a daiquiri but not a banana daiquiri.

So you’re thinking Google Home is clearly the winner here. It’s not since I’ve had some weird issues with it. Firstly I can’t seem to set Spotify as my default music player so when I tell Google to play music, it replies saying I need to set up my default music player. But when I go to that section in the app, it won’t let me pick Spotify. To play music I have to say “Hey Google, play music from Spotify” which is annoying cuz its easier to just ask “Hey Google, play music”. Then the worst part is, Google Home doesn’t work with G-Suite. Since my Gmail account is connected to my 248AM domain I have a G-Suite account and it won’t work with Google Home. I can’t connect Google Home to my Calendar or email which is so bizarre. Amazon’s Alexa, on the other hand, connects to both my Gmail and Google Calendars! How weird is that? Alexa also has a ton of plugins so say we had Uber working in Kuwait, you could install the Uber plugin and then be able to call an Uber by talking to Alexa. I’m using Uber an example here but there are plugins for everything imaginable.

So which device to get I really can’t tell you. I like having both. Between the two, the Google Home Mini sounds a lot better than the Amazon Echo Dot but really if you want to use it as a speaker, both Google and Amazon have much better-sounding devices. You can also do a lot more with both devices like control home automation, have them tell you the news and with Google Home you can even play games with it or use it as a doctor (say “hey google, virtual nurse”). But my needs are very simple as you can see above. Both Google and Amazon devices are available in Kuwait, Xcite sell both at KD20 each and you can most likely find it at other stores as well. If you have any questions, let me know below.


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Google Home Mini vs Amazon Echo Dot – Have Any Questions?

Post by Mark

While in LA I picked up a Google Home Mini and a pair of Amazon Echo Dots. They’re voice-controlled devices which I’ve now placed around my apartment so I could write up a comparison review for the blog. A few days in and I’ve already started developing an opinion on them but I wanted to know if there was anything specific you guys wanted me to try or if there was anything you wanted to find out in regards to both these devices. Traffic updates for Kuwait work with the Google Home device for example but doesn’t work on the Echo.


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Kuwait Fighting Game Community

Post by Mark

A fighting game community (FGC) is a group of video gamers who get together to play fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. FGC Diwan is one of Kuwait’s first fighting gams community with a dedicated streaming and tournament room.

Even though they’ve been open for around a month, they’ve already hosted their first event, a Dragon Ball Fighter Z Tournament where 13 entrants competed for first place.

Pricing is pretty reasonable:

2 Hours = KD 1
7 Hours = KD 3
12 Hours = KD 5

If you’re interested in fighting games and competing, check out their instagram @fgcdiwan

They’re also active on Twitch @fgcdiwan


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A Weekend with the iPhone X

Post by Mark

Thursday night I picked up my iPhone X from Digits in Marina Mall. They’d given me early access to buy one so that I could review it on the blog, but they made me promise that I wouldn’t turn it on until Friday morning 8AM. Apple is pretty strict with these things so I understood their concern. I know someone who had gotten an iPhone X a few days earlier, and when they turned it on, Apple sent the authorized reseller he had gotten the phone from a warning that they had 2 hours to shut it down or else. I wasn’t in a rush, I didn’t mind waiting till the next morning to play with the iPhone X, I was just glad I had my hands on one and didn’t have to wait in any line to get it.

I’m not the kind of person that upgrades phones every year, I was actually using an iPhone 6S until last week and was perfectly fine with it until my company handed me an iPhone 8. The iPhone X is the first iPhone in years that I’ve really wanted, and after using it over the weekend, here are my first impressions:

No Home Button
The iPhone X no longer has a home button and I was worried it would take time to get used to the new swipe up to go home gesture. But, I got used to it within the first few minutes of using the phone. To me it feels natural and so much slicker and faster than clicking down on the home button. So goodbye home button, you won’t be missed.

Face ID
This is probably my favorite feature in the iPhone X. It just works. The best way to describe it is that it’s as if your phone doesn’t have a passcode. To unlock your phone, you pick it up and then you swipe up to go home. Super simple, super fast. If for some reason your phone doesn’t wake up when you pick it up, you just tap the screen to wake it up and then swipe up. Again super fast. But Face ID has other advantages than just using it to log into your phone. When I get to a website that asks me to log in with my username and password, the phone checks my face and when it recognizes me automatically fills in my username and password. Another cool feature of Face ID is with notifications. When you get say a whatsapp message on your phone, you won’t see a preview. Pick up the phone and Face ID will recognize you and then show you a preview of the whatsapp messages [Example]. That’s a really smart feature because it means you can leave your phone out in the open and not worry about anyone reading your notification previews, but it also means you yourself can still read those previews. If you’re also wondering, Face ID works under different lighting so if you’re in complete darkness or out under bright sunlight, Face ID will still be able to read your face. Face ID was still able to read my face even though I had sun glasses on and even when my face was half stuffed deeply into my pillow.

The Screen
It’s huge and I’m loving it so far mostly because the blacks are so black. One of the biggest advantages of OLED screens (which is what the iPhone X uses) is the blacks are pure black. That’s because unlike LCD’s, to get the color black on an OLED screen it shuts off the pixels that are supposed to be black. So black is parts of the screen not lit up. Am I making sense? Imagine a room with no windows and one light bulb, to turn the room black you just turn off the bulb. No light = complete darkness = black. The “notch” on top of the screen isn’t annoying at all by the way, in fact I barely notice it. I mean its there, but it doesn’t hinder the experience of using the phone in any way. For those of you who are also concerned that not all apps are yet adapted to take full advantage of the iPhone X, from all the apps I use I think only 2 or 3 still display a black border on top and the bottom of the screen. The rest of my apps all display full screen and so it’s not really a big issue, and whatever apps don’t display in full screen I’m expecting them to by their next update.

Wireless Charging
I picked up a Belkin Qi charger from Xcite for around KD6 and have it on my bedside table. I noticed compared to the iPhone 8 the iPhone X has a larger wireless charging sweet spot. With the iPhone 8 it wouldn’t always start charging when I placed it on the charger but I haven’t had that issue with the iPhone X. If like me you use a magnetic mount for the phone it can still work with wireless charging. I have the metal plate sandwiched between my silicone cover and the phone, but I moved the plate all the way to the bottom of the phone and turned it sideways. That way the center of the phone is clear and the metal plate won’t interfere with charging.

Size vs iPhone 8
The iPhone 8 and X are virtually the same size. The iPhone X is slightly taller and thicker but too minor to even notice.

The Camera
Finally the camera, probably the most important aspect of the phone for me. I was always jealous of iPhone Plus owners since they had two lenses on their phones, the regular wide one and a more zoomed in one. Other than the added advantage of being able to zoom in closer to a subject (while maintaining the image quality), having two lenses allowed Apple to create the “portrait mode” feature in which it blurs the background making it look like it was shot with a DSLR. The iPhone Plus is too big a phone for me so I never considered getting it, but the iPhone X has the same camera system as the plus, with more features like a brighter aperture (f/2.4 vs f/2.8) and optical image stabilisation for both lenses not just the wide one. I haven’t really taken that many shots with it, just a few of my brothers cats and some of my friends and so far I really am loving the portrait mode.

So yeah as you can tell, I’m really loving the iPhone X so far. Although it was a big chunk of change to spend on just a phone, I think its worth it. If you’re looking to pick one up, Digits sold out their stock on launch, but are getting another shipment in around a weeks time. They currently have a waiting list so you can go and reserve a phone. The prices of the 64GB version is KD353 and the 256GB version KD405. A friend also just picked up a phone from Zain this morning but I think you have to sign up to a plan or something to get it (i.e. don’t think you can just straight up buy it from them).


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