New AirPods

Updated AirPods are finally available. Announced way back in 2017, alongside the still absent AirPower oval charging mat. Apple says the 2nd generation of AirPods have a new H1 SOC that replaces the W1 chip in the first generation, faster connection times, support the “Hey Siri” wakeword/hotword without having your iPhone out, and have longer battery life but only for “talk time.”

The physical appearance of the AirPods hasn’t changed beyond a new light on the front that is only on the Qi-compatible Wireless case.

I loved the AirPods when I got them, but as a first generation product they’re not without issues. I have a few more issues now than I did two years ago.

  • These days I am frequently wondering if the batteries are wearing down, as all batteries do over time, when I have to plug in the case to charge it more often than I used to.
  • The process of connecting them to a Mac is so poor that various third-party utilities have been made to smooth things over. I use one, it isn’t great, because you have to put both AirPods back in the case and then open the case before the utility will give you a chance to pair them to your Mac.
  • I don’t know if it’s because of the humidity here or what, but the case is also absolutely disgusting on my set. There’s a rim of grossness around the top of the case that is difficult to keep clean.
  • You can use the Find My iPhone app to locate missing AirPods, but only if they’re out of the charging case. They once fell into a little nook in the back of my office chair only to be lost for two months because who would ever think to look there and they were in their case so I couldn’t use the Find My iPhone app to make them make noise.
  • I don’t know how often it is, but I sometimes have issues connecting the AirPods to my iPhone. Sometimes it seems like the entire Bluetooth stack has gone off the deep end and the only way to get them to pair is to turn off Bluetooth and then re-enable it. Which you now have to do in the Settings app because the control-center widget only disables new Bluetooth connections instead of halting the entire stack.
  • Rarely, I hear the “connection ding” alert sound but I have no idea what the AirPods have connected to because the audio I’m trying to listen to comes out of my iPhone’s speakers.
  • Finally, anyone that has ever dropped the AirPods case is happy with how durable it is, but unhappy because it has a tendency to open the lid and eject the AirPods.

The new AirPods could fix many of those issues, but I don’t see any big reason for me to upgrade yet. The only Qi chargers I have access to are at an angle that wouldn’t work with the wireless charging case, which requires more of a lay-down mat. If you haven’t gotten a pair of AirPods yet, there’s no reason to wait, but if you’re considering upgrading I would wait for reviews of the 2nd generation.

The new AirPods come in at two price points. $160 without the Qi compatible charging case, or $200 with the ability to charge on any Qi charging pad. The new wireless charging case is also available separately for $80 and is compatible with the original AirPods.

New (old) iMac Day

Well, not as old as yesterday’s iPads. But the non-pro iMac finally received an update to its internals after a little more than a year and a half. This update was also delivered via press-release, ahead of Apple’s upcoming press event on the 25th which is rumored to be exclusively about their video streaming service.

Jason Snell has some disappointments with the new iMacs, specifically with the fact that the $1300 base-model iMac still includes a traditional disk drive:

Not to belabor the point, but the iMac is the only remaining new Apple product that features a spinning hard drive. It’s also the only Mac in a couple of years to receive an update and not include an Apple-designed ARM processor for security and other features. (The two are probably related—so far as I can tell, Apple has designed the T2 to only use flash storage.)

Spinning disks had a good run, but they’re old tech. They’re far less reliable than flash storage drives, and are also generally much slower. The $1299 base-model 4K iMac ships with a slow 5400 rpm spinning disk. It’s almost unforgiveable.

I agree with Snell, it isn’t fair for Apple’s most price-sensitive customers to end up with unreliable and outdated storage methods. You can’t easily upgrade that storage at home, once you realize how slow that 5200 RPM drive is.

There is still a non-Retina, 21”, iMac at $1100. That iMac joins the non-Retina MacBook Air in the land of Macs that Apple forgot.

This may well be the year of the Mac Pro, but it is extremely unlikely that the successor to the trashcan  Mac Pro (I actually thought it looked kind of cool) will be below $5,000. It’s still a frustration that there aren’t reasonably priced, modular, Macs that can compete for desktop performance without the built-in displays of the iMac line, or the workstation parts, and price, of the Pro-lineup of desktops.

We’ll see what happens at the WWDC keynote in early June when the new Mac Pro will most likely be announced. I’m not sure the attendees who paid $1600 for the non-transferrable ticket, and thousands more for hotel rooms, will care that much about the high prices of these Mac Pros.

It’s New (Old) iPad Day

New iPad air and iPad mini with Apple Pencil

If you don’t want to waste time at an upcoming event by talking about updates to old products that nobody will think about for too long, you do it in a press release.

As rumored, that’s what Apple has done with this press-release update to their iPad lineup. The iPad Mini has been updated for the first time in almost 4 years, and the iPad Air  has been revived as a higher-end alternative to the iPad Cheap. Both devices got Apple Pencil support… sort of.

The iPad Mini 5 is the 7.9 inch device that can fit into the pocket of your Jnco Jeans, as long as you can track a pair down. Unfortunately the Jnco Jeans business doesn’t appear to be going well and their website is offline.

The iPad Air was last updated almost 5 years ago, with the 2nd generation model and is suspiciously 10.5”. You might remember a 10.5” iPad Pro that was replaced with the 11” model last October. That’s where this 3rd generation iPad Air form-factor is from.

Both devices get the A12 system-on-a-chip (SOC) from the latest iPhones, but not the A12X from the latest iPad Pros. So they won’t be quite as powerful, and we won’t have any benchmarks or information about clockspeeds and amount of RAM until reviewers get their hands on these updated models.

Both devices also get support for Apple’s stylus, but not the cool new one from the 2018 iPad Pros.

Both new-old hybrid iPads have the classic big-bezel design, not the new iPad Pro/iPhone X design with minimal bezels around the edges that’s neccessary for 2nd-generation Apple Pencil stylus.

That new Apple Pencil charges and when it is magnetically held-in-place to one side of those new Pros. The new Apple Pencil also has one flat side, so it won’t roll off a table. The 1st generation Apple Pencil supported by these newly updated tablets with old form-factors still has all of those first-generation Apple Pencil issues and is ready and willing to roll off your table and get lost under the couch.

Not receiving any updates today is the 2018 iPad Cheapwhich still has an A10 SOC, older (pre-Air 2) display technology, and the same 1st generation Apple Pencil support.

This old Apple Pencil support is almost vindictive at this point. Why does Apple want to punish lower-end iPad users with a worse stylus experience? Why sell people a stylus that probably won’t work with the next iPad they buy?

If these iPads are the future of labor, entertainment, and creative expression, Apple needs to treat the people buying these devices better. All iPads should have a similar design, and flat sides so they can support the same stylus that won’t roll off the table.

Lets revisit our oldest friend, with an updated logo, the table of confusing iPad decisions:

The logo for The Table of Confusing iPad Decisions

  • 2018 iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A10 SOC
    • 2GB RAM
    • Supports the ($100) Apple Pencil.
    • Old-ass 1st generation Touch ID.
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 5 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • 2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
    • A12 SOC
    • ?GB RAM
    • 64GB ($400) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($550)
    • 64GB with Cellular ($530), 256GB with Cellular ($680)
  • iPad Air 3 at 10.5″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 2017-era iPad Pro Smart Connector
    • 1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • 2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
    • A12 Processor
    • ?GB RAM
    • 64GB ($500) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($650)
    • 64GB with Cellular ($630), 256GB ($780)
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • Face ID
    • A12X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • 2018 Smart connector
    • 2nd-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • WiFi Only: 64GB ($1000) 256GB ($1150) 512GB ($1350) 1TB ($1750)
    • Cellular: 64GB ($1150) 256GB ($1300) 512GB ($1500) 1TB ($1900)
  • iPad Pro at 11″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • Face ID
    • A12X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • 2018 Smart connector
    • 2nd-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • WiFi Only: 64GB ($800) 256GB ($950) 512GB ($1150) 1TB ($1550)
    • With Cellular: 64GB ($950) 256GB ($1100) 512GB ($1300) 1TB ($1700)

All of the new models are available now in most countries.

It’s good that the iPad Mini form-factor has finally been updated, and there’s a mid-tier for people who want a 10-ish-inch iPad with better parts than the iPad Cheap, without spending the $800 for an 11” iPad Pro. This is a complicated line-up, but there are finally clear “best” iPads with the Pro devices which have the ProMotion variable frame-rate that make for an extremely smooth visual experience. Scrolling through app icons on the home screen is ridiculous on devices with that high framerate.

The year-old iPad Cheap with it’s A10 SOC is probably still fine for most people, but I would think twice before buying it for myself.

The cheapest option for an iPad will always be a refurbished or used model, but I would steer clear of the 5 and 4-year-old previous models of iPad Mini 4 and iPad Air 2. ProMotion is also on the older 2017 iPad Pro models.

Hopefully this year’s WWDC event will bring some announcements of changes in iOS 13 to properly support more advanced workflows beyond the simple Siri Shortcuts available to us today. These devices have never been more unbalanced in terms of how much functionality the hardware could support, and how little iOS is taking advantage of the hardware.

Xbox One S All-Digital Edition Rumored for May

If this actually ships with this name it probably won’t be the worst-named product Microsoft has ever shipped, but it will be close. The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition has been rumored to come out in May without a disc drive. Jez Corden of Windows Central has the sources and more details.

As I’ve remarked before, the Xbox One is such an odd console. Every exclusive game I want for it is now either available on Windows 10 or will be. Sunset Overdrive is even finally available on Steam for Windows. Still, I keep the Xbox One because of the backwards compatibility features for some 360 and original Xbox discs. However, the 360 games I’d like to play with my family are Kinect games that won’t work on the One.

I don’t know what a disc-less machine really offers anyone picking out a console besides, possibly, being slightly cheaper and more reliable. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft makes the pitch for this revision, if it happens.

Ape Out is Loose

An Ape has escaped, but he isn’t a friendly little hominid with a siren. No, this is a vicious one from Gabe Cuzzillo, Matt Boch, and Bennett Foddy, oddly enough. Ape Out is an overhead smash-em-up with noisy drums and it looks like much fun for anyone who enjoys escapism.

Alice Bell of RPS enjoyed Ape Out:

The whole game has an algorithmic masterpiece of a score by Matt Boch, frenetic drums that grow louder and faster as the violence increases, or dip into a lull at times of calm. Each death is greeted by a triumphant crash of cymbals, so you feel like a conductor in your own mad orchestra of carnage. You, somehow, feel part of the creative process. The way you smashed three men together, just so, leaving a blush of red over the blue carpet, and adding just a soupçon of orange viscera from your own wounds. “Ah, exquisite,” you think. “Perhaps I was always meant to be a great improvisational artist.” But there is no time to pause and admire your work, for you must knuckle on and create another.

Ape Out is $15 on the Nintendo Switch, and various stores for Windows, like itch.io, Humble, and Steam.

Housing the Houseless

Jeremy Hobson for WBUR interviewing Martha Kegel (executive director of a non-profit) on how New Orleans reduced their number of houseless people by 90%:

And lastly, she says, the team took a “Housing First” approach, which is “simply the idea that you accept people as they are,” whether they are sober or not.

“You just accept them as they are and you provide the housing first,” Kegel says. “Then, once they’re in their apartment, you immediately wrap all the services around them that they need to stay stable and live the highest quality life that they can live.”

This article is tough to read, even with the positive news, but there are some really important basic fact checks in here for people who aren’t convinced that housing people is the first solution to houselessness. In relating an anecdote about someone who turned down help, Kegel says: “…which isn’t actually the typical thing, most homeless people want to be housed.” 

Vox Machinae Looks Like Mech Stompy Goodness

In Steam‘s Early Access program you’ll find multiplayer-only mech stomp-em-up Vox Machinae from the developers of Signal Ops. Vox looks to be severely different from Ops, and they’re calling their mechs GDR‘s or Grinders. They’ve got people in between layers of metal, so I suppose it’s okay to refer to a mech as a meat sandwich.

Ace Combat 7 Came Out; is Good

Ace Combat is a beloved series to me. I have a box full of the collector’s edition joysticks from a decade and a half ago when I found out how great the series was on PS2 and graduated to the Xbox 360 version. Dogfighting doesn’t require those sticks, it’s perfectly fine on any gamepad since the Dual Shock 2, but it felt even more glorious to fly through the arcade dogfighting skies of Ace Combat with joysticks and throttles.

After the ignominious spinoff Assault Horizon distanced the series from the shores of the strangereal eight years ago, Ace Combat 7 is finally available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows via Steam after a short period of console-onlyness. Brendan Caldwell called it well, for Rock Paper Shotgun:

…the story explodes outward like an expanding foam, into a complex sequence of nonsense and counter-nonsense. There is a space elevator. There are deadly drones. There is a princess. At one point you, a professional fighter pilot called “Trigger”, are relegated to a prison base, yet still expected (and trusted) to pilot an immensely expensive instrument of war over hostile AA guns. “Your mission,” says your new commander, “is to atone for your crimes.”

I won’t say why this line is uttered to you, because one of the biggest joys here is laughing out loud at the wall of batshittery that hits you with each mission, like a volley of missiles. But I will say this: Ace Combat 7 is the best JRPG so far this year.


There’s a brief VR mode that is exclusive to the PlayStation 4 version, Edmond Tran enjoyed it in his review for GameSpot:

The PlayStation 4 version of Skies Unknown also features an exclusive VR mode consisting of an Ace Combat 4-inspired mini-campaign. There are only three missions, and their objectives are less complicated than those of the main campaign, but even so, the experience of flying from the cockpit of a plane is engrossing. The feeling of speed and height is literally dizzying, the ability to freely look around and track a target with your gaze is terrific, and the act of pitching and rolling your plane is so effective at eliciting a feeling of actual g-force that I personally had a hard time doing more than one mission at once without breaking out into a nauseous sweat. It’s a shame that there’s no option to play the main campaign in VR–the head tracking and freelook alone would be incredibly useful–but the mode is a great addition nonetheless.

Ace Combat 7 is out now for your typical $60 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam for Windows. The “launch edition” for the Xbox One includes a digital copy of the 360‘s Ace Combat 6 and other goodies. The PlayStation 4‘s version of the “please don’t wait until there’s a discount” edition includes the aforementioned VR mode, Ace Combat 5, and the goodies. Sadly, Steam users on Windows only get the goodies and are told to get fucked if they’d like to play the older games. All launch editions expire on the 18th. There are also some kind of season pass shenanigans with three missions exclusive to it.

Somehow, it’s still not as bad as the Anthem purchasing grid. Although Anthem doesn’t support real-world weapons manufacturers, Ace Combat 7 is at least veritably fun. Hm.

Super Mario Maker 2 Out This June & More in the Latest Nintendo Direct

Nintendo announced Super Mario Maker 2 for the Nintendo Switch during today’s Nintendo Direct, coming out this June. I’ve been hoping for this one. It’ll have (quoting the press release) “…access to even more tools, items and features.”

Also announced:

  • More details for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, exclusive to the Switch, out this summer.
  • Box Boy + Box Girl announced for Switch, 270 stages, April 26th, 2019. It’s a beloved puzzle game from everyone I know who has played it, this version will have co-op.
  • Super Smash Bros Ultimate 3.0 Update and new Amiibos. No details on the update yet.
  • Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is getting new levels for the Switch version and two-player co-op. Out today. New paid DLC out now as well. More on March 14th.
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is out this summer. This was just a video clip telling us about the Miriam character.
  • Dragon Quest Builders 2 will have co-op and first-person mode when it comes out on July 12th. It’ll also be on the PlayStation 4.
  • Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age: Definitive Edition: S: out this Fall. I fell asleep briefly during this trailer.
  • Disney Tsum Tsum Festival: I will never understand the tsum tsum thing. It looks a little like Mario Party, but probably worse and with weirdly long, rectangular, characters in the tsum tsum style. No specific release date for this, just “2019.”
  • Starlink: Battle for Atlas gets an exclusive Switch spring update with new Star Fox missions. April.
  • Rune Factory 4 Special “Battle along townsfolk and before long you may become more than just friends” out “later this year.”
  • Rune Factory 5 is announced, no info, just a logo.
  • Square’s got a new action RPG called ONINAKI. Out this summer.
  • Yoshi’s Crafted World. March 29th. Free demo out today.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses is anime as heck. There’s two editions out on the new delayed date of July 26th. This trailer just talked about plot details until I fell asleep again. Where is Advance Wars?
  • Tetris® 99: It’s an online Tetris battle royale. It’s “free-to-download” today.
  • Dead by Daylight’s Switch port looks like a PSP port of a PS2 game. It’ll be out this Fall.
  • Deltarune: Chapter 1 is out on the Switch for free this month, February 28th. I think it’s an Undertale sequel, but I didn’t get far in that game. The trailer reminds us that further chapters won’t be free.
  • Daemon X Machina gets a free, limited-time to download, “prototype missions” demo today. If you play it you might get an e-mail survey where you get to act as a focus tester for the game. Who doesn’t like doing work for for-profit businesses for free? The game is supposed to be out this summer.
  • GRID Autosport is coming to the Switch. The framerate looks real bad during certain parts of this trailer, ouch. Summer 2019.
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is getting a Switch port this Spring.
  • Mortal Kombat 11 is out this April 23rd on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and now we know it’ll have a Switch port at launch.
  • Unravel two is getting a Switch port on March 22nd.
  • Assassin’s Creed III Remastered also has a Switch port out on May 21st. It’s out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC’s on March 29th. “In addition to the full game, Assassin’s Creed III Remastered also includes all of its original post-launch content” […] “Also included is Assassin’s Creed III Liberation Remastered, an enhanced version of Aveline de Grandpre’s battle for freedom in 18th-century New Orleans.” I liked AC3 when I played through it on Windows, but I also got it for “free” by selling all my Team Fortress 2 items.
  • Final Fantasy VII out on March 26th
  • Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy! on March 20th
  • Final Fantasy IX is on the Switch today. Wes Fenlon reminds us that modders are making better upscaling work on Windows.
  • Astral Chain is a new Platinum action game from the people who brought you Nier: Automata and Bayonetta. Exclusively on the Switch, August 30th. Nice.
  • The Legend of Zelda™: Link’s Awakening:  gets remade and anime as heck in the intro. It looks like a tilt-shifted 3D world in-game with side-scrolling as well. Very cool. Out later this year.

Full video direct: