iPhone 4s to 5s Upgrade

compassI usually upgrade every other generation of the iPhone. The question this fall is was the upgrade from the iPhone 4s to the 5s worthy? Here are my impressions after about 2 weeks with the 5s. I have the Verizon 32GB model.

  • Not having LTE/4G cellular speeds on the 4s was becoming a drag. As I travel a fair amount, the 5s model now has 13 international bands of LTE, so it’s networking speed should be good in more places. I also use my iPhone as a router at home and use the personal hotspot with my Verizon data sharing plan. The hotspot setup works seamlessly all the time.
  • With the A7 chip, the device is about 3x times faster than a 4s model.
  • With the extra M7 chip which can handle location processing constantly without accessing the main A7 chip, battery life will be better with apps like Strava which will be reprogrammed to use this extra processor.
  • The scanned fingerprint entry works well and using it keeps my personal data more secure. I used to be security-lazy and turned the passcode entry off. Probably not wise.
  • Better low light camera (aperture). Great, low light situations occur all the time.
  • Better flash and night shots. I don’t do much flash photography but maybe this will change now.
  • Half inch more screen height. Good I’ll take it.
  • Free iWorks apps. This only saves $30 bucks, but with Maverick OS coming, having these three apps icloud-enabled will mean synced documents on all my devices, including my Mac.
  • After two years of use, your battery life declines. This is probably the biggest complaint from iPhone owners. Having a new battery, and which is advertised to give me an extra 20% charge is a plus.
  • AirDrop (which is not available on the 4s) allows me to pass files to others in the room and to my other device (an ipad).
  • Lighting cable port is an improvement over the old 30 pin connector, one of which, failed on me.
  • The 5s is one ounce lighter than the 4s and you can really notice it.
  • The Verizon iPhone 5, 5c, and 5s are all unlocked GSM phones. This is great news for travelers using their phones outside of the US (they are locked inside the US to Verizon). I can’t speak for AT&T and the other carriers.
  • The 5s is optimized for iOS7, including the kewl new compass.

You have heard it before, upgrading from the iPhone 5 to 5s is probably not worthy,  but I am happy with the technology leap from the 4s to the 5s.

iPhone 5s with pano mode. Sky not washed out!

Prepaid Data Plan in Norway

netcomm_logoI purchased a Netcomm SIM with 800MB of data for $56 (USD). This is more expensive than other European countries but fast wifi connections were hard to come by in Norway. After 35 days (no video watching), I still had 100MBs of data available. I found Netcomm’s coverage to be 100% in Norway. Their network is mostly 3G, no LTE yet. In some more remote areas, the cellular network is still on the EDGE technology. Netcomm sales staff can provide any of the three SIM sizes. I was very satisfied with Netcom’s 100/200/800 prepaid data plans. To monitor your data usage reset your cellular data counter in your device’s settings>cellular data usage area.

Swiss Telcom Sunrise

This May I needed a cellular data provider for Switzerland. All the Swiss telecoms providers are conveniently located across from the Zurich airport baggage claim. I could easily shop rates with Swiss.com, Orange, and Sunrise. I purchased Sunrise’s $20 per 1GB prepaid data plan valid for 30 days. If the “3G” icon in the upper left hand corner of your device (next to “SUNRISE”) disappears you have burned through your GB of data. It seems reasonable for a Swiss visit for a month or less. The Sunrise setup takes about 15 minutes to purchase and activate. They have all 3 sizes of SIM cards including the newer Nano SIM. I got speed tests of 4MBs down on Sunrise’s 3G network which seems pretty fast for a 3G network. There is a Sunrise prepaid deal of $1 per day but it is on a highly throttled (not fast) data network. Sunrise is a good deal in Switzerland but you will find even better prepaid options in other EU countries.
Once you’re online, proceed to the airport’s rail station underneath the Telcom stores. From your train seat, you can be working online to your final Swiss destination. Doesn’t get any easier.

Google Maps for iPhone


Just tried the new Google Maps for iPhone. My first test was with the public transportation option for directions from my local coffee shop in Boulder, CO to my home.  The results were very good and the most impressive segment using RTD had the correct bus times and the SKIP bus actually showed up on time. This going to make getting around Boulder with RTD and my Eco Pass much more convenient. You can download the app here.

Movistar iPhone Mexico

Note: the following iPhone information is for unlocked iPhones and the Mexican prepaid costs are all as of December 2012. I have found two decent options when traveling in Mexico with my Verizon iPhone. The first option is available as soon as you land in Mexico via a delivered text message from your carrier. You can easily purchase 100MB of data for $25, billed automatically through your Verizon account. That’s not much data for $25 (about 10 times the normal global rate for 1GB of prepaid data), but, if you are planning to only check emails during your trip it might be right for you. No SIM card modification hassles and you only have to reply “yes” to Verizon’s soliciting text message. This data offer is the same for traveling in Canada. You might want to reset your cellular data usage counter to monitor your meager 100MB allowance. If you need calling in Mexico (including calling the USA) then you can try Mexico’s discount carrier Movistar. They offer prepaid minutes at very reasonable rates. Verizon’s Mexico minutes are around $1 plus per minute, while Movistar minutes are less than 8 cents a minute (more if you call to the US). With prepaid calling you just run out of minutes, no bill surprises, and with international calling rates there are always strange extras on your monthly bill. On an average week long Mexico visit, I usually spend less than $10 per visit with Movistar. Switching over to a local Mexican carrier isn’t without challenges; including getting a Movistar SIM in your iPhone. There are now three possible SIM card sizes. If you’re lucky, the local SIM will fit your SIM slot without modification. The standard SIM card and micro SIM can be trimmed, the newest nano SIMs may need trimming and sanding to create a slimmer card.

iPhone Prepaid Canada

Two years ago prepaid iPhone options didn’t really exist for tourists traveling to Canada. In August of 2012 prepaid options for smartphones are now readily available. Roger’s Pay as you go wireless plans will cost you $35 for 100MB of data or $45 for 500MB and includes the cost of the SIM card. If you used your iPhone for limited voice or texting during your Canadian visit, those calls will be deduced from your prepaid balance. Telus is another Canadian carrier option with rumored superior coverage outside of Canadian cities. It’s has a 3-tiered prepaid wireless plan as follows: $45 for 100MB data, $60 for 500MB, and $65 for 1GB. The above amounts all include Telus’ more expensive $35 SIM card. If I was planning a longer trip to Canada, I would probably purchase the Telus prepaid plans over the Roger’s plans, as they offer more data and a better rural network. Roger’s would work for shorter trips, where you are spending most of your time in cities. These prepaid wireless plans basically work for email and limited web browsing, so you might want to reset your cellular data usage in your iPhone/iPad’s Settings>Usage>Cellular Usage to monitor your prepaid usage. Another option for US Verizon customers is buying international roaming data at $25 per 100MB from Verizon Global. This wireless option only works for data but could work for a shorter visit to an international destination. The pitfall of this option, is that Verizon has your billing information and should you use more than 100MB of data (which is not much), you are charged another $25 for each additional 100MB. The local Canadian prepaid carriers just shut you down when you burn through your prepaid credits, so using international roaming is still potentially very expensive for US Verizon customers.

TIM Telecom Italy

I have a friend traveling in Italy this month and trying Italy’s TIM telecom prepaid. They have a promo now for 9 euros that gives you 30 days of unlimited data, texting, and 5 euros of voice credits. If you are planning to call back to North America you’ll need to add more voice credits. Perfect for a trip to Italy. Seems like local European carriers have dropped their prepaid rates by approximately 50% since last year (or Italy really is tanking). Another friend used Verizon’s global data ($25 for 100MB data) in Canada this month, another reason to avoid AT&T’s and Verizon’s international plans.

Getting iPhone HD Video Online

I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 4S model, where Apple has upgraded the camera chip and lens design for improved photography including; being able to capture HD 1080p video. This post attempts to cover the process of getting the iPhone’s new HD 1080p video to a WordPress site. Related to this topic, I wrote a similar post called Getting Good Video with Vimeo.

Getting video online and into WordPress is more involved than moving iPhone images to a WordPress site. Firstly, you should realize that source video content should not be uploaded directly to your WordPress Media Library. Video content is data heavy and especially with HD quality video, you need a streaming video server, a standard Apache server with a WordPress installation can’t serve that much video data to your viewers. The server limitation is addressed by setting up a video stream service from You Tube or Vimeo. The solution is to embed the video’s URL into your WordPress post and a video player will pull optimized video content from the streaming server. Optimized video can have many parameters, compressed MP4 video would be a video format that allows for compression and is optimized to stream efficiently from a steaming server. You Tube or Vimeo will provide video streaming for free, but if you plan on providing HD quality video to your viewers, then you will need to upgrade to a paid streaming account. I purchased a Vimeo Plus account for $60 a year. With the Plus upgrade, Vimeo provides me with better video rendering and the capability to upload 1080p source video. Without a Plus account, Vimeo limits free-accounts to only limited HD 720p uploads. Don’t mess with the a free account if your goal is HD content on your site. All the quality HD content I have viewed on Vimeo have been contributed by authors with “Plus” status.

iMovie’s video cam import options

Getting your iPhone video clips to your video editing application, in my case; iMovie, requires connecting your iPhone with a USB cable, and importing the clips with the video cam import button. There is also a wireless method of sending an iMessage to yourself with the desired video clip attached. Note: iCloud syncs only photos, not video, so iCloud is not an importing option to your Mac. Importing a lot of video into iMovie can be time consuming because iMovie must first generate thumbnail images of the imported video. I use the QuickTime player to do an initial edit of the poor clips, importing only video with potential into iMovie.

Uploading your finalized project within iMovie to Vimeo is easy just select Vimeo from the  Sharing Menu. Generally, you want to upload the best source video to Vimeo that you have, so click the  HD 720p or HD 1080p format. Then, from your Vimeo Plus account, you should review and select all your video settings to create your custom defaults. Take the time and create a preset theme for your video player, this will keep all instances of the video player looking and operating consistently within your WordPress site. Vimeo Plus users have additional video settings that basic accounts do not have, including; which domains can show your videos, as well as, hiding them from the Vimeo.com site. Many additional HD options with Vimeo are covered on their FAQ page.

The last step in getting your video online and into your WordPress post is the embedding step. I have not found a good WordPress plugin for importing Vimeo content yet, so you need to copy the necessary code snippet into your post editor in HTML mode. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Paste the Vimeo URL into your post.
  2. Use the Vimeo shortcode and an associated WordPress plugin.
  3. Copy and paste the Vimeo iframe embed code into your post editor.
Universal embed player on iPhone WordPress post

Don’t use the first two, because they may not include the universal embed code and they may fail to scale your videos properly in mobile devices and tablet devices like an iPad. It will also ensure that the proper size and format (Flash vs. HTML5) is streamed to your device, letting Vimeo deal with the various sizes, devices, and formats required on the Internet. The iframe embedding HTML code is found in the embedding panel (Get Embed Code link) of your video’s settings when logged into your Vimeo.com account. You can reuse this code snippet for future video posts replacing the Vimeo id number and adjusting the width and height if desired.

OK, now the reality check from Vimeo:

“Note while 1080p is higher resolution, please be aware that it can take significant resources on your viewers’ computer and may cause choppy playback.”

You’ve got this awesome HD 1080 video content online but your viewers may not have the internet bandwidth, computer horsepower, or monitor resolution to see the video’s HD quality. HD 1080p video has twice as much data as HD 720p video. From my tests, it is very difficult to see the difference in quality between 720p and 1080p, unless your viewers enlarge your video to full screen mode and my guess is that most viewers don’t know about this option unless they are specifically reminded to view in full screen mode. It may make sense to provide just HD 720 video to your audience unless they are from South Korea and can pull down 50MB/sec. On the flip side, 1080p seems to be a standard resolution for many large screen electronics, so you might want to get your video content ready for the future.

[responsive_vimeo 36972963]

iPhone to Mac Messages

If your Mac is at OS 10.7.3 and you install the beta version of Messages for the Mac, and you can use Messages to transfer files (photos, videos, attachments, contacts, and locations) wirelessly between between your iPhone and Mac. These file transfers can work in both directions. For an example; to transfer a video go into Photos on your iPhone, and share it as a “Message” texting the video clip to yourself. Messages for the Mac syncs with iPhone’s Messages and once your clip arrives on your Mac, drag the video thumbnail to where you want to save your video. Keep in mind, you want send iMessages (blue colored), not regular carrier text messages (green colored), and iMessage texting with attachments only works between Macs and Apple iOS devices with iOS 5.

Prepaid iPhone Calling in Canada

Seven Eleven in Canada now has inexpensive prepaid calling for iPhones (unlocked GSM or unlocked CDMA) with SpeakOut Wireless. The SIM card is $10, and you also buy however many minutes you need. This is a voucher receipt you get from the cashier at Seven Eleven. I bought $25 worth from the Canadian Seven Eleven store. Once you have your SpeakOut SIM and your minutes voucher, you need to activate the SIM card online at SpeakOut Wireless. At their web site; setup an account with SpeakOut, enter your iphone’s IMEI number (Settings > About) and choose your desired location for your local Canadian phone number. If the SpeakOut cellular network is not displaying in the upper left corner of your iPhone after inserting the SIM, then you might need to restart your phone a few times to get the SpeakOut network established.

Note that SpeakOut’s SIM cards do not have the extra-small micro punch-out size. So if you have a newer iphone (4/4s), you have to shave it down to the micro size.

To activate the minutes you purchased, dial *818* plus the voucher number printed on your receipt. If you need additional minutes, buy more at the Seven Eleven store.

This SpeakOut prepaid solution does allow for data, but you should probably use WIFI while traveling in Canada, so turnoff the Cellular Data setting at the Settings > General > Network.


A Photosynth created indoor panorama with no post image pixel manipulation. Click to enlarge.

Photosynth is an iPhone photo stitching iOS program developed and introduced to the Apple Apps Store in 2011 by Microsoft. This highly rated (4+ stars) app is free. Most iPhone panorama apps can only stitch horizontally, but Photosynth can stitch horizontally and vertically creating a sphere-like and slightly fish-eyed image perspective after the image-stitching engine is done.

All panorama apps have the photographer capture a series of aligned frames to stitch together to create the final panorama. Photosynth does not require the photographer to visually align each successive frame of the developing panorama like some apps similar to Pano. Also, the user doesn’t have to manually engage the camera’s shutter when the frames may (or may not) be properly overlapped. Photosynth just asks the photographer to slowly move the iPhone around until the app is happy with the next potential frame alignment (indicated with a green rectangular frame), upon which, Photosynth records the frame on its own approval. If the next frame is not aligning properly (indicated with a red rectangular frame) no frame is captured and Photosynth waits for the photographer to move and hopefully improve the camera’s holding position. The shooting process is difficult to explain, but the app interface is very intuitive and simple to understand after only a few panoramas. Hats-off to the app devs who created this unique user interface, the UI (User Interface) is so elegant and simple, that iPhone photographers can quickly understand this panorama shooting process.

Photosynth’s capturing modes: green; automatic, yellow; manual user over-ride, and red; can’t capture.
The rock gym panorama above was created with 12 capture frames

The Photosynth app has image sharing features and photo geo-tagging integration with Bing Maps. The only negative that I have encountered is the low image resolution compared to what the 8 megapixel iPhone 4s camera can capture.

Photosynth has two viewing modes; plain image and interactive panorama. To view images interactively, you must have a web browser that is running in 32-bit mode and has Microsoft’s Sliverlight plugin, then, you can control the magnification and view direction of the panorama.