Saturday, July 17, 2010

APPLE iPhone 4

Apple iPhone 4
Apple, Inc.
3 out of 10

A couple of months ago, when the next generation iPhone was leaked on gizmodo, I was prepared to sell my Grandmother to get my hands on Apple's sleek new smart phone. In the days after the iPhone 4's launch, however, I find myself far, far less inclined to purchase Apple's new whiz-bang plaything. Plagued by a technical snafu and a PR nightmare, my confidence in Apple's new gizmo - and the computer company as a whole - has been more than gently shaken.

The new iPhone 4 boasts plenty of new goodies to salivate over: all new HD quality video recording, video conferencing, a faster running speed,  easier user interfacing and multitasking between the dozens and dozens of new and wonderful applications. Plus, the new iPhone is pretty wonderful just to look at. Unlike it's hunch-backed predecessors - the iPhone G3 and G3S - this new iPhone 4 looks stylish, modern and touchable (the phone equivalent of Marion Cotillard).

The problem for the new iPhone 4 started when a number of customers complained about dropped calls. Apple's official claim at first was that this was a hardware malfunction, citing that in low frequency areas, the iPhone's signal indicator would read four full bars when in fact the phone really had two or less. Updated software fixes were on their way, the company promised. But there were rumors floating around that these dropped calls were actually the result of the phone's antenna being placed exactly where one would normally grasp the phone while in use: at the base corners.

Yes, simply holding your iPhone where you would normally hold any cellular telephone blocks the antenna and causes phone calls to be dropped. Mind you, this is a product from the same company that produces the Macbook Pro, the iPod and the iPad. Apple's products are known for being sleek, efficient and, above all, user friendly. Before this whole iPhone 4 debacle, Apple's product quality has rarely, if ever, been called into question.

Yesterday, Apple grand poobah, Steve Jobs, announced, in something reminiscent of a  humble-pie-eating press conference, that his new smart phone did have its quirks. His fix? A free protective sleeve which, in essence, hinders human flesh from touching the antenna on the iPhone 4 directly, thus negating the dropped call scenario all together. Now, protective sleeves on iPhones are fairly common (I have one for my G2 iPhone, which is - GASP! -still in use), but this new free-sleeve deal just seems so chintzy, that I would expect it from a PC peripherals-focused manufacturer, and not from the same creative minds that gave the universe iLife.

This is the equivalent of a kick-ass, visionary automobile tire manufacturer telling its loyal customer base that, "You know, our performance tires aren't perfect. We know that. You know that. Sure, if you make a series of left-handed turns, our new exotic tires may blow-out. But we have these patches - which are free to any customers who ask for them - that, when applied, allow your new tires to function flawlessly. Namaste."

But I must admit that my dubiousness with the new iPhone 4 goes beyond just dropped calls. It actually has more to do with the way in which Apple launched this product, and didn't produce enough of said product to keep-up with what would be its inevitable demand. In going to purchase the new iPhone 4 several weeks after its launch, I was told by a very knowledgeable and down-to-earth Mac Store employee that I would need to be placed on a wait list and that I would be emailed when my freshly-manufactured phone arrive in the store.

Have you ever seen the news coverage of when Apple announces a new operating system for their computers? News stations usually roll-out these stories, especially on slow news days (and also, because most local so-called news stations pander to the lowest common denominator by producing PR firm-supplied infotainment and fluff). In these pieces, we get shots of mostly pasty white middle-aged men waiting in long lines, while sitting in lawn chairs and watching themselves on the news from tiny hand-held television sets. My point is, if this level of dedication exists for Apple's latest operating systems, the company should have predicted that demand from both Mac and non-Mac users for the company's new magical smart phone would have been fairly high.

But no, demand far outpaced supply in this instance., and wait lists for the iPhone 4 were instated well before the phone was even released (!). And yes, I know that in business demand is better than surplus, but I think Apple could have hedged their bets a little bit better than they did in this case, and boosted production.

When my email alert arrived from Apple informing me that my new $200.00 iPhone 4 was in-store waiting for me, I had had time to digest the news about the phone's antenna problems, Apple's initial mishandling of that information, Job's less-than-stellar quasi apology, and the phone's damning review in this week's Consumer Reports, which suggests you pass on the iPhone 4 and purchase Google's new and intimidatingly sterile Droid X instead (um, no thanks!) But my decision ultimately not to purchase that new iPhone 4 came finally when I asked the studious and patient Mac Store employee if I would have to re-sign another 2-year contract with AT&T in order to purchase my phone. I would, or I could buy the new phone outright for a mere $700.00. It broke my heart just a little bit, but I had to walk away from the Mac Store sans iPhone 4, disappointed, with my money resting securely in my bank account.

I still champion Macs and Apple's various offerings over PC's and the cheesy add-on peripherals that revolve around them. But my confidence in Apple - especially in regard to their new smart phone - is at an all time low. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I definitely think I can wait for the next generation of the iPhone.

Monday, July 12, 2010

IRD "Defiant" Bicycle Crank Arm Set

IRD Defiant Track Crank Set
2010, Interloc Racing Design
8 out of 10

I've given up on having a perfectly complete bicycle. Every time I get to the point where I think my bike is at the pinnacle of its perfection, a new must-have part comes along that looks (and, oddly enough in many cases, performs) better that the component it will eventually be replacing. Case in point: the IRD Defiant Track Crank Set.

The Defiant is a quaint throw-back to the Campy Strada or Sugino Mighty crank arm sets of the 1970's. IRD has obviously taken great pains to replicate those legendary brand's fluting aesthetics, while updating the performance for today's cycling demands. For example, the Defiant is cold forged in polished aluminum, weighing in at a scant 600 grams (a bit less weighty than the Soma Hellyer cranks they are replacing on my rig).

But I have to be honest here; while quality and performance are key (and indeed they are with these cranks - this is IRD we're talking about, after all), this crank set is absolutely gorgeous looking. Everything about the Defiant - from the fluting design, to dual chainring, to the polished finish - drips with disco-era sexiness. Once mounted to my bicycle, I have to admit, I couldn't help just gazing longingly at these cranks. For the first time in quite a while, I'm actually ogling my bike again.

And the ride? Remarkably smooth. Eye candy or not, the Defiant powers through rides like a gold metal swimmer doing butterfly strokes in a pool of fine French cream, with absolute ease. These cranks want to go and go, and do so with a quickness. With these new cranks, my steed feels... oh, what's the word I'm looking for...? Um... "zippy?" Not a very sexy adjective in relation to these cranks, but completely apt, nonetheless.

The IRD Defiant retails for about $160.00, which is less than you would pay for  the vintage or NOS Campy or Sugino equivalent. The Defiant comes in three sizes: 165mm (tested), 167.5mm and 175mm arm lengths. These cranks fit JIS square tapered bottom brackets, and the chainring is 46t (standard for most fixed gear bicycles). The IRD Defiant Track Cranks are the perfect compliment to stunt frames, long-haul commuters and tweed steeds alike, and this reviewer cannot recommend them enough.

Yes indeed, yet another mighty nice addition to my two-wheeled steed. It's that whole "never-ending quest for perfection" thing - I'm sure you can relate. For instance, now that ratty ol' seatpost is looking a bit meh.

Here we go again...!