Happy New Year, mates. 2021 it’s finally here, and we have a lot to talk about. Thank God 2020 it’s finally gone but it left us with a totally new ecosystem from Apple. With so many updates it’s time to talk about everything that’s new. Let’s talk about the most useful ecosystem we can have at the highest level of standards…or kind of.
The AirPods Max
As I mentioned last year, these AirPods Max are intended to be wireless headphones powered by the Apple ecosystem. This means that the H1 chips are responsible for transforming the sound (one in each earphone to control each side independently but managed together). Each of these chips has 10 cores and are capable of running one billion (yes, I have spelled that right) operations per second, which is not equivalent to corrections per second: Raw operations are the calculations necessary to transform the sound that reaches the handset, and based on these calculations, each H1 makes about 200 corrections per second.
When I talk about the ecosystem, I do not mean only to be able to connect them to the iPhone, or the iPad using the proximity configuration, the Hand-off mode that carries the sound between devices, or similar … I mean that these headphones have been designed to correct and improve the sound that comes to us compressed by Bluetooth 5.0 and are specially designed to decode Apple Music (which encodes in AAC at 256 Kb / s) with an improved and enhanced sound, specially oriented to the acoustic structure of the AirPods Max. And the result is really surprising in quality, consistency, and sound energy, as we will see in the sound analysis.
The AirPods Max are of the type of circumaural headphones or “over-ear”, that is to say, the pads surround and gather the ear on the outside, not on it. These types of headphones are usually much bulkier than the on-ear ones, in the case of the Max and their minimalist design, they are not exaggerated or bulky. The weight is somewhat higher than the average of its competition, about 100 grams more, but at the head, they are not noticeable at all due to the redistribution of weight that its design achieves and the comfort of the headband.
The memory foam has some memory of the last use when it comes to using it again, so the insulation in this sense is really good every time you wear the Max. It is also comfortable for those, like me, who wear glasses regularly or occasionally: the foam picks up the temples very well and still maintains the acoustic insulation. In addition, it does not push or press them against the head, so it is comfortable to use them even in this way for hours.
Sound cancellation is improved over the AirPods Pro due to the greater wingspan and insulation. In addition, the AirPods Max have internal microphones that also analyze what we are hearing to separate them from the external sound pattern. My impressions after using them for two weeks is that they have a cancellation with less white noise than for example the XM4, purer in terms of sound as such. An important part is that the sound we hear does not suffer a significant degradation when entering this mode: although the sound sensation will not be the same, even with the sound cancellation we will have an excellent experience. Here you can see again the push of the H1 and the acoustic design of the Max, which are closer to the technology of the HomePods than that of the AirPods.
The AirPods Max have surprised by their sound quality, especially considering that it is the first approach of the brand to headphones of this type. Audiophile reference sites such as Whathifi have rated Apple’s new product with 5 stars in all its aspects, and this means that it is brilliant in the terms it handles sound quality without a doubt, but also a quality design and an ecosystem that not only It serves to accompany the product but also to improve the interaction with it, such as the decoding of Apple Music using the H1 and the acoustic possibilities of the Max.
The HomePod Mini
The first thing that surprises the new HomePod mini is the size. Yes, it is smaller than you think (only 8.43 cm) and very light: in this sense, it fully lives up to its name. If you have a Magic Mouse, plant it vertically on the table and count about 2/3 of its height: that’s how tall (or short) is the new Apple device.
The new design on a table or anywhere in our home is impressive: it continues with a similar appearance using the same seamless acoustic mesh of the original HomePod, but with the diameter of the openings somewhat smaller. This mesh is acoustically invisible, that is, sound enters and leaves through it without changing the sonic nuances it produces or captures — maintaining aesthetics at all times.
The biggest change is in the interface: now, the entire upper part lights up when we call Siri or touch the surface. It just looks a lot more spectacular this way than the much smaller discreet circle of the original HomePod. To give you an idea, the lighting of the mini in this interface is easily twice as large as that of the 2018 model.
To round this off, the entire glass surface is tactile, no matter where we touch: in the center, or on any edge. And it does not have mechanical elements to achieve the pulsation (for example, like a trackpad) but it is really a glass that detects when the pressure of the touch. In doing so, Siri’s multicolored lights flood the entire surface in a much more striking way than what we knew so far with the original HomePod.
In addition, the HomePod mini is designed so that there is no front or back: the acoustic wave-guiding system emits the sound sending it to the bottom and goes out around it in 360º, which makes it much easier to fill a room with sound full-bodied and strong: nuances are appreciated both at low or max volume, with absolutely no distortion in any of my tests.
As a purchase recommendation, the original HomePod is appropriate when we need a single device with maximum power, especially for large rooms or generous rooms (or two to enjoy Dolby Atmos on a 4K Apple TV). The HomePod mini for practically everything else: it is very appropriate for example as a companion to your sessions with the Mac at home. I even consider it fantastic for something unthinkable with the oldest: for travel. Due to its size, it fits perfectly in a suitcase or even a laptop backpack, and it can give a lot of play in hotels wherever we are (when we can travel safely again, of course).
It is also a good idea to buy this HomePod mini to place it in strategic locations around the house: a shelf in the kitchen, the furniture in the living room, the desk in a room. It will fill the room with quality and power and will also serve to take the music wherever we are (or everywhere, if we ask Siri). Of course, this device also has something of science fiction, which due to its performance and price, I have no doubt that it will be one of Apple’s star products.
The iPhone 12 Mini
The first great feature of this iPhone 12 mini is the sum of all of them: on a technical level, it is exactly identical to the iPhone 12 that we already analyzed two weeks ago. The only difference is due to its size: the Super Retina XDR screen here is 5.4 “instead of the 6.1” of the model that gives its name to the range. This change in screen size makes the iPhone 12 mini have even more dots per inch, going from 460 dpi to 476 dpi. This is because we gain a bit more height than the width (2340x1080 of the 12 compared to the 2534x1170 of the mini).
The display in this new size is still fantastic: one of the foreseeable drawbacks of miniaturizing the device’s size could be if the information it displays is easily readable. In the iPhone 12 mini, it certainly is: it maintains the detail and quality that we have in the rest of the range, even in the smallest letters. It is perhaps not the model that I would recommend if you usually read electronic books, but it is perfect for day to day where if you do not need to consult a lot of detail on the screen.
The rest of the functionalities are identical: the same A14 processor, same Ceramic Shield coating, water-resistance up to 6 meters deep for 30 minutes, same cameras. Even the recording in Dolby Vision is maintained, at a speed of up to 30fps (as in 12). It’s literally a miniature iPhone 12, but it doesn’t compromise on any of its features. Apple’s achievement in this generation (which we recall includes for the first time the new 5G antennas) is noteworthy: it is our choice to choose the most suitable size according to our needs.
And how does this new size work on a day-to-day basis? Personally, I was surprised: the compact design works great with the aluminum around the edges and creates a very comfortable device to hold in the palm of your hand and even to handle on a day-to-day basis. One of my big fears with this minute is that it would be more complicated, for example, to type with a smaller on-screen keyboard. However, in my testing days, I have not had any problems doing it and it is easy to get used to.
The size is very close to using a second-generation iPhone SE, only it is even less bulky but with a much larger screen. That feeling of “big screen in less size” is something that surprises us in the iPhone range but that Apple has solved very well, even for lovers like me of the iPhone Pro, which are the ones I use on a daily basis.
The M1 MacBook Air
The M1 chip is a marvel of technology: the smallest unit of a processor are transistors, which in the M1 are 5 nanometers (the diameter of a human hair is 80,000 nanometers, for your reference). Each chip contains 16,000 million transistors, it is the chip with the highest density ever made by Apple.
In general, there are several important things to note about this chip. The first is that it contains 8 CPU cores and up to 8 GPU cores (integrated graphics) in the same package. The only difference between models is that the 256GB MacBook Air has 7 cores, while the 512GB SSD storage model and the new MacBook Pro have 8. All of them also have a 16-core Neural Engine, equal to the that incorporate the A14 chip mounted on the latest iPhone 12 and iPad Air. These artificial intelligence accelerator chips are responsible for improving the images of the FaceTime HD camera, detecting objects or people in photos or videos, etc … by downloading these calculations to the CPU.
The M1 chip also divides between two types of CPU cores, high-efficiency, and high-performance. For day-to-day tasks without a greater computational load, high-efficiency ones are used, saving battery and generating less heat. When we go for power, all four high-performance kicks in. Still, due to the very design of the architecture and the use of the unified memory architecture, they get so little heat (a sign of energy efficiency) that even the MacBook Air has the luxury of not carrying any type of fan.
In design, when we take the Macs out of their boxes they are practically identical to their previous generations, we even have them in the same colors: the Air in Space Gray, Gold and Silver, and the Pro in Space Gray or Silver. Apple has lost a magnificent opportunity to release some of the models in the fantastic Pacific Blue color of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but without a doubt, they are committed to maintaining design as a symbol of transition.
The display improves on the previous generation and is on par with the MacBook Pro in color gamut — now it finally has the cinematic P3 color space. This implies an improvement in the tonality and contrast of the colors compared to the previous sRGB that broadens its sampling spectrum. Of course, the difference of 100 nits of brightness (the brightness of the screen) is maintained, which in the Air is 400 and in the Pro 500. For practical purposes in brightness, the difference does not seem to be noticed either indoors or outdoors, but it should be known.
In the short term, you should consider that all the tools you use on your Intel Mac work on the M1: except for virtualization and some applications from the extensive and complicated world of development, these Macs are prepared for almost anything like we have never seen before in these ranges and are one of the best purchase options right now within the Apple ecosystem. In the medium term, with the relevant updates of this most lagging software, the possibilities and capabilities will be even broader.
The Apple Watch SE
With the Apple Watch SE, we have the Series 4 screen (which is the same as the Series 5 Retina OLED display, but without the “always-on” mode). An excellent screen, comparable in design to the current generation of Series 6 (except for the always-on screen, which in this model also has higher brightness if this mode is active), compatible with the same straps and accessories. Too bad we don’t have more colors for the boxes of this Apple Watch SE, I think the company could have taken the opportunity to launch colors even more daring than blue or red that is still only available in the Series 6, especially in these times of Family Settings.
On the wrist it works the same as the Series 6, if it weren’t for the exclusive colors of the top model or the always-on screen, it would be impossible to differentiate them. That in this SE the screen is not always on is important when tying it to the next point: the heart of this device is the same as the Series 5, with the same specifications 1GB of RAM and internal storage (32GB, Apple does not yet offer models with different storage level on no clock).
The combination of the dual-core 64-bit S5 “system on a chip” and the Series 4 display gives us an instant upgrade: battery performance. The S5 was thought to manage the performance of this “always-on” screen and now that it doesn’t have to, we get The company has managed to adequately combine the most important aspects that define today’s Apple Watch: a good screen, good sensors, and good health and sports options that only leave out what is not essential to enjoy the device if we are not going to need. All this paired with a still very powerful S5 that pushes in autonomy and slows down in price — and now we have an Apple Watch practically created to measure, without sybaritisms, for anyone who wants to enter the ecosystem or jump from a Series 3 which is where the change will be evident) without compromises that lessen the experience.
The day to day is that of an Apple Watch of the latest batch, fast in the interface, opening and changing applications (as fast as a Series 5 and more agile than a Series 4) and with the same precision in training and health as a Series 6 on the factors they have in common. This Apple Watch SE is a step behind the Series 6 in general and is in the same group as the Series 5: better on battery, but without ECG sensor or always-on screen — yes, cheaper which makes it clear aspiring to the attack and with some improvement such as the new compass and barometric altimeter as motivations.
Apple’s proposal is interesting when creating an attractive version for the consumer, highlighting the best aspects of the “Apple Watch” concept of the last five years, creating a model that is highly thought out to seek power, price, and balance in all its aspects — designed for those who come from a Series 3 generation or earlier, or want to see the Apple Watch on your wrist for the first time. Especially for those users where the “all or nothing” of before left them undecided: now they can choose an intermediate link but contemporary with the generation that not only does not sacrifice anything essential but also enhances those strengths that define this range.a significant performance bonus. To put it to the test, I subjected the watch to three types of tests: the first, the hours it takes to discharge to 50%, the second, continuing to use it all night without charging it, monitoring the sleep mode and checking the battery level 24 hours later to load it. The third is a test to find out the level of charge that is achieved in 60 minutes.
And Last But not Least… The iPad Air
For the first time in the history of the iPad, Apple has dared to leave the typical colors of previous generations, and finally, we have new tones beyond silver, space gray, or gold: green and sky blue. The model yielded for analysis is the latter, a very very soft shade of blue that can almost be confused with silver at times — very light and blurred when viewed under the light.
This color stands out much more when contrasted with one of Apple’s new protective cases, the Smart Folio. There is one, in particular, the Deep Navy color, which looks fabulous with the blue of this iPad. The color of this case is very similar to that of the new Apple Watch Series 6 that we analyzed a few weeks ago, and when combined, they stand out from each other. If you are hesitating between silver and this one, choose sky blue: you will hardly notice the difference on a day-to-day basis (it is not very striking) but it has that different point that breaks a bit with what we are used to.
Let’s move on to the physical aspect: one of the first differences that we see in the iPad Air with respect to the iPad Pro — with which they share appearance — is that here we only have a size, 10.9-inch screen. In the iPad Pro, we can also choose a larger model of 12.9 inches, but in my opinion, it should only be chosen by those who need more screen space for their work.
For day to day, even at a professional level, I consider that 10.9 “is the perfect size for practically everything, whether you design in 3D, or if you play as if you usually read digital magazines. Especially for the latter, it is a delight use an iPad Air like the one we are dealing with: the weight of only 458g, perfectly sustainable with one hand, similar to that of a hardcover book of equivalent size.
The screen helps a lot to that perception of quality and is that we have the same Liquid Retina screen of the iPad Pro but without the ProMotion technology. With it, the iPad Pro has a refresh rate of 120Hz at specific moments of the use of the operating system, resulting in incredibly smooth and apparent transitions. It is only activated automatically when it is needed: in movies, transitions, … every moment that has an important movement uses this feature.
One of the changes that can attract the most attention of the device is the replacement of Face ID by Touch ID, which in this device (and for the first time in any product of the brand) is integrated into the power button. Here we do appreciate a difference with the same button on the iPad Pro, the Air button being longer and smoother, slightly wider to better capture the footprint without a doubt. The implementation of the Touch ID is identical to what we already know with the iPhone, as well as its operation.
In the rest of the features, we also have good news: USB-C to connect devices such as cameras, monitors, external hard drives, or the support for Wi-Fi 6 that will be very important in the future. Remember that this new standard does not only talk about an improvement in speed compared to what already existed before but also improves the management of highly congested networks such as those we can have at home today, avoiding saturation in the router or between devices.
Apple has been able to calculate very well the situation of this iPad Air within the range: at a certain distance between the iPad and the iPad Pro, although closer to the latter. In my opinion, for $749 and with 256GB it is the best iPad to recommend to those who need something more than what the entry models offer but do not want to go to the extreme of the Pro: it is a very well balanced product in terms of to ingredients from both sides, and very well enhanced in the necessary points (such as Touch ID, or the improvement in the FaceTime HD camera in low light).
Apple has undoubtedly dared in his idea and raises with him a lineup in the complete iPad family and with many possibilities — supported by iPadOS 14 that consolidates and brings very good ideas to the range.
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