Dropcam HD Review

DropcamHD_front_turned_HI-RES

I’ve been using Panasonic IP webcams for years to keep an eye on things at home and at my studio. However, Panasonic has gotten out of this business and therefore it was time to look at newer cams to recommend to people that ask. I was intrigued by the Dropcam HD and finally got a chance to try one out. Dropcam HD is a 720p HD WiFi enabled video monitoring camera. It also broadcasts sound. Unlike the Panasonic cameras, Dropcam is both a hardware solution and service. During the setup process you configure a Dropcam.com account along with setting up the hardware. You have a choice of a “free” live viewing only account or a paid Plus or Pro account that not only allows you to view your Dropcam live, but also see either 7 or 30 days of recorded video respectively. The idea is that if you’re using it as a security camera that you’re not going to be watching it 24 hours a day. Therefore Dropcam will automatically record and keep the last 7 or 30 days of video so that you can review it if need. However, even with the Free account you can setup motion detection that can alert you that something is moving in front of your camera so that you can tune in immediately and watch.

 

The initial setup

drocam_setup

The initial setup couldn’t have been easier. Dropcam HD comes with a stand/mount, 10 foot long USB cable and USB power adapter. You plug the Dropcam HD into your Mac or PC initially and it mounts on your desktop as a volume containing the setup utility. No need to even download anything. During the setup you join the Dropcam HD to your existing WiFi network including password protected ones. You also setup your account on Dropcam.com during this process. Once you’ve got it setup, unplug it from your computer and place it where you want to monitor (indoor use only) and plug it into a AC wall plug. Once the camera powers up and connects to your network the setup completes. The mount can be either used on a desk, bookcase, etc. or you can wall/ceiling mount it. It even comes with the screws and anchors. Also the camera can easily be removed from the mount. It just pops in and out. Also the indicator light can be disabled for more discretion.

 

Image quality

dropcam_HD_studioview

I was really impressed with the image quality. Definitely much better than the standard def/low def Panasonic cameras I’ve been using. You can watch the image in a Flash enabled web browser on your Mac or PC or you can download their mobile App and watch the stream live on your iOS or Android devices. See my review of the iPhone/iPad App here.

 

Works in the dark too

dropcam_hd_dark

Unfortunately the room you’re monitoring may not always have the lights on especially if you’re not home. I was happy to see that Dropcam HD uses infrared technology to show you what’s going on even in the dark. It automatically switches to night vision when the lights go off and off again when the lights come back on.

dropcam_HD_rates

The Bottom Line

Dropcam HD is a very well thought out process and the company doesn’t rely on any other company or software to make their solution work. This is a good thing as many other solutions lack things like mobile apps or online recording. The image quality is exceptional and exceeded my expectations. You can setup multiple Dropcam HD units. You can do two way audio and it has digital zoom. While this hardware/service solution works as advertised there are a couple of things that would make it better. First off there’s no way to rotate/swivel the Dropcam. It’s a fixed camera and therefore can only cover the range that the built-in lens covers. With that said, the lens covers up to 107° field of view, so this may not be an issue for most. The next thing is that while it comes with a USB power adapter, it’s unnecessarily wide and you may have an issue plugging it in to an multiple plug outlet next to another plug. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be skinnier. The only other thing you might consider is that Dropcam uses about 60GB of bandwidth a month. Depending upon your ISP/plan this may be an issue. Comcast for example thinks anything over 300gb a month is excessive! As you can see I can’t find a whole lot wrong with Dropcam HD. I’m impressed and will look to replace my older Panasonic units with Dropcam HDs.

You can get Dropcam HD here.

You can also check out Dropcam on Facebook here.

DropcamHD_parts

Review: Shooting Wirelessly with the Nikon D600 and WU-1b Module

WU-1b

I’ve been a fan of shooting wirelessly to my iPad since the early days when I got my Nikon D7000 using an Eye-Fi Pro X2 card. After that I configured my Nikon D4 and WT-5a module to shoot either wirelessly to my MacBook Pro or my iPad and now that I have a Nikon D600 (and loving it!) I was interested in seeing how the new Nikon WU-1b module works. The idea in all of these scenarios is to use the iPad or iPhone for review of what I’m shooting with my DSLR and sharing with email or social media of quick event photos.

The Nikon WU-1b is a narrowly focused solution

WirelessMobileAdapterUtility

With the Eye-Fi and WT-5a module for the D4 you can wirelessly transmit your photos to a variety of Apps. However, the WU-1b seems to be narrowly focused by Nikon to shooting wirelessly to your iPhone or Android Smartphone. They provide a Free App (Wireless Mobile Adapter Utility) for both platforms (see my review of the iPhone version here). Once you download the App it’s pretty easy to get started. Just plug in the module into your D600’s USB port and turn your camera on. The WU-1b will start broadcasting its own WiFi hotspot. Connect to that hotspot via your smartphone and launch the App. Once you’re in the App you can either set it to wirelessly fire the shutter (with Live View on your smartphone) of your D600 and then transmit the image to your smartphone or you can switch the App to the mode that allows you to shoot normally with the camera and the images will be transferred to your smartphone as you take them. Whether you shoot in RAW or JPG the module will send JPGs to your smartphone. I normally shoot RAW to the 1st card and Basic JPG to the 2nd card (my Eye-Fi) card. When I’m in this RAW+JPG mode the WU-1b seems to send the smaller basic JPG. However, when I’m in just RAW mode it sends a larger full-sized JPG and of course that takes a lot longer. Speaking of time, the smaller JPG (about 500kb) takes about 5 seconds to show up on my iPhone. The larger JPG (about 1.6-2MB) takes about 10-15 seconds to show up on my iPhone.

Wireless Mobile Adapter Utility - Nikon Corporation

It works as advertised, but…

WirelessMobileAdapterUtility-transfer

While the WU-1b works as intended it really falls short in the review department. Unlike other tethering solutions you don’t actually see the images as they come in to their App. Instead you see a progress bar and once the images are there you tap to review them. Also while the camera settings are displayed, there is no way to change them in the App. Look at this is merely a transfer utility and remote shutter. Also there is no native iPad support. Yes the app works on an iPad, but in the smaller phone size.

Shuttersnitch saves the day AGAIN!

shuttersnitch-WU-1b_iPad

Shuttersnitch is the App I use for All my wireless tethering to iPad needs. It works with the Eye-Fi cards and it works with the Nikon WT-5a module. The good news is that it also works with the WU-1b module. Unlike the bear bones Nikon Utility, Shuttersnitch gives you a great way to review your images as you take them, star rate them, geotag them and share them via email, social media and cloud storage such as Dropbox or any FTP/WebDAV location. It’s a professional App! I remembered that a recent update of the App mentioned support of the WU-1b module and sure nuff it works great! I had to simply turn on support for the module in the settings and just start shooting. The images came in as usual.

Shuttersnitch for iPhone and iPad

ShutterSnitch - 2ndNature

 

The Bottom Line

For the price, there’s really no reason not to get the WU-1b module if you have a Nikon D600. It provides a pretty painless way to get images from your Nikon D600 wirelessly to your smartphone and it can work anywhere since it creates its own ad-hoc network. Add the Shuttersnitch App and you’ll be even happier with it. Oh yeah, one more thing: Nikon can you please explain why the Nikon WT-5a (for the Nikon D4) costs $500 more than the WU-1b (for the Nikon D600)? Is there really $500 more technology in the WT-5a? I’m thinking not! Yes I see the price is coming down on it from the outrageous $877 that I originally paid, but really? c-mon!


Use a Nano SIM Cutter to Cut Your Micro SIM down for iPhone 5 or iPad mini

I remember when the iPhone 4 came out and it required a NEW SIM format (for GSM based iPhones). It required a Micro SIM. This wasn’t a problem if you were buying a new iPhone because it would have a new Micro SIM already installed. However, if you wanted to use a different SIM from another phone or carrier then chances are it was a full sized SIM that you would have to cut down to Micro SIM size. There were several good Micro SIM cutters on the market and I own a couple of them. I even traved with one in my suitcase in case I got to a country that I wanted to buy a pre-paid local SIM and needed to cut it down for my iPhone 4 or 4s. Once again we are faced with a new SIM format. Now the iPhone 5 and iPad mini uses a Nano SIM. This SIM is even smaller AND thinner than the Micro SIM. That of course poses a problem for those that want to move SIMs between devices. As to be expected there are now a few different Nano SIM cutters on the market. Some even come with sandpaper to sand the back of the SIM down to make it slightly thinner. I used one to cut down my AT&T Micro SIM down to Nano SIM size to use in my new iPad mini. My AT&T SIM is originally from my iPad 2 and is grandfathered in to an unlimited data plan. This is GREAT for streaming video on the road, so I wanted the ability to use this SIM in my iPad mini as well. Although this is not the cutter I used in the video, this is the one I’d recommend here.
Here’s a video on how the cut went:

AT&T May Allow FaceTime Over Cellular For All

I’ve been beating up on AT&T a bit lately for their practices that basically punish users (early adopters) of their Unlimited Data Plans. The most recent punishment was when iOS 6 was introduced, Apple finally allowed for FaceTime calls over Cellular on iPhone 4s, iPhone 5 and iPad 3 (or higher). However, once again AT&T said NO to this if you were one of the original iPhone users still grandfathered in to an unlimited data plan. This is the 3rd time in recent history that AT&T has crippled a feature that the device or os could do, just because you weren’t on one of their “newer” ie. non-unlimited data plans. The first one was when iOS supported tethering. Unlimited data plan users still can’t access or add this feature even if they are willing to pay extra for it without leaving their unlimited data plan. The 2nd one was when the iPad allowed tethering and once again AT&T was silent on this issue for all users. Lastly there was the FaceTime over Cellular feature that once again AT&T said NO to all but those on their newest Shared Data Plans. I get it. AT&T wants users to move off those Unlimited Data Plans and they are trying to force the issue by basically crippling the features that your device can do. Is it fair? NO. Do you have a choice? Yep, you can switch plans or switch carriers and that’s exactly what I did with my iPads. Any cellular capable iPad I buy, I now buy the Verizon version. The irony is that back in the day Verizon was the carrier that played these games by disabling features like bluetooth on certain handsets. However, Verizon has changed their ways somewhat and now they say come on it.

AT&T may have changed their tune too

It appears that at least for some, starting yesterday AT&T has quietly been turning on FaceTime over Cellular for All users (iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPad 3, etc. on iOS 6). There are several reports that users simply turned their iPhones off and back on again and either the feature was already turned on or they were able to enable it without the familiar blue message I still get above. These users that have it working are all claiming that they are on a grandfathered Unlimited Plan. However, there are just as many users like me where the feature still isn’t enabled yet. So perhaps it will take time for it to roll out to all or perhaps it was a mistake, fluke or still not available for “all” users (ie those on Corporate Unlimited Data Plans), but time will tell. If this feature does roll out to all, It will change my attitude towards AT&T to be a bit more favorable than it is right now, and it truly would be a Happy Tech Thanksgiving.

Does it work for you? Did you power your iPhone down and back on again? Are you on the original Unlimited Data Plan? What state are you in? (keep in mind you have to be on iOS 6 and an iPhone 5, iPhone 4s or iPad 3 or higher).

 

Do you really “need” unlimited data?

If you’re an early iPhone adopter like me, then chances are you are grandfathered in to AT&T’s “Unlimited” data plan. AT&T has taken a lot of heat (and deservedly so) over playing games with this plan and doing things like throttling users back that use a lot of their “unlimited” data and holding back features ie. Data Tethering and FaceTime over Cellular, from users still on these plans.

Never gonna give it up!

Like many of you I have no plans of giving up my unlimited data voluntarily. Actually I don’t have a choice as my AT&T plan is through work. I do use a lot of data when I travel. I’m on this plan until they take it away (cold dead hands) or until work changes to something else. However, I also have a family plan with family members on it. Many of those iPhones and iPads were on unlimited plans too. A couple of months ago I decided to look not only at my bill, but to also look at usage and I found that most of these family members don’t use a lot of iPhone 3G/4G data at all. They are on WiFi most of the time either at home, work or school. I also had 3 iPads on various monthly pay-as-you-go plans. I decided to bite the bullet and move everything over to one of AT&T’s Shared Data Plans. Doing the math it would save me about $30/month and everyone (but me) would get the benefits of tethering and FaceTime over 3G/4G. I went with the 10GB/month plan because for 5 iPhones and 3 iPads the math you don’t really save anything by going with a lower plan as the cost per phone goes up!

How’s it going?


iTunes

This is my first full month after the switch and as I suspected they didn’t go anywhere near the 10GBs of allotted data. Again remember this is for 5 iPhones and 3 iPads.

The Bottom Line

While I like the idea of buying data and using it anyway that I want, I still don’t like AT&T’s tactics here of not allowing you to use your device to fullest if you were an early adopter on an unlimited data plan. If you use the data (especially video streaming) then by all means stick to your unlimited plan. Stick it to the man! However, if you could save a few bucks and you’re not using that much data you might be actually better off on one of the new shared data plans. These plans also include unlimited voice and unlimited texting.

Check your usage in the My AT&T App

iTunes

Actiontec MyWirelessTV Stream HDMI Sources Wirelessly to Another HDTV

In my studio I have one Comcast cable connection connected to a TiVo box in an upstairs office. However, in the reception area I have an HDTV on the wall that’s used to display photos via an Apple TV. While I could easily have Comcast run a line to that HDTV on the wall, I didn’t want an ugly cable box hanging off it. I could also perhaps run a long HDMI cable from the upstairs room through the walls to the HDTV in question. However, I didn’t want to attempt it on my own. I’ve been skeptical of the performance of wireless streaming systems, but I decided to give one a try. As a matter of fact I was so skeptical that I didn’t even open it for 2 weeks after it arrived.

Actiontec My Wireless TV WiFi / HDMI Multi-Room Wireless HD Video Kit

Wow, that’s quite a product name (they need help there). Let’s just call it the Actiontec MyWirelessTV for the sake of this review. I decided to finally open the box and setup the Actiontec MyWirelessTV. The installation was very straight forward. I didn’t once think about looking at the manual. The transmitter has 2 HDMI ports, one for your source (my TiVo box) and the other goes back out to the HDTV (the one upstairs). They include 2 HDMI cables (one for the transmitter and one for the receiver). I plugged in the IR receiver as well as the power supply. I saw the lights blinking and headed downstairs to the reception area HDTV. I plugged the receiver into a second HDMI port on the TV, I plugged in both the IR transmitter and the power. Much to my amazement after a few seconds I was seeing the live broadcast from the TV box on the reception area HDTV right in front of me. The image quality was AWESOME. MUCH MUCH MUCH better than I expected. The sound was good. I was done! It worked! Floored!

The next thing I tried was grabbing the Harmony One remote from upstairs and trying to change channels. Unfortunately that didn’t work at all. I’m still trying to troubleshoot the IR Blaster transmitter/receiver to see if there’s something else I have to do? Luckily if I just point the remote at the staircase it bounces the signal up to the TiVo and I was able to change the channel.

Lastly I don’t want to see the box! I tried simply putting the box behind the HDTV resting on the wall mount. At 1st I completely lost signal. I unplugged it and plugged it back in and everything came back. My HDTV reports that the signal being received is 1080p.

Now the only thing I have to do is get a multi-AC plug adapter so that I can hide the power cord behind the TV as well. Currently the two plugs are being taken up by the HDTV and the Apple TV.

One thing I should point out. Although the long name has the word “WiF” in it, it doesn’t connect to your WiFi network at all. It uses its own internal wireless technology. That’s why it just worked the minuted I plugged it in.

The Bottom Line

Even if I don’t get the IR function working, I’m completely happy to be able to watch my TiVo and LIVE HDTV in another room without having to run cables or pay for additional cable boxes. Is the quality as good as a hardwire HDMI connection? No, but it’s more than acceptable for the use that I bought it for.

UPDATE! I tried the original TiVo remote and the IR Blaster worked just fine. So it appears to be an incompatibility with my universal remote, the Harmony One. Now I’m 100% happy with it! I was planning on keeping the TiVo remote downstairs anyway so I wouldn’t have to carry the remote back and forth.

You can get the Actiontec MyWirelessTV Video Kit here.

You can get additional receivers here.

Review: The 2012 AirPort Express – I love it, I hate it!

One of my favorite road warrior gadgets is the AirPort Express. I have several of them for AirPlay streaming around the house and studio as well as at least one with me at all times when I travel (it lives in my bag). See “What’s In My Laptop Bag.” I never had an issue with the design of it. I actually appreciated the simplicity of it being a compact self-contained router with flip out prongs to plug it into a wall outlet for power. It was fast, easy to setup and it just worked. Now that I not only have to demo cloud services for living, but also mobile Apps, I really appreciate being able to setup my own WiFi network on stage as well as my hotel rooms. The previous generation AirPort Express had 802.11n support as well as AirPlay and supported up to 10 devices simultaneously connected. It even supports connecting a USB printer for easy wireless printing. Yep, it was just about perfect what it was.

 

Apple changed it!

The new AirPort Express on top now comes with a freakin’ cord! Noooooooooo!

 

Apple quietly introduced a brand new AirPort Express model on Monday at the WWDC (along with new MacBooks and iOS 6 – yeah there was a speed bump to the Mac Pro too – sad that it’s virtually the same chassis as the Power Mac G5 and got no Thunderbolt or USB 3 love…). Although I was most excited about the new MacBook line up, I was quick to take a look at the New AirPort Express too. While the specs looked great, I cringed when I saw the back of it. Apple has gone away from the all-in-one design to one that is almost identical of the Apple TV. By that I mean that it now requires a power cord. This may not seem like a big deal and maybe it isn’t (I’ll be on the road with it next week), but I certainly will miss just flipping out the prongs and plugging it in!

The new one is slightly wider, but also slightly thinner.

On the plus side Apple added a second Ethernet jack so that you can connect not only the ethernet cable to your internet connection, but also plug in a device via ethernet for speed. Sadly though these still aren’t gigabit ethernet ports. Not sure how much I’ll need that second port on the road, but it’s nice to have. The new AirPort Express is also dual band (like the AirPort Extreme) simultaneously supporting 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz WiFi connected devices. It still has AirPlay and a USB port for printers as well as support now for up to 50 devices. It’s that last one that pushed me over the edge. While I personally don’t need more than 10 connections on the road, there are times when I’m using the AirPort Express on stage and sharing it with other presenters and perhaps a colleague or two in the audience. With laptops, tablets and phones connecting to it, it’s much easier to go past 10 devices than it was back in the day.

Setup

The setup is a piece of cake as usual with the AirPort Utility. You can even do the setup from your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with the iOS version of the AirPort Utility. Now you can even setup a guest network like you can on the AirPort Extreme granting those users just internet access instead of access to your entire network.

AirPort Utility - Apple

The Bottom Line

New AirPort Express on the Left, Old AirPort Express on the right.

The 2012 AirPort Express is overall a nice upgrade at the same price as the old one. It’s about the same size as the old one being a little thinner, but a little bigger overall. I wished they had kept an all-in-one design as I don’t want to have to have one more cord to carry, but I’m sure I’ll be able to adjust. If you have a recent 802.11n model then there probably isn’t much of a reason to upgrade. However, if you’re on an older 802.11b/g model or you use one at home as your primary router, then you’ll want the new stuff in this one.

You can get it here for $99 or here for about $99.

 

UPDATE

Leave it to my buddy Scott Diussa from Nikon to give me an option. Apparently the plug adapter for the Nikon D7000 battery charger will fit the New AirPort Express and work in a pinch. It’s not elegant. It’s not pretty, but it does work. Now if it were only white. 🙂

Update #2 While the Nikon plug does fit (so does the original Apple one), it slightly blocks the WAN port making it a non-starter. 🙁

Review: Gear4 AirZone Series 1 AirPlay Speaker

I’m a fan of AirPlay Speaker Systems. To date my favorites are the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air and the iHome AW1. Just recently the Gear4 AirZone Series 1 crossed my desk. I decided to give it a try. I grade AirPlay speakers on 3 criteria: Ease of setup, No skipping and of course sound quality. Let’s get started:

The out of the box experience

The AirZone Series 1 offers a decent out of the box experience. Much easier than the Zeppelin Air, but not nearly as easy as the iHome’s Setup App. With the AirZone you simply turn it on and navigate to the WiFi menu using the wireless remote. From there you can scroll through the available networks and then hit the enter button on the one you want to connect to. Sadly to enter your network password you have to scroll through the alphabet letter by letter like many game console onscreen setups. Fortunately this is the most difficult part of the setup. After I entered my password, the AirZone connected to my WiFi network and showed up immediately on my iDevices and iTunes.

No Skipping

So far, I haven’t had a single skip. The music has been continuous. This is probably due to the fact that the AirZone has a physical external antenna for the WiFi connection. I hate AirPlay speakers that skip or have dropouts due to weak connections.

Sound

The sound is as good as the iHome iW1, but not as good as the more expensive Zeppelin Air. In other words you get what you pay for. I do however appreciate the fact that the AirZone does have a built-in EQ.

The Bottom Line

The AirZone offers decent competition in this $200-$300 range of AirPlay speakers. It also offers a built-in dock, AM-FM radio and Audio In port so that you can listen to other sources besides those on AirPlay.  I also appreciate the fact that the AirZone displays the name of the current track on the LCD.

You can get the Gear4 AirZone Series 1 AirPlay Speaker here.

Shooting Wirelessly with The Nikon D4 and WT-5

You can find all kinds of reviews and sample images on both the Nikon D4 and D800 out there. My goal here is not so much to review this great new camera, but to put it to the test when it comes to shooting wirelessly with the New WT-5 WiFi module. The WT-5 currently only works with the D4 as it plugs into a special new port that only the D4 has. This was one of actually one of the deciding factors that pushed me to the D4 instead of the D800 (although the D800 should work with Eye-Fi cards).

Wireless Freedom

When I’m in studio I’m shooting tethered to my MacBook Pro and Adobe Lightroom 99.9% of the time. This means long USB cables and enviably tripping over them. The D4 has a USB port on it as well as an Ethernet Port! While the potential for fast Ethernet transfers intrigues me, it would still mean having a cable attached and potentially tripping over it regularly. While I had no doubts that the WT-5 would work, the question was would it be fast enough to allow me to cut the cable?

Last night I did my first shoot with the Nikon D4 and I did the entire shoot wirelessly with the WT-5! I configured the WT-5 to connect to my studio’s WiFi network and to send the images directly to my MacBook Pro on the same network. Keep in mind that I shoot in RAW and the images (16.2 MP NEFs) are also being written to the card when you use the WT-5. I stuck in one of my new Transcend 32GB 400x CF cards, configured a Lightroom 4 to Auto Import from the Nikon folder and began shooting.

The 1st image takes a while

From the time you press the shutter till the time you see the 1st image appear in Lightroom it can take an agonizing 30-60 seconds (wow we’re impatient). Much of this time is for the WT-5 to wake up, connect to your WiFi network and find your computer. However, if you keep shooting the subsequent images come in much much faster, usually 5-8 seconds for RAW. That’s much more acceptable and usable. While it wasn’t fun waiting for the 1st image to come in during my live shoot, it wasn’t the end of the world. Once I saw that the lighting was right I could just keep right on shooting knowing that the rest of the images would be transferring as I shot.

Here’s a video on how long it takes…

 

The Bottom Line

While shooting tethered via a wire is faster and cheaper, I’ll take the speed hit to shoot wirelessly any day! This solution also works great with the recently updated Shuttersnitch App on iPad. The WT-5 is way way way overpriced IMHO, but it works as advertised and the ability to add multiple profiles, setup an adhoc network, shoot directly to a PC/Mac via the Nikon software or to any FTP server makes it a killer solution for those that want/need wireless shooting. Next I’ll play with the remote control capabilities of the WT-5 and controlling it from any web browser including Safari on iOS.

You can get the Nikon D4 here

You can get the Nikon WT-5 here

I went with the Verizon iPad WiFi+4G LTE

On Friday I posed the question: “Which iPad WiFi+4G LTE is Better: Verizon or AT&T?” and overwhelmingly people responded with “go with Verizon.” When I woke up that morning and looked at the comments on the blog and social media, I decided to head out to the Verizon store on my way to my studio. I figured that although I absolutely hate standing in lines for this stuff, it would be worth a shot. Keeping in mind that I was meeting someone at my studio at 9AM and that left me very little time from doors open at 8:00 AM to get in and out. I got to the Verizon store at 7:37 and I was stunned to see absolutely no line whatsoever!

I thought to myself “something must be wrong! I’m never 1st in line, let alone “only one” in line.” A sales rep opened the door and asked if I was here for the new iPad and I said “yes” and he told me that they would open at 8. I asked if they had the 64GB model in and he said that he would check. A few minutes later I looked back in the window and he gave me the thumbs up. By the time the doors opened at 7:56 AM (for the mad rush), there were only 4 of us there.

I was in and back out with a Black 64GB Verizon WiFi+4G LTE iPad in hand by 8:01 AM.

Why did I go with Verizon one this one?

My 1st two iPad WiFi+3G models were on AT&T and since I got in on the ground floor of an “unlimited data plan” with no contract, when the New iPad was announced I just automatically ordered the AT&T version. Then I started reading some other posts online asking “why go with the AT&T one?” and it got me thinking and doing a little research. This really cast a doubt in my mind as to why I should stick with the AT&T version? Here’s what I found out:

Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage in over 200 cities above.
AT&T’s 4G LTE Coverage above and with Michigan not even in the Coming Soon area.
  • I live in Michigan and Verizon has LTE service here and AT&T doesn’t. Not only don’t they have it, but it’s not even on the publicized roadmap for this year!
  • I travel abroad quite a bit and this was a big concern until I found out that the Verizon version also supports GSM and has a standard Micro SIM slot too. Yes Verizon does international too, but GSM is EVERYWHERE!
  • Lastly Verizon supports wireless tethering (sharing your fast LTE connection with your laptop or other WiFi devices) at no additional cost while AT&T is still scratching their heads on how or when they will make it available. <-this was kinda the last straw!

How well does it work?

I got back to my desk and began the setup and restore process on the New iPad. Once it was done, I saw the Verizon status bar, but before I setup an account I popped my AT&T SIM with unlimited data from my iPad 2 and put it in the New Verizon iPad and my jaw dropped when it just worked. I turned off WiFi and was surfing on AT&T’s faux 4G  (non LTE)  HSPA+ network from my Verizon iPad.

I put the Verizon SIM back in (yes it comes with one) and setup a 2GB/month plan for $30/month. Next I had to test the LTE speed

Whoa!

Yes the speeds live up to the hype. Very close to if not exceeding many broadband connections in people’s homes today and certainly faster than anything I’ve seen on AT&T to date.

Finally I have tethering

One of my other frustrations is that while I enjoy an unlimited data plan on my corporate iPhone 4s, I can’t do a Personal Hotspot (without jailbreaking) because in order to add that feature I’d have to give up the grandfathered unlimited data plan that I have. I have an AT&T MiFi (yes another monthly cost). So perhaps one of the tipping points was that Verizon freely allows tethering with no additional charges or contracts. You buy your data plan and use it the way you want. What a concept!

It’s also FAST! Here’s a speed test from my MacBook Pro while using the Personal Hotspot over the iPad’s 4G LTE connection.

Speedtest from my MacBook Pro tethered to the New iPad’s 4G LTE connection

 

Going Abroad

While Verizon claims that their iPad will work in other countries I see no provision for adding any international roaming data the way AT&T does directly on the iPad. Granted AT&T’s international roaming rates aren’t cheap and you can probably do better picking up a local SIM in the country you’re visiting, but at least they are convenient to do right there on the device and you buy as much or as little as you need for a trip. When that data runs out or the month (30 days) expires you can buy more when you need it. This is definitely one of those times where I could see the need to pop back in the AT&T SIM or a local SIM that you get in the country you’re visiting. Verizon wants you to call them and enable International Roaming and they aren’t really advertising the rates from what I can see.

 

The Bottom Line – The Best of Both Worlds

While I have no real love or hate for AT&T, I haven’t had any problems to date with my last two iPads. However, from a competitive feature advantage and 4G LTE coverage advantage I have to give the nod to Verizon! I returned my unopened AT&T iPad to the Apple Store over the weekend with no regrets. I have the option of keeping the unlimited AT&T data account by simply hanging on to the SIM (and continuing to pay for it) for a bit and see if I ever need it. Lastly because of the Tethering feature I could potentially kill my MiFi account and even save money while still hanging on to the AT&T plan as the MiFi plan costs more. Not to mention the iPad gets about 4x the amount of battery life of my MiFi.

 

Whoa, whoa, whoa, what about the Retina Display, speed, etc.

I thought I was done here, but you probably want to hear my impressions about the New iPad in general. So here are a few first impressions:

  • Although the New iPad is technically heavier I don’t notice the weight much. I did notice it going from the iPad to iPad 2 and figured that this one would feel heavy again. It doesn’t.
  • Yes the retina display is nice, but honestly with MY EYES, I can’t see that big of a difference YET. I have an eye doctor appt this afternoon as I’m overdue for new glasses 🙂
  • Photos still look great (ones at 1024×768 or higher), but I can’t DEFINITELY see the difference in LOW RES photos now. They look jaggy! If you are using your iPad as a portfolio device you’re definitely going to want to replace your photos on it with high res versions. While most of my photos look fine, some were apparently a lower resolution than others and I can see the difference immediately.
Low res photo above looks really bad zoomed in on the iPad Retina Display
My existing photos at larger resolutions of 1024×768 (and higher) look fine zoomed in.
  • YES, the camera is much better. That’s not hard to do since I viewed the camera on the iPad 2 as “unusable” for photos. I still wont’ be doing much shooting with it, but it’s nice to know that at least now I could.
  • Larger screen captures. Since you now have 2048×1536 resolution this means that your screen captures are going to be at the higher res too. This is a good thing for authors and bloggers.
  • Is it worth upgrading from an iPad 2? Probably not unless you want the faster speed of the 4G networks. Otherwise, you might want to skip this one and wait for next year’s model. If you don’t have an iPad or you have a 1st generation iPad, it’s time to upgrade. I’m already starting to see new Apps come out that don’t work on the original iPad. That trend will likely continue.

Get the SpeedTest App I used above here on the iTunes