Category Archives: iPad

Snugg iPhone 5 Case Review

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Since I write a fair bit about the iPhone and iPad from time to time, the folks at The Snugg wrote to me and asked me if I’d like a free case in exchange for a review. They told me I could select from a subset of their offerings and I chose their “Ultra Thin Bamboo iPhone 5 Case in Black.”

iPhone cases are practically a dime a dozen in Hong Kong, and even cheaper if you head across the border to Shenzhen. I always pick up a few of these cheapies at a time – either I get tired of the design or it doesn’t really fit the phone properly or it just falls apart after awhile.

In terms of material, I’ve steered clear of those rubber ones, because I just don’t like how they feel and some of them have seemed to “stick” against my wallet. I’ve also stayed away from leather because that usually adds too much bulk. I don’t like anything with a cover or any of those pouch-like ones. My phone is usually in my front jeans pocket, sharing space either with my wallet or my work phone (a Samsung Galaxy S4).  So I want a screen protector on the front and something thin on the back and sides. The Snugg Bamboo case seemed to fit my particular bill.

So here’s front and back shots of the packaging.

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 And here’s the front and back of the case once removed from the packaging.

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 So as you can see, it’s suitably thin. The bamboo piece has been coated so that it’s smooth to the touch – you’re not going to get any splinters when you pick it up.  The black piece is some sort of plastic or rubber – I’m no expert here – but also smooth. It’s a good, proper fit. Once the phone is in the case, there’s no jiggling around.

Both the top and bottom are “open” – on the bottom it’s not covering the speakers, lightning jack, or headphone jack. The cut is the same on the top, even though there’s just the one on/off button there.

The one thing I would change? I wish it was just the plain wood without their 3D logo. It takes away from what I think is otherwise a pretty sharp looking case.

Here’s a shot of my phone in the case:

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 And a side view:

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 (You’ll probably have to view this photo full-sized. It’s my phone standing on its side, using the, um, case’s case to balance it.)

One thing you should take away from these photos is how thin the case is. It’s also very light. So it adds little to the size or weight.  Yet it seems rigid enough to do what it’s supposed to do.  No – I haven’t tried any torture testing on it, no dropping my phone from ten feet or trying to see if I can smush the case with my fists.  I’ve only had it for a couple of days so I can’t comment on how well it will still look after a month or two. This particular case sells for US$24.95. (Other iPhone 5 cases from them run from $15 up to $40.)

The Snugg actually has a very wide product range. They make cases for every version of the iPad (some include Bluetooth keyboards) and quite a few other tablets out there (including Kindle and Nook). They cover (pardon the pun) iPhones and Samsungs and Blackberry and they also have cases for MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.  They claim to be the #1 seller of iPad cases on both Amazon US and UK.

I just took a look at their listings on Amazon for their iPad case. Almost 5,800 reviews, with an average rating of 4-1/2 stars. Not too shabby. For the bamboo iPhone case, 45 reviews with an average rating of 3.8 stars.

Of course there’s about a billion companies making a zillion cases out there, running the gamut from a buck or so up to designer cases that can cost more than the phone itself. Why pick one from these guys?  Well, of course the first thing will come down to whether or not you like the styles on offer.

These guys do offer a bit more though. They offer a lifetime guarantee on all their cases, they ship globally, they offer free shipping for orders over US$50 (I’m guessing that’s just in the US or the UK – I can’t find any further details on the web site) and say that they offer “no fuss returns.”

Overall, I’m happy with the bamboo case and intend to keep using it. You could do worse than to check out their site and see if they’ve got a case that suits you.

 

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New Apple Stuffs

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First off, I should mention that one month after release, it’s still very difficult to get the iPhone 5S in Hong Kong – especially if you want the gold one. I “registered my interest” with my mobile carrier back on September 17th for a gold 64 gig model and am still waiting. Just checked the Apple HK web site and it says 2-3 weeks for the black or white models, the gold one is unavailable and you can’t even place a pre-order for it.

(Why do I want one? The fingerprint sensor and better camera would be useful for me, worth the upgrade if I’m doing it contract/subsidized. I feel no desire to run over to Sin Tat and buy a grey market one.)

As for yesterday’s Apple news, in case you haven’t read it yet elsewhere, new iPads and MacBooks.

The “big” iPad is now called the iPad Air, because the size has shrunk down a bit and it weighs 1/3rd less. Inside, there’s the same A7 CPU that the iPhone 5S has. People were expecting it to also share the fingerprint thing but that didn’t happen. The pundits I read have all been going ga-ga over this and I’m at a loss to understand why. This is innovation? A little bit smaller, a little bit faster – but nothing really new to speak of. Maybe once I actually hold one in my hands I’ll have a better idea but basically I was glad that I didn’t stay up late to watch the live-blogging of the event.

The iPad Mini got the same A7 sensor and now boasts “retina display,” a bigger upgrade from the previous model. For my tired eyes, I prefer the larger iPad. The size and weight are not a problem for me.

The MacBook Pro got Intel’s latest Haswell processor – better battery life. So that’s the innovation there – shoving in a processor made by another company. The 13 inch retina display model also lost a bit of weight. My 15 inch retina display MBP is a couple of years old now and it’s tempting to trade that in for the latest 13 inch model. Aside from my own MBP, I managed to convince my employer to replace the crappy Dell that was sitting on my desk when I started with a 13 inch (non-retina display) MBP and I’m happier for it.

I guess the real innovation from Apple is that the latest OS upgrade, Mavericks, is free. And on the mobile side, Apple’s iWorks suite is now also free with new devices.  I’ve upgraded my work machine but won’t get to my home one till the weekend.

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Tech Tip: Freeing Up Space on Your Hard Drive

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Note that my desktop PC runs 64-bit Windows 7.  This tip may or may not be useful for people running Macs.

My C: drive is a solid state drive.  The suckers are expensive compared to traditional drives and come in much smaller sizes.  Mine is 224 gigabytes.

I’ve got things set up so that only programs go on that drive.  I’ve moved my Documents folder over to my E: drive so when I’m saving files, by default they’ll go there instead of on C.  Some programs save data to the C:/Users/xxx folder without asking, and with many you don’t have the option to choose another drive. Lazy programming, I call it.

Anyway, I noticed today that my C: drive was running out of space. I do have a lot of programs installed but even so, I didn’t think I possibly have 210 gigs worth of programs sitting there.  I searched through the drive manually (I know there are programs to help with this but I don’t have any).

What did I find?  The back-ups for all of my various iOS devices were eating up more than 80 gigabytes of the 224 gig drive.  And that was including back-ups for devices I had long since sold off.  iTunes doesn’t know you’ve sold something off and no longer need the back-up; you have to manually delete the back-up yourself.

You’ll find the folder in YourName/AppData/Roaming/Apple Computer/MobileSync. iTunes won’t let you move the back-up to another drive and the individual backup folders have “helpful” names like b0d32fecd8d1fb3c8c4efb152f1dc243a2f27798.  At least they have timestamps on them, so I figured I could safely delete the old ones.

I have 4 active iOS devices – my gf and I each have an iPhone and an iPad.  Fortunately iTunes doesn’t back up everything – that would have destroyed my hard disk.  Even so, the back-up for my 128 gig iPad (which has about 80 gigs of stuff on it at the moment) takes up 20 gigs.  On the other hand, the back-up of my gf’s 64 gig iPhone took just 600 meg.

I now have just 4 back-up folders there, one for each device, each device newly backed up in the past hour.  The total file size has gone down from over 80 gigs to 33; more than 45 gigs of space freed up.

I could “archive” these to another drive and then “restore” them if and when needed.  But then every time I go to sync, (which I do almost daily) iTunes will think there’s no backup at all and do a new one and the deleting/archive process takes a little bit of time. I’ve recovered enough space on my C: drive for now, so I’ll let them remain. I’ve got 65 gig free now – also because the last time I created a new Lightroom catalog I wasn’t paying attention and that ended up on my C drive, but that was easy enough to fix.

So anyway, if you’ve ever sold off an iPhone or iPad, find the backup folder and see how much space you can recover this way.

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Up and Down with Spotify

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Call me crazy, call me nuts, but when I run across an interesting video on Youtube, I’ll download it in MP4 format and toss it onto my iPad for later viewing. Such was the case with this wonderful BBC 4 Arena documentary on Brian Eno that was done in 2010.

If you’re an Eno fan, this is really essential viewing. In one hour it manages to cover most facets of his career, more time spent on his ambient and experimental music but with plenty of nods to Roxy Music and a bit of time spend on his producing efforts with Coldplay and U2.  You get to see him working in his (I think home) studio, hear him discuss his thought processes and influences, it’s really a pretty complete profile.

Midway through, he mentions that one of his favorite productions of all time is Giorgio Moroder’s work on Donna Summer’s “State of Independence.”  (He likes the sound of the robotic sequencers against her voice.) I never even knew she covered this. I flipped over to Spotify and had the song streaming in a matter of seconds.

Although … I really love Moodswings’ version with Chrissie Hynde, which I think is the original (too lazy to check). Spotify had the single version of that but it didn’t have any of their albums because suddenly I got really in the mood for an extremely guilty pleasure, Moodswings’ Live at Leeds album, which basically sounds like 100 people randomly hitting percussion instruments for 36 minutes or so, with a bit of a dub or some tape loops tossed in here and there. It’s an all time favorite. Please don’t tell anyone.

Having completed the documentary, I then wanted to hear some classic Eno stuff. I brought up Spotify on my iPad and it found Eno and when I clicked on his name, that little wheel just kept spinning, minutes on end.

So I took out my iPhone and did the same search on Spotify and the search results came up instantly (and both my iPhone and iPad were on the desk next to each other, both on the 3 network) but not quite right. Search on his name and you find him but then it says there’s nothing available. Butthen click on albums and you get a list of almost every album he’s done and in a few seconds I was listening to Another Green World, which mostly streamed pretty smoothly with just a couple of buffering pauses in 30 minutes.

At home, my Spotify boat seems to have run aground. Spotify is refusing to work on my desktop Windows PC.  It worked for awhile but then a few days ago it came up and said it was offline and couldn’t get online.  So I followed instructions and did a clean reinstall.  Following that, it doesn’t come up at all.  I get “error 101″ which means it is likely being blocked by my firewall, but I checked and saw it was one of the allowed programs there.

Hmmm. Even though it worked in the past, I next tried disabling my anti-virus software. Nope.  And I’ve got a few different VPN programs installed so I deleted those. Nope. Their tech support is telling me to make all sorts of entries in my router, which makes little sense because at home, on WiFi and not on cellular, my iPhone has no trouble reaching Spotify through that same router.  So the answer clearly lies within my PC but all tech support keeps telling me to do is to do a clean reinstall.

I can live with that – I’ll probably use this mostly for mobile purposes. I wanted to use it on my desktop primarily to get links and build playlists to share here, which I now cannot do – at least temporarily. No idea why the same search on my iPhone and iPad, on the same network and right next to each other, would work on one device and not the other.

Anyway, watch the Eno documentary.  I really loved it.  Here’s a link in case you’re not seeing the player which should have been embedded above.

 

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Another New iPad

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I’ve been too busy to pay attention to this sort of thing recently so only just noticed that Apple has announced that their iPad With Retina Display aka the New iPad – what everyone else calls the iPad 4 – will be available with 128 gig storage capacity starting February 5th.

It’s fricking expensive too, at US$799 for the WiFi only version or US$929 for WiFi + LTE – although I suppose one might say that it’s a modest price increase of just US$100 over the 64 gig models.

The one thing I can’t understand is why Apple did this now.  We are more than likely just a few months away from the iPad 5.  Does it make sense to introduce this new-ish product out of cycle, simply because memory got small enough to cram more into the shell?  Or would it have made more sense to wait a few months and introduce the iPad 5 with the higher memory option?

I think this sort of random-ish release further diminishes Apple’s shine.

No, I won’t be buying one.   I already have a 3rd generation iPad and a 1st generation iPad Mini – I can’t decide if I should keep both or sell one off, actually I quite like both of them and use them for different purposes so extravagant as it may seem, for now I’m holding onto both of them.

I’ll wait to see what’s new with the iPad 5 but I think that the pace of innovation in this space is bound to slow down.  Faster processor?  Don’t really care at this point, both are fast enough.  Better graphics?  How much better do I need?  I don’t play the really heavy duty graphics-intensive games and what I’ve gone now is fine both for watching videos and for displaying my photos. Better camera?  Yawn. I think across 3 different iPads and 1 iPad Mini I’ve shot a total of 5 photos.  So what else can Tim Cook come up with to make Apple fan-boys like me part with my money?

Anyone out there have a guess?

 

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iOS 6? Maps & Passport Are Jokes, Right?

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I keep running into annoying little problems with iOS6.  No deal-breakers but still.

(image from here)

First off, if this is a topic of interest to you, then you’ve probably already read elsewhere that Apple’s new Maps application (which replaces Google Maps) seriously sucks.  (And if this is not a topic of interest to you, then you probably stopped reading by now.)

First of all, they released it with key cities in the US and Europe fully fleshed out but Asia isn’t really done yet.  You can get the usual road maps and satellite maps but not with the richness of detail that Google’s maps have.

The search in the map function is BRAIN DEAD.  When you type in an address, Google could figure out I’m in Hong Kong and give me Hong Kong search results first.  With Apple’s Maps app, it gives me zero results for Hong Kong, lots of results in the U.S.  So I have to type in “Hong Kong” each time – still no little list to choose from but so far it has taken me to the right spot once I hit “enter.”

Now, there’s a sort of half-baked solution to this.  Bring up Google maps in Safari and you’ll be asked if you want to add this as a button to your home screen.  Sure, why not?  So you have the button looking like an app, you tap the button and it opens Safari and brings you right to Google Maps.  EXCEPT that Google Maps doesn’t have permission to use Location Services, even if Safari does, and there’s no way that I can see to enable it.  So it can’t interact with the iPhone’s GPS, can’t show you your location, can’t track your movements.

UPDATE:  @aublumberg helped me find the solution.  First I had to reset all location warnings on the phone.  Still didn’t work.  Then I rebooted the phone.  This time when I brought up Google Maps in Safari via the icon on the home screen, Safari and then Google asked for permission to use my location, which I granted, and now it’s working fine.

Also, all day long today, when I was on Hong Kong island, every time I checked Apple maps, the map was flipped around, with South on top and North on the bottom.

Also, the map for Wanchai is really weird. Zoom in to a certain amount and it shows you car parks, which is helpful. But that’s the only detail you get aside from street names – car parks.   Zoom in all the way and you’ll get hotels.  And every construction contracting company.  Really.  The corner of Luard and Jaffe has Sunrise Interior Design and Decoration Ltd. and E-stone Contracting Company.  No bars. No restaurants. No shops.

Let’s go over to Central.  Of course, there’s the Apple store.  In the wrong location.  Let’s see what’s in the area of Des Voeux Road near Pottinger Street.  There’s Yu M Susan Dr Dental Surg.  There’s Cantalever Investment Co.  That’s it.   Oh wait.  There’s Queen’s Theatre.  Which was torn down years ago.  It is seriously bizarre and unforgivably useless.

My next beef is with the much-publicized new Passbook app.  You bring it up for the first time and you get a little screen explaining how this is a nice little place to keep your boarding passes, movie tickets, store discount cards and coupons all in one spot.  At the bottom is a link to take you to the section of the app store for the companies that are cooperating with this.  For me, the page doesn’t load (and I’m signed into iTunes with a U.S. account).

No matter because Gizmodo has put together a list of what is there so far and it’s all but useless for most of the world.  Here’s the complete list:

  • Fandango Movies
  • Live Nation
  • Lufthansa
  • MLB.com At Bat
  • Sephora to Go
  • Ticketmaster
  • Walgreens
  • Mlb.com At the Ballpark
  • Target
  • United Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Shop Your Way
  • Belly Card

Wow.  Certainly seems as if this was launched before it was ready.

(Still waiting for the Passbook page in the apps store to load.)

I suppose I should just be happy that the upgrade went smoothly and that my phone didn’t get borked in the process.  But the Google Maps thing really bugs me because I used it a hell of a lot.   I’m sure Apple will improve it in time.  Maybe in a year from now it will be the best map application ever.  But why launch it now, when it’s the worst?  What happened to Apple’s fanatical quality control and attention to detail?

 

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Get the First Issue of Bokeh Magazine Free!

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A couple of days ago I mentioned the first issue of Bokeh Magazine, a new iPad-only magazine about photography that includes an article and photos by me.

The publishers have given me a promo code that I’m told I can share with my readers here.  Go to the iTunes store and download the Bokeh Magazine ipad app for free here.

After you’ve downloaded it and installed it on your iPad, open the app and click on “subscribe”.  A box will pop up and you’ll be able to redeem this code and get the first issue of the magazine for free instead of US$4.99.

The code is:

skyline0822

This will only work until August 22nd so you have to act fast!

I hope you enjoy the magazine.

 

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Food and Other Late Night Ramblings

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I was surprised that the SCMP gave Brickhouse just a fair-to-middling review.   I was there for the second time last night.  My gf was super anxious to try it after my first visit there so we arranged to meet at 6:30.  Actually I got there at 6 with a friend who was killing some time before he had to go meet a friend at Mr. Taco Truck.   I’d wanted to work my way through more of the menu but ended up ordering pretty much the same stuff I’d had the previous visit so that my gf could try these – ribeye taco, pork taco, beef short ribs.  (The SCMP singled out the short ribs as one of the dishes they didn’t like.  Also their ratings of the 5 tacos were exactly the opposite of mine.)  I found these dishes just as good, if not even better, than the previous visit.  We also noted that every other person there was probably half my age.  Not sure what this indicates.

I was also surprised to see a very negative review of Pizzeria Pubblico from Hong Kong Hustle. I felt the place was much better on my second and third visits there.  In part that’s because of the high prices there (understandable) and because when they asked for a slice with extra cheese, they were asked what kind of cheese they wanted (geez, cut them a little slack, eh?).

Even more bizarre is this list of the top 5 places for pizza in Hong Kong from About.com.  “In no particular order” they list Paisano, Duecento Otto 208, Pizzeria Pubblico, Ziti’s and …. Pepperoni’s.  This is bizarre because first the writer says that these are the best 5 pizzas in all of Hong Kong and then goes on to say that Papa John’s and Domino’s both have better pizza than Pepperoni’s.  So why include it on the list?  There’s a grudging nod to Pizza Express, which probably does deserve a place on the list.  But Pepperoni’s?  (A few years back I was a regular at the original branch of Pepperoni’s in Sai Kung but that was because I had a thing for one of the waitresses there. After she turned me down several times, I had no further reason to pretend to like their food.  But the chain is a hit with locals, who seem to like their crappy crust and too-sweet sauce.)

Speaking of pizza … if you go to Wanchai you might have noticed a spot called Big Pizza or something like that next to Ebeneezers on Luard.  For the longest time this was a branch of Cul de Sac, which was reasonably okay for a quick bite.  Then it became something called Uncle Hiro’s (owned by the Ebeneezers folks).  I went there once and it was godawful.  Now it’s Big Pizza – and I suspect it’s the same owners.  Sunday night I was out with the gf and some friends and after a lot of booze we wanted a bite before heading home and I got a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza from Big Pizza.  Let me put it this way:  If Uncle Hiro’s was godawful, Big Pizza is an abomination.  Pepperoni’s has better pizza.  Pizza Hut has better pizza.  McDonald’s would have better pizza, if they made pizza.

The only thing worse than Big Pizza?  The other day I had an appointment to meet a friend and he wanted to meet at Queen Victoria Bar in Wanchai.  It was 3 PM, I hadn’t eaten yet, and figured I’d get something there.  I thought a BLT would be safe.  First of all, they made it a double decker – who needs three slices of bread for a BLT sandwich?  They didn’t put any mayo on it.  And the bacon seemed to be made out of rubber.

Now that I’m not working, I go with my gf to the supermarket every week.  This is great because I finally get a chance to see what’s really available in the supermarkets near our house and to buy some stuff that she’d never know to pick up on her own.  Tonight one of those purchases was a small package of Norwegian smoked salmon.   By the time we got home, it was after 8 PM and too late to cook anything substantial.   Believe it or not, my gf had never had smoked salmon before.  She asked me if I was going to fry it up in a pan or just heat it up in a microwave.  We already had some frozen bagels and Philly cream cheese in the house.   I defrosted and toasted the bagels (terrible but still better than most of the sad excuses for bagels I’ve found in HK)(hey, by the way, I’d kill for a bialy), chopped up some onion, drizzled on a bit of lemon juice – sadly we had no capers.  If I’d thought about it, maybe a bit of rosemary or some other herb, but I didn’t think about it till it was too late.  After she had the first bite, she practically inhaled the rest.  I’m gonna make a Jew out of her yet!

And, well, oh yeah, there’s this new iPad only photo magazine called Bokeh that just came out.  I’ve got some pictures and an article in the first issue so please check it out.

You can find it on iTunes here.

Otherwise, pretty much same old same old with me.  Still job hunting.  I’ve picked up a few small consulting gigs that help to keep me busy and also help keep my bank account from getting depleted too rapidly.  I’m out almost every day and almost every time I go out I’m carrying my new MacBook Pro with Retina Display (what a mouthful, jeez) with me.  Despite the weight, I love the screen and love the speed and I find that I’m more productive during the day with that as opposed to my iPad.  I’m really glad I got it.

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New York Hong Kong

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The folks over at Lioncase have a new series of cases for iPhone, iPad, MacBook and Samsung Galaxy called New York Hong Kong or NYHK for short.  Since I’m from New York and now live in Hong Kong, this is pretty close to irresistible.  Made from “Microfiber leather” (whatever that is), they come in grey, white and black – though in the case of the iPad covers only the grey ones have the pattern embossed onto the front smart cover as well as the back cover.

Here’s what the iPad cover looks like:

Quite nice but I’m happy with the iPad cover that I already have.

On the other hand, I do need some kind of protection for my new MacBook Pro.

I was thinking about one of those clear hard cases but this might be a classier approach.

Tempted.

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New iPad & Photo Sync Issues

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Well, my new iPad arrived today.  On removing it from the box, I felt that the slight differences in thickness and weight were virtually unnoticeable.  I have to confess that at first I didn’t see a huge difference in the display at first.  With a little bit of research and common sense, I quickly realized that I had been exporting my photos at a size of 1600 x 1200 and this size wasn’t taking advantage of the increased screen resolution on the new tablet.

Once home, I went back into Lightroom and started exporting photos with a larger size – I’d seen 2048 X 2048 as the recommended size.  Once I hit 50, I went to sync these higher res photos with my iPad and discovered that the bulk of them weren’t syncing. Out of 50, perhaps 10 made it over.  I deleted the photos and started over again, watching more carefully this time.  iTunes indicated it was going to transfer 50 photos and each time it got to the 11th, it would simply say that the sync was completed, no error messages.

I searched through Apple’s support forum and found that at least several people were reporting a similar issue.  For many of them, what worked was this:

  • Delete photos from iPad
  • Delete “iPod Photo Cache” folder from computer
  • Reboot iPad
  • Sync again

But that wasn’t working for everyone and it didn’t work for me.  Finally I had a thought.  When I did the export, the size was 2048 X 2048 and I’d set the resolution at 200 pixels per cm.  I dropped the resolution setting down to 150 pixels, exported again, synced – and this time it worked like a charm, all of the photos synced.

Now, with higher res photos loaded, I compared the same images side by side, iPad 2 vs. “new iPad.”  Yep.  The difference was huge and unsubtle.  Color. Detail.  Contrast.  You name it.  Gorgeous.

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