Category: Gear

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What’s Behind MacBook Pro Touch Bar?

For fervent fanboys who drink Apple Kool-Aid like water, the new MacBook Pro unveiled last week is a thrilling update. But excitement isn’t sure for the thinking public considering buying one or wondering whether or not to cancel an already placed purchase before it ships. Anyone perplexed by what Apple decision-makers are thinking, and whether the new laptops are good value, must first understand the underlying design-ethic and answer: Is it rationale?

Apple is finger-obsessed and has been since before the first Mac shipped, as I explained in March 2010 BetaNews analysis: “What 1984 Macintosh marketing reveals about iPad” (Also see from this site, in April 2010: “The Most Natural User Interface is You“). The company lags behind Google getting to the next user interface, which is more contextual and immediately responsive: Voice, meaning touchless interaction, rather than touch, supported by artificial intelligence. By contrast, Apple isn’t ready to abandon the finger-first motif, as Touch Bar makes so obviously apparent. 

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Your Older MacBook Pro Is More Valuable Than You Think

If you’re a recent MacBook Pro buyer, Apple just did you a huge favor—something that may be lost on new MBP buyers, who are in for some sticker shock. The entry-level for the cheapest, newest 13-incher is $200 or $500 more than its predecessor, depending on whether or not opting for the newfangled Touch Bar and Touch ID. That’s $1,499 or $1,799. Yikes. MBP 15 is a $400 price hike, $2,399, for current tech.

But if you already own MacBook Pro, particularly the 13-incher released in March 2015 or the larger model two months later, Apple increased the laptop’s value by not accelerating its depreciation. No kidding. That’s because the new entry-level SKUs are the same as before. 

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Apple’s New Mac Family is Frightening

The Mac laptop line, following today’s new announcements, looks lots less like Apple and more like Compaq—where Tim Cook worked much earlier in his career, incidentally, long before the original IBM PC clone-maker’s demise. Confusing. Complicated. These are apt descriptions that might just send the ghost of Steve Jobs skyward on either—take your pick—Halloween or Day of the Dead.

Among Apple cofounder’s first tasks when returning to the chief executive’s chair in 1997: Simplifying product families. Jobs cut the deadweight, surprising many people by killing off Newton, for example. Complex product lines define Apple under successor Cook, by contrast. 

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Master & Dynamic MW60 Review

For Christmas 2015, I bought myself a new pair of Bluetooth headphones. After trying several sets, I settled on Master & Dynamic MW60, which were a fantastic choice then and are still my top recommendation nearly a year later. The wireless cans replaced my beloved Grado RS1e—no small feat.

Read no further and buy the M&D cans, if wireless listening is priority—and should be if using iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, which lack 3.5 mm jack. Authentic audio, spacious soundstage, and full fidelity (without over-punchy bass) make the MW60 the gold standard for Bluetooth cans. 

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Grado RS1e Review

Yesterday I sold my beloved Grado RS1e headphones, which get my highest recommendation. Parting ways, time is long overdue for a review, even if post-mortem. I let go the cans mainly because my lifestyle changed. Being tethered by wires is too confining; I listen to music more on the move now. As such, fine-fidelity Bluetooth cans—Master & Dynamic MW60—give great sound with more flexibility and mobility.

I purchased the RS1e direct from manufacturer Grado Labs in late July 2014, soon after release. Grado is a family-owned/run Brooklyn, New York-based business that opened in 1953 offering turntable cartridges. In 1990, the company starting selling headphones, which are hand-crafted and tested for the distinctive, sound signature that defines them. Founder Joseph Grado passed away in February 2015 at age 90. 

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A Smartphone Sales Story

I sold my sister’s T-Mobile HTC One M9 today. Nan lives in Vermont, where Verizon delivers consistently better coverage and where the market for a used smartphone is much smaller than here in San Diego. The buyer had previously owned the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which she really enjoyed. While waiting until late November or early December for her matte black iPhone 7 Plus order, the woman has a Samsung Galaxy J7 loaner and hates it. She is familiar with the M9 because her mom owns one.

This lady is the fifth person I’ve met in just a few days who had bought Note 7. They’re everywhere—and a sorry lot of disappointment, too. Every one switched to an iPhone. What? Has no one read reviews claiming Google’s Pixel handsets are the Android iPhones everyone waited for? 

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How Much Storage Does My Mac Need?

The question nags as I prepare to review TarDisk Pear flash memory expansion. The doohickey is available in 128 or 256 gig capacities for either MacBook Air or Pro. It fits neatly and snuggly into the SDXC card slot, which is required; color and finish match, too. Windows users must look elsewhere, though, and many may be glad to. The tech lists for $149 and $399, respectively. But, hey, the Apple fan club is accustomed to paying more for everything.

I will test TarDisk Pear on my 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD. I recently, and unexpectedly, filled up the hard disk with photos and podcast raw recordings. (Hehe, using Chromebooks for so long spoiled me and my awareness of such things.) Doubling storage, particularly with San Diego Comic-Con coming in 14 days, could prove useful for editing audio, pics, and video on the laptop. But is it necessary or contrivance? 

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Tim Cook’s Last Stand

Washington Post reporter Hayley Tsukayama asks, following up on a commentary by software developer Marco Arment: “Is Apple really at the risk of becoming BlackBerry?“. The answer is absolutely “No”. But the concept is right. The fruit-logo company’s dire straight is much more profoundly catastrophic. The risk is becoming Nokia, and the path to that destination is already well-trodden.

Marco calls BlackBerry “king of smartphones”, referring to its market position before Apple released iPhone nine years ago in June. The description is apt enough. “BlackBerry’s success came to an end not because RIM started releasing worse smartphones, but because the new job of the smartphone shifted almost entirely outside of their capabilities, and it was too late to catch up”, he asserts. But smartphones were a niche category in 2007, so insignificant that analyst firms lumped the devices together with PDAs. iPhone’s disruption was far, far greater—Nokia lost its perennial global handset lead; for many of the reasons Marco identifies. Nokia, and not BlackBerry, is the metaphor, and it is frighteningly foreshadowing. 

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Psst — Here’s What Google Wants from Android Apps on Chromebook

Your kids. Chromebook leads laptop and desktop sales through U.S. commercial channels to schools, according to NPD. Education is overwhelmingly the primary market for the computers. The institutions can’t buy enough of the thangs, for their utility and low-cost compared to notebooks running either OS X or Windows. That cost is as much about extended webapps and services from Google (or its developer partners), available for free or comparatively next-to-nothing, set against software for the other platforms.

Wrinkle in the Google firmament: iPhone and Chromebook are like water and dirt. The sediment settles unless shaken up. Sure youngsters can do all their Googly things—Docs, Gmail, Maps, Photos, YouTube, etc.—on iOS but the experience is smoother and more homogenous when mixed Android and Chrome OS. What the kiddies lack, and their educators, is a swath of useful apps like the Apple kids get. 

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The End of the iPhone Empire Begins

The spotlight shines on the world’s most-valuable company this fine Tuesday, as Apple revealed results for fiscal second quarter 2016. Wall Street expected the first revenue growth decline in more than a decade and iPhone’s first-ever sales retraction . Is the sky finally falling? Eh, not yet. But the sun slowly sets over the vast smartphone empire.

Ahead of today’s earnings announcement, Wall Street consensus put revenue down 10.4 percent year over year to $51.97 billion, with earnings per share down 14.2 percent to $2. Apple actual: $50.557 billion sales, $10.5 billion net income, and $1.90 EPS. Three months ago, the company told the Street to expect between $50 billion and $53 billion in sales. You read the numbers correctly: Apple uncharacteristically missed the Street’s targets and came in on the low end of its own guidance. 

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MacBook is a Great Carry-along That leaves Something Behind

Earlier this week, Apple finally updated its svelte laptop that launched 13-months ago. I am awe-struck by the company’s design-audacity—not for brash innovation but bumbling compromises that make me wonder who needs this thing. The 12-inch MacBook offers much, wth respect to thinness, lightness, and typing experience (the keyboard is clever tech). But baffling is the decision to keep the crappy 480p webcam. These days, not late-1990s state-of-art, 720p is the least a pricey computer should come with, and is it too much to ask for 1080p or 4K when modern smartphones can shoot just that?

This shortcoming, and two others, glares because the little laptop otherwise offers so much, for its size. Thickness is 13.1mm, while weight is 2.03 pounds (.92 kilograms). The 12-inch IPS display delvers 2304 x 1440 resolution at 226 pixels per inch. This thing is tiny: 28.05 by 19.65 centimeters (11.04 by 7.74 inches). Apple’s redesigned keyboard provides surprising travel, given the keys’ shallowness. By these measures, MacBook is a great carry-along. 

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9.7-inch iPad Pro First Take

The more I use Apple’s smaller Pro tablet, the less likely I am to reach for the larger one. I have tested the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch tabs side-by-side since March 31st—and the bigger one is my primary PC (most days). Unquestionably, the behemoth is capable of replacing a laptop, as Apple CEO Tim Cook asserts. The smaller-size model is a fine notebook companion, and certainly can substitute sometimes. But more than two weeks using this surprisingly satisfying kit, I can’t yet (and may never) recommend it as your next PC.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which screen measures like all its forebears, falls into a category I griped about in September 2015: Apple products without purpose—or none that’s easily obvious to majority of shoppers. Don’t misunderstand. The technology under the hood is quite innovative, and I really, really, really  enjoy using this tablet. But I’m not most people, and looking at the broader consumer marketplace, I see the device as being more for the few than appealing to the many; that is until the next release cycle, when current prices decrease. Now, putting aside these caveats, 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the device I most often grab first. Many of the benefits have purpose that is subtle. The question: Are they good enough for you?