Wednesday, 22 April 2015

I Love It, I Love It Not....The New MacBook

I really can't make up my mind about the new MacBook. As I watched the keynote when Apple first introduced it I was amazed, dazzled, and I decided I really, really wanted one. And then I went off the idea as I thought about the implications for a road warrior user like me of only having a single port. And now I'm back in love with it, even though I don't think it's the right machine for me.

I get the MacBook - I understand what the design team was trying to do here. I've read lots of reviews and comments, and I don't think many people do get it. This is the immediate future of mobile computing - the power of a laptop wrapped up as a slightly oversized iPad. Dare I say, this is a Chromebook for the real world - where the majority of people don't have wireless access on a 24/7 basis and as such must have some local storage mechanisms for both their apps and their data. This is the iPad for proper content creation as well as consumption. This is the laptop for a normal person, who doesn't really need much in the way of processor power (regardless of what they think or are led to believe), who isn't going to be wired up to a surfeit of accessories, who wants a beautiful retina display, and who isn't going to have easy access to the electricity grid during the course of the day.

Even in my world, where I class myself as a power user, I spend most of my time doing the things that a normal person does. I read and write emails, I surf the web, I listen to music and watch film and TV, play a few games, edit my photos, and do office type work including writing and balancing the books. I do these things for most of the day. I rarely need to do more than two of these things simultaneously. I'm virtually incapable of even attempting to do three or more of these things simultaneously without passing out.

But there are lots of people out there trying to tell me that the new MacBook is woefully underpowered, that not having at least two ports (in addition to a power socket) make it useless, and basically that no-one should buy it because it can't do any of the things I never actually do anyway like editing video. These people are little more than computer snobs - self proclaimed technical 'experts' who quote specifications without understanding them, who have never used a computer to do anything beyond the list of activities that everyone else does, and who have never worked in anything remotely resembling the real IT world.

So, if I think this is such a wonderful machine, why isn't it for me? Simply because I do need something more. As regular readers will know, I spend much of my time on the road, but once I get to my destination I'm usually there for some time. I need a laptop that is light, extensible, with a reasonable amount of screen real estate. The 13" MacBook Air fits this requirement perfectly. When I'm at my base I use the Kanex Thunderbolt adapter which provides USB 3.0 and Ethenet ports along with a powered 10 way USB hub. I also use the Logitech 780 solar powered keyboard. If I'm out and about, I simply unplug the adapter and power and I'm good to go. I have a 4Tb disk that is connected to the USB port on the Kanex (this is partitioned as an iTunes disk, a Time Machine disk and a clone of the MBA drive). The USB hub connects a Mobee charger for my mouse, the keyboard dongle, my fitbit sync dongle and my Griffin PowerMate, and a spare slot takes a card reader when necessary - and leaves me 3 ports for charging my iDevices. It's basically a desktop system for when I'm home from home. And it works. But I do think that asking the new MacBook to cope with all that load maybe a step to far!

So for now, I'll lust over the 12" Retina MacBook from a safe distance and just wait for the day when the MBA gets a retina update and goes fanless!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

"DobrĂ½ den" from the Apple Harvest in Prague

If you think this blog has been a bit quiet recently, it's because Apple Harvest HQ has temporarily relocated to Prague in the Czech Republic. Regular readers will be used to me moving to foreign climes by now. This is the third time in four years. I've been here since October and will be staying until the middle of this year.

Although the blog hasn't seen much action, it's been a busy time for the Apple Harvest. The iPhone 6 came out just before my departure and Prague is an amazing place to be testing out the fantastic camera on the latest model. We've also had the releases of Yosemite and iOS 8 which have more than lived up to expectations, and even more recently the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 hit the streets. Although I haven't upgraded my iPad 3 I did get hold of an iPad Mini 2 at the airport last month for an absolute steal. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

iPhone 6

Like many people, it took a bit of deciding which iPhone 6 model to get - the standard 6 or the 6 Plus, but in the end I plumped for the smaller version which better suits my dainty paws. If you're wondering, I went for the 64Gb Gold version - a departure from my normal preference of a dark phone. A few days after I received my new phone I got the chance to play with the 6 Plus and it was immediately clear to me that I'd made the right decision. The form factor of the 6 is, in my opinion, almost perfect. The screen seems just that little bit squarer, and I like having the extra row of icons.

I've kept my iPhone 5 to use as my local phone in Prague and I find it horribly clunky compared to the 6. Having said that, there have been a couple of occasions when I've been hanging out of a tall tower snapping away that I've missed having something more substantial to grip - it sometimes feels that a slight gust of wind will blow the phone out of my hand. I generally have the phone in a wallet case and in this situation the lightness and daintiness are of no consequence. When I know I'm going to be taking a lot of photos I swap to a bumper type case, but even this feels a bit lightweight.

For me, the iPhone 6 is the best model Apple have produced by a long long way! The camera is outstanding and although I love my Nikon DSLR I've found the iPhone 6 is a lot easier to handle when I'm in tourist mode. The quality of everyday snaps are just as good as the Nikon and although it isn't new to the iPhone 6 I think the panorama feature alone justifies leaving the DSLR behind.

iPad Mini Retina

I watched the launch of the iPad Air 2 with relish and was really looking forward to seeing what was in store for the iPad Mini. And like many folk, I was very disappointed. I've got used to the FingerTouch access to the iPhone 6 but this alone was not going to tempt me into buying an iPad Mini 3. However, I had been thinking about upgrading to a Mini Retina, and when I was at East Midlands Airport after a weekend at home I saw a 128Gb Mini 2 at a considerably lower price than anywhere else so I bought one on the spot.

I seem to use the Mini considerably more than the regular iPad and the retina screen makes an enormous difference, especially to my tired old eyes. Having the larger storage capacity has also proved a godsend. I've found that 64Gb means the devices are being pushed to the limit whereas with 128Gb I don't have to constantly manage applications and data to keep the iDevice working. I could never go back to a 64Gb limit again.

Yosemite and iOS 8

I've been lucky with Apple's operating systems and not encountered any of the significant issues that have plagued some users. WiFi connections on OS X 10.10 have been as good as under previous versions, and I missed the iOS brick "upgrade" though more by luck than judgement. I'm disappointed that Flavours hasn't made the transition yet although it is work in progress, but delighted that DockStar (for Apple Mail) has made a reappearance.

I've yet to have much of a chance to test out some of the new features of the OSes, particularly the Handoff feature. For the writing I have been doing I tend to be using either my MBA or an iDevice, but not switching between them. Plenty of time for that when I'm back in Blighty.

I've had one or two issues with Yosemite - with the initial release I had a lot of problems with Safari where web pages just would not load. Sometimes changing the default search engine from Google did the trick, sometimes switching off Bluetooth worked and sometimes a router reboot was needed. Luckily that problem has now vanished. The other issue I have is that the transparency setting is far from permanent. It appears that every time the MBA goes to sleep I have to reset the 'reduce transparency setting'.

Best of all, Clear finally works perfectly with all my devices all the time. It seems that the changes to iCloud in 10.10 have finally put and end to my sync issues, and Clear is back up there as my favourite list and to-do manager.

More to Come

These are just the highlights of the last five months while the Apple Harvest has apparently been hibernating. In the next few posts I'll cover some some of the other gadgets that have found a home either at HQ or mobile HQ. The Kanex Thunderbolt USB/Ethernet adapter has proved useful as a mobile solution to carrying around a Thunderbolt dock and a new 10 port USB 3.0 hub complements that nicely. Rounding off the mobile solution is a 4Tb Touro hard disk for the Mac and a Buffalo MiniStation Air 2 for iOS.

My Mobee Magic Juice battery is never far from me and another new but relaitvely untried toy is the Equil SmartPen - my first foray into the world of digital pens. I've acquired some more great software as well - some of it has made the must have list, some is just fun to have, especially for a stranger in a stranger land!

I'm hoping to be able to get back into the rhythm of posting more frequently now spring is in the air (?), so please come back soon to Czech out how successful I am (groan).