Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A Kind of Magic

With my birthday coming up in a couple of weeks I decided to hedge my birthday funds and finally splash out on a Magic Mouse. The decision was mainly brought about because I found a supplier whose price couldn't be matched and they had some in stock. Over the years I've spent a small fortune on computer rodents; I've found some that I love, and others which have disappeared behind the electronic skirting board in a few weeks for one reason or another. I'm a difficult person when it comes to mice because I'm both left handed and have quite small hands. So my criteria for a good mouse are:

  • Small and lightweight

  • Uncontoured - in other words they fit into both hands the same way

  • Featured - scroll device, multiple buttons, etc.

  • Configurable

  • Truly Wireless - no dongle/receiver
Since I bought my first Apple computer I've used the Mighty Mouse (oops, that's the Apple Mouse isn't it!!), both wired and wireless versions and I must be one of the few people on the planet who have never experienced the well documented problems with the scroll ball. My only real hang-up with the Apple Mouse is the side buttons, which are just too stiff to be comfortable. I like the feel of the Apple Mouse in my hand, but the wireless version may be just a tad too heavy with the batteries in. In fact the only other mouse I use these days is the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball Mouse which I tend to use with my Hackintosh or when I'm on the train with my MBP. I love its ability to swap between mouse and trackball functions especially in cramped conditions.

I'm now hooked on the Magic Mouse. I like the low profile, although I fail to understand how people with long finger nails can use it without the desktop acting like a nail file, and it feels lighter than the wireless Apple Mouse. I love the silky touch of the mouse top and even slightly sweaty fingers seem to glide over its surface. But what really swings it for me is the 3rd party software available for it to make it truly configurable.

So far I've tried MagicPrefs, MouseWizard and jiTouch, but I keep coming back to BetterTouchTool. All four programmes offer similar features, but BTT just has the edge for me, primarily because it provides so much configurability, including fine control over speeds, touch pressures, surface boundaries, in addition to a wide range of gestures, taps, clicks and swipes. Regardless of which programme you finally opt for just take care not to overwhelm yourself by setting up loads of defined gestures; start off with a couple and build on these as you get more familiar with the mouse.

It does take some time to get to grips with the Magic Mouse. Fingers need to be in quite precise positions for a specific gesture to initiate the appropriate response and sometimes it can take to or three attempts. Scrolling is much smoother than with the Apple Mouse but clicks and taps can be a bit frustrating until you've been using the mouse for a while. I do find that my hand gets a little bit tired after prolonged usage and I think this is partly because of the low profile, but it may simply be bad habits on my part from not taking proper breaks. Time will tell.

Other caveats - the instructions indicate that to use a Magic Mouse on different machines requires you to unpair from one before pairing with another. In reality two machines can share a single Magic Mouse, but you clearly need to disconnect from one before connecting to the second. I've not noticed any issues regarding battery life as yet, with 84% charge remaining after 7 days. I certainly haven't seen the draining effect on my wireless keyboard that some users have reported, although that may be because I have one of the old plastic wireless keyboards.

Can I recommend the Magic Mouse? I really think you need to try one out before you decide to buy one. It's not going to suit everyone, and if you don't like it, it's an expensive mistake. If you decide to go ahead, be patient, and try out the different software options to get the best balance to suit you. Personally, I'm going to get a second one at some stage so I don't have to carry the current one around with me when switching between machines.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

What's not to like about the iPad?

I've pondered about whether to publish this entry for some days now. The Apple Harvest blog is not a place for rumours or speculation; its primary focus is to inform its readers about useful tools, gadgets, apps and problems (and sometimes solutions) that I comes across as a fairly typical Apple user. That isn't to say that I'll always keep my opinions to myself, but I prefer to try not to talk out of my backside.

Which is why, apart from a few remarks on Twitter, I've deliberately steered clear of writing about the iPad. But my gosh, I have read so much rubbish in the days (well months) leading up to the iPad launch on 27th January 2010, and possibly even more rubbish in the days following its launch, that I have decided to break my silence.

I'm going to confess to a few things up front.
  • I like the concept of a tablet device

  • I own an Asus R1F Tablet

  • I would buy an iPad
There, I feel better for that. Now, let me explain my reasoning.

The idea of a device that boots up almost instantly, allows me to prod and poke it, with my fingers, to make it do things, and lets me clearly view its display without either having to take my glasses off or having it shoved so close to my face that I can't breathe is really quite appealing. If I'm sitting down in front of the tele in the evening and I suddenly want to check something on the internet (like an actor's name) I don't want to wait for a laptop or desktop to boot up. I don't want to have to fumble around trying to find a stylus or pen. And no matter how much I love my iPhone, the web browsing facility is not its strongest point. If I'm in the pub and I want to share my photographs of my mate's daughter's wedding I want him to be able to see them properly, not on a display that's smaller than the beer mat which he can't see without his glasses. I already read various newspapers and magazines on-line via subscription, but reading experience is hampered by the form factor of the laptop/desktop, especially as they use a fixed horizontally biased display. A tablet allows me to do these types of thing, simply, quickly, efficiently and with a minimum of fuss.

The Asus R1F was a well spec'd PC Tablet and was well designed given the constraints of the time. But it was quite heavy, it got really hot, the battery life was rubbish, the display was blurry compared to normal laptops and believe me, handwriting on a laptop is not a natural thing to do. The Asus had some limited "wow" factor, but that was about it.

As far as I can tell, the iPad allows me to perform all the types of activity mentioned above whilst overcoming all the problems I encountered with the Tablet PC. In that respect, it actually fills the void between the kit that I use for my day to day business activities like writing, managing projects, building websites, and serious internet surfing and the mobile kit that I use for phone calls, listening to music, making quick notes, twittering and essential surfing.

OK I've not seen or used one yet, but tell me honestly:

"What's not to like about the iPad?"