Thursday, 25 June 2015

Fruity Picks #6 - Kanex Thunderbolt Adapter (USB 3/Ethernet)

When I'm at Apple Harvest HQ my 2011 MacBook Air is usually connected to a Thunderbolt hub. For a long time it's been the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock (original model) which I reviewed in July 2013. I've now moved this to my partner's house for when I'm taking refuge with her and I've set up the new OWC Thunderbolt 2 dock at HQ.

When I'm on the road, especially abroad, it isn't convenient to transport a full blown hub around especially with the power bricks they generally require, but I still want to harness USB 3.0 and Ethernet capabilities normally provided by the hub.

The Kanex KTU20 Thunderbolt adapter is an ideal compromise to solve the problem. This little black box plugs into the Thunderbolt slot on the MacBook Air and adds a USB 3.0 port and a Gigabit Ethernet port to enhance the MBA capabilities. The adapter is about 5x8x2 cm and weighs just 91g.

It's not a particularly cheap solution - it'll set you back about £75 - but it is compact and it doesn't require any additional power cables. I used it most recently on my 7 month stay in Prague where I used it to connect to the apartment's router and the HGST Touro Desk Pro 4Tb USB 3 hard drive I took with me. By combining this with a 7 port USB hub I had access to all my USB requirements (albeit running at USB 2 speeds but none of these devices were performance critical).

The Kanex KTU20 will stay packed my travel bag - it's ideal for short trips involving hotel stopovers. It's just a shame it doesn't have Thunderbolt pass-through capability...but now I'm just being greedy!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fruity Tips #2 - Enable Handoff and Continuity on older Macs

One of the things I got really excited about when Yosemite (OS X 10.10) was announced was the ability to start a task on a Mac and then seamlessly pick it up on an iDevice. In Apple terminology this is called Handoff which is a sub-function of the over Continuity function.  Continuity is dependent primarily on Bluetooth 4 LE hardware.

I was under the impression that my mid-2011 MacBook Air would support the technology but it wasn't until I tried to get it to work that the penny dropped, and although the hardware supports Handoff and Continuity, my MBA was telling me a different story - until now.

When I did a comparison of the Bluetooth configuration on the MBA and my late 2012 iMac (which categorically does support Handoff out of the box) it seemed that the specs were actually better on the older machine. Which seemed a bit perverse. So I did some more investigation and discovered that the ability of any particular model of Mac to handle Handoff depends on hardware, software and a configuration (.kext) file which contains the model names of supported machines. If the appropriate .kext files are modified, it is possible to persuade the OS that the machine will support Continuity and Handoff. 

After a bit more research I found this web site from which you can download a tool which will patch the appropriate files and enable you to turn on Handoff. The whole process took less than 10 minutes and my first test proved successful. I loaded my web mail page in Safari and switched on my iPhone and in the bottom left corner of the lock screen was the Safari icon. I swiped up on the icon and my web mail page appeared on my iPhone.

As with any system modification you do this at your own risk, and you absolutely must read the instructions before you attempt to make the modification, and it would be prudent to take a back-up or better clone your start-up disk before running the tool.

If this works for you, don't forget to make a donation to the guys who did all the work. There's a place for you to do so on the site!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Apple Watch - Tissot Slayer

A few years ago, after spending nearly two years living in Switzerland, I treated myself to a Tissot Touch watch. It was one of the earlier models - a beautiful looking watch, and not cheap - but it has been something of a disappointment in terms of functionality. I have to adjust it manually when I travel across time zones or when the clocks change and many of the functions are a bit too cryptic or complex to be able to use easily. I can't even light up the digital display in the dark!

I watched the Apple keynote back in March where the Apple Watch made its first public appearance and I loved the design and apparent simplicity in function. But I made up my mind to wait until the second generation. I've got to the stage in my life where I don't feel I need to be an early adopter for every new device that comes out - Apple or otherwise. And because I feel naked without a watch, I didn't want to take a risk with a first generation Apple Watch that wasn't quite up to scratch.

However, that changed with the June 2015 WWDC keynote when watchOS 2 was announced, and early availability issues seemed to have died down. After talking to my long suffering girlfriend I ordered a black 38mm sports edition a week ago and four days later it arrived!

If you've watched any unboxing videos of the Apple Watch you might understand how exciting it was to strip away the various bits of packaging (which I personally believe surpass anything Apple have done before) and get to the tech inside. Before I even started looking at the watch I started playing with the new folding USB mains charger - the first time Apple have shipped a folding UK 3 pin plug adapter which is a magnificent piece of gadgetry that oozes class! Seriously!

Even with a Spigen Slim Armour case the Apple Watch weighs in at just 46 grammes - half the weight of the Tissot (a big titanium beastie with a big titanium strap) and I hardly notice it on my wrist. (The bare watch without straps weighs in at 25g). A few folk have commented on how big the Apple Watch is - but I have tiny wrists for a man so my photos are probably not good for comparative purposes. The armour case was always going to be an essential for me, and the gold-ish coloured Spigen was a reasonable price, not too garish and I think it enhanced the black watch perfectly. I'm sure people are going to start collecting cases and straps as they become more widely available as they are a reasonably cost effective way to great a 'new' look watch.

It took me about 20 minutes to get the Apple Watch up and running using my iPhone 6. It was a fairly intuitive process but it worth reading some of the articles available on-line or in the Mac magazines beforehand so you know what to expect. As usual there is no user guide included but you can download the free official user guide from Apple and it's extremely comprehensive (it's also available free on iBooks).

By now you should be aware that the Watch works for left and right handers - I usually wear my watch on my right arm, under my wrist, and this orientation is catered for without any problem. Both the digital crown and the side button are easily accessible to a southpaw like myself. The downside to this configuration is that when I raise my wrist to activate the screen it rarely works. This action works much better when the watch sits on top of the wrist - but even then it isn't 100% reliable. Not the end of the world as a tap on the digital crown or the face itself will activate it, but it is a little frustrating and disappointing.

But that's about where the frustration and disappointment end. The Apple Watch is probably the best timepiece I've ever used. I love being able to customise the watch faces and more specifically their 'complications' (the different additional functions like date, battery power, sunrise, etc.) for different purposes. Although I'm currently back in the UK and intending to stay for a while I love the idea that my watch will self-adjust the time to wherever my location is. The display is magnificent as I would expect from an Apple retina display, even of this small size.

Siri appears to work much more effectively than on any of the other iDevices I've used; I guess I'll just have to get used to feeling a bit of an idiot talking to my watch when I'm in public. But given the volume of sales already, there will be a lot of us doing it!

Battery life is pretty much as expected and as Apple suggests. My worse case scenario was on the third day when I put the watch on at 04:30 in the morning and wore it until after midnight - nearly 18 hours - by which time I was down to 4% remaining. That said, the novelty was far from over, and I was messing about with it all day. On a normal day, I tend to use about 75% of a full charge. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it doesn't take long on the charger to put a considerable amount of boost back in the battery - in a random test 15 minutes charged the watch from 69% to 86%.  I would recommend getting a charging stand. I bought a Mudder squat stand which is spot on, and I've got a second charger cable on order from Apple for when I'm on the road.

I've still only been wearing the watch for four days so haven't even begun to realise its full potential. I have a few apps installed which make life a bit easier - QuickSwitch (for controlling my WeMo devices) and MacID (for unlocking my MBA) are my two favourites as it means I don't have to fumble around for my iPhone. I've added MapMyRun as I have started running again after 7 months in Prague, but I'm still reliant on the iPhone at the moment. I was using Maps on my iPhone last coming back from a concert in Birmingham and discovered that the turn by turn directions were coming up on the watch as well, which I decided was actually really cool!

First impressions are that Apple have bucked the trend of releasing a first generation gadget that isn't quite up to scratch. This is a fully functioning piece of tech which is only going to get better with the next generation OS which will add utility and smooth out some of the slightly rougher edges. And that is just as well, because I don't want to be upgrading my watch every two years like I do with my phone!