First Thoughts on the 2016 MacBook Pro 13

A week ago Monday, I unpacked my new 2016 MacBook Pro 13. It took 57 days from day I ordered it until the day it showed up at my door. Why so long? I’m glad you asked friend. 🤓 I didn’t order it right away – I wanted to see a few reviews because I was so shocked and dismayed at some of the decisions Apple had made regarding the ports and the small battery size. As I waited, the build time went from 1-2 weeks to 4-6 weeks. Since I wanted to avoid Washington State sales tax (which would have added $260 to the final bill), I ordered it from ABT. It was considered a custom order since I got the Core i5 2.9 Ghz / 16 GB RAM / 1 TB SSD version. I didn’t want to make the mistake I made with my 5K iMac having only a 512 GB SSD, especially since I was planning on using Final Cut Pro on the MacBook and it needs tremendous storage to make it’s powerful mojo work.

The final price was an eye-watering $2600. I remember paying $2500 for several of my first laptops – I’m looking at you, little Fujitsu P5010D – but my 2015 Dell XPS 13 purchase was only $1151, so this was a big step back up to the pricing stratosphere. I am agog at the people who max out the 15″ version and pay over $4300! Cost is a relative thing though of course – back when I was a single guy with no real bills, a $5000 computer every two years was a regular occurrence. My how things change!

Presented to you stream-of-consciousness style, here are my first impressions of my 2016 MacBook Pro 13.

Continue reading First Thoughts on the 2016 MacBook Pro 13

A Mac User and His New iMac – The Rest of the Months

I have a new Mac-related post coming up, but I wanted to finish off this series first (yes, it’s long overdue!). After month four, I started getting into a groove, and had fewer questions and issues – thus fewer things to write about. There were a few things though that came up, and so I give you the final entry in this series. In some cases I’ve added updates if things have changed since I first wrote these 6-10 months ago. It’s fair to say that things have smoothed out since the first six months.

wasteland2-directorscut

  • Although I didn’t buy the iMac for gaming, I saw the promo for Wasteland 2 and the comments about it being similar to Baldur’s Gate, a game I used to spend hours playing. I bought it, let it install, fired it up…and squinted in dismay at the incredibly blurry text. There’s just no way around it: when you have a display showing 5120 x 2280 pixels over 27 inches of screen, and a game that caps out at only half that (2560px) you’re getting a lot of stretched pixels. The cut scenes in particular were extremely blurry; it got better once I was in the game, but even then the in-game text was pixelated. I spent about 5 minutes playing it, but the controls were awkward with the Magic Trackpad. I’m grateful for Apple’s refund policy, though it’s entirely unintuitive because the process looks like you’re asking for tech support until the final step where a refund option is presented. That’s very likely the last time I pretend an iMac with a laptop GPU and a 5K display can do any gaming. 🙂

Continue reading A Mac User and His New iMac – The Rest of the Months

5 Quick Thoughts About Google Home

  1. Setup was fast and painless. Once I installed the Google Home app it was a smooth setup. I was especially impressed with how the app pulled the WiFi network + password from my Android phone and automatically created a peer to peer WiFi network connection with the Google Home. This is much less awkward than the Echo setup where you have to manually create a WiFi connection with the Echo, switch back to the app, and finish the setup. Google did a solid job with the setup process. The app also looks great – the Amazon Echo app is a bit rough looking on Android.
  2. The Google Home only has two microphones, but it’s very sensitive. My son was sitting about 20 feet away and talking in a normal voice and said “OK Google” and it heard him easily. With our Amazon Echo Dot, he would have to raise his voice. I was watching election coverage at a normal TV volume, and a Google Home commercial came on and the person saying “OK Google” triggered the Google Home in my home about 20 feet away from the TV sound bar.
  3. There’s just no escaping the fact that “Alexa” is less awkward to say than “OK Google”. I’d like to see Google let users change the command word to whatever we want. I’d use “Jarvis” for mine. 😉
  4. I was expecting to see my other Chromecast devices show up in the Google Home app. None of them are, including my new Samsung TV. They show up in the YouTube app, so it looks like Google Home is only going to see official Google Chromecast devices. 🙁 This is puzzling to me because Google is essentially creating a two-tier Chromecast ecosystem. It could be their attempt to ensure predictable quality, but it’s a let-down for me not to be able to speak to my Google Home and request it play a video on my TV. I’ve ordered a Chromecast Ultra which I’ll connect to my Samsung TV, but I wasn’t expecting to have to use it on this cast-enabled TV?
  5. The Google Home’s overall sound quality is excellent – significantly better than the full-sized Echo. It sounds fuller with deeper bass. Previously I had an Echo Dot connected via Bluetooth to an amazing-sounding Vizio sound bar, so even though the Google Home sounds good, this is a big downgrade in sound. The Google Home can’t connect to a Bluetooth speaker, which is an unfortunate omission in my view. It should just be table-stakes at this point for a home assistant to work through whatever speaker the user wants. Once I have the ability to cast to the Chromecast Ultra, which will be connected to my Samsung TV (which outputs audio to the Vizio sound bar) I’ll get some of that back…but it may mean the TV will have to be turned on, which is no good. This is clearly an area where Amazon has an advantage with the Echo Dot. Google needs a “Home Mini” ASAP.

Any questions about the Google Home? Post ’em and I’ll answer.

MobileViews Podcast 181: New Apple & Microsoft Hardware Announcements

My friend Todd Ogasawara invited me to join his MobileViews podcast, so along with Jon Westfall and Sven Johanssen, I joined in the conversation. It’s always great to get together and talk tech with like-minded folks.

Todd kicked off the podcast with what didn’t get announced:

  1. A Surface “amateur” 4 to follow-up the popular low-priced Surface 3
  2. A Windows Hello mouse with fingerprint reader
  3. An affordable (sub $900) Macbook anything
  4. A refreshed Mac mini – has not been refreshed since Oct. 2014

There’s some ranting me from about the new Macbook Pro, and some thoughts about Microsoft’s Studio Pro.

A Modern Music Discussion

My Wife: “Alexa, play Two Steps From Hell“.

Alexa: “I can’t find the song Two Steps From Hell in your library or Amazon music.”

Me: “That’s weird. Maybe Alexa didn’t hear you. Alexa, play Two Steps From Hell”.

Alexa: “I can’t find the song Two Steps From Hell in your library or Amazon music.”

Me: “What? I’ve been listening to Two Steps From Hell forever! That’s impossible – we own several of their albums.”

My Wife: “Maybe it’s not in Amazon Music?”

Me: “Hmm. I was sure I uploaded those albums to Amazon music. Apparently, we don’t own any music by Two Steps From Hell? We’ve been listening to it on Google Music for two years.”

My Wife: “Oh.”

Two weeks later, as I’m writing this blog post, I still have this nagging feeling that I own this music…someplace. So I check my music collection on my NAS and five several albums by Two Steps From Hell. I walk over to my Amazon Echo Dot.

Me: “Alexa, play albums by Two Steps From Hell”.

Alexa: “Playing your albums by Two Steps From Hell.”

<music starts playing>

Me: “I’m really glad I ordered a Google Home today”.

Alexa: “Go to hell.”

OK, so Alexa didn’t actually say that last part, but I’m sure she was thinking it. I started off as a huge, unabashed fanboy of Amazon’s Echo, but the lustre has worn off. My first Echo had a mysterious audio failure one month after the warranty expired; Alexa couldn’t verbalize any responses. I’d see the ring light up indicating she was responding, but no sound came out. A reboot would fix it for a while, but randomly she’d lose her voice again. Sounds like a firmware issue, right? Amazon tech support said no and that my Echo was faulty. They very graciously sent me a replacement – even though I was on month 13 of a 12 month warranty – and I sent the defective one back for a post-mortem.

I started off as a huge, unabashed fanboy of Amazon’s Echo, but the lustre has worn off. My first Echo had a mysterious audio failure one month after the warranty expired; Alexa couldn’t verbalize any responses. I’d see the ring light up indicating she was responding, but no sound came out. A reboot would fix it for a while, but randomly she’d lose her voice again. Sounds like a firmware issue, right? Amazon tech support said no and that my Echo was faulty. They very graciously sent me a replacement – even though I was on month 13 of a 12-month warranty – and I sent the defective one back for a post-mortem.

My Echo Dot was ordered March 17th, delivered May 20th, and made obsolete September 14th. That’s 182 day (6 months). Coming from the tech world, I know that technology marches ever onward. Products are always going to become obsolete. But six months between product releases? That’s slightly outrageous by any measure and as a customer, I feel burned by that.

The Echo Dot has a vastly inferior microphone system from my experience – since we moved the Echo upstairs and the Echo Dot became our kitchen-area voice assistant, and it’s not uncommon to hear my wife and son yelling at it. If there’s any ambient noise at all, the Echo Dot simply doesn’t respond. The full-sized Echo was amazing at hearing us no matter what was going on, but the Dot is quite terrible at it. I don’t think I have a defective product, as I had a few people on Twitter reporting the same problem.

Amazon’s Echo is generally great at what it does (music, shopping, home automation), but the deep learning and insanely huge data set that Google can draw upon gives them a tremendous advantage over what Amazon can offer. I’m keen to see if the Google Home I ordered is really as good as they made it seem in the keynote. We’ll see…

A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Four

The journey continues! By month four, I was starting to really get the hang of OS X, and most of my questions were more about “Why did they do that?” versus “How do I do that?”. I’m still no power user, but slowly the mysteries of OS X are unveiling themselves to me…

  • I am puzzled by what OS X does with videos and resolution. It looks like, in the case of video (because nobody like tiny videos), Apple will automatically double the playback size of a video; normal is a 2x zoom. This can cause some confusion if you’re working with videos – I’m not entirely convinced this was the right decision for Apple to make, but you can certainly play video at 2x size and have it look fairly good so there’s not a bit quality loss here visually.

1080p IMAGE

Above: the default size of a 1920 x 1080 JPEG as viewed with Lily View.

1080p TOO BIG

Above: the default size of the QuickTime player for a 1080p video.

1080p RIGHT SIZE

Above: the QuickTime video reduced in twice by two steps – close to proper size.

Continue reading A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Four

A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Three

I’ve slowed down taking notes on my “learning OS X” project – largely because I seem to have gotten over most of the rough edges – but I still have many notes to share from the intense first few months. Here’s what I was experiencing in month three.

OSX-microsoft-office-updates-suck

  • I’m not clear why/how, but the Microsoft Office updates for OS X are really terrible. The download takes forever – I’m on a 40mbps connection, but because there’s no speed indicator I’m not clear if the updates are gigantic or the update server just dishes up the bits slowly (hello Xbox Live!). The install progress also takes a while. The number of updates is fairly frequent (feels like almost weekly), and it’s a process that’s simply far too slow. Microsoft really needs to do better here. It would be great if updates for Office came through the App Store, but I imagine Microsoft has reasons for not using that delivery mechanism…

Continue reading A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Three

LeEco Leme Bluetooth Headphones Review

A friend of mine started working for LeEco a few months ago, so I’ve been introduced to this curiously-named, but wildly ambitious Chinese company who is entering the US market in various categories (mainly audio and TVs for now – Android bikes and electronic cars may come later). Oh, they also make smartphones. LeEco sells their products via LeMall, a site where their already-affordable products often go on “Flash Sale” for 50% off, meaning these Leme Bluetooth Headphones that are already cheap at $39.99 go for a simply-crazy $14.99 (which is what I paid for them). So how do they stack up? Here’s a quick review.

Continue reading LeEco Leme Bluetooth Headphones Review

The 4K Revolution is Big…Literally

Last year, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, Roku released an updated streaming media player: the Roku 4. I’d become a huge fan of Roku players, having owned three of them over the years. It was a big product for them – and for the consumer – look at the sheers size of it above compared to the Roku 3! The flagship feature it brought to the table was 4K playback, which made it one of the few mainstream streaming media boxes to offer it at the time.

What I wasn’t prepared for though was the sheer size, the fact that it had a fan (a mostly quiet one, thankfully), and the heat output. What’s surprising: I never used it to play any 4K content, yet it still seemed like the Roku 4 was being pushed hard. You’d think that the chips capable of playing 4K wouldn’t bat an eye at playing 1080p, right? The Roku 4, despite it’s amped-up hardware for 4K playback, didn’t have a much faster overall UI or channel launching speed. To be fair, I pre-ordered it and I’m sure Roku has optimized it with further updates.

I ended up returning the Roku 4, and until I get a 4K TV I’ll stick with my current combination of three Roku 3s, Fire TV, and an Apple TV. There’s no such thing as too many streaming devices, right? 😉