My transition to being mostly Apple hardware has taken a few years, starting with an iPod Touch years ago. I still use an Android phone, but my desktop is an iMac, my laptop is a Macbook Pro, and I have three iPads in my home. My wife has inherited my trusty Dell XPS 13 though, so I still have access to a great Windows laptop. 😁
I’ve decided that at this moment in my life, the benefits of what Apple offers is worth what I have to pay for it…but that doesn’t mean I can’t get a little grumpy as I watch how Apple updates – or, more accurately rarely updates their Mac product line. The iPad is, in my opinion, the best tablet you can buy today. The iPhone is an excellent product. But Apple’s Mac products? They alternate between stale to compromised, outdated to ridiculously expensive. And yet because they are the only way to get macOS, people who want to use that platform have no choice.
Above is what Apple’s site navigation looks like today. They add the word “New” in orange when there’s a product update. What would it look like though if they were a little more honest? This. 🤣
(you’ll want to click on the image to appreciate all the sarcasm)
I’d created the graphic below months ago, so wouldn’t you know it today was the day that Apple finally put 8th gen Intel CPUs in their Touch Bar-based Macbooks and updated a few other key things (more max RAM and SSD options). The new Macbooks might have better battery life, and they might have fewer keyboard problems. We’ll see!
If you’re a Mac user, what do you wish Apple would update next?
I have a long history with AudioEngine speakers; I first reviewed their A5 speakers back in 2007, and their A2 speakers in 2008. I’ve owned their A5+ speakers since 2011, having only recently retired them from use last year, and not by choice; we put a bigger TV in a spot where a soundbar was needed in front of the TV because we needed all the width of the mantle for the TV. The point is, I have a deep fondness for AudioEngine products so I had high expectations as I excitedly unpacked the box with the A2+ powered speakers. I have a tremendous ❤ for products that are red, so one of the reasons why I asked to review the A2+ speakers was because they game in this glorious red colour:
The speakers are available in satin black, high-gloss white, and the above high-gloss red. The photo above is slightly deceiving: it looks brighter in my photos than in the normal lighting of my office. Because it’s so glossy, the colour pops depending on how much direct lighting they are in. Tucked beside and behind my iMac, they are a deep, dark, blood red.
In virtually every review of speakers or headphones, the writer will trot out obscure artists and tracks, trying to impress the reader with their musical pedigree. I shall do no such thing, and simply say that with the variety of music I listen to regularly from these speakers – pop, rock, a capella, country, orchestral scores – I am extremely impressed with how great the A2+ speakers sound. You’re not getting booming bass here without hooking up a sub-woofer – that’s a matter of physics, and these are small speakers – but when cranked up, these tiny powerhouses will move some serious air (you’ll actually feel wind blowing strongly on you at higher volumes) and they sound quite full for their size.
Volume wise, listening at four pips of volume on my iMac has the speakers at about 62dB (measured with a sound meter at 16 inches away). It’s what I consider a “comfortably loud” volume level – not quiet background, volume you can actually hear and appreciate the music. At 50% volume (8 pips) they’ll hit 84db. At 100% volume (16 pips) they’ll hit 105db – a volume level I find painful being so close and would never use, but if you’re trying to full a medium-sized room at a party, you may need this volume. At max volume they hold up without distortion on every song I tested them with, and while I won’t “song drop” I tested a live cover of “Superstition” with some heavy bass and at 100% volume it was smooth and (OK, OK, check the bass solo at 4:08 here).
Continue reading AudioEngine A2+ Speakers in High-Gloss Red Reviewed
Last week I went to an exhibit in Las Vegas called the Marvel Avenger’s S.T.A.T.I.O.N. If you’re a Marvel movie geek like I am, it was a lot of fun (and I’ll post photos in a bit). While there though I took a photo of Iron Man’s War Machine armour used in the movies – the real prop – and it turned out so well I knocked out the remainder of the background and turned it into 5K (5120 x 2880 pixel) desktop wallpaper. I optimized it for macOS but it should work pretty well on any device (I have it as my lock screen wallpaper on my iPad). The photo was taken with my Sony RX-100 Mark IV, and I did a bit of Photoshop work to make the background fully black. The original doesn’t look much different than this though – the blue lighting was how the armour was shown. Enjoy!
[Click to download the left-aligned 5K War Machine armour]
[Click to download the right-aligned 5K War Machine armour]
[Click to download the centre-aligned 5K War Machine armour]
(photo above by DockCase)
Back in September I saw a Kickstarter project that looked like it would help with one of the main complaints many buyers had with the new design of the 2016 MacBook Pros: nothing but USB-C ports. DockCase is a clever mash-up of two things most MacBook owners want: a way to protect it and a way to add more ports. Previously I’d solved the port problem by putting my MacBook in a sleeve and carrying a variety of dongles, USB-C to USB-A adaptors, SD card readers, and a USB hub (which has an SD card slot, USB ports, and HDMI port) scattered across the two bags I’d use for transporting my laptop. I’d guess I’ve spent around $200 or so on these accessories, partially out of the paranoia that I’d need a slot/port and not have it.
The DockCase offers a variety of ports: SD card + microSD card slots, three USB-A ports (supporting USB 3.0 speeds of 5 Gbps), one USB-C port (supporting USB 3.1 speeds of 5 Gbps), one USB-C PDC (power delivery charge) port, HDMI video (1080p @ 60Hz or 4K @ 30 Hz), and a gigabit Ethernet port. That’s a comprehensive list of ports and replace every port a modern non-MacBook product would have (and then some). I paid $89 when I backed the project on Kickstarter, and it shipped pretty much on time (a rarity in the crowdfunding space).
Continue reading DockCase: A Clever Solution for the Port-Anemic MacBook Pro 13…Except for Power
I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom since 1.0, and I’ve evolved a workflow that adapts to some of the limitations in both Lightroom and local storage. I use Lightroom for active photo shoots only, meaning that being able to archive my albums is critical. My workflow looks like this (what does yours look like? post in the comments):
- Import photos + videos off memory card into new album
- Edit photos in Lightroom (first pass culling + develop remaining photos + second pass culling + final development tweaks)
- Export photos as 80% quality JPEGS, export videos as original quality
- Bulk rename JPEGs + bulk timestamp change in ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac
- Export album as catalog + delete album from Lightroom
- Put catalog onto Synology NAS (which is then backed up in multiple places)
Adobe recently shook up the photography world by releasing a brand new cloud-centric version of Lightroom called Lightroom CC, and re-naming what we knew as Lightroom to Lightroom Classic CC. They added some performance enhancements to Lightroom Classic, which are greatly appreciated, but otherwise didn’t add any new features. That’s a bit frustrating given we pay a monthly fee to Adobe that we presume goes into improving the product.
The big development effort clearly went into Lightroom CC, and though it’s obviously a 1.0 product lacking in many features we’re used to in Lightroom Classic, I see a lot of potential in it. The biggest limitation in real-world use is going to be upstream bandwidth: you need to have at least 20mbps up – if not 40+ mbps – yet the average nationwide upstream bandwidth is only 8.51 mbps. That will be a massive bottleneck for most people to push all their raw files into the cloud to then use on Lightroom mobile apps. Continue reading How to use Lightroom CC + Still Export Albums in Lightroom Classic CC
One of the things I was looking forward to when getting my MacBook Pro 13 was the fact that I buying a hardware platform. By that, I mean a product that would immediately achieve such critical mass that hundreds of companies would create accessories, cases, covers, adapters, etc. for it. Apple keeps their form factors for years (sometimes too many years) and that gives hardware companies the stability they need to roll out a broad array of products. That’s a compelling advantage!
Coming from the Windows world, where often every year the new model has a new design, whenever I’d get a new laptop I’d search in vain for cases, covers, etc. Anything I’d find would be generic and generally boring. My last Windows laptop, a Dell XPS 13, was the first one I’d ever owned that was popular enough to warrant some accessories. I remember being so exited when I found this plastic shell for it.
I hadn’t bought a skin for a laptop since back in the Fujitsu P7000 days (and I was amazed I found a skin for it at all), but I decided that since I was likely going to keep this MacBook Pro for longer than any other laptop I’ve ever owned, I wanted to protect it from wear and tear more than any previous laptop. Time for some skin shopping!
The front is a Slickwraps Color Series wrap in, you guessed it, red. ? I chose to leave the vinyl in place over the Apple logo. I may prefer Apple laptops now, but I have no desire to advertise for the company.
Continue reading Presenting the Most Bad-Ass Macbook Pro Skin in the Western Hemisphere
VAVA (which appears to be a sister company to HooToo) did a launch promotion on the VOOM 22 for $39.99, so I ordered it from Amazon the first day it was available – and as I write this, no one has reviewed it yet. The product packaging arrived a little banged up – and with a rip on top – which surprised me. Opening the box, I found a small instruction pamphlet, a power adaptor, a 3.5mm cable, and the speaker itself. The power adaptor made me frown – it’s round-plug style connector rather than something more universal such as microUSB or USB-C. That means if you want to charge this while travelling, you need to bring this special power adaptor. It’s a huge failure in my eyes when companies do that. The rather large power supply outputs 18v at 2A, so I’d guess they opted for faster charging at the expense of customer convenience, and that’s a mistake in my eyes: I’d rather have a device that might not charge very fast but can charge with the cables and external batteries I already have. The power adaptor prongs also don’t fold down, so it would be a hassle to travel with. On the plus side, the VOOM 22 plays while charging. There are only three dots showing battery level so you’re either at full, 2/3rds, or on the last 1/3rd. You can press the power button once to display the battery level.
Continue reading The VAVA VOOM 22 Bluetooth Speaker Reviewed
I’m in a bit of a technology pickle and I’d like some opinions from my geeky readers. For the past several years, I’ve had a small computer (a Gigabyte BRIX, Core i7 CPU) running as my 24/7 server. It runs Plex for streaming movies, runs CrashPlan for backing up all my data (as well as serving as the data location host for family member CrashPlan backups), Resilio Sync for always-on syncing with my other computers, and a few other apps. Connected to it is a 4 TB external hard drive, which is where I store copies of all my data (pushed and pulled there by a combination of Resilio Sync and SyncBackSE) and the CrashPlan backups from other people.
I also have a Synology NAS (a 1512+) from five years ago, stuffed with five hard drives and a DX513 expansion unit stuffed with another four more. I have about 32 TB of total storage and it’s where I keep my MKV rips from our movie collection – and this is what Plex uses for a data source (but the Plex server is on the Gigabyte BRIX). For the most part this works fairly well, though Plex (used via a Roku) routinely takes two tries to start playing movies – I think because the first attempt to pull the MKV from the mapped network drive fails – and it’s not uncommon for us to have a few moments of buffering in some movies. It’s very random though and I’ve never been able to pin down the source of these Plex glitches.
Continue reading A Technology Pickle: a New Small Form Factor PC or an Upgraded Synology NAS?
Since the first week I had my MacBook Pro, it had a peculiar, intermittent problem: it would spontaneously turn off, and getting it back on was hit or miss. Pressing and holding the power button didn’t do anything. Tapping the keyboard did nothing. Once, I reset the SMC and it came back to life – but that trick never worked again. Other times, simply leaving it alone for 5-10 minutes would bring it back to life. What was odd was that it would only happen when I was away from home – it never exhibited this behaviour while it was used in my home office. I didn’t think heat was a factor as it didn’t happen after extended uses of heavy load – in fact, it often happened before I even started doing any real work.
This issue, when combined with the lackluster battery life, combined to leave me with a feeling of frustration and regret and having spent so much money on this product. No longer being a professional tech blogger, I am much more judicious about my technology purchases – this was my only laptop for the next 3-5 years, so it had to be a great purchase…and it sure didn’t seem like it.
The sixth time this happened (while I at my kid’s Taekwondo class), I finally got fed up enough to bring it into the local Apple Store Genius Bar. That time, it blinked off just after I logged in, which was a new behaviour. Normally it simply wouldn’t turn on.
In truth, I am still a neophyte with the UNIX underpinnings of macOS, so the “deep in the guts” troubleshooting methods aren’t part of my skillset yet (and might never be if I’m honest). The particular symptoms my MacBook was having were difficult to search for – I couldn’t find any online resources that were applicable. I thought since I paid the Apple premium – which includes the benefit of taking it into an Apple store – I’d see how the premium tech support experience worked. I already had decades of experience calling tech support lines in India for Dell and HP laptops, arguing with them about the problem, so I’d try the Apple way.
Continue reading My Dysfunctional MacBook Pro & a Lesson in Humility
There are some things that drive me nuts about my MacBook Pro 13 (mainly the battery life), but the outdoor view-ability of the screen is top-notch. And, interestingly, cranking the screen brightness doesn’t hurt battery life as much as you’d think. At minimum (one-notch) brightness with the MacBook Pro being passive, using iStat Menus, power use was a mere 1.94 watts. That’s pretty incredible and shows how dramatically the overall system scales down power usage.
On the flip side, if I crank the screen to it’s eye-searing maximum brightness – which Apple says is 500 nits – it uses up 8.11 watts. That’s a 4x increase in power consumption, yes, but 8 watts is still not a massive power drain. The screen Apple used is both bright and efficient.
Unfortunately, the scenario where I crank the screen brightness up to maximum to use it outdoors yet do nothing that uses the CPU aggressively is a rare one. Maybe if you wanted to watch a movie outdoors in the daylight? That’s not a scenario I’ve found myself in just yet.