When Adobe announced their move from packaged releases to a pure subscription model last year, I wasn’t a fan. I’ve been an Adobe customer for nearly 20 years, and this move didn’t look like a good deal for anyone who wasn’t an Adobe employee or stockholder. But, at $29.99/month for the first year, I figured I’d give it a shot and re-evaluate after 12 months. Well, my 12 months are just about up, and here’s where I’m at. (more…)
Last year, I purchased an iPad and after about 2 months, ended up selling it. As much as I liked the iPad, I couldn’t find a place in my world for it. I have my iPhone for when I’m away from home. I have my Macbook Pro as my main workstation. When I am at home, the iPad was nice to have for surfing the web on the couch, or for reading my RSS feeds while I ate breakfast. But being a web developer, there was little I could use it for to get work done. The device is certainly capable of performing these tasks, but the software doesn’t exist yet to accomplish this. The software might never exist, as Apple is adamant about not allowing other language processing software (read: Ruby, PHP, Perl, etc) on the App Store. And if you aren’t on the App Store, you aren’t on the iPad.
Enter the Macbook Air.
The 11.6 inch Macbook Air satisifes many of the iPads portability features – small, lightweight. Of course, it’s a little heavier (2.3 lbs. vs. 1.3 for the iPad 2) and has about half the battery life. But it also is a fully capable development machine.
The 11.6 inch version of the Macbook Air features an 1366 x 768 display. This is a higher resolution display than the 13″ Macbook Pro. It is a very crisp display. However, due to it’s small size and high resolution, type is noticeably smaller on the Air than what you would normally be used to on a Macbook Pro or iMac. This is easily rectified in many apps like Safari by zooming in, or increasing the font size. Some apps don’t offer this feature, so it’s not a universal fix if you find the display difficult to read.
The keyboard is very close to full size. The top row function keys are slightly thinner than the normal Macbook Pro keyboard. The arrow keys are similarly thinner. Overall the keyboard has a good feel, and if you like the standard Macbook Pro keyboard, you will probably enjoy the Airs keyboard.
I opted for the 1.6ghz version of the Air. Of all the upgrade options, this was the choice I was most torn about. At $200 more than the 1.4ghz CPU, it’s not entirely clear to me whether I will see much benefit from the increased horsepower.
The amazing thing you first notice when using this computer is how fast it feels. Startup is in the 20 second range. Applications launch nearly instantaneously. Obviously, anything that taxes the CPU or GPU is going to run slower than what you are probably used to. The odd thing is, you don’t realize how important disk speed is to your computing experience until you use an SSD equipped computer. Unless you spend your day rendering video or running CPU intensive Photoshop filters, chances are the Macbook Air with it’s pokey CPU and it’s bare metal SSD will feel much faster than your current non SSD computer.
I can not find where Apple placed the speakers on this thing. I see no speaker grills, but it sounds like the audio is eminating from underneath the keyboard. Either way, audio is plenty loud, and sounds amazingly good for a computer this size with no speaker grills.
The 11.6 inch Air has a 1366×768 glossy display. It is very sharp. Obviously, packing this many pixels in to a display this size means that most objects are going to be smaller than what you would be used to if you have been using a 13 or 15 inch Macbook Pro. When I’m typing on the Air while sitting at a desk, the screen resolution is comfortable and easy to read. When I’m sitting back on the couch, and I have the Air on my lap with the screen a few inches further away, the resolution can feel a bit too tiny at times. This could be due to my horrible eyesight. Either way, it’s a easy fix. Either bring the screen closer, or zoom in the screen if using Safari.
Apple claims 5 hours of battery life in their web surfing tests. I have been able to get 5 hours in my testing, which involved just using Safari to load a web page every minute until the battery ran out. When it comes to battery life, the Air isn’t going to best the iPad. But for a machine that is nearly as light, and infinitely more capable than the iPad, battery life is very good. In normal usage of performing work – which involves having Coda, Safari, Terminal, MAMP and Firefox open – I get just about 4 hours at about 50 percent screen brightness.
The 11.6 inch Macbook Air is an amazing machine. It’s small. It’s fast. It’s light. It’s infinitely capable for many tasks including word processing, programming, web surfing & email, and lighter games. About the only people I would not recommend the Air too are those that work with 3D graphics, video, or Photoshop as their main tasks. In those cases, the power versus portability trade off probably isn’t as easy to digest. But if mobility is your primary concern, the 11.6 inch Air is the most mobile Mac ever made.
Once upon a time, Apple manufactured a whole line of monitors. Under the moniker “Cinema Display”, Apple offered a 20 inch, a 24 inch, and a 30 inch LCD display. All were highly regarded and well received. Then, in late 2003, Apple released the 20 inch iMac G4. It was their first all in one computer that exceeded 17 inches. Since then, the iMac has received increases in display size, all the way up to the current 27″ used in the top of the line iMac (2010).
During this time, Apple’s interest in free standing displays has waned. The line of Cinema Displays has contracted to just one offering. At first, it was a 24″ LED Cinema Display, much like the one used in the 2007 24″ iMac. This display was released in 2008, after the 24″ iMac had been on the market for some time.
So, it wasn’t a stretch to assume that once Apple made a 27″ iMac, that a 27″ LED Cinema Display would be far behind.
Luckily for us, it was.
The 27″ LED Cinema Display is currently Apple’s only external display. The message this sends from Apple is that if you want a Mac with a display less than 27″, you are better off buying an all-in-one, or getting your display from a third party. Fair enough. Apple makes a lot of money selling all-in-one computers, so it’s understandable.
The 27″ LED Cinema Display features the same 2560 x 1440 as the 27″ iMac. The display improves upon the original Cinema Display models, by removing the external power brick and leaving only two main cables coming out of the back of the unit – a power cord, and a cord that provides the Display Port connector, Mag Safe Power Adapter and a USB 2.0 cable. The display also offers 3 USB 2.0 ports on the back for expandability.
Unfortunately, USB ports are all you get. No Firewire, no SD card slots. For a display of this cailber, this is an odd ommission. At these prices, many buying these displays will be professionals in photography or videography, both of which make heavy use of Firewire and SD cards. Having extra ports for these on the display itself would have been greatly welcomed.
If there’s one complaint I hear about the 27″ LED CInema Display, it is that it is too glossy. After debuting originally on the Macbook, Apple has spread glossy displays to their entire lineup. Graphic Designers in the print medium are usually the ones to lament the loss of a matte display, as the glossy displays tend to over staturate blacks and deep colors, which can present problems when trying to create color accurate work. If that describes you, then the 27″ LED Cinema Display is clearly not something you will enjoy.
Most people favor the glossy displays, and as far as glossy displays go, the 27″ LED Cinema Display is a stunner. With a 178º viewing angle, the display is clear from just about any angle. Text is sharp and colors are vibrant. I can’t remember ever seeing a computer display render an image this beautifully.
The display also features audio playthrough, thanks to the DisplayPort connector, which also can carry audio. While not super loud, it does provide the user an increased level of clarity and volume over the Macbook/Macbook Pro’s built in speakers.
There have been some users who have complained that the 27″ Cinema Display had issues with audio refusing to play after being connected for a period of time. These issues have been addressed with a recent firmware fix. In my testing, I have yet to experience any issues with audio dropping out.
As I write this, if you are looking for the largest, clearest montior for your Macbook/Macbook Pro/Mac Pro or Mac mini, the 27″ LED Cinema Display is the best display available. At $999, however, many will find it’s price off putting. 22 inch displays now routinely sell for $200 or less. There are also several 24″ monitors that sell for less than $400.
If you use a Mac mini or Mac Pro, you could purchase two smaller monitors and have more useable screen space at half the price. If you have a Macbook, you are only able to drive one external display, and in this case, a single larger external display is a better option than a smaller one.
It’s for this class of user that the 27″ LED Cinema Display is the best option available. If you can manage the nearly $1000 price tag, it is well worth it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Pros: Amazingly clear, sharp display. Mag safe power adapter convenient for those with Macbook or Macbook Pro notebooks.
Cons:High price. Extra ports limited to USB – no Firewire or SD card slots.
The AppleTV has been out for over a year now, but with the Febrauary “Take Two” update, it is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. While the original AppleTV looked appealing to me, I passed on it. The original 40GB size was just too small (since rectified with a 160GB version), and apart from a few iTunes TV shows, content was hard to come by. That problem seems to resolved with the new movie rentals options. What follows is a look at the hardware, software, and real world usage of AppleTV.
Macintouch has a great in-depth review of Microsoft Office 2008 by Robert Mohns. Previously, I used Microsoft Office v.X and 2004 on a regular basis. However, since iWork ’08, I’ve not used Office at all.
I hate to take this position, but with top notch virtualization options now on the Mac, and a quality, low cost native solution (iWork), I’m afraid there’s just little need for Office 2008. From what I’ve seen, the Mac Business Unit did an exceptional job with Office 2008. But that doesn’t change the fact that the landscape has changed since 2004.
I’ve owned quite a few iPods (at least five to date). Many people complain about the iPod headphones. I’ve never been overly enthusiastic about them, but they did the job and sounded decent enough. The iPhone headphones are essentially the same as the iPod headphones, with a microphone/clicker on the right side wire, about 5 inches from the earbud. The micrphone/clicker is about half an inch long, and protrudes from the wire.
When wearing the headphones, you will notice that if you turn your head to the left or right, and you are wearing a shirt with a collar, that the microphone/clicker routinely gets snared on the collar. The reason I say they are defective by design is this: After several months of usage, that constant snaring takes a toll on the wiring in the ear bud connection. Eventually, it will short out, and ultimately, it will stop producing audio altogether.
Obviously, I’ve experienced this problem personally. Normally I wouldn’t care too much, except that because Apple made the headphone jack non-standard on the iPhone,
I can’t just replace the included headphones with a new set (the market has changed – see below). I’m not interested in an adapter either, as I would lose the microphone and clicker (one of the coolest things about the iPod functionality in an iPhone).
So I called Apple Technical Support about a replacement. I am, after all, still under warranty. At first the nice lady said no problem. They would need a credit card number, just in case I didn’t return my defective pair. This was not a problem for me.
However, as we were wrapping up the call, she informed me that I would have to take the ‘phones to an Apple Retail store for the swap. There are a couple near me (within 30 miles), but frankly, I don’t have the time to drive down there, wait for a Genius, and drive back. I’m kind of stunned that Apple is making me jump through this hoop for a replacement pair.
So, sometime this weekend, I’ll be pulling my grumpy self in to an Apple Store for a replacement pair. Hopefully I won’t be made to wait too long.
Side note – I looked around for some 3rd party replacement ‘phones, and found a set for $12.95 from HD Accessories. I don’t have high hopes for them, but I’ll let everyone know if they are worthy of their price.
Well, today I decided to stress test the iPhone’s battery. I pulled the iPhone, fully charged, from its cradle at 7AM this morning. I had initially dropped the screen brightness to a very low setting. But for todays test, I upped it to about 50%. Keep in mind that at 50%, the iPhone is very very bright. (more…)
As if the world needed another iPhone review, I finally feel like I’ve had enough time with mine to offer up my opinion. For the record, I acquired my iPhone last Friday night in Stamford, Connecticut at 11:30. Walked right in to the Apple Store, told them what I wanted, and walked out with it three minutes later. No line, no crowds, no fuss.
I activated it the next morning. Being away from home, I had my wife’s iBook with me. This wasn’t such a big deal, except that it was running OS X 10.4.9 and iTunes 7.2. So, before I could activate the phone, I had to upgrade both. Enter Starbucks and the T-Mobile hotspot WiFi. $9.95 and 25 minutes later, I was upgraded and ready to activate the phone. (more…)
A couple of other Mac blogs have recently posted their thoughts on the top 10 Macintosh applications. I decided to take my spin on the topic and focus on the applications for $25 and under. All of these applications are used by me on a daily basis. Their existence is a tribute to the quality of software available on the Mac, and the ingenuity of the developers who produce these wares. All receive my highest recommendation.
1. Wallet 2
The first entry is a password storage/creation application called Wallet. It is the brainchild of Waterfall Software, which is lead by a 16 year old developer named Dustin MacDonald. The first version of Wallet was a nice Real Basic application that was better than the rest of the password storage applications available for the Mac. Wallet 2 is a complete rework in Cocoa. The attention to detail in this application is impressive. The only feature this application is missing is .Mac syncing. The author says he is currently working on it. Easily worth the $14.95 price tag.
Another application by a lone developer under the age of 21. Sean Kelly’s web development coding environment is an amazing piece of software. Featuring code completion, hinting, integrated SFTP, site view, line numbering, search, HTML tidy integration, syntax highlighting, snippets and more.
If you do web development on a Mac, the $20 spent on this application will go down as one of your best investments ever.
The reigning king of Mac OS X FTP applications. Version 3 adds a lot of useful features to the already established application like tabs, .Mac syncing, dock status icons, dock send, and much more. If you FTP, you need Transmit.
SuperDuper! has emerged as the best disk copying/cloning application on the Mac. It’s interface is super simple, and it’s results are super solid. Another piece of Mac OS X software that costs less than dinner and a movie ($20).
CocoaMySQL just barely makes this list. Stuck at version 0.5, development on this open source application has languished since 9/11/03. Still, if you use MySQL on your Mac, this application makes maintenance and administration of your databases super simple.
6. Word Services from DevonTechnologies
When it comes to simple word processing, I like to keep it simple and use TextEdit. It does 95% of what I need from a word processor. The other 5% is handled by Word Services from Devon Technologies. This set of services adds several pieces of functionality to any cocoa application. Of particular importance to me – the statistics service, which gives me a count of words, characters, lines, and spaces in a document. As someone who writes papers that are counted by the word, I find this piece of code invaluable. And best of all – it’s free!
If you do any sort of screen capture on your Mac, this app is a godsend. Apple provides you with some pretty good basic screen capture features in Mac OS X, but this program gives you a myriad of options for your static and motion screen grabs. A bit pricey at $69.00 for the full version, but well worth it. The upgrade price from version 1.0 is $20. Snapz Pro X was included on many Powerbooks that Apple shipped, so you might qualify for the upgrade pricing even if you didn’t purchase version 1.0.
EvoCam is a great application that will use your webcam (or iSight camera) to capture images and either store them locally, or send them via FTP or WebDAV to another server. I use this to keep an eye on my dog when I’m away from the house. $25 can buy a lot of piece of mind, can’t it?
Open source instant messaging application that words on AIM, MSN, Jabber and Yahoo protocols. A constantly improving feature set, along a kitchen sink approach to instant messaging makes this application a must have for any Mac user.
10. Still Life
Every year for Christmas I produce a DVD for the family. I’m usually short on video footage, but I have an abundance of still clips. Still Life allows you to take those clips and create movies from them. Much in the same way that you can use the Ken Burns Effect in iMovie, Still Life creates motion movies from images with start frames and end frames. It is much more powerful than iMovie’s KBE, and easily worth the $24.95 price.
Forget the OS X Finder, it’s so last century. If you ask any Mac user what element most defines the Macintosh experience, the answer you will get will likely be “the Finder”. The Finder, the Macintosh file navigation tool, is the application most responsible for defining the Macintosh experience. However, the Finder in OS X, while superior in some respects to it’s OS 9 counterpart, is missing some key OS 9 features.
Enter Path Finder. Path Finder is a Finder replacement from CocoaTech. Written entirely in Cocoa, Path Finder employs some missing OS 9 features, and out-innovates Apple’s own Finder in many areas.
The first thing you will notice upon launching Path Finder will be the OS 9 features it resurrects. Miss Labels? They’re back in Path Finder. Ditto Trash on the Desktop. Note that there are several utilities that bring back each of these features, and the total price of buying both of them equals about 2/3 of Path Finder’s price ($34). But Path Finder doesn’t stop there.
File Navigation on steroids…
File navigation is the Finders primary purpose, and as a replacement, Path Finder shines. It employs all three methods of navigation – icon, list, and column view. Path Finder windows also feature a customizable shelf, just like the Finder. Path Finder also features a desktop, just like the Mac Finder. When both file browsers are active, the Path Finder desktop sits on top of the Finders desktop.
Which brings us to another point. You can use Path Finder as a compliment to the OS X Finder, or you can use it in place of it. Up until the most recent release, replacing the OS X Finder meant messing with the command line and potentially ruining your system. Now, Path Finder employs a “Quit Finder” command in the application menu, allowing you to permanently (until restart at least) replace the Finder. This is a welcome addition, and one that we’d like to see taken to the next step with a way to permanently replace the Finder. Of course, we’d need a pref to switch back, if we so desired.
Path Finder also features a handy Menu Item that allows for quick access to all your applications, all of your running applications, and your favorites.
Another Path Finder only innovation is a Preview tray, accessible in any view. This tray provides a full 128×128 view of the selected icon, along with the items various stats. This lessens the trip to the “Get Info” box (which Path Finder also features in a superior form).
Path Finder also features a bottom tray that allows you to adjust a Windows transparency, and set it to “Float”. When floating, the specified Window will always remain on top of all other windows.
Another Path Finder innovation is it’s built in Text Editor. It’s not Word, but it is quite functional, and gives TextEdit a run for it’s money.
New to 2.1.5…
One of the best things about Path Finder is that it’s developer is constantly making bug fixes and implementing new features. Version 2.1.5 saw the addition of two new additions that are quite innovative. First is the process tray, which sits on the right hand side of a Path Finder window, and can be toggled with the tiny circle on the left. The Process tray shows all running processes, and allows you to quickly switch between them. Also shown is the Trash and it’s current status.
The coolest new feature is the Drop Shelf. The Drop Shelf holds anything you want it to. Applications, folders, files, aliases, etc. These can be grouped in to any number of Shelfs. Path Finder comes with three shelfs already configured – Standard, Favorites, and Applications. Standard features all the folders in your home directory. Favorites and Applications are all the items from their respective folders.
The coolest aspect of the Drop Shelf is it’s ability to replace the Dock for power users who need more. Path Finder just needs to go the extra step and provide a way to permanently turn the dock off and implement a application switcher, and it will have replaced one of OS X’s most controversial tools.
Have it your way…
Another criticism of the OS X Finder is it’s lack of customization. OS 9 provided the means to change system fonts, colors, etc. Path Finder picks up where OS 9 left off, and allows for full customization of font and typesize for all views. In addition, you can set two colors for Column and List view rows, making it easier to discern which information applies to which item. You can also specify text color, whether to italicize aliases and bold folders, and dim invisible items.
Path Finder also allows you to fully configure the keyboard commands. Not happy with “Apple-N” creating a new window and not a new folder? Well, you can easily change it with Path Finder.
The high level of customization in Path Finder is truly remarkable. In my opinion, this is one of it’s strongest features.
This and that…
Path Finder is a great replacement or addition to the OS X Finder. It’s not perfect, and could use improvement in a few areas. Desktop icon arrangement is a work in progress and will surely get better in the upcoming releases. Overall performance is decent, but certain functions like copying files tend to hog system CPU cycles. Startup time is a bit long. These are minor quibbles that will most certainly be addressed in the coming weeks and months.
Perhaps the best thing about Path Finder is it’s developer, Steve Gehrman of CocoaTech. That’s right – this product is developed by one individual, compared with the many working on the OS X Finder. Steve is constantly updating his product, and actively solicits feedback on features and performance. Try making suggestions to Apple about the Finder and see how far they get you.
Overall, this is the single most important OS X system utility. For only $34 you restore just about every cool OS 9 feature OS X is missing, and you get a file navigator that Apple hasn’t even begun to catch up to.
Our rating: 5 out of 5