Apple Watch

I broke down a bought an Apple Watch several months ago. I went for the Sport model with the basic Sport band. That kept the cost down to $400. The “Watch” model was another $200 with no change in functionality. The only difference would be in the materials. A steel case and a sapphire crystal.
This was not my first wearable. I had a Fitbit Force, which was recalled. I was happy with the fitness functionality & the iPhone software package. My opinions on the band are well documented.

 So far, I’m more pleased with the Apple Watch. It is much more versatile, and has comparable fitness tracking functions.  

 As a watch, the Apple Watch is actually usable. The software does a good job of displaying when I raise my arm and rotate the watch upward. This is a vast improvement over the Fitbit, where I had to press a button (flashback to the early digital watches). My one nit is that the Apple Watch software is calibrate for wearing it on the outside of the wrist. I wore my watch on the inside of my wrist for decades, and the Apple Watch wasn’t happy with this. This limitation has me back to wearing my watch on the outside of my wrist. 

 There are ten watch faces loaded, each configurable. I’ve been switching around on an irregular basis. My preference is for traditional analog watch faces. This includes the Mickey Mouse option. The watch faces are configurable for color and options like day, date, timer, stop watch, fitness rings, and battery life.

 In all, I’m happy with it. The fitness function is what I use the most (outside of actually using the watch to tell time). I really like the message and phone preview functions. Being able to review/preview messages and calls and deal with most of them quickly is more of a feature that I thought it would be.

 Watch OS 2 is due out next week. I’ll post my impressions after I play around with it a bit.

Building the better Macbook dongle

As I have said before, the single USB C port is the weak point of the new Macbook.  I’m not overly impressed with the $80 dongle solution from Apple either.

The nice folks at Nonda have slicker solution, at the same price, but only for about another 24 hours.   After the Kickstarter campaign is over, it’s going to run about double the price and still, IMHO, worth it.  The Apple dongle gives you a USB C port for power only, a USB 3.0 port, and an HDMI port.  The Hub+ gives you the following:

  • 2 USB-C ports
  • 1 SDXC card reader
  • 1 mini DisplayPort (mDP 1.2 video output, 4k displays at 60Hz refresh rate)
  • 3 USB-A 3.0 \ charging ports
  • Built-in lithium ion battery to charge ANY phone

Display Port keeps the price down (HDMI needs licensing) and mini DisplayPort to HDMI cables are easy to get.  If you sprung for a new MacBook, grab one of these as well.

The new MacBook

I’ve been reading the specs on the recently announced Macbook.

It certainly is a very slick bit of technology.  Apple poured a lot of research into creating this ultra thin notebook.  Keyboard, display, batteries, motherboard, and the port list, all redesigned nearly from scratch.  About the only thing they didn’t redesign was the headphone jack.

 All this new technology didn’t come cheap either.  The low end one runs $1299.  Compare this to a 13″ Macbook Air with a comparable configuration .  The biggest difference is the MacBook’s Retina display, but the Air wins on battery life, processor, and ports (two USB 3, one Thunderbolt 2, power, SD, and a headphone jack).  Oh, and the Air weighs about a pound more.

 Apple does have a solution for their “all in one” USB-C port, in the way of a $80 dongle that provides a trio of ports (HDMI/USB 3/USB-C).  So now you can charge your macBook (via USB-C),  and attach a USB memory device at the same time.

 Personally I love the idea of USB-C, but I also like doing things in parallel.  This also brings Apple’s commitment to the Thunderbolt port into question.  A lot of third party manufacturers have sunk a lot of capital into Thunderbolt based devices, especially for secondary storage.

 My goto laptop is my 13″ MacBook Air, which I’m not planning on replacing anytime soon.  Ya, the batteries are on the downside of the curve, but Apple can replace those for approximately $150.  That is a lot cheaper than purchasing a new laptop I don’t need (I do the heavy computing and storage tasks on my home build Windows system).

 Of course the serious Apple fan nerds are going to buy a Macbook as soon as they are out.  My plan is to wait for the next rev.  I would like to see a next gen MacBook Pro with Macbook technology.  High end CPU, and a Thunderbolt and SD slot go with the USB-C and headphone jack.

 Disclaimer: I’m talking about serious Apple fan nerds, at least bigger ones than me.  I just have an iPhone 6 Plus, an iPad Air, and two MacBooks.

Gear Update

I picked up an iPhone 6 Plus. Yes, the sucker is big, but it does fit in my pockets. Both pants and shirt. The bigger screen is nice. More real estate, better for view high res pictures and videos. The real plus of the larger size is the vastly improved battery life. This is due the all the extra space behind the screen being packed with a bigger battery. I can use Waze on the way to work, use the phone to check email and take notes all day, and then Waze on the way home. After all that, I still have a decent charge when I get home. It really is a big improvement over my iPhone 5.

The camera is also a big improvement. I typically use the Camera+ app for stills. I have it set to save giant TIF files. Gives you more data to work with in Lightroom, Pixelmator, or Picasa. The editing functions in Camera+ are also richer than the iOS defaults.

Springtime for nerds

It’s spring and the mind of the geek turns to new hardware releases.

The iWatch is still the hot rumor, but I wouldn’t expect that to even be announced until September.  That is when Apple will, probably, announce the iPhone 6, and iOS 8.
I’ve seen rumors that Apple will include a range of fitness tracking options in the much debated iWatch.  If they do, then they have a chance to pounce on the market hole created by FitBit recalling their Force device.   This also puts a lot of pressure of FitBit to come up with a Force replacement (with a functional wrist band) PDQ.  If they wait too long, and the iWatch rumors get stronger, they will loose market share to Apple’s vaporware.
On the Amazon front, they have discounted their Kindle devices.  Given that they had razor thin margins at best at the retail price, I’m taking the discounting as a sign they want to dump inventory.  Flushing the channels of the current inventory in preparation for new model Kindles in the pipeline. I expect them to announce these well in advance of Apple’s big announcement in September.  Big retail sale days for consumer electronics include Graduation and Father’s Day (Dad loves his gadgets).  If they can make those dates, that would make up for the loss from discounting the current Kindles.   They count on the downstream sales on those devices anyway.
For the Android fans out there, take heart.  The Google I/O show is slated for June.  The rumor mill is expecting the next flavor of Android to come out as well as some new hardware.  A new Nexus and some more wearables to go with Google Glass are expected.

No iWatch

Well, the Apple WWDC came and went with no mention of the much rumored iWatch.

Oh well.  I have several friends who have Kickstarter Pebble watches and they are quite happy with them.

My guess is that Apple has several prototypes in the works and just doesn’t see the market demand to push one out yet.

Building a Hackintosh Mini

Building my Windows Tower last year was fun, so I have been looking for another project.  Then I found this page at Tony Mac’s on building a Hackintosh Mini.

What I’m looking for is a small system to hook up to the TV in the Den.  The motherboard in the parts list has a HDMI port, and I already have a remote keyboard/trackball to use.  There is an Ethernet switch where I want to put it so, no need for a WiFi card either.  I figure I can build it for around $470.  That includes $20 for a copy of Mountain Lion MacOS.  Not bad considering low end Mac Minis start at $600, and that is with a 500 Gig HD and 4 Gig of RAM.  I’m planning on a 2 TB HD and 8 Gig of Ram.  The foot print is a little bigger than a Mac Mini, but I’m replacing a mini-tower, so the space isn’t a problem.

Here is the parts list I’m looking at: