New Macbook Pro vs. Macbook Air

[/caption] Apple introduced the new line of MacBook Pro (MBP) laptops last night and like a lot of folks, I’m now stuck in a big debate. Do I buy the most recently updated MBP or do I go with the far sexier, cheaper, and less powerful MacBook Air (MBA)? So I started to make a list.  Note this is based on my usage patterns, my needs which may vary greatly from yours, so a few of these things you’ll be saying “ok, but that’s not important to me”.  Fair enough. There are a few “free throw” decisions you can make that will ease the discussion. If you want an 11 inch machine, the smallest they make, then you have no choice but the MBA. Conversely, if you want the 17 inch screen, your only choice is the MBP. So that leaves us with two flavors of the MBA ’13 and a MBP ’13 & ’15 inch. Again, if screen size is important, you can make a decision right now and pick the 15′ inch MBP. So let’s compare 13 inch MBA and MBP First things first: what is this computer for? For me, this is something in between my iMac on the desktop (where I do my heavy lifting of video editing, photo processing, server-like testing, etc). The laptop I have, an old MacBook Pro, is basically when I go out and need to do something more complicated than what I can do on my iPad. If was just browsing the Internet, replying to emails, and checking the news and social networks, it’s the iPad. The laptop comes out when I’m writing memos or doing some coding, rarely playing with images or video (but sometimes). [caption id="attachment_3278" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="MacBook Air"][/caption] First, the processor. The MBP are using the Intel processor codenamed “Sandy Bridge” under the more common name Corei5 and Corei7. This compares to the MBA which are running Core 2 Duo processors, which are somewhat less powerful than what you’ll get in the MBP. Of course it depends on what you are doing, but really I have to say the MBP is quite a bit more powerful. The top of the line MBA is 2.13GHZ and the the bottom of the line MBP is a 2.3GHZ Core i5. Advantage: MBP Second the memory. The problem with the MBA is that the memory is basically soldered to the motherboard. Unlike other computers, adding new memory is not a do-it-yourself project, and has to be ordered from Apple directly when you buy the machine so they can make it special. The base configuration of the MBA is 2gb RAM which is rather minimal, whereas the base install for the MBP is 4gb. The MBP can handle 8gb as an option but the MBA maxes out at 4gb Advantage: MBP Display resolution. Surprisingly this is an area where the numbers look better on the MBA. The screen is 1440×900 whereas the base 13 inch MBP is 1280×800. You do get slightly more megabytes shared with the main memory of the MBP vs the MBA (384mb v. 256mb) and they do run different chips. The 15 inch MBP uses AMD Radeon Chips, breaking away from Nvidia which is what the MBA is using.  The 15 inch MBP does have the same pixel numbers as the MBA however. Advantage: Your call. How important is the screen resolution vs. the different graphics chips. Storage: The MBA has a very sexy SSD instead of a bulky hard drive. The advantage of this is blazing fast speed, but limited storage. In fact the base model has only 128gb of storage available vs 320gb in the base MBP. Advantage: Really a toss up based on usage. If you have an external drive (and who doesn’t now days) or you use the cloud, then storage really isn’t an issue and the added speed will be nice from the MBA. But having to lug around an external drive and a cable negates one of the beauties of the MBA, the small form factor and weight. Battery: Both claim 7 hours of wireless web, but with the MBP having a DVD drive and a hard drive I will have to see it to believe it. Other bits: * Thunderbolt is what Apple and Intel are pushing as the new standard for massive data transfer from external drives, cameras, etc. Will it become the new standard in a few years? Maybe. But you won’t find it on the MBA just yet. Advantage MBP * The MBP has an “HD” webcamera built in, so if doing talking head videos of yourself is important this is something to consider. For me it makes no real difference. Advantage: moot * Ethernet. There is no ethernet on the MBA, you need an adapter which I find annoying as I live in a world of Cat5. But if you are wireless then it probably doesn’t make a big deal. Same goes for firewire. No port on the MBA but there is one on the MBP. If Firewire is important than advantage MBP. Weight. Oh this is the big one. Really big. As much as I have advantaged nearly everything to the MBP this is one issue that might turn everything on its head. The MBA weighs 2.3 pounds. The MBP is 4.5. Here are a few numbers to help realize that:

  • A gallon of milk weighs — about 8 pounds.
  • 500 pieces of paper (a ream)–about 5 pounds
  • A Canon digital SLR camera — about 2 pounds
  • An navel orange — .5 pounds
First, the device is never as light as advertised. You have the power cords and external drives, and it goes in a carrying bag that also adds some weight to it. My backpack that carries my laptop probably weighs a couple pounds in its own right. But the advantage of the MBA, and its slim form factor, is that this can be carried in basically a large envelope or a smaller bag. It’s not going to be a pain at the airport like a full sized laptop. Anyone who has done a long distance flight and slung a laptop over their shoulder knows that after an hour or so walking through airports you start to notice the ‘gallon of milk’ on your back. Advantage: MBA. Finally, Price. If I was buying a MBA, I would get the 13 inch, with extra memory and the larger SSD drive of 256gb. This means my final price would be $13,268 HK. For $11,388, I could get a 13 inch MBP with the same memory, a more powerful processor, and a large hard disk. Even if I doubled the RAM to 8gb I’d still be only $12,948. Advantage:  MBP So what am I going to buy? Honestly I’m not sure I’m going to buy either. I don’t “NEED” a laptop right now. I’m not traveling extensively, my old machine is still more than capable, and I fear that the next MBA update will address some of my concerns (better processor, Thunderbolt) and that the next MBP update will be a major revision to the form factor, shrinking the size down a bit and reducing the weight (maybe finally getting rid of the DVD drive I really have no use for). Guess this means I’m on the fence for another year or so.   UPDATE SUMMER 2011 Well we have a new Macbook Air and it specs out pretty nicely.  We’ll write a new review shortly, but the hints of a new Macbook Pro for Christmas (sans DVD player and thus a hell of a lot smaller) is going around the net.  Still on the fence for now, but here is the new MBA from Amazon.   ]]>

Macbook Air vs. iPad? Which should you buy?

With the arrival of the Mac Book Air, a debate has arisen amongst my geeky friends, and some more serious questions have likely emerged by potential purchasers of those two machines.

First the silly question:  Which is cooler?  Geeks always go for the new new thing, and the Mac Book Air is an incredibly beautiful device, but is, after all, still a laptop (which is very old school).  The iPad, also an incredibly cool device, is now a geek trend age of 7 months, which is pushing it a bit, and there are rumors of a new iPad sometime next Spring.  So if you are trying to decide which machine you should by to impress the crowds, I’m afraid I don’t have an answer–they are both pretty impressive.  The iPad can be used on a subway train to wow non-geeks, so maybe that’s point extra in the iPads favor.
But now for the more serious question:  Do I need a laptop or can I get by with an iPad?
Really it comes down to your Internet usage patterns:  Creation vs. Consumption.
The iPad is a great consumption device. Checking emails, reading books and magazines, surfing the web and Facebook. Add watching videos and Youtube and even listening to music. The iPad is simply amazing for these functions. Some of the apps are an experience in their own right.  I’ve spent way too much time on some apps and my kids are addicted to some as well (Dr. Seuss is a nightly ritual it seems).
You can do some creative stuff on an iPad, but it’s not easy given the keyboard issues.  The keyboard is not necessarily small but there are definitely problems in typing certain words (the ‘ mark for example is not as easy as on a full keyboard, nor are other common punctuation marks).  The lack of a tactile feel on a keyboard is difficult for some to master, and the spell checker becomes really an essential function as it guesses what you should have been typing had you been pounding the keys.  My accuracy rate for typing is say 99% on a real keyboard and probably 90% on the iPad.  In more simple terms, I’ve never typed more than two paragraphs on an iPad without having a spelling error.  This can be eased by carrying around Apples sexy bluetooth keyboard, but that’s another device that you have to schlep with you.
But if you are more into creating stuff, such as writing multi-paragraph emails or a spreadsheet or a word document, or editing some photos and emailing them to friends, than you really want a tactile keyboard and something with a little more power like a laptop or desktop.  The Mac Book Air is powerful enough for most events that the average computer user would endure.  I would probably recommend an external disk drive or a home server in conjunction with the Mac Book Air for storage of photos, docs and other items that will quickly tax the relatively small storage capabilities of the MBA.  I also would be hesitant about an MBA if I was editing videos, primarily because I want the most powerful machine I can find to handle that relatively complex task.
I have a desktop I use for most of my creation (and a laptop as well for when I’m away from my home and need to do something major). I have the iPad for most other things. If it is an either or thing with you–either a laptop OR an iPad (and no other computer in the house) than you probably would want the increased functionality of a full computer/laptop. If this is a second device in your house, say you already have a PC in the house and this is a second machine, than the iPad would be a great option.
I only recommend the iPad as an “only” machine if you are an extremely limited net user, just checking email, browsing the web, etc. We bought one for my mother-in-law just for this purpose–so she could see pics from the kids without having to boot up a bit complicated computer.
Since I got my iPad, I haven’t used my laptop at all. It’s sitting here collecting dust waiting for that time when I need to do something more powerful away from my desk. I do carry my laptop to some business meetings but generally I use it around the house for entertainment purposes. It’s great in bed for reading a book without disturbing the other person or even for watching a movie when someone is sleeping.
So in the end, how do you plan on using whatever you want to buy? Answer that question and you’ll know which machine to pick.
FWIW, if I had the need for a traveling desktop (i.e. I had a job that put me on a plane for extended periods of time, I would probably buy the MBA for those events.  But right now, with little travel > 3 days long, I just can’t justify it with the desktop and iPad at home).

Apple Store Hong Kong would show how retail should be done to those who think they are shopping kings.

[/caption] “Shopping is the National Sport” of Hong Kong, so the joke often goes. But after purchasing items in Hong Kong and the US, you have to ask if this is the national sport, why is it done so badly here in Hong Kong? The actual process of purchasing an item, say an iPod, here in Hong Kong is an exercise in silliness and bureaucracy, and most important, a total waste of time.  Sliding into a large retailer like a Fortress or a Broadway (think Best Buy) will require some of the following steps:

  • Ask to buy an iPod
  • iPod is taken from the shelf to a counter space near cashier.
  • Person fills out, by hand, a large 8×10 inch piece of paper saying you are buying an iPod.
  • Clerk asks if you want to open box to see if it works (?)
  • You sign this paper twice.
  • You hand over payment.
  • Payment is taken by salesman and given to a cashier in a back room.
  • Credit card receipt is prepared, which you also sign.
  • Big piece of paper, credit card receipt, and credit card are all handed back to you with a bag carrying your item.
  • You separate card into your wallet and fold mis-sized receipt into pocket.
What a pain in the ass.  It takes nearly 2-3 minutes to buy something and in the end you have two receipts (usually neither of which you can use for a return anyway) and it’s all in your hand, requiring you to fold or throw in the bag (after you take out your card).  For a country that prides itself on shopping, this smacks of buying something at a country market in rural England in the Victorian era. Now compare this to an iPod purchase in an Apple Store in the USA.
  • Ask for an iPod
  • iPod is taken off the shelf.
  • Clerk scans iPod barcode with handheld scanner at your location.
  • You hand clerk credit card.
  • He asks if you want email receipt (you say yes)
  • He gives you iPod and you leave store.
Total time, about 30 seconds.  You don’t move.  It’s all done right where you are and you are out the door.  The receipt usually hits your email before you even exit the store. So I sit and wait and pray that Apple opens a formal store in Hong Kong, not necessarily because I need more access to the products, but because I don’t want to go through the Faulty Towers process of purchasing something.  I just want it NOW so I can get on with my life. End of rant.]]>

Setting up my iPad

(scroll down for updates) 10:00 am — I was number 8 in the store and about number 1 to come out.  I then spent about 5 minutes taunting others in line who didn’t have an iPad just yet and then drove home at a relatively reasonable rate of speed to plug in the new new shiny thing. Apple Store Annapolis had an “all hands on deck” day.  There were literally 50+ employees that came streaming out the door at 9:00 clapping, high-fiving, and singing the Steve Jobs chants (joking about that last bit). First impressions of the iPad?  It feels a bit smaller than I thought.  I was expecting something about the size of a magazine but it’s more like the size of a hardcover book.  It’s not as heavy as I had thought, but might be a little tricky for my boys to play with as they are not that big. The iPad comes with a power adapter (like the iPhone’s little two-prong thingy) that connects to a USB cable.  There are NO headphones included, so you’ll have to make due with some of the others you might have lying around. It does work with my existing iPhone USB cable, which means I don’t have to unpack the other one from the iPad box nor go under my desk and set up something new, which is nice.   However, while in the sync mode I noticed it said “Not Charging” so I’m not sure if that is because of the sync process or whether it is a cable thing. (update:  the iPad cable does charge, so maybe it is a cable thing).  iPad comes fully charged btw.   Will check that out after the sync.  I purchased the official iPad case (it looks pretty slim) and the stand (not the keyboard stand, but the regular stand).  I’m planning to use the Bluetooth keyboard with this so I don’t need to be ‘docked’ into the thing physically.  I thought about passing on the stand (I may return it) as the case folds over and can hold up the machine, but only in the horizontal mode, not vertically.  Not sure how that will work when typing / working. When I plugged the iPad into the computer, iTunes booted up.  There were a few screens of setup and then it gave me a rather odd option:  “An iPad has been previously synced with this computer.”  Well, no, it hasn’t.  But apparently it saw my iPhone backups and was debating whether to rebuild from the old iPhone backups or whether or not to set up a “New iPad”.  As new iPad was defaulted, I went with that rather than the option “Restore from the backup of” my iPhone. 10:15 — The next screen was the start of the sync process.  Which is taking a few minutes so far.  I’m moving probably 32gb of data (apps and pics and videos) over to the iPad so I’m kind of in the middle of that adventure.  Note:  it seems to be syncing all the applications on my iTunes, not necessarily the ones I sync to my iPhone (I have a limited subset that I put on the phone). 10:25 — As it is the first sync, it ended up taking about 10 minutes for just the Applications (I have about 150 apps I think).  Now it is starting about 900 songs and podcasts.  Maybe time to get some donuts. 10:28 — The next step is “Optimizing photos” for the iPad.  As I have 36000 photos, I have a really bad feeling about this.  It’s at 218 of 36,038.  This could be a bit time consuming. 10:29 — 380 of 36,038. 10:30–I click the stop button as I’m not waiting for this many pictures. NOTE:  By default, it seems the iPad is set to sync “All photos, albums, events and faces”.  Unselect that to save some time. 10:32 — Resync’ing, this time with only 1,624 photos syncing. 10:37 — 1294 of 1624. 10:38–1,624 of 1,624 photos optimized.  Now waiting for them to sync. Now updating podcasts, files, etc. 10:40–114 of 931 audio / video podcasts.  I listen to too many podcasts. 10:47 — 200 of 931.  This could be another hour.  Back to the magic stop button. 10:48.  Have deselected sync’ing all movies and podcasts.  Will get to that later.  Taking way too long. 10:50 Now syncing songs.  Going much faster just song.  70 of 660. 10:52–319 of 660.  Sigh.  Delayed gratification is supposed to be more enjoyable.  We’ll see about that. 10:55.  Finished all the music.  Not it is doing the photos (drastically reduced numbers of photos). 10:59.  The sync is done.  Time to disconnect and start playing!!!!!!!!!!!! 11:09.  Ok, it synced everything but the personal stuff like email, etc.  Back to itunes…]]>

Text of Steve Jobs letter to Apple re: Medical Leave of Absence

Steve Jobs has announced a medical leave of absence until June.


I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal
with the Apple community. Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health
continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else
at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my
health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.

In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to
allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have
decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple’s day to day operations, and
I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job. As
CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our
board of directors fully supports this plan.

I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.



My Mac has returned (after 23 days)

23 days with the Mac Genius and it was solved by a random event.

Turns out the fan on the video card was not spinning. The card was ‘working’ when it ran through the hardware checks, but apparently that doesn’t check to see if the fan is spinning or not. The card overheated and the system shutdown.

The guys had the machine open and just noticed it wasn’t spinning. Sometimes a quick look is better than an extensive diagnostic.


My Apple repair story morphs into the absurd.

Yea, it just gets better.

So I got fed up with my local retail and decided to go above their heads to get an answer. I called the 800 customer support number, who called the manager of the store, who called the chief genius in and they got things moving quite quickly. Apologies up and down, and a $50 gift card. Quite a nice response to what has been a pretty miserable event. They also said ‘we feel it is stable now and you can come pick it up this afternoon’ so I ran to the store, talked to the nice senior Genius (who took over my case) and he said it was fine and I should call him personally if there are any more problems.

The store opens at 10. I’ll be calling at 10:01.

I was playing with the machine last night and just had to laugh. Yes, the machine is stable, but it is running 10.5, the operating system from about a year ago, not 10.5.5, the upgrade that had sent my computer into a tizzy. The whole reason I took the machine in for repairs was difficulty in the upgrade from 10.5.4. to 10.5.5, and Apple’s store just erased my disk, reinstalled 10.5 and pronounced my machine ‘ready’. (For the record, I had 10.5 stable the day before I took it into them, even writing out on my notes ‘10.5 works, but 10.5.5 is having the problems).

Oh this will be a fun call to make. Basically a week spent to get me back to where I was a week ago.