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On the Apple iPad and its real shortcomings

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After reading most comments on our latest Weekend Open Forum I can’t help but feel that many are taking the wrong approach comparing the iPad directly to a netbook or laptop. Apple is trying to squeeze a new category into the market and has yet to prove why we need it. What I do know is that I don’t *need* a full-fledged computer in this form factor — that’s what my laptop is for.

I’m as disappointed as many of you by its hardware shortcomings — there’s no point in listing them again here — but its locked down nature didn’t surprise me at all. Apple likes to have control over what you’re allowed to run on its devices, supposedly to ensure a relatively bug-free experience, and while the more tech-savvy may despise this strategy, to some extent it has been responsible for the success of the iPhone.

Where I really fear the iPad might falter is in having a clear purpose. We’re told it is the best way to experience the web, e-mail, photos, videos and e-books. But I’m not convinced. Laptop and desktop computers, even netbooks are still better for many of those things, while on others the iPad will have to prove itself. Take browsing, for example. It’s ridiculous to call this device the best way to experience the Web when Flash, one of the most ubiquitous and essential web technologies, is not supported.

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Written by Jose Vilches

February 1st, 2010 at 6:14 am

Posted in apple,blog,hardware

Why I wouldn’t buy the new MacBook… and probably you shouldn’t either

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Although I rely on my desktop PC for long work sessions and I stand by the fact no laptop will ever beat a fully equipped desktop (dual monitors, and in general, the works…), there is an obvious need for a laptop whenever I’m on the move.

When my old Thinkpad T needed to retire, I looked into the Vaio TX series, at the time the best 11″ ultra-portable money could buy with its mere 2.9 pounds. That was months before the MacBook Air and other similar ultra-portables arrived to the market. Unfortunately the small size didn’t cut it for me and had to look elsewhere to replace the Thinkpad until I finally decided to get a MacBook Pro. In spite of the fact that I’m a Windows user, I did it with the purpose of checking out the then new Leopard OS X release.

Today the MB Pro remains as my primary laptop. Although I have my gripes about OS X, I have remained more or less content about the hardware which has proved to be of top quality construction, all while running Windows Vista. You have probably heard the stories of how the MB Pro makes for a great Windows laptop anyway, and in my case that has hold true – in fact, I haven’t touched Leopard in months.

And now with the well publicized release of the new MacBooks, I started looking into the possibility of getting a new laptop, but instead of the Pro I was checking the upgraded MacBook which is cheaper, has got many of the Pro’s biggest selling points like the aluminum body, powerful specs, but sports a smaller 13.3-inch screen that is also LED illuminated. Sounds good so far? Until I saw this…

Those images were taken by Gizmodo in their first look at both the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. As you can see, the colors on the standard MacBook get all washed out depending on the viewing angle. Then my disappointment has been further reinforced by the fact that many, many of the outgoing reviews for the MacBook barely touch on this point, just mentioning the use of the glossy display which would be less of an issue if the laptop shipped with a quality LCD panel like its more expensive sibling.

In my experience those screen issues are characteristic of older laptops or current entry level models (any brand). Then again my Thinkpad T42, which admittedly wasn’t entry-level four years ago doesn’t suffer from that issue, and at $1300-1600 for a new MacBook, you can’t call them budget either.

With a strong pro-Apple movement going on around the web and growing Apple laptop sales, the word is that the new MacBook is like a smaller Pro without the discrete graphics. I have to dissent, and now you know why.

Update: I’m glad to see Anandtech’s review of both new Mac laptops give light on my assertions above unlike a majority of reviews I have read so far from so-called experts.

As it turns out, the new MacBook screen is an improvement over the older generation which had an even more lacking viewing angle. Really bad for a laptop at that price point IMO. But if you want a superb quality screen, the MacBook Pro will have to be your choice. As I understand it, the MacBook’s Air screen is not too bad either though I have used them on a very limited basis.

Written by Julio Franco

October 24th, 2008 at 12:16 am

The reason I will never buy a Mac desktop

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While browsing around this morning I stumbled upon this bit of news: “Apple released a new graphics upgrade kit today.” For those Mac Pro users out there (that is, the tower desktop system, not the laptop) can now upgrade to a GeForce 8800GT for about x1.5 the actual price of the card, ain’t those wonderful news?

GeForce 8800GT


When Apple released the Early 2008 Mac Pro, they offered the NVIDIA 8800GT as an upgrade option, however due to firmware issues, the 8800GT was not compatible with previous generation Mac Pros — until today.

And here’s a reaction by a Mac Pro owner, taken from Apple’s website:

YES! We all know how good this card is and 1st Gen Mac Pro owners can now use it…

Perhaps you may want to grab an overpriced memory upgrade kit from the manufacturer as well?

Written by Julio Franco

April 17th, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Speed up Vista using Firefox 3 Beta

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If like me, you spend a sizable amount of your computer time on a web browser, you can forget about RAM or processor upgrades, it’s software where the hole was all this time.

First let me tell you that I’m an avid fan of trying new web browsers, or at least new versions of today’s traditional browsers like Firefox, Opera, IE and Safari, that includes betas and release candidates. But because I had grown so comfortable with my Firefox extensions and overall set up, I was ultimately drawn away from using experimental builds on a daily basis. It’s not until lately that I have seen a large number of Firefox add-ons ported to the Beta version (currently Beta 4) and so I thought it was time for another spin.

Seriously, the browser is speedy. I had previously experienced the improvements in Beta 1, I got a few random crashes then, but no more. I can tell you that on my desktop machine that is currently running Windows Vista on an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600, I’m feeling a difference in speed that is way more palpable than when I upgraded from a dual core Athlon CPU, I had less RAM and was running on an older platform. I also have most of my extensions installed, so the comparison is more or less apples to apples. With a load of tabs divided in two windows, and many other programs running at the same time, the mere change in browser suddenly is making for a much smoother working experience.
In fact, I’m currently writing this on Firefox 3 Beta 4 Portable which let’s me run a standalone copy of the browser without sacrificing my older Firefox 2 install, so in case I want to roll back, it’s a non-issue.

I have also tried Internet Explorer 8 in Vista and it does offer similar speed improvements. Likewise, Safari 3.1 on OS X also welcomed me with better performance, but neither of those can replace Firefox for me. Opera lovers must also forgive me but I have not downloaded the latest Opera version yet, although just this past weekend I saw fellow editor Erik Orejuela running a gazillion tabs on it, probably more than Firefox 2 can handle without crashing (he switched after the 2.0.11 fiasco).

My recommendation, give Firefox 3 beta a try now and see how it works for you. Many of the most popular extensions are now usable on the beta (BTW, there is a newly revamped add-ons site). Somehow it seems all browser developers felt the need for speed on this iteration, so you can choose your browser flavor if FF is not your thing.

Written by Julio Franco

March 31st, 2008 at 4:55 am

TechSpot at the Apple Store in NYC’s Fifth Ave.

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Earlier this month I visited New York City and my hotel happened to be a mere block away from the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. Despite of my love-hate relationship with the brand (I own a Mac Mini, iPod, iPhone and MacBook Pro, but I can’t say I love them all), I had to pay the store a visit… it’s exterior looks are a thing of beauty.

I had been to a few Apple’s stores in the past in Chicago, California, and in Florida, and most of them look about the same on the interior, but this one along with the other one in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, just make for a serious statement of the company and what they want to achieve with their products. Seriously, for once I felt Apple was making computer enthusiasts a favor by portraying a cool image of technology in general, one that contrasts with the bland beige box.

Here are a few shots I took, some of them showing TechSpot’s homepage on a MacBook Air.

apple store fifth ave new york apple store 5th ave 2333163125_8936d01965_b.jpg

Written by Julio Franco

March 30th, 2008 at 3:21 am

Apple prepares new MacBooks, release set for tomorrow

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Edit #2: Announcement made, full story here.

Edit: Forgot to mention this story from the Financial Week on how Apple is currently sitting on a pile of cash estimated at $18.4 billion.

There is an inexplicable enthusiasm for whatever Apple has to announce next, and while the hype behind products like the iPhone is more than justified, sometimes a mere speed bump on its laptop line can produce massive amounts of rumors on the web, but hey even I’m writing about it as a confessed Vista lover, perhaps because my MacBook Pro will no longer be part of Apple’s latest line of products.

We have to hand it to Apple though, ever since they joined the leagues of the PC (using Intel CPUs), they are always using the very latest mobile technologies on its laptops. The rumor is, new MacBook Pros are coming out tomorrow, with the possibility of more model revamps as well. Watch our frontpage news coverage tomorrow for details.

Also here’s another good resource for everything Mac rumor related, and their nicely put buying guide.

Written by Julio Franco

February 25th, 2008 at 11:10 pm

I’m a Windows power user

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For all the criticism Vista gets, I happen to be one happy Vista user. Sure, I do have complaints about it, and even with all the patching and SP1 fixes, I still believe the OS has to improve considerably in areas like power consumption, waking up from sleep as quickly as OS X (two critical improvements for building the ultimate laptop-optimized OS), and excessive HDD thrashing, however after some frustrating trial and experiment with the very acclaimed OS X Leopard… I have concluded it’s just not for me. And that’s what this post is about.

Ironically, I happen to be writing this on a MacBook Pro that I bought back in November, but from a Boot Camp Vista install. For me, Vista marries the eye candy of OS X – that XP has lacked for a long time – with all the Windows app compatibility and the environment I have grown to appreciate and customize to my very needs.

To tell you the truth I’m trying to be as neutral as possible here, just because my needs do not reflect everyone else’s. I bought the MacBook with the sole intention of having more current experience with the Mac and being able to give a good assessment on either system when time came, and so far I wouldn’t even go as far as saying OS X is superior to Vista, or vice versa. I have noticed however that the Mac is too strict on the way it wants you to work, I found the system to be too intrusive, sitting between me and the applications I’m working with rather than easing the way along.

Perhaps I’m just too used to Windows… that’s a thought I have had wondering in my mind for the past month, while I concluded that OS X was just going to sit there unused in my brand new laptop. However, during that time I also sat back and put myself on observation mode, looking at how people interact with Windows. I found it extremely impressive how different all people find their way around the OS. Opening files, browsing the web, searching for something, you name it, there’s at least 3 different ways for doing each. In the other hand, I always hear from hardcore OS X users how their system is more streamlined, more consistent and intuitive. Well that might just be the problem for me…

But while on the topic, let’s also consider the audience.

I have to admit I’ve been simply stunned by the mainstream media reviews on either operating system – usually concluding OS X is better – measuring things like boot time as an excuse for a real assessment, or praising the OS for its built-in newbie applications. What’s worse, usually these people use the latest Apple hardware (great hardware ever since they use Intel platforms) against some horrible pre-configured OEM Windows installation from Dell, or whoever. And I guess that makes for a huge difference, where I consider myself a power user, I would never buy an OEM desktop system but build one myself, and I would never use a pre-installed Windows configuration on a laptop without messing around with it for a few hours before finding my place. Finally, if I came across a problem with my OS installation I know I could figure it out myself without ever having to call tech support (never had, never will). For some this may be complete annoyances, but just like any good Linux user loves his ways around the less consumer-oriented OS, for me that’s just part of the ride and part of being a PC enthusiast.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the OS that fits you and your needs. In my case, I’m the most productive under Windows by far, and Vista is in my opinion the best version released so far if you have a speedy-enough system.

Written by Julio Franco

February 18th, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Posted in apple,blog,windows

New MacBook Pro owner, joining the dark side?

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Depending for how long you’ve been reading TechSpot you may have read a variety of comments about Apple products, from hate to well, less hate :). No, but seriously, despite of being mainly a Windows site we have tried to remain balanced and objective when time has come to report on any product, no matter if it came from Nvidia or ATI… Intel or AMD, Microsoft or Apple. We have said it like it is, and backed it up as needed and as possible. It’s what we owe to our readers.

Part of this objectivity comes from recognizing when a company is doing things wrong, and applaud their efforts when they make a brilliant comeback. For example there was no room left for fanaticism when Intel kept pushing the horrible Pentium 4, while AMD had to offer a better product in the Athlon. Likewise, how not to love the speedy and efficient Core 2 Duos nowadays.

But the discussion of the better operating system makes for a much stronger and subjective case, not to mention it’s been around almost as long as the Personal Computer itself. I can remember how Apple still had some loyal following during some of its darkest days in the mid 90s, and around the time TechSpot opened its doors in 1998, I could not help but hate the brand for its delusional claims that did nothing but mislead the end consumer.

In our eyes, Apple had no game in the computer world until the first consumer version of OS X was released in 2001. And even then it was severely lacking in the hardware department until they finally ate their own words to partner with Intel in recent years.

Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Leopard

Which takes us to the present day, a revived Apple that is looking healthier than ever thanks to the iPod revolution along with some good long-term decision making on its computer division. The reaction from hardcore Apple fans is evident today throughout the web and even more so in the blogosphere. But like many PC users have begun to notice the fanaticism sometimes goes too far, and what you get as a result is a lot of subjective noise all-around that is certainly not helped by Apple’s own commercials.

But going back to the original purpose of this post, after a failed experiment using a Mac two years ago (Mac Mini G4 running Tiger, I couldn’t stand the slow hardware), I have decided to invest once again in Apple hardware, namely a MacBook Pro running a cool Core 2 Duo processor and OS X Leopard.

The thinking behind my decision was varied, for starters my old trusted ThinkPad T42 was needing a rest and another Vaio TX laptop I own, while very portable at 11″, is sometimes too small to get work done comfortably. Making a long story short, the MacBook Pro offered hardware that was on par with other major manufacturers ‘performance’ models, industrial design that is on par with Lenovo’s and Sony’s top models, and finally I got the choice of ditching OS X for Windows Vista or even XP, if I never found my way around it or needed to use Windows-only software. Of course, if I was going to believe all those Mac lovers out there, that could never happen.

I should add that it was also easier to swallow the $2000 spent on this laptop considering that as TechSpot’s Executive Editor, it comes handy when I can make a knowledgeable and up to date opinion on where OS X stands today against Vista or any other current Operating System, let’s face it it’s an ever recurrent topic.

I have been using the MacBook Pro for about a month now, and my experience has been mixed. The hardware is indeed beautiful and while I was expecting more from the LED lit screen, it’s still very very acceptable. There are small details that add to the overall experience like the backlit keyboard, the magnetic power connector and double finger scrolling, all in one portable package that is also the closest I have ever got to the performance of my custom-built desktop PC.

There are a few drawbacks that for the most part are inherent to every laptop that offers this kind of performance, so I won’t bother mentioning those. In the software side, I came across more than one surprise though.

Whatever you have heard about OS X Leopard’s ability to put Windows Vista to shame is probably not true… at least not from my perspective. In the first 24 hours I experienced two hard crashes, and in the first week I came across a reportedly software bug that locked my keyboard from functioning after waking up from sleep (it forces you to restart). So perhaps Tiger was more polished than Leopard is, and those early reviews that told you otherwise are pure bull.

Not to put the latest incarnation of OS X down, there are a number of things that work much better in the Mac than in Windows, like Spotlight – now that is powerful search that works – but I’m afraid it’s still an above-average consumer platform with flaws here and there, and a far cry from an Apple’s fanboy dream claims.
But my evaluation of the MacBook Pro’s hardware and software is far from over, this is an experiment I may actually be able to pull off (forgive my Windows roots), and hopefully it will also open the door for further Mac-related coverage and perspective at TechSpot for a very valid and growing consumer base.

Written by Julio Franco

December 14th, 2007 at 2:50 am

New MacBook update on its way

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Update: This didn’t take too long, the minor MacBook update has been confirmed. No word on LED backlighting unfortunately.

Whether you are a Mac user already or are planning to give one a try, it’s only obvious that any plans for upgrading or getting a new machine revolved around the release of OS X Leopard. We are hearing from various sources however that the Apple MacBooks, which account for a large percent of Mac computer sales, are about to get a hardware update that could be announced anytime between now and November 15th.

I only thought it would be appropriate to advise to hold off your buying plans for just a little while and avoid getting pissed by buying a new machine that will become an “old model” in a matter of weeks. It’s believed that only the MacBook (and maybe the Mac Mini) will be getting hardware upgrades, this does not affect the MB Pros. Details are scarce at this time but an upgrade to Intel’s Santa Rosa platform seems imminent. Other rumors circulate around a slight graphics update to Intel X3100 graphics and a much awaited LED-backlighted screen.

Written by Julio Franco

October 30th, 2007 at 3:57 pm

So, what is Expose?

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Missing from my Switcher 2.0 post yesterday was an explanation of what Expose is. I guess some people are just too lazy to follow some links, but then again that’s not uncommon, after all why should you care?

In the particular case of Expose I believe some movies are worth more than a thousand words…
Here’s an introductory video of Expose’s original implementation in Mac OS X :

Also the guys at DownloadSquad posted a video of Switcher 2.0 working on Windows, this was after they got word of its release from my post yesterday:

Written by Julio Franco

October 12th, 2007 at 3:49 am

Posted in apple,software,video