A Real Review

A few days ago, I addressed all the negative propaganda in regards to the new MacBook Pro. If you're dumb, I'll assume you were offended. If you were on the fence about upgrading, hopefully I gave you some points to help you make a decision. So with the ranting out of the way, it's time to talk about why I think this is an incredible laptop.

The Dark Mac

To remark on the thin and light qualities of this Mac seems like a trite understatement. We all know that Apple's goal is to make everything thinner and lighter. And at a difference of half a pound, there's nothing mind-blowing here in terms of weight. A 4lb laptop feels like a 4.5lb laptop.

The exterior of this MacBook is the best they've ever created. Apple offers it in a silver and space gray finish, but the space gray is an absolute must. Silver looks exactly like all the other Macs before it. It's obvious that space gray has become a new Apple signature. It's not a dark black; it's subtle. It's different than the space gray 12" MacBook or the iPad Pro. Having this finish on a 15" pro machine emphasizes that this is both sleek and powerful. When the lid is closed, it reminds me of a beautiful, slumbering beast.

The reduction in thickness can be attributed to the newer retina display that was first used on the 12" MacBook. It's the thinnest possible on a notebook and constructed right into the housing. This also means the glowing Apple on the back is gone, along with the black, plastic hinge component- there's only space gray aluminum here, through and through. The result is a compact notebook with a much smaller footprint.

Places you touch

All interactions with the MacBook Pro occur on new or redesigned elements. Starting with the keyboard, Apple implemented similar butterfly mechanism dome switches from the 12" MacBook, but these are the 2nd generation. And that's a good thing. A lot of users despised the MacBook keyboard, criticizing it for being too shallow and not having enough travel. I never had a problem with it. In fact, I rather enjoy the mechanical feel it has. So is this 2nd generation a lot different from the original? No, but it's not exactly the same either. I would describe it as feeling better than the MacBook keyboard but not as good as the external Magic Keyboard.

I'm in love with the larger force-touch trackpad. Pictures don't do it justice; you need to get yourself to a store and check this fucking monster out in person. Apple claims it's 2x the size of the previous trackpad. I would say it's about 95% close to the size of the external Magic Trackpad. It's enormous, and that's fine with me. It doesn't hinder my typing at all and makes all the OS gestures feel more fluid and responsive.

Ah yes... let's talk about that special area where the dumbass function keys used to sit- the Touch Bar (I like Touch Strip better; anyone else?) Now as of lately, I haven't been okay with the way Apple explains it's motivations behind it's product decisions (I.E. the headphone jack). However, I'll admit that this time they got it right. We don't use the function row of keys. At least not for their original purpose. We see them as controls for areas of the system like volume levels, display brightness, media playback, etc. And if Apple has shown us anything, it's that there has to be something better than a static set of controls that have a single use. What if they used a touch surface that could be anything based on the context of the application? Oh wait...that's an iPhone. Perfect...let's go with that.

So far, I like everything about the Touch Bar- the underlying tech, the execution of it on the machine, the way it's software integrates in context... like i said, everything. The matte feel to the OLED dispaly helps with Apple's intention that this isn't second viewing area; it's another method of input. When I reach up to touch the area that was once a physical ESCAPE key, I often don't notice the difference. All of my system functions are still right where they need to be, except now I have an expansive area for additional controls and tools. And yes; some of them feel gimmicky and tacked on.

I've found three apps that make the most effective use of the touch bar. The first is Safari; the fact that I can view and swipe between my open tabs is brilliant. While most elements of the touch bar are still foreign to me, this already feels natural. Not only can I switch tabs, but I can start a new one and launch any of my favorite sites without taking my hands off the keyboard.

Messages would be my next favorite. Like the rest of the world, I use emojis fairly often when I text. Not only is it convenient to have all of them available right in front of you, but scrolling through them is a perfect example of how fluid and accurate the Touch Bar can be. Messages is also a great example of the quick type feature that's found throughout the system now. When you start typing, the touch bar offers word suggestions, spelling fixes and emoji replacements.

Finally, a special call out goes to Final Cut Pro. It does a beautiful job of making tools that were once out of the way completely accessible. Also, the ability to scrub through a project timeline while viewing my playback in full screen is a game changer.

I expect the rest of the applications along with the third party programs to catch up rather quickly. This is all new and will take time before both Apple and it's users understand the best way to utilize this. I have no doubt this will be a staple on all Mac keyboards in the near future, and if iOS eventually does cross over to the Mac, this is a great way to start.

A finely tuned machine

After having a few days to put this thing through it's paces, I'm satisfied with it's performance. The faster SSD and power of the Skylake chip are noticeable during all aspects of use, but not in an "oh wow look how fast everything is" kind of way. Here's my usual workload:

  • VMware Fusion running 2-3 virtual machines at a time
  • Office apps running: Word, Outlook and Powerpoint
  • Chat programs running: iMessage, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business
  • Quicktime Player for screen captures
  • Both Safari (for browsing) and Chrome (for web apps)
  • Misc core apps: Calendar, Notes, Calculator, etc.

You get the point; I have a lot of shit running all the time. Where I'm seeing the speed increase is not in a specific application, but more when I'm bouncing between them. I've rarely seen the spinning wheel while rendering in Final Cut Pro and switching back to Outlook or Safari. Launching multiple Powerpoint presentations is noticebly quicker, especially once I get to the fourth or fifth open deck. And remember, the machine is doing all this while talking to the context sensitive touch bar, which is running a separate chip and OS. To me, that feels pretty powerful.

So why didn't Apple offer a 32 GB memory option? Well, I hate to ruin the conspiracy party, but the answer is simple. The use of 32 GB of RAM in a machine this slim would require LPDDR4 memory- note the LP which stands for low power. Apple has been using LPDDR3 RAM in it's notebooks since 2012 for efficiency.

Unfortunately, Intel's Skylake CPU does not support LPDDR4; these new machines are still on '3'. So if the problem is Skylake, which is almost a year old anyway, why is Apple holding back on implementing the 7th gen Kaby Lake chips? Again, it's not a mystery folks. They aren't available yet- at least the kind that would fit into a MacBook Pro. So there you have it; at the moment, we're stuck with 16 GB of RAM. I think we'll live.

The real Thunderbolt

Since it's release in 2011, I've never felt like Thunderbolt became what it was intended to be- a space saving port that has enough bandwidth and power to take the place of protocols that deliver data, power and video. The Apple Thunderbolt display was probably the best realization of the technology, but let's be honest- it was priced out of most people's thoughts. With Thunderbolt 3 and it's USB-C form, it feels like this is the real Thunderbolt.

 The dream

The dream

The pain in the ass here is that there's no way around this transitional period of dongles. At the very least, the average Mac owner uses a standard USB flash drive, some kind of video out connection and an SD card- all on a regular basis. So that user will have to purchase three adapters. Some of us will need a lot more than that. But the end game here is to not worry about any of this. All devices we connect will employ a USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 cable or port. And once a proper docking station is released, one cable will allow for a vast array of I/O including multiple displays, USB-A and gigabit ethernet- all while supplying power back to the Mac. Hopefully, the wait won't be too long as I'm already eyeing this guy from Belkin. If you have the problem of too much cash, you can also check out the LG UltraFine 5k Display. It was designed by Apple for LG and for all intents and purposes, takes the place of the discontinued Thunderbolt display.

Are we done here?

There's still a lot to go over here. I don't have a good sesne of battery life yet since most of the time it's connected to power at my desk. From what I can tell, it's on par with my previous gen 15". I also can't tell you much about the new AMD Polaris GPU architecture. When I briefly fired up World of Warcraft, it defaulted to the native resolution of 2880x1800 on high settings, which delivered a respectable 60 fps. We'll see how it handles other graphics intensive work as time goes on. But so far, I love using this machine. It's an amazingly power device packed into something that seems way too thin. It's exciting to discover new ways to use the touch bar. And I can't help but smile everytime I use this delightfully oversized track pad.

By the way, Touch ID on the Mac is great. And long overdue.

No Problem with the new MacBook Pro

The new MacBook Pros started showing up in people's lives this week and I decided to pick one up. My new Mac is a 15" space gray model with a 2.7 GHz Core i7 CPU, 16 GB of RAM, 512 SSD and AMD Radeon Pro 455 GPU. For me it's been a simple and linear process:

  • I was waiting a long time for the new Macs to be released
  • Apple unveiled the updated notebooks
  • They featured everything I expected so I decided to upgrade
  • I bought the computer

Easy, right? Apparently not. While the rest of the internet is struggling with this, I'd like the opportunity to break it down and answer all the grumbling going on across message boards and podcasts about why this Mac is bad.

What did you expect?

The two biggest gripes people seem to have with the new MacBook Pro are it's price and lack of familiar holes. Allow me to tell you that these are both moronic points. First off, nothing Apple announced was a surprise, at least not to the Mac enthusiasts. Aside from the various rumors and leaks that started last fall, I'd say that the 12" MacBook was all the foreshadowing you needed to figure this out. The keyboard, force touch trackpad, lack of traditional ports; these were all the beginnings of the next generation of Mac. Remember how different the body was on the original iPad mini when compared with the 4th gen iPad? Yeah, that's right; it became what we now know as the iPad Air. Same thing folks, same thing. If you didn't see this coming, something is wrong on your end.

If you expected that the thinner, lighter design of the Pro would take it's cue from the 12" MacBook, then you would've prepared for USB-C / Thunderbolt 3. Traditional, thicker ports were axed for what Apple believes to be the imminent future. If that sounds familiar it's because that is what Apple does (MacBook Air anyone?). I'm not saying it's a good thing or a bad thing... it's just a thing. Knowing that this is how Apple runs the show is all part of the admission price. And honestly, it's not that bad.

Yes, I had to spend money on some adapters just like when the MacBook Pro with retina display debuted back in 2012. At that time I had to buy a MagSafe to MagSafe 2 adapter to use my old chargers. I needed Thunderbolt to ethernet and firewire adapters to continue using older drives and access the web in some spots. And if I wanted to use physical media, albeit occasionally, I needed to buy the $79 Superdrive. It's four years later and even though it felt like the same transition, it wasn't half as bad. What I needed was a couple of adapters:

All in all, that's about $100 worth of adapters. I'm not saying I'm happy about spending extra money, but I knew I wanted to upgrade and that meant I would need them. Everything is an investment, and if you choose to upgrade, you have to research and understand what you're upgrading to.

This also falls in line with the folks who are bitching about how expensive these Macs are. Now I may have missed something here, but when the fuck were MacBooks ever cheap machines? Were there literally people watching the Oct 27th keynote expecting a state of the art 15" Apple notebook for $1499? Really? I mean... just... really? Here's the deal:

THESE ARE NEW MACS, PEOPLE!

Is that clearer?

A Win-win scenario

Right now, most message boards, forums and reddit channels are dripping with the "Talk me out of buying a 2016 Mac" and "Why would I buy a new Mac when the 2015 models are cheaper" threads. I get such a kick out of this shit. People: the new MacBook is a product that's available for sale. If you look at it and decide you want it then you should buy it. If for some reason it displeases you, then I would have to recommend not purchasing it. Apple isn't making you buy anything. In fact, the previous gen MacBook Pros are still available right along side the new ones. That means you can get your old holes and low prices. Instead of bitching on some message board where everyone thinks you pocess a defective brain, you could just order the Mac you want. No yelling, ranting or dongles are necessary.

Wait, isn't this a review?

Wow. I guess my ranting about the ranting of other people and their ranting took longer than I thought. I love this Mac and think it's the greatest notebook yet. But I'm tired now so I'll have to hit the positive stuff a little later. Just remember- if you want traditional holes, go get them and shut up about it.

Newest and Bestest iPhone

"It's truly the best iPhone we've ever made".

-Apple, at every iPhone announcement.

You can say what you want about Apple, but they’re fucking masters of talking. They could talk up a pile of dog shit while you’re drooling over it and contemplating criminal activity to get one on launch day. I was a slave to this, somehow winding up with every single iPhone by 11am on the day of its release. Maybe it’s because I’m a little older, a bit wiser, a dad or just “over it”, but this past Friday ended without the iPhone 7 in my house.

There have been times when the new iPhone actually was an improvement. The 5S had the Touch-ID, which is a major step while the 6 finally grew to be in line with the rest of the phones of this era. But some launches find you sitting at your desk by 1pm with an iPhone 6 in one hand and a 6S in the other, asking yourself why the sweet fuck you bothered walking into an AT&T store on your lunch break, let alone spending real money for this. Not that this happened to me…

This year, my iPhone escapades were much simpler. On Tuesday afternoon I started testing a new Android device; the Honor 8 by Huawei. By Wednesday morning I was desperate for an iOS device like a smack head itching for some of the devil’s nose candy. While I hadn’t seen the iPhone 7 in person, I already made some strong assumptions about it.

  • No headphone jack.I’ll go into a bit more detail soon, but the bottom line is I’m not ready to give it up. I like headphones. I like plugging them in. I like having a hole to plug them into. I need my hole.
  • Better camera.I don’t care. I couldn’t take a decent picture to save my life; it doesn’t matter what camera you give me. Every year they put the best camera in the iPhone. The 6S was the best. The 7 is now the best. I’m sure the next iPhone will also have the best camera.
  • Faster CPU and more RAM.This doesn’t mean anything; we’re talking about a damn phone, folks.
  • Home button.Early impressions from various reviewers, even those who are die-hard Apple fans, were that the new home button feels like shit.

The two biggest issues: dead Home button and no sound hole

On Friday, a co-worker of mine and I popped in a nearby Apple location to check out the goods. We both picked up the 7, tried out the home button and gave each other the same disturbing look. This was terrible. No, really. The new home button feels like what I can only imagine is the sensation you get when trying to ring a doorbell made of mud through a sticky bowl of Jell-O.

This is especially disappointing when you’ve experienced the newer Mac trackpads. They actually trick your brain into thinking you’re pressing in on a physical button, even though it’s a stationary piece. It definitely elicits a “holy shit” the first time you use one. The iPhone 7 is not that. It’s more of the Jell-O and mud thing I mentioned previously. My concern now is if all the home buttons will eventually be like this, what do I do in the future? But that’s more of a first-world/ one percent type of issue.

Next up, let’s talk about why Apple removed my audio hole. I know, I know… they said “courage”. I watched that keynote twice now. It’s pretty clear even Apple has no idea what the fuck Phil is saying anymore. But here’s the problem I have with this whole thing:

Apple: Our vision for audio has always been to use our Lightning cable.

Me: Don't remember that but okay.

Apple: Here are Lightning headphones and an adapter for old headphones.

Me: Okay.

Apple: Our vision for audio on the iPhone is wireless.

Me: Wait… you just said it was Lightning which is a wired connection.

Apple: Bluetooth is a terrible audio experience.

Me: I agree. That’s why I use wired headphones.

Apple: We made something better than Bluetooth that fixes all of the Bluetooth issues.

Me: Wow what is it?

Apple: Bluetooth.

Me: ...

Apple: Here are the new Bluetooth headphones with a custom chip.

Me: ...

Apple: They get five hours of charge.

Me: My wired headphones that plug into the headphone jack have an unlimited number of hours on a charge.

Apple: We made this and took out the headphone jack because everything should be wireless.

Me: Then why are you giving me wired shit in the box with my $1000 phone?

Apple: These wireless headphones are a great feature of the new iPhone. They also work with every iPhone, iPod, iPad and Mac.

Me: Wait, this is a totally different product. Who the fuck told you it’s a feature of the new iPhone if I can use it with everything and it’s sold separately?

Anyway, you get the picture. It’s just like the MacBook with a single USB type-c connection.

Apple: We believe the future of the notebook is wireless, which is why there’s only one port on these new Macs.

Me: Okay, but I still need to plug stuff in like hard drives, a mouse, monitors, etc.

Apple: Oh we know. If you give us an extra $80 we’ll sell you back your holes, goober.

The bottom line is that if Apple wants to move forward with something, just go for it. The people bitching on the internet about not having a headphone jack are going to do it no matter what, so who are you hanging back for? If you think the future is wireless headphones, then show me. Put them in the box. Don’t make it an upsell. Prove me wrong. Likewise with the Mac- if you believe my Mac only needs one port then show me how to use it like that and don’t offer to sell me the ports after the fact because you know you’re full of shit.

Maybe we need to get used to the new, three-year cycle now. Maybe they’re literally out of ideas to build into these phones. The bottom line is there is really no reason for this phone to exist other than the fact that it’s September and Apple needs to make grown men take the day off of work to stand in a mall.

Another iPhone

The iPhone 7

Another iPhone has been announced. It now has no audio jack for headphones and speakers. There is a new black finish. It has the same physical form as it's most recent predecessors. There will probably be another iPhone next year as well.

As I'm no longer using an iPhone, I cannot comment on any plans to pre-order or purchase on launch day. My recommendation to you if you're considering an upgrade would be to read about the phone and decide if you want it. If you do decide you want one, you should purchase it. If you're not satisfied with the features of it, my advice to you would be to use a different device.

Until next time...

MBP: MIA?

Last week, the tech world suddenly became re-interested in the fact that there hasn’t been an updated MacBook Pro in over four years. By Wednesday, the rumors starting flying about the fall release of Apple’s revamped notebook, complete with the same pictures of a hollowed out top case that we’ve seen floating around since March. And oddly enough, the next day Apple was being attacked again for waiting too long to refresh its lineup. What interests me is that none of it matters. Whether Apple releases a new laptop this year or next year or not at all, it doesn’t matter. They’ve made it extremely clear that this is, for better or for worse, a different Apple than it was ten years ago.

Deviating from Intel

In 2013, Apple made the last MacBook announcement that I felt was relevant, by introducing new MacBook Airs with the much anticipated Haswell generation CPU. That’s what gave the Airs their industry shattering 13-15 hour battery life. The formula seemed simple; Intel would innovate with a new chipset and Apple would deliver it to the world in their cutting edge machines. A few months later, the PC makers would catch up, but by then no one cared because the next Mac with the newest hardware was probably around the corner.

Well, that pattern has dissipated. It pains me to say that today in 2016, Apples’ flagship notebook, the 15” MacBook Pro with retina display, still ships with that Haswell chip from 2013. What happened? As a loyal MacBook user, I literally waited, keynote after keynote while Tim Cook and gang showed off everything under the sun; larger phones, smaller iPads, bigger iPads, iPads with keyboards, smaller big iPads with keyboards, gold stuff, rose gold stuff, watches, watch bands, $20k watches… you get the point. Isn’t this the company that was supposed to build a superior machine? Didn’t I count on Apple to deliver innovation to the computer world? What happened?

 Seriously?

Seriously?

While I stood there waiting, of course I noticed some of the “crumbs” Apple threw out to casually appease us; the tiny one port MacBook, Broadwell chip in the Airs, a Pro tower shaped like a garbage can… I saw those. But something is not right. Take the MacBook Air. In 2010, it was clearly the future of the notebook. But six years later, I must say the future came and went. Not only have notebooks matched the sleek, portable build of the Air, but have surpassed it with newer CPUs, higher quality displays, updated ports and more. All while the Air has remained 100% unchanged. In 2016, a 13” notebook with a display resolution of 1920x1080 is considered decent on a $700 notebook. So why is Apple selling their $1000 13” Air with a 1440x900 TN display with awful viewing angles and poor color saturation? Wait a minute; isn’t this the company that put retina displays on everything? Why not put one on the Air? And for those of you who think that’s why we have the 12” MacBook with a retina display, you can blow it out your Apple hole. There has literally been more than enough time for Apple to release and discontinue a MacBook Air with a retina display since 2012.

iOS is better than Mac

Look; we all realize that iPhone and iPad is Apples’ bread and butter. It would seem that’s where all their innovative energy is being focused. But I can’t understand how you could simply ignore an entire market segment. Maybe they’re subtly telling us to move on. The high end PC notebooks available to professionals have far surpassed anything you could get from Apple. And if a cocky Apple fan boy tries to tell you that you’re buying garbage, just shake your head, knowing that they sadly don’t understand what a professional user needs in a performance machine.

 This a tablet with a keyboard.  NOT a computer.

This a tablet with a keyboard.  NOT a computer.

There’s nothing wrong with the iPad. It’s an amazing product that changed the world and has clearly made Apple a shit load of money. But if you’ve seen the recent commercials for the iPad Pro, it’s obvious that they're trying to pass it off as a laptop replacement. But why? Because it has a keyboard? That just makes it a tablet with a keyboard. It can’t be due to the software because even though iOS has come a long way, it IS NOT a desktop operating system and more specifically, not even optimized for the iPad Pro! Apple created a near 13” iPad with enough power to put a MacBook Air to shame and they use it to run the exact same OS my phone runs? Maybe I’m missing something.

What next?

So what happens now? Am I still eagerly anticipating a new MacBook Pro this year? The answer is no. I’ve seen the pictures of the top case with room for an LED touch strip where the function keys once were. Lenovo, HP, Dell and others tried similar things before and it sucked. I know, Apple has a habit of doing things better, even if they’re not new. But not this time. An actual touch screen strip on a MacBook would mean two things to me:

  • Since using the beta version of Mac OS Sierra, I haven’t seen one sign that points to the OS benefitting by a touch interface. It would have to be something shoved in, like 3D touch on the iPhone. Basically something flashy that I don’t need or wouldn’t use.
  • Apple had a track record of creating new ways to interact with computers like the mouse, touchpad and multi touch screens. But after adding a stylus and keyboard to the iPad, it looks like they’re now on the other side of the tech race; catching up to devices like the Surface. And a touch strip above a keyboard isn’t adding anything new at all; I can touch the entire screen on my Surface Book right now.
As for Thunderbolt 3, it’s more than a year too late. Machines like the Razer Blade Stealth, Dell XPS and HP ZBook are doing amazing things with the technology like docking stations, enhanced charging and external graphics solutions. It feels odd to let the PC race plow ahead with what was once an Apple only piece of tech, so implementing it now feels like a big ‘who cares’.

And finally, what about the Intel chips? The way I see it, there are two ways this could go with neither option being good. The first is they actually do release new Macs this fall with the current Skylake chipset. Unfortunately, that CPU is now over a year old which would mean these new Macs will already be on the tail end of obsolete when they’re released.

Alternatively, they could delay the whole refresh until the beginning of 2017 with the arrival of Intel’s 7th gen CPUs, Kaby Lake. I could see that pissing off a lot of folks since that would make it five years since Apple refreshed its Pro notebook. And by then it would be already three to five months into a current Intel cycle. Not a great start for a new product line.

I think we're done here

When you look at everything together, I feel like Apple is trying to tell us something. Their support for the Pro laptop user has ended. It’s the time of the iPad, the iPhone, and the Watch. I think if Apple wants to stop making the Mac, they should grow a pair, come on stage and shout “iPads forever!” But like I said earlier, whatever it is that Apple decides to do is too little, too late. The PC technology available now has far surpassed anything they could introduce. That’s why it really doesn’t matter anymore.

Surface Book: My Ultimate Laptop

I have no use for tablets. Smartphones today with their 6” displays are large enough to what I once did with an iPad mini. The rest of my work requires I'm in front of a laptop or workstation, except for the rare occasion when I feel the need to hold a large glass panel in my hands. Microsoft had the same idea when creating the Surface Book; to make a perfect notebook experience with the ability to act as a slim, beautiful tablet if needed. And they nailed it! The Surface Book is now my daily driver

DISCLAIMER:

You've probably heard how Surface Book had a rocky start, plagued by driver and firmware issues. Microsoft has addressed these and corrected them, so I won't elaborate on all of that shit. I will say that while Windows 10 has been appealing, it’s really the August 2nd Anniversary Build (a.k.a. Redstone) update that ties everything together for an amazing Windows experience

Performance so good...

In terms of power, Microsoft made sure the Surface Book can deliver. Starting with the guts, the model I’m using is packing a Core i7 CPU with 16GB of RAM, 512GB of flash storage and the NVidia dedicated GPU. During its introduction at the October 2015 Windows 10 Device event, it was clear this notebook was designed for performance. It has no difficulty slicing through Adobe Premier, Visual Studio and games like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. No two ways about it, this thing is a powerhouse, which is why it’s also my desktop.

 Yup.  This is  my  domain.

Yup.  This is my domain.

...no need for a desktop

The Surface Dock is one of the most practical, first-party accessories I’ve used being that it adds an entirely extra level of functionality to this notebook. By using just one cable connected to the book’s smart connector, I gain four USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet and two mini Display ports. And unlike some docking solutions have the ports without the capability to use them all, this one executes perfectly (you'll also see a Belkin USB hub I have sitting on top of the Surface Dock for even more ports).

As you can see, the dock has no problem powering my usual, three display setup. To be specific, (because let’s face it; if you’re reading this than you’re a nerd) the main 27” display and one of the verticals are connected directly to the dock via DisplayPort to mini DisplayPort cables. The last vertical monitor is powered by a Diamond USB to DVI video adapter, which is connected to one of the four available USB ports on the dock. And because the Surface Book has a dedicated NVidia GPU, I’m running the following resolutions:

  • 27” main display @ 2560x1440
  • 20” verticals @ 900x1600
  • Surface Book display @ 3000x2000

Laptop with a side of tablet

While I’ve spent plenty of time with various “2-in-1” devices, the Surface Book is perfect for me thanks to the design ratio. Microsoft already has a tablet that can act as a laptop. What they’ve done with the Book is create a laptop first and foremost, that can occasionally be used as a tablet. It’s been previously referred to as an 80/20 split, with 80% being the amount of time one should use it as a laptop. Well guess what? I also have an 80/20 split in my use for it; well, maybe more like 90/10. Even though I do very little on a tablet, there are occasions when having a large, touchscreen canvas comes in handy. And watching the screen-detach (which Microsoft calls the “clipboard”) is pretty nifty to show off.

On the topic of design, I have to call out the placement of the components. While the bulk of the power is in the display, the second GPU lives in the keyboard base. When using it as a tablet, you still have the i7 CPU, RAM and SSD, but are limited to the Intel HD onboard graphics chip. And it’s no slouch. Integrated GPUs have become so fucking good that I believe only a slim number of users need to worry about getting anything beefier).

By having all of the components in the display, you’ll start to notice something incredible. Under a moderately heavy load, the keyboard stays cool to the touch. Because it’s only housing the GPU, there’s not much else in there to get warm. Even when utilizing the NVidia card with some games, the base only gets slightly warm above the keys. This is a most welcome departure from typical high-performance notebooks that have no problem burning your fingers.

The Display

The display is somewhat unique as Microsoft opted for a 3x2 aspect ratio instead of the typical 16x9 or 10. If you’re one of the four people who have used a Chromebook Pixel, this should look familiar. If not, it’s closer to the once standard 4x3 format, pre-widescreen era. This is a valuable to thing to have on a notebook because of one reason: the internet. Assuming you go online with your computer, you’ll soon find that web pages are designed vertically, and not wide. Take a look:

Not only am I not losing anything on the sides, but I actually gain quite a bit of screen real estate where it matters. It’s also an incredible display with a resolution of 3000x2000, but I’d just as soon leave that part out of this write up as there are so many 4k quality displays on the market that it’s hardly worth mentioning anymore. Just know it’s a beautiful, HiDPI display that’s so realistic it’s almost like looking at print. And because Windows 10 fixed all (okay, most) of the scaling issues that plagued 8.1, there’s no problem bouncing between multiple monitors of different resolutions.

Just a terrific laptop

Throughout the day, I frequently disconnect the Book from my desk and use it as an actual laptop, and it does not disappoint. When you come from the land of MacBooks, there’s a certain level of build quality you expect from a machine. In my opinion, your typical OEMs (Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc) have all engaged in a "race to the bottom"- pack the most specs into the cheapest box with the lowest build quality you can while under-cutting each other on price. I know that’s a generalization, and there are a few exceptions out there, but it's been a while since I've seen anything especially unique as I wander the aisles of Best Buy seeing droves after droves of Surface knockoffs and MacBook Air wannabes.

As a straight forward laptop, it is just about perfect. The keyboard has the right amount of travel while being relatively quiet. It’s such a pleasure to type on that I've stopped using an external keyboard at my desk with it. I should mention that if you choose an external keyboard, it makes sense to go with the Microsoft Designer wireless desktop as the keys are nearly identical to that of the Book. I don’t know about you, but I definitely benefit from a unified typing experience whether I’m at the office, home or a Dunkin Donuts.

If you've ever used a MacBook, you'll know that most PC laptops have shitty trackpads. Knowing this, Microsoft modeled their trackpad after the best. It’s a large, glass track area that supports the multi-touch gestures in Windows 10. It gives me the same gliding sensation I got used to from my time on a Mac.

 Just about perfect

Just about perfect

The most important part of the Book’s design is the I/O. In a world where it’s in vogue to take away ports on a laptop, it’s nice to still have the staples. The Surface Book includes two full size USB 3.0 ports, SD card slot and mini DisplayPort out. I still prefer Ethernet if the location I’m in offers it, so I’ve started carrying this handy little guy. It works perfect with the Book and offers a great amount of ports for the buck.

Wrap up

If your daily driver is actually a tablet, the Surface Book is not for you. This machine is a laptop, with the capability to have its head ripped off when appropriate. But if you’re like me (God help you) and you find little need for a third product between smartphone and laptop, I implore you to look at this notebook. It is a beautiful, versatile powerhouse and an exemplary model of what a Windows 10 machine should be.

A Big iPad

It seems as if I was wrong. Yes, it happens to the best of us. My initial feelings about Apple's big iPad being nothing more than a Surface competitor were disolved last night as I started working on my newly adopted iPad Pro. I felt the ground shake. Pigs were flying outside my apartment window. The skies parted...okay, I'll stop. But this is really a slick device.

It's Big

We arrived home from our outing at the mall- my wife, seven month old twins, and me. The kids were happy to be out of the car and back home playing with their toys, which meant it was a good time for me to check out my new toy. I cracked open my 32GB WiFi iPad Pro in Space Gray. I started to open the package containing the Apple Smart Keyboard but remembered that it does not exist yet. Guess I should open the Logitech Create Keyboard for this thing since it is real and with me.

No, I didn't buy nor am I interested in the Apple Pencil stylus. While I'm curious to see how the mechanics of writing feel on it, $100 is too much for a curiosity and sometimes hobby. Plus, like the keyboard, the pencil seems to be a myth.

Unwrapped, out of the box, and powered on- first thing that comes to mind is "holy shit! This is a big-ass iPad". I had some hands on time with a demo unit earlier in the week, but something about it being in my hands, in my house was different. It was easily the size of one of my daughters. But oh, that screen. The only word that comes to mind is immersive when you start navigating around this super iPad. Browsing the web in Safari, reading the news in Flipboard...even the freakin' App Store looked great. But was anything different? This almost feels like a new device. And then...

The Other Half

We covered the fact that the actual Apple Smart Keyboard is not real, right? Just checking. So here we go, inserting this insanely big tablet into the Logitech Create Keyboard. Wow. Not 'wow' to the keyboard itself, but this big iPad with the keyboard. This feels like a new device. This feels like the future.

Let me remind you that I've long been opposed to tablets taking the place of laptops. If you need a keyboard, buy a computer. If you want to touch the screen, get a tablet. These have been my thoughts since the beginning of the iPad in 2010 and continued until yesterday. And while I'm not going back on my words completely, I have some compelling reasons to the contrary:

  • The keyboard is short. Because there is no extra depth for a trackpad, my fingers are close enough to interact with the touch screen without feeling like I'm reaching too much. That's been the problem with all of the touch-screen laptops I've tested.
  • iOS 9 makes sense now. I knew a big iPad was on it's way the moment I saw the multitasking capabilities of iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2. But what previously felt like afterthoughts are now fluid and natural gestures that allow for actually working on more than one thing at a time, which has been my biggest gripe with the iPad as a production device.
  • Most of the Mac keyboard shortcuts work perfectly. What's the point of having a keyboard or attempting to do the job of a laptop without proper shortcuts? All the familiar Cmd combos are intact. Cmd+Tab cycles through open apps, Cmd+C and Cmd+V copy and paste and Cmd+Tab will add a new tab in Safari. If you navigate your Mac with the keyboard more than the mouse (as I do), you'll feel extremely comfortable with this setup.

There are so many reviews online about the Logitech keyboard vs Apple's mythical one that I'll keep my two cents brief. I picked up the Logitech because the Apple store didn't have the Apple keyboard. While the Apple one keeps the iPad Pro slimmer, the Logitech case has a much better typing experience and total body protection, albeit a tad bulky.

Not 100%

Just because I'm having a terrific experience working on this thing, it's not perfect. Would I be a credible tech blogger if I didn't complain about something? So let's start with the main culprit, iOS

When the iPad Air 2 hit the scene almost a year ago, everyone agreed that the hardware was way overpowered for the software. That thing was (and still is) blazing fast- which is why it's still Apple's flagship mid-size pad. But iPad Pro takes overpowered to a whole new level. Right after you get through the setup process and see the lonely, spaced out apps on the giant home screen, you can see what I mean. When you fire up an app that hasn't been scaled for the Pro, you may vomit on the device. While some apps have been optimized for the new platform, the majority of the software and the OS itself look neglected.

Yes, you can finally work in two apps simultaneously, but that experience has some ways to go. Keyboard shortcuts kind-of work between apps, but falls just short. Bouncing between Safari and Messages, for example, leaves me with a keyboard that doesn't work right in either app after a few Cmd-TABS. And that is assuming the app you're using can take advantage of the split-screen mode. It's up to that app developer to get that running, so wait times may vary.

In Conclusion

The biggest problem with Apple products (and tech in general these days) is that people act like professional morons when it comes to choosing them. This is still not a MacBook. The iPad mini still exists. This refrain may be getting old, but folks: if the iPad Pro doesn't appeal to you, do not buy it. That should take care of most of your issues with it.

For those who aren't dumb, you'll have to spend some time with the iPad Pro to make a decision. The battery seems great so far. I connected the SteelSeries Nimbus controller to it and had a great time playing Lego Batman 3. The keyboard should come in the box to get the full experience. These are my thoughts after using an iPad Pro for less than 24 hours.

My iPhone 6S Review

Having used to work for Apple, Friday was the first iPhone launch in five years I wasn't directly involved in. And while I admit it used to be fun watching grown men line up around a mall in the middle of the night for a new toy, I was happy to not be anywhere near an Apple store that day. This was also the first year I wasn't planning on upgrading to the new iPhone. But somehow, by noon that day, I ended up with a shiny, new 128GB iPhone 6S. After using it for more than 48 hours now, here's what I think:

Force, 3D... Whatever Touch

The revolutionary new feature this year is 3D touch, which is essentially the same technology Apple refers to on the MacBook Pro and Apple Watch as Force touch. They call it something different on the phone because... because... well nobody really knows. They're Apple; they can do whatever they want.

Right now, 3D touch is a cool trick. It's functionality is limited to mostly Apple's native apps. Push in on the Phone app and a list of frequent contacts will pop-up. Push on an email message and you can preview the message without actually open it. That's all you can really do with it right now until more third-party developers incorporate it into their software.

Despite it's limited availability, 3D touch functions exceptionally well. The biggest drawback is deciding if it's actually saving you any steps in performing an action. For example, here is Twitter with and without 3D touch:

 Not sure if this is a huge time-saver...

Not sure if this is a huge time-saver...

The updated notes app is one I found that made great use of 3D touch. On launch, I prefer this view of the folders. But as you can see, there's no where to start a new note from here (left).

But now, I can initiate a new note right from the home screen (right) and move it later. This makes the entire application seem multidimensional and that will be a game changer.

Faster Everything

Yes, every year Apple claims the iPhone gets a bit faster. This usually comes because of an OS update, new processor, or some other breakthrough. With previous updates, sometimes I noticed it and sometimes I didn't. But this iPhone 6S is fast as all hell!

What changed this time? More RAM. Apple doesn't like to advertise how much RAM they use in their iOS devices, but it's been confirmed on the inter-webs that the 6S and 6S Plus contain 2GB, x2 as much as the 6 and 5S. And that's a hardware change you can absolutely feel.

Launching applications, multitasking, and the general UI of the phone just feels much more fluid than the previous model. I can easily run with 8-10 tabs in Safari now as opposed to the usual 3-4. There is virtually no lag when flipping between playing a game and having an iMessage conversation. These are improvements that everyone will notice, not just us geeks.

iPhone "Something" and 1/2

We're in a loop folks. Apple comes out with a "whole number" phone which brings with it a new physical design like a bigger screen or thinner body. Then, the following year, they release the ".. and 1/2" model that keeps the same skin but revamps the internals. This is now the 9th iteration of the iPhone and I'm tired of the routine.

Yes, I love getting new toys. Sure I think it's great when Apple puts out new features and even changes the way we use the iPhone. That's what keeps it fresh. But it's hard to ignore the fact that while you're lining up for the current phone, the folks in Cupertino are already working on the next one. I believe both the hardware and software need time to mature.

I'd like to see a new phone every other year. One that is a culmination of both the physical improvements of the whole numbers and revolutionary features of the "S". But what about the in-between years? Well that's when a new iOS would be released, taking full advantage of the latest hardware. This would allow both components to mature properly while still keeping an eye on what's coming next.

It doesn't matter what I think. Apple is going to do things in a way that keeps those people wrapped around the malls and pre-ordering online at 3am. It seems to be working out well financially for them.

As for me? Yeah- I'm enjoying the 6S. It's a great phone. And so will be the iPhone 7. And then the 7S. And then...

 No end in sight...

No end in sight...

Code Inside a Virtual Machine

You should try working on coding projects inside of a virtual machine (VM). It's a practice I started a few months ago when a text editor I liked was only available in Windows. What I found was running a VM for code gave me a kind of "playground" for my projects where I could try some things I may not want bogging down or messing up my main system.

Virtualization is not just a Mac thing. If you run Windows, you can very easily run another version of Windows inside of VMware Fusion Workstation or Oracle's VirtualBox.

Multitasking Mess

The coding projects I start tend to make a mess on my desktop and documents folder throughout the course of the day. My workflow generally consists of the following:

  • Working on an actual, production project involving coding
  • Studying / experimenting with new programming methods and languages
  • Non-code related work tasks that require the use of my regular Mac apps (Mail, Outlook, Word, etc.)

What started happening was the files for these projects were spilling over to each other and things started haphazardly landing on my desktop, which is a big no-no for me.

 This is bad

This is bad

Now I keep two separate VMs- one for testing out code and one for actual projects. So now if I start cluttering a desktop, it's not my actual desktop.

Pause the Madness!

This is kind of an OCD thing, but when I shut my computer down at the end of a work day, I must close out all of my applications first. I don't want to boot-up the next morning only to find yesterday's chaos. The exception to this, however, is my code projects.

Here you can see I have quite a few things going on- there's my editing platform, Chrome developer window, file explorer, and Firefox running for standard browsing. But because they're inside of a VM, I can simply pause the whole session before I shut down my machine and resume exactly where I left off.

This is perfect. And it also frees up my main OS apps for other tasks. Since coding can quickly become a creative endeavor, it's important to compartmentalize your workflow. When I get on a roll with a great idea and have to pause for other work, the ability to dive right back in where I left off is paramount.

Too much power?

So now that I shared this amazing secret with you, we'll take a look at the technical aspects of running it all. Here's a breakdown of my rig and how I allocate everything:

13" MacBook Air : Core i7, 8GB of RAM and 512 GB SSD - this is my main workhorse. At my desk, it connects to a 27" 2560x1440 Dell ultrasharp display. The 8GB of RAM is what makes time travel possible... oh wait, that's the flux capacitor. The 8GB of RAM allows me to comfortably run more than one VM at the same time.

Parallels Desktop 11- for running the VMs. I started running Windows XP on a Macbook Pro with VMware Fusion in 2006. After that I moved to Parallels and then back to Fusion and have bounced back and forth almost every year since. They're both great products for running VMs and have such a similar feature set that it pretty much doesn't matter what you use. I'm using Parallels this time around simply because I'm running an early release of Mac OS X and the new version of Parallels that supports it came out first.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 5.44.49 PM.png
windows-7-logo-hch.jpg

Windows 7- still my favorite version of Windows. I use this VM for most coding projects. I edit with Notepad++ which is one of my favorite text editors available. The fact that it's only available on Windows is what got me started down this route in the first place.

Windows 8 (soon to be upgraded to 10)- my secondary VM. I really only boot this guy up when I need to begin a second coding project and I don't want to disturb anything in Windows 7 land. It's also where I get to play around with some Visual Studio projects and tinker with the modern Windows UI.

In both cases above, I allocate 2GB of RAM to each machine. Because I usually only run one at a time, the Mac OS is still left with plenty of RAM for other tasks. And if I do need both at the same time, then that means 4GB goes to VMs and Mac still gets 4GB. I can live with that. I also use Chrome in both systems to compile and debug.

Overcomplicating

When I first showed this workflow to one of my colleagues, he was puzzled, not understanding why I'd go through the trouble of a VM for essentially what is a text editor. And he's not wrong. If you have a modest system (Windows or Mac) and feel it doesn't need the extra weight of a VM then skip it. There's no reason you can't code without it. But if you find yourself in situations where your projects are quickly becoming overwhelming, it might not hurt to try putting them in their own little sandbox.

All Three

Sometimes I have great answers to questions people ask me. One example is when I get asked which web browser I like the best out of the main players; Safari, Firefox or Chrome. My fantastic answer? All of them!

Not all at once, as that would be silly. What I've found through the years is I'm able to outfit each browser to work best for different situations.

Before you start bitching, let me inform you that I'm well aware I'm leaving out Internet Explorer (IE). Even though I mainly work on a Mac, I do use PCs regularly. But even then, I never use IE. It's a stale, obsolete browser that for me, offers no benefits whatsoever. I often say that when setting up a new Windows machine, I open IE long enough to "Bing" for Chrome.

Safari

No matter how many times I try to make Firefox or Chrome my default browser on the Mac, it just doesn't happen. Like everything else in Apple's world, because they build Safari specifically for their computers and OS, they can tweak it to near perfection. It also doesn't hurt that it takes advantage of iCloud to sync across my iPhone and iPad.

Under the hood, Safari runs on less than a third of the RAM used by Chrome. This makes for a fast and fluid experience on the web. During the times I employ more than one browser to accomplish tasks, Safari usually gets the heavy lifting. For example- if I need to view a web seminar, take an interactive class, or just use a web application. Safari can handle all these while utilizing the least amount of system resources.

Firefox

Let's call Mozilla Firefox "number 2". For years it has been my main browser in PC land and has come close to replacing Safari on many occasions. Most of the plugins I use were first released on this platform so I've been comfortable with it for a while now. When Safari is busy with a heavy task, Firefox gets the passed the responsibility of browsing.

An added bonus of Firefox is Firebug - an invaluable tool for developers. This add-on allows you to inspect HTML elements, view network resources, and even write and compile your own code. And it can happen in a detached window so you don't need to sacrifice any browser space.

Chrome

Ah - so here we are, with arguably the most popular browser on the inter-webs. I never hopped onto the Chrome bandwagon with everyone else. Instead, I've always found Google's browser to be nothing but bloated. Anything more than a couple of tabs seems to hog all my Mac's resources. Between the market of "apps", extensions, and obnoxious use of Adobe Flash, it's no wonder Google decided to built an entire OS out of it.

So why do I use Chrome if I dislike it so much? Because of the accurate, built-in developer tools. What I normally do is use Chrome to compile locally hosted files. This way I get to use it's magical debugging abilities without letting it loose on the web.

Wrap-up

It should go without saying at this point, but I'll say it anyway. You should use what works for you and be happy with that. I've managed to make use out of all three browsers while most folks install Chrome and go about their day. To me, each browser has their own unique attributes. But that new, Microsoft Edge though...


Weekly Chronicles of the Not-so-Obvious: Comment Your Code

Learning how to code in any language is not an easy thing. As a "wanna-be" programmer, I completely understand the struggle of memorizing syntax, forgetting to close brackets and the overwhelming joy that comes from finishing your first, decent piece of code. I work mostly with HTML5, CSS and Javascript, and lately I've discovered the importance of commenting my code.

Here is some mockup HTML code for a web page. You can see we have all the usual elements; head, container, header, footer, etc. At first glance, it's hard to differentiate these parts. Let's try some commenting- for this, we'll just concentrate on the first part of the code, which features the head and header:

So while we have some comments, they're not entirely helpful. I need to be able to easily decipher these sections when looking over the code. We can start by spacing out and labeling each section:

There we go; it's nice to have breathing room. Not only is everything a little spacier, but there's a lot more commenting. The best habit you can pick up is commenting out the end of your divs like I did in the "logo-images" div above. Something ending in '</div>' isn't exactly specific, especially when you end up with more than one at the end of your document:

Gross! What a jumbled mess of confusion. But if we add comments for what the divs actually are:

What a difference! Now we can clearly see where everything ends incase we need to shuffle sections around or insert extra elements. This is also one of those tricks that once you start doing on all of your code, it feels like second nature.

Next time we'll talk about keeping track of your Javascript functions because let's be honest; they desperately need organization.


#PROPAGANDA: Death by a backwards stylus!

You've probably read an article or two today about how you can damage your new Galaxy Note 5 by jamming the stylus backwards up its own ass. This seems extreme and most likely blown out of proportion. If you really did damage your device in this manner, then congratulations; you are officially a moron.

 "Gee... is it this way..."

"Gee... is it this way..."

 ".. or this way?"

".. or this way?"

I'm not in defense of Samsung, android, or even styluses. I'm not saying that the big toy companies don't screw up a product now and then. What I am saying is that I've owned every single Galaxy Note device that's been released. I happen to know that there is a very definitive *top* and *bottom* to the included stylus. Considering that the *bottom* of the stylus doesn't look like it could ever fit inside the Note, I would say that the issue here is with the user.

People, listen to me as hard as you can. Smartphones are devices. Devices are things. Things can break. If you jam a vacuum cleaner into your toilet bowl, neither device will work correctly. Understand?

There is nothing wrong with the Galaxy Note 5 aside from being an unnecessary product in an oversaturated market. Basically, just don't put the wrong end up the hole (yes, yes.. enjoy the innuendo). My wife just tried a similar experiment with the Nintendo 3DS and *its* stylus. That didn't work either... screw you, Nintendo for making a faulty product!


"What can I do to put you in this Samsung today?"

So this is either really good or really bad. If you're currently an iPhone user, Samsung is willing to give you a smartphone for 30 days to try out. For just $1, they'll send you a test drive kit including a phone of your choosing, sim card, and instructions to get started. After that, I'm assuming you either send it back or keep it depending on your experience.

There are two ways to look at this. One would be to act like a complete Apple fanboy and say "Samsung phone suck so bad they have to give them away to get people to use them!" Immature as it may sound, there's something to be said for this kind of a drastic move. It's not something you see Apple doing.

On the other hand, there's no denying that this is intriguing. Who among us wouldn't jump at the chance to try out a new gadget? Requiring folks to order a test drive kit from their iPhone is also a slick way to narrow down their target audience. They're after the iPhone users; no doubt about it.

Samsung's test drive website is stating that demo devices are already out of stock. Whether this is an indication of the program's popularity or low inventory level is yet to be seen. But this is definitely an interesting play from one of the major players in the fight for the place in your pocket.


#PROPAGANDA: Windows 10 doesn't force you to use it's default apps

Usually, I’m all for criticizing something for being a piece of shit. But this time, the internet has it wrong. For some reason, the entire world seems to think that Windows 10 automatically sets your default programs to it’s own applications, including your web browser from Firefox or Chrome to Microsoft’s own Edge.

Here’s a blatant lie from an arstechnica article:

“Windows 10 upgrade resets your default browser to Edge…”

…and take a look at this waste of space over on cnet:

“Here’s how to set your default browser in Windows 10…”

I’ve run Windows 10 since the beta and have installed four instances of it since the official release. Take my word for it when I tell you that this IS NOT AN ISSUE!

During the setup process, there is clearly an option to use Microsoft’s default settings or choose your own. It is not forcing anyone to do anything. Have a look:

This is no different from any other setup options in every other iteration of Windows. And if for some reason you go with Microsoft’s settings and later install another browser, Windows 10 AUTOMATICALLY prompts you to select the default program. Apparently, it’s just too hard for people to read what’s on the screen in front of them, so they take to writing posts instead.

Windows 10 has not been around nearly long enough for me to review it, nor should anyone. Does it have bugs and problems? Of course! Trust me- I have no problem taking a shot at Microsoft or anyone else when they screw up. But as far as this outcry about “default program discrimination” goes, it’s nothing but bullshit.


A Good Chromebook

Is there really such a thing as a great Chromebook? Maybe. Until now, Chromebooks seem to be down in the sub $300 piece of crap or the "why would anyone spend $1000 on one" categories. Last week Dell introduced the Chromebook 13 (clever name, boys) and with it, a reason that some people may actually consider using one.

According to some info found over at arstechnica, the 13 has some enticing qualities. It's easier to throw these into a list so take a look:

  • Fifth generation Intel chips
  • Full range of ports including HDMI, USB 3.0, and SD card slot
  • Same quality build and materials found on higher end XPS models
  • Plenty of configuration options including up to 8GB of RAM, 32GB flash storage, and 1080p IPS display, with and without touch
  • 12 hour battery life

Even though it's not due out until September, all of this makes the 13 a lot to look forward to. The base price is $399 and it maxes out at $899. Details on what's between aren't available, but I would personally go for a Core i5/16GB SSD/4GB RAM configuration. And don't forget the 1080p non-touch display. If those internals end up living in the $500-ish neighborhood, then I think we may finally have a good Chromebook.


A Modern, Classic Powerhouse

You might say I’m notorious for switching up my daily driver laptop on a more-than-frequent basis. This year alone, I’ve gone through about three MacBook Pros, the current models with retina displays. For some reason, they’ve never felt the same to me as the (now) classic models with the matte display, optical drive and full set of ports.

Instead of going along with these newer machines that keep letting me down, I decided it was time to go in a different direction. I had the urge to seek out a 2011, 17” MacBook Pro and customize it into a true mobile workstation. So far, it’s turning into quite a production, so allow me to break it down, starting with the reasons I’m doing this in the first place.

Before you all start blasting my inbox, I’m very much aware of RADEONGATE . In my opinion, it didn’t affect as many models as one would think from message boards. And now that Apple has a quality program in place for it, I’m covered as I would be if I were looking at a brand new machine.

Display

The retina display is an extremely clear, high resolution screen, but no matter how you look at it it’s still glossy. The office where I look at my computer for over 40 hours a week features bright, fluorescent lighting and glare reduction can’t compete with true, anti-glare. The matte display on the 17” Mac would make sure I never have to worry about facing the window again!

A 17” display isn’t just about size, but real estate. As I’ve talked a lot about before, I’m a fan of high resolutions that allow me to fit a lot of content on screen. With a native display of 1920x1200, this notebook gives me the room I’m looking for without having to take any extra steps.

Yes, it’s true that the rMBP can be scaled to a similar resolution. However, content becomes much smaller due to the lack of physical space. Plus, the Mac has to work a bit harder to scale content at that view. It’s not a major strain on the machine, but I have seen performance issues now and again.

Accessible Internals

Before we talk about this next part, know that I’m not an extreme “do-it-yourselfer” or a skilled hardware engineer who builds computers in his spare time. However, I’m still irked by the fact that I have no control over what’s going on inside these modern, ultra-portable notebooks. Using a classic MacBook allows me to have access to several important components such as the hard drive, RAM, and battery (not to mention the optical drive, but we’ll get to that later).

Portability

The 17” MacBook Pro is not thin and light. It was never supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a powerhouse! When I tell people that I’m toying with this idea, the first sound that usually comes out of their faces is “Wow, that’s a heavy machine!” But again, it’s about use-case. I’ll be taking this Mac to work with me where it will sit on a desk for most of the day. And then, it comes home. I don’t cart it around the city all day nor would I sit in a coffee shop with it to write this blog. I have an 11” MacBook Air that is perfect for all of those lighter tasks.

What am I gaining

In deciding to make the move back in time to a slightly older and much larger workstation, I’ve given a lot of thought to the benefits I’ll gain. These are things I simply can’t get in a modern machine (in the Mac world, anyway).

  • Two internal drives; an SSD to boot from and a HDD for storage.
  • Removable/upgradeable RAM.
  • Ability to replace battery.
  • Large, matte display at a great resolution.

Alternatives

Yes, there are alternative options for a mobile workstation. The most obvious would be the Dell M6800. It’s an incredible machine with specs that would blow away even the 17” MacBook Pro. Everything is modular and meant to be user replaced. The options here go all the way up to 32GB of RAM, four drive bays for storage, LTE connectivity and a lot more. Of course, this puts me back in the PC world. And while it can still ship with Windows 7, it’s Windows none-the-less. I’m not sure if I’m ready to make that jump yet.

What happens next?

I’m going to spend the next couple of days installing components, tweaking software, and generally just getting things up and running with the MacBook. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going and follow up with details about what’s going into this modern classic powerhouse.