The Biggest Problem(s) with the MacBook 2015

It’s not all sunshine and daisies with the new MacBook. There are a couple issues that may cause it some big problems…


I’ve been into mobile computing since 1992. I’ve had DOS/Windows based laptops in my backpack since DOS 3.x, and to be quite honest, I *DO* know what I’m talking about when it comes to portability and power while on the road.

And I do admit it… I’m a bit of a road warrior and a power user. I know that I really want more of the desktop replacement kind of notebook or mobile workstation. I want to do what I want to do – make use of my mobile darkroom, for example – while I’m out on a shoot, or be able to edit app screen shots or product photos I’ve snapped without having to compromise on capabilities or performance.  Yes… If you could put the horse power of a Mac Pro into a thin retina display laptop, I’d likely find some way to justify the purchase (much to my checking account’s dismay…)

So, when Apple announced the new MacBook 2015, and I saw it in that cool gold tone, aluminum alloy… I was like, “Oh yes, baby…!  Come to papa!”

However, after further consideration and a bit of research on what the newest member of the Mac notebook family is, can, and cannot do, I think I’m going to pass; and the reasoning behind it (aside from what you can see above), may not be widely known yet. So… here’s why…

Processing Power

The new MacBook 2015 comes with the new Intel Core M processor. Think “M” for mobility, here. The Core M processor is a power-sipping mobile processor that is meant for mobile applications like the new MacBook 2015. It can work with just 5W of power, and doesn’t need a cooling fan (further enhancing battery life) as well as contributing to the new MacBook’s svelte form factor.

However, because it doesn’t consume a lot of battery power, and because it doesn’t need a fan to cool it, it isn’t really a high-end work horse of a processor.  As such, don’t expect to run apps like Aperture, Final Cut Pro or PhotoShopCC on this thing and have it work the way any of your other, more well-endowed Mac do. It’s just not built that way.  Core i5 and Core i7 processors have a HECK of a lot more punch, though , they’re not as gracious with your battery life.

The MacBook 2015 is intended for web surfing, email, and moderate productivity apps (Word, Outlook for example should work well. Apps like Excel and PowerPoint may tax the device a bit, depending on the numbers you’re crunching or the presentation your pushing.). While the device has a premium price (it starts at $1299), it clearly does not have premium specs


Nope.  Don’t even go there…

The trend since the introduction of the Retina MacBook Pro back in Early 2012 has been static components, or providing a computing product without any end user serviceable parts. Popular items like RAM and hard drives/ SSD’s are now configurable at time of purchase and…that’s it.  You can’t change or swap them out at all; and if you do – as in the case, say of the 2012 to 2014 MacBook Air’s – you totally void your warranty.  The MacBook 2015 is configured THAT way – totally non-user serviceable.

It’s no surprise really.  If you remember the interior shots from the Keynote, the interior of the device is ALL battery.  If the SSD, RAM or logic board (which is smaller than a 3″x5″ card…) fail, the only thing that Apple is going to do for you, is to likely replace the entire logic board.

So the best thing that I can tell you here, is to buy as much as you can afford; knowing that the device isn’t meant for digital darkroom or macro or transaction intensive spreadsheets and the like. If you don’t the MacBook 2015 is likely going to be a huge disappointment for you.

Web Cam

At 480p, the web cam on the MacBook 2015 is pathetic. Its SD resolution is, at best, yet another compromise in what is clearly meant to be a premium product.  Any modern smartphone, including the iPhone 5 or later, has a better front-facing FaceTime camera than this one.  If my smartphone has a better web cam, and costs half as much as this notebook, why do have to settle for this woefully pathetic excuse for a FaceTime camera in what is clearly a modern, advanced, technology filled device?

This clearly makes little to no sense at all.  Apple needs to correct this in the next iteration of this device, without raising its price even a penny.

Connectivity and Expandability

Notice… I did not say “upgradability.” Expandability is not upgradability.  The device itself is NOT upgradable.

Wireless connectivity is handled via 802.11AC and Bluetooth 4.0 radios on the postage stamp sized logic board.  That’s not where I’m concerned. Those features come pretty much on any and every notebook on the market today.  What I’m really speaking to here… is the lone USB-C port on the device.  Aside from a headphone jack, it’s the only hardware port on the MacBook 2015.  Let me say that again…

The lone USB-C port is the only port on the machine.

This means that you’re going to need to carry

  • A power brick
  • Some kind of USB-C docking station or hub, or
  • Dongles for everything you want to connect to

Dongles…!  Dongles everywhere! Dongles in your bag. Dongles at your desk. Dongles hanging off your nice, elegant, expensive, ultra-thin notebook.

I’ve heard many say that Apple’s embrace of USB-C is the start of the world without wires.

I disagree. That started in 2008 with the release of the iPhone 3G, at least from Apple’s perspective.

The exclusion of every other port or connector on the MacBook 2015 EXCEPT USB-C is Apple’s way of telling you that you’re likely not going to use a wired LAN line, won’t cable your iPhone to your Mac, won’t use a USB keyboard (wireless, yes… USB, no), and are likely NOT going to hook the Mac to an external monitor.  Apple is pushing portability and lapability with the MacBook 2015.

HOWEVER… if you want to use a wired LAN line, you’re going to need a USB-C to gigabit Ethernet dongle.  If you want to do that while you’re charging your MacBook, you may have a problem, unless Apple puts a USB-C female port in their charger, or gives you a way to connect both to the one port at the same time via a hub or some sort of portable docking station.

If you want to put an SD card reader on the MacBook 2015, you’re going to need to use a USB-C dongle.   If you want to connect to an external display, or to an external hard drive, or to any other external device or resource, you’re going to need to use a USB-C dongle; and again, if you want to do that while you’re charging your MacBook, you may have a problem, unless Apple puts a USB-C port in their charger, or they or a third party give you a way to connect both to the one port at the same time via a hub or some sort of portable docking station.

Apple’s going to push the wireless connectivity, but you have to wonder how that’s going to work, especially with wired LAN, external hard drive (for Time Machine, at least…) and external monitor connections.  It may simply NOT be possible… I don’t know, and very few will, until 3rd party accessory providers introduce their dongles and connectivity solutions for the MacBook 2015.

I have serious questions about use cases for this particular MacBook. While I know this device really is more of a luxury or casual use device, you have to think that users at some point are going to want to use Time Machine to back up their device, or use an external monitor and keyboard. Without a Thunderbolt Port, how does (and do they really..?) Apple envision users connecting this device to an external display?  They may not see or want that happening at all; though I have to believe that Apple wouldn’t actively prevent users of this premium ultrabook from connecting to their premium external display.  That just doesn’t make sense…unless they plan to redesign it to also include a USB-C connector that also provides power.

And cost..!

Let’s not forget about cost..!  The amount of dongles you’re likely to need isn’t going to be an economic or frugal endeavor, either.  A USB-C to USB adapter costs about $20 bucks. However, a USB-C to digital AV, multi-port adapter is $80 bucks, and has an HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port and a USB-C port (for either additional expansion or most likely…power. And while USB-C supports USB 3.1 with a bandwidth of 10Gbps (on line with Thunderbolt 1) and should be able to handle multiple devices at once, including video up to 1080p, you’re going to have to daisy chain everything off the one dongle; and that’s going to get ugly (and you should get prepared for messages from your iPhone that the accessory you have it connected to may not be supported…).

This particular device screams, “give me a docking station or give me death.” Whether that docking station is simply a build out or expansion of Apple’s $80 multiport adapter or something else from a third party, like Henge Docks, remains to be seen.

Is the new MacBook for you? Is it something you want to add to your computing toolkit? Is it the beginning of the future of (Mac and Apple) computing? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and give me your thoughts?

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Apple Event Recap

The day after the Apple Spring Forward event, what do we really know?


A lot happened at yesterday’s Apple event.  We got some updates on AppleTV, a new MacBook that’s thinner than a MacBook Air, and a ton of news about the Apple Watch.  Here’s a quick rundown of what’s known, now that the cat is out of the bag.


It’s gotten a $30USD price drop.  I’m buying at least two, I think now, for the house.  Now that they’re just $70 bucks, life can be totally cool on your TV for 30% less.  However, this is still the 3rd generation device.ookX new MacBook Air

The Apple Event didn’t mention anything about a 4th generation with any new functionality or hardware. While the device did have a price drop, exclusive HBO content, and a new software release that enabled 1080p playback, its highly anticipated next generation update is still MIA. The AppleTV has moved away from its hobby status and is now as much of a “real” product as any of Apple’s other mainstream accessories.  There’re also rumors of Apple trying to come up with a service to compete against Netflix and Hulu.  Now whether that pans out or truly ends up being a rumor remains to be seen.  In the meantime though… AppleTV’s for everyone!

To pair with your new AppleTV, Apple is partnering with HBO to bring us HBO Now.  This new streaming service will bring exclusive content to any Apple or iDevice for $15USD per month.  All you need is a broadband connection. Now, the cheaper AppleTV makes perfect sense. It also competitively prices it with other streaming boxes.


Everyone thought the 12″ Apple product was going to be an iPad.  Dubbed iPad Pro, the device was thought to be something that would compete directly with Surface Pro 3.  The end result wasn’t quite what everyone thought it would be.

Apple has revived its MacBook line with the MacBook 2015 – a Mac that is thinner and more powerful than the MacBook Air. The device is 13.1mm thin, weighs just 2 pounds and has a 12″ retina display.  Most interestingly, has better battery life than the MacBook Air.  In fact, the MacBook 2015 is nearly ALL battery.

During the reveal of the device, Apple displayed a logic board that is smaller than a 3″x5″ card.  It contains not only the CPU, but the RAM and SSD as well.  (None of these components are likely to be third party upgradable in even the REMOTEST fashion, so you REALLY need to make certain you get all that you need or think you will need when you buy the device You won’t be able to add to it later…) The only other electronics in the device (excluding the redesigned keyboard and retina display) is the new Force-Touch, touch pad.

The new Apple MacBook 2015 comes in Gold tone, Silver and Space Gray and available at $1299 and $1599 configurations (the latter having a faster processor, more RAM and a larger SSD).  Expect the MacBook 2015 to hit your Apple Online and brick and mortar Store sometime in April.



Apple’s entry into the quantitative-self market has spawned some new and creative thinking within their ranks.  How one can monitor one’s vitals, what can be monitored, and then – most importantly – how can the value of that data be maximized, is where Apple has obviously been spending a lot of time.

Apple revealed at its Spring Forward event that it’s been working with a number of different institutions on creating an opened-source framework specifically for medical research.  In conjunction with their institutional partners, Apple has release five different apps with ResearchKit, and more apps are on the way.

  • MyHeart Counts – Stanford University

This app is a personalized tool to help you measure daily activity, fitness and cardiovascular risk. It can help you understand your specific heart health or heart health risk by combining information from active participants around the world.

Specifically, it measures activity via your iPhone and Apple Watch – or any wearable device that’s linked to Apple Health.  The app can use existing medical data for blood pressure and cholesterol levels to help assess your cardiovascular health and risk for heart attack or stroke.

The app is available for free in the App Store, immediately.

  • Share the Journey – Sage Bionetworks

This app enables a medical research study trying to understand a patient’s symptoms after breast cancer treatment, why symptoms vary over time, and what can be done to improve and manage them.

Via questionnaires and phone sensor data, post treatment, persistent symptoms are tracked and reported back to the research team, including fatigue, mood and cognitive changes, sleep disturbances, and changes in exercise. You can track these and more. Both cancer patients and women without a diagnosis are encouraged to participate in the study to help see both sides of the breast cancer equation.

The app is available for free in the App Store, immediately.

  • Parkinson mPower – Sage Bionetworks

mPower is a personalized tool to help patients measure the effects and progress of the disease.

Managing daily changes in Parkinson’s is difficult, and those symptoms are often not tracked. mPower allows Parkinson’s sufferers to track tremor and vocal changes at their leisure.  Patients can also assess cognitive functionality and walking gait and report their statistics back to an anonymous, centralized server.

The app is available for free in the App Store, immediately.

  • Asthma Health – Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The app reminds patients to take their meds, helps them track their condition 24×7, review condition trends and provides feedback on those trends.  The app specifically allows you to track – daytime and nighttime asthma symptoms and how they affect your daily routine, daily use of your rescue and controller inhalers, triggers, peak flow, ER visits, medical visits, changes to medication, etc.

The app is available for free in the App Store, immediately.

  • Glucosuccess – Massachusetts General Hospital

The app helps patients with Type 2 Diabetes track their health behaviors. You can track your physical activity, diet, and the taking of your medications.  The data that you collect will be shared through the app as part of the research project, but will be anonymous.

The app also provides insights into how your health behaviors relate to blood-glucose values.

The app is available for free in the App Store, immediately.

Research kit will be available in April of 2015, but the apps listed above are available now.

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Office for Mac 2016 Public Preview

Well, it’s about frickin’ time that this got some attention…


I’m a patient person, but I’ve been waiting a LONG time for this.

Back in 2010, I was all over the beta and preview releases of Office 2011 for Mac. I’ve been an avid Office user and beta tester since the implementation of Office 95 back in 1994 and 1995. To say that I’ve been using Office since it became…Office is an understatement. Yeah… I’ve been around since the beginning.

So, back to the Office 2011 Preview for Mac – which consisted of just Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and for the first time, Outlook. The main three apps, Word, Excel and PowerPoint have their quirks, but all three are very usable. They may not look or feel like their Windows counterparts, but hey, the functionality is basically the same, if albeit a bit strangely implemented. The Office for Mac Team has been, I think, overly occupied with insuring that Office for Mac looks and feels like a real Mac app as opposed to a suite that was ported over from Windows.

Big surprise, kids… Office is a Windows suite. It’s always been a Windows suite. It’s always gonna be a Windows suite, and its origins AND its UI and are firmly rooted… in Windows. You’re just NOT going to get the UI to look and feel like a true Mac app. Get over it and move on. Folks that use Office for Windows at work want to come home and have the same UI greet them when they use Office for Mac.

They do.

Anyone who tells you differently has either a hidden agenda or is too deeply rooted in the Mac culture and ecosystem to be honest about it. (Yes, I use a Mac and OS X because I didn’t want a Window machine; but I’m not married to it, you know. I may prefer it, but I’d really rather Office look and work the way I’m used to seeing and working with it. I’m just sayin’…)

So, today, I was VERY pleased to see a write up from Mary Jo Foley on the release of the first public preview of Office 2016 for Mac. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m glad that the time is now here.

If you’re already an Office for Mac user and have Office for Mac 2011 installed, you can run it alongside of Office for Mac 2016 preview without “crossing the streams.” This is a big relief for many, as there was a great deal of confusion about the initial preview release of Outlook 2016 for Mac during the Fall of 2014. The original thought was you couldn’t run it and Outlook 2011 on the same machine. Apparently now you can.

From what I’ve been able to discover so far, Microsoft is planning on updating the suite often during the preview and will notify users of the updates automatically through the Office for Mac Auto-Update tool. So, pretty much the way we’re used to getting updates to Office; but at least the thought is… on a frequent basis. Each new preview build has a shelf life of 60 days, after which, the software will expire and not run any more. Updating to a new preview build buys you another 60 days during the Official Preview period. The final preview will function for about 30 days after the suite official RTMs.

The thought on THAT date is – some time (this) Summer 2015, several months ahead of Office 2016 for Windows (which is slotted for release during “late 2015.”

So, what do you get with the suite? I mean, besides revised/reworked versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook? Well, according to Microsoft, you get a suite that is more closely aligned with its Windows (and other platform) counterparts. It’s still supposed to look like a set of Mac apps; but will more of the same features from the Windows version. For example, you get a new Ribbon that looks like the Office for Windows Ribbon. Its tightly integrated with OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint and Office 365. It also supports Mac’s Retina Display resolutions out of the box.

Because the suite works with all flavors of OneDrive and with SharePoint, you get to access your data where ever it lives and can save it back to the same location from within the app. No more downloading a copy to your Mac, updating, saving back to SharePoint manually and then deleting the “original” so your new version is the only version there.

Office for Mac 2016 also supports Office 365 accounts, so you get cross platform access to all your stuff no matter what device you’re using. It’s obvious that Microsoft is really trying to level the playing field between all of the platforms that it supports, and that the Windows version of everything is losing its “most favored nation” status, which is a good thing. There should be a consistent level of parity between all of Microsoft’s products on every supported platform.

Microsoft Office should be Microsoft Office whether you’re on a Mac, PC, smartphone or tablet (the latter two of any and all flavors). The only things we’re missing now are Access, Publisher, Project Standard/ Professional and Visio Standard/ Professional. Publisher seems like it would be a no-brainer on the Mac. I have no idea why the app isn’t part of the Mac suite. Access, Project and Visio have well carved out spots on the enterprise side of the things.

I can see why Microsoft has dragged their feet there in the past, but Nadella’s New Microsoft shouldn’t look at those four components that way. If they’re bringing parity to all of Office where Office lives, then we’re eventually going to need those apps. I have need of both Project and Visio on my Mac right now. Publisher would be a real nice to have, and Access… well, with Bento going off the market, there’s need of a decent consumer or SOHO database app, isn’t there??

I’ve pulled down the Office for Mac 2016 Preview and I will be going through it over the next few weeks or so. I will have a review of the suite up for everyone to read as soon as I can pull it together.

download Office for Mac 2016 Public Preview

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iTunes 12 Breaks Music Organization

Apple has been having iTunes organize music the same way since the inception of iTunes. Now in version 12, it’s totally different.

I’ve been an iPod user since 2003/ 2004 time frame. I still have my 60 GB Click Wheel iPod. It’s in great shape and still plays music well. The battery is in decent shape, too; so if I had to, I could cart it around without constantly searching for a power outlet or USB port. I still make certain that it’s as updated as it can be. You have no idea when you might need a portable hard drive with all your music on it…

I’ve really invested in the Apple ecosystem, too. Actually, that’s an understatement… I jumped into the deep end of the pool with both feet. I’ve got almost 600 movies and over 50 TV shows (multiple seasons on some, not many…but some). I’ve got 65GB just in music and audio alone. When you’re looking at 4-6MB per song, that’s a lot of songs to get to 65GB.

There’s been an influx of Apple gear in my house thanks to Gazelle and No More Rack and the recent Christmas Holiday. I’ve got at least two new Macs and two new iPad mini’s in the house that need to be connected to Apple services, including iTunes and iCloud. I’ve had reason to setup new devices and new Macs in existing iTunes and iCloud accounts, and honestly, I’m not a happy person right now.

That may be just me, as I did cut my teeth on DOS/Windows and on the Microsoft side of the world, but I’ve recently noticed that the latest version of iTunes has changed the way it organizes the music library.


In previous versions of iTunes, when you checked the option to have the app automatically organize your music library (it actually organizes your whole media library on your computer, including music, movies, TV shows, etc.), it organized the media in the following folder tree:

iTunes Music

<Media Type>

                        <Sub-Organizer 1>

                                                        <Sub-Organizer 2>

                                                                                        <Media File>

So for Music, this would translate to

iTunes Music


<Artist Name>

                        <Album Name>


For TV Shows, this would translate to

ITunes Music

TV Shows

<TV Show Name>

                               <Season #> (where # is the number of the season)


In the current version of iTunes, the middle, organizing folders have been removed. This means that for music, the Album folders have been removed, so, all of the songs you have for a given artist, coming with all the songs from all of their albums. For TV Shows, this means that every episode of every TV show is stored in a single TV Show Name folder.

Now… you HAVE to be asking yourself, “Why do I care?”

That’s a GREAT QUESTION. Here’s why – It’s totally screwed up my local copy of my EXTENDED iTunes Media Library.

While iCloud is GREAT, the key word in its name is – CLOUD. The big problem of backup and access TO the cloud is still a concern for a great many people, and quite honestly not ubiquitous and totally NOT trustworthy, even in a large metropolitan area like suburban Chicago. I’ve also got TERABYTES of media; and that’s not something that I want to have to rely on internet access to get access to; and I always download a copy of anything that I buy so that I don’t have to rely on the internet or to any other service. Having a local copy on my home network also backs up a copy for me… AND because MacBook Pro’s, MacBook Airs, and Mac mini’s no longer come with upgradable storage, I don’t keep everything I buy on my Mac.

As soon as I download a copy of anything in iTunes, I copy it to my NAS and make a backup copy. That’s just smart computing.

The problem now, though, is that the new file structure doesn’t mesh with the old file structure, and I’ve got shows copying to show folders and not in season specific folders. I’ve got a huge mess of a movie folder on Mac that now copies movies to the root of my movies folder on my NAS.

Now, after I make any new iTunes content purchases, I have to go into iTunes, find out where iTunes has stored it, move it to match the folder structure of all the content on my NAS and THEN copy over the backup. This is a huge increase in overhead, and a change that totally screws up a bunch of stuff on my network. I have to ask, WHY did you do this, Apple, especially without telling anyone?

I’ve been being a good Apple boy. I’ve been resisting to organize my iTunes library myself and have been letting iTunes organize it for me. Part of the reason why this worked for me and was so easy to accept was the fact that they organized it exactly the way I would have done it, if I organized it myself. The obsessive-compulsive, anal retentive organizer within me now screams every time I download new content.

I think what’s bothering me the most is that the change in this is unannounced, and for me to follow the Apple “company line,” I’d have to reorganize my entire extended library and I really don’t want to. I don’t want to do that not only because it’s a huge amount of work with very little return in value, but also because the new organization structure is not what I want. I want what I had. I want it the way it was. The new “organization” method that iTunes does on its own creates a huge mess…

Am I alone in this? Am I the only one that’s noticed this? Have you noticed the change? Does it matter to you? Am I the only anal retentive nut job out there that keeps a local copy of their extended iTunes media library? I really can’t think that I am…

What are your thoughts on this change? Does it matter to you? Do you have a local copy of your extended iTunes library, or do you totally rely on iCloud to get you access to content you’ve removed from your iDevice, Mac or PC? I’d really love to hear what you have to say on this, as I’d like to know how big of an issue this is for everyone. Have you looked it up in Apple’s Support Forum? Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your thoughts on this?

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FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 2


In part one of this first entry into a much larger series, I talked about Microsoft Band and the hardware that it uses to track your physical activity. In part two of this first leg, I’ll deal with the software, the additional issues and problems I’ve encountered while using it, and then I’ll wrap everything up.

Software and Interfaces


I’ll get into Microsoft Health in a minute, but I have to say something here, that’s bothered me since I started wearing Band – The information that it tracks and collects isn’t stored in Apple Health. Its stored in Microsoft’s proprietary program. The app doesn’t share or swap data with Apple Health, and it really seems like it should. Some of what it does can’t be done in Apple Health, and that’s fine, but there really should be a way to have data from your iPhone and the data from your Band work and play well together, especially where Microsoft Health falls short – like on climbing stairs.

MH-02 MH-03

Microsoft Health tracks the steps you take.

Exercise and Run/Walk Tracking
Unfortunately for me – and I say unfortunately, because I’ve got moderate to severe asthma and COPD – running for recreation isn’t an option any longer. I ran cross country in high school; but running isn’t too much of an option any more. Walking is ok, but I have to watch distance and exertion levels. The last thing I need to do to myself is work it too hard and then have an asthma attack. Those can get bad…


That being said, this is a difficult section for me to write. I’m gaining weight, so obviously I need to move more and eat less, but finding an exercise program that will raise cardio up to a good level without sending me to the ER is an issue. Walking is best, and walking with a purpose has always been my style anyway. I have a long stride and a pretty quick pace, which, for a guy with rheumatoid arthritis on top of it all, is pretty good. As I said in the Hardware section, above, I can do elliptical workouts, but I really have to watch…
Now… how does Band help in my particular situation? It needs to keep me moving. Tim Cook said recently that sitting is the new cancer; and he’s likely right.


Over time, you see how much you’re moving…or how much more you need to move.

With Microsoft Band, in order to track exercise and workouts – which is a key, core function of the device – you have to tell it that you want to start that type of tracking. Turn the device on, scroll over to either the Run or Exercise tile and tap it. Press the Action button (the one under the flashing down arrow on the bottom right corner of Band’s screen) and Band will begin tracking the workout. When you’re done, like you do with Sleep, you have to tell Band you’re done, so, turn it on again and hit the Action button. Band will ask you if you want to stop. Tap the Yes button on the screen, and Band will display a summary of the workout.

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FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 1




When I was a kid, I was always skinny. When I was a young, married adult, I was always skinny. In fact, I was 135 pounds (61.24 kilos) until I was about 35. I was skinny my entire life until we moved from Chicago to Nashville in 2000 where I had a group of kind hearted, good natured rednecks introduce me to the REAL meaning of fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.

Now, I’m a fat slob. I should never have learned the recipe.

My weight jumped from 135 pounds to about 170 pounds (77.11 kilos). After I turned 40, I began fluctuating between 170 and 180 pounds (81.65 kilos). Now that I’m nearly 50 (Lord, that seems so OLD!), I’m weighing in at a hefty 191 pounds (86.64 kilos); and I lost my feet. I think they’re still attached and below me because I haven’t fallen down yet.

My wife has been wanting to lose some medically added weight for a number of years and I’m finally ready to get rid of the inner tube around my waist, so for Christmas in 2014, I purchased both of us a Microsoft Band at a local brick and mortar location near the office.

Microsoft’s first entry into the wearables market is a smartwatch and fitness band unremarkably named, Microsoft Band. Microsoft Band is really the FIRST commercially available, actual and totally genuine, platform independent Smartwatch available on the market today; and it’s all about the quantitative self – the end user’s need/ want/ desire to learn more about how much calories they’re burning, how far they’ve walked or run on a given day, what their active and resting heartbeats are like, etc.

This review is part one of a four part series. I’m reviewing the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge and the Apple Watch (when its released, currently expected in April of 2015). The last part will be a round-up based article where I will try to compare and contrast the good and the bad of all three to help everyone pick the device that’s the best for them.

For now, let’s sit down (or, perhaps a more appropriate colloquialism would be, “let’s get up and jump around”) and really take a look at how the Microsoft Band works (or doesn’t).


Microsoft Band is an interesting accessory. The design is a bit on the rigid side, however…and there are some strange and curious design decisions that were made, that are clearly evident, as you become more and more familiar with the device.

For example – the device isn’t water proof or even water resistant. That last one really is confusing. Depending on how hydrated you are, or like to be during a workout, you can sweat. Not to be gross or anything, but I’ve been in karate classes where I’ve soaked a gi. I’ve done walk or elliptical workouts where I’ve been equally as sweaty; and I’m certain I’m not alone.

Microsoft Band may be encased in rubber and plastic; but there are many seams in the device where it’s easy for water to get in. I do not understand why Microsoft would make and market a device that’s meant to get somewhat wet (with sweat at least) and not make it water resistant at least. Microsoft says Band is “splash resistant” meaning that if you accidentally splash water on it, it’s likely to survive, but you’re going to want to wipe it up right away.

However, you should not swim, shower or do any other kind of activity (like run any kind of marathon or other activity where you’re going to potentially pour water on yourself or get wet) while wearing Band. You’ll ruin it.

Totally the most stupid design decision I’ve heard or seen on an exercise and activity band… Why in the WORLD is this thing not water resistant at least?! I can understand the issue of being water proof… they may have issues with the heart rate sensor and such; but if Band has issues with excessive amounts of sweat and other moisture, how useful is the device going to be, REALLY?? This is a huge hole that really needs to get resolved in future hardware updates of Band.

Wearability and Usability

Microsoft Band is VERY bulky. Aside from the lack of water resistance, this is probably the device’s biggest issue and problem. As you can see from some of the graphics and photographs of the device, its thick, its bulky and very inflexible.

I’ve been wearing the device daily since Christmas Day 2014, as of this writing. There have been times when Band has loosened on my wrist, and has turned at an awkward angle. Due to its rigidity, its pressed against my wrist bones and can be very painful to wear.

I’ve also heard people say that it’s very difficult to sleep with because it’s so bulky. This hasn’t been my experience. The only problem that I’ve had sleeping with the device is when I forget to turn sleep monitoring on. I have the device in Watch Mode (it displays the date and time in a dim, white font when Watch Mode is turned on), and the screen never turns off when it’s in Watch Mode. While the full graphic and color screen isn’t active unless the device is actually “on,” Watch Mode is none-the-less, very bright at 2:37am, and has woken both me and my wife up from a sound sleep because its shining in our eyes. Obviously, during the day, and in bright sunlight, the Band’s Watch Mode isn’t very bright at all, and is in some cases, difficult to read, but in a dark theatre or other dimly lit area, it can be brighter than you think. If you’re using Watch Mode, as I am, and NOT using the sleep functions, you’re likely going to want to remove Band and charge it overnight. As I said, even its dim, Watch Mode, the display is VERY bright in a dark room.


Microsoft Band does notifications rather well. The only other smartwatch that I’ve seen so far that does them as well or better is my Pebble Steel; and that’s feeling very, VERY tired and old (and it’s not even a year old yet). That’s both good and bad for Pebble, as they seem to understand what Notifications can and should do on a smartwatch (dismissing also deletes, and you can send a call to VM, directly from the watch). It’s bad because some of this really shouldn’t be old and long in the tooth at just shy of a year old, but that’s technology and Moore’s Law for you…

However, with the Microsoft Health software on your smartphone, you can configure Microsoft Band to send over every single notification that hits your phone (via Band’s Notification Center widget), or you can choose any number of predefined notifications, for example – Facebook, Mail, Calendar, phone calls, etc.

If you enable Band’s Notification Center, then don’t have it send over notifications for any of the other specific tiles like Messaging, Mail, Calendar, etc. You’re just going to get duplicate notifications that you’ll either need to clear or allow to expire when they hit your Band. The only thing about this is that Notification Center then becomes a huge dumping ground for duplicate notifications, and going through more than a handful at a time is messy.

The big problem with notifications on Microsoft Band is that even if you dismiss them when they pop up on Band, they don’t dismiss from your smartphone; and they also never leave your band, either. You can dismiss the notification, but there’s no real way of deleting a notification from Band, that I can find at least.

I’m hoping this is simply a work in progress and that Microsoft will soon have a software update for Band that will resolve some of this. Notifications can be really cool, but the hodge-podge of a mess that you have in Notification Center really needs to be addressed (the simple fix is that if you have both Notification Center and any of the other app/ notification specific tiles turned on, they don’t show up in Notification Center; but that’s just a start…)


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iCloud and iCloud Drive Could Be Awesome!

If Apple gave the storage space away…

icloud-apple-logoI’ve recently been mucking around with my Mac and iCloud Drive and have come to a very logical conclusion – iCloud and iCloud Drive could be the service that corners the consumer cloud service market…but only if it gives the storage space away.

I’ve been using cloud storage services for a number of years. A few years ago, I wrote an article that was posted on Information Week; but has since been outdated and the post removed. I recreated it on my blog, iTechGear; and you can see all of the original post, here. Cloud-based storage was big in 2011. Its big now.

Dropbox still only offers you 2GB of free storage (don’t get me started on how far behind the times, that amount is…). However, if you want to upgrade to a full terabyte of storage, you can do that for $10 bucks a month. Google Drive offers a similar plan. Microsoft OneDrive offers unlimited storage to anyone with an Office 365 subscription.

That’s all well and good, but it isn’t as elegant and as integrated a solution as Apple’s iCloud. Their solution is integrated into the OS . Its integrated into all of their computers and devices; and… it totally blows, because it’s totally too expensive.

Here’s what’s killing me about it all…

Default Storage Size

Only 5GB..? REALLY?! What, is this 2010, still?

Look, if you’re going to charge people for storage, then you have to do better than just 5GB as a starting point. The entire world seems to be moving people to a cloud based storage model. There are a number of different cloud storage options still around today, and when you only offer 5GB to start me off, then you are really looking for me to find someplace else to keep my stuff. When I have a 64GB iPhone, thinking that 5GB of free storage is going to be enough for me to back up a device, isn’t silly… its verging on stupid. There is NO WAY that 5GB is going to be enough, and Apple wants to charge a bit for its larger storage options.

While the next tier up is 20GB for only $0.99 per month (not bad for a paid tier; but still not enough when you have a 64GB, with you all the time, digital camera and internet communications device). Apple’s next paid step is 200GB for $10 per month. That same $10 per month can buy you 1TB of storage from Google Drive and UNLIMITED storage from Microsoft (and includes a “free” Office 365 subscription).

Fellow iBlogger Jonny Evans asks a GREAT question (and I’m paraphrasing, here…) – why doesn’t Apple give you at least 5GB of storage with every iDevice you buy and register with Apple and your iCloud account? It’s a GREAT question; but hold that thought for a moment…

Photos – You’re going to Break the iCloud Drive Bank
iphotoiconApple currently has OS X 10.10.3 in beta right now. That beta release has a beta version of Apple’s new iPhoto and Aperture replacement – Photos. The app uses iCloud and iCloud Drive to store photos by default. When you do that… and if you’ve got a large photo library, you’re going to max out your storage allotment before you can blink.

I think Apple is going to have a HUGE problem with the implementation and release of Photos to the general public. While most of what they sell are considered premium products, the entire world is working overtime to support the purchase of an iPhone and MacBook/iPad combination. Photos is a prime editing candidate for these folks, but without enough online storage, the whole effort is going to be a bust with each endpoint implementation.

That’s fancy IT talk for, “your average user won’t be able to make proper use of the app because they won’t have enough online storage.”

Money to Burn
Now, let’s get back to that Jonny Evans question… And, let’s face it – Apple has money to burn. They have over $173B USD in liquid cash as of this writing, and could perhaps buy most of Greece with that amount of cash (though, not all of it…they’d need at least $200B USD more…). With money on THAT scale, I am left wondering why they are charging their customers – owners of MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, iPods, etc. – any kind of fee AT ALL for iCloud or iCloud Drive storage.

I know that all iTunes purchases are automatically stored in iCloud; and that that storage is unlimited. You can pull content down or stream content to your iDevice any time you want; but if I had a dollar for every time my wife’s iPhone told me that it couldn’t back up the contents of the device automatically to iCloud because her account didn’t have enough storage, I’d be rich myself.

But, isn’t this the right thing to do? Giving away iCloud storage, I mean….

I mean, I know Apple’s products are enticing. As I said, nearly the entire world is trying to figure out how to score enough cash to purchase the iDevice of their choice; but wouldn’t free, unlimited cloud-based storage be exactly what the organization needs to provide to make them the slam-dunk, no brainer choice for everyone and for everything you do with a computer?

I know I’d be much more inclined to choose an Apple based solution if I was in the market for a computer, tablet or smartphone, if I knew that the purchase also got me access to unlimited, free cloud-based storage. Wouldn’t you..??

That’s the computing age I want to play in. That’s the kind of, “we’ve got money to burn, so let’s do something that benefits not only our shareholders, but all of our users as well,” action that gets you written down in the history books…and it would make iCloud and iCloud Drive a slam dunk, absolute no-brainer for absolutely everything you did online…and the simple thought of Apple doing this should make companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft quake in their boots.

What do you think?

Am I on the right track here? Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Would it create any anti-trust issues for Apple? If you weren’t an Apple user, would you want to switch to an Apple product to get access to unlimited cloud storage? Why don’t you chime in, in the discussion area below and let me know what you think? If you have a different or better idea, I’d love to hear about it!

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Keep your computer malware free with Avira Free Antivirus

Keep your computer malware free with this platform independent scanning utility.


Keeping your PC free of malware – either a virus or something that invades your privacy and steals your personal information – is a difficult job. The amount of malware on the internet today is staggering. Its difficult to go anywhere or do anything without putting you, your information and your bank and credit accounts at risk. This is one of the reasons why I really suggest using some kind of malware scanner with your computer.  Its becoming a must have; and applications like Avira Free Antivirus are a good candidate for bringing safety and reliability to your computing experience.

Avira Free Antivirus offers effective protection against computer viruses on a single PC or Mac workstation. The app detects and removes more than 50,000 viruses.  An Internet-Update Wizard updates both app and virus definitions. Avira’s built in resident Virus Guard monitors file movements automatically, for example, when downloading content from the internet. Heuristic scanning also provides Protection against previously unknown macro viruses.

Avira Free Antivirus runs silently in the background while stopping Internet attacks before they infect your computer. Its lightweight footprint means you’ll never have to choose between security and performance.  The app analyzes any file the system accesses and is completely configurable for on-demand searches for known viruses and malware when you suspect something isn’t quite right.

When the app does find something that it doesn’t like, the file is immediately quarantined, and offers you one-click repairs, if possible.  Avira Antivirus also has an integrated scheduler that will automate recurring tasks, like updates or scans to help insure that your computer stays bug free.

I’ve been a serious computer user since 1995. Throughout the years, I’ve had maybe, one or two serious malware infections.  I mean, who hasn’t been bitten at least once?  Most often the best course of action is to recover what you can and then blow your system and start over.  That… however can be problematic for many. Not everyone has the time, patience or skill to do that all the time.

When you don’t, its good to have tools like Avira Antivirus.  I use both Mac and Windows systems for both my day job and my night job.  Its nice to have the same branded solution on both of the platforms that I use. That’s a huge plus.  The biggest issue that you have though is cost.

On the Mac side, where there really isn’t an AV scanner at the OS level, having something on your Mac is a great idea, and important if you frequent sites that are less than on the up and up.  On the Windows side, its getting harder and harder to justify any other malware scanner other than Windows Defender, as it is free, and integrated directly into the OS.  There has been a huge push on both platforms towards unpaid malware solutions since 2009 or so.

This app is great on the Mac side and good on the Windows side as well.  Paying for the app on either platform is a bit pricey.  At €30 or $34 USD, its pricey for a paid desktop app. However, the biggest question you have ask yourself is – if I don’t have an antimalware app, is running without one worth saving $35 bucks?  The answer should be, “no;” but only you can answer that. The free version does a good job, and is worth using.



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