First Impressions – iPhone 8 Plus

Here are my initial impressions of one of Apple’s newest iPhones…

Introduction
Recently, due to an unfortunate turn of events where my oldest son dropped his iPhone 6s Plus, I was forced to purchase an iPhone 8 Plus recently. Sometimes having a pre-teen/ young teenager carrying a flagship level smartphone can be a bit problematic. Having a device is a case helps protect against shattered screens, but even then, they aren’t foolproof. You can still end up with a shattered screen despite your best efforts.

The situation with my oldest son is a great example of how sometimes, the universe just seems to be working against you no matter how hard you try. He dropped his protected iPhone 6s Plus and the screen shattered. I had the choice of replacing it via insurance claim or paying the AT&T Next acquired device off and upgrading to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. (As a brief aside, upgrading to the iPhone X was out of the question… I’m not paying $999 for a phone. EVER. It’s just not an option, especially when it’s THIS close to the Holidays, and you’re a new grandparent.) The prices in this scenario – insurance claim vs. upgrade – were nearly identical, so… it seemed the better, more prudent thing to do to purchase the upgrade on his account rather than pay the same amount of money for two year old technology.

Through the magic of SIM card swapping, my son ended up with my mint condition iPhone and I ended up with the new iPhone 8 Plus. Here are my initial thoughts on the device. If you recall, I covered this subject shortly after Apple announced both the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and iPhone X in September 2017.

Honestly, after hearing the details and writing this article, I wasn’t going to bother with the iPhones announced this year. It didn’t seem worth the cost at the time; but since I got forced into it… here I am.

To get started, here, in no particular order, are what I would consider to be the major differences between the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus:

• The iPhone 8 Plus features an all-glass design with an aero-grade aluminum chassis in between. The iPhone 7 Plus features a unibody aluminum body
• The iPhone 8 Plus also supports Qi wireless charging
• The iPhone 8 Plus’ Retina HD display supports True Tone display technology. The display automatically tweaks the white balance to improve readability depending on the ambient lighting
• The iPhone 8 Plus is powered by Apple’s 6-core A11 Bionic chip. The iPhone 7 Plus is powered by Apple’s A10 Fusion chip.
• The iPhone 8 Plus is available in 64GB and 256GB storage variants. The iPhone 7 Plus comes in 32GB and 128GB variants
• The iPhone 8 Plus can record 4K videos at 60fps and Full HD videos at 240fps. The iPhone 7 Plus can record 4K videos at 30fps and Full HD videos at 120fps

My initial impressions and analysis of each of these are below. There’s not a lot here to distinguish the 8/ 8 Plus from the 7/ 7 Plus. The devices are visually identical, except for their body construction. However, you really have to look at the back of each device to be able to tell them apart.

The Full 360
Here are some comparison photos of the iPhone 8 Plus next to an iPhone 7 Plus. My guess is that without me telling you which was which, you wouldn’t be able to tell…

DSC_5532
The fronts of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. The devices look identical. The only way to tell them apart from the front (without turning the devices on) is by hands on inspection.

The backs of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. Here, you can see a difference. The iPhone 8 Plus’ back is covered in glass where the iPhone 7 Plus clearly is not.

The left edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.
DSC_5535
The top edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. There is a SLIGHT color difference between the matte black of the iPhone 7 (top) and the space gray of the iPhone 8 (bottom); but that’s likely just the lighting in my kitchen…

The right edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.

The bottom edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. Here, the color difference between the two is a little easier to see.

Storage Space

The change that is probably the most noticeable, believe it or not, is the storage size difference. There’s no longer a 128GB variation in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. To be honest, since I had to buy a new device, I decided I didn’t want to spend the extra $150 for the 256GB variant. However, when you’re coming from 128GB, going back to 64GB can be a bit painful. While this is not what I wanted to do, moving to 256GB was not worth the extra cost to me. So, I settled for the 64GB variant and am streaming a lot more content than I was prior to purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus.

Display
The True Tone Retina Display is really very, very good. However, the impact of this white balance method is completely lost on EVERYONE about five minutes after the initial setup of the device.

During setup, you’re given the ability to turn True Tone on or off. You’re also given a button that allows you to see how the screen will look with the feature on and then again with the feature off. While the screen looks MUCH better with True Tone turned on, you forget that its turned on. You don’t have anything that continually reminds you of the feature’s effect when its turned on. This is a set it and forget it feature; and honestly this is exactly what Apple wants to have happen.

Chipset – A11 Bionic
The same can be said for the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus’ A11 Bionic chip. You notice the speed difference for about a couple hours after upgrading. The next day, it’s all business as usual. The performance difference is going to be very noticeable when it comes to VR and AI headsets and apps; but other than that, you aren’t really going to notice the performance bump later on. After the “newness” wears off, this is going to appear as business as usual.

4K Video Frame Rates
You do notice the 4K video frame rate differences, especially on larger displays (like your desktop monitor), as the video filmed on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus will appear much smoother.

Body Construction – Glass vs. Airplane Grade Aluminum
The body differences are TOTALLY noticeable; but really only from the back. You REALLY need a case on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is very difficult to hold on to due to the glass back and smoother, metal sides. If you don’t have something with a bit of “stick-’em” on it, you’re gonna drop the phone at some point. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve nearly done it three to four times in the few days that I’ve had the device. Since the body is covered in glass with an aluminum underbody, as soon as it hits the ground, it’s going to shatter into a million pieces. Save your phone. Put it in a case that’s going to provide decent protection.

Wireless Charging
The go-to feature is the Qi compatible wireless/ cableless charging. I’ve been able to confirm that it works with just about any and every Qi compatible charging system available. This includes any cheap Chinese aftermarket systems as well as Samsung’s wireless charging system for the Galaxy 8 and 8XL smartphone, which is kinda cool. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Apple’s larger charging mat. I prefer the cradle like system for the Samsung Galaxy 8/8XL.

Conclusion
So where does this leave me..? That’s a great question.

First and foremost, I won’t be purchasing an iPhone X, especially after purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus. I don’t have the funds to do so, and wouldn’t, to be very honest, on my own. At nearly $1000 USD for the entry level model, the phone isn’t reasonably priced or realistically affordable for anyone on any kind of family plan with their carrier of choice.

Now, let’s talk about the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8 Plus is a decent phone to be certain; but I stand by my original assessment of the device – if you don’t HAVE to upgrade, you may want to wait for Apple’s next iteration of iPhone, due out some time next year. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is, in my opinion, just too similar to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus. But that is Apple’s M.O. – evolution rather than revolution.

The wireless charging is really cool; and will be something that you really prefer doing and using, say at the office or by your bedside, especially if you use your device as an alarm clock to wake yourself in the morning for work or school. However, it’s not a killer, must have, do or die feature. It’s a convenience.

And that can probably sum up the entire iPhone 8/ 8 Plus experience for me – upgrading has been a convenience for me, and not much more.

The cost of the device – as well as the cost of the iPhone X, in my opinion – is bordering on excessive. The 64GB version is now “affordable” at $800 plus tax; and the 256GB version is just below crazy-stupid (at least from my perspective) at $950 plus tax. Here in Chicago that put things at $870 bucks and $1018 bucks respectively after taxes; or about $27 a month and $35 a month, respectively.

I’m shaking my head as I write this. Apple has almost completely priced me and my family out of the iPhone entirely. We used to be able to upgrade devices every two years or so (AT&T’s standard upgrade cycle is 30 months or 2.5 years). Now, it seems as though we’re going to have to make those last a lot longer than just two and a half years. Even with AT&T Next, the monthly costs for a new device are just not sustainable when you have to cover costs for four to five different devices. When you’re looking at a monthly cost of $35 to $40 per device, I’m looking at $150 – $200 per month just for devices… and I haven’t even begun to cover the cost of a voice and data plan for them yet. After all is said and done, I’m looking at nearly $425 a month, which is just crazy. Who does that just for mobile phones..?!

It truly does appear that after phones get paid off, the family is going to have to learn to live them for a while. So, my son is going to have to make this one last more than a year. Its either that, or he’s going to end up with a flip phone (or maybe a Windows Phone… I think both are just about equal when it comes to apps and functionality at this point.)

However, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on all of this. Did you upgrade to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? Did you opt for an iPhone X? Are you sticking with what you’ve got for now and upgrading later? Are you just sick of all the evolutionary updates out of Apple and have you decided to jump ship?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your take on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? I’d love to hear from you!

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Jelly – The World’s Smallest 4G/LTE Smartphone

After successful campaigns on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Jelly is finally available!
Jelly

Back in the day, small but functional was the thing. One handed operation on any PDA or smartphone was not only important, it was imperative. Back in the early 2000’s, if you couldn’t fully operate your phone with one hand, it wouldn’t make it. I remember reviewing one or two phones who stretched this a bit and didn’t do very well. Back in the day, large screens were a no-no.

Today, the world is all about bigger screens for video purposes. In fact, the larger the screen, the better (without really being a tablet…). However, when you do this, you lose some portability and convenience. Enter Jelly… an Android phone that tries to go a long way to resolve this issue.

 

Unihertz sponsored two crowd funding campaigns – one on Kickstarter, the other on Indegogo. Together, Jelly was able to raise nearly $3M in funding.

Jelly is meant to be an “alternative” to your usual phone that you can use while working out or maybe going out for the night. The device, according to Unihertz isn’t supposed to be your primary phone, despite the fact that its running Android 7, Nougat.

Measuring 92.3 x 43 x 13.3 mm, Jelly sports a 2.45-inch screen with 240 x 432 pixels. Jelly is powered by a quad-core 1.1 GHz processor, with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of ROM or 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB ROM. Both models feature two cameras, dual SIM support, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 950 mAh battery.

According to Unihertz, with only a 950mAh battery, the device won’t last all day long, and you shouldn’t rely on it as your only device. This means that you’re likely going to need to swap your SIM card in and out in order to make this work as intended. From my perspective, 950mAh isn’t ideal, but it isn’t horrible. Back in the day, a battery this small was often encountered and just meant that you will need to charge it periodically, if possible.

However, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. I have a Jelly Pro (2GB RAM/16GB ROM (for storage)) coming to me to review. I expect it to be here some time in November 2017. I’ll have additional spec and performance information in the review, and I will also do an unboxing video as well.

Stay tuned!

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Microsoft releases firmware updates for Surface Book and Pro 4

Its been a long time coming for Surface Book and Pro 4 owners…

When the Microsoft’s Surface Book was originally introduce, most of the pundits in the industry, me included, declared it a total non-starter. It had a boat load of issues, and none of them were getting resolved quickly. I had declared that the Book was a disaster, and that I wouldn’t consider getting one any time soon. Its funny how things can change; but it wasn’t right away; and wasn’t without a number of firmware and system/ driver updates that didn’t come anywhere NEAR the mark.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4Thankfully, Microsoft finally DID figure it out; and they were able to get past some of the bigger problems plaguing the ground breaking ultrabook line. Keeping with a series of updates that, in recent releases have made the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 better than ever, Microsoft released a series of system based, firmware and driver updates for both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. This is a key update for the Surface Book, however, as it hasn’t had the regular updates that the Pro 4 has had. It hasn’t had any updates released for it in nearly six months.

Here’s what’s new for the Surface Book:

Windows Update History Name Device Manager Name
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) AVStream Camera 2500 – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) AVStream Camera 2500 – Sound, video and GC
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Microsoft Camera Front – System – 3.0.0.0 Microsoft Camera Front – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Microsoft Camera IR Front – System – 3.0.0.0 Microsoft Camera IR Front – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) Control Logic – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) Control Logic – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) CSI2 Host Controller – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) CSI2 Host Controller – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Intel(R) Imaging Signal Processor 2500 – System – 3.0.0.0 Intel(R) Imaging Signal Processor 2500 – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Intel Corporation driver update for Microsoft Camera Rear – System – 3.0.0.0 Microsoft Camera Rear – System device
30.15063.10999.4731 Improves camera stability.
Surface – System – 1.0.85.1 Surface Camera Windows Hello – System device
1.0.85.1 Improves camera stability.

 

Here’s what’s been updated for the Surface Pro 4:

Windows Update History Name Device Manager Name
Surface driver update for Surface Embedded Controller Firmware – System – 3.0.0.0 Surface Embedded Controller Firmware – Firmware
103.1791.258.0 Improves device reliability.
Surface driver update for Surface Integration – System – 3.0.0.0 Surface Integration – System device
1.0.170.0 Improves device reliability.

All of the updates are available via Windows Update on any Surface Book or Surface Pro 4 running Windows 10. However, the Surface Pro 4 update can be downloaded here. The Surface Book update can be downloaded here.

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UPDATE – Another one Bites the Dust – So Long Olio

I have a small update to this post…

I’ve always liked watches, but it appears I’m a much bigger watch geek than I thought I was. I’m still watching, still waiting for something to come out of Olio; and like most of what’s going on in wearable tech today, I continue to get disappointed.

If you click on the link, above, you’ll be taken to all that’s left of Olio’s website – an HTTP403 Forbidden error.

olio forbidden

As I write this on the eve of Apple’s Fall iPhone event, its nice to know that Apple will be releasing – or at least announcing the release – of watchOS 4 tomorrow. The Olio Model One, while nearly almost completely devoid of its original functionality (except anything that is directly provided by its connection with your mobile device, like notifications, phone and music control), remains a favorite of mine. It looks really nice and it still tells time. However, I’ve noticed that lack of a connection to my iPhone causes it to fall behind as far as telling time is concerned… which is very confusing… There appears to be a LOT of communication going on between the Olio Model One and my iPhone that I – and likely EVERYONE else wasn’t aware of.

I told the sad tale of how Olio died about a month ago. You can see that article here. Unfortunately, at this point… things are worse.

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OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

For those that have the right equipment, this TB3 dock has a lot to offer…

http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/05/14/review—owc-thunderbolt-3-dock-is-the-only-game-in-town-for-firewire-800

Introduction
As I mentioned in my Mid 2017 MacBook Pro Review in the USB-C Ports section, you’re really going to want some kind of docking station for working with Apple’s new notebooks featuring their TouchBar (and those without…).

Over the years, I’ve found that having a docking station for my notebook computer is important. I hate plugging and chugging cables in and out of my notebook computer when I want to compute on the go; and I’ve found that doing so – plugging and unplugging cables in and out of a notebook – can actually be damaging to both the PC and the cables. At some point, you’re going to rush, and you’re going to tweak either a port or a cable, and then it won’t work right any longer. That can get expensive if it’s the PC or very inconvenient if it’s a cable you have to replace.

A little more than a year and a half ago, I reviewed the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock for 15″ MacBook Retina. The dock was awesome and to be honest, the type of dock that I really wanted for my family member for use with their Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro, but when we purchased the notebook back in June, the USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 version of the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock wasn’t supposed to be available for purchase until September 2017. Well, September 2017 is here, and the dock… well, it isn’t.

Thankfully, I got rescued by OWC and their Thunderbolt 3 Dock. It’s one of the best and most affordable Thunderbolt 3 docks available today.

As I noted in my Mid 2017 MacBook Pro Review, the notebook in and of itself is missing a LOT of ports. While it has four (4) USB-C ports that also support Thunderbolt 3, finding the peripherals you need that will work through these ports – keyboard, mouse, thumb drives, your phone, etc. – don’t actually exist yet. While all of these peripherals are available, they don’t have USB-C ports yet, and as such, aren’t supported natively on the Mid 2017 MacBook Pro.

Ports o’ Plenty
Thankfully, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock resolves all this. It has thirteen (13) ports, to provide you with all of the legacy connectivity you need. It has

• 5 USB-A 3.1 Ports, including 2 high power ports
• 1 S/PDF Out Port
• 1 Fire wire 800 Port
• 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port
• 2 USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 Ports
• 1 miniDisplay Port Port
• 1 SD Card Reader Port
• 1 Audio Out Port

owc-thunderbolt-3-dock-sg-ports-ms@2x

The nice thing here, is that if you find you need more ports than are offered on this dock, you can daisy chain another hub or dock to the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock either via one of the High Power USB-A 3.1 Ports, or one of the USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 ports. So, the dock is expandable, if you will. This is important, in that you may have more than five USB-A peripherals, for example. I know that I do. Between printers (plural) a DVD-R/W drive, desktop storage, a keyboard and dedicated ports for my phone, DSLR, Apple Watch and even my Firewire 800 powered Time Machine Drive.

Connectivity and Speed
When connecting devices to these ports, you’re going to be very pleased and very surprised. Nearly everything works with nearly every device in both macOS and Windows (under Boot Camp). However, you’ll find that the dock’s Firewire port will not work under Boot Camp, so, it won’t work with your Mac’s ability to boot into native Windows.

The ports that do work, however, work; and work very well. Thunderbolt 3 supports up to 40Gbps (gigabits per second). In reality when working with other USB 3.1 related devices, however, you’ll get about 10Gbps. It’s hard to know just how fast drive or data transfer rates will be for things like a USB 2.0 compatible thumb drive, but trust me… you’re really going to be impressed. When moving large data files, I was getting speeds equivalent to 80MBps (megabytes per second). This converts to about 0.625Gbps or 640Mbps (megabits per second). In comparison, some of the best REAL internet download speeds I’ve ever seen have been in the range of 150 – 195Mbps, and those downloads were lightning quick… LITERALLY. You’ll be able to copy large movie files in minutes instead of 30+ minutes or more to and from locally connected media.

The Dock also comes with an SD card reader. This is a huge deal, as nearly every Mac laptop has had an SD card slot for the last ten or so years. The fact that the MacBook Pro no longer has one is a huge issue in my mind. The fact that the dock has one makes it all that much more valuable. Its fast, too. When you pair Thunderbolt 3 speeds with this card slot, you get a really wonderful, really fast connectivity solution.

Conclusion
I’ve used a number of different docks and docking stations over the years with the computers that I’ve owned. On the Windows side of the world, this has been easy. Docking solutions on that side of the fence are many and myriad. On the Mac side, however, not so much. Macs don’t have specialized dock connectors that allow dedicated and quick connection to a permanent dock. In most cases, you either have to attach every port to a single docking solution (the those provided by Henge Docks) or you sacrifice a single native port for a port replicator styled dock like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.

There’s not much difference between how the two solutions provide connectivity. One uses all the native ports, the other only uses one, connecting you to the dock via a cable. Thanks to TB3 technology, though you’re going to get some of the best performance you’ve ever experienced when working with your peripherals.

The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is $299 and is available from their website.

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OWC USB-C Dock

If you have a USB-C equipped computer, then you really need to check this out!

I’ve been a notebook junkie since the early 1990’s when Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 for Workgroups was all the rage. Back then, I started out with an 8088 and did my best to make the hardware stretch as far as it could. I did more with underpowered, but more affordable hardware, than most people considered prudent… but it was what I could afford, and it was what I had to do to get the job done. My desire was not just to do more with less, but to be able to do everything that a desktop PC could do, but I wanted to do it with a unit that I could also take out and about with me.

When I had a family member approach me recently with a request to find them a better Mac, my thoughts immediately went to the Mid-2017 MacBook Pro with TouchBar. They wanted a 15″ device, as they wanted the bigger screen and the somewhat larger – or wider spaced – keyboard. The device was going to have all of the newest hardware, but it did have one big problem – USB-C ports. And ONLY USB-C ports…

This is where things got a bit tricky. The newer MacBook Pro’s only have USB-C ports. Period. They don’t have any other wired connectivity at all. While they do have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and connect well to higher bandwidth devices as well as Bluetooth powered accessories, wired LAN connections, memory card readers, flash drives and other USB accessories, as well as monitors, etc. aren’t possible without some kind of adapter or dongle. While this may be ok for occasional connectivity issues while you’re away from your home or corporate office, when you’re actually in a formal, office setting, it’s a pain in the butt.

Enter the OWC USB-C Dock.

ports-front

The OWC USB-C Dock works with any USB-C powered computer. It features 10 ports to handle all of your connectivity needs:

• 4 USB 3.1 ports with USB-A connectors, including 2 high power capacity ports (one on the front and one on the back)
• 1 USB 3.1 port with USB-C connector (on the back)
• 1 SD Card Slot
• 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port
• 1 USB-C powered PC connector Port (marked with a laptop over it)
• 1 HDMI Port
• 1 Audio out port
• A DC In, 20v/ 4A connector (required to power the dock, its connected peripherals and the computer)

ports-back

You should note the following – This dock
• WILL support video connectors/ dongles that support an HDMI pass through
• Will NOT support Thunderbolt 3 connections through its USB-C port. If you want that, you’re going to need a different dock.
• Does NOT have a miniDisplay Port connection
• MAY support a miniDisplay Port connection via a dongle connected to its one, single USB-C port.

Then again, I may just need to use an existing USB-C Port on the MacBook Pro for my miniDisplay Port powered 27″ 2011 Apple Cinema Display.

Currently, this dock is unfortunately giving me a bit of a hard time.

It comes with a USB-C cable that goes from the computer to a specific port on the back of the dock. It’s clearly marked, and I’ve got the included cable plugged in there and the other end in my MacBook Pro.

Unfortunately, the green data connection light doesn’t come on. I’ve tried a different cable. I’ve tried different USB-C ports on the notebook. The dock simply won’t make a data connection with my Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro.

As of this writing, I’ve got a note out to OWC looking for an answer as to why. It may be that you simply can’t use the USB-C Dock with a USB-C port that is Thunderbolt 3 compatible. It may be that you must use OWC’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock with any USB-C powered MacBook Pro.

Unfortunately, I don’t know, as of this writing, I have yet to hear back from OWC; and I’ve been waiting on an answer since 2017-09-11. As soon as I hear back from them, I will update this review with their answer.

Unfortunately, until that time, this dock is a bit of a dud for me. I don’t have any other USB-C powered computers to try this with.

This should be a slam dunk; as everything else that I’ve ever gotten from OWC has been awesome. The build quality of the dock is out of this world. Its solid. Its well-built; but unless I have a defective unit, it simply doesn’t work with EVERY USB-C powered notebook available today.
Again, as soon as I hear back from OWC, I’ll post a quick update to this review, and hopeful have some information on peripheral connectivity as well.

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Apple’s Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro

Its new. Its controversial; but is it up to the task..?

Introduction
I’ve been a Mac since Apple dropped the PowerPC chip and embraced Intel. I have said many times that I bought my first Mac to be a Windows machine, largely because the hardware itself was so powerful and so elegant. To be honest, it took a while for me to be won over by OS X and macOS. However now, it is my OS of choice; and the Mac… well the Mac is still my go to computer eleven years later.

The Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro is quite a computer. Its powerful. Its thin. Its missing ports… Let’s take a look, however, and see if it is really worth all the hype, all the change and all the money that is required to make it work.

Hardware
Over the past couple of months while I’ve been waiting for accessory hardware to arrive so I can set up this device for an out of town family member, I’ve had a few friends ask me why in the world they purchased this computer, especially considering the cost.

The answer was simple – build quality.

I mean, have you SEEN this thing? If you haven’t, then you need to take a quick look at the unboxing video I did for Soft32 that was published just a few days ago. The hardware is seriously sweet.

As invoiced, the unit that I’m configuring has the following tech specs

Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID
• 2.8GHz quad-core 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz
• 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
• 1TB SSD storage
• Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB memory
• Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
• Backlit Keyboard – US English
• Silver, Aluminum Case

This configuration retails for $3100 USD. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is $299 USD. So this particular installation, minus some minor accessories and apps, cost my family member $3400, plus tax, shipped.

…and this is where most folks choke and gag. The prices for the newest MacBook Pros are just totally nuts.

However, this notebook is likely going to last for at least 10 years before it will need to be replaced. When you compare that to a $1000 Windows PC that might last three or so years, the overall cost, is about the same. However, you’re likely going to buy at least two if not three Windows PC’s in that same time frame. So again, the prices are about the same.

That doesn’t make the new MacBook Pro’s cost any easier to stomach, though. It might justify it a bit more, but that down stroke is awfully steep. Its awfully steep… but let’s talk a bit about what you get for that price.

Form Factor
The new MacBook Pro is thin. Its REALLY thin. The original iPad’s dimensions can be found in the table below along with the Mid 2009 and Late 2013 MacBook Pros:

Size and Weight

Height Width Depth Weight
Orig. iPad 0.50 in (1.27 cm) 7.47 in. (18.97 cm) 9.56 in. (24.28 cm) 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg)
Mid 2017 0.61 In. (1.55 cm) 13.75 In. (34.93 cm) 9.48 In. (24.07 cm) 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg)
Late 2013 0.71 In. (1.8 cm) 14.13 In. (35.89 cm) 9.73 In. (24.71 cm) 4.46 pounds (2.02 kg)
Mid 2009 0.95 In. (2.41 cm) 14.35 In. (36.4 cm) 9.82 In. (24.9 cm) 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg)

As you can see from the above, the original iPad and the newest, 2017 15″ MacBook Pro are about as thick as each other. In truth, that extra tenth of an inch that the Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro has on the original 9.7″ iPad really only amounts to a diference of 0.254 cm (2.52 mm). Its also about as deep as the original iPad, too.

This should tell you something… Apple’s latest 15″ notebook has form factor specs in line with the original iPad… meaning that this notebook is thin. Oh, my goodness is it thin! In fact, (when the clam shell is closed) its as thin as Apple’s original tablet (the tenth of an inch is negligible). I think that’s amazing.

The last thing that I want to mention, and that I think is of note here is the 7th generation Core i7 processor. Apple introduced their Kaby Lake processor to the 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro; and its made a difference in terms of speed, especially when you compare it to the Mid 2009 and Late 2013 models that I have in the house. The Mid 2017 is noticeably faster than both.

The Full 360

DSC_5227 - Top DSC_5229 - Front Edge
The three 15″ MacBook Pro’s – From top to bottom: Mid 2017, Late 2013 and Mid 2009 You can really tell how thin these things are. Remember, the Mid 2017 is as thin as Apple’s Original iPad
DSC_5230 - Right Edge DSC_5231 - Rear Edge
From the top down, Mid 2017: 2 USB-C ports and the headphone jack, Late 2013: USB-A port, HDMI Port and the SD Card slot, Mid 2009: Apple SuperDrive and the Kensington Lock Notice that the Mid 2017 doesn’t have any kind of black bar spacer on the lid hinge
DSC_5232 - Left Ege
From the top down. Mid 2017: 2 USB-C ports, Late 2013: MagSafe2 Power Port, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, USB –A port and the headphone jack, Mid 2009: MagSafe Power port, 10/100 Ethernet port, FireWire 400 port, mini Display Port, 2 USB-A ports, SD Card slot, microphone jack, headphone jack, (near the front of the MBP – battery test button and the battery power indicator)

TouchBar
This is going to be short and sweet. The TouchBar is new for the 2017 MacBook Pros. It provides an OLED strip of touch sensitive screen for context sensitive buttons that are governed by the active, running application.

DSC_5233 - TouchBar OS

Many are going to say that the TouchBar is nothing more than a gimmick. They may be right. The context sensitive buttons are cool; but I can see no real value to the feature.

DSC_5234 TouchBar OS 2

While it looks thanks to its OLED display, its nothing necessary. Having one doesn’t provide you with any advantage over not having one. That may change in coming generations as functionality for this feature grows and matures. However right now, its eye candy… nothing more.

DSC_5235 TouchBar Word

If you have a contrary opinion, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment in the Discussion area, below, and let me know.

USB-C Ports
This is probably the most controversial feature of Apple’s newer MacBook Pros. Apple has removed all ports on their new notebooks and replaced them with four – two on each side – USB-C ports.

I’ve spent the last couple of days setting up this new notebook and configuring it for my family member. They are moving from a Mid 2009 15″ MacBook Pro, and it has a number of different ports on it. This is going to take them a bit of getting used to.

Even me, with my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro… I’m having issues getting used to the fact that there aren’t any legacy ports on the new, Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro. I have had at least three incidents over the past 24 hours where the lack of any real port connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth excluded) was a big problem. When most of your accessories, thumb drives, etc., are all USB-A and all you’ve got is USB-C ports, you’re going to have a problem moving data, printing or connecting one device to another. When you’re trying to move data from one PC to another, for example, this can be a huge issue. In fact, it can be downright impossible.

I tried to transfer this file – this review – back and forth between my Late 2013 MacBook Pro and the Mid 2017 MacBook Pro. The easiest way to do this is with a thumb drive. Unfortunately, thumb drives make use of a USB-A connection. The only way I was able to put a file on a thumb drive was with the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. This was fine because I was in a home office setting. However, this would be an issue if I was out and about.

Unfortunately, items like a USB-C Flash Drive aren’t as wide spread available as they should be. They’re available, but not as mainstreamed as I would like… and besides that, I don’t have any. Nor would I think, any normal consumer as yet.

If you don’t have one, and you plan on taking your Mid 2017 MacBook Pro out and about with you, then you’re likely going to need one of these. Juiced Systems makes a 6 port USB-C Adapter that is a must have to anyone that plans to use this advanced Apple notebook outside of an office setting where a dock of some sorts, exists. If you don’t have it, don’t count on using any of your standard, mainstream, widely available, low cost accessories with your new Mid 2017″ MacBook Pro. Models exist for both 13″ and 15″ notebooks. Currently, they’re available for about $70 USD, and they’re probably going to be $70 of the best dollars you’re going to spend on this new notebook. I know I’m wishing I had one for this review.

Keyboard & Trackpad

Keyboard
Because the device is now thinner than it used to be (see the chart, above), Apple had to do something different with the keyboard. There really isn’t a lot of room in the case any longer. The new keyboard uses the same butterfly switches made popular in the original 2015 12″ MacBook. The switches used in the new Mid 2017 MacBook Pros are the next generation butterfly switches. The second generation switches have a lower profile than even the first generation butterfly switches.

So, what does all this mean? It means you’re gonna have a really clacky keyboard. It also means that there isn’t going to be a lot of keyboard travel, either. What you’re left with is a very different typing experience. In order to completely experience what the typing experience was going to be like, I pulled this review over to the new computer and decided to at least write this portion of the review there.

The typing experience is definitely different than on older MacBook Pros. There isn’t a lot of keyboard travel. The keyboard is very stiff, and yes… very clacky. Its not too difficult to use, but it may take some folks a bit to get used to.

It may also be a bit of a detractor for some.

Keyboard feel and travel, the elements that make up the typing experience are definitely different. Again, its not bad, but it may take you a bit to get used to it.

Trackpad
The first thing that you notice about the trackpad is that its huge. Its at least twice the size of trackpads on older MacBook Pros. Its very much like the trackpad on Apple’s 12″ MacBook. Large and Force Touch enabled.

I haven’t used or even put my hands on the 12″ MacBook; and while I have 3D Touch on my iPhone 7 Plus, experiencing Force Touch on a notebook computer is very different. Its easy to understand how it simulates a click. What’s really gonna blow your mind, though, is how the secondary, force click actually works and feels like. It truly feels as though the trackpad not only depresses for the click, but depresses even deeper for the force click. Its truly a strange feeling. Its really cool; but its really strange. You’d never expect that there was a deeper click in that trackpad.

The new trackpad is a total winner. I’d love to have it on my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro.

Conclusion
This device is super thin and super light. In fact, it’s the thinnest and lightest notebook I’ve ever worked with. The new 7th generation Intel Core i7 quad core processor is fast. Its going to crunch through more than you think it will, in less time, too.

The TouchBar is cool; but I’m not certain if it’s the kind of enhancement that I would have picked had I been given the option. The bar is completely contextual and changes as needed by the active application. This is both good and bad, especially if you touch type and are used to tapping function keys with a certain finger, though in truth, doing this is a bit of a stretch for your hands. At the end of the day, the context sensitive buttons are kinda cool, but its really more of a gimmick than anything else.

The trackpad is awesome. I was really surprised that it was a Force Touch related component without any moving parts. It truly feels as though it has two levels of physical distance and travel with you press it.

The keyboard isn’t bad, but its not great. The level of key travel is greatly diminished and unfortunately, its stiff and clacky. Its not the greatest typing experience and will require some getting used to. For some, this may be a deal breaker.

The biggest issue with this device are its USB-C ports and the lack of any native legacy port on it. Its going to be difficult for anyone to use any kind of legacy device with this notebook computer without some kind of dongle, dock or adapter. Unfortunately, this means you have to carry some other attachment in order to use what you need to get your work done.

Okokokok… so what’s the bottom line?

As always, Apple has created a GREAT notebook computer that should last any user at least seven to ten years, provide you baby the crap out of it. Its expensive, for certain. In fact, it may be too expensive. The Late 2013 MBP that I bought was the top of the line machine, and it cost me just under $3000. The top of the line 15″ in the current generation is $4200, or $1200 more than what I paid nearly four years ago (this coming December). Most of that is going to be attributable to the 2GB SSD that’s available for it; but that price is still outrageous.

This machine is awesome, but it requires a great deal of compromises. If you don’t mind making them, and have enough money to get the machine that will grow with you, the new Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro may be the right machine for you.

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Substantiated Rumors for iPhone Tuesday

The following iPhone rumors were confirmed by a leaked, final version of iOS 11…

I’m not one for Apple based rumors. Especially since many of them wind up being nothing but hot air. The only ones that end up having any substance to them are ones like those I’m going to relate to you, below. They come from a credible, internal source – Apple itself. And while its possible for Apple to change their minds and change the names and such before Tuesday 9/12… at this point it’s likely too late.

A leaked version of the “Gold Master” of iOS 11 appears to confirm some key features coming to the next version iPhone. The blockbuster leak, first covered by 9to5Mac, confirms the following will be a part of the next version iPhone:

• Facial unlocking called Face ID
• Confirmation of new iPhone model names – iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X
• Wireless charging
• Virtual Home button
• Larger iPhone X screen

Here are the brief details on each;

• Face ID will unlock the device and should be available on the iPhone X for certain. It’s possible this may also be available on the iPhone 8/8 Plus.

• Animojis – 3D, animated emoji’s that use your voice and reflect your facial expressions. This is going to require Face ID to work.

• iOS 11 will have new wallpapers for iPhone 8.

• The iPhone X will have a larger display with a notch at the top which will apparently house the ear speaker and FaceTime camera.

• Apple will release a new Apple Watch that will feature cellular connectivity. An iPhone won’t be required for an internet connection. The watch and the iPhone its connected to will share the same phone number.

• Apple will offer a new version of Airpods that will include a redesigned charging case. The new case will likely be the only thing that changes; and will include a light on the outside of the case indicating the charging status of the wireless headset.

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