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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Unboxing the Mid-2017 15″ MacBook Pro

There’s a HUGE difference between the latest version and some of Apple’s other 15″ models…

This is the unboxing for Apple’s Mid-2017 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. The new unit its VERY thin and VERY light; and VERY lacking in available expansion ports. At least it has four (4) USB-C ports on it instead of just the one that you get on the 12″ MacBook.

The biggest story here, I mean, aside from the lack of expansion ports and of course the new Touch Bar in place of the standard row of function keys is the new device’s size and weight. As part of the overall review, I’ll be comparing the new MacBook Pro to two different models – the Late 2013 and the Mid-2009.

Without ruining the overall, surprise – I’ll have photos as part of the main review – the size and weight comparisons between the three Apple laptops that I have are below.

Size and Weight

Height Width Depth Weight
Mid 2017 0.61 inch (1.55 cm) 13.75 inches (34.93 cm) 9.48 inches (24.07 cm) 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg)
Late 2013 0.71 inch (1.8 cm) 14.13 inches (35.89 cm) 9.73 inches (24.71 cm) 4.46 pounds (2.02 kg)
Mid 2009 0.95 inch (2.41 cm) 14.35 inches (36.4 cm) 9.82 inches (24.9 cm) 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg)

I’ve also got a few device specific accessories that I’ll be going over as well. These are either specific to the Mid-2017 due to its USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 connections. This is shipping up to be a very interesting August, kids. A very interesting August, indeed.

If there’s anything that you’d like to see or like me to address as part of the MacBook Pro review or as part of the accessory reviews, please leave a comment or ping me on Twitter, and let me know.

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Microzon Introduces Digital Assistant Corlexa

Or is that Amasoft introduces digital assistant Altana..? I’m confused, man…

In a very surprising move, Microsoft and Amazon have agreed to a partnership where their digital assistants, Cortana and Alexa respective, will begin sharing information by the end of this calendar year, 2018. This will enable each digital assistant to leverage the unique abilities of the other in an unprecedented collaboration and data sharing initiative between the two Seattle, Washing based computing giants.

The partnership was announced on 2017-08-30. The effort began last year and began by a joint statement by both Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to the New York Times. Both CEO’s have indicated that they would also be willing to welcome both Siri and Google’s Digital Assistant to join the effort, but doubt was expressed on whether Apple and Google would be interested in joining the partnership.

Both Bezos and Nadella are touting the partnership as a precisely matched pairing that will complement the different data sets and service specialties that each assistant provides. According to Jeff Bezos, “[both Siri and Alexa have] strengths [that] will complement each other and provide customers with a richer, and even more helpful experience.”

Satya Nadella agreed, saying, “Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

The beginning of the program will require users of one to specifically “open” the other – “Alexa open Cortana and…” or “Cortana open Alexa and…”. You can use either to set a reminder or read email, or use Alexa via Cortana to control smart home devices or other activity.

It’s clear that both Microsoft and Amazon are looking for a deeper, more seamless integration, long term. The idea is that both know what the other can do, and knows the magic words to relay back and forth behind the curtain to make it all happen. All the user will need to do is ask…

The big thing you’re going to have to watch here is your privacy and the amount of metadata that will likely have to fly across the internet in order to give any contextual meaning to your overall experience. Both Alex and Cortana are going to share what they know about you – your contacts and their information (so you can call or text so and so a message…), your calendar, your action items, etc. Both Alexa and Cortana will also have to share your web surfing, video streaming, music playing, etc., habits and be able to know your audio and video likes and dislikes so that it can work its magic without making a mistake.

If you have home automation equipment (light bulbs, thermostats, sprinkler systems, door bells, etc.) hanging off your home network, your comings and goings, utility usage and consumptions, etc. will also be shared and trafficked across the internet.

I am certain that digital assistants that can share this pooled information will be amazing; but you have to wonder… how much is convenience worth? Is my privacy worth giving up for these features?

Only YOU can answer those questions…

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I got KO’ed by Kanoa

I think this is the last product I’m going to pre-order…

Kickstarter and Indiegogo are pretty cool sites. They allow entrepreneurs and product visionaries to bring their product to life and perhaps… just perhaps… begin a startup company that takes the world by storm and creates a revolution. That happened with Pebble… but those successes, to be honest, are few and far between, and unfortunately, for Pebble, things don’t always end with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Pebble was acquired by Fitbit and that platform have essentially died and are no longer around.

I’ve backed a total of 5 projects on Kickstarter, the latest being the Nomatic Backpack and Travel Pack, and after what happened to me yesterday, they will be the LAST pre-order I make.

EVER.

A little over 14 months ago, as of this writing, I pre-ordered a set of wireless earbuds. At that time, Apple’s AirPods were all the buzz. There were folks out then – and still today – where that form factor doesn’t quite fit right or work; and, like me, were looking for an alternative.

I found that alternative via Kanoa; and up until now, I’ve been content. At least I thought I WOULD be content, if and when, the product arrived and I had my pre-order fulfilled. Unfortunately for me and a number of different “backers,” that isn’t going to happen.

Yesterday – 2017-08-23 – Kanoa closed down without any warning.

Yesterday, all Kanoa backers got a note from the company, directing them to an “important notice.” This notice describes a “roadblock” that the company has encountered.

Just last week, the company started shipping earbuds to some – not all – but some, Batch 1 backers (those that ordered prior to 2016-02-27). As of this writing, the company has ceased operations, laid off all their staff, and have killed all their social media sites (including their Facebook page, and Twitter account). Any remaining Batch 1 orders and all Batch 2 orders will go unfulfilled… at least until further notice.

Kanoa had their backer(s) pull all of their funding. I’m not certain if that’s due to issues with their smartphone side software – which went through a couple of beta rounds via Apple’s Test Flight and then was formally released via the iOS App Store on 2017-08-13 – or if that’s due to some bad press that may have been received via some sketchy beta reviews; or if there were additional production/ manufacturing issues/ bugs/ delays, etc. Whatever the problem was, Kanoa’s backer(s) pulled their funding, leaving the company in a state of limbo.

At this point, anyone that has backed the product and hasn’t received their earbuds can expect to NOT have their order fulfilled. While Kanoa is trying to procure new funding or even a sale to a technology company, it’s clear that this is just another startup that failed to launch and failed to fulfill their vision.

Unfortunately, for all who backed the project and preordered their earbuds, that money is gone; and your likelihood of either getting your money back or having your preorder fulfilled is slim to none, at best.

So for me… I’m not backing any additional Kickstarter projects (I was never a big Indiegogo fan…), or preordering any product where the preorder requires the full purchase price to be collected prior to shipment.

Should you want to read Kanoa’s notification to all of its backers, you can see it here.

This year has been full of disappointments. First Olio, now Kanoa.

I really need to stop backing losing horses…

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Another One Bites the Dust – So long Olio

I’m sorry to report that Olio Devices didn’t make it… as far as I can tell.

Back in 2015, I spent most of the year doing an extended round up of smart watches. I’m sorry to report that most of the devices that I reviewed as part of that round up, including

The Microsoft Band
The Fitbit Surge, and the
Pebble Time

have all met a rather disappointing demise. None of these devices are available for purchase today, not even two years since I published each review (or there abouts…)

Microsoft introduced Band in December of 2014; and it was one of the HOTTEST items for that Holiday season. I was fortunate enough to get one for both me AND my wife. Unfortunately, they weren’t very comfortable and the battery life sucked. Microsoft followed Band up with Band 2; but then discontinued the device in the middle of 2016. The entire team had their direction refocused on Microsoft Health; but even THAT is nowhere to be found. It seems Microsoft’s foray into wearables and in the health market doesn’t have a consumer presence to speak of, and never will.

The Pebble Time wasn’t as well received as the original Pebble or even the Pebble Steel. As such, Pebble sold itself to Fitbit; and they laid off all their people, closed their software store, and called it a day in December of 2016. They were the first on the market with any real success, but they didn’t last, unfortunately.

Since Fitbit purchased Pebble, there really hasn’t been anything out of Fitbit of note. While they have released the Alta and the Alta HR, those devices aren’t innovative at all and don’t offer any new features that the Charge 2 does.

Fitbit’s best asset is its software, the Fitbit App. It’s really some of the best fitness tracking bits that I’ve seen. Unfortunately, their hardware leaves a great deal to be desired. I was hoping that Fitbit might be able to do something innovative with the IP from Pebble, but it hasn’t emerged yet, and we’re coming up to a year since the acquisition. If “it” isn’t out by the 2017 Holiday Buying Season (whatever “it” might be…), they likely aren’t going to do anything of note with it.

So, the Band and Pebble are gone; and the Surge is a huge non-influencer (like the rest of Fitbit, in my opinion…). Unfortunately, the other big watch player I reviewed in 2015 is also now… gone.

The Olio Model One has also been discontinued. Their website is still active, and has been most of the year, but every model of every collection they have, including Steel, Black, Rose Gold, and Gold, indicate that they are sold out. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, this has been the case for the better part of the year (2017).

I got in touch with Steve Jacobs, the former CEO of Olio Devices, and he confirmed that th company has indeed been sold. While the organization existed for four years, this was apparently their entire overall goal (as it is with many start ups…). Olio was hoping to be purchased by someone… whom that might be, however, is unknown.

While Mr. Jacobs and I are acquaintances, and we did have direct and open communications during 2015 and the early part of 2016, I can only assume that part of the conditions of the sale of Olio Devices included keeping the entire deal confidential. Steve simply won’t give up the goods on who purchased Olio, or what they plan to do with the site, the watches or the IP.

As it stands, right now, the site, while still active, is a ghost town. The software used to manage the smartwatch, Olio Assist (iTunes App Store Link, Google Play Store Link) while technically available if you’ve previously downloaded it, may or may not be available for new users to download.

The biggest problem with it, however, is the way the software was designed to work. As of this writing, its nearly completely deprecated.

Olio watches are designed to pair with an Android or iPhone smartphone. The device software must be running on your smartphone – not just merely installed – while using the watch. For most smartwatches, this is usually enough. However, Olio Assist has an additional dependency. In order for its digital assistant to work, Olio Assist must communicate with a central server. Olio Assist only communicates with this server when the watch is paired and actively in range of the smartphone, with the software running.

The central server knows exactly which watches are connected to which smartphones. It provides data to support ALL of its complications, including weather, time zones AND your schedule. That last one kinda surprised me. Olio Assist doesn’t synch contact or calendar data between your phone and the watch, it synchs it to the central server first, and the server provides data to the complication, back through your smartphone and the app.

With Olio Devices now no longer functioning as an active entity, all of their servers are off line. The only thing that the watch can do now is get notifications, because they are sent directly to the watch from the smartphone itself. The watch will also notify you of incoming calls and will still control music playback. However, everything else… every other feature that Olio Assist provided, Schedule and Weather complications, time zones, Rules, Earlier, Now and Later Services, and ANY part of its Digital Assistant, now no longer work due to an interruption of communications with their central servers.

Steve Jacobs also indicated to me that it is very possible that even those services that are currently providing value, may also stop working. If this is the case, then the watch is living on borrowed time; and the $450 to $650 price tag that many paid for this device may soon become a huge issue.

Most luxury watches costing this much work for years, if not decades. This apparently won’t be the case with the Olio Model One… and that’s hugely disappointing.

My suggestion for you is this – buy an Apple Watch. It’s the only one that I reviewed that is really still around and that is being improved on. Apple will be releasing watchOS 4 in September of 2017. If you must have an Android Wear watch, make sure you get something that is either made or branded by Google directly or from Samsung. Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to figure out how to make an expensive orphaned device work after it’s no longer being actively supported.

And that… totally sucks.

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MacSales Introduces 2.0TB Aura Pro SSD

MacBook Pro upgrades are few and far between; and you NEED to look at this one, long and hard…

I’ve been using Apple computers since 2006 when Apple made the switch from PowerPC chips to Intel. At that point, due in large part to Apple’s Boot Camp, it made perfect sense. Back during this time, it was really easy to upgrade nearly every Mac. Today, Apple’s Boot Camp even supports Windows 10, continuing to make it a perfect multiplatform solution.

In 2012, Apple released the retina MacBook Pro. This display change signaled not only a change in Apple display technology, but a change in its notebook architecture. At this point, according to Apple, the MacBook Pro was no longer user upgradable.

That is… until now.

On 2017-06-26, MacSales and OWC (Other World Computing) announced the availability of a 2.0TB SSD upgrade for the mid-2012 to early 2013 Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display. This particular upgrade is a HUGE deal. OWC and MacSales are one of the very few providers of upgrades for this class of MacBook Pro notebook. The upgrade comes in two flavors – one with an external enclosure and one without.

The Aura Pro 2.0TB SSD upgrade frees up and boosts capacity on the internal hard drive – at over five years of MacBook Pro ownership. The Aura Pro drive is also available as a kit with an Envoy Pro enclosure to immediately reuse an Apple internal hard drive, creating a new external USB 3.1 Gen1 portable drive. This is the perfect upgrade for a middle aged Mac, as it increases storage by at least 1TB (for those MacBook Pros that came with a native 1.0TB internal SSD).

aura

The Aura SSD line is a professional storage line that offers increased performance not only over the native SSD, but other SSD replacements. It also provides

The Aura Pro SSD offers a wide range of industry-leading controller technologies for performance and reliability, including:
• Global wear leveling algorithm automatically distributes data evenly and manages program/erase count, maximizing SSD lifespan.
• StaticDataRefresh technology manages free space, gradually refreshing data across the SSD over time, enhancing data integrity.
• Hardware BCH ECC corrects errors up to 66-bit/1KB for superior data retention and drive health.
• Best-in-class power consumption.
• Advanced security protocols support AES 128/256-bit full-drive encryption.
The cost of the 2.0TB Aura Pro is $899.99 USD for the drive only. If you’re looking for the kit with the Envoy Pro enclosure, it will set you back a cool $939.99 USD.

I had an Aura Pro 480GB SSD for the Late 2012 MacBook Air that I had for a couple of years. The performance of that drive was totally awesome. The performance bump on that i5 based Mac was definitely noticeable and a huge boon. It was more than worth the cost of the drive.

I am currently working with OWC and MacSales to see if I can get one of these drives for review. I will let you know how that effort goes. It will be a nice contrast review against the Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro and OWC/ MacSales USB-C Dock and Thunderbolt 3 Dock that I have waiting in the wings.

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Is the Apple HomePod a Non-Starter?

Apple’s got a new Siri powered speaker…

I’ve been chewing on this one for since Apple’s WWDC keynote and I just don’t get it.  Apple’s HomePod is a Siri powered speaker that connects to  your iTunes library and your Apple Music Account.  Specifically, according to Apple:

  • HomePod is a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.1 It takes the listening experience to a whole new level. And that’s just the beginning.
  • Built to bring out the best in Apple Music, HomePod is a key part of an incredibly deep and intuitive music ecosystem that lives everywhere you do.1 With Siri intelligence and access to virtually all the world’s recordings, it’s like having a musicologist who helps you discover every song you’d ever want to hear.

HomePod does more than play music.  It’s very much like the Amazon Echo. It can help with questions and tasks. It can also connect to HomeKit related devices used to control your connected home’s heating, cooling lighting, locks, etc. It can be the center of your home, just like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa powered Echo and Dot.

The HomePod may be a superior speaker, providing rich, full sound; but it doesn’t have one thing that made the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot – The Amazon Store.

The Amazon Echo was originally intended to be a way for users to order or reorder items you normally buy from Amazon.  All you have to do is ask Alexa to order you <something> and a few days later, the item(s) show up at your door.  It’s really that easy.  This was the main purpose of the device – to provide Amazon with an easy revenue stream.  The thought was that with a vocal path to your order history and your Amazon account, vocally ordering something from Amazon, without actually viewing your account, the prices, etc. would make you more likely to order or reorder items. It’s not “real” when you don’t necessarily see how much it costs.

This product ordering backbone provided Amazon with a reason for the product. Everything else that it does – play music, read books, control your home’s compatible products, etc. is a byproduct.  However it’s a byproduct that the Apple HomePod doesn’t have.

The Amazon Echo does everything that the Apple HomePod does and is $179.99.  The HomePod is $349.  You can literally get 2 Echo’s for the price of a single HomePod; and you’ll be able to order all the books (and other Amazon provided goodies) until your credit card maxes out.  However, the Echo’s won’t sync their playback as the HomePods will, providing better overall audio quality during playback.  You also can’t order Apple products and accessories with the HomePods.

I’m not entirely certain I get the reason behind the HomePod. The Echo is easy – It’s a verbal gateway to Amazon’s product catalog.  While Siri is more sophisticated and intelligent on the HomePod, she can’t order you any Apple products and have them delivered.

In short, the HomePod is twice as expensive and does (literally) half as much as the Echo does.  While I’m certain that Apple will sell a great deal of them, I don’t see them hanging around in the long term.  This just doesn’t seem like a core Apple product like the iPhone or the iPad.

Am I missing something here; or is the Apple HomePod a total non-starter?  Will it be successful, or is it just a flash in the pan product that Apple released in order to insure that they weren’t missing out on a market that both Amazon and Google were competing in ?

Someone please tell me… I’m really wanting to know, because I don’t think that I get the HomePod and don’t want to – nor can I afford to – buy one.  I don’t have an Echo or Google Home device and wasn’t planning on purchasing either, even though I order products from Amazon all the time.

This is where I need your help.

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area and give me your take on the Echo, the Home and the HomePod.  I don’t do any home automation, so getting one of these would really be nothing more than an audio speaker that could play music and audio books. It could also keep my granddaughter company.  She talks to Siri all the time and has complete conversations with her for hours at a time on her iPad.  At least with the HomePod, and under iOS, Siri is (supposed to be) a lot more intelligent.

Here’s to hoping the HomePod is a lot more than just a very expensive, very sophisticated wireless speaker… but I have my misgivings.

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