Scheduled for Termination – AOL Instant Messenger

The iconic instant messaging client will send its last IM on 2017-12-15…

You know, I saw this one and it kind hit home pretty hard. I’ve been a computing professional, working with PC’s since the early 1980’s. Now that I’ve told you that I’m older than dirt, let’s get to the heart of what AIM shutting down really means. It is in fact, a true end of an era.

Farewell AIM

Back I the mid to late 1990’s when the internet got its public start (many may disagree, but it was, in fact the release of Windows 95 that really got things going…), the face of the internet was services like CompServe, MSN, and America on Line (AOL). Most people didn’t get on the “internet” per se back then. They fired up what was nearly 95% likely, a dial up service, that showed them highly curated content, in a 100% designed and controlled interface. These dial up services showed you the content you were looking for – sports, entertainment, computing, etc. – all from within a controlled, curated environment that showed them exactly what the service wanted them to see.

Messenger services were easy to create at that point. Most of the time, you, your family and friends were all using the same service. It made sense, too. Tell me when my friends, who are also using the same service, are online so that I can have an instant message conversation with them. It made communicating with friends and family, all that much easier.

And the war…! Oh my goodness…!! Ok. Show of hands… Who here remembers the IM client war? Interoperability was a huge deal back in the day when all of these things were popular. When one would figure out how the get access to another’s network, so that you could use one and only one IM client, the ACCESSED network would change the way it worked blocking those on clients other than theirs; and then figure out how the other one worked so they could do the same thing. This went on and on, back and forth, for YEARS.

Meanwhile, consolidation apps like Trillian brought them all together; but always had an outage on this IM network or another because they got blocked due to the back and forth crap in the IM war.

But it looks like all of that is now history. MSN Messenger kinda morphed into Lync and Skype for Business. AOL Instant Messenger is done in December 2017, and somehow, “https://www.icq.com”>ICQ still seems to be alive and kicking.

But as I said, AIM is out. According to Oath VP of Communications, Michael Albers,

“AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed. We are more excited than ever to continue building the next generation of iconic brands and life-changing products for users around the world.”

So, it’s the end of an era. AIM is done. The final IM on its network will be sent and received on 2017-12-15.

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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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Google Drive is Out of Support in December 2017

If you don’t have Google Backup and Sync, you better get crackin’…

Google drive

In July of 2017, Google announced that it was introducing a new file synchronization product called Google Backup and Sync. The desktop and smartphone/ tablet app is meant to replace Google Drive, as Backup and Sync does nearly everything that Drive does.

However, Google has stated that its going to stop supporting Google Drive in December of 2017 and will stop working entirely on 2018-03-18. This delay in the overall transition plan between Drive and Backup and Sync is designed to make the transition to the newer service a bit easier on folks who are really invested into Drive. The changes to the service allow users to sync files and folders on your Desktop as well as making all of your photos part of Google Photos as well.

The differences in the service is revealed when you enable its broader file synchronization abilities. Until then, it does the same thing as Google Drive. If you area G Suite user, you can also take advantage of File Streaming. This lets organizations store files solely in the cloud, allowing laptop users to stream them to their local hard drives when working on them, otherwise keeping local storage free and unused.

If you’re interested in getting a jump on the required update to Google Drive, you can transition over to Backup and Sync now. All you have to do is install the software.

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Should I Upgrade or Not..? – Part 2

Based on the information at hand, here’s my take on Apple’s announcements from 2017-09-12…

So, if you’re looking for information on the new iPhones that Apple announced the other day, you should read this article. I cover both the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X pretty thoroughly.

To sum them up again, they’re expensive. Both phones come in 64GB and 256GB sizes. If you don’t buy the bigger one, and you have more than 64GB of content, you’re going to need to get a decent enough data plan to allow you to stream everything. The carrier is going to get your money one way or another… You’re just gonna have to get over it.

Apple also released some other products. Let’s take a quick look at those and see what’s what…

Screenshot_2

Apple Watch Series 3
Apple has introduced four different models of the Apple Watch Series 3 smartwatch in two sizes, a number of colors, in two different case types for two of the models; and at least two different variations. I’m going to try to run everything down here, as quickly as possible.

In general, all models of every Apple Watch come in either 38mm or 42mm sizes. So you get every Watch in small and large sizes. Over and above that, here’s the break down on all of the Series 3 variations that are available.

Series 3 – GPS + Cellular
The Series 3 GPS + Cellular comes in two different variations – Apple Watch and Apple Watch Nike Plus. With the Apple Watch, you get two different case offerings and two different band options with each case type. You can choose from an aluminum or stainless-steel case. If you get the Apple Watch in the aluminum case, you can choose from either a Sport Band or the Sport Loop band. If you go with the stainless-steel case, you get a choice of either the Sport Band or the Milanese Loop band.

If you choose Apple Watch Nike+, you get an aluminum case with either a Nike Sport band or a Nike Sport Loop band.

The big deal here is the cellular capabilities in the new Apple Watch Series 3. The Watch will update itself and communicate with everything on the internet, letting you leave your phone in the car or at home. You can even take and place calls on the thing.

However, if you do use it for talk, you’re going to have to be very careful. The battery in the Watch, while technically a bit bigger, can’t sustain cellular phone calls for any length of time. I’ve seen reports on Twitter and on Facebook that indicate that there’s only enough power to last about an hour or so of any dedicated cellular activity.

Cellular calls burn through the battery like its bleeding water from a sieve. I’ve seen reports where a 10 minute cellular call on the Watch via its dedicated LTE radio (as opposed to via Bluetooth while connected to your phone) will eat through 10% or more of your available battery… potentially more if your battery is below 50%.

Just because it can, doesn’t mean that the Watch is MEANT to replace your phone for all things. It really isn’t. Its “all day battery” rating expects your phone to pick up most of the heavy LTE lifting, allow the Watch and your iPhone to swap data like a Series 0, Series 1 or Series 2 Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch Series 3 – GPS + Cellular and Apple Watch Nike+ GPS + Cellular start at $399.

Series 3 – GPS
The Series 3 GPS comes in two different variations – Apple Watch and Apple Watch Nike Plus. With the Apple Watch, you get aluminum case with a Sport Band. If you choose Apple Watch Nike Plus, you get an aluminum case with a Nike Sport Band.

The Series 3 – GPS can do everything that the Series 0, Series 1 and Series 2 can do. It can also do nearly everything that the Series 3 can do, except it can’t do LTE based data on its own. This edition requires your iPhone to do all internet based calls including communicating via social media, making and placing phone calls and text messages, and receiving notifications. However, it is $70 less.

What you’re going to get here in terms of an upgrade from Series 2 is a better processor, a slightly better battery and better water resistance. The battery life here is going to be very good, and you’ll definitely get the all-day battery that everyone is expecting.

The thing that you’re going to have to ask yourself is, is all of this worth the cost of the upgrade. The Series 2 is a decent watch. Everything looks the same, and the battery life in it is very, very good compared to the Series 0 and even the Series 1. What you’re going to need to determine is, how deep and how long will you dive or be under water? How much longer do you need the battery to last? The newer processor will make the watch a bit faster and more efficient; but given that you don’t see a lot of direct computing done directly on the Watch, you have to wonder how much of an advantage its going to be. That is a personal decision, and I’ll have my own thoughts on this, below, in the Conclusion.

The Apple Watch Series 3 – GPS and Apple Watch Nike+ – GPS start at $329.

Series 3 Hermès
The Apple Watch Hermés offers everything that the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular does. Here, however, you default to the stainless steel case and of course, the branded Hermés watch face and signature leather band. You also get an additional sport band included with your purchase (which, realistically accounts for the last $49 you’re charged).

There are a number of things here that bother me with the Hermés editions. Mostly, it’s the bands and their outrageously high (and overpriced) price tags. While I’m CERTAIN that the bands are high quality and are superior to just about anything and everything like them out there, paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars for an inch and a half wide strip of leather with some holes punched in it just seems not silly; but stupid.

Those that can afford the Hermés edition will tell me that I just don’t get it and that this is part of the reason why the Hermés edition is not for me. I’d have to agree with them. I don’t really care how much money I have to burn, paying $340 USD for the Single Tour band and $490 USD Double Tour band is a horrible waste of money. Especially when you can find reasonably priced and just as comfortable knock-offs for a fraction of the price on Amazon or other online realtors.

Yes, you won’t have the designer branding or the custom watch face to go along with it; and maybe that’s the point – you’re paying for the branding… however, when the functionality is exactly the same on the Hermés edition as it is on every other Apple Watch with a stainless steel case, I have to look at what I’m getting for the extra dough, and when all I see is a watch face, a band and a brand name, I don’t see a lot of value added equity. What I see is vanity, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

I’d appreciate some help here, kids. If you’ve even tried on an Hermés band and settle for a knock-off, I’d love to hear from you and get your thoughts and impressions here. It might help make some sense of how folks that purchase this edition justify the cost. Fee free to drop me a line or leave a comment, below.

Apple Watch Edition
This is a far cry from what the Series 0 Apple Watch Edition USED to be. The original Apple Watch Edition went as high as $18,000 for a special 18k Gold version that wrapped the exact same Series 0 guts in an overly expensive, unbelievably priced gold watch case that only uber rich could even THINK of purchasing. Sales of this particular line of Series 0 Watch were beyond embarrassingly low; and Apple promptly moved past the uber fashion statement into something that was a bit more reasonable.

With the Series 3 Apple Watch, Apple is providing a ceramic case – in either Pebble White or Space Gray – with a White or Black Sport band. Ceramic is (supposed to be) very durable and resistant to both scratches and dents. For this combination of case and band, the Apple Watch provides you with all of the Series 3 LTE and GPS goodness you find in all of the other LTE based models; and that’s an important distinction.

The Apple Watch Edition doesn’t come in just a GPS version. Here, you get a choice of color, size (either the standard 38mm or 42mm cases) and that’s it. The Apple Watch Edition comes in the LTE version. Period. The Watch also comes with a similarly colored Sport Band. If you want another band or bracelet, you can shop Apple’s available watch band collection. As always, Apple Watch bands fit both case sizes of every edition Apple Watch, regardless of version or Series.

The Apple Watch Edition starts at $1299.

To Answer the Question
So, to answer the question, “should I upgrade or not?” doesn’t really require a lot of thinking. If you don’t have an Apple Watch, now is a great time to buy in. At $329, the fitness and smartwatch functionality you get is a GREAT value. watchOS runs well on the Series 0; but this will likely be the last version of watchOS that will run on the original Watch. Performance does take a minor – but noticeable – hit.

If you want to be able to swim with the Watch and would like to have its GPS functionality, the Series 2 can be found for some really great deals. I found a Series 2 Nike + version for $249 recently. That’s $170 off the Series 2 full price.

If you have a Series 2 and are considering a Series 3, then you should be considering the LTE version. The Series 3 GPS version doesn’t offer any compelling reason to upgrade from the Series 2 at all, even with the slightly larger battery, faster processor and more accurate GPS receiver. The Series 3 LTE version is really compelling IF you really want to run AND stream audio while you run; or if you’re looking to update your running or workout app with live data while you run or exercise.

Other than that, even with their current price structure, I don’t see a compelling reason to upgrade from any series Apple Watch to the Series 3. Every version of every Series Apple Watch is still very usable today; and I would expect them to last for a while, too. When non-electronic watches can last years – even decades – and cost about as much as the Apple Watch does, you’d expect Apple to build longevity into the Watch more than anything else… I’m just sayin’.

AppleTV 4K
Aside from the iPhone 8 , I think the news on the AppleTV was some of the most exciting news I took away from the September keynote.

The big news here wasn’t an increase in storage capacity, a better processor, or even improvements to Siri or even tvOS. This year’s big news was all about 4K HDR. According to Apple,

“4K gives you a crisper picture using four times more pixels than standard HD. High Dynamic Range (HDR) delivers brighter, more realistic colors and greater detail. From the hottest new movie to your favorite TV show, everything is more lifelike than ever.”

This means that everything that you watch on the AppleTV that comes in 4kHDR is going to look stunning. The colors are gonna pop off the screen, and the detail and resolution is going to be crazy accurate and high. However, there’s one additional point here that really sets this whole thing off – if you bought video content from the iTunes Store in HD, Apple is upgrading all of your titles to 4KHDR content… for free. 4kHDR titles will also be available for the same price as regular HD titles today, which, to be very honest, is HUGE.

My understanding is that you won’t be able to download 4KHDR files, but you WILL be able to stream them, and to be honest, the AppleTV is a streaming box. While you CAN store either 32GB or 64GB of content on the device, that small amount of storage won’t hold more than a couple files at most, and to be honest, you probably wouldn’t want to store 4KHDR files anyway. They’re likely going to require terabytes of storage to keep laying around.

If you don’t have an AppleTV, now is a good time to jump on board. This version is also a decent upgrade option if you have an AppleTV and are looking for a reason to get the latest version.

The big concern I have here, however, is cost. At $179, the 4K version is perhaps the most compelling of new model AppleTV’s, but its also the highest priced entry point into a streaming box that runs on the Apple ecosystem. The AppleTV still starts at $149; but only comes in a 32GB version.

However, the standard HD version still runs the current version of tvOS; so, unless you have a need for 4KHDR content, this should be a very good substitute. Unfortunately, you won’t get the benefits of the new versions enhancements; but it will do everything that the 4K version does.

To Answer the Question
So, to answer the question, “should I upgrade or no?” that’s going to depend on if you have or are planning on getting a 4K TV. If you do, then you’re likely going to want to spend the extra $30 bucks and get the 4K version.
If you don’t have a 4K TV, and aren’t planning on getting one any time soon, then you may want to hold off until you do. However, spending $30 to future proof your AppleTV isn’t a lot of money to think about or give up.

At the end of the day, it’s a little more than $50 additional dollars for the larger 4K HDR version; and that’s not a lot to ask for, but if you aren’t going to use it, then it may not be the best use of the extra money. That’s up to you…

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Five of the Best Screen Shot Apps for macOS

Take great screen shots on your Mac with these best of breed tools…

Introduction
I love my Mac. In my opinion, it’s easier to use than a Windows machine, especially when it comes to the creative side of my life. The tools that exist on the Mac side of the world, in my opinion, are much better than their Windows counterparts… but that’s just my opinion, and there are many different kinds of creative tools.

One kind of tool allows you to take screen shots of your desktop and other, running applications. These tools are in many ways both powerful and easy to use; and there are quite a few of them. I’ve taken a few moments to find some of the best screen shot utilities available for Mac, and pulled the best together here for you.

macOS Native Tools
The one thing that every Mac user knows is the two different utilities built into every version of macOS. These screen shot utilities allow you to take full screens as well as screen shots of specific areas. These native tools are helpful, but sometimes, they just are NOT enough. Nor are they really part of this roundup. They need to be mentioned, as they are part of the OS, and if all you need are basic tools, they’ll do the job just time. When you need more, though, you may need to look elsewhere.

Command+Shift+3
This keyboard combination will take a full screen, screen shot of each desktop/ monitor connected to your Mac. Since it does every monitor, you have to make certain you grab the right one, if you’re looking for something specific.

Command+Shift+4
This keyboard combination will change the mouse cursor into a cross hair and will allow you to capture a portion of it. Press Command+Shift+4, locate the area you want to capture and click and hold the left mouse button. When you want to stop capturing, let go of the mouse button. You’ll hear a camera shutter and the snip you took will appear as a file on your desktop.

 

Screenshot Plus
SSPlus
For those, like me, that still use the old Mac Dashboard, there’s a freeware dashboard widget that will allow you to take professional level screen shots, quickly and easily.

Screenshot Plus can take full screen captures, capture specific screen areas, and capture other objects, such as windows, desktop icons, and other widgets. Once captured, screens can be saved to the clipboard or as files on your hard drive. They can also be exported to any application on your Mac, directly from the widget.

After you take a shot with Screenshot Plus, it displays a preview of capture you took. It will also give you the ability to directly save or import the shot. Shots can also be directly placed into Photos.

Captures can be saved to JPG, PNG, TIF, GIF and PDF. The widget also supports, English, Traditional Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Dutch and Japanese languages

Captures may be saved in the formats: jpg, png, tif, gif and pdf. The following languages are supported:

Screen shot plus is free and can be downloaded here.

 

SnagIt
Snagit
SnagIt is perhaps one of the VERY best screen shot utilities available on the market. It’s been around forever and a day, going back to the 1990’s, and its more than reasonably priced. It comes with a wide array of tools that allow you to take screen shots, and then annotate, highlight and draw attention to specific areas within the shot. The app also comes with a fully activated, full featured 15 day trial. You get to use the whole sha-bang for two weeks. If you have need for ANY type of call out or annotation on just even a fairly regular basis – even if its once or twice a month – this likely going to be the app for you.

If you’re looking for a free alternative, you can try Jing. While it is free, you kinda limited to sharing images over TechSmith’s social service.

SnagIt is $49.99 for a single, user license and can be downloaded here. Jing is free and can be downloaded here.

 

Monosnap

As I’m certain you’ll agree, anything free is awesome; and this is doubly true of Monosnap. Monosnap is a free macOS extension that loads in the Menu bar of your Mac, making it available whenever you need it. Its accessible via either mouse click or keyboard shortcut, and allows you to take full and freeform screen shots. The application comes with a wide array of annotation tools; and allows you to export shots as either JPG or PNG files. You can even export shots to an external editor, like Photoshop, if needed.

Both Monosnap for Mac (and Windows) are free to download and use. However, small donations of $1 to $25 will unlock the app, providing additional storage and app integration options. You can download the application here.

 

Snapz Pro X
Snapz Pro X
Snapz Pro X is a professional screen capturing app, in the same class as SnagIt. The app is invoked via a keyboard command – the default is Command-Shift-5 – which should be easy to remember, it’s just one to two numbers away from your Mac’s native screenshot tools. It also complements them very well, as you can use the Native tools when something quick and easy is needed; and Snapz Pro X when you need something a little more serious.

With Snapz Pro X, you can capture areas, full screens, objects (read: Windows) or full, on screen video. After you’ve decided what to capture, and you invoke that part of the app, you get a nice little tool box of on screen settings to help you fine tune the capture.

Snapz Pro X is $69; but comes with a 15 day free trial. After the trial expires, a watermark is placed in the center of each screen capture. You can download the application < a href=”http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/”>here.

 

Conclusion
If you don’t have a lot of screen shot needs, then save your money and use the macOS Native Tools. They’re free and can get the job done. Unfortunately, when you go this route, you don’t get any annotation tools or gadgets to enhance your shots so you can draw attention to specific areas of the graphic.

If you need something more, but don’t have, or don’t want to spend a lot of money on this, you can choose Screenshot Plus or Monosnap. Both are free to use, though Screenshot plus requires that you use the Macintosh Dashboard, something that isn’t in wide use any longer; and Monosnap doesn’t include a lot of its cooler, cloud storage features without some kind of donation or cost.

While the average user doesn’t need the professional tools – or price tags – on tools like SnagIt or Snapz Pro X, their tools are really nice. At some point, most every computer user is going to find that they need some kind of screen shot taking and annotation tool. There are both free and paid options.

You’ve got some decent choices here. If you find others that you like, I’d love to hear about them in the Discussion area below.

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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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Should I Upgrade or Not..? – Part 1

Based on the information at hand, here’s my take on Apple’s announcements from 2017-09-12…

iphone x

Apple announced three new iPhones (six, if you count the different sizes), two new Apple Watches (one with cellular and one without) and two new Apple TV’s the other day (again, if you count the different storage sizes). There’s a TON of debate going on regarding the new devices; and like EVERY OTHER YEAR that Apple announces new iDevices, the same argument starts: is the upgrade worth the cost?

Like EVERY OTHER YEAR, the answer is likely going to be the same – it depends on where you’re upgrading from.

iPhones – the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X
The iPhone 8 offers the following in terms of new tech

• An updated processor – A11 Bionic
It’s got 6 cores – two performance and for efficiency cores making it 25% faster than the iPhone 7
• An updated GPU
It’s got three cores and is 30% faster than the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7
• An updated Retina HD display
It’s got a True Tone display, making colors more realistic, as it automatically adjusts and readjusts the white balance to match the direct and ambient light around you. Dual domain pixels make it viewable from nearly any angle
• An improved camera
It’s got a 12MP camera (still) with a larger, faster CMOS sensor, a new color filter and optical image stabilization for both photos AND video.
• Wireless (Inductive) Charging
The iPhone now supports Qi charging technology in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, iPhone X, and AirPods. The Apple Watch has always supported wireless charging.
• New Storage Capacity
The iPhone 8 and iPhone X now have 256GB sizes.

So in summary,
• It’s faster,
• Has a better screen
• Has a better camera , and
• Has wireless charging

However, this can be said of EVERY new iPhone out there? I mean, isn’t that what you get with EVERY new generation iPhone? Its better, faster stronger..? This year’s camera is better than last year’s camera? I mean, the only thing new here is the implementation of Qi charging… and as every AOSP and Google Pixel fan has pointed out to me, this is something that has existed with Android phones for at LEAST two years… so where’s the new, innovative stuff?

The answer is that you won’t find it on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. It’s the “tock” to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus’ “tick.” You have to remember that Apple isn’t revolutionary in its technology implementations… they’re evolutionary. Their take on this is that they may not be the first to do it, but they are (likely) the ones to do it right.

In most cases, I agree with this; but don’t get me started with Apple and its services offering… iCloud and all that it offers (iCloud Drive, iCloud Backup and synchronization (photos, music, messages, files, etc.) are still screwed up and… that’s a rant for another day. I think that the “improvements” that you’ll see with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are really good, decent improvements. However, I don’t know that these are enough to justify an $700+ upgrade from the iPhone 7 (or even 6s, for that matter) to the iPhone 8.

The iPhone X offers the following in terms of new tech

• Edge to edge Super Retina display
The Home Button is gone. There are a ton of new gestures needed and required because the Home Button has been removed. 3D Touch has been reworked to work the new, OLED screen. The Super Retina displays offers truer, more vivid colors, ginormous resolution, and a 1,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio. This is the best screen on a smartphone, ever.

• TrueDepth Camera & Face ID
The selfie camera has been totally reworked because the Home Button and its Touch ID sensor is gone. The TrueDepth Camera enables a new, neural engine powered camera so that it can map your face to support Face ID and facial identification (for device unlocking as well as Apple Pay authentication).

The TrueDepth Camera drives Face ID and stores the information in the Secure Enclave. Face ID and its setup process maps an analyzes more than 30,000 mapping dots to create a precise depth map of your face. The mapping is supposed to be so accurate, that you can grow a beard, change your hair style (or completely shave it off), wear glasses etc. and you are still you to the TrueDepth Camera. Pictures and realistic masks can’t fool it, thanks to the neural engine and machine learning capabilities of both the camera and the new A11 Bionic processor.

• Improved (digital photo) Camera
It’s got a 12MP camera (still) with a larger, faster CMOS sensor, a new color filter and optical image stabilization for both photos AND video.
• An updated processor – A11 Bionic
It’s got 6 cores – two performance and for efficiency cores making it 25% faster than the iPhone 7
• An updated GPU
It’s got three cores and is 30% faster than the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7

• Wireless (Inductive) Charging
The iPhone now supports Qi charging technology in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, iPhone X, and AirPods. The Apple Watch has always supported wireless charging.
• New Storage Capacity
The iPhone 8 and iPhone X now have 256GB sizes.

So in summary,
• It’s got a new display size and new display type
• The Home Button has been removed to provide more screen real estate
• The front and rear cameras have been totally revamped to support OIS in every mode (still and video) and for machine learning driven, facial recognition (because Touch ID has been removed)
• It’s faster and smarter to support facial recognition and augmented reality, and
• Supports wireless charging

There’s a bit more here, and to be fair, while none of this is NEW – it was pointed out to me by that same Android fan-boy that both Google Pixel and Samsung devices have had OLED displays, facial recognition, bezeless displays and wireless charging – it’s the combination and (more the) implementation of these technologies on this platform that make them (so) new. It’s the type of cameras, it’s the method of facial recognition etc., that makes the iPhone X the coveted hit that it likely will become in the Apple Ecosystem.

However, there are a few issues here that I need to cover…

Device Storage Sizes
The iPhone 7 comes in 32GB and 128GB sizes. Both the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and the iPhone X come in 64GB and 256GB sizes. To be honest, I think the same thing about the 64GB size as I thought of the 32GB size… it’s completely USELESS.

Last year Apple eliminated the 64GB size from their smartphone offering because (they said) that it didn’t offer enough storage space. Why then would they bring it back for the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and the iPhone X?

I’ve got a 128GB iPhone 7 Plus. If I want to upgrade to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, I’ve either got to totally remove my entire music collection (I don’t have video on my iPhone) and revert to streaming everything; OR pay $150 USD more for twice the space I have.

I’ve got 85.50GB of stuff on my iPhone. 55GB of that is music. 8GB of that is photos and home videos taken with my iPhone cameras. The rest is used by apps and their data. I’ve got 38.50GB of free space.

Apple is forcing me to make a cost based decision that I really don’t want to make. I hate entry level devices, as they nearly ALWAYS leave you wishing you had bought more. However, without a mid-level storage offering of 128GB, its either pay more or shut up (meaning upgrade and get over it, or don’t upgrade and stop crying).

Cost
At the end of the day, for nearly everyone, these decisions are going to be cost motivated. The 256GB iPhone 8/ 8 Plus are $699/$799 and $799/$949 for the 64GB/ 256GB variants, respectively. These aren’t cheap, but they aren’t really out of line with other smartphone offerings at their tier level today. I’ll get to other issues here, in just a sec…

The iPhone X also offers 64GB and 256GB variants. Those are $999 and $1149. These aren’t cheap either, but only the price of the 64GB device has been seen from both Google and Samsung recently. $1150 for a phone – regardless of how “smart” that phone may be… is just a little nuts…

And that brings me to my overall point here… we’re really starting to push up against the envelope of reasonability when it comes to device cost.

Due to the increased device cost, you’re either going to need to buy a data plan with enough bandwidth to address the decreased storage you may have to accept in order to buy into the device; OR you’re going to have to bite the bullet and pay for the more expensive device. Either way you cut it, your carrier is going to get a bigger cut of your paycheck; and for many this may be a huge problem… especially when you’re upgrading more than one device at a time.

I’ve got four devices on my AT&T wireless account. Three of them are on the same upgrade cycle. That represents an additional cost of approximately $40 to $60 additional dollars a month (after any residual device costs of $50 to $100 per device are satisfied at upgrade time), if we upgrade on schedule based on these current device costs… and that’s really crazy.

By the way, those costs are NOT Apple specific. They are based on an upgrade of any “current” device, currently on any kind of installment program to any “new” device available, be they Android, iOS Samsung, LG or Apple, etc.

Availability
The iPhone 8 is available for purchase on 2017-09-15 (or two days from this writing) with delivery on 2017-09-22. The iPhone X is available for purchase on 2017-10-27 with delivery anticipated on or around 2017-11-03 (that may be subject to change, and will likely ONLY be available for a very small amount of iPhone X’s purchased/ ordered on October 27).

In other words, there are likely enough iPhone 8/ 8 Plus’ to go around; but landing an iPhone X of any size will likely offer legitimate bragging rights. Not that you bought the phone – regardless of how “eXclusive” it may truly be – but because the yield rates are reportedly very low, at only 10,000 per day, worldwide. That means that only 450,000 ADDITIONAL units will be manufactured – again world wide – between now and 2017-10-27. Getting one of these any time this year, will be a huge crap shoot. It’s likely that the bulk of orders for the iPhone X will be delivered some time during the early months of 2018.

To Answer the Question
So, to answer the question, “should I upgrade or not?” is going to really require you to think about it. The upgrade from the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus to the iPhone 8 may not be very compelling unless you really want the better camera and wireless charging, to put it very bluntly. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus going to be very similar to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus (remember… this is the “tock” update…).

The upgrade to the iPhone X may be the more compelling upgrade, but the cost and the available storage sizes really make the upgrade difficult. Not many are going to want to pay $1150 for a smartphone; and $1000 for a smaller, 64GB device implies that you may have to up the ante on your data plan in order to make it work… so you’re going to pay more for the iPhone X no matter how you slice it.

For me… the jury is still out. I’ve got to a day or two to think about it, but as of this writing… I’m still on the fence. I will likely get one to review, but it may be some time in October before I order it, IF I don’t jump on the band wagon on 2017-09-15. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Come back next time. I’ll have information on the new updated Apple Watch and Apple TV, as announced at the Apple Event on 2017-09-12!

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