Tech Report: An Apple A Day

By October 26, 2012
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Hi all, Andrew back and bleary-eyed from watching too many live blogs of the Apple event on Tuesday. A lot of surprises, some good, some bad, and the predicted release of the iPad mini.

Let’s work our way through them:

First out of the gate was the 13″ Mac Book Pro with Retina display. This Retina display is a little smaller than the 15″ unit in resolution and size, and it’s attached to a newer, thinner form-factor 13″ notebook that sacrifices the optical drive of its predecessors. Only SSD storage available, the usual non-replaceable battery, etc. Starts at $1700 and climbs quickly depending on storage and RAM. Don’t forget the AppleCare – $250. I don’t usually recommend extended warranties, but AppleCare is good insurance against the sometimes-startling repair costs of Apple gear.

Buy/No Buy? All depends on the depth of your pockets and your devotion to Apple. I just set up an astonishingly wonderful Lenovo X1 Carbon, a premium machine in every sense of that word, for about 70% of the cost of the base 13″ MBPwRD. The X1 has a 14″ 1600×900 display vs the 2560×1600 13″ in the Mac, but very similar in all other hardware aspects. The X1 is lighter, and the carbon construction makes it feel like a Formula One car landed in your lap. I’m going to have a hard time not buying an X1 for myself, but the Mac I can take or leave.

Next was a new Mac mini! I’ve owned every mini since the original G4 except the current (now former) generation, and I think they’re the best-kept secret in Mac-dom. If you want to have a Mac around, and don’t need a laptop, the mini is a joy and a wonder. Decent performance, lots of ports, and starts at $600! The new unit has an Ivy Bridge Core i5 CPU, Thunderbolt, USB3, FireWire and HDMI. Lots to love here. Even AppleCare is cheap for this puppy, only $150. Upgrades to Core i7 boost the price, but not much, and the RAM is user-replaceable, so an upgrade to 16GB can be had for well under $100 from Crucial.com.

Buy/No Buy? Buy! I love me a mini. If you have a need for a Mac desktop, go for it! I will probably join you in mini ownership soon.

Surprise, surprise, it’s new iMacs! Ridiculous thin (5mm!) at the edges, minus the FireWire and HDMI ports of the mini, and with all the compromises of an all-in-one. Esthetics triumphs over functionality here. The interesting thing in this announcement was the new “Fusion” drive. Apple is combining a 128GB SSD with a 1 or 3TB mechanical drive, presenting it to the user as one volume, and allowing the OS to manage the distribution of the most-used data to the SSD for fastest retrieval. It’s a “best of both worlds” approach that I think will substantially improve performance without sacrificing capacity. That said, it ain’t cheap. It’s a $250 premium over the mechanical drive alone, and that buys a lot of SSD, certainly a lot more than 128GB, in the real world.

Buy/No Buy? I think the high-end mini with a good 24″ or 27″ LCD is much, much more bang for your buck. The simple fact is that good monitors can last 5 or more years, and good computers start to feel old after 2 or 3. Why pay several hundred for a quality monitor and then attach it to a computer you’re going to want to upgrade much sooner than the monitor? For specific users who value the esthetics of a cable-free environment but prefer the larger screen size, it’s a good fit, but at a substantial cost.

And then came the meat of the matter, new iPads. The new 10″ unit was a surprise, and comes only 7 months after the introduction of the iPad 3. It left some iPad 3 owners, especially recent purchasers, a little down at the mouth. But it makes sense for Apple to standardize all their tablets on the Lightning connector, to bring the CPU of their top of the line product into parity with the iPhone 5, and to shift the iPad product cycle in line with the holiday buying season. Yes, it all makes sense, and it still hurts this iPad 3 owner just a little.

Buy/No Buy? Buy. Wait a week and see what Google has at their event on the 29th. The scuttlebutt says an new high-res 10″ Nexus unit is coming, but if you’re in the market for a 10″ tablet, what we’ll call the iPad 3S is an outstanding value. Get the Verizon LTE model and use it as a hotspot for no extra dollars!

Finally making its debut was the new iPad mini. This is a 7.9″ unit that has been the talk of the net for a while now. Steve Jobs denigrated the 7″ unit class as too small, but with Amazon and Nexus putting out strong offerings that undercut the iPad by $300, Apple needed to respond. What they’ve put out is a little bit of a disappointment to me at least. It’s essentially an iPad 2 with a better camera, a Lightning connector, and the smaller form-factor.

Buy/No Buy? At $229, it would have been a runner. At $279, Apple’s cachet and the ecosystem might have tipped the balance, but at $329 and up? Boo. You can get a Nexus 7 with a quad-core CPU (not Apple’s now two-year-old dual-core A5), better resolution screen, and Android OS updates straight from Google for $199. The value proposition just isn’t there. Google isn’t sitting still. The event on the 29th promises Nexus 7 units with more storage at the same price points and cell data-capable units too. The iPad mini is warmed-over two-year-old tech, and as such doesn’t deserve your dollars, certainly not three hundred and twenty-nine of them.

So there you have it. A new mini for me, but it’s the Mac mini, not the iPad mini. Looking forward to the 10/29 Google event, and getting my mitts on a Surface. Happy teching!

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Andrew Solmssen

About me: I am a nerd. I nerd it up currently as an independent computer consultant and stand-up comic, but my nerd history is long. I started by typing in BASIC programs on a TRS-80, progressed to Apple IIs and then PCs and Macs. My first internet transaction was downloading the "Canonical Collection of Light-Bulb Jokes" from an FTP site on a line-printing terminal at the University of Maryland in 1984. My CompuServe ID was 73300,13, and my Slashdot user id is 9448. I still have some Apple DOS 3.3 disks somewhere, and the first USR Courier 2400bps modem I ever owned. I have been to three different Fry's in one day. I can build a new PC in an hour from stuff I have around the house. I started by administrating a Novell 2.15c network and now do Windows, Mac, and Unix. I'm not a comic book geek, or a Star Wars guy, or even a D&D guy, although I can speak those languages. Nerd, that's me. Visit me at www.bitboy.com, facebook.com/solmssen, and twitter.com/solmssen/