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This ad was previously leaded. They forgot to add one thing though. The iPad is an actual device that you can buy while the HP Slate has will not be made.  I don’t know about you but I think a real product over vaporware gets the edge.  Supposedly the reason the Slate was dropped was because of sluggish performance with the processor and Windows 7. A desktop and most new laptops runs Windows 7 quite nicely, but put it on an Atom processor and a device that needs to save power and no surprise that is a big fail. In other news Microsoft’s Courier tablet is also now just vaporware and will also not be produced. These iPad killers decided that honorable thing to do was to kill themselves.

Even if produced there were never going to be tablets with sales like the iPad. There is a simple reason why Apple has succeeded with a Tablet computer where so many others have failed. Putting a touch interface on an existing OS just is not enough.

A couple things had to happen for a tablet to succeed:

  • An Operating System created from the ground up with a touch interface.
  • An ecosystem of application available to support the new OS.  Having a technically superior OS is not enough.  There has to be apps for people to use from day one.

Previous tables with Windows or Linux on them were failures mostly because they were desktop OS’s ported over to a touch interface and so natively were not designed for that environment.  I think if Apple had created a Tablet that ran OSX then that too would have been a failure – though would certainly have been loved by segments of the Mac community.  It would certainly not have had the sales the iPad has gotten in my opinion.

The iPad succeeded because:

  • The iPhone OS which while based on OSX was never intended to run OSX desktop apps.  It was created from the ground up to support a touch interface
  • The iPhone/iPod Touch app store created a very large ecosystem of applications so that not only could people run those applications immediately, but developers could also support the iPad resolution without a major redesign.  So from day one iPad users had a wealth of apps to use with apps directly for the iPad being on the increase.

These are the primary reasons for the iPad’s success.  Though certainly credit has to be given both to Apple design and Apply hype.  Many people wanted an iPad simply because they really enjoyed the user experience with the iPhone/iPod Touch and could easily imagine how that experience would be even better on a larger screen.  I never cared about having a tablet computer – but this realization of how the interface would work on a larger screen hooked me in.

Though I also think there is now room for other successful tablet computers because the two main criteria I mentioned can be applied elsewhere.  Android has a good touch interface which is also quite scalable to a tablet device.  They also have a growing collection of Android apps and so when a solid Android Tablet appears their users will be able to really use the device from the start.  HP’s buying of Palm and thus WebOS also means that we might see a WebOS based tablet.  Though the WebOS application ecology is still pretty small.  Surely one of the reasons for the dumping of the HP Slate was the acquisition of Palm.  I wish them success in this area though since strong competition gives the users better and better devices.

After close to a month of daily use of my iPad I am still extremely happy with it and will be happy to see a growing usable tablet experience for more people.

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Last week when reviewing the Stanza iPhone/iPod Touch book reading app I had mentioned that I hoped that at some point Amazon would open up there store to sell their Kindle format books for hardware other than just the Kindle.  I was happily surprised to find out last night that they added a Kindle app to the iTunes app store for the iPhone/iPod Touch.

It is a free download from the iTunes apps store and once you get it you can open it on the iPhone/iPod Touch and enter your Amazon user name and account.  This is required before you attempt to buy a Kindle format book at Amazon since they need to have a registered device first.

As of now you can not buy books from the Amazon Kindle store directly via the Kindle app.  You can do this via Safari on the iPhone/iPod Touch – but the pages are not really formatted for the iPhone/iPod Touch.  The easiest way is on you main computer to go to the Amazon Kindle store and buy the book you want from there.  After you do the next time you open the Kindle app the book will be displayed.  If you already owned a Kindle all of the books you previously bought will be available.  In fact via what they call whispersync the books are synced as far as bookmarks go so that you could easily go from one device to another.  I expect in the future the Kindle app will allow you to browse books at Amazon just like the iTunes app.  Just like the Kindle you can also download the first chapter of any Kindle book for free.  That is pretty cool, though I don’t know if it is something I would ever do.  I maintain a large wish list in Bookpedia already without having to find new things to add.  Though it could come in handy.

As to the book reading experience itself.  Well as a reader the Kindle app has a ways to go.  I guess I have been experience by the good experience I had with the Stanza app.  As of now the Kindle app is portrait mode only and will not flip to landscape – which is my preference.  To change pages you simply swipe your finger on the page, which is easy enough.  Formatting options are very basic – you can only adjust text size and not text color or background.  So it is a basic reader. That being said it is still quite usable and if you are comfortable reading a book on the iPhone/iPod Touch it gets the job done.

I really hope that they put some effort in this app in the future to make it better and to give you some more options.

As I have written before Amazon has the clout to be able to get publisher provide their books in Kindle format and so we can expect many more books added to the quarter million available.  What Amazon really gets right is pricing, especially on new books.  Most new books are $9.99 which is much lower than the hardcover version.  That price makes me much more likely to buy a book when it comes out instead of waiting till it is in paperback format.  The pricing on older books is lower than paperbacks, but not to the same degree as the hardcover price difference.

I think this is a great move on Amazon’s part especially if they do the same for other smart phones such as the Blackberry.  Now I had already wanted to buy a Kindle 2.  But already having a library of Kindle books by buying them for the iPhone/iPod Touch will more than likely spur to get one even more.  The ability to share your books and bookmarks is great.  I don’t consider the Kindle all that portable in that it is not just something you can throw into you coat or back pocket.  I can easily see using the Kindle 2 a main reading machine, but when out and about and having some time for reading I can switch to my iPod Touch.  I really love to read and the ability to download a book when I want is perfect.

Now for Kindle owners who have newspaper or magazine subscriptions, these will not appear on the Kindle app.  For myself though I am not interested in newspaper/magazine subscriptions for the Kindle anyway since I get my news content from the web.

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I wrote on wanting the new Kindle 2 before, but in the meantime I have been using the iPod Touch as a book reader. When I first got the iPod Touch is was before they had the 2.0 version of the software that allowed applications.  So previously I had read some books on the iPod by sending them as a PDF to my mail account and then opening it and reading it on the iPod Touch.  Not a very elegant solution, but it worked.  When apps became available for the iPod Touch several book readers became available and from what I had read the free app Stanza was one of the better ones.  Though because I had a stack of books to read on my bookshelf I never got around to putting it through the paces.

About two weeks ago I finished everything that I had to read and so decided to see if Stanza was a usable ebook reader.  There are multiple ways to get content for Stanza.  You can do it directly from the iPod Touch via Wi-Fi by accessing the various ebook services listed in the Stanza’s catalog.  This of course includes access to public domain books via Project Gutenberg.  Though there are also a variety of content that you can buy.  This is what I was most curios about and I found that there was a large amount of ebooks available for download from these stores.  Most newer books seem to be available, but whether you will find specific authors is largely hit or miss.

I did find a large selection of books that were on my wish list and so did buy and download a book to test out.  For my first test I bought one directly via the iPod Touch which was a fairly straightforward process using a credit card and it did not take long before I had downlaoded it to the iPod Touch and I  was reading it.  The second book I bought I accessed the website via my computer.  Whether you buy it online via a computer or the iPod Touch/iPhone they go to the same bookshelf online and are accessed in the same location on the iPod Touch/iPhone. The books are in Secure eReader format and once downloaded and opened you have to enter your name and credit card number since the books use DRM tied directly to the user.  Stanza also has a desktop app available for multiple operating systems that allow you to transfer some ebook formats on your computer to your iPod Touch/iPhone.  You can also convert PDF files, and of course html and text files via the Stanza app to your device.

The reading experience via Stanza is really quite good.  In fact I found it quite a good experience. Once you have your book downloaded and selected it reading it is quite simple.  To turn a page you simply touch the right side of the screen to advance  or left side to go back a page.  Clicking on the bottom shows you where you are in the book or allows you to select a different chapter.  You can also change the display options for the text, but the default settings were fine for me.  As with most iPod Touch/iPhone apps it is easy using the touch screen to increase/decrease font size.  A good book reader does not get in the way, and Stanza is certainly a good book reader. It does not take long before you are just reading and not thinking at all about the mechanics of the reader.  I really enjoyed the experience especialy with the automatic bookmarking so that you always return to where you left off.  It is also great for bedtime reading since you don’t need a book light and can hold the device one handed with no fatigue.  After a while you can even control the device one handed by tapping the screen with your thumb to advance a page.  Whether you would enjoy the experience comes down to personal preference. I found though that I prefer this method for reading a book – especially fiction where you would not be marking it up. It is also nice to be able to always have your book with you so you could just start reading anywhere and anytime you felt like it.

The pricing of these books is not very consistent and is all over the map.  New books are a lower price than their hardcover version, but not significantly lower.  Books that are currently available in paperback are also pretty close to the paperback price for the most part.  There are also some large inconsistencies in pricing. For example the first book I bought was book 2 of the Dresden Files series which cost $7.99.  When I finished this book and wanted the third book in the series the pricing was $15.99 even though other later books in the series were $6.99 and $7.99. This was not just an isolated example, but an example of the inconsistent pricing I found.  I was quite suprised to find the high cost of many ebooks.  Publishers are hurting themselves with their pricing model. An ebook of course requires no paper costs, transportation costs, etc – and so material costs are greatly reduced.  When you finish an ebook you can’t sell, lend it, or take it to a used book store since the DRM prevents this.  So to have an ebook to be very close in pricing to the paper eqivalent makes no sense at all. A 1 – 3 dollar discount for the ebook version is ridiculous considering the cost saving the publisher save by not printing a book.  Though most of the ebook stores do some kind of reward system.  For example when you buy a book depending on how much it cost you get a dollar to a couple of dollars credit that will be taken off automatically when you purchase your next book.

The pricing model for Amazon’s Kindle catalog is much better with brand new books costing usually not more than $9.99. Amazon has done it right with a much better and more realistic pricing model.  I would love the ability to be able to buy Kindle format books to read on the iPod Touch/iPhone. There have been some indication that Amazon is going to make Kindle format books available on other platforms.  Though it might be that they mean that they will allow you to use books you bought via the Kindle device to be shared on other mobile platforms. I do hope that you can buy Kindle format books without even having the Kindle device.  It would seem to me that the good business model is with the books themselves and not whatever money they make on indiviual (and pricey) Kindles.

I am on my 4th book using Stanza and this has certainly become part of my book reading mix.  It is quite convenient to be able to just download a book when you want it. Maybe one day book publishers will learn from the music industry when it comes to Digital Rights Management.  DRM is a block for the user when they can’t access content they buy via the device they want to use.

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For some time I have been wanting an ebook reader and have been following along for awhile waiting for the device that would want me to dive in.  Previously I had looked at the Sony Reader, especially the 2nd generation one, but was not happy with their pricing structure.  When the first Kindle came out I was rather disappointed by the features and how it looked and there was quite a lot of negative criticism of it at first.  Though I was surprised as time went on actually users of the Kindle were overall quite happy with it for the most part, except for the navigation buttons.

Regardless I decided to wait to see what the 2nd generation Kindle would have.  The Kindle 2 certainly seems to be an improvement overall and has improved aesthetically over the original.  Though really the most important consideration in any book reader is the catalog.  This is the main reason why I thought that Amazon could really take ebooks to the next level.  They have the clout to get publishers to submit books in their format.  Just like Apple with iTunes was able to shape the downloadable music industry, Amazon will probably be quite significant in the ebook space.  Right now they have a quarter million books in their catalog and more an more new books are available in the Kindle format.

I was disappointed though that the price of the Kindle had not dropped from the $359 dollars its predecessor had dropped down to.  $359 can buy a lot of books.  So I was trying to justify the purchase in light of the fact that I had already bought some expensive tech products over the last year. I was thinking that since books on the kindle are cheaper than the same book in paper that over time it would pay for itself.  There is some truth in that since new bestsellers are mostly only $9.99.   Though it might take quite a while before the lower prices would offset the Kindle purchase.  So I started looking through my wish list of books that I maintain on Bookpedia.  I went through them and would click on the Amazon button in Bookpedia to go to the Amazon page to see if they were available on the Kindle.

Unfortunately I found that only about half of the books I had on my wish list were actually available on the Kindle.  Now many of the books I have on my wish list deal with Catholic theology and spirituality so I guess it is not surprising that many were not yet available.  One of my favorite publishers Ignatius Press now has one book in Kindle format and I really hope they make their whole catalog available that way.  I really want to have Pope Benedict XVI on a Kindle along with his writings as Cardinal Ratzinger.  I was surprised though that books like the Jack Aubrey series by Patrick O’Brian were not on the Kindle. I have read six books of this 21 book series and was really hoping that I could get it via the Kindle.  The new book by one of my favorite SF authors Michael Flynn was also not available for the Kindle. So while I would have liked to justify a Kindle purchase based on price savings over time – it would be quite a period of time.

My poor book shelves are stressed and loaded to the full with layers of books on each shelf.  This is one of the reasons I want to be able to go the ebook route.  Yeah I love seeing books in a book shelf, there is something about it that makes a book geek happy.   But I already have the stuffed book shelves to look at so am more than willing to go to an electronic format.  There has been criticism of ebooks from people who like the smell of paper and the feel of the book. I am not one of those critics.  I have read books on my computer and iPod Touch and don’t mind the experience and a electronic ink technology like the Kindle has the best of both worlds.  There have been many times when I wanted to search for something in a book.

Plus there is the fact that there a lot of public domain books that can be read on the Kindle (or any other book reader).  There are plenty of titles of Catholic theology and spirituality that would be nice to be able to read on the Kindle.  I convert many public domain books to speech to listen to.  But when it comes to theology and spirituality though I want to read it and not listen to it.  Fiction is fine to listen to, but I need to put more attention into books of this type and reading it is the best way.  I have bookmarks full of links to books I want to read at some point.  Though I could read them on my iPod Touch via Stanza. One of the new features available on the kindle is text-to-speech and that is pretty cool.  I have listened to hundreds of books via modern computer speech synthesis and It would be nice to be able to switch between reading a book and listening to it as your needs change.

Really though I do want the new Kindle and now over time more and more of the books I want will be available for it and right now there are tons of books that are available.  So it is only a matter of time and justifying it financially before I do break down and order it.

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The category of info organizing software has been an important software are for me.  Being able to keep documents, notes, graphics, etc in a database and to be able to categorize content and find it quickly via organization or searching really makes it quite worthwhile.  The central database makes it easy to have the same content on multiple machines.  Over the years I have kept such virtual notebooks for programming related codes and notes, Catholic info and apologetics, computer tips, addresses, passwords, etc.

For several years I used a Windows product called Info Angel.  Their website is kind of tacky and the name is outputting, but I really liked this program from when it was first freeware and then bought it when it went shareware.  Like many note organizers you could create folders and subfolders to categorize content.  You could import html and rtf documents and create your own documents from scratch.  It has a very rich editing environment along the lines of a good html WYSIWYG editor that allowed using graphics and html elements such as tables.  The table editing was also pretty strong.  It used an Access database to store content and allowed you to create multiple databases if you wanted.  This was useful since I would copy this database back and forth from work to home so that I always had access to the same content.

When I moved to the Apple Mac platform I started to look for a new information organizer.  Ideally I wanted to find a program that would work on Windows and OSX and that could share a database.  Secondarily I wanted to find one that was free or under $40.  There are plenty of information organizers on the Mac and I looked through some of them and did not find a multi platform one.  Most of the Mac ones I first looked at also did not have the editing capabilities that I wanted.  For a while I settled on DevonThink Personal.  The treeview organization was like what I was use to and it had basic editing tools along with some interesting features and a good search capability.  But it was not what I would class a the ultimate product in this area, though it works quite well.

Back in March of 2008 the Mac Review Cast interviewed the CEO on the latest version of Evernote.  When I heard that Evernote was going to be for Mac and Windows and that it synchronized its database on the web I was certainly intrigued.  After getting an invite for the Beta program I downloaded it and started to use it.

Over the almost year since then the program has been constantly updated and I have come to like it more and more.  At first the interface put me off.  I am use to a treeview where I could add subfolders to organize content.  In Evernote you can make multiple notebooks and then add notes to those specific notebooks.  Since I keep plenty of notes in various categories I figured it would be quite inefficient to find content and that it would be cluttered.  I was proved wrong because of Evernotes excellent search capability.  Start typing something and it instantly finds notes that match and then you can simply click on the note you wanted.  Additionally you can tag notes.  This is quite useful and the tag area on the sidebar makes it easy to find content in multiple notebooks that have the same tag.  The fact that I could use the Windows client at work and the Mac Client at home with the notebooks automatically synched made me a really happy geek and I have now switched totally over to Evernote for all of my information management.

The fact that you can use Evernote for free is also quite excellent.  The free version is limited to uploading 40 MB of data a month and lacks SSL.  In my case even though I use this product a lot I have never come close to the monthly allowance.  Though the lack of SSL makes me not put any sensitive data into Evernote.  The paid version is $5 a month or $45 dollars for the whole year which is pretty reasonable and gives you 500 MB of upload, SSL, and Premium support along with some other benifits.

As a Mac user one of the things I have come to expect is beautiful and useful interfaces.  Here Evernote is no slouch and is quite pleasing to look at while also being easy to use.  The Mac version gives you 3 different data views (Windows version has 2 views). You can edit notes inline of the program or have them open in an editing windows.  The editing controls are simple word processing ones for font, alignment, font style, color, lists, etc.  But there are multiple ways to get data into Evernote fully formatted.  You can simply copy and paste from a word processor or from your browser, via email, , drag and drop, or importing from a document directly.  On the Mac you can use your iSight to create a new note.  Using images is one of the coolest parts of Evernote.  While pretty much all information management programs let you paste in graphics, Evernote goes a step further.  Once the image is synced on their server it is parsed for text using OCR.  After this when you search it will also find text within a graphic.  Not only is this cool, it actually works.  I scanned in receipts and was able to find content in the receipts with not problem. Would also be perfect for business cards.

evernote

The Windows interface of Evernote is pretty much identical to the Mac version which is a real plus.  They custom designed the interface not using common Windows controls which look quite spartan when compared to OSX controls.  I so wish more Windows programs took this attention to detail and concern for aesthetics in their interface as most Mac programs do. Though I must admit that Microsoft Office products have come a long way in this regard.

One of my favorite data formatting features is to use tables to present data I have stored in notes.  Unfortunately Evernote’s table handling capabilities are quite limited.  If you import or paste a document with a table it will appear just fine.  But if you want to further edit the table by inserting/deleting columns/rows or changing background color of rows you are going to have a problem.  The Windows version has some capability to add rows and depending on how you move the cursor via the keyboard  you can indeed add rows to an existing table, though there is no way to insert a table from Evernote itself.  The Mac version has a table icon and when pressed allows you to select the column/row size of the table you want to insert, though once inserted I found no way to insert/add rows/columns.  I hope they fix this in the future and at least should be consistent in the Mac/Windows versions.

This is a pure note taking application and does not include calendars, contact information, etc like many information management programs.  Though this is fine for me since I want a note program to do one thing well and Evernote mostly does that in handling note management.  There are additional features such a Saved Searches which let you save commonly used searches.  In Windows Evernote work with Outlook.  You can also clip information directly from most browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc) directly into Evernote via a toolbar.   Each Evernote account also lets you email to a specific url to add content to your default notebook from any email source.  So you could add notes easily from any phone with email capabilities.  For the iPhone/iPod Touch there is a free Evernote app that also lets you use Evernote directly and have access to all of your data.  This application works quite well and they have improved it since the first release to also be able to show some notes even when using the iPod Touch and you are not around Wi-Fi. There is also a Windows Mobile version available.  But you can use any internet capable phone/device to access/edit/add notes via your account on the Evernote website directly.

One problem with Evernote is the lack of exporting features.  As far as I could tell you could not export a single note back out.  Sure you could copy and paste the data to get it out, but you really should be able to export the information back out as text or html.    You though can email an individual note and so could email it to yourself.  But you should not  have to go to this length.

So overall I quite like this tool and I have no doubt it will only get better.  I will always be looking for the ultimate note organization application, but for now it is going to be hard to find one as flexible as Evernote.

Evernote site

A Quick Introduction to Evernote

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I have always been a reluctant laptop user and always more of a desktop kind of guy.  Sure laptops can be quite useful for there portability, but they always feel like so much compromise when using them.  Over the years I have used multiple laptops associated with work and pretty much always attached external keyboards and mice to them.  The interface to use them is what really gets in the way and you kind of defeat the portability purpose when you have to carry external peripherals to go with them.  Some time back I had a Dell Duo-Core machine with a good amount of memory and a 17″ screen, but I just hated typing with it and using the trackpad and trackpad button was always a chore.  It just never melted into the interface background.  My wife’s 17″ inch HP laptop is much the same and the trackpad would drive me to frustration in short time as the cursor would seem to go pretty much willy-nilly.  The actually processing of laptops have though quite advanced over the years and there is much less compromise in this area.

Having given my Dell laptop to my daughter a year ago I have been without a laptop and would just resort to using my wife’s when I needed one.  But using that HP trackpad has me offering it up in short order.  So last week while at the Navy Exchange I decided to look at getting one of the new Mac laptops.  I had originally planned on getting a middle-0f-the-line MacBook.  I was trying to exercise the virtue of prudence by thinking that all I needed was a MacBook and not a Mac Book Pro. Though I have to admit that just adding Pro to the model name made it more desirable for me. But I was all set to go with the MacBook, the only problem was is that they had it sitting right next to the 15″ MacBook Pro.  This is where all of the rationalizing started to kick in.  First I noticed that the MacBook Pro and the MacBook I had wanted had less than a $400 price difference.   Plus a 15″ screen suits my tastes much better than as 13″ one.  So the rationalizations continued as I thought “hey I plan to keep this machine for several years so why not get the one which has Firewire and and Expresscard/34 slot which the Mac Pro does not.  Throw in the fact that it has two (count em two) video cards the $400 price difference quickly becomes moot or so I justified.  The one nice thing about being able to shop in a Navy Exchange is that the prices are slightly lower than in an Apple Store and it is tax free.

Now onto the review.

The  Mac laptop line now uses the aluminum  unibody enclosure (except the white MacBook). This gives the laptop a real solid feeling while at the same time being quite thin.  The magnetic latch is an improvement over previous MBPs.  Since it was carved out of a solid block of aluminum the solid feeling is more than skin deep.  The LED-backlit widescreen display is really quite beautiful and the colors quite vibrant.  The glossy screen can be disconcerting at first, but I had already grown use to a glossy screen on an iMac and so now don’t even think of it and in fact now prefer it.  When it comes to aesthetics it is hard to surpass Apple.  The machine looks more like a piece of art with the metal body, black keys, and glowing white Apple log.  But the reason to have a computer it to be able to do something with it.

The true test for me was usability when it came o the the keyboard and trackpad.  I must admit to being rather shocked at how fast I was able to use the keyboard and to type at normal speed.  I have used plenty of laptops with full sized keyboards, but they just never felt right.  For me the MPB keyboard is just about perfect, though this is quite a subjective area.  What blew me away was the trackpad. Apple has gone to a larger trackpad with no buttons where the whole trackpad is a button that you can click.  This is a trackpad that I was able to use immediately with hardly any learning curve at all.  Now I realize Steve Jobs mission to remove every possible button to excess and when it came to Apple mice I always considered this a fault.  This no button trackpad is simplicity itself, but actually usable.  I can scroll by using two fingers anywhere on the trackpad.  I can right click by pressing down with two fingers (or clicking in a selected bottom corner).  Then there are the variety of other multitouch gestures to zoom, rotate, bring up expose, etc.  I love this trackpad so much that I actually want a keyboard with a trackpad for my desktop machine.  While if they had such a keyboard I would still use the regular mouse, I would also use the trackpad a lot.  I tried out the beta version of Firefox 3.1 which supports multitouch and it really was a great way to browse.  I had been a been a reluctant laptop user, but the MPB is really a joy to use.  Plus the fact that the keyboard is backlit is quite a plus in many situations.

The hardware inside includes and Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.4 ghz with a 1066MHz frontside bus.  2GB of DDR3 SDRAM memory which Apple says is expandable to 4, but some have gotten 6GB to work fine (though others with problems).  A 250GB hard drive along with a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and a 9600M GT with 256 MB.  The dual video chips are pretty cool since if you are running on battery you can switch to the less capable card to preserve battery life.  Though it is quite annoying that to switch video chips you have to go to the preference panel to do so and then log out and back in.  This should be made much easier and hopefully software can address this in the future.  The MPB is also available with a 2.8 GHZ chip, but I did not see the price tradeoff/benifit as worth it.  Other standards include 802.11n draft specification, Bluetooth, and Gigabyte Ethernet, but this is pretty standard for modern laptops.  A bottom cover allows you to easily access the battery swap out the hard drive or add memory.  This is an improvement over previous generations of the MBP where changing the hard drive took much more disassembling and was not for the casual user.

As with previous Intel Mac laptops the MagSafe power port is use.  The power connector uses a magnet and quickly attaches to the side of the laptop.  I have already found this to be a great feature since it easily disconnects if you trip over the cord and it won’t bring the laptop down crashing along with the cord.  Plus there is just the juvenile fun of connecting it and having the magnets pull it together.  One nice bit of design is that the power brick end  of the power has a couple of ways of connecting to electrical power.  The little white brick itself has 2 prongs that pop out to plug in.  You can pop this off of the power brick and connect a longer 3 pronged cord to use instead.  I found this invaluable to use in a hotel room to be able to connect up farther away.  Nice bit of design for portability and having the ability to add an extension.

One real surprise was the sound quality.  On either side of the keyboard are speakers with hundreds of tiny drilled holes for the grill.  Best sound I have ever heard come natively out of a laptop.  Though as you would expect there is not much bass sound.  The new 17″ MBP is probably even better since they have allowed even more space for the speakers.

So the hardware is quite capable and previously PC Magazine had rated the last generation MBP as the fastest Vista machine available.  No doubt the latest MBP would also make quite a capable Vista machine, but I wanted a Mac laptop primarily to run OSX in the first place.  When my wife and I would go traveling and we would take a Windows laptop I felt like I had lost so much capability.  There are so many Mac programs I have grown to love that just don’t have a Windows counterpart or an inadequate one.  I am not a MS Windows hater, it is just that I actually enjoy using OSX and the Mac shareware community turns out some really amazing software.  I find this laptop to be speedier and more responsive than my iMac which also had a 2.44 GHZ core duo.  So I definately do not feel like I have lost power when using this machine.  Though I will probably add more memory later just so that I can run VMWare Fusion and Windows 7 or Ubuntu when I need to as a Virtual Machine.  The MacBook Pro can easily be a desktop replacement machine.

Since I started using this machine I have been using Spaces a lot more.  Spaces is a virtual window program that is part of OSX Leopard and really makes handling multiple windows a snap.  I don’t use Spaces on my main machine simply because 3 monitors provide quite enough screen real estate. But for a laptop Spaces is quite excellent.  I setup programs to always run in a certain space so I always know what Space a loaded program is in and makes switching between windows quite easily.

Now I come to the part of the review where I come out of Apple fanboy mode into a more critical mode.  When it comes to ports Apple seems to be always looking for the next best thing, unfortunately they do it before anybody else heads that way.  To hook up an external monitor you need to use the Mini DisplayPort.  Yes Apple could not even use the fairly small DisplayPort connector that is slowly being adopted, they had to make it smaller.  While Apple has said they will license this smaller port for free to other manufacturers it has quite a long ways to go before it will be supported by monitor manufacturers.  To add insult to injury Apple does not include a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter which you have to buy separately.  I guess they want to encourage you to buy a $799 24 ” Apple Cinema Display that supports Mini DisplayPort (along with pretty much acting as a dock ).   This annoys me even though I am unlikely to hook up an external monitor to the laptop anyway since I have the Mac Pro desktop.  The machine also has only 2 USB ports which is less than most Windows laptops you will find out there.  The fact that there is only 1 Firewire 800/400 port doesn’t bother me though and the number of USB ports is not a concern for me  either.  Right now I can only foresee using USB for a backup hard drive and a thumbdrive anyway.  Apple goes quite minimal on ports, but considering just how thin the MPB is it is amazing how much they do manage to get what they have in.

When I had previously gotten an iMac it came with an Apple remote which I came to use quite often.  So does the MPB come with one?  Why of course not.  After forking over the money for a MBP in the first place you have to buy a $19 Apple remote separately. Apple does this sort stuff all the time.  The iPod use to come with a dock and a little powerbrick to charge the iPod using a regular socket.  With each generation of iPod you got less and less external peripherals which of course are sold separately.  Come on Apple what does the Apple remote cost to make – 2 or 3 bucks?  Or how about a year of MobileMe with the purchase of a new Mac or at least at a discounted price? How about iWork with a Pro machine. Apple at times wants to nickel and dime you to death after you have already put out some serious cash for a Mac.  Though on the bright side OSX with iLife really provides a lot of capability and software that you would have to pay extra for in the Windows world.  Not only that you don’t get all the crapware that comes with almost all Windows machines.

So I am quite happy with the Mac Book Pro and find it the first laptop that I can really enjoy and most of all can use constantly without feeling the laptop compromise.

A couple of days after I bought this machine Apple announced at Macworld the new 17″ Macbook Pro.  At close to $900 dollars more than I paid for the MPB I bought, I am not feeling any buyers remorse.  Plus I think the 15 inch is just the right size for both portability  and still having sufficient screen real estate.  The 17″ does come with slightly faster CPUs and can handle 8 GB of ram.  The new technology battery is suppose to get 7 to 8 hours of battery life (whatever that is in the real world), though it is not user replaceable.  I must admit that the 17″ MBP is a pretty serious machine for those who need the size and it is pretty amazing that is is only 6.6 pounds which is only 1.1 pound more than the 15″ model.

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This is my current setup and a setup I will be using for the next couple of years at least.

mycomputer

Obviously a Catholic geek setup.  The monitors are mix and match.  A Samsung 19″, Samsung 24″ Widescreen, and an HP 22″ Widescreen.  The microphone is a Blue Snowball. Computer is a 2008 Mac Pro along with a 2008 15″ Macbook Pro.  Though the laptop is only in the picture since I was transferring data and it normally resides in the bedroom.  Wireless Logitech keyboard with Mac keys.  Logitech 5.1 sound system, though nothing fancy. Behind the monitors is a DirectTV DVR which I play through a EyeTV Hybid USB Tuner.  And yest I spend way too long in front of this setup.

Catholic stuff includes.  Sacred Heart Statue, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Statue. St. Thomas Aquinas Statue.  Divine Mercy picture.  Sacred heart Picture, and a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary (associated with the Miraculous Medal I believe), plus of course a crucifix.

The Guitar is a red Ibanez SG knockoff, also nothing fancy – but I just dink around with it in the first place when in the mood.  Alas my dreams of heavy metal guitarist are beyond me.

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Around midnight Pacific time last night, 30GB Zunes began restarting and locking up at their boot screens. Reports have swamped official forums and fan sites, and Microsoft has yet to officially comment on the reason for this pre-New-Year’s Zune apocalypse.

I guess all part of the coming Zuneday apocalypse that all the Zunesayers have been predicting.  As someone who has owned multiple mp3 players all the way back to a Rio MP3 CD player before there were any solid state or hard drive mp3 devices up to a couple of iPods I find this kind of funny.  Instead of the Y2K bug it is YZK. Welcome to the social, oops never mind.  Good to see that the blue screen of death has a Zune equivalent.

Though there is the Simpson’s bully saying “Ha, Ha” over the misfortune of others that is not right.  iPod owners having a laugh at fellow mp3 owners having their devices go dead on the last day of the year is not exactly charitable.  But people do like their cliques and the Microsoft/Apple divide is just another way we like to divide ourselves.

Actually I would like to see the Zune become an even better player. It has certainly come a long way since it’s first release and the software has improved with more features (except this new “feature”).  In any market you really want to see at least two or more dominant players (pun accidental, but I like it).  When you have such competition it keeps prices down and usually gives us more choices and better products.  The iPod is so dominant and other mp3 players only have a minor market share in comparison.  Though the different iPods have certainly steadily improved and Apple seems to be a company not all that concerned with market forces when it comes to prices.

Plus having different players can continue the pressure that downloadable music be free of DRM. We have come along way in that regard with the Amazon MP3 store being totally DRM free and Rhapsody, Napster, and others having the same thing now.  The iTunes store is only partially DRM free, but that is because music publishers for some reason want to punish iTunes for being succesful and have not made the same deals with them as of yet that they have done with others.  Having device independent music formats is extremely important.  Somebody could be quite happy with iTunes with their iPod now, but who know in five or ten years what will be the best player?

Oh well, for you 30gb Zune owners may they patch this one quick.

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I have followed the Netbook craze with some interest and it is rather fascinating how fast this part of the marked developed with more and more companies putting out small notebooks with 12 inch and under screens with predominately Atom processors. While these machines are decidedly underpowered compared to most notebooks, there purpose is as the name suggest used for web browsing and other tasks that don’t require much power. Many of the Netbooks have some form of Linux installed on them (or Windows XP) so they do make good use of the processor power and fairly small memory they do have. Their main appeal is having a small and very light computer at your disposal.

They are though not a Techtemption for me since the idea of having such a small display and less than full sized keyboard is less than appealing to me. Though I can understand their appeal by others. I am more of a desktop person wanting full power and lots of display space, so my idea of a laptop is one with a full sized keyboard, lots of power and and 15 or 17 inch screen. This is pure prejudice since the things I would do on a laptop fit within the Netbook’s area of expertise.

The quest for ever lighter notebooks has reached a point that bothers me. Now as someone who use to carry around a Zenith Supersport 286 laptop that I am sure made one arm longer than the other, I can appreciate that carrying around a heavy machine is burdensome. But when we complain about carrying around a five or six pound notebook it just seems overboard to me. It sounds to me like telling your grandkids “I remember having to lug around a six pound computer” as if the weight is something so excessive. I can just imagine arms atrophying over time. Now the footprint of the computer can certainly be a concern depending on where you need to use it, but the whole weight thing just seems a trifle excessive to me.

Maybe the largest factor of why a Netbook is not tempting to me is that I use my iPod Touch pretty much like I would use a Netbook. I can check email, browse the web, use an RSS aggregator, monitor and update Facebook/Twitter/Plurk etc. The fact that the iPod Touch’s display and keyboard is even smaller than a Netbook only shows that I have an irrational prejudice against them.

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Since I had some gift cards burning a hole in my pocket for Best Buy I ended up browsing three Best Buy stores until I settled on something.

I ended up getting a Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-Ray player.  Since the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD format wars had ended I had been wanting one, but it was still rather pricey last time I checked.  Low end players cost about half as much as they did last year. They had an insignia one for $199 but it really looked like a piece of crap.

So we selected the Samsung one which was $50 dollars more knowing that we could always return it.  I was not stupid enough to buy a HDMI cable for it at Best Buy because that is for suckers.  A digital cable is a digital cable and will either work or not work. No reason to buy fancy Monster cables or other high priced brands.  It’s only a cable.  I would suggest Monoprice.com for low priced HDMI cables.  Regardless you want an HDMI cable since component video cables that come with it will not display full resolution to the TV because of copy protection concerns (I so hate DRM which only punishes the consumer).

We bought one Blu-Ray movie Hellboy II to test it out with.  Movie manufactures are wondering why Blu-Ray isn’t catching on all that fast.  Well they might want to take a look at 25 to 29 dollar movie prices.  This is the old trick media companies always pull on us.  When they went from record to cassette they increased prices. When they went from cassette to CD they increased prices even though manufacturing prices went down. Now they are doing the same thing with Blu-Ray.  If you want a faster adoption rate make them the same price as regular DVDs.  Yeah the resolution is much better, but that just means that they were selling us movies before that were at a lower resolution.

So we decided to get a NetFlicks account since they have Blu-Ray movies and this will be a much cheaper way to watch Blu-Ray movies.  The next model up for the Samsung Blu-Ray player included the ability to stream movies from NetFlicks built in, but at a hundred dollars more for that model I am more likely to stream them to my computer instead.

Hellboy II was a good movie to test out Blu-Ray. Quite stunning visually and actually a pretty good movie and a step up from the first one.  The resolution is excellent and the picture is so much sharper and clearer and without the normal soft blur that we get use to.  Really is quite worthwhile over regular DVD.

Most Blu-Ray players have upconverters that will play regular DVDs at at higher resolution and I certainly wanted a player with this feature.  I was quite pleased with how it displayed a regular DVD and it is a significant improvement.  Though you can’t compare it to Blu-Ray since the software is making guesses to upconvert and so it is nowhere as crisp, but still a major improvement.

As a geek I love the fact that more and more consumer electronics allow a firmware upgrade.  This is especially important with Blu-Ray devices.  I was able to easily download the latest version of the firmware and install it via a USB thumbdrive by inserting it into the USB connector in the back.  There is also an ethernet port to do upgrades and enable some of the advanced Blu-Ray features.

So far I am quite pleased with the Blu-Ray player and having some gift cards was a good incentive to make the plunge.  Though one annoying thing is that while my TV has an HDMI port it only has one and it is being used by my satellite receiver.  Maybe one day I will buy an HDMI switcher, but I found it just as easy to unplug the HDMI cable from one unit and then plug it into the other along with the optical cable used for the sound system.  A bit of an annoyance, but for weekend movie watchers not that big of a deal.

So if you are a movie lover and have an HDTV it is a pretty good time to take the plunge with Blu-Ray.  Though of course players will get cheaper over time, but good players are no longer at only a premium price.

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