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Remote IT Support and Computer & Technology Help in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh NC

iPad 3G retail launch day – Update: now with unboxing photos

If you now own an iPad 3G, it either either arrived in a UPS truck or you enjoyed/endured the traditional Apple store line experience.  I chose the latter and here’s what I saw at the 14th St Manhattan Apple Store…

Neil Berman

Apr 30, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Hardware | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The real pain of the iPhone leak

When Gizmodo leaked the iPhone design they received last week, the tech and wider media worlds were turned on their head. Apple products are normally fiercely guarded secrets until their release, and in the preceding run up the media frenzy and speculative rumors contribute to a huge launch.

Gizmodo seemed pretty convinced that they were looking at the real 4th generation iPhone and the legal actions of recent days could be taken to lend further credence to that view. If true, that would mean we might witness an iPhone release this year lacking some of the wild anticipation of previous events. That’s bad news for Apple since the column inches generated by that anticipation normally reach so many people who don’t follow tech news. People will still know, but the scale of speculative excitement is likely to be smaller.

On top of that, since Gizmodo’s coverage exploded out of the tech bubble into mainstream media many potential iPhone buyers are now more likely to delay their purchases. Sure, in the tech industry we all expected a new iPhone this year but most Main Street consumers were blissfully aware. Not anymore. That’s potentially problematic for sales targets and stock inventory planning of both the current and future models which makes life difficult for Apple and its suppliers. We know from the iPad delays how new devices can cause issues for bespoke component production. I’d anticipate that we may see now supply failing to meet higher than planned demand if the new iPhone does launch this summer.

The biggest concern for Apple however might be far more visible than stock inventory planning. Now that these iPhone images are in the wild I fully expect to see copies launched in parallel or prior to the next iPhone launch. While these are unlikely to come from mainstream giants such as HTC or Dell, that doesn’t really matter. Apple likes to set the design agenda and that is normally a strong competitive advantage for the company over its competitors. Now there are potentially months of lead time for smaller manufacturers to design and deliver similar looking devices. Meanwhile the larger OEMs have an advance scoop on what they are potentially up against.

Neil Berman

Apr 28, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple | , , , | Leave a comment

BlackBerry follows coffee shower with rice bath

BlackBerry Bold moisture indicatorWarning, this post contains stuff which will almost certainly void your warranty if you repeat it.  If you like that kind of thing, read on!

This morning was a minor disaster. My BlackBerry Bold 9000 seemed damp to the touch as I threw it in my pocket, I thought nothing of it since I had just washed my hands. I did however get concerned ten minutes later when I tried using it.

The trackball was spewing liquid when spun, key presses resulted in random “hl” and “ou” garbage and the call buttons were ineffective.  The growing knot in my gut tightened as I caught the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee, and I wasn’t walking past Starbucks …continue reading

Apr 27, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Rants | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another hot product from Apple

The Apple MacBook is a hot product.  Literally.  While MacBooks have always looked pretty, many models have been plagued by heat management problems.  My MacBook (known in Apple circles as ‘The Oven’) refuses to start when hot, the MacBook Air is famous for shutting down one CPU core out of self preservation when playing video, but PC Authority’s report on the latest MacBook Pro Core i7 heats the problem up to volcanic proportions.

The magazine found that during their testing on athe new MacBook Pro Core i7, the laptop became so hot that they could no longer keep it positioned normally on a desk.  Instead they had to turn it up on its end, which might make Final Cut Pro editing a bit of a challenge.  How hot is hot you ask?  101 degrees Celcius.  That’s a mighty hot product.  It surely flames a previous MacBook which could allegedly cook an egg.  By way of comparison PC Authority ran the same tests on a Fujitsu Lifebook SH 760 with the same Core i7 processor and it peaked at a comparatively frigid 81 degrees Celcius.

So although the new MacBook Pro Core i7 might reduce your winter heating bill, we don’t recommend this approach.  In fact quite seriously based upon the PC Authority experience, we’d advise observing a a sensible amount of caution when using this laptop if you own one.  If you notice it getting hot, put it somewhere safe and away from your lap to cool down.  It’s nice to have a pretty laptop, but it’s not worth burning your lap for one.  Hopefully Apple will work some magic into the design of this particular model to improve its heat dissipation.

Neil Berman

Apr 26, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Guides, Hardware, News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Brando HTPC Wireless Keyboards Review

Brando 800M-BRF 2392RF

Brando wireless keyboards 800M-BRF (top) and 2392M-BRF (bottom)

Brando makes a lot of keyboards, mice and all manner of computer accessories. Within that arsenal of gadgets are a selection of wireless keyboards, some of which also have a trackball or trackpad. This makes them good candidates for the Home Theater PC (HTPC) market or other use-cases where portability is important, as with the EFO iPazzPort which we recently reviewed. So here we have are a couple of Brando’s wireless controllers under review, let’s see if they’re any good …continue reading

Apr 25, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Plantronics Explorer 395 Review

Plantronics 395 3

What’s under review: Plantronics Explorer 395 Bluetooth headset, MSRP $49.95

What rocks: Good call quality, simple to use controls, comfortable snug fit

What’s rocky: Earhook is unobtrusive but non-removable, lacks A2DP for listening to audiobooks or podcasts

Verdict: An excellent mid-range contender

We recently reviewed the Aliph Jawbone ICON and BlueAnt Q1, which are high end Bluetooth headsets.  Time for something more affordable we thought, which coincided perfectly with Plantronics launching its new mid-range headset, the Explorer 395.  So they were kind enough to send us a sample for review, and here is what we found …continue reading

Apr 23, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Callpod Fueltank Duo Review

What’s under review: Callpod Fueltank Duo, MSRP $69.95

What rocks: Reduces travel stress, lighter than expected, simple and effective

What’s rocky: Nothing, unless you live in a world with no electronics in which case it could be a handy paperweight

Verdict: Essential travel accessory for gadget lovers

These days we all travel with so many gadgets that the security X-rays of our bags probably look like wiring spaghetti. There is the work phone charger, non-work phone charger, iPod charger, camera charger, headset charger, spare headset charger, Nintendo DS charger for Kid One, PSP charger for Kid Two (er, you) and so it goes on…

Cue the Callpod Fueltank range

Callpod heard the cries of the traveler and took pity, nay even created the Fueltank Uno and Duo to solve this horrific situation.  We have the Fueltank Duo here and as its name implies it can juice two devices from an internal rechargeable battery.  Tiny adapter cables are available to provide compatibility with more than three thousand devices.  The idea is to simply charge up the Fueltank, throw it in a bag with the adapters needed by your devices and you have a spaghetti …continue reading

Apr 21, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

EFO iPazzPort Review

EFO iPazzPortLiving room computers seem like a great idea until we start thinking about the bulky keyboard and lonely mouse sitting on the coffee table. Windows Media Center and Mac Front Row present a partial controller solution by way of a remote control, but that only goes so far. What happens when you want to fire up a web page or write an email?

EFO iPazzPort: What is it?

We reviewed the EFO iPassport last year, which was the predecessor to the newer and subtly renamed iPazzPort. We liked the overall concept of the iPassport, especially for the HTPC market, although we did have some reservations around the look and feel of the device as well as some hopes for version 2.0.

As a refresher in case you haven’t read or are too darn lazy to read our iPassport review, the device was a backlit and wireless …continue reading

Apr 19, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Will the European air travel chaos delay iPad shipments?

It’s not only people that need to travel to Europe.

Apple recently delayed the European launch of the iPad, but the recent air chaos may well set that May date back unless supplies are leaving the US by sea.

Perhaps they were always destined to be a sea cargo, but if they weren’t I wouldn’t be surprised if they are now!

Neil Berman

Apr 18, 2010 Posted by | Apple | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to travel to Europe in the ash cloud era

NASA ash cloud

NASA image showing the ash visible to the eye (left) and through infrared (right)

Much of Europe is currently a no-fly zone due to volcanic ash but, more worryingly, volcanologists are suggesting that Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull could continue erupting for months or years to come.  This could have a disastrous impact upon the airline industry as travelers will be reluctant to make advance bookings for flights, since many insurance companies do not reimburse for cancellations caused by “Act of God” events.

So at dinner last night my good friend Charlie proposed that this could be the event which finally tips the balance of international communication towards video conferencing and away from air travel.

In the short term I certainly agree with him.  If technology and science fiction has taught us anything however, it’s that there are always options.  So let’s look at the ones out there and then collectively weep about our lack of modern day research into most of them.

The Transporter (Star Trek)

Being able to act upon one of William Shatner’s most famous lines “Beam me up Scotty” would save us a lot of hassle right now.  In fact scientists in Copenhagen did manage to transport some matter 18 inches a few years ago but let’s be honest, that’s just going to get you from one part of the ash cloud to another.  18 miles would be more promising, and 18,000 is frankly what we need right now.  Gene, the world misses you more than ever now.

The FTL Drive (Battlesstar Galactica)

The BSG take on instant point to point transportation is the FTL drive, which requires huge computational effort but can’t possibly take as long to prep for as a typical traveler getting ready to pass through airport security.  The FTL drive has to be fitted to a craft, so individual transportation is not supported unlike the Star Trek Transporter.  However for today’s needs that’s just fine, we’d fit one to a 747 and FTL our way across the Atlantic in an instant.

The Holly Hop Drive (Red Dwarf)

Holly’s hilarious effort to transport Lister and the Red Dwarf crew back to Earth was one of the finest moments of this BBC comedy sci-fi masterpiece.  I think I’d feel safer manually navigating a rowing boat across the Atlantic to Europe than trusting Holly to Holly Hop me there through an ash cloud.  Check out this all-time classic show on Netflix, where it’s available to stream instantly to your PC/Mac/Xbox/Wii/PS3/iPad whatevs.

Hyperspace (Star Wars and many others)

For some reason the often unreliable Millenium Falcon was faster than anything Vader or the whole Imperial Empire could manufacture.  I’m sure that many would even be happy to sit out the journey in the prisoner block of an Imperial Destroyer if it meant saving them from another night of sleep deprivation in a departure terminal.  After all, the duration of the cross Atlantic voyage at hyperspace would take less time than the blink of an eye.  Alas it’s just one more technology brought to the silver screen but never quite mastered in real life.

Helium filled light airship

Back to reality, the Excelsior from Archer (Skytanic, Season 1) could actually become useful if the jet engine is temporarily doomed over European skies.  It might be super slow but it sure looks comfortable and hey, this one actually exists!

Neil Berman

Apr 18, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Rants | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Help for iPad WiFi connection issues

While the iPad has enjoyed a successful launch, the end user experience for many has been spoiled by its poor WiFi implementation.  I’m undecided on whether the iPad’s WiFi problems are making me glad that I’m getting the 3G version, or just just plain scared that I’m spending a stack of Benjamins on a device which may be more reliable on AT&T than on my 300MBps router.  After everything that’s happened with AT&T’s network and the iPhone, that would be the ultimate irony.

So for those of you with iPad in hand along with the lock of hair you just yanked out from sheer frustration, don’t smash that pretty glass screen just yet.  There is still hope for your iPad to magically hold onto a WiFi connection.  Unfortunately nobody seems to know the exact reason for the iPad’s WiFi problem but there are a gazillion creative ideas and hacks out there.   So move your hand away from your head and check out these links, they might just save you from an impromptu haricut.

Apple 2.0

Discussion thread on official Apple forum

Support article from Apple

PC Magazine

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll return to praying that Apple fitted a different and better WiFi chip into the iPad 3G.

Neil Berman

Apr 17, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Guides | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Pro or a fully equipped entertainment apartment?

Mac vs PCWe all know that Macs are expensive, but just how much more expensive are they in real world terms?  This can be difficult to quantify.  In the Vista and XP days it was easier to justify a Mac purchase based upon the quality of its operating system.  That’s exactly what I did back in 2007.  With Windows 7 however the game has changed and while OSX wins on some aspects (prettiness, support, media apps), Windows clearly now leads on others (taskbar, multitouch, homegroup).  Overall it kind of feels like a tie at the moment.

So here’s the challenge: For the price of a decently spec’d MacBook Pro can a one bedroom apartment be kitted out with home entertainment tech including a similarly spec’d Windows 7 laptop?

First, the rules.  Pretty simple really, no refurbs, coupons or member-only offers.  We’ll also assume that in both scenarios we’ll buy the same wireless router.

The Mac option

MacBook ProLet’s start with the MacBook Pro.  We’ll take the 15″ with the standard Core i7 processor and 4GB RAM.  In fact the only upgrade we’d make is to dump the slow 5400RPM 500GB drive in favor of a faster 7200RPM unit, which we think should be standard on anything labelled “Pro”.  That’s a cheap $50 upgrade.

That gives us a grand total of $2,249 on Apple’s site.  Let’s see what we can get ourselves for that kind of money.

Our apartment has a bedroom and living room, so we’ll need to take care of both.  In the living room we’ll need a TV, surround sound audio system, something for gaming and of course Blu-ray.  In the bedroom a small TV would be nice along with a simple sound system.  And of course we need that Windows laptop too, so let’s start with that.

The one bedroom apartment

Keeping it simple we can pick up our laptop from the local Walmart.  They have the HP Pavilion DV6-2190US with almost identical HP Pavilion DV6specs to the MacBook Pro for $898.54.  There’s the Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM and 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, all being powered by Windows 7 Home Premium.  The DV6 packs a GeForce 230M in  place of the 330M on the MacBook Pro but in day-to-day tasks like surfing and typical comupting, Toshiba 40RV525R LCD TVmost people wouldn’t notice the difference.  The big 2010 performance leap comes from the Core i7.

We definitely need a nice big TV, so let’s go for a 40″ 1080p from Toshiba for $579.99.  It’s rated 4.6 out 5 from 91 reviews on Tiger Direct, so that’s a solid endorsement.

Xbox 360 ArcadeFor the games console we’d choose an Xbox 360 for $199.99, but a Wii would do just as well for the same money if you prefer it.

We definitely want to be watching that 1080p TV and playing our games in full surround sound, so how about adding a Sony Bravia surround system with speakers for $229.99 from Newegg.

We’ll pair that Bravia surround system with a Sony Blu-ray player for another $139.99 from Newegg.

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170That gives us the kind of super duper living room setup that we’ll never want to leave, but that Mac Book Pro is so expensive that we still have $400 to burn!  So let’s go into the bedroom…

iPod TouchThe iPod Touch is a great device to have around as a flexible media player and second web device, so we’ll have one of those of Apple’s site for $199.99.

We need  to get some noises out of that so we need a dock.  Altec Lansing’s well regarded IM310 sounds good for $59 from J&R.

Finally we’ll complete the bedroom tech setup with a 15″ TV.  This one from Coby comes in at only $129.99 but still delivers 720p resolution.

That total home entertainment setup, all from major brands including a Core i7 laptop comes to $2237.49.  That’s still less than the MacBook Pro, but I think we’ve bought enough virtual stuff for one day.

So can you setup a whole apartment for the price of a MacBook Pro?

So one the one hand you could buy a HP Core i7 Windows 7 laptop, Toshiba 40″ HDTV, Sony BluRay deck and Bravia surround sound system, Xbox, iPod Touch, sound dock and a bedroom TV…or you could have a MacBook Pro.  The choice, as ever, is yours.

Prices accurate as of the time of writing, but as always in the tech world if you’re slow they’ll change!

Neil Berman

Apr 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Pro refresh leaves Apple fans wanting more

MacBook ProThose long awaited MacBook Pro refreshes finally arrived today, and the news was a mixed bag.

The 13″ models are still saddled with Core 2 Duo processors, while the 15″ and 17″ models have finally made the jump to Core i5 and i7. The astute geek readers among you will recall that Dell and HP hit the market way back in 2009 with Core i7 laptops. That means Mac releases are now in danger of falling significantly behind Intel’s roadmap if newer processors come out this Fall.

The base price of the 15″ model has gone up by $100, the base 17″ is down and the base 13″ is holding steady.

GPUs have been upgraded across the board to the Nvidia GeForce 320 and 330, missing out on the top of the range GeForce 340.  There’s intelligent switching between integrated and discrete graphics and inertial scrolling is now built into the trackpads.  4GB RAM is also standard on all models.

While today’s updates are probably disappointing for Mac fans hoping for more market leading hardware, theONbutton readers shouldn’t be too surprised. These updates really fall in line with my post last month about how Apple seems to be focusing away from Mac in favor of iPhone OS devices.

Expect more of this to come as I expect Apple to continue developing its strategy in this direction.

Neil Berman

Apr 13, 2010 Posted by | Apple, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opera Mini approved for iPhone, “kicks safari out of the water”

Well how about that! Apple has actually approved Opera Mini for the iPhone, a revolutionary step in the right direction for choice in the App Store.   Until now Safari has been pretty much it as far as web browsing on the iPhone goes, and you know what they say about monopolies; they’re bad for innovation.   Engadget has managed a hands-on with Opera Mini on the iPhone, claiming it “…totally kicks safari [sic] out of the water.”  High praise indeed.   Now what are the chances of Google Chrome on the iPad…?

Neil Berman

Apr 12, 2010 Posted by | Apple, News | , , , | Leave a comment

The magic of touch

magic touch ipad

While the iPad is not the first large screen touch device to hit the market, it has brought the technology into mainstream focus.  So does touch on a large device beat out a mouse and keyboard or is it just a …continue reading

Apr 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Software | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Analyzing the analysts on the iPad

Comparisons that some commentators have been making between iPhone and iPad sales figures are entertaining but unfortunately flawed for two key reasons.

Firstly when consumers purchase an iPhone on launch day in 2007 they were committing to spend in excess of $2,500 over two years, whereas Saturday’s iPad buyers were committing to a one-time spend  of $499-699.  This is obviously incomparable from a financial perspective.

Secondly a purchase timing constraint existed with the iPhone on launch day which is was not present with the iPad on Saturday.  iPhone buyers commit to a two year service contract and are only likely to do so upon expiration of their existing cellphone contract.  Otherwise they suffer early termination fees or have to pay for two lines simultaneously.  iPad buyers on the other hand were purchasing a device free from such a timing constraint.  Even the 3G iPad presents no timing constraints, since the 3G service agreement can be started and cancelled at will.  So owners are not restricted by existing 3G data contracts on their netbook or laptop.

So while sales figures comparisons are nice to make, those made between the iPad and iPhone provide minimal value.

On a funnier note, one analyst estimated …continue reading

Apr 5, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple | , , , | Leave a comment

The Apple iPad Review (update: now with video!)

Apple iPad 32After so much anticipation, the Apple iPad is finally here.  There’s been hype to the heavens on this one, so it’s time to reveal whether the iPad actually delivers now that it’s landed …continue reading

Apr 3, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

theFREEbutton: Verizon Palm Pre Plus & Pixi Plus hotspot now free

Mobile phone tethering is such a wonderful thing, but oh so naughty unless you’re laying out cash monthly for a tethering plan.  The idea is that your smartphone gets a fast data connection and the civil thing to do with all that juicy data is to feed your laptop with it in, say, Central Park on a sunny afternoon.  That privilege typically comes at a monthly premium of $40-60, and in the case of Verizon’s Palm Pre Plus or Pixi Plus allows owners to turn their phone into a mobile WiFi hotspot for a limited number of nearby devices.

What I’m about to say is not an April Fool, honest!  The hotspot feature on the Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus on Verizon is now free to existing and new subscribers.  Free tethering!  For multiple devices!  Low data users (or cheapskates) could probably get away with cancelling their home Internet connection and just use this to provide their data.  Just don’t expect to stream YouTube and Hulu using the Pre or Pixi as a hotspot, they might be on Verizon’s quality network but it’s still only 3G speeds.

So as the storm clouds gather over Palm HQ, will this convince you to become a switcher?

Neil Berman

Apr 1, 2010 Posted by | Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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