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The Dell Hybrid

Ye gads, Dell have shocked the pants off me with this tasty piece of industrial design! The diminutive Dell Hybrid PC comes with optional coloured sleeves, but in particular I rather love the bamboo sleeve version:

dell-studio-hybrid-pc

This kind of thing adds warmth and organic feel into something where normally only cold industrial aluminium or cheap black & grey plastic was before. Granted, there may well be cheap plastic in there, but this is a Dell that I would be proud to have on my desk. The specs also show it would make a good TV media centre – if only I could install OS X on it! More details on the Hybrid here

Maybe I’ll buy a bloody Dell after all.

studio-hybrid-08

The gadget I'm most excited about

It’s been a good week for the gadget obsessed, what with CES and Macworld. I practically wet my pants about the iPhone, but there are just a few things that hold it back from the “Gadget I’m most excited about right now”. Namely, the fact that we won’t get one until the end of the year, that it won’t allow third-party applications and not knowing what the price/contract tie-in will be in the UK.

Its not Apple TV either, although I was expecting it to be. What does Apple TV give me that my Front-Row equipped Macbook and a video cable doesn’t? 40gb isn’t enough for my music and videos, so presumably the rest has to be streamed, bringing a performance hit with it? Hmm, I hoped for more functionality. Now if they included a CD/DVD drive and integration with EyeTV we’d be talking.

No, the gadget I’m most wooping about is a new bluetooth device announced by Belkin. It’s the Bluetooth Dock Adaptor

The Belkin Bluetooth iPod adaptor

I’ve always thought that most remote controls fail the task of navigating and playing iPod music, and that the iPod itself is the best remote you’ll ever get. There have been solutions launched recently even look just like an iPod, with an LCD screen. Why bother recreating the iPod? Why not just use the iPod? Thats where this comes in.

No extra plugs, batteries or wires, just 2, small dock connected devices and you’re away.

It doesn’t stream video, but that’s less of a concern for me. Assuming there isn’t any loss of audio quality (I’ll wait for the iLounge review), the battery life of the iPod is the only real drawback. The Belkin TuneStage II will use a ‘pass through’ connector so that you can use the iPod adaptor while charging it, and I’m hoping this will have the same.

Now imagine this. Connect one of these to the dock connector on an iPhone, and navigate & play your music using the widescreen coverflow view. Now that’s what I’ve always wanted to play my music!

iPhone with coverflow view

Keeping score

This will be the last whingey post about powerbooks, promise. Here’s where I’m at now:

Powerbook #1: Dead on arrival
Powerbook #2: Lid catch broke after 1 week, Hard Drive died after 2. Thats where I got to last time.
Powerbook #3: Dud battery.
Powerbook #4: Made of jam.

So, I’m now on #4, which while I hate to tempt fate, is looking good so far. I’ve still got a long way to go to top Michael’s record of 8 (see comment 49).

As I added in the last post, I’ve used Macs for 16 years now, and owned my own for 5. I’ve never had any issues, until these new powerbooks, never. All my macs have been rock solid, with any problems arising from my own extreme stupidity. Could it be that these powerbooks were rushed out, with little quality control? Or that Apple’s efforts are more concentrated on iPods? After all, thats where the money is for them. I’d like to think that I just got the few dud ones, and that these are just overly-paranoid conspiracy theories.

All of these have had screens with the horizontal lines problem by the way, but its still too subtle to concern me.

There goes the "living off a powerbook" theory

There was one drawback I hadn’t considered when switching to this ‘living off a powerbook’ idea. No its not underperformance Mr Budd, its no performance. It all falls apart, when the powerbook dies on you.

Thats right friends, this one lasted just over 2 weeks before dying on me. After another excruciating 2 hours talking to Applecare (in India), I’m being refunded again. I refuse to accept a repair on such young powerbook. I need this to last me a few years, it can’t start its life like this.

I’m sure you can imagine right now, just how pissed off I am. This is the second powerbook to do this in as many months. Out of frustration, I shouted out I’ll buy a bloody Dell then!!, but of course I didn’t mean it. Things are bad, but not that bad. This is not an OS problem, its a very particular hardware problem.

So, now I’m in a quandary. Old faithful has been put back into service (now replete with silver-gaffer-tape-to-hold-it-together™ accessory). Maybe I should order a plain off-the-shelf model? There does seem to be incompatibility problems with upgraded RAM and hard drives.

And what I really wanted to be blogging about today was how good Jeff Tweedy was last night at the Shepherds Bush Empire…

Later… While its crap that so many of you have had similar, if not far, far, worse problems than I have it is reassuring. You see, I’ve used Macs for 16 years now, and owned my own for 5. I’ve never had issues until these new powerbooks, never. All my macs have been rock solid, with any problems arising from my own extreme stupidity.

Ack. What to do. I wish there was a widescreen iBook available right now. Waiting until next year for intels isn’t really an option, no matter how good they are.

The new beast

Damn that Gruber, he’s beaten me to the punch once more. Mind you, in typical Daring Fireball style, his piece is more detailed, researched and well written than anything I could’ve come up with (which is why I’m a member). So, I’m actually very pleased that he’s saved me time! Go and read that review if you want to really know about the new Powerbooks.

Like John, I opted for the upgraded 2gb RAM and 100gb (7200rpm) hard drive, which despite the longer delivery time for a customised model, its well worth it. Combining this with a 20” display provides me with my ideal setup. Unless you need to do video/3D work these machines provide enough oompf for web development and CPU hungry tasks like print design. I intend to use this setup now, rather than syncing with a desktop machine, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

This was the first time I’d used the migration facility in OS X. I’d always preferred to start with a clean install and then cherry pick what I wanted to go back in. This time, I felt a bit more nervous, there were too many files and settings that I didn’t want to risk losing. I’m glad I did – a firewire cable + 2 hours later and 62gb of files and settings had been installed. Everything ran as it had been, except I experienced the same problem John had with wireless, until running the airport update.

I’ve also found getting used to two-finger scrolling very easy and natural. This is a great feature, and find myself trying the double-fingered fondle on older machines too.

The other habit thats changed since getting the new powerbook, is that Omniweb has returned as my default browser. While Safari with plugins still feels slow and bogged down, Omniweb positively flies with this setup, and the larger resolution screen makes it ideal. Between Omniweb and Camino, Safari isn’t getting a look in at the moment. Can’t wait for their move to webkit (whenever that happens) which should finally solve issues with Flickr. I’d be interested to know if John’s habits have changed too, as earlier in the year he stated that he had left Omniweb, mainly for performance issues.

There are probably a lot of people waiting for the arrival of the Intel powerbooks (which could be as early as February according to the rumour sites), rather than going for these new models. While I’m usually Mr Early Adopter, in the case of Intel, I want to give it a couple of years and see what happens.

Waiting for new powerbooks again

New powerbook

I did it earlier this year and now I’m doing it again. Waiting for California to wake up and announce the new powerbooks at 10am. Back in January I decided to buy Dunstan’s 17”, rather than go for the new model. The 17” is lovely (and actually thinner than the 12” or 15”), but after lugging it around SXSW, @Media and a trip to New York this year, I decided its just too much. I now use it with a 20” cinema display, and just don’t need the extra size.

If it didn’t cost so much to upgrade my Titanium powerbook (more than a new one!), I’d have done that. Its lighter than the current models, and I prefer having all the ports at the back where they’re out of the way. It is a little worse for wear though:

Old powerbook with peeling casing

And its got a lot worse since that was taken. With only one screw left on the bottom, it does tend to flap about a bit, and to insert CD’s, you have to lift the bent upper casing slightly. The thing is, I loved it. This 15” was the best machine I ever owned – the best balance of screen size and portability.

So, a month ago I decided to go back to a 15” powerbook, and get a new one. Mr Oxton expressed his interest in buying the 17”, so it will have a ‘heritage of sorts – Dunstan, then me, then John. Shortly after ordering the new one, the rumour mills started talking about new models coming soon, but I don’t let that talk bother me.

The new powerbook arrived last week, and was what Apple call “dead on arrival”. A faulty hard drive meant kernel panics everytime it started up, and I was not best pleased. The ritual of opening a new mac is such a wonderful thing (and rare), but the joy soon ended. After it was taken in to be looked at, they wanted 7 days to repair it, or 2 weeks to replace it. Thats no way to start its life, so I asked for refund.

Ringing round mac dealers, many aren’t taking orders for a new custom spec powerbook, as they all expect Wednesday’s announcements to bring new models.

So I’m waiting, and so is John.

Update – The event came and went, with new iMacs, not new powerbooks. Bugger….

Update 2 – According Computer Warehouse, they are still expected an announcement on upgraded powerbooks any day now. Could be today, or early next week…

Mighty Mouse

As soon as the announcement was made about Apple’s new Mighty Mouse, I was placing an order within seconds. I’d been wanting, not necessarily a two button mouse, but a scrollwheel mouse, for a long time. I’d tried the various PC mice offerings (even the ‘MacMice’) but none of them had that great feel of the Apple Pro mouse. The low profile, and smooth glassy feel was what I wanted, but Mr Jobs had already said he wasn’t for making 2 buttons on his mice. The announcement was a surprise to say the least, but a welcome one.

Anyway, within 3 days, it arrived, and I’ve been using it constantly ever since. Having seen a lot of mixed reviews, I wanted to pitch in and say that I think its well worth it. I’ve not had any of the problems some seem to have experienced with the buttons. The lack of bluetoothness isn’t a concern for me (although the cable is a little short), but I have had 2 issues, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere:

  1. Setting the side squeezy buttons to Expose all windows: Windows became inactive after clicking on them. Expose > select > click on any part of the window, it becomes inactive – unclickable. Very odd. Only keyboard commands would work.
  2. The scroll nipple. Just lIke the balls on the bottom mice of old, I found this can become clogged easily. It doesn’t take much, and suddenly up or down scrolling is prevented. It just needs a wee rub with a tissue to get it working again though. Maybe this is just my extra sweaty finger? Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that one..

Waiting for new Powerbooks

G5 Powerbooks soon?

I recently decided that my Titanium G4 Powerbook is finally due for a replacement. Like an old car, its starting to get costly repair bills. At the moment, its suffering from ‘floppy screen’, and when that goes, it just isn’t worth considering a repair. I’m not bitter, its two and half years of use and hard abuse has been a very good innings. Its also been my favourite Mac I’ve ever owned – more so than my G5 desktop, and I’ve been thinking of using a setup like Mike Matas where the Powerbook is the main machine.

For the last couple of months the advice from rumour sites has been unanimous. Don’t buy now – new lines are on their way. What they will be no one is sure – The Register and DigiTimes had reports that suggested the possibility of G5 Powerbooks, whereas Mac Rumors were more conservative predicting just another bump in processor speed and HD size. Whatever they were, they were expected any day now.

I asked my Account Manager at MacWarehouse who in turn spoke to his rep from Apple. I wasn’t sure how honest an answer I would get, but he claimed that there would not be any new powerbooks until May/June! While that would tie in with the DigiTimes report that delivery was set for the second quarter, Powerbook G4’s (at least in the US) have been marked end of line, and with stocks drying up, what are Apple going to sell in the meantime? It seems unlikely that Apple would release a new Powerbook, and then again in a few months time, but according to Appleinsider “sources say that Apple also holds a PowerBook G4 upgrade in the pipeline—rumored to be the last G4 bump before the laptops acquire G5 processors in the second half of 2005’. To complete the optimism, MacMinute stated as far back as last February that “All of the key components for Apple to produce a PowerBook G5 appear to be ready, and Mac users should expect to see the new laptop no later than this summer’. Obviously that hasn’t happened.

However, the problem with using a G5 processor in a Powerbook has always been heat. A desktop G5 needs no less than 9 fans to stop it boiling over, how on earth could they acheive that in a small Powerbook casing? Apple’s chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, stated that for Apple to produce a G5 equipped PowerBook would be the mother of all thermal challenges.

The rumours (and certainly my heart) are pointing towards a G5 Powerbook soon.

One more thing though – if you use a 17” Powerbook, please leave your experiences here, as I can’t decide between that and the 15”.

Update : More on the dual core G4 rumors.

Another update : In the end, I opted for buying Dunstans ever so slightly older 17 incher, rather than a brand new one right now. It was a great decision – I love that screen!

I shouldn't be allowed near computers

I’ve not had a good time with hardware recently. In the last 2 months, the following has happened:

G4 Powerbook – Tried to defrag using TechTool (yes 10.3 does still need defragging, as it only defrags files under 20mb), managed to corrupt the hard drive, and lost 8 months of digital photos. Now I know I was an arse to try this without backing up first. My freelance work is backed up religiously every night, its just the personal stuff I was slack about.

Tried to re-install the OS using my 10.1 disk and upgrade disks for 10.2 and 10.3. The 10.1 disk no longer worked, so I had to buy a new copy of 10.3 to get the OS re-installed.

G5 – Graphics card died (one whole week after the warranty ran out), no OEM parts available for a few months, so got a third party card which was outputting a signal too powerful for my monitor that it made it switch into standby. A driver upgrade was eventually found, and all was, finally, well.

G4 Powerbook – again. Stopped charging, needed new internal DC connector.

Backup Drive – dropped from a height of 12 inches, and promptly stopped working. Bought a 200gb Firewire 800 drive for less than half the 20gb drive cost me over 2 years ago. Sheesh.

iPod – no longer mounts. Still haven’t solved that one, any ideas gratefully received. It still charges and shows up in system profiler’s list of firewire devices, but no show.

Netgear ADSL Modem – Dies, taking my internet connection with it. No more broadband for me, I’m currently on a restricted dial up connection, and boy do I feel withdrawal symptoms. However, this at least has a good story, as the Netgear comes with a 3 year guarantee, and a replacement is already in the post! When I rang Technical Support, I was straight through to an informed, friendly chap who was enormously helpful. No switchboard – nice one Netgear, I’m very impressed!

Engineers time to attempt to recover data £90
OS X 10.3 £100
Loss of family photos and movies priceless
New ATI Radeon Graphics Cardcard £280
Engineers time to diagnose problem and fit new card £90
New OEM DC Conenctor and engineers time to fit £115
New Firewire drive £120
Total cost *£795*

The only hardware left not to fail is the printer and the scanner. I’m waiting.

The moral of story is, don’t go freelance. Let your company pay for it. Oh, and also, you can’t make too many backups…

G5 and Panther

My transition to a G5 and then finally Panther has gone easier than I expected. Everytime I upgrade I always cross my fingers and hope that everything will still work. More often than not a few applications can longer work under their environment.

First I discovered that my Apple pro speakers will not work with G5’s as they have a unique connector. You have to shell out £30 for a Griffin iFire adaptor, almost as much as the speakers cost in the first place. It ain’t cheap, but its still cheaper than buying new USB speakers, and the internal speaker in the G5 is tinny to say the least. Other than that, no problems.

Last weekend my upgrade to Panther finally arrived, and it absolutely flies. I’m not sure if its optimised for G5’s, but there is a definite speed increase from Jaguar. For the first time since OS 9, everything feels snappy and responsive. It finally feels faster than my PC. The toned-down pinstripe is much easier on the eye. Although I’m a fan of brushed metal apps like Safari, I find it quite odd in the finder, but I’m getting used to it.

Extensis Suitcase 10 was the only application that wouldn’t work. As I do print design, I wouldn’t consider using FontBook yet. Suitcase will not only auto-activate fonts when opening documents in InDesign, and Illustrator, but it provides a ‘bridge extension’ making the fonts simultaneously active to all classic apps too (in my case Quark 5 is the my only reason for using classic – but its a big one). To get Suitcase to work, I discovered that had all I had to do was dump my previous font database, and re-import all my fonts.

Expose is genius. If you use Clutter to play your iTunes library, you can place all the CD coves on top of each other, and then reveal them all with expose. The only niggle is that it doesn’t show any windows that you’ve hidden. My other favourite addition is fast user switching. Its more than just a flying Borg cube effect – you can set up different accounts for a variety of situations – web development, print design etc. and flick between them quickly.

In short, Panther is the the best upgrade I’ve seen in a long time.

New iPods

Apple released their new iPods today to coincide with the release of iTunes 4 and their new music download service (not for the UK though – sheesh!). They’re looking thinner and smoother and better then ever. Combine it with an iTrip FM transmitter, and you could be playing it almost anywhere.

And you can play Solitaire on it…

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